Alohilani Resort & Spa Waikiki

Hi friends! Welcome back to the my little blog. I am excited to share our recent trip to Hawaii for our honeymoon! We got married in October, but delayed out honeymoon until this summer due to work schedules. Although I think it is probably exciting to jet off to a honeymoon destination right after the big day, it was nice having something to look forward to. We also did not start planning our trip until well after our wedding was over, so it was one less “to do” I had to worry about prior to our wedding day.

It took us a while to decide on a destination. We considered Italy, Paris, London, Greece, Napa Valley and Bermuda, but Hawaii was the winner.  Hawaii has a good mix of adventure, relaxation and history. Once the trip was booked I could not be more excited! Within the next few blog posts I will share details of our time on Oahu and Maui, and of course tons of gluten-free recommendations.

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I found planning a gluten-free trip to Hawaii to be a bit difficult. When I was doing my research I struggled to find restaurants that offered GF options. At some point during my search I stumbled on a helpful blog and the wonderful blogger behind the site responded to my email with a lot of suggestions. Unfortunately, I lost that email and cannot find the link to her site again. I hope my blog helps to fill the current void of gluten-free Hawaii tips!

We flew direct from JFK to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines. It was an 11 hour flight and to our surprise it did not seem that bad! I can’t say either of us were overly impressed with this airline. There were no complementary movies or TV shows and limited snack and beverage services. Although the flight attendants were friendly, they were not as attentive as those on some other airlines we have used.

We started off our honeymoon and my birthday weekend on Oahu at the Alohilani Resort & Spa, which was recently renovated. A complementary bottle of champagne was left in our room which made our arrival even more exciting. The resort is on Kalakaua Avenue and no other hotels are obstructing its views to the ocean. This was a key criteria in my hotel search because there are many hotels in the city. We had a partial ocean view room with a king bed in the Beachside tower {the tower closest to the ocean}. I think the view from our room was excellent, especially for the sunset. The only disadvantage of this area is the city noise when siting on your balcony. We thought our room was perfect; very clean, sleek modern decor and a comfy bed. The only minor flaw I can think of is that the bathroom was a little blah. All white everything {literally}.

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When you walk into the hotel you enter a grand, yet modern lobby with views of the O-Bar floor to ceiling aquarium. On the 5th floor there is an inviting infinity pool overlooking Waikiki beach, a kids pool and the Swell bar area. We loved the pool area and the pool bar staff were very attentive. It’s not a huge space, but we lucked out with only having one overly crowded day. You can also pay extra reserve a cabana or lounge chairs in the pool. We considered renting a cabana, but once we realized they were not alongside the pool, we passed. The resort also has a gym and on-site parking for a fee.

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If you are considering renting a car, I highly recommend booking through Costco if you are a member. The Costco site compares about 5 major car rental companies; all of which were much lower than booking through any other sight. I also liked that through Costco, I only made reservations and did not make a payment until we picked up the car. When we arrived in Honolulu, the line for Avis was very long and slow moving. I was quickly able to change out reservation through Costco on my phone then popped over to one of the rental places with no line. To my surprise, I was able to save another $15 and the car rental person upgraded us to a Mustang because she thought, “we needed something nicer for our honeymoon.”

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We ate at two restaurants at the Alohiliani; Morimoto’s Asia and Momosan’s. Morimoto’s Asia has gluten-free options identified on the menu, knowledgeable waitstaff and outdoor seating. Although it is not overly fancy, I would say the dress code is a step up from casual. As usual, Mike enjoyed his dinner, but I was a bit taken by surprise when mine was placed in front of me. {Side note: he always teases that I don’t order well}  I ordered the garlic shrimp expecting something along the lines of what I order at PF Chang’s. That is NOT what garlic shrimp is in Hawaii. A classic garlic shrimp dish consists of gumbo shrimp {shells and legs included} in a garlic broth. Be prepared to work and get messy to enjoy this meal. Although the shrimp and garlic broth were very tasty, this style dinner was just not for me. Not to mention, gumbo shrimp give me the heebie jeebies.

Momosan’s has a casual atmosphere and also offers outdoor seating. Their menu doesn’t indicate gluten-free, but all grilled skewers can be make gluten-free (without the sauces and just with salt). We actually ate here twice and all of the waitstaff who helped us were very knowledgeable. I tried the chicken and beef skewers with a side of edamame. I highly recommend the beef skewers and a glass of rosé.

Head over to my Instagram to see more photos from our trip and stay tuned for my next Hawaii blog!

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10 Day Ireland Itinerary & Gluten-free Guide

Hi friends! I am so excited to share our Ireland trip with you! I have been meaning to put this blog post together for quite some time. It has been well over a year since we took this amazing trip. A month before we left, we bought our first home and quickly started our extensive renovations. That month flew by and before we knew it, we were handing our keys {and renovation plans} to our dads and packing our bags for Ireland. I fully intended to blog about our adventure when we got home, but as soon as we returned, my life became re-occupied by house renovations AND wedding planning. Now that our wedding has passed and we are much more settled into our house, I am excited to finally share this vacation with you! This is going to be the longest post I’ve ever written, but I hope you find it helpful!

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I will start with the planning. We used a tour company called Gate 1 Travel which we booked through Virgin Vacations.The booking process was straight forward and the site was easy to navigate. I now realize that we could have booked our trip directly through Gate 1 Travel. I am in the process of booking our next trip and have concluded that the booking process on either site is very similar. I still suggest comparing pricing between the two.  The tour we took is still available and called 10 Day Classic Ireland. It was the first either myself or my husband had traveled to Europe or took a tour. 

We honestly cannot say enough good things about Gate 1 Travel. Our tour guide (Linda) and driver (Declan) were amazing. The travel plans were well organized, Linda was so knowledgable of the country and the coach bus was new, clean and comfortable. One aspect of the trip that we loved was that there was just the right amount of planned/guided activities and free time. It was also really nice to not worry about our luggage – it was either safe in our hotel room or on the bus. Declan and the various hotel staff always took our bags off the bus and to the rooms and vice versa.

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I strongly recommend adding at least 1 day to the start of your tour to help with jet lag. We took a Saturday night flight from JFK and landed mid-morning Dublin time. Our tour was considered the “Sunday Start,” but that technically means you would depart for your tour on Sunday. We departed on Saturday {because we added an extra day} and had all day Sunday to explore on our own. As soon as we got to the hotel we changed clothes and started exploring Dublin. We took a 2 hour nap before dinner and went to bed right after dinner which seemed to kick jet lagged in the butt! By the next morning, we were totally adjusted to Ireland time. On Monday, we were also able to explore on our own because we didn’t meet up with our tour until late in the afternoon.

The tour package we chose included a lot of meals, and I was happy to find that we were able to include our dietary restrictions in our reservation. I chose gluten-free for myself and no seafood {not his favorite} for Mike. For our specific trip, I don’t think these selections made much of a difference for the tour-included dinners. Almost everywhere we went had gluten-free options – more than I would find in NY. Most of our breakfasts were included in the tour package as well. I found breakfast to be the trickiest when it came to gluten-free options, but that’s why I always travel with instant oatmeal packets, granola bars and peanut butter.

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Dublin

We arrived in Dublin mid-morning and made our way to our first hotel; the Mespil Hotel. We were able to check into our room, so we changed clothes and started exploring. My beer-loving husband did a lot of research on Irish pubs, so we had a long list to make our way through. One of our first stops was O’donoghue’s Pub. I couldn’t have thought of a more perfect place to start. It’s a small old pub with a side alley that was filled with locals enjoying each other’s company and live music. We were both in awe of the culture we stepped into. On our first day we walked all through the city and St. Steven’s Green.  That night we ate at The Farm Restaurant which was a little tricky to find, but not all that far from our hotel. Prior to our trip a lot of people told me that the food in Ireland wouldn’t be great. Those people could not have been more wrong. We had so many delicious meals on this trip! But The Farm Restaurant was definitely my favorite. I had cottage pie and got to try a gluten-free beer I had never heard of. The Farm Restaurant is a must if you’re in Dublin!

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The next morning we were up early and made our way to the Guinness Factory. We had great weather our entire trip and this day was one of the best. It was a long walk, but we got to see so much of the city by walking. Although I cannot drink Guinness, I enjoyed every second of the factory. At the top of the building is the Gravity Bar. It was a little crowded, but the views were amazing {especially with perfect weather}. After leaving the Guinness factory, we stopped in a random pub and that’s when I knew I wanted to eat as much soup as possible on this trip! Later that afternoon we finally met up with our tour group for a quick introductory toast and then we headed off to dinner on our own.

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Our tour began on Monday morning with a tour-included breakfast at the hotel. This was the first morning we saw our tour bus or as our fabulous tour guide called it, “the coach.” The bus was on the new side, clean, air conditioned and had outlets in each seat for charging devices. I really didn’t mind the time we spent on the bus because it was comfortable. Between the long rides, the comfy seats and a tour guide’s soothing voice, I almost always fell asleep on the bus {and my husband has 50 pictures to prove it}.

On this day we toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College and the Book of Kells. Although our tour guide gave us plenty of quiet time on the bus to relax, she also shared a lot of history while we were driving. Before leaving Dublin we had time to walk around the city on our own. We stopped at the Porterhouse Brewing Company for lunch. While in Ireland I had the opportunity to try a lot of gluten-free beers that I haven’t seen in the U.S. At this restaurant I enjoyed a pale ale by BrewDog. It also only took me two days to figure out the country was filled with the best gluten-free soup I’ve ever had. Soup with a side of gluten-free bread was my lunch of choice for the entire trip. Before we got on the bus I stumbled on gluten-free scones {yes, the exist!} and tea for the ride.

Foley’s Bar in Dublin – cute decor and gluten-free fries. Enough said!

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Galway

From Dublin, we made our way to Galway, which was a bit of a drive. I pretty much always fell asleep on the bus and on this particular drive, I had a cup of tea in my hand which leaked onto my brand new white jeans {that took me all summer to find}. Total bummer! Before we made arrived at the hotel, we stopped at the Connemara Marble Factory & Visitor Centre. This area of Ireland is know for its green-toned marble. This cathedral was incredibly beautiful and filled with Connemara marble.

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In Galway we stayed at the Radisson Blu which was the only larger, chain hotel included in our trip. Our room was so comfy and the only hotel on our trip with air conditioning, so we definitely took advantage of it at night. Galway was filled with so much culture. The main town had so many little shops, bars and restaurants. Our favorite part of this city was the live music. At night the streets were filled with bands and on-lookers totally enjoying the moment. On our first night in Galway we ate a tour included dinner at the hotel then stopped at a bars The Dail Bar Galway and Tig Choili in town.

It is hard to say which of the areas we visited was my favorite because they were all so beautiful, but Kylemore Abbey ranks pretty high on the list. Every day of our trip I was more amazed by how beautiful Ireland was. Kylemore Abbey and the Victorian Garden were no exception. It was probably the most beautiful place I have ever been to in my life! Acres of beautifully manicured gardens and buildings filed with history. I highly recommend adding this location to your travel plans if you will be in Ireland.

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Killarney

From Galway we made our way to Killarney and stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. I remember this being a very windy day, but the views were beautiful! You only need an hour or two to walk around the park and take in the sights. There is a visitor center, but not much more to see. Along the way we also took a tour of the Bunratty Castle which was full of medieval history and narrow passage ways up the tower.

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We spent two nights in Killarney at the the Dromhall Hotel which was beautiful, clean and classy. It was also in easy walking distance from the main town. The town is full of restaurants and little shops. I didn’t buy much of anything on this trip, but in Killarney I found a the wooden spoon I have used every day since we moved into our house and it always reminds me of this trip. Although there are many locations throughout the country, it was in Killarney that we found Murphy’s Ice Cream. This ice cream was delicious! Take a short break from the Guinness and get your fill of Murphy’s for a night.

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From the hotel we took a pretty long walk to Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey. We visited more castles, big and small, than I could have ever imagined on this trip, but each one was impressive in its own way. This day was the warmest day of our trip which made the walk to Ross Castle seem even longer. We opted to take a Jaunting Car on our way back.

Our hotel was also very close to the Killarney Brewing Company. We ended up not having much time at this brewery {check the hours before you go}, but Mike was able to try a beer and we met a couple from Massachusetts who were on their honeymoon. During our second day in Killarney, we drove through the Ring of Kerry and made a quick stop at Waterville Beach.

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From Killarney, we made our way to Waterford and stopped at the Blarney Castle and Gardens, home of the Blarney Stone. It is a narrow, steep climb to kiss the Blarney Stone. I knew very little about the Stone before this day and when I finally saw it, I didn’t know what the fuss was all about. And I certainly was not going to kiss it {hello, germs!} but Mike said he couldn’t pass it up. Right after I got his picture I handed him an antibacterial wipe to clean off his face. The grounds of the castle are beautiful. We spent quite a few hours walking around the gardens before we ended this stop with lunch and shopping at the Blarney Woolen Mills.

Waterford

The Waterford Crystal Factory is pretty impressive and definitely worth seeing. In hindsight, I wish I would have bought a small, authentic piece of Waterford Crystal home with me. We spent one day and night in Waterford and in all honesty, it was my leave favorite stop of the trip. I found the city to be a little eerie and desolate. Perhaps we just hit this stop on the wrong day, but it was the only area that I felt a bit uncomfortable. Even with that being said, the night we spent in Waterford was made memorable by a sweet local couple we met in a bar who share so many world things about Ireland with us!

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Kilkenny

Our last stop before heading back to Dublin and heading how was Kilkenny. We grabbed coffee and walked around the beautiful grounds of Kilkenny Castle. Each castle we saw in Ireland was more beautiful than the last. Kilkenny is home to Smithwick’s beer. We visited the Brewery {although I’m not sure this is where they actually brew their beer} and took a guided tour of the facility. The small tours are lead by a guide and enhanced with digital technology. The technology their incorporated to help tell you the story of Smithwick’s was actually pretty impressive. For lunch, we stopped at the  The Fig Tree Restaurant and had warm toasties {ham and cheese sammies}. As with the rest of our trip, gluten-free food was easy to find! The Fig Tree has “gluten-free” outside on their window. It was one of my favorite lunches too.

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Packing Suggestions

I thought it may be helpful to share some of the items that was most useful on my trip. Packing for 2 weeks in a foreign county can be tough! My carry-on bag was a very light weight Vera Bradley backpack. I used this bag almost every day on our trip. It was able to hold all of my necessities which came in handy because the weather can change a lot in Ireland throughout the day. Each day my bag held a very light weight, waterproof jacket that could be rolled up, a small umbrella, a cardigan and a light weight scarf. I never felt uncomfortable carrying a backpack, but I know in some other countries it’s a no-no for traveling. I honestly felt very safe on this trip.

Clothing wise I kept it pretty light. I packed two pairs of sneakers (incase one got wet on a rainy day), two pairs of jeans and mostly light weight, long sleeve shirts.It’s also a good idea to bring a small plastic bag to shoes that may get wet and need to be put back in your suitcase before totally dry. Everything I packed could be easily layered for changes in the weather. And of course, don’t forget to bring a converter and adapter!

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Gluten Free Travel Guide: Montreal Sans Gluten!

My husband and I recently booked a spontaneous trip to Montreal, Canada for a “mini-moon” weekend. Due to our work schedules, we are not going on our honeymoon until next year. Because we were headed to a major city, I didn’t think finding GF food would be a problem. I did not put too much time into researching prior to our trip. I made it through the weekend just fine and really enjoyed our time away. However, once we were there I quickly realized that there was not much written about gluten-free eating in Montreal. I also noticed that many of the restaurants do not clearly indicate on their websites if they offered gluten-free options.

I loved the hotel we stayed at in downtown Montreal, Le St. Martin Hotel Particulier. Our cozy room included an electric fireplace and huge comfy bed. We also stopped in the hotel restaurant/bar, Bistro L’Aromate  for a few after-dinner drinks during our stay. The bartenders and the hotel staff were friendly and accommodating. I definitely recommend staying at this hotel if you are planning to explore Montreal. It was in a great location that allowed us to access public transportation, walk to Old Montreal and other destinations downtown.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find too many places near our hotel that offered gluten-free breakfast (it was a breathtakingly cold weekend, so close proximity was a deciding factor in choosing our meals). The hotel recommended  Universel Déjeuners et Grillades , and we ended up eating there three days in a row (not our most adventurous, but still a delicious outcome). They offer many different breakfast options,  including gluten-free bread. In true Alyssa fashion I had the same omelet every day {spinach, feta, tomato & scallions} with gluten-free toast and a cappuccino. (Disclaimer: The potatoes are fried do not eat them if you’re allergic to gluten). In general, I’ve found that asking about breakfast potatoes or home fries is important when dining out for breakfast. Fryers are loaded with gluten contamination.

After visiting the Notre-Dame Basilica {which is amazing} we stopped at Pave Lunch Experts for lunch. I had the Genova panini. When I ordered, I was asked if I had a severe allergy or was just choosing to order gluten-free, so they could prepare my meal with more care.

The first night in town we ate at Enoteca Monza which actually has a separate gluten-free menu. For an appetizer, we shared the parmesan fries and for dinner I had GF penne with pesto. The portions are huge! I didn’t feel great after eating the fries, which left me wondering if their fryer was actually kept gluten-free.

Since I didn’t eat much of my pasta from previous night, I opted for pasta again at Weinstein & Gavino’s . I ordered the GF fusilli with bolognese sauce and it was delicious. I love when restaurants offer gluten-free pasta other than penne! Also, I am pretty picky when it comes to red sauce, but I thought this one was very good. Mike always likes to check out at least one craft beer bar when we travel. Not far from Weinstein & Gavino’s is Brutopia and I can happily report they offer a GF beer too.

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As we ventured out into the city on our final day, we decided to stop in to Starbucks for a quick coffee and a snack (and a break from the cold weather).  If you didn’t already know, Starbucks now has gluten-free marshmallow dream bars and egg sandwiches, but I didn’t notice them in the store. I asked the cashier about them and she was able to bring me a Marshmallow Dream Bars that was in a freezer in the kitchen. The Marshmallow Dream Bars take about an hour to thaw, so you can save it for later. I also stopped in Papparoita which had a handful of gluten-free pastries. I bought two chocolate walnut cookies which were perfect with coffee.

At the airport we ate at Hurley’s Irish Pub. Although there was nothing gluten-free on their menu, both waiters I spoke with were aware of gluten allergies and the ingredients in their menu. I was able to get a burger with no bun and a side salad. No tummy aches on the plane either!

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The following recommendations are spots I stopped in or found online, but didn’t actually eat at. I don’t usually blog about restaurants I haven’t been to, but due to the lack of GF tips on Montreal, I will try to include as much as possible in this post.  Downtown Montreal was not the most gluten-free friendly (or at the very least, it has not been reviewed as closely as it should be). A lot of the restaurants below would have required subway or bus trips from our hotel. Maybe with a little more pre-planning we would have been able to venture our of the city for some foodie adventures.

In Old Montreal, you can stop at Cafe van Houtte for a rice/mashmallow bar similar to Starbucks, Stefanie Cookie for pastries or Baked2Go and 7grains for pastries and breads. La Petit Dep has had san gluten icons on their menu and La Moulin Lafayette offers gluten-free snacks. Somewhere I would have loved to stop was at Montreal’s GF food truck, Le Point sans G.

xo Miss Alyss