Italy and Mediterranean cruise 2011

One of our longer trips in 2011 was a visit to Bari and a Mediterranean cruise going to Italy, Croatia and Greece. My parents has always wanted to visit Greece and I thought a cruise would be a good way to get them out on a trip without the added stress of planning and organizing for some of their special needs as elderly folks. Well, turns out I was somewhat right.

Our holiday started in Mola Di Bari, my home town, at my parents place. Since it was early August, and very hot in southern Italy, we spent quite a few days at the beach and loafing around. We spent time exploring the nearby towns that Chris and I have not gone to visit before; one of these was called Poligniano a mare.

Poligniano a mare

Poligniano a mare

I love this village, it’s about 1/2 hr south of Mola and is still very much organized in the old world way.  It seems to represent all of what a small town in Italy should; beautiful sea views, religious icons and narrow cobblestone walkways. Attached is a youtube video from the georgetubel. My pictures do not do justice to the beauty of this village, so I thought the video might help. I’m amazed that for as many times as i’ve been to Bari Italy, this is the first time i’ve visited Poligniano a mare, I will certainly go back again.

We also visited the town of Matera and it’s Sassi. This area became popular after the filming of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The Sassi are homes built into the calcarenitic rock. The area was very poverty stricken in early years, but now enjoys some tourism thanks to Hollywood. We went to visit a few of it’s most popular sites, the Basilica Cathedral, sanctuary of St. Mary of Palomba, Madonna delle tre porte, and had lunch and a gelato in the main square.

Matera

Matera

The entire area is built on hills, and we walked everywhere, so it was quite tiring given that it was so hot and difficult to find any shade. We wisely left my parents at home, my mother would have never made it past the first church. The area is very interesting, there we great things to see and yes, this place is old!!

Another day trip in Southern Italy brought us to Santa Maria de Leuca. This area is at the southern most tip of Italy and is also called “the end of the Earth” by some. My parents came along for the ride on this one, about a 2 1/2 hr drive. My mother had never been there, but my dad had, albeit over 60 years ago! We explored some of the sites including the sanctuary, the lighthouse, harbor and of course the sea views. I’ve heard ravings about this area from my cousins who insisted I visit, but quite frankly I’ve seen much more beauty in other areas of Italy. Definitely not a do over and don’t go out of your way.

Now finally the highlight of our trip, the Mediterranean cruise; 7 nights on the MSC Musica.  Below is a copy of our Itinerary, keeping in mind that my point for booking this was 1) so my parents could see Greece, and 2) the departing port was Bari, which is a 1/2 hrs. from home.  Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 8.30.06 PMChris and I had been to Athens and Santorini before, but were were excited to see these islands again as well as a few new islands we had not visited previously.

DAY 1 BARI, ITALY boarding, getting settled and exploring the cruise line.

DAY 2, KATAKOLON (OLYMPIA), My parents and I had visited here before. Sadly, the ruins were really difficult to appreciate, there is very little left and the primary focus is shopping, so we didn’t want to visit again. We opted to go sit at the beach instead of going to olympia and it was a good decision. Such a beautiful beach, calm waters, crystal blue, soft sands, loved it!! Nice relaxing day.

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Santorini

DAY 3 SANTORINI, I was so excited for my parents to see Santorini! Chris and I spent a few days there 2 years ago and we just fell in love with it. We also loved having the opportunity to go back. Here’s the kicker, when on a ship in Santorini, you must get tendered off to the Island. When on a LARGE cruise ship, tender = LONG WAIT TIMES. It took us over 1.5 hrs to get tendered off, then when we finally did, there was a 1.5 hr long wait for the elevator (Santorini is on a hill), there is no way my parents could walk up, so we had to wait. We just used up almost 3 hrs of our 6 hrs on the Island. I was NOT happy. When we finally made it up, my parents hung around near the shops (close to the elevator) since they would need at least a 1/2 hr to get back down due to the crowds. Chris and I explored a bit and then later walked down the mule path and then tendered back to the boat. Our immediate next stop was Mykonos, and we never got off the boat. The only tours available were bar stops and dinners (it was late evening) and everything else was closed. I would rather spent a few more hrs. in Santorini.

DAY 4 PIRAEUS (ATHENS) We had been here before and wanted to explore some different areas. I set up my parents with a bus tour that would take them around the city, and to the Parthenon. There was minimal walking, but plenty of sites, so I thought it would work well. Here is where things fell apart a bit. Chris and I were off on a different tour, it was very much a walking intensive tour and we went to places in Athens that we did not get to see before as well as some familiar popular sites. As such, I didn’t think this would be a good option for my parents.

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Athens

We make it back to the boat and my mother is laying down, not feeling well. My dad is not speaking to anyone and off alone on the boat somewhere. What happened? My dad decided that the tour was not going where he wanted it to go and walked off, leaving my mom waiting by the bus. At the time of departure, he was no where to be found. After a long wait and delay of the entire tour group, the bus driver asked my mom to board the bus as they planed to leave without him. My mother refused and sat on the front of the bus hysterical and refusing to move, finally my dad reappeared with video camera in hand, pleased with his adventures, oblivious to what he had done and how he was nearly left to become a resident of Greece! My mother is hysterical yelling and scramming at him and everyone else on the bus was naturally very annoyed with him.

DAY 5 CORFU (GREECE) 

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Corfu Greece

We signed up for a guided Jeep tour on Corfu and it was fantastic. Not only were we able to see so much of the island by driving around and experiencing  some awesome scenic views, I was able to keep my parents contained in the back seat of the Jeep most of the time, so we had no issues! 🙂 It was fun, part of the tour included lunch, where we saw a traditional Greek dance and also had some great scenic photos taken. Afterward, we were able to spend a bit of time at the local beach. The water was cool and refreshing on a very hot day!

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Dubrovnik Croatia

DAY 6 DUBROVNIK CROATIA Croatia is a beautiful country and I would like to explore other areas of it someday, namely Split. However, our cruise stopped in Dubrovnik which my parents and I have been to before, we didn’t book a tour since the main part of the town is walking distance right off the boat; we were just fine walking around on our own. My parents didn’t do much walking, they got off the boat but were content to sit at a nearby cafe and hang out with a small nearby walk for refreshments. Chris wanted to explore, so he and I went off on a short walk around town. It’s a nice little town but entirely too touristy and very much focused on the “boat people”,  even a bottle of water was 5 euros. After exploring the town, we went to a small island to swim and hang on the beach until we were tendered back onto the boat for dinner and our next stop.

DAY 7 VENICE ITALY Ah Venezia! This was mine and my parents 3rd trip back to Venice, but Chris had not been here before so he was pretty excited about exploring the waterways and canals.

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Venice Italy

My parents stayed on the boat, they wanted to relax rather than explore so they were content to sit this one out (i’m thinking my mother was no longer willing or trusting my dad to stay in her line of site). Chris and I signed up for a gondola tour, which was fun but crowded since we had to share it with 4 other people. St. Mark’s square was alive with people as were most of the walkways and shops. Venice is becoming way to crowded, the canals are smelly and the prices outrageous. It loses its charm for me each time I visit. Chris found the canals and construction fascinating, but likely not somewhere where he is interested in visiting again.

DAY 8 BARI ITALY back home at the parents house in Bari and desperately needing some alone time! Happy to be able to go for a run next to the Sea and have some quite time. Reflecting back on the cruise, we really didn’t like MSC cruise line. The food was not very good at all, and the service was mediocre. They seemed to be very disorganized on tenders and as I mentioned above, the wait times were extremely long. The tours we took were nice, so we had no issues with those. In general, we have decided to swear off large cruises for a long time. We really prefer to venture off on our own and have time to explore the sites on our own terms. Larger cruise lines just don’t seem to offer enough flexibility to really explore the port/area and the offshore excursions become so focused on SHOPPING that the experience becomes quite disappointing. Although, for people like my parents cruising can be a nice way to explore different countries with minimal planning or fear of getting lost, renting a car, driving around, etc. Unless of course, you don’t listen to the tour guide and can potentially end up getting left behind!

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Puerto Rico 2011

September 2011, Chris and I decided we needed to get away and chill (somewhere warm). We had no desire to return to Mexico, so we searched for something with a direct flight out of Chicago and short travel time since we only had about 5 days to spare. We decided on Puerto Rico! We have not been here before, so we had no idea what to expect only that we insisted on having a nearby beach and warm weather. We got both!

We flew into San Juan, PR and rented a car, anxious to get out of the city. The guest house we were staying at was located on the east side of the Island in Humacao, about 1 hr drive from the airport, called Barefoot Travelers. It was a 2 story home and the first level was our rental home. The space had three rooms with 2 bathrooms, which could be shared with other travelers. Since we were the only ones there, we got full use of the house and the back yard pool. Our hosts, Bob and Kieshya were very accommodating and helpful with restaurant suggestions and directions. They also have optional kayak and snorkel tours to Monkey Island as well as hang gliding rides!!

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chris 015The house was within walking distance to the Caribbean seaside with a wonderful clean, quiet beach which also had a few palm trees for shade. We spent quite a few days just lounging on the beach, kayaking (our host let us use the Kayaks free of charge), and also went hiking in the nearby rainforest. We did take advantage of the Monkey Island tour, so we spent one long afternoon kayaking the sea and visiting Monkeys. Surprisingly, the water was not deep, so at a few points I actually got out of the kayak and stood up! On the way back, Chris managed to flip our kayak over about 3 different times, one of which wet my camera rendering it completely useless. I was at the point where I was ready for him to swim back because we were struggling so much in the kayak and then we realized that the kayak had a hole and was filling with water causing us to become unbalanced! UGH. So, I had to apologize to Chris for yelling at him! We managed to get back to shore and Bob and Keishya were apologizing profusely for the kayak issue, they later gave us a decent credit for the cost of our trip, which I thought was very nice of them. All in all, it was a very nice time!

We also took a hiking trip to El Yunkue National Forest. Spent the afternoon hiking in this rainforest and admiring a few of the waterfalls found nearby.  The total hike was about 2.5 miles up to the peak, stopping at the MT. Britton tower for a snack and photos and then climbing to the El Yunkue peak. DSC_0293There were some very beautiful views once we reached both he tower and peak, but the hike itself was very uneventful.  I was hoping for more views, flowers, birds, animals but really didn’t see much. When we left the rain forest, we set off to find a late lunch/dinner and stopped in Luquillo to locate the Kioscos. Keishya suggested a certain # Kiosko restaurant, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one it was. Our first impression of this place was not positive. The Kioscos are all lined up and sitting right next to the beach with open front garage style doors (street view) and back (beach view).  We first took a walk on the beach and it was dirty, litter everywhere, bottles and bags. It was quite sad as I would assume this to be a very nice beach otherwise. We begrudgingly set out to locate the Kioscos that was recommend and hoped for the best (we were starving). We found it, sat down, orderer our food and…guess what? We had the best meal of the entire trip! Just LOVED the food, it was excellent. We could not believe how good it was. I was excited to tell our host about our experience in Luquillo with the food!

I did not research this trip before we set off, other than finding a place to stay and getting a car, so we identified a few other items that we wanted to to, such as visiting the island of Culebra and the Bioluminescent Bay. After our visit to Luquillo, we attempted to find the boat doc that offers transfers, but ended up getting lost and getting back to our room quite late. Since our days were limited, we opted to spend the next day on the beach near the house just hanging out rather than set off on another road trip adventure, basically we got lazy. I’ll have to leave those items for our next trip!

It was a nice relaxing trip, exactly what we needed. A quick, warm, cheap get away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida 2014

We decided to skip Christmas this year.  This decision was made early January 2014 as our frozen pipes burst in the house causing massive water damage to all 3 levels of my home. This was, of course, immediately after spending the entire week prepping, cooking and hosting 30 people for our annual Christmas Eve 7 seas dinner. We had had enough and vowed to leave town for Christmas in 2014, no matter where we went.  Well, our budget was tight, and Christmas travel is expensive. We had a free place to stay in Florida (Chris’ parents have a condo there) and the airfare was manageable. SO…Florida here we come.

We arrived in Lake Worth, Florida late Thursday evening the 17th (found cheaper fares when flying out after 5 pm). Dropped my elderly parents off at the condo (did I mention that they decided to come along?) and went grocery shopping at the 24 hr Walmart (oh what fun that was). Anyway, got back and settled in, and just like that, we were set for the week in Florida.

This was a fairly uneventful trip. Probably one of the least active trips Chris and I have ever taken, mostly directed by the fact that we had my parents with us and my mom can’t walk a half block without getting totally winded. We spent a LOT of time at the beach, lucky for us the weather was good about 80% of the time! We took a day trip to Cape Coral to visit with a family friend and to see the house my parents have owned for the last 20 years but set foot in only once (they are not happy with the management company, but that’s another story). We also spent a whole day at Disney, Epcot center. What a tourist trap. Food, junk to buy and a reasonably decent story for each country. Not very authentic, at least I can tell you that Italy was not. But, for the 2-12 year olds that have a fantastic time there, I guess it doesn’t need to be. It was fun, but can’t say I would go out of my way to visit again.

We took a few drives down A1A (mansion gawking and dreaming), went to the Palm Beach dock and saw some nice Christmas sand sculptures, and we also saw two movies, Wild on Christmas day and Unbroken the next day. Unbroken being by far the best of the two.

Although it was a nice vacation and a break from the Chicago winter cold, Florida didn’t feel like Christmas. There were some decorations, lit up palm trees, the malls were decorated but nothing else gave me that Christmas feeling (no stress??). I felt very much exempt from it all. Since this was my intent, I guess it was successful, but I still have not decided if I like being away for Christmas enough to do it on a regular basis.

 

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Costa Rica 2014 x2

Yes, we did it again, we went to Costa Rica again this year.  As we were thinking of places to break away to for August or September, a few places came to mind. However, summer in Chicago this year has been nonexistent. It’s been cold, rainy and dreary. Not much like normal summer in Chicago at all. We craved more sunshine. Knowing this is CR’s rainy season, and typically their offseason, I researched the climate and towns in the South Caribbean of CR. Surprisingly, Sept and Oct are actually their driest months, and with this being the off season, flights were much cheaper into San Jose than normal. So, we decided to venture off into an area of CR that we have never seen and heard very little about, Puerto Viejo in the south Caribbean. I’m going to preface this post by saying that the Caribbean side of CR is VERY different from the pacific. We knew that going in as I had researched and read information about the area. We were prepared to embrace these difference and enjoy a very different culture and experience. After flying into San Jose, we hired a private car to drive us to Cocles Beach, Puerto Viejo.  Due to the offseason, the bus route from SJO to Puerto Viejo is limited, the last bus went out by 2 pm from SJO and due to our arrival time, we would not make it. Other option was to spend the night in SJO which we didn’t want to do.  Our ride to PV took just over 5.5 hrs. (estimate was 4 hrs so more than we had anticipated). After a quick stop for some groceries, we were dropped off at our rental home, met the maintenance person for the key and got settled. We stayed at a beach house rental in Cocles, you can read my review of the stay here by Angie F. It was a decent house, given the location, but we were still less than thrilled with the lack of clean towels, laundry opportunities, and general cleanliness. The house was a few steps from the beach, but didn’t offer a view due to the vegetation in the back. The beach area was very nice and clean, but offered no opportunity for shade, so our first day out we didn’t stay on the beach much because we didn’t want to get fried by the sun! Unfortunately for us, our first day there was about the last opportunity we had to see a full sunny day. Each day following was either rainy or cloudy. The sea was so rough that we didn’t even go in past our waist (beside the time where we were knocked down by the waves). Really, it was dangerous, there were rip current warnings and almost no one was in the water the entire week! We did not get a car, so we walked or biked everywhere (bike rental from a local hostel $4 per day) except at night. The main road was very dark and some of the locals warned us that a certain stretch of the main road could become unsafe at night, so we mostly took a taxi home if we were out. Riding the bike at night was equally dangerous as there was no reflective component on the bike and the road was pitch black! I did carry a small flash light with us, and this came in very handy!!

Some of our trip highlights were:
The Jaguar rescue center. Such a wonderful place! The organization rescues and rehabilitate wild animals and later releases them back into the wild. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had the opportunity get up close to Toucans, Sloths, Monkeys, Snakes, and all types of other animals. It was a bit expensive to get in, but we had a private guide and the funds are all used to run the facility; the folks there are all volunteers. We did not see a Jaguar (they don’t actually have any), but there was a type of spotted leopard in the facility.

We used Exploradores for our excursions where we hired a guide. They were a very good agency to work with and we enjoyed our guide, Alex, on both the trips we took around town. Our first adventure was a Punta Uva river and sea Kayak with a hike in rain forest (sea portion canceled due to water conditions). We had a nice afternoon kayaking down the river.  We saw quite a bit of wild life, and many turtles and birds. The hike was a joke, up a very steep wall into the rainforest with not much else to see except some insects. The kayak trip  was relaxing but nothing I would do again and certainly not worth the cost of the guide and trip, although we really did like the guide, he was very good at spotting wildlife and explaining what we were looking at. Another outing was a snorkel and hike at Cahuita Rain Forest. Once again the water excursion was canceled due to difficult water conditions, but we opted for the boat ride and hike portion anyway. Surprisingly, once we boated away from the shore line, the water was fairly calm (or calmer). Alex said that normally you can see all the way to the bottom of the ocean from on the boat but the water was so turned up, it was murky and unclear. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hike on the Sendero Trail was very nice. We saw lots of cool reptiles, Monkeys, Sloths, Birds, and Blue Butterflies. Alex certainly had an eye for spotting the tiniest things!

One of our trip highlights was the Chocolate Tour at Caribeans. We were given a personal tour through the chocolate forest by the owner, Paul. He explained the history of the profession and then shared with us how he developed his personal flavor of chocolate and how they work with other indigenous bean farmers in the area. The chocolate tasting was an experience by itself.  We were seated in two big chairs, with a beautiful view of the valley and ocean. DSC_0072Paul’s wife put chunks of various chocolate on trays where we were taught how to experience the flavor of chocolate slowly. Amazingly, I really could taste the difference in each piece! We were also provide samplings of chocolate with a tray of various spices (salt, ginger, garlic, mint, tarragon, paprika, etc.). It was a very interesting experience and enjoyable combination of  chocolate flavors. Who knew?? Naturally we brought quite a collection of various chocolates  home and I certainly would recommend this tour to anyone who is visiting the area!

The best part of the entire trip was the trip back to San Jose, which was made immensely enjoyable by a Class III, IV rafting trip. Really, this was great folks! For $100 each, we were picked up at our lodging area in Cocles, provided breakfast and lunch, lockers for our belongs, showers, an awesome rafting trip and transportation to our hotel in San Jose where we caught our flight the next morning .  The rafting trip was with Exploradores: Pacuare River White Water Rafting, we did the one day trip but I heard the two day is even better.

This was a really an enjoyable ride with great guides, nice people and beautiful scenery. The Pacuare river is an 18 mile ride and supposed to be one of the highest rated rivers in the country to raft. It has many rapids and drops, but mostly it is very beautiful. I personally felt that the Rio Toro in the Arenal Volcano area had better drops and was more adventurous, but the Pacuare had many rapids, beautiful scenery and was much longer. So, I’d be happy to do either one again!!

Our trip ended in San Jose, we got back late from the rafting trip and wanted food and a bed because our flight out was very early, so we did not do any site seeing in San Jose other than locating the nearest restaurant!  Although we were happy to see a part of Costa Rica that we had not experienced before, and in general we had a good time, I don’t think the Caribbean side of the country was for us. I don’t envision us going back to the Puerto Viejo area again anytime soon, although the rest of Costa Rica is still fair game!

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Canada 2014

Road Trip to Ontario Canada with visits to Guelph, Priceville, and Toronto

July 11th Chris, me and Bogie, our Black Lab set off for a road trip to Canada. Chris has a huge extended family there and has been absent for a few years. Me, well, the last time I saw many of them was on our wedding day, almost 18 years ago, so to say I’ve been overdue for a visit is an understatment. This was Chris’ pilgrimage back to his homeland and he was anxious to see his family and tell me stories of his family history.

Chris and I arrived in Guelph, Ontario late on Friday and checked into the Hotel. We ventured out to visit nearby Guelph university (where Chris’ dad went to school) and also a local coffee shop. We were tired from the drive so we didn’t venture out too far for too long.

Cousin Mark cooking the feast

Cousin Mark cooking the feast

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At Mt. Baldy

The next day we stayed local visiting an art fair in town, then exploring “ALICE” street, the infamous street where the senior Ferraro’s lived, worked and raised their families. Also visited one of the Ferraro family farms where a small house and barn are being renovated.  Then finally to Campbellville farm, where the family grew up, played and still continues to play and where a family reunion/party was held on the evening of the 12th. Chris’ aunts and uncles have all passed on, but he has 20 first cousins all near the area and most of them (and their children) were there today. You can imagine how much fun I was having trying to remember everyone’s names, lineage, etc. Since I had not been to the farm in over 19 years, I was due another tour as much has changed over time. By late afternoon the farm was in full swing, the weather was perfect, the riding tractor was out, and food..food..more food was being served. Cousin Mark made an incredible combination of chicken, veggies and sausage all seasoned and grilled outdoors and prepared on a glass table.  He cooked this meal for over 6 hrs!! It was simply amazing! Really, all of the food was delicious, and naturally I was stuffed!!! Next stop, Priceville cottage with Cousin John and family. A beautiful, scenic area where we hiked and explored nature trails. The featured image, and our photo were taken there. We also went up to the family lake houses at McCullough Lake. On the way up, we stopped at a farmers market and among buying fresh farm berries and garlic, we watched an auction where some cows were being auctioned off to slaughter. That was uncomfortable. Although I love to eat meat, looking them in the eye and knowing their fate was not easy to do. I was glad it didn’t last too long.

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Bogie and his favorite way to fetch!

Lake McCullough was a beautiful area, we really enjoyed hanging out and going for a pontoon boat ride. Would have like to swim and kayak but it was actually quite cold for mid July so we just hung out. Since most of the cousins came up to spend the day, we had another family feast!! Bogie, our faithful companion walked all the trails with us in Priceville and at the lake, he took every opportunity to jump in the water and go for a swim. He was such a trooper!

The last two days we spent at cousin Janice’s place in Toronto. The day we arrived, we went out for a Greek dinner and then went to see the 2nd generation cousins’ band FERRARO play at a local Toronto bar called The Horseshoe. They put on an awesome show!! Rockabilly type music, very good, great harmonies. Really enjoyed them! Our final day included another family feast (might rename this post “eating my way through Canada”) at Janice’s place. All the cousins came again and stayed late into the night. It was nice to see everyone again before we said farewell and make our 10 hr drive back home the next morning.

Needless to say, getting back home was a slap into reality. Spending so much time in rural Canada and then the quiet suburb of Toronto, I did not look forward to the return home, our local traffic and worst of all the now constant screeching jet noise over our home.  It was a nice vacation, and I hope we get to spend more time seeing everyone again soon!!

 

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Costa Rica 2014

DSC_0061 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur second visit to Cost Rica and it did not disappoint.  We needed this break so desperately. The Polar Vortex has hit us hard and this warm weather vacation was not a moment too soon.

By some stroke of luck, the weather cooperated for our departure however,  United Airlines did not.  We had a 3 hr delay at O’Hare which brought us to our destination in Liberia, CR much later than planned.  After getting some food and necessities for the next morning (COFFEE), we found our condo in Langosta Beach and unpacked for the week. Note:  CR has no addresses or street names, so finding the Condo is a challenge at night!

Our next day was spent beach exploring. We spent some time at Playa Conchal (sea shell beach), ate lunch then went to at Flamingo Beach. Tide was high, but we did get to see a few stingrays come up and say hello! We eventually found a “real” grocery store, did some shopping, had fresh chicken and salad for dinner and then set out to explore more of Langosta and Tamarindo.  Tamarindo is very touristy, so i’m glad that we did not stay directly in town. Our Langosta beach condo Horizontes del Mar was about 1 mile out in a quiet community area that was mostly residential with only a few local shops.  I went out for a run most mornings or a run/walk on the beach.  I just loved it, and I was so happy to finally run outside in warm sunshine!!

The rest of the week was spent on some activities, but mostly relaxing. One thing about being on the gold coast of CR, anything that does not involve the beach is about 2 hrs away, minimum,  so we did not want to spend our days driving in the car to get to too many events. Our condo was right on the ocean. It had spectacular sunset views,  a 25 yard pool for days we didn’t want to be in the sand, and it was less then 1 mile from town where there were lots of great places to eat!  We didn’t have to go far for anything else!

We did spend one day white water rafting on the Tenorio River, which was a bit disappointing. The rapids were low in March, so we did not have a  fast paced river ride or lots of great drops. The trip itself was beautiful, and we really enjoyed the river and the scenery but I paid for a class IV, and got a II.  The agency we booked through –Xplore Costa Rica– should have helped us understand the seasonal nature of the rapids in CR. We may have decided to do something else instead like a combo class II rafting or tubing with zip lining. We also had one afternoon on a catamaran/snorkel tour. The crew and boat were nice, but similarly to the rafting trip, this was not a good time of year for snorkeling because the tide was high and waters rough making it difficult to see in the ocean and also difficult to swim/snorkel.  However, it was perfect for those people who love to surf, and Tamarindo is definitely a surfers paradise! Maybe someday I’ll try it, but I think I would tackle paddle boarding first!

We absolutely love Costa Rica and plan to go back again soon. The trip was definitely too short, 7 days (with 2 days traveling) was just not enough time to fully unwind. Next time we may try to visit the Manuel Antonio national park area and also spend some time on the Caribbean side of CR. We would definitely go for 10 days again, like we did in 2010, I think that was perfect.

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New York 2011

My friend Ginny and I took a weekend long trip to New York in May. I’ve never been to NY city and have always wanted to have the experience.  I tried traveling there once before for a business training class and never made it due to flight problems. This trip almost ended the same way.

Leaving my house, I received a text message from the airline stating that my flight had been canceled. Not to be discouraged, we ventured off to the airport anyway to find an alternate flight. About 8 hrs later, we finally landed in NY..almost midnight. We had tickets for lady liberty in the morning and a play on Saturday night, so we did not want to risk not getting in on time.

First on the agenda Saturday morning was a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I was really looking forward to this. This alone was the primary reason for my wanting to visit New York. It was a rainy, cloudy day so the statue was not very visible from far away, however I was able to get some great photos and although our tickets did not permit us to get all the way to the top of the statue, we were able to get in and see out over the hudson and harbor.

Being from a family of Italian immigrants to the US, I was very interested in visiting Ellis Island and experiencing the plight of so many immigrants from Poland, Italy & Russia and other European countries. There were letters written from some immigrants recalling their vision of the Statue of Liberty for the first time, and the overwhelming feeling of joy they experienced. I could have stayed there and read their stories for hours.  I found out my grandfather came to the USA via Ellis Island prior to WWI (and I found his name in one of the registers) but he went back to Italy when the war started. I found this great web site on immigration and saw some familiar photos here as I did at Ellis Island.

http://teacher.scholastic.com/Activities/Immigration/tour/stop4.htm

We saw two plays while we were here, Bengal Tiger, which I wasn’t really crazy about. It was just strange, not sure how to describe it. We also saw War Horse, which was excellent. I really enjoyed the play and also saw the movie when it came out in 2012. The play definitely left more for your imagination, similar to reading a book, in my opinion. And of course, we had an evening in times square which was very cool and a fun experience. I couldn’t believe that once we left the theatre around 11 pm, the entire square was still buzzing and bustling, even the stores were still open like Levis and M&M!

A few other things:

  • A visit to Wall street. Naturally, I couldn’t go to NY and not see this famous street.
  • Went the wrong way on the sub way. No biggie there, turned around and got back on track.
  • Visit to St. Paul’s chapel with the memorial to 9/11 (the new buildings were still being constructed). I could have stayed there all day too….very emotional.
  • Went for a long walk in Central Park. What a cool park! I would love to run there every day if I could. I was really surprised at how big this park is and how quickly someone could get lost or loose their bearings.

New York was interesting and cool. I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to visit and I will go back someday.

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