Portugal, Spain and Italy 2015

This trip was Chris and Frank’s bucket list birthday trip.  Since they both hit 60 this year, they got to pick our trip location and then Ginny and I made all the plans. Spain has definitely been on my bucket list too, so I was thrilled to select some additional options for our itinerary. This was by far one of the longest trip we have ever taken, and definitely one of the best so far proven by over 3000 photos! Consequently, this is a very long blog post!

We arrived in Lisbon Portugal on August 15. To my delight, our former exchange student Marcelo had made the trek down from Vigo Spain with his entire family to spend a few days with us. We met them for a wonderful dinner and tried to catch up on the last 4 years. The next day, we went site seeing, exploring various areas of Lisbon and had lunch at an excellent sea side restaurant. After such a wonderful start to our trip, I knew it was going to be an amazing vacation!

We spent 5 days in Lisbon exploring the city, gaining some historic knowledge and tasting the amazing cuisine (Portugal has BEST sea food EVER. No kidding, it was really amazing)! We visited the site of Jeronimos Monistary, Monument to the Discoveries, Alfma district and the Castelo de Sao Jorge (great views at dusk!), Belem Tower and drove along the 25th of April bridge. We tried going to Sao Roque church – we went twice and both times it was closed- rotten luck on our part.

We took a day trip to Sintra to visit the Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors. Somewhere we thought we saw that the road to the palace was only about 5K, so we decided to walk there instead of taking the bus, this was a mistake. The road to the palace, although not very far, is ALL up a never ending steep hill. We are all fairly fit individuals, so we made the trek ok, but somehow we missed the castle (took the wrong road??).  Once we realized we had passed it (by this time we were tired and crabby) no one want to go back down to find it, so we continued uphill to the palace where we waited in a long line to enter. Needless to say, the walk up and waiting in line took a large amount of time away from our day, so after we visited the palace, we took a taxi back down to the town and never ventured back to find the castle.

We also took a guided tour to the towns of Estoril, which is a beautiful town with seaside views, beaches and a casino, and Cascais a primarily touristic town with shops, beaches and some historic sites. We also went to Cabo Da Roca, the very windy western most point of Europe which had some excellent seaside views and a fantastic restaurant called Da Adraga where we stopped for lunch, the food here was amazing!

On Thursday, August 20th, we flew from Lisbon, Portugal to Barcelona, Spain for 5 days. We have traveled to Barcelona before, but only for a few hours off a cruise ship about 10 years ago. Since then, we have always wanted to go back and explore the architecture and see the inside of the Sagrada Familia (on our previous visit, we were only able to see the outside). Our 5 days were spent exploring the city, admiring Gaudi’s architecture, and venturing off to the Costa Brava and Montserrat.

Our hotel was right across from the beautiful Catedral and in the evening we would enjoy shows provided by the street performers in this square. Many of the performers were quite good and tipping them is welcome of course! We stopped to view Gaudi’s buildings and art again on this trip but our highlight was being able to see the entire Sagrada Familia from the inside as well as from the outside this time. There are no words to describe this massive work of art. Every inch of this church is so defined, so precise, that it’s no wonder it has taken over a hundred years to complete (and is still unfinished). We spent almost 4 hrs just admiring the inside and outside of this structure, it’s really incredible.  We did use the hop on hop off bus to see some of the more far away attractions and I would highly recommend this option. We saw parts of the city that I don’t think I would have gone to otherwise and it was a great time saver too! We saw the national museum of art and explored the nearby gardens, took the cable car up to MontJuic and also explored other part of the city that were a bit too far to walk.

We also took a 1 day guided tour to the Costa Brava, and I was very excited to explore the Camino de Ronda. Our first stop was in Calella de Palafrugell, a post card beautiful little town on the coast. We set off from here to walk along the Camino De Ronda exploring the area and taking some wonderful photos and briefly stopped at a nearby beach to hang out. We left this area for L’esartit, another beautiful port area where we went on a glass bottom boat tour (the boat tour was very lame and I could have done without it). I was disappointed that our walk of the Camino de Ronda was very limited as I was expecting a longer hike with a few more seaside villages to explore. I will have to add it to my “return to” list! Our last stop was PALS, a very cool medieval town with more beautiful views, site seeing and some cool little shops too.

Another day we took the train to Montserrat to explore the monastery and hike the mountainous area. This article provides excellent information on how to take the train, purchasing tickets, and the various ticket options.  We spent the entire day hiking the trails and visiting the monastery with the Black Madonna. My friends were able to see the Basilica Choir boys (I opted to walk down from St. Jerome mountain to the monastery instead), they enjoyed the show but said it was extremely crowded during the performance.

Tuesday, August 25th, we left Barcelona by high speed rail and went to Madrid for 2 days. We had a nice hotel, which was very central to all of the sites we wanted to see. Since we only had two days, we didn’t opt to see any museums and ventured off mostly to explore building architecture, parks and fountains (Madrid certainly loves fountains!).  Contrary to Barcelona where the food was less than spectacular and everything was focused on tourism, I never felt like I was in a “tourist zone” (except at the San Miguel food Market where you will pay many Euros for virtually nothing). We did have some very good meals in Madrid and the prices were very reasonable. I would highly recommend El Caldero for a special night out, it was a bit pricey but very good!

Highlights in Madrid were Retiro Park, The Royal Palace and gardens, and the many many squares: Cibeles, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Callao, Plaza Espana, etc. etc. I especially enjoyed visiting these at night; they are all beautifully illuminated and provided a very comforting ambiance. I wish we were able to visit the Prado and Thyssen museums but doing so would have limited our time around town so we opted out. I will save it for next time!

On Thursday, August 27th, we said goodbye to Frank and Ginny who were heading home and Chris and I took off for our 5 day Southern Spain adventure of the Andalusia region of Spain.

We decided to book a tour company for this part of the trip since the cost was very reasonable compared to hotel/car/food own our own, and far less stressful than making our own plans and driving. We booked through Viator, and the trip included Breakfast & Dinner, transportation, hotel stay, entrance fees and a guide each day at the main attractions.

Day 1) Our first stop was to Cordoba, Spain.  We toured the city of Cordoba and the Holy Cathedral (Mother church of the Diocese) or Mosque (depending on the century). The Cathedral was an amazing structure inside and out. The history behind the transformation from Mosque to Cathedral and the artistic works within it made it my favorite of all the structures/Churches we had seen on this tour. Leaving Cordoba and heading to Seville, we had a late dinner at the hotel and it was not very good ;(.

Day 2) Lots to see in Seville. Our first stop was the Spanish Square; a very beautiful square with amazing tile artwork and walkways. We were there very early in the morning, so it was nice to experience it without too many crowds. We walked through Maria Luisa’s garden, the Santa Cruz quarter, saw the cathedral from the outside and spent quite a bit of time wandering around town on our own near the river and admiring the many old buildings. Late dinner at same hotel and once again it was not good. ;(

Day 3) Ronda, my favorite of the villages we visited. Ronda is a vibrant little town famous for is bull fighting and sits above a deep gorge called El Tajo. The views from the Puente Neuvo bridge were stunning and I couldn’t take enough picture of these views! We also found (off the beaten path) an artist shop with etchings. All were originals and we watched the artist as he completed one of his art sketches. Of course this was my take home present from the trip. I don’t usually buy much when I travel, but I do try to find one or two nice pieces of original art if possible as a momento.

Leaving Ronda and arriving at Costa Del Sol, Torremolinos.  I was expecting to have an opportunity to explore this area, but was disappointed. The distance from Ronda to Torremolinos was short but it was over mountainous areas, thus it took almost 3 hours to arrive. I was disappointed that we arrived so late. It was our only evening here, so by the time we cleaned up and had dinner we only had a few hrs to walk the promenade, have some coffee, etc. Naturally, this was the best hotel with the best food from the entire trip, would have preferred to have stayed longer!

Day 4) Granda and the Alhambra. The Alhambra is yet another artistic marvel with a very interesting background in both Muslim and Christian history. The carvings and artwork were simply amazing and the central court an incredible site. The exterior of the Alhambra was quite plain, so it was amazing to see such a transformation on the inside! We also visited the Generalife Gardens, a brief walk from the Alhambra with very beautiful scenic views as well as very interesting plants, flowers and fountains.

Day 5) Toledo and return to Madrid. Leaving Granada today and after a long drive, we finally reached Toledo. Set up on a hill, it is known for medieval, Jewish and Christian monuments. It has an old Jewish quarter and beautiful large cathedral among many other sites. The entire city is walled and quite a site to behold from the outside as well as the inside. It was an interesting city to explore with much history and monuments, many of which we didn’t get an opportunity to explore fully. Since this was our last day on the tour, we were dropped off back in Madrid and off to our hotel. We were exhausted and hungry, so we decided to return to Lamucca, a familiar restaurant from our previous visit which did not disappoint!

Tuesday, September 1st, we arrived in Bari, Italy. My dad picked us up at the airport and his first suggestion was “let’s go to the beach tomorrow”! I was thrilled! After weeks of walking around site seeing, packing and unpacking, I was looking forward to having no agenda and lazying around for a little while. We ended up at the beach the next two days, with perfect weather and nothing else to do! We also ran into my cousins who arrived in Bari the day before we did. They suggested having a day at their farm, making pizzas and hanging out. My uncle has a brick oven right on the farm and my cousins make the most perfect pizzas! It’s one of our most favorite things to do while we are in town, so of course we jumped at the chance!  We did this on Sunday, our last day of vacation. It was a perfect ending to an awesome trip!



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Cabo San Lucas 2010

Cabo San Lucas 2010

We stayed at an all inclusive resort at Los Cabos, about 5 days, I don’t even remember which one, they all seem to blur into each other. Our location was away from most of the spring break crowd in the main town of Cabo, so the setting was much calmer that some other areas! Met up with my friend Bridgette while we were there and enjoyed some relaxing time at the beach and pool. We also went to visit Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo bar in town (the highlight for me). I was hoping we might run into him, but no such luck! We tried to go snorkeling and sea kayaking but the water was so rough, we didn’t get very far on the Kayak and it was impossible to snorkel with the water so turned up and rough. We don’t seem to have much luck with the water conditions  in Mexico when we go. Anyway, it was a nice relaxing time away, great to hang with Bridgette and enjoy some quite time too. Fun times!

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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.



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.



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.



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.



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!


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.


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!!


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


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.


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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