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Costa Rica: Land of the Sloths!

I finally did it. After years of sitting, waiting, wishing (did you catch that Jack Johnson reference?) I finally made my way over to Costa Rica for a belated 30th birthday getaway. I already knew what a good time I was in for after hearing about the awesome trips my friends have made either for honeymoons, bro getaways, Teaching English stints, etc. And even so, amidst my pure joy after arriving I almost broke down into tears when I realized I left my Canon Rebel back in New York. Nooooo, but the SLOTHS. I must capture the beauty of the slow-moving beasts that I love so much! After whimpering for 20 minutes or so I got over myself, because I was in rainforest paradise after all, and I proceeded to have one of the most relaxing, yet active weeks of my life. Ahh, where to begin?

We decided to spend the full week in Manuel Antonio, the destination that my bestie Dory raved about from having spent a month in Costa Rica last year. I must admit that I was a little skeptical about this plan – what about the volcano in Arenal, the Caribbean vibe on the east coast, the wildlife at Tortuguero!? Won’t we just get bored sitting in one place for the entire time? This place better be frickin’ amazing. And well, it was. First of all, I absolutely loved the laid back vibe and how friendly everyone was – it reminded me of a certain Costa Rican classmate who always had a smile on his face (miss you, Fernando!) It was also very cool to meet some expats – the majority of those I met being American – and hear their stories about what brought them there. We chose to stay at Mango Moon, a boutique hotel up the hill in Manuel Antonio. The owner is an American expat who’s lived in MA for the past 6 years and she is absolutely wonderful. And what did I mean when I said the week was relaxing, yet active? Well, even though we had our fill of beach days, we also did plenty of activities. Since tourism is such a big part of Costa Rica’s economy, it was very easy to set up tours of pretty much anything we wanted to do and have the tour companies pick us up at the hotel. The only tour we set up in advance was with a well known guide that leads nature walks through Manuel Antonio National Park, but we had no problem planning the rest of the week once we got there. And even though we only arrived at our hotel around 9pm and were exhausted after a full day of travel, we were up at 7am the next day to greet our national park guide and start on the week’s adventures. The walk through the national park itself is not too far, but since there is so much to see on the trails we spent 4 hours with Johan, mesmerized by all that was there to see but would have been impossible to spot if we were on our own. Our guide parted ways with us at one of the park’s beaches and we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and beach bumming to our heart’s content. The rest of the week was similar with kayaking through the mangroves one day, rafting through the Savegre River and even taking an intense hike to get to the beautiful Nauyaca Falls. Up at 7am each morning to start our day with breakfast with a view, off and exploring by 7:30, and back and in bed by 10pm to start it all again the next day. It was my first time both rafting and kayaking and I had a blast. My favorite day trip was the trip to the falls, which I heard is the biggest and most impressive waterfall in the area. We worked up a sweat getting to the falls and as soon as we arrived we awarded ourselves with a nice long dip in the natural pool.

Nauyaca Falls

Rafting down the Savegre River

Manuel Antonio is best known for its national park, and for good reason. In addition to being able to spot all kinds of wildlife, there are several trails that lead to different beaches. As I had mentioned before, you absolutely need a guide the first time you go so they can point out all the animals, plants and insects for you, and then from then on you can always go back just to relax and swim at the beach. We actually ended up there 3x over the course of the week, taking different nature trails and hiking over to different parts of the park. And what kind of wildlife did we spot? I just so happened to keep a list throughout the walk. And yes, I did get my sloth sighting, complete with fuzzy pictures and all!

Sloth
Red Crowned Woodpecker
Iguana
Crab
Frog
Howler Monkey
Cicada
Eyelash Pit Viper & Fer De Lance
Baby Iguana
Helmet Headed Lizard
Golden Web Spider
Green Tree Anole
Lesser White-Lined Bat
White face (Capuchin) Monkey
Walking Stick
Basilisk (Jesus Christ Lizard)
Raccoon
Squirrel Monkey

Manuel Antonio Beach

Gemelas Beach

Escondido Beach

Espadilla Sur Beach

Tips for Manuel Antonio Nature Park: Make sure to get a guide in advance. We found Johan Chavez through Tripadvisor and he was a very sweet, knowledgable guy. It’s obvious he loves what he does, which is so refreshing to see. We ended up running into him each time we visited the park, and once he went out of his way to show up a pit viper that was just spotted on the trail. Also, while Manuel Antonio beach is the most picturesque, if you want to have the beach to yourself take the trail that leads to Espadilla Sur. We spent hours in the water and felt like we had the place to ourselves.

As if that wasn’t enough wildlife, we had frequent visitors at the hotel every day too – the adorable Titi monkeys.

And finally, we ended the week with an awesome 20 minute flight from MA back to San Jose to catch our flight back to NY. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

So if you haven’t yet been out to this amazing country where the people are so warm and friendly, plans are made depending on the tides, and the raccoons are actually kind of cute, maybe now’s the time to get on that. And while peak season brings more days of sun, I loved going in July when the rain was welcomed by didn’t ruin plans and the sun wasn’t as harsh. Of course, now I feel the need to go back and visit the other parts of Costa Rica. See you next year? Pura vida!

Where to eat: Coming from NYC, we weren’t exactly heading to Costa Rica for the food (yes, I’ll admit that we are spoiled in New York.) That being said, we did have a couple good meals and of course indulged in the seafood. Best meal of the trip hands down was dinner at Emilio’s Cafe, which fortunately for us was just up the street from our hotel. The great food was also well complemented with a live Latin band. Splurge for the tuna trio!

Where to stay: It seems like there are a lot of great options for hotels depending on your budget. Mango Moon was perfect for us because it had fantastic views and was clean yet still super affordable. And really, the friendly owner and staff make the place as great as it is. Even the dog who couldn’t be bothered by my presence warmed up to me by the end of the week.

Black sand beach at the bottom of the trail from Mango Moon

 

Books read:
Orphan Train by Christina Baker
Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis

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Santa Barbara Dog Park


Meet Odie. A furry two year old malitpoo puppy who loves veggies, squeaky toys and a good game of chase. Odie has always been a bit coddled ever since he suffered a puppy virus that threatened his life when he was just a few months old. He’s been a blessing in our family, acting as the surrogate grandchild and taking the heat off my sister and I for the time being. While Odie loves people, we recently discovered that he has a bit of social anxiety when he’s around other dogs. So with that we have been trying to find places where he can be outdoors with plenty of space and the occasional dog around so he can get more used to them. This weekend we took a trip to Santa Barbara to head out to the Douglas Family Preserve, which is an off-leash park located up on the cliffs with stunning views of the ocean. It is the perfect place to stop if you are doing a road trip up north and need a quick pit stop to let your four-legged friend stretch. At the base of the cliffs is Hendry’s Beach, a dog friendly beach that’s also a great spot for surfers. While Odie is not a fan of the beach (to my utter discontent) he still humored us and let the humans enjoy the afternoon. If you’re in SoCal with your pooch, hope you have a chance to make it out here!

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Cruising Down the 101

It’s August. My program starts in a matter of weeks, and like most Europeans who take August off to travel and relax, I too am enjoying my summer vacation. Ok, well I didn’t make it out to Croatia or anything like my friend Robert did, but I am lucky enough that I’m from SoCal, a true summer beach destination in itself.

I left NYC, my home away from home for the last 6 years, a little over 2 1/2 weeks ago. As much as I’ve complained about New York, I really do love it. It is probably the best example of a true love/hate relationship to me – it kicked my ass and put a smile on my face all in the same day. I complained about living there constantly (about the size of apartments, about dating, about the cost of just about everything) but I also felt the biggest amount of pride living there as well. And I knew that the only way I would be ok with leaving NYC was if the next place was just as awesome to me. So when the opportunity to not only get my MBA but to get it in Milan arose, it was a no-brainer that I had to go. And the idea of giving myself a month at home to change gears and prepare for my upcoming year sounded like a good idea at the time, until I got here.

The first week I was back in Cali, I was miserable. Coming from a bustling metropolitan city to the suburbs is a hard enough adjustment, but adding on the emo-ness of moving away from many of my close friends and big city comforts was Rough. Don’t get me wrong, I am lucky that I still have a strong social network of both family and close friends here in Cali. I just needed some time to mope, I was allowed that! So mope I did, while stuffing my face with my mom’s home cooking to ease the transition. After a solid week of binge eating and watching the Olympics, I realized what a fool I was for wasting my precious time here. It’s not like I live in some obscure midwest state, I live in one of the most coveted places in the US! So I grabbed my latest NY Mag, uploaded a few Pimsleur Italian lessons onto my iPhone, and headed to the beach. And the moment I hit the sand I instantly felt better. It is true what they say about the sun doing wonders on your attitude, isn’t it Hallie?

The other day I laughed when Chris said “I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as stress in California.” I instantly thought about the road rage I experienced when I was stuck in traffic in LA last week and knew that wasn’t true, but it did get me thinking. Why is it that Californians tend to be more relaxed and generally happier anyway? I have noticed a definite difference in New York from those who are from Cali and those who aren’t. Is it the all-year-round near perfect weather, the close proximity to the beach, the abundance of avocados? It’s gotta be something.

Whatever it may be, for the last few weeks I have felt more like my old self with balancing time with friends, prepping for my move and, of course, hitting the beach as much as possible. As much as I love to travel, I can’t forget how lucky I am to be from here. I have about 10 days left in Cali before I head to Milan and am instantly thrown into a whirlwind of taking care of all my to-dos before classes start, so I need to make the most of my stress-free living now. But really, how hard can it be to open a bank account, get a new phone service and find an apartment if I don’t speak Italian, anyway?

Santa Monica Muscle Beach


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Teach Me How to Dewey: A Guide to Surviving Dewey Beach

There’s a lot of the East Coast that I haven’t seen in my 6 years of living in New York. While I did make it down to South Beach I regret not checking out a lot of the beach towns in between. However, one thing I can say I did get right is that I’ve had my fair share of weekends at Dewey. What’s Dewey you ask? Only one of the best kept secret beach towns on the East Coast. Alright, it’s not so much a secret because the place is bumpin’ all summer, but not many people think of Delaware when they envision a fantastic beach weekend. And those in the know prefer to keep it that way.

Dewey Beach is an awesome party town full of skim boarders, sun seekers and day drinkers. Whether you want to dance to a cover band, paddle board in the bay or drink your face off, Dewey satisfies. But I don’t mean to make it sound like just a party town. There’s spots that are great for families, little pre-teen surfer kids, and even dogs. That being said, since I am a single twenty-something who is ready to rock my summer, I was one of the many revelers that took advantage of the awesome bar scene. So if you’re new in town and don’t know where to begin, here’s a dummy’s guide to doing the Dewey bar scene right.

The Starboard
The Starboard is pretty much home base for Dewey Beach. It’s the largest bar on the street (most of the bars are right next to each other, or a short walk away) and it is raging day or night. Because of the crowds, the bar offers VIP passes which you can pick up before the season starts if you wait in line. If you don’t have passes, don’t fret – you may be lucky enough to find a drunk girl to scalp her passes to you. Once you make it in you can find multiple bars, tons of space to get down and dance, and my personal favorite: delicious jello syringes! Say hi to our favorite resident bar patron Slacky if you see him!


Hammerhead’s

If you happen to make it over to Dewey Beach on a holiday weekend, you MUST stop everything you’re doing on Sunday night and head to Hammerhead’s. DJ Woody spins and he is ri-dic. This past weekend he had the whole bar dancing up a storm and not caring one bit that everyone was dripping with sweat. DJ Woody, come to New York please!

Another great night for Hammerhead’s is when Bernie Doherty is doing an acoustic set. His voice is amazing and he’s definitely a favorite. He was there on Saturday night, and I’m not entirely sure how often he’s there but hopefully you’ll have a chance to hear him perform.

Bottle & Cork
Just want to dance to some live music during the day? Then you have to check out Jam Session at Bottle & Cork. Jam Session takes place on Saturday afternoons, and on Sundays during holiday weekends. There’s a cover band and always a HUGE line out the door of people trying to get in to rock out. A favorite Dewey cover band that played over Memorial weekend is Mr. Greengenes.


Jimmy’s

If you’re not quite ready to tackle the craziness of the Starboard, then Jimmy’s is a fantastic middle ground spot for some drinks and grub. It’s a great open air bar and there’s always a decent amount of people around. Their steamed shrimp is delicious, they have different crushed fruit drinks available, and during the day you’ll most likely hear some live acoustic music. Get the watermelon crush, so delicious!

Rusty Rudder & Que Pasa

Que Pasa is a personal fav of mine and is great for when you want to slurp down giant piña coladas alongside the bay. Both these bars are next to each other and offer a more relaxed atmosphere. If you are one of the lucky ones who have a boat, you can park it close to Que Pasa and swim up for some drinks. The bay is also where you can try your hand at paddleboarding if you are up for it.

There’s a lot more going on in Dewey Beach (and its neighbor Rehoboth) than just a bustling day drinking scene.  Outside of the expansive beach, there’s also fantastic outlet shopping, a cute Funland for the kids to go on rides and play carnival games, and tons of cute restaurants and stores. I personally love the chill, non-pretentious vibe of the area too. I’m fortunate because my favorite otters Lorzo and Lex are from Delaware, but even if you aren’t from there I hope you’re able to check it out at some point. Great times and hilarious stories are sure to follow.

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Fort Lauderdale

Thank you Carnival for a fantastic week of cruising and island hopping. I think my favorite was spending the day at Atlantis and feeling like a kid again. After the cruise, we had the day to kill before catching out evening flight back to Cali. Because it was NYE, we decided to skip the crowds at South Beach and head over to Atlantic Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale for some more relaxing beach time. Fort Lauderdale’s beaches are pretty great, and the water is gorgeous. The downside is that its about 10 degrees colder than the Caribbean, but that’s still not bad! I wish California had water this beautiful. After a few hours at the beach, we sat down and had lunch at La bonne Crêpe in Las Olas Blvd. If you’re from Cali and haven’t been to Las Olas before, its very similar to State Street in Santa Barbara or Old Town in Pasadena. There are lots of cute stores and restaurants, and its a great spot to sit and people watch. Fort Lauderdale is also very dog friendly (they have a dog beach!) so that adds to the cute factor. La bonne Crêpe had a huge selection of different crepes, and if you’re a fan of gruyere cheese then you will not be disappointed. Just among our table we had variations of seared tuna, ground sirloin, and blackened chicken breast.  I always want to go to Miami when I visit Florida, but maybe now I’ll choose Fort Lauderdale instead for a more laid-back weekend.

 

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December 31, 2011 · 5:59 pm

Santa Monica

If I had to pick a place in LA to live, I think it would be Santa Monica. You aren’t too far from downtown but far enough to avoid the ultra-pretentious, the atmosphere is more laid back, and best of all you are right next door to the BEACH. Santa Monica is always a must-visit spot for me whenever I’m in SoCal. Third Street Promenade is a perfect, lazy afternoon place to catch up with old friends over shopping and coffee, or just enjoy the outdoor air and watch a few street performers. Last time I was there I even watched one of the World Cup games at a neighboring bar with a bunch of other fans.

The pier is also a great place to take a stroll as well, which is exactly what my sister and I did today. Today’s weather outside was anything but frightful: high 60’s with warm sunshine and zero humidity. I got a kick out of watching people emerge from their cars wearing nothing but bathing suits and carrying frisbees. Ah, summertime in December – gotta love California! We snagged some great $1/hr short term parking right next to the pier off Ocean Avenue (we offset the discount by enjoying some delicious but overpriced shakes) and spent the hour checking out the pier and enjoying the sun. Neetha flew in from freezing Japan so it was even more of a treat for her. The pier is great for families because it has a ferris wheel and even a small rollercoaster, and then plenty of games for the kids. Adults will like it too though because the panoramic view of the beach and shore is beautiful, and there are many restaurants to grab some drinks and food.

After the pier, we ended the day trip by zooming down Pacific Coast Highway, my favorite drive, and enjoying the coastal scenery. Its times like these that we are reminded just how amazing California is. This is why Californians are always so happy! Make sure to check out Santa Monica on your next visit to SoCal, and also check out Venice Beach if you have the time because their boardwalk is fantastic too. Don’t forget the rollerblades!

  

Reason #225 to love California: Its beach weather even in December.

 

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December 22, 2011 · 5:21 am

Zuma Beach

In my very biased opinion, Zuma is the best beach in all of Southern California.

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December 16, 2011 · 12:59 am

Escape to the Shore – Mahabalipuram, India

Every now and then it’s good to get away from the bustling city and all the people and just unwind. On Sunday, we decided to take a break from the smog and “smells of Chennai” as Lydia put it, and head to Mahabalipuram, a lovely coastal town about an hour south of Chennai. Mahabalipuram is a rather well-known tourist spot for locals and non locals alike because it has a clean beach and also some historic landmarks that have been deemed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. On our way there we stopped over at Dakshinachitra, which means Picture of the South. Dakshinachitra is a large center that recreated traditional styles of houses of the four southern states of India. There are 17 different styles of houses, some displaying artwork or sculptures from that era, others showcasing various crafts like weaving or henna tattooing. I enjoyed exploring the different styles of houses and making my cousin who’s about 6’ fit through each tiny door only to be met by another tiny door. The museum also teaches traditional dances and even has a game for the children that was like piñata but used a clay pot instead (and I’m not entirely sure if it involved candy).

Soon after leaving, we arrived in Mahabalipuram and made our way to our first stop: Shore Temple. Shore Temple is a beautifully intricate temple carved out of stone and it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. Unfortunately, due to its close proximity to the beach, the stone has eroded somewhat substantially over the years. Some would say that it adds to it though and gives a better sense of perspective as to how old it really is, so I guess its all how you look at it. Shore Temple was created back in the 7th century and is said to be one of the oldest structural temples in all of India.

After we wandered through the Shore Temple we went in search of the Five Rathas, the other World Heritage site that is closeby. The Five Rathas are monolithic, meaning that they were carved out of a single, enormous piece of rock. Ratha means “chariot” and each temple is dedicated to a different god. The only things that were carved separately are the few animal statues that surround some of the temples. The Five Rathas were built about 1500 years ago. I’m glad to see that these temples were deemed World Heritage sites because they will be more protected for future generations to see.

Aside from the impressive temples, Mahabalipuram is also great because it has many restaurants and shops. The restaurants cater to Westerners so you don’t have to be on your guard about getting sick from the food. We ended up at Moonrakers, a top-rated restaurant that has excellent, fresh seafood. So fresh that the waiter brought the squirming crab a little too close to my face before it ended up on my cousin’s plate. The fish I had was so tender and delicious (the butter garlic sauce is a must), and the calamari and shrimp that we shared was also excellent. A good spicy masala makes things taste even more amazing.

Exciting purchase of the evening: Bargaining for two skirts and paying only about $8 for both of them. Oh, Japan, I do not miss your ridiculously overpriced clothing.

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Hasta Luego, San Seb!

Currently I’m sitting on a train while passing through beautiful French countryside at sunset. I was very sad to leave San Sebastian today, and easily could have stayed there through the weekend. I kind of wish I had and skipped some other cities on my list, but I know a whole new set of adventures is waiting for me, starting in beautiful Paris.

San Sebastian is such a wonderful town, and it really is for everyone. You have the young surfer kids who all rock Billabong and can’t hold their alcohol, and the families vacationing from France and Spain. There’s the older people who are super cute walking their dogs, and of course the backpacker types like myself. And my personal favorite: the hot rowers! Yum.  Everyone is so friendly there that you don’t ever feel lonely, and I had such a great time meeting people at the bars at night from all over. The locals are very warm and welcoming of foreigners, and one struck up a conversation with me when I was on the beach and told me a little bit more about the town and it’s history. Yesterday, I didn’t have enough money to pay for my lunch, and they wouldn’t take my card (so mortifying!) but instead of getting annoyed at me the waitress was so nice and let me go to the bank to get money without giving me any attitude. And when I returned, she apologized to me and wished me well on my trip. So, so nice. I really adore that town. And I’m going to miss my hostel mates! I’ve really grown used to having the Aussies around – they’re such a sweet group of guys and I had so much fun with them. It was raining last night for a little bit and one of the guys pulled out a roulette drinking game and we all had a blast. They’re going to ibiza this wknd and not going to lie I’m totally tempted to catch a flight out there next week even though its out of the way!  Omg that would be so fun. My roomie and I also hung out a lot together during the day and it was great wandering around the city together. He was even patient enough to help me work on my photography skills. I got some great tips – thanks, Cliff! Hope I continue to meet great people like these guys.

So now here I am, wondering how the rest of the trip is going to go because from here on out I won’t know the local language. It was such a great asset to be able to speak Spanish this last week, and even though I could have gotten away without knowing it (even though the hostel owner doesn’t even speak English!) I think people appreciated that I spoke as much as possible even when it wasn’t perfect. Man, I really need to live in a spanish speaking country again and work on that! I had to catch a connecting train to Paris just over the french border earlier, and when I got out to buy my ticket the woman at the ticket stand only spoke French to me. Even after It was obvious that I couldn’t understand her, she still kept repeating herself in French and only became more obviously annoyed at me. It was actually pretty funny that I just started laughing thinking about how I’m 5 mins outside of Spain and already not understanding anything, and I think  my laughter pissed her off more. Haa, oops.

Oh yea, forgot to mention that I had a Priya moment and almost boarded a train to Madrid instead of Paris – of course that’s something only I would do. Good thing I figured it out before it was too late, phew!

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I Found Heaven in San Sebastian

San Sebastian, I love you! With your quaint streets and lazy cafes, delicious pintxos and cute surfers abounding everywhere. I woke up at the crack of dawn Tues morning so I could catch the early train in from Barca – I’m so glad I did! After snoozing for four hours and watching Rio, I stepped off the train into this adorable town. I checked into the hostel/guesthouse I’m staying at which is in someone’s apartment (super cute and comfortable too!) and made friends with my roomie who’s also a New Yorker. He’s a photo editor and soon we decided to take our Canons out together around the city and also hit up the beach. We had some delicious pintxos (the Basque equivalent to tapas) and then found a spot at the surf beach. A quick dip in the Bay of Biscay and I was soon napping on the beach among all the other Spanish tourists. San Sebastian is such a chill, safe town, and after coming from Barcelona it’s been great to slow down and really just relax. Eat, snooze on the beach, take photos, repeat. Last night we went out with another hostel mate (oh, forgot to mention that my Aussie roommates are also staying at this hostel!) and met another fun girl traveling solo as well. We ate more pintxos at this amazing spot, quite possibly the best in town, and then had some drinks and laughs together until we stumbled home. Another great day!

Oh, and I was originally planning on catching the overnight train to Paris tonight but after being here for a few hours I knew I had to stay an extra day. Time to stroll around the city and hit the beach, this doesn’t suck.

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