Philadelphia and New Haven 2017 (Part 2)

Hey Everyone!

I am only posting photos in this post as each picture is pretty self explanatory if you click on them, and it was just an overnight in PA and a dinner stop in CT.

We did do a lot of history walking in Philadelphia.  We really love this city, and I hope I can make it back again soon.  New Haven was new to me, and I hope to make it back there again soon too to eat more pizza  haha.  🙂

xoxoxox!

Day 2!

We went to the Franklin Institute and then headed for New Haven, CT, for dinner on the way home.

New Haven

Washington DC 2017 (part 1)

Hey Everyone,

Just got back from our vacation Saturday night around midnight.  It was such a great school vacation week away!  Let me slide right into our trip here on my blog.

Ooooh yeah! First, I have a new blog name!  I upgraded here on wordpress to valeriaoutloud.blog.  I think it’s just a fun easy name to remember (for ME to remember!) and I needed more photo space, so why not? Right.

We left home around 9:30AM, had the best ride together and got to DC right in time for our dinner reservations at the Old Ebbett’s Grill.  This is the oldest restaurant in DC, right next to the Treasury Building/White House.  The restaurant was hopping!  So glad we made all our dinner reservations ahead of time. This place was old man’s club type of swank with original gas dim lighting, dark blue velvet seating, large stone bar, wood paneling, and all the waiters/waitresses decked out in their long apron whites buzzing around. Super fun, really great menu and drinks list. I am one of those indecisive food people at times, and when menus are really thoughtful it makes it hard, and this place’s menu was packed with a lot of great choices.  We dined on some fabulous cocktails and dishes; like some of the things we had were the calamari, crab cakes, and brick chicken.

DAY 1 Photos:

We stayed at the Hyatt on K Street, and it was real convenient. The location was about 5 blocks from the White House area. We walked everywhere throughout our trip, which was great for us and thankfully we had beautiful weather 95% of the week.

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The next day we decided to spend the day going around to some museums and the archives.  We started off at the National Museum of American History, then hopped to the National American History Museum and then the National Archives… Can you say HOLY WALKING!? We hit some major walking step milestones on this trip. The amount of history and information in these three buildings alone would normally take us a day at each place.  Just impressive, amazing and inspiring.  After all this we took an uber to our dinner reservation at MXCD, a Todd English Mexican restaurant.  I highly recommend it if you like Mexican food.  The sangria was so delicious and each dish we ordered was so good I could’ve stayed there all night noshing! (seriously, Mexican food done right is my fav and their tomatillo salsa is something I am still dreaming about!! Yes I love Mexican food this much  haha. )

Then we decided last-minute during dinner that it was the best time for us to surprise the girls with a stop for dessert.  They have been insane for DC Cupcakes for years; a reality show based on the owners of and shop Georgetown Cupcakes.  So, we took an uber right over to Georgetown, and they were so giddy!  We arrived to a monster line, which went by fairly quick, but I was nervous we wouldn’t make it inside before they closed … but we got in!

…six cupcakes later, and we were all real glad we made the visit. Ok, I only ate half one but they disappeared right fast with this crew!  Their cupcakes are actually good! I only make this statement because we went to Carlo’s Bakery in NJ a few years ago and their bakery stunk..sad looking and the pastries were boring. So this was a relief and a memorable stop for our girls.

DAY 2 Photos:

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Our third day was an unusual one…  So my husband’s high school friend works for the, uhm, CIA in DC.  Anytime we mentioned going down, he has always told us to take him up on a quick tour of his old stomping grounds… THE TREASURY BUILDING!!  So we took him up on it, met right outside the White House and walked over to this obscure building nearby where he got us some credentials to take this tour.  He then took us underground to a tunnel that goes under Pennsylvania Ave!  One part goes to the Treasury Building (which is where we went) and another goes to the White House!  Super cool.   From there he took us all over the Treasury, wherever he could.  The building is definitely impressive, so much money was spent on this interior, it’s quite sick.  After our two hours together, we took off to the Renwick Gallery across the street.  What a beautiful museum!  As we were there the Patriot’s showed up to the White House. We got a text of Bill Belichick walking in with a few people from our friend who was in the lobby across from their entrance.  SO LUCKY!!!

After this gallery, we walked a ways to the USDA building for lunch… weird right!?  Well, not really since it is the only food spot near the Holocaust Museum where we were headed.  So, I was skeptical, even reading reviews, but the food was insanely good and the place was so clean.  AND BUSY!  I have never had a burrito from a non-Mexican place that was as good..seriously.  After we got all stuffed full of food we made our way across the street to the Holocaust Museum.

I really can’t express how important this museum is, especially after talking to my children and all their questions while walking through.  Even though we had prepped the girls beforehand, at home, with some Holocaust and war information, especially all the things that pertained to our families..like how my great uncles all perished fighting Russia, and how my father’s family (there were 11 children) was displaced through the war, and, how both of my husband’s grandfathers were part of the war, one the bombing of Japan and the other the reconstruction of the occupation of Japan.  I wasn’t all that big on this time of our history, until 2011, when I went to Normandy for a personal WWII tour with my husband.

My God.

I left France with such a different perspective, and when we figured to go to DC this year, I was the first to say we needed to go to the Holocaust Museum, no matter the kids age.  We are both connected in some way to the war with our families, but the holocaust is a totally different aspect of that and I wanted to make sure our children understood real racist bigotry/just down right hate, so they understood that this is not normal behavior, and never to accept it as it is ok.  EVER.  I had to fight back a lot of tears explaining things to them, which was hard. Especially when we entered the ovens room and then the shoes room. I was with my oldest daughter, and well, ugh, my soul just wanted to melt into the floors with my tears.

So powerful.

We followed this visit with a rest back at the hotel for a bit before dinner.  We all needed it, especially me.

We then grabbed an uber to go to dinner, my husband was very excited to keep this one to himself.  We showed up to Jaleo!!!  So, a lil back story, I have a huge, well, IMMENSE, chef crush on Jose Andres.  I love this guy, he reminds me of my dad when I was younger..how he talks, expresses himself and just everything, and his cooking skills are right up my alley.  He is so talented.  So when we showed up I was so excited!  I have been wanting to go to DC to check out his restaurants.

Wow, just wow.  What a talented guy!  The cocktail choices were great and the list of tapas was overwhelming.  First, we had to try the Ferran Adrià liquid olives.  TO DIE FOR! Then we noshed on endives with oranges, hanger steak with piquillo, salted cod fritters, Iberico ham and chicken croquettes,  sausage and white beans, and I can’t remember more, but it was a sea of food and drinks.  OOO speaking of drinks!  My husband got a Clara in a porron, which is this funky  glass blown decanter you decant IN YO MOUTH!

After dinner we took a walk to get gelato at Pitango, which was real good!  The girls got a Matcha green tea, a stracciatela (choc chip) and we split a nocciola (hazelnut), and I wouldn’t mind going back sometime.  haha

DAY 3 Photos:

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Our last day in DC we spent it at the National Museum of African-American History and then a walk to the memorials along the Mall.   This museum was as powerful as you would think, and just as lingering as the Holocaust Museum.  My husband’s former colleague works for the museum and gave us one tip…START FROM THE BOTTOM.  So that is what we did.  This area was the most eloquent space I have been in, with regards to museums…and believe me folks, I am a museum expert at this stage of my life with my husband.!; if I had to list all the museums I have been to, you’d be exhausted. Like I am.  hahah

Ok, so this museum was similar in sense to the Holocaust museum, the only difference I felt in this museum was the exuberant resilience of the Africans/African-Americans/Black Americans.  They start you off in an elevator taking you down to the lower depths of the floor, going down through time.  As you made your way back up on foot, you go through the decades/centuries up the levels..like walking through time; starting with their first encounters with becoming slaves all the way to modern day. They over came so much hate, hate that I couldn’t even bear to read on the labels through the earliest times in the exhibit. I was happy to see that they weren’t shy to say things out loud there either, like the words whipped, lynched, hung, beaten, raped, fathered children with a slave, abused, looked over, ignored, etc,  they were there as clear as day…they weren’t dismissed.

As you went outside this exhibit and throughout the museum you saw their dark times turned into a way of life …their music, food, fashion, point of view..just everything.  It’s def a must see in DC!!!

After this we made our way across the Mall to the Washington Memorial, and then to the Lincoln Memorial.  It’s weird how overcome with emotions I was walking up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.  It was a place I had always wanted to go visit.  Lincoln is a man I highly admire from America’s history.  He made powerful statements and wanted to see a just country.  The sight was not only beautiful but the vibe is also quite impressive.   So many gatherings of people there. Really top notch.  After we hung out at the memorial for an hour or so, we took a stroll through the Vietnam War Memorial.  It is quaintly tucked away so I almost missed it!

We then ran to grab an uber to take us to the hotel for a rest.  We walked something insane at this point, like 7 miles and on our feet, without much rest.  Then after that good rest we took a walk down to Central, Michel Richard’s restaurant..he passed away recently. So as you might tell, I am a bit of a foodie by all these places we hit up in DC.  Central was so much fun!  We got so many cocktails and appetizers that I still am full!  We started off with a blueberry white wine sangria and a pink Negroni for me…holy tipsy off one.  Seriously, I am no light weight, but that drink was holy moly good! After this we went to Milk, a special spot my kids love in NYC.  Then it started pouring, so we took an uber back to pack up the room.

DAY 4 Photos:

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Ok, so this is part one! The second part (one night) we hit up Philadelphia, PA, for a quick history stop and then on the way home we stopped in New Haven, CT.

Hope this wasn’t terribly wordy…as I wasn’t planning to say much!  haha

xoxoxoxoxo

Costa Rica 2017- Our last Full Day and departing!

Hey Everyone!
On this last day of February, it seemed like a good reason to share our last full day in La Fortuna and our departure the next day.  
We woke up to another grey start, a light drizzle, but you could see the sun was trying its best to shine for us. Even so, a little rain won’t stop us! We headed to our last big breakfast up at the Tres Cascadas. So bittersweet, because we ended up having the sun shine during breakfast like it was meant solely for us. We were the only people there on the patio for a while, so it felt like a personal send off. All these different type of birds flew by and stopped at neighboring trees, like it was a parade. So special. We hung out at breakfast again for a long while, just no need to rush anywhere, felt so good. This day we decided to spend the whole day at the resort, to see everything and have a real fun lazy last day swimming.  
Afterward breakfast we went down to the Perdido Springs area, where we played on the slide with the kids, then did our thing by letting them play on their own so we could escape up to the hotter pools. When we got up there I noticed that some type of wildlife, a monkey or something, had just foraged a meal and placed it on the edge of the hottest pool (where the vegetation was thick and out of the way). I saw little bite marks along with split open fruits/berries. It was awesome. We ended up staying in the pools for a long time, just chilling out, talking to some other guests and enjoying a drink. It was a beautiful day relaxing.
We had only made one plan for the day, to enjoy the resort, and we had yet to explore Club Rio. Club Rio is an outdoor adventure area, on The Springs property, about 2 miles south of reception. They offer kayaking, tubing, horseback riding, rock wall climbing, wildlife sanctuary, hiking, bird watching, etc. etc. A funky green bus picks you up outside of the main reception area to take you down to Club Rio. When you arrive, you are greeted by the main thatched check in desk, but the views beyond to the right are the coolest. There is this green lush lawn overlooking a raging river scurrying by. First we saw a team of tubers floating, then a bit later a handful of kayakers, super cool! Then to the left there was an open floor plan restaurant, and then beyond that were trails going in every direction then to the left of that were the lockers/bathrooms adjacent to this massive rock wall. This place was AMAZING!
The girls really wanted to go on the Wildlife Sanctuary Tour, cause they remembered seeing it on their website. This was a fantastic tour, and our guide made it special for my girls. So off we went hiking up this massive stair case that gave way to the grounds above. There was a natural styled habitat for each rescued animal, some like animals could be together, but there were many that just couldn’t be together. There were a lot of jungle cats, like ocelots, pumas, and margays. They had a float of crocodiles, too! HUGE ONES! They had rescued a lot of tropical birds, and a slew of monkeys. This place, sadly, was created to rescue animals that are either illegally taken on as pets, in zoos or used as performers with traveling shows and neglected or in unfit conditions. The weird part was the largest jungle cat, the puma, acted like a house cat because it was conditioned by its previous owner. So this giant cat would come up to the window wanting to be pet. Super crazy, and sad. Yet I wanted to take him home.  smh. A few of their animals were rescued from the wild too, because they were ousted in their packs from injuries. They were all so beautiful, and happy there.
We were talking to our guide while we were inside the two-toed sloth’s home, yes inside!, that the girls really wanted to see the toucans cause they had both done projects on them at school, our 9yr old this year and our 11yr old two years ago. Well, that got him excited for our next leg of the tour. He told us we were about to go to their enclosure, but if we wanted, and for nothing, he would let us inside to feed them…lemme think…UHM YES!!
The girls went nuts, and we had the most insane adventure with these toucans. There were three in total, one more beautiful than the other. Their beaks are a marvel really. Perfectly colored. Huge. Their contrasting feathers were just amazing. The blackness of the base feathers compared to the brilliance of the yellow and greens, seamless and plush. Beautiful animals. The guide gave us a few pellets of food in our hands, and told us to open our hands a certain way so the toucan knew we had the food. First, our youngest tried it. The bird flew right to her. She was happy at first, but then when she looked at the creature she just freaked out! Hahah She held one bird only. Second, our oldest was given pellets, puts her hand out and a bird flew to her. She was in heaven and this bird was so happy to be with her. She was hooked, and got to feed all the birds multiple times. Third, I was given a handful of pellets. Gently this beautiful bird lands on my arm and eats. I figured that their talons would be sharp, but not even a little. They had the coolest blue colored feet. So, as one bird is on my arm, another bird perched himself on my SHOULDER! I was covered in birds. Haha Snow White strikes again! Then lastly, but not least, my husband was given pellets and fed two birds. He looked adorable holding them. Then we were able to take pictures with the birds as a group and alone, it was so awesome.
Best part was NOT ONE BIRD POOPED ON ME! Woo!
After the toucans, the tour was basically coming to a close. We got to check out the crocodile pit. They had five or six crocodiles that were rescued from a home. HUGE crocs! They built them a pit with fresh running water, and those guys were content beyond content. We were too, safely above!  After the tour, we headed to our room to change and wash up for dinner. We had heard about another local restaurant that was supposed to be great, ironically the name of the place is The Rainforest Café haha, so we decided that is where we wanted to go. This place was locally owned and everything was made to order and super fresh. It was right off the main street, quaint, and soooo busy. So it had to be good right?
RIGHT!
We ended up being seated right by the front window, so we could see all the passersby and feel the cool breezes. We ended up having such a great dinner there! The girls were happy because they had milkshakes (they are exactly my version of Venezuelan milk shakes, which is basically lots of ice, a cup of milk and a scoop of Nesquik topped with whipped cream!). I was happy because they had tamales, and good sauvignon blanc. We ordered a bunch of delicious dishes.. an empanada, a tamale, a chicken burrito, arroz con pollo e arroz con camarones. My oldest daughter and I lived off the rice dishes of the area; she loves shrimp, so she would be ecstatic to see that dish everywhere. I am drooling just remembering. No food eaten was salty or greasy, everywhere we went it was fresh, clean food.  So ooOOOo  good.
We hung out at this place till real late, the latest we stayed out our whole trip. Might have been a mistake since we had to leave the next day to meet our guide by 8AM back in La Fortuna. haha Oh well! We got back to the hotel, and I decided to pack up the room and let the kids go play in the game room with my husband. They were dying to be in there all the time, so I figured that left me free to make a big repacking mess getting everything in order. I am so glad I did that. I got everything packed, talked to a lot of my friends online and got myself showered all by the time my family got back. Boom. We enjoyed a drink when they got back, all cozied in the room, then crashed hardcore after that.  
Departing is such sweet sorrow…
We woke up at the crack of frack on our last day! That sunshine came too early.
YES, SUNSHINE!
We woke up to a bright blue sky that had wafting fluffy clouds. We got ourselves ready and out the door by 7:35AM. Said our last goodbyes to our resort guide, Dixon, before checking out. I was so sad. I just didn’t want to accept the fact that we were leaving yet. hah  After we departed with Dixon, we stuck around a bit looking for that volcano to shed her grey exterior to show us her goods! C’mon, mamacita, show me what ya got! She teased me not only the four days there, but that entire morning, too. The breezes off the mountains were blowing the clouds in a pretty good clip off the volcano. The second you’d think the tip of the volcano would appear, another cloud swept over. I was tracking her the whole drive from our hotel to the restaurant where we grabbed coffee and breakfast to go.. uhm, from The Rainforest Café! haha We loved it so much there the night before, that when the owner told us they’d be open, we gave each other the eye and planned to be back! The best part of us stopping for coffee and food there was that when we left to go back to the car, we saw the Arenal Volcano in FULL!
She did not disappoint, and that cloudy tease was worth the wait! She was glorious in every facet imaginable, and the best way to say goodbye to us. 🙂 This made me so happy.
We got to the car dealership where Geiner, pronounced hey-ner, was waiting for us from Maleku Tours. We got packed in his van to make our way back to Liberia for the airport. Now all week back home was getting hit with snow, and a storm hit the night before, but we never got word about the flight until we were a few minutes into this drive back to the airport. The flight was delayed 2 hours, Boston had a delayed departure. Not the worst place to be stranded, I guess, but our tour guide had another group to pick up after our departure so he wasn’t available after a certain time. BUT. He was so great to us, because he changed up our drive with a view of some local sights; drove through some neighborhoods, stopped at a cool church and then brought us to the local super market so we could grab some food to eat at the airport. The supermarket might have been our favorite part of this drive back. First of all, it was clean and beautiful, but they had Latin music pumping loudly; you couldn’t help but dance and smile while picking out food. We happened to see a live recording of some local show in the bakery, which was funny to watch. It was all a fun experience!
We got to the airport, Geiner got our bags out of the van that last time, but before he left I made sure we got a picture together. I mean, we spent three days together on this trip, he was an intrical part of it! The airport, thankfully, was clean and had tables set up outside for us to hang out an hour or so before we went to the gate for take-off. We sat there playing games, enjoying our last 90F day in Costa Rica. It was sad but also comforting by this point to know we would be home soon. We did all miss home, too, even though this trip was tops. Well, that is it. We had a pretty basic plane ride home filled with blue chips and movies. We got to Logan by midnight, had a fun time maneuvering through immigration, then a talkative Uber ride home, and passed out by 2AM. Perfect. haha
That was Costa Rica.  🙂
Hope you loved following along my diary as much as I loved reliving it.  We had so much fun learning about this rich country, and to see all the beauty it had to offer.  I would love to go back one day. 
Thanks for reading along on this trip!
Hasta la proxima!  
Xoxoxoxo!

Costa Rica- Chocolate Farm

Hey Everyone!

Onto our second day in La Fortuna..

This day we woke up later than normal, at 8:30AM, to a super cloudy day.  As soon as we hit up breakfast at the Tres Cascadas the sun started to shine.  We hung out at breakfast a long while, just soaking in all the beautiful surroundings.  As we were joking around together, we decided that this was the perfect day to take advantage of the grounds of the resort then take an adventure in our car to find a chocolate farm we had researched before hand.  We contacted the farm to make a reservation for 3PM.  All was set.

The resort had the most awe-inspiring descending landscaping of pools along this mountain. The grounds were lush, the landscaping tranquil and the waterfalls a delight.  The surroundings were meticulous in design, to say the least, keeping the natural feel of the rainforest.  The part that was spectacular were the pools, they are fed directly from the thermal river of the Arenal Volcano, so they are naturally hot and mineralized.  To keep integrity of the water, each night at closing the pools are drained, scrubbed, then refilled for 6AM, and they only offer one pool (the swim up bar one) chlorinated.  The pools are situated in connecting trails, as I mentioned before, and  they spill into one another to create varying degrees of waters.  I just thought it was the coolest thing to notice, how they designed the pools to naturally be used and mixed with other waters to create these different temp pools.  Functional beauty.

We spent most of our day swimming; watching the kids going up and down on the slide, trying out different stunts along with my husband. My husband might have loved it more than they did..ahem.  But once we decided to relax together, which we did a lot this part of the trip, we spent time in the hot pools of the Perdido Springs area.  This was the perfect spot because we could still watch the kids as we swam, cuddled and relaxed in the 99F waters.  Utter paradise.  But after about two hours of relaxing, we started to experience rain.  Rain, hah..it was a deluge!  We started feeling a light drizzle, that stopped.  Then we felt a light rain, that stopped.  Then we felt large drops of rain, that didn’t stop, but turned into a huge rainstorm! The girls ran up to us in the pools, then we took some shelter in the tiki bar, but that didn’t last long.. duh we were swimming! haha We all got into the hot pool and then the rain stopped just as fast as it started.  Super cool.

Side note .. The warmth and minerals of the pools are not only therapeutic and relaxing, but to me, they had such a beautiful scent, too. My husband smelled it too, but I don’t know if this is a thing.  The scent of the waters were dreamy; like a clean cologne.  It made me so happy swimming around smelling so good.  I am smiling just thinking about the scent..gah I miss this place!! 😦

Ok, so back to the trip!

Then we dragged ourselves out of the pools to get ready for the afternoon.  I wasn’t really sure what we had in store so I made sure everyone dressed as comfortable as possible.. sneakers, shorts, and bring a rain poncho in case!  The farm was located about 25 minutes away from our resort, not a bad drive at all since most everything is one straight shot through the center of La Fortuna.  We found the residential area to be totally different from the downtown area. Lots of dirt roads, houses congregated together in a pod like formation with roads surrounding them. We found the chocolate farm, Don Olivo Chocolate Farm.

I LOVED IT!

This was a family farm, not a commercialized place. Super rustic with the drive way flanked with colorful carved trees and a quaint flat yellow house centrally located. This place was full of fruiting trees and wildlife.

Quickly we were greeted by the abuelo of the family.  He greeted us so enthusiastically, telling us his son would be right with us.  Super cute older man.  We got to looking around a few minutes, and met the family German shepherds.  The grounds reminded me of a version of campagna (the countryside) in Sicily, not the look but the vibe.  Almost everyone in Sicily owns a family farm, a second countryside home. Some small. Some large.  They grow so many things on their farms for their day to day lives, and they use the farms during vacations, holiday weekends, and some like to live there all Summer long to get out of the city.

The farm owner came out to greet us, all smiles, beaming in English.  Very sweet guy. As he is talking to us about his farm, cutting down fruits from the trees to have us eat them ripe, another family shows up, unexpectedly, to take a tour, too! So we went on to the tour together.  The farmer takes us on a tour of his fruiting trees, and like I said, he was literally talking and cutting stuff down for us to try them.  Then a minute later, his father would come over with a machete slicing more fruit for us.  It was awesome.  We got to try star fruit, papaya, soursop, mango, green coconut water, peppercorns, spearmint, and so much more I can’t think straight.  After we toured the front part of the grounds, he took us to his house’s porch to talk about sugar cane.  He showed us how you take the stalk, beat it to loosen the fibers, then squeeze it to extract the juice.  We tried it over ice, and it was yummy.  Then because my husband loves rum, the conversation of rum came up and the father went into his private stash to let us adults take a shot of rum.

WOAH.  I mixed mine with the sugar cane juice cause it was potent. haha

From here, the group was guided to the cocoa tree grove.  A grove with a thousand trees!  We learned so much about the history of the cocoa trees, amazing and ugly cocoa!  hah  We were then taken along the stages of the cocoa pods to cocoa beans to chocolate.  As we were walking the rain came, but it wasn’t a big deal.  It lasted a few minutes then the sun came out.  Didn’t stop us from seeing all the trees full of cocoa pods. The pods grow in a few colors, brown, purple and yellow, but the pods inside are the same.  The farmer grabbed one right off the tree, a yellow one, and smashed it open.  We were allowed to try a piece of the interior fruit, which were white gelatinous blobs (to me, tasted floral and bland), these were raw cocoa beans.  The cool part was the bite of one showed this vibrant purple color inside.  The farmer then walked us over to his backyard covered patio, it was the coolest spot, where he showed us the process going forward

After the pods were opened, the beans are taken out and fermented for 5 days in a barrel.  From this fermentation the pods turn brown, and they smell horrible! haha  Then they need to be dried out in the sun/dry place for 15-20 days.  He had a greenhouse full of drying beans we got to walk into, touch them and smell them.  The beans are then husked by hand here.  He had a large wooden mortar and pestle he uses to bang up the skins, then the breezes of the area naturally whisks the husks away.  Then there is only the bean left, which is then ground by hand, which we all had a crack at doing. Then this ground cocoa is at the stage to be made into chocolate however you like!

It was so fun!!

The farmer had set up two large farm tables for us to enjoy some chocolate inside the patio.  There were mugs, spoons, homemade sugar in the raw and cookies.  His father cooked up hot cocoa for everyone with the grounds we all participated in grinding, and let us sample fresh 90% dark cocoa chocolates he made.  YUM!  The hot cocoa was delicious.  Soooo rich and good!  I could only take a few sips.  Then afterwards his daughter came out with his wife, and we got to hang out together, talk and get to know what the culture of Costa Rica was really like.  I LOVE TALKING TO LOCAL PEOPLE!  The farmer’s daughter was so sweet.  My gosh.  She wouldn’t leave me alone, it was so cute.  She pulled up her bunny chair next to me, talking and talking and talking.  We exchanged a lot of Spanish together, and her mom.  She was almost 3, but her personality was beyond her years. What a funny kid. She was so upset I had to leave.  Good people there.  So glad we went.

Then after we left there, we traveled to go eat in the center of La Fortuna at a chicken rotisserie place we researched, Pollo Fortuneno.  We were happy to see it was right smack dab in the middle of the town as we drove in.  We parked the car, went a little souvenir shopping, then made a bee line right to eat. The restaurant didn’t have a lot of tables, about 10 in total.  We grabbed one of the large, grass thatched tables out front, and so glad for that luck! Because in minutes the place was chock full and a line started to form… I overheard one woman say that there was over an hour wait!!

AND THEN THE HEAVENS OPENED UP, ANOTHER DELUGE!!  HOLY MOTHER OF WATER!  Then again, as soon as it started it was over!

Thank goodness for the umbrella over the table!

The restaurant was a lot of fun.  It is situated on a corner, with their large stacked rotisserie facing the street on a platform for show.  It was the coolest thing to watch, all engulfed in flames, mesmerizing. The staff going up there to grab chickens was like some show.  We ordered a few fun items, like chalupas, patacones, rosemary oil papas fritas, rotisserie chicken and pork ribs….can we say DeLiCiOuS!?!  We had such a great time dining there. The wait for food was long, but that isn’t a complaint, more of a FYI.  I personally love hanging out for a long time, no rush here!  Bonus, we were allowed to bring our own beer and sangria, which was great.  We left there happy and full.

Another great day spent in paradise.  🙂

 

Next up…our last full day in La Fortuna!

Costa Rica- Rainforest Hikes and Zip Lining

Hey Everyone!

Our first day in La Fortuna…

We woke up early; OK, I woke up crazy early at 5:50AM!, the rest woke up at 8AM, and we went to our first breakfast on the resort.  The restaurant where they served breakfast, the Tres Cascadas, was on the third floor, all open and partially outdoors.  This first morning we ate at a table situated at the edge of the balcony, overlooking vegetation and facing that glorious volcano.  She was breathtakingly beautiful.   The funny thing is this area reminded me of San Francisco, weather wise only.  You wake up in a dense cloud cover, then after the morning comes to surface it dissolves, and you are left with sunshine and vast views all over.  I liked it a lot.

The weather in this region is so iffy at times that no one ever tells you what the weather for the day will hold.. no one.  We’d always get the same answer, “Today will be a great day after some cloudiness and a small shower, maybe we will have sun but we can’t say for sure.”  haha  EVERY DAY!?!  That was part of the fun…chancing it.  We got real lucky throughout our stay, because it was still the dry season, so the rain wasn’t an all day thing.  Especially not this day!

Before arriving to Costa Rica we had drafted out ideas on what to do when, never concrete plans in case of weather but concrete enough that we knew we were doing them at some point.  In this region, we knew we wanted to go to the rainforest, hike and see some agriculture.  So..During breakfast we decided this was the day for us to go to the Sky Adventure Arenal park for some hiking and zip lining.  We were guaranteed that the sun would shine by one local, so we took their word for it and made reservations.  This place was the coolest, most impressive.  You drive through the craziest dirt road, and pull up to a parking lot facing this huge natural park.  They have an outdoor desk to check in, and signage around to guide you after you are given the quickest instructions of your life.  hahah It only seems quick because adrenaline, I swear it because after this point everyone you deal with is super funny, cool and explains it all to you in detail.

This adventure park offers a lot of tours…

Sky Tram= ride the tram up to the 4100FT high platform then back down

Sky Trek= 2H zip lining (6 lines, some as long as 2400FT and 656FT high above the tree tops!)

Sky Walk=hiking and hanging bridges (guided or on your own)

Sky Bike= trail biking along Lake Arenal

Sky River= a combo of zipping and river rafting

Sky Wild Biking= cross country and downhill through the rainforest on bikes

Sky Limit= 10 activities weaved together for the adrenal junky!

And a herpetarium gallery.

______

We chose the Sky Tram, Sky Trek and Sky Walk (unguided).

The Sky Walk is a hike through the rainforest going over hanging cable bridges. Very natural and still a great adventure!  We decided to go for this long hike because the zip reservations were at 3PM, but if we made it back by 2PM they would take us early as their last zips of the day are at 3PM and they had space at 2PM if we wanted.  They gave us a trail map, pointed in a direction and off we went. This was the first type of hike like this I have ever been on.  Actually, hiking is real new to me, about five years ago I went on my first one in the local conservation circuit in my town…which I loved and now I always suggest a hike if we go somewhere. This might be hard to trump after this trip!!

The trail was about 2.2Miles long, through lush vegetation and wild life… lots of turns and stairs and elevation changes, but not terribly challenging that you would want to miss it. There was plenty of room to move, rest and the views were beyond expectations.  We walked over 5 hanging bridges, 3 of them were short, but the 2 long ones were anxiety inducing.  haha  I wasn’t sure what to expect here because all the videos and photos look like the bridges were solid flat, butttttt they teetered, and moved quite a lot, and that sort of flipped me out at first. My family was strolling across stopping, videoing everything, looking at everything  on the first one, but I was opposite.  I had to zoom across then walk back. Seriously, it took me a walk across freaking out to help me go back to look at the views I missed…ahaha  Sounds crazy, but I wasn’t the only one freaked out (I saw other people not moving on after that first bridge!).  Plus, we are talking HIGH UP IN THE CANOPY on a swinging plastic bridge!!  I was proud of myself for doing what I did because then on the walk back through I had NO ISSUE with these bridges and stopped for pictures, soaking in views.  I was the one at the end saying wait up cause I was enjoying the sights so much!!

Midway, we happened upon two waterfalls and look out points of Lake Arenal.  Just gorgeous.  They did have a bathroom and potable water running at one stop a mile in, which was real cute and rustic.  The water ended up being so much nicer than the bottled water we brought, that we dumped it and filled our bottles up.  Costa Rica has very clean water.  We enjoyed every moment on that hike, and the weather this day ended up being perfect for our hike…sunny, breezy and clear!  The time flew, but we made it back to the check in point right at 2PM.  Seriously great timing!!

After our hike, we checked in and they were able to take us for their 2PM zip lining session. Woohoo!  (well, woo not for me.)

To head up to the zip lines, you have to take that Sky Tram, which is pretty self-explanatory.  It is a cabled tram ride that goes up to a large deck at the top of a mountain side, the same deck the zip lines go off from.  It was a sweet slow ride up to 4100FT to the platforms.  Wow, the views of the volcano and lake from the platforms looked painted, so impressive, and beautiful. They let us all hang out up here for about 15 minutes or so, taking pictures, drinking water and enjoying some time before our families plummeted to their death  … JUST KIDDING!!

The Sky Trek is the zip lining that my husband and oldest daughter did together.  I have to tell you that I had planned to go, but around December we started researching zip line companies and well, I freaked out when I saw how high this was above the tree tops.  My knees went weak, I think I blacked out, and my soul just said THIS IS NOT HAPPENING LADY!  haha  But also, my youngest had no desire to do it so I wasn’t forced into doing it and stayed with her while my husband and daughter went along.  We got to be a part of so much of their experience though, the ride up, watching them practice, and being able to view that first (and longest!) cable run into the rainforest abyss.

So I watched my 11yr old daughter, outweighed by all the gear and helmet, get tethered to a zip line, then taken on a sky flying trip of her lifetime.  She went on that first run with a guide, and she told me later a few of the runs together too because she wasn’t heavy enough by herself.  I had such crazy emotions watching all this…like “should I stop her?” mixed in with “wow she is the coolest kid”.  I am really proud of her fearlessness, absolutely makes me feel real good inside that she isn’t anything like me.  She has always been this way… and seeing her being so fearless makes me feel like I am doing a good job as her Mom. It always makes me think of when she “learned to walk” right around her first birthday. She was standing for some time by this point, holding and walking carefully everywhere..always wanted to be put down to stand and move.  But the funny thing is when her and I were together as she took that leap of faith from holding my hands, needing me to feel secure, to letting go to take her first real step, she let go and you could tell she said to herself “screw walking, I am running!”.  I KID YOU NOT.  She went right into a trot, tumbling, laughing her bum off.  Then she would scream motioning to me to do it again, “Ava I do!”. Her tagline for everything since she started talking!  haha What a joy!  She could see that running was more fun, even if she would fall more, running was exhilarating.  Around age 3 she honed that energy, but she hasn’t stopped running.

..and I would never stop her. 🙂

Ok, so back to the trip.  SOrry I keep veering off track.  haha

While they took off on their lines, I got real emotional and nervous cause that was it, I couldn’t stop this, and I wouldn’t see them for an hour.  My husband was with her, but I couldn’t help being nervous for my baby.  The adventure team told us that they would be back to the main building within an hour. They took us on a sweet ride back down by tram, my youngest daughter and I  decided to make it our journey, so we enjoyed the views of the grounds together as she comforted me about her sister.  So sweet.

We got to the main area, went to the souvenir shop for a minute then headed to the cafe for some mom and daughter bonding.  We decided to get fun drinks, wait for them there because it was a perfect spot to hang out.  The cafe was all decked out with high top seating, which every kid loves right?, and it had giant windows of the views all around..one side the view was of the rainforest canopy, the adjacent side was of the volcano, then the side next to that was a half glass wall of the last zip line to the building.  My daughter and I were not even in that cafe thirty minutes, enjoying a sangria and ginger-ale, when we recognize someone from the zip tour coming down that line!  We shoot out of our chairs to look where it is headed and we see my husband on the platform!  Once we shouted to him, we were about 100 feet away, we turn to the line from the half window just in time to see my daughter coming down on her own!  SHE WAS ALONE!!

They got to us as fast as they could, like ten minutes, and were all hyped up telling us about their experiences.  God it sounded amazing, but I was just so glad they were back, whole in their bodies. haha  We made a decision to eat dinner at the cafe.  Guess my husband read that it was a great local spot..and he was right.  We enjoyed a fun meal, talking all about our day.  We left there at dusk to change into swimsuits to enjoy the thermal pools at the resort.  On the way home we saw some fun wildlife in the streets AND a public thermal river where tons of people were swimming! What a paradise!

We spent the night swimming, enjoying the slide and bars of the resort. It was the perfect end to a fun family adventure!

 

 

Up next is the chocolate farm tour!

Costa Rica 2017- The Springs Resort and Spa

Hey Everyone!
I have to split this second part of our trip out into separate posts because we did so many fun things.
So, the tour guide picked us up in Tamarindo around 10AM to take us to La Fortuna.  La Fortuna is just under 4 hours East from Tamarindo.  Our tour guide had shared so much of Guanacaste’s history, the province we drove through, and he also shared that the name of Guanacaste was an indigenous word for monkey ear, of the regional trees that grow all around.  I love learning things like that.  It was just such a  real good idea hiring the tour guide this whole trip to get us from point A (airport) to point B (Tamarindo) then point C (La Fortuna) and point D (back to the airport!).  His van was air-conditioned, large and clean, he spoke perfect English for my family, and had so many fun things to teach us.  
We drove about an hour outside of Tamarindo before we stopped at this hidden gem, the Waterfalls of Llanos de Cortes.  This place was AMAZING to say the least! We pulled into a very dust parking lot at the end of a long dirt road.  The entry way to the area was flanked by two makeshift souvenir tables that lead to a tented entrance to the stairway.  We had to trek down a ton of steep, but beautiful, stairs built right into the hill.  Very windy. As you descend, you can hear the rumbling of water. So you hurry to try to get to it quicker. As the stairs end the ground opens up to this massive span of private beach with a ginormous waterfall.  GINORMOUS!!  I have never seen anything so beautiful in nature like this in my entire life…never.  I was blown away, my kids were kicking off clothes faster than ever, charging towards the water, and my husband just was dumbfounded too.  My mind is still reeling over the beauty.  There were a few travelers too, not many for what we were seeing.  We were there on a weekday, and learned that the locals like to go over the weekends to picnic, BBQ and stay the day there relaxing and enjoy the view.  I WOULD TOO!
Our tour guide let us have as long as we liked there, so we swam and played for about an hour.  The water was cool to the touch, but not frigid.  I had never seen so many varieties of butterflies in one area like I had this afternoon there.  I saw every size, shape and color imaginable. Birds too! After we hung out here,  we headed 45 minutes to grab lunch at our tour guide’s favorite local spot.  Food in Costa Rica is typical South American, beans and rice with every meal, chicken, beef or shrimp, lots of stewed foods..all so good.  Like really good.  So we enjoyed where he had taken us for lunch, it was clean and the food was pretty great…plus, I love arroz con pollo, that is something I could eat on the daily.  Then we continued on our trek to La Fortuna.  
This ride was beautiful.  I know I keep saying that everything was beautiful, but it really was!!  The drive through all the towns along Lake Arenal were spectacular. Lake Arenal is a man-made lake that has a dam.  Lots of people boat and wind surf along the lake.  Pretty rad if you ask me!  So the ride…The colors of green and all the wildlife we saw were the best part. The one road leading to La Fortuna along the lake was the coolest.  It went on for an hour, and was a slim road with a lot of curves.  The craziest turns, hills, steepness, views of the Lake, lots of farmland, driving right through tiny villages..the views were something out of a travelers guide. Just perfection all around… it was all so much fun!
La Fortuna, in the province of Alajuela, is the town at the base of the Arenal Volcano; so cool, guys, I can’t even do the explanation justice.  So we rented a car when we got there, this is where we asked the tour guide to drop us off.  It sounds scary, especially if you have travelled to Europe, because the driving over there is crazy scary, but we found Costa Ricans to be cautious and respectful drivers.  So we hopped into our 2016 silver Suzuki SUV, and drove onto The Springs Resort and Spa.  Just 17 minutes outside of the main area.  
We will catch up with our tour guide on our last day in La Fortuna to go back to Liberia’s airport.
The Springs Resort and Spa… holy wow!  The drive to the resort off the highway is bumpy, they are having a dispute with the city to pave the road..but that bumpy dirt road ride is so worth it!  You pull up in paradise. Romantic. Luxurious. The vegetation, the flowers, the landscaping and paths, waterfalls, ahhh it was so beautiful.  Then you follow the driveway to the reception area where they take your car for you, not a worry to think about here from that second.  You are brought to check in, then you are greeted by your own personal guide, who grabs your whole family drinks (ours with their traditional rum- tdf) and who takes you on a walking tour of the hotel.  We were treated to our experience with Dixon, who was the cutest and sweetest kid.  The kids liked him a lot. 
HOLY WOW!  The main part of the resort was breathtaking, at about 1000FT above the canopy, then the property cascades down to each level.  There the main floor (reception), then the spa and gym floor, then the bar and restaurant floor with a kids sick game room, then there is the bottom floor that has locker rooms that spill out to the main part of the pools and swim up bar. From there the thermal river fed pools, YES THERMAL RIVER FED POOLS FROM THE VOLCANO, flow into each other.  They created a system where the hottest pools flow into other pools, mixing with another system to cool them down to create a new pool cooler than the top one.  If that makes sense…  So the first area had three linked pools.  The top pool was 99F.  This pool flowed straight to the next pool that was a foot lower, but it was being mixed with a different stream to create a 94F pool.  Then this pool flowed into the next pool a foot lower and triple the size that had a touch cooler water falling into it making it an 87F pool.  It was like this throughout, even if the span from one pool to the next was further.  SO COOL!  
After the tour, Dixon walked us to our rooms where our luggage was waiting for us and he showed us all the fun things in our room…namely, that VIEW!  
We were in room 103 of the Toucan House, which was the coolest room ever.  We were ground level, so our outdoor patio was open to the grounds and the volcano..the VOLCANO WAS OUR VIEW!  Lush right?  Well, I felt so lucky to be there.  The balcony had hammocks, a beautiful table set and rocking chairs.  I loved it out there.  The view was of large birds of paradise and the volcano..so close.  The room itself was beautiful, and clean, and smelled so good.  There were heated floors in the bathroom, and a jacuzzi tub as big as a pool!  The bedroom was fixed with our kids bed, individually, in front of the massive window, so it felt like a tree house.  So awesome.
The first night here we went to dinner on property at the sushi place, played in the kids’ game room for a bit, then hung out at the main thermal pools till they closed.  
It was breathtaking, every turn, detail and the pools.
Next up, our first full day in La Fortuna at Sky Adventure…

Costa Rica 2017 – Tamarindo

Hey everyone!
As you may have noticed, we like to jet out of Boston during the Winter.  It can be a cruel place here to us beach lovers, and the best way to get through the cold is.. to leave it!  
This Winter vacation we decided to finally explore the beautiful country of Costa Rica.  We debated again on hitting up either Hawaii or California for a big driving adventure.. but for some reason, sitting on a beach felt more like what we wanted to do..all of us!  We ended up planning this whole trip ourselves..ok, my husband planned this whole trip with my little suggestions here and there. He really is quite a great considerate vacation planner! This trip we initially decided that we wanted a big relaxing beach vacation, just land and veg out for 7 days. But, as we started researching more and more, we decided to add in some nature and a little rainforest/volcano adventure, too.  So.  We fixed ourselves on staying 7 days,  3 nights at the beach and 4 nights in the rainforest. This time of year is the dry season, which is my favorite season of all!  🙂  This means that the rainfall is at a minimum, if it falls at all, and that it is their Summer.  The beach area, on the Pacific Ocean side, got up to a dry 97F, but had the best breezes, so it never felt hot hot.  The rainforest was about 80F most days, though it did rain once or twice a day in twenty min bursts, that was it.  I wished we had more time to spend at both, because there was so much to see and do that 7 days just felt too quick.
We left at 8AM on Saturday, February 4 right out of Logan Airport.  The flight to Liberia (the Pacific side of the country) was not terribly long, about 5h15m. The flight was smooth, and all went to plan..I took a quick nap, my kids were awesome and my husband talked to his seat neighbor and drew.  🙂  
The one great thing that we did was hire a guide for our trips to each point. This way it wasn’t a taxi, it was spacious vehicles, and we could learn a few fun things about the country along the way.  It was the best thing!  We hired Maleku tours; found them through Trip Advisor. Top notch!  The tour guide, the company owner, picked us up in Liberia then drove us 1h30m to the town of Tamarindo.  He was a sweet man, very well spoken and full information!
Costa Rica translated from Spanish means the Rich Coast, and I now understand why. This country is rich with people, history, beaches, ocean, rainforest, volcanoes, mountains, animals, thermal pools, plants, trees, food, green energy, and whatever else I left out!  It is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, and is also known as “Hawaii of South America” to surfers.  Costa Rica might be one of my top country picks for a family vacation spot.  I have been to some amazing countries.. Japan, England, New Zealand, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Canada, Italy, France, and Mexico, but Costa Rica was a combination of so many things wonderful that I love about traveling abroad.
Firstly, friendly people, that is a major bonus! Compared to cities like Paris, London or Los Angeles, there is no comparison.  Wherever we went we were greeted, or whenever we had a question, we got friendly smiles and answers, like we were really guests there and not violating some code or something.  Gosh, Paris has to be the worst city if you are looking for friendly help.  The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish, but we found 80% of the people we spoke with (from the resort staffers to the locals, aka Tico) spoke English as a second language. We later found out that they start learning English in elementary school, but, if they go to a private school they have immersion courses in English mandatory.
Secondly, the changes in regions. What I mean is that, for example, the rainforest area compared to the beach area.  Though there was only 3 hours between them,  the changes along the drive across was so impressive and awesome (liTerally awesome).  The way life went from dry, brown and arid to this expansive farm land of lush, green and vivid life, it was undoubtedly the most beautiful part of the adventure.  What we were seeing was so inspiring that it just filled me full of joy.
Thirdly, the authenticity of the spaces around you. There are no skyscrapers, no bustling highway, no chaos.  The roads were so natural, rarely any obstructions, and though the roads were sick windy, I enjoyed it to the tops.  The views of Lake Arenal and the waterfall along the way, were beyond expectations.  It was literally pura vida.
Pura Vida..the pure life. This was their motto, and salutation everywhere you go. It is something they say that means so much more than pure life..at least that is the feel I got.   The lifestyle, simplicity, of places like Costa Rica is what makes traveling a beautiful experience. You have so much happening outside your windows and at your feet that you don’t really need much more to make an impact on you. The natural stimuli.
God, I miss it so much already. 😦
Tamarindo was our first stop out of the two. It is a sleepy beach town, where all the surfers hang out because the wave activity is off the charts. We saw waves as high as fifteen feet at times, which is huge for us because in Massachusetts that is not even a thought, especially on the Cape where we Summer vacation. Tamarindo is named after Tamarind. Namely because the sunsets that occur glow the same color as the pods. Costa Rica is only ten degrees north of the equator, so the sunrise and sunset is different from at home.  Every day, no matter what time of year, the sun rises at 5:45AM and the sun sets by 6:30PM.
Tamarindo is quaint and did not feel dangerous at all. Lots of people, locals and tourists.  We walked all over exploring the downtown.  The downtown boulevard is a long dead-end where all the shops and restaurants are flanked on each side. Our resort was on the beach side of the street, Hotel Tamarindo Diria. We were in room 227 of the Oceanview section. This resort was absolutely beautiful.  The grounds themselves were perfectly manicured, from the beach front grassy area to the pools on our side of the resort to the tennis courts and the pools across the way. They set up the resort in two sections, beach side and then across the boulevard for condos, adult only and family friendly pools. Both properties were magnificent, beautiful and private. 
The beach side was very private along their grounds, but the beach itself was public. Which sounds like it might be an issue, but the locals and the few vendors were absolutely non confrontational or an issue at all.  The resort was guarded, but it didn’t seem it really needed it because the people around were so chill.  The resort had every amenity that you could need, and was easy to access from either side of the street. We spent a majority of our time at the main beach side but spent a whole afternoon across the street for the hot tub, swim up bar, and family pool. It was just beautiful!  The large family pool was set up like an oasis, with private nooks and grass thatched umbrellas, if you wanted.  The views were great. Very relaxing!  (And that swim up bar’s bartender was super awesome! Best margaritas on the rocks!)
They had not spared a detail, even on Super Bowl Sunday!  They set up their main dining room as their game room that night.  They had a special menu with drinks, a projector screen and a large screen TV up. There were a lot of us there that night, and though we took off before the fourth for the kids. We watched the game from our room, where we cheered our asses off, celebrating with everyone else that left early!  What a comeback!!
Tamarindo is definitely a fun destination that I hope we can go back to again. The beach life there was right up my alley! But the adventure in Costa Rica when we left Tamarindo was just beginning!
Stayed tuned for our time spent in the rainforest area of Arenal Volcano/the town of La Fortuna.
Here are pictures from that first leg of our stay in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.