My Only Costa Rican Meal in Costa Rica

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 | Posted under Costa Rica

Whenever I start thinking about a trip, I start to think about the food at my destination. Do I build in time to research restaurants and local cuisine? You betcha. For Costa Rica though, my research was a little less taxing because there wasn’t quite much to research. It’s not that Costa Rican food isn’t good; I just found that descriptions of local food weren’t super enticing. What didn’t help the situation was the fact that the Manuel Antonio area is pretty darn touristy. You can find falafels and pizza in Manuel Antonio much easier than local food. Just step outside your hotel.

Where did I finally have this elusive local Costa Rican food? On the beach of all places. While Manuel Antonio beach was not necessary the prettiest water, the water was as warm as bathwater and the food service phenomenal. You want a beach chair and vodka tonic? Check! A full on meal? Here you go.

Here’s my beach lunch (a little on the heavy side but delicious).

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Nothing too earth-shattering here. White rice, black beans, some lovely, and simply grilled fish, and fried plantains. The most delicious part of the meal was the fried yucca. Almost anything fried is good, but when you can make a root vegetable this crispy, it takes this bland vegetable to a new level. This fried yucca was magic, and I realized that I don’t get enough yucca in my life. I wouldn’t call yucca the most flavorful of veggies, but the crispy texture of this fried version made me a feel a little less guilty about all of the fries I’d been eating that week.

My sense of this meal is that it’s pretty representative of a local lunch. Maybe? Maybe? The local soda (Costa Rican family-run restaurants) would probably be much cheaper than what I paid though. I wished I’d have had access to more places or sought them out more, but maybe with Baby C and no car it wasn’t as obvious where to go or even easy to get there. Costa Rican food is still a bit of a mystery to me. I guess this means I need to go back!

Have you been somewhere before and not eaten any of the local food?

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The Good, The Bad & Not So Bad of Traveling with a Small Child, Part 1- The (Not So) Bad

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted under Family and Friends, Family Travel, Personal, Travel Tips

I am not going to sugar coat traveling with a baby or toddler. If you’ve read anything online that is telling you that it’s easy, THEY’RE LYING. Ok, fine, maybe not lying completely, but they might not be telling you the hard parts of traveling with a small one. Because I love you all, I am going to give it to you straight — no chaser. Traveling is still doable, but there are definitely some things that you need to think about more fully than when traveling solo or traveling with your buddy/significant other. Here are some areas to think about while you prep for your next trip with the little person in your life (You ARE going to keep traveling by the way… because I said so. :))

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Getting ready to head to the beach in Antigua

Sleep – Some people are blessed with children who will sleep anywhere everywhere at whatever time. If you happen to be one of them, then please bow down and worship any deity that you choose or at least thank the Universe because many kids aren’t like that. I kid you not as I am drafting this post Husband J and I are trying to figure out where to go in 2015, and part of what is holding us back are time zones. People travel with kids all of the time across time zones, but when you’ve got one like mine that seems to have low sleep needs and wakes up at the butt crack of dawn, wanting to brave a drastic time zone change just doesn’t sound fun. Time zones definitely played a part in our experience in Costa Rica, and I can tell you that it is dark at 3am in Costa Rica in August…in case you were wondering. Our trip to Canada in 2013 was before Baby C was even sleeping through the night. With a little co-sleeping we took care of that, but good dear, we were a little bleary eyed for parts of that trip.

 P1090380Hanging in the Park in Montreal – She’s going to kill me when she’s older for posting this. 

This is all to say that sleep is real, maybe more for some kids than others, but if your kid sleeps well or even if he or she doesn’t, it will still be a factor in how you experience your trip.

Oops…I almost forgetting napping. Baby C needs to nap in a room. She’s fallen asleep in a stroller a total of five times her entire life. When she was a smaller baby, she would nap in the carrier and that was helpful because we just kept it moving during the day.

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Carrier naps are your friend! 

These days, Baby C needs to have things shut down, or she won’t shut it down. She really does need to be in a room in some sort of a crib to get that necessary nap. Yes, that nap is necessary. Baby C is great kid, but she’s even better in the afternoon after a nap.

Activities – Baby C is still at the age where activities can be tricky. Unlike during her small baby stage where we just took her almost wherever we wanted to go, we now have a mindful little person who is beyond curious and is absolutely ready to run everywhere and touch everything. I know not all kids are like this, but this is one we’ve got, so we’ve got to work with this little bundle of energy. One of the reasons I was hesitant to go to Costa Rica was the fact that we’d be limited in some of the activities we chose. Zip lining? White water rafting? Probably not. That doesn’t mean that we weren’t able to do fun things. We just needed to be more particular.

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Off for a walk in Manuel Antonio Park 

Food – Okay. I’m not going to totally count this as a possible difficulty for us while traveling with a small child. Baby C gets modified versions of things on our restaurant of choice’s menu. We try to steer clear of the children’s menu, but boy, does she love her some French fries like her mother. I know some kids are a little pickier than others; so for some, having to be limited in where to eat can be challenging. I do remember the time we went to Antigua, and Baby C wasn’t totally eating regular solids (we did start with pureed food). Food pouches are your friends in that case, but we did bring some of our own food for her. Depending on where you are, some hotels are helpful in preparing baby–friendly foods or staying in an apartment like setting with a kitchen can help if you just need to have a meal in for the night.

Rooms – I don’t really know if I can stay in a small, little hotel room anymore. Baby C goes to bed early (often by 7:30pm!). I have no desire to go to bed then. None. We’ve stayed in a larger hotel room, but even that wasn’t much more comfortable. We’ve had a much better time with Air Bnb and other rental apartment set ups where we could spread out with the gear we try to limit bringing with us (that’s another post). I will say that I did like our hotel in Costa Rica, which had the benefit of essentially being a large apartment. It was actually bigger than where we live now! If you’re okay with smaller spaces and have one of those kids mentioned above that sleeps through anything, then a traditional hotel room might work. Being choosy about accommodations is just another aspect of travel that just changed for us.

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Don’t look down, Baby C!

Did I forget anything? I hope this post hasn’t dissuaded anyone from traveling with your young one. I’ve actually enjoyed many wonderful travel moments with Baby C. Seeing her observe the parts of the world we’ve visited since she was born has been one of the best parts of being her parent.

There are absolutely great things about traveling with small kids, and I’ll highlight those in a separate post.

If you’ve traveled with a small child, what was the hardest part for you?

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Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio Park

Friday, February 13th, 2015 | Posted under Costa Rica, Family Travel

This is where I tell you how to do a light hike in a nature preserve with a sick toddler strapped to your back. Good times, right?

Last year, Husband J, Baby C and I went to Costa Rica and decided to stay only in the Manuel Anotnion area on the Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Manuel Antonio is known for its beaches and its national park. Was it worth it to focus our trip on just one area of the country with its small national park? My real answer is “maybe”, but more about the Manuel Antonio National Park first.

The Manuel Antonio area’s main draws for tourists are its beautiful beaches along with the pretty and accessible Manuel Antonio National Park. If you’re looking for hard core hiking and such, you should probably go somewhere else. “Hiking” in Manuel Antonio isn’t really hiking. It’s more like “let’s walk on a semi-paved road and not trip while trying not to bump into a whole lotta other people who are staring upwards”. Almost anyone with any level of fitness can walk in this park and enjoy it, but I recommend some solid walking shoes or sandals because rocks will jump up out of nowhere and trip you up. No joke.

Manuel Antonio Park

The parks consists of several paved trails with look out points, and it does get crowded.

Manuel Antonio Park Crowds

Not really your dream isolated bit of nature, is it…?

Since we were in the area a little over one week and traveling with a kid who naps, we decided to split the park up into three different trips: Once for the beach; once with a guide to really see the animals and wildlife; and, finally, another time to just walk around the park itself on our own.

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Husband J taking a better look. At what I don’t remember…? :)

When I say this Manuel Antonio Park is accesible, I really do mean it. Many of the paths are paved, and there are even stairs.

Manuel Antonio Park Path

The pay off is a beautiful but not swimmable beach. Not bad for a pseudo-light hike.

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One of the park’s beaches. Not swimmable but pretty. Baby C is half sleep because she’s sick. :(

The animals are everywhere in the park. They deserve their own post, but we were joined that morning by several, including this guy right here.

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Guide or No Guide: One thing I do want to address is whether or not get a guide for a walk through Manuel Antonio Park. My answer: DO IT!! There is absolutely no way we would have seen a gosh darn thing without our guide. He knew what to look for in the mass of trees that is the park, and he had the best telescope-like device that allowed us to see some practically microscopic animals. Of course, there are lots of groups with a guide stopping and looking at things, but honestly, most of what we saw that day required binoculars or something like that to see much of anything. Yes, you can see the monkeys, but there’s so much more. The beauty of the wildife isn’t just the pretty birds and cheeky monkeys. It’s also the beautiful insects like this one:

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I realize not everyone thinks spiders are cool…

The real prize for going the distance is the main beach. It is by far the most beautiful in the Manuel Antonio area, but it comes at a price: for one its the long walk, plus a good walk down and back up to the main path. Trust me when I say that walk back up was enough to make me think about going back down (but a very good workout, if you’re looking for one). Also there are no facilities besides a bathroom half way up the hill. Bring your own food, too. Lots of people do so you won’t be alone.

Mnauel Antonio Park Main BeachEnjoying the view of the water with Baby C

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 She looks so much younger here…(maybe because she is)

Merchs in MA Park

 Family picture!

So while not the most exciting of Costa Rica’s parks, Manuel Antonio did the job for us. It allowed us to do some basic walking with Baby C while still being able to enjoy more of the area’s beaches.

Where is your favorite national park anywhere in the world?

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The Via Rail Experience

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | Posted under Canada

Americans tend to have a superiority complex about many things, but our rail system is not one of them nor should it be. Most countries, including our northern neighbor Canada, surely have us beat on how to do rail travel and how to do it right. Since I live in the Northeast United States, I’m lucky to have great access to Amtrak. It’s a easy and comfortable way to get between many Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Even with the comfort and ease, Amtrak just doesn’t feel worth it. The seats are old; the wifi can be spotty; and the cafe car offers food that should be in a (bad) vending machine  After taking Canada’s Via Rail, I think I feel like I’m being taken for my money by our expensive, amenity-lacking rail system here in the U.S.!

First, if you’re traveling between Toronto and Montreal, consider taking the train. While the flight is about an hour, and there is a domestic airport right in downtown Toronto, I found the five hour train ride to be comfortable and quite fun. DISCLAIMER: This was my experience in business class. I can’t vouch for the second class train experience.

In Toronto’s Union Station, there is a separate lounge for business class passengers. Just flash your business class tickets to the attendants, and walk right in.

P1090308Yes, it’s fancy; and, yes, there’s wifi. 

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Free drinks. I wish I drank soda because I would have (or should have) totally taken one.

The waiting room in Toronto was a big enough perk to me, but getting to board early as a business class passenger was also helpful, especially since were were traveling with Baby C.

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Baby C is so tiny here! I don’t remember her being so small…

The conductors on the train were a mix of ticket agent and waiter (yes, waiter. I’ll get to that). They were kind enough to let us switch our assigned seats. Assigned seats aren’t as common on Amtrak trains, particularly in the Northeast U.S., so we needed to make sure that we were in the right spot.

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Now to my favorite part of this experiene: the food! Via Rail’s business class includes breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on the time of day you travel. Did I mention that there is more than more than one course? Yep, that too. When I first read about this I was shocked. A multi-course meal on a train just can’t be good…but it was good, and pretty tasty. Before we had barely left Toronto, we had already been served soft drinks and cookies. A couple of hours in, lunch was served by our double duty agents:

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Goat Cheese with cucumber and tomato, plus bread. Also a sneak peek of dessert is included on this plate. 

There were choices for the main entree but I chose the mango chicken that came with smooth and savory mashed potatoes and crispy steamed veggies. My kind of meal.

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Not the  best picture, I know.

 Dessert should never been too far away. This was a hazelnut mousse cake (I think).  I finished it. Of course….

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One thing that I didn’t get to document was the rich truffles that came at the end of the meal. Apparently these are so popular that they’re actually sold separately. Check them out here (there are also other shots of fabulous Via Rail meals).

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 Baby C was sleeping underneath that nursing cover, and I was quite happy about that. 

To summarize:

1. Take Via Rail Business Class while in Canada.

2. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner.

3. Watch some scenery while eating said dinner.

Sounds like a plan to me. Do you get why I think Amtrak is not making the grade?

What has been one of the best rail experiences you’ve had? This was definitely one of mine.

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Happy 2015!

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 | Posted under Personal, Video, Vlogging

Here’s a video to say hi to you all! I hope 2015 has started out well for everyone!

Also that is the world’s weirdest screen shot. Ugh….. :) Happy to be back! :)

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