The Queens Not Home…

…Michele and I arrived in London yesterday, where we will stay for 3 nights and then head to Ireland for the balance of our 2 week trip abroad!! We flew through the night and arrived at our hotel about 2 pm, so the first item on our list was a nap, amd it was spectacular!!! One activity completed! After the nap, we decided to take a walk to check out Picadilly Circus, which is about a 20 minute walk from our hotel. We weren’t all that impressed (though first impressions are sometimes wrong), especially after hearing that it was similar to Times Square in New York, which I loved. After Picadilly , we walked back towards the hotel and stopped at an English pub for fish and chips, which I thought were good but Michele was just meh. Then it was back to the hotel, where I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed (it was 6:30 London time) and Michele wanted to go explore more. We both got what we wanted, though I did stay up until 7:30, when she got back and then I was out like a light. The alarm was set for 6:15 the next morning as we had a big day planned!

Sunday morning alarm came and I felt great as I slept like a rock but Michele didn’t sleep well so she got to snooze while I showered. Today our plan was to go on a guided tour to see the Changing of the Guards and then later in the day, do a self tour of Buckingham Palace. We had debated whether to do a guided tour of the Changing of the Guards or not but we are so glad we did. We ended up seeing (and learning) so much more than if we would have just headed to Buckingham Palace to see them. For anyone coming here to see that, spend the money on a tour. This will rank, easily, in the top 5 events I have seen in my time. It’s hard to describe exactly how spectacular it was but hopefully a couple of pictures below will at least show some of what we saw. That tour took a couple of hours and it ended at Buckingham Palace so we decided to walk a little farther to see Westminster Abbey and that was another awesome sight. We couldn’t go inside as it was Sunday and my allergy to church services was acting up, but just from the outside you could see and feel how grand this church was. Well worth the extra steps. After that, we headed back to the hotel for our afternoon nap as we still had the tour of Buckingham Palace ahead of us.

Our tour of the Palace was scheduled for 4 pm and we got there a bit early to take some pictures. Earlier in the day we were at the Palace for the Changing of the Guards but didn’t get up to close to the gates. This time we were standing right by the gates that we’ve all seen on tv many times. As the flag on top was flying the British flag, that was the indication that the Queen was not home. When she is there, another flag flies above. The tour inside the Palace was of the State rooms and was a self guided walk with audio players. After the first couple of rooms, we ditched the audio players and just walked through the rooms. It was pretty neat to see some of the rooms that I have seen portrayed in movies or tv shows. All in all, Buckingham Palace is the one place I have always wanted to see in person and it didn’t disappoint. The Changing of the Guards was something else I really wanted to see and it not only didn’t disappoint, it WOW’d me.

After this tour, we were hungry as all we had ate today was breakfast so we headed back to the hotel to make dinner plans. The one thing that the British are known for is their roast beef dinners with all of the trimmings – Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, and gravy – and the one thing Jeffy is known for is his delight in eating roast beef dinners with all of the trimmings. So it seemed like another match was made in heaven! We found a restaurant that was rated very highly for its beef dinners – Simpsons In The Strand – and Uber’d our way there. (just a side note – this was our first Uber also and we love it). Well, let me tell you about the British roast beef dinners at Simpson’s – it will be getting a full 5 star review, even though it cost more than what we pay for a week’s worth of groceries back home. Nonetheless, it was worth it and I was very happy to actually walk the half hour back to our hotel.

So, our day was a total success and I ended up with just over 20,000 steps (Michele had over 25,000 steps because of her short legs). AND, we found out our first impression of Piccadilly was wrong, which I will write about more next time!

Mary, The Big Boy, and Burgers…

Today was our last full day in the Quepos area so we decided to hit the beach.  The beach we were going to is right near the entrance to Manuel Antonio Park so our host Paula gave us the rundown on what we were going to experience as far as parking and the super aggressive “parking helpers”.  She told us to totally ignore them and go to Mary’s Place where parking is free and we could rent chairs and umbrellas and anything else you need.  We got to Mary’s and found an opening along the road to park and from there, Mary and her staff took care of setting us up.  From there we sat back and enjoyed the heat and ocean.

That’s where the big boy part comes in.  In my recollection, when I was younger, I didn’t seem to be scared of as many things as I appear to be now.  The ocean, and more particular, the things in the ocean freak me out.  So I normally only go in up to my knees or if I put water shoes on so I can’t feel what might be on the bottom, I may go up to my chest bit not stay for very long.  Today, my first venture with bare feet I only went as far as my knees.  Then after sitting in the heat for awhile I gave myself a little pep talk and went back to the water.  I went up to my knees and then self talked my way past the breaking waves into neck deep water.  Yay!  As I was floating and riding the waves, I apologized to myself for some of the really rude, vulgar names I called myself but sometimes tough love is the best love, or something like that.  I went back to our chairs and excitedly asked Michele if she had seen how far I went out and she looked at me and said “you’re blocking my sun”!  Ok maybe not the reaction I was looking for but I don’t care.  I went into the ocean and lived to tell my story. 

Tonight we went for dinner at Barba Roja, where Tuesday from 4-6 pm it is 2 for 1 Burgers and 2 for 1 drinks.  And the view of the sunset from their deck is about as beautiful as anything I’ve seen.

The burgers were awesome and since they were 2 for 1 and there were only 3 of us we thought maybe the 4 burger would go to waste.  It didn’t!  Jordan and I polished it off and I still had room for some coconut bread pudding with ice cream.  From the pictures I’ve seen of myself on this trip and the seemingly tighter fitting clothes, I am thinking Costa Rica is making me look larger than I should!  Every meal we have had has been extraordinary.

Tomorrow we are heading farther south to spend one night in a hostel just to show Jordan that we are not as pampered as we appear and then it’s 3 nights at an eco-lodge.  I’m not really sure of our internet capability for the next 4 days but don’t worry, I’ll catch everybody up when I get a chance!

Whitewater, Sunshine, and Koky’s…

This morning, Jordan and I were picked up at 8 am for our whitewater rafting tour.  The owner of the company was Tim, as we found out, a great guy originally from North Carolina but now a Tico.  With him were our 2 guides whose names escape me but were also great guys.  We drove about 25 minutes to the drop off point where we suited up and listened very intently to the safety instructions.  After my brush with death last year, there was no way I wasn’t taking this seriously.  We then walked down to the river and one guide got in a kayak and took off and the other got into the raft with the two of us and we were gone.  The rapids were just as advertised, a mix of Class 3/4, and it didn’t take long for us to be soaked from head to toe.  We did have one minor incident but it was not me this time. A rock surprised us and Jordan went over the side but the guide grabbed him before he got too far and had in back in the raft in seconds.  After that it was another hour or so rafting and having great conversation with our guides. At the pickup area we were again met by Tim, changed into dry clothes and they took us to a local restaurant for a great lunch.  We arrived back at our villa fully satisfied with our morning experience.

Once back, we found Michele lounging by the pool so we decided to mix a drink and join her.  She filled us in on what we missed this morning – a Toucan sitting in a tree munching on berries (the feature picture).  Our villa is located in amongst many trees and we have a sloth in one tree and daily appearances by monkeys which never gets old for me.  The rest of the afternoon was spent moving between my lounger and the cool refreshing water of the pool.

I had mentioned in yesterday’s blog that tonight we were going for an authentic meal experience.  This was at Koky’s Chicharrones.  In Costa Rica chicharrones are pork ribs and at Koky’s they are cooked over an open fire almost like smoked and we also had chicken along with the usual yuca and a beer.  There is no choosing what you get, and they bring it by the pound and there is no decorum, you just grab meay and start eating!

Now as far as authentic, Koky’s is located about 20 minutes out of town on a farm and if you didn’t know where you were going, you’d never find it.  There are no signs and you drive down a lane and the restaurant is in what looks like an open air barn.

Everyone that knows Koky’s raves about it and in fact our rafting buddies from this morning were casually talking about it as we drove by and we mentioned we were going there, so they made sure that we knew exactly where it was and described in detail what we were going to get.  They, and everybody else was exactly right in their praise and we left overflowing with chicken and chicharrones!

Finally, Hot and Wet

We left Monteverde with a cool light rain falling and 3 hours later had the air conditioning blasting and couldn’t wait to jump in the pool at our new hotel – Jungle Creek Villas near Quepos, pretty much right on the ocean.  These villas are owned and operated by a couple from Saskatchewan so I liked the place before we even got here.  There are only 4 or 5 villas and within 20 minutes of being here, we met pretty much everyone staying here.  Most everyone was from Alberta/Sask so we could all lament about how cold it’s been back home.

We spent a couple of hours hanging around the pool cooling off, watching a whole group of titi’s (squirrel monkey) moving through the trees, and quizzing our host, Paula, where the best places to eat are.  It was a perfect way to spend our first afternoon at our new place.

Tonight’s recommendation for dinner was Emilios Cafe, a noted seafood restaurant.  I am noted for my dislike of fish but I figured there would be something on the menu I would like so Michele and Jordan could indulge in their mutual love of fish.  Well, when we perused the menu, there was indeed a steak option but for some reason, I was intrigued by the Red Snapper special.  I think one of the reasons was the waiter said you could have it grilled or fried.  The fried option took me back to when I was younger and a memory of a fresh caught fish thrown into a frying pan on shore and cooked.  So in keeping with being the new me and trying different things I not only surprised myself but definitely Michele by ordering the fish. (She’s still looking at me in a bewildered state but that happens frequently so not sure if it’s related to supper).  I also figured if i didnt like it, they had a huge display case of cakes and pies that would soothe the dislike.  As it turned out, other than the fish being presented whole, head and all, it was exactly as I had hoped and I loved it.  

Now one fish will not make me a fish lover but it sure keeps Michele on her toes, not really knowing what I’ll change up next.  I’ve already said I want to go to an authentic Tico restaurant tomorrow!  Always keep em guessing!

Cloud Forest…More Like Rain Forest

I’m going to say something I would never say in front of Michele – and I know she doesn’t read any of my drivel, so I’m safe – but here it goes, my wife was right!  Now before the internet explodes, she’s right about a lot of things, I just would never tell her.

While we were packing for this trip, I was complaining about a lack of a pool at our hotel in Monteverde and she told me that it was going to be cooler than what I expect and should pack a jacket.  Yeah, ok, pack a jacket to go to Costa Rica. Well this morning we got up nice and early (5:30), had a nice breakfast and then met our guide, Adrian, to head to Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve for a nice pleasant nature walk.  As we assembled in the parking lot, it was a little on the cool side and a light rain/mist falling.  I looked around at all of the other people who were wearing coats and various forms of rain gear and thought, my shorts and t-shirt might be a little shy of what might be required.

The next 2 hours as our guide pointed out all of the different plants (which all looked the same to me) and found a few birds to look at, it did not warm up one bit and it certainly didn’t get any drier.  Of course I’m a Saskatchewan boy, so this is nothing, right?  Well reality is that I’m a little bit of a princess and I was cold.  By the end, my interest in the forest was waning and I just wanted to go home.  All in all, I survived and our guide was so awesome that it made me forget all about being soaked and cold.

Once we got back from our tour, I changed into dry clothes and we walked to a little cafe – Orchid Cafe – and had awesome crepes for lunch.  After lunch, Jordan went on a zipline tour, Michele went on an Orchid Garden tour and I crawled under a big blanket and shivered myself warm.  Michele and I did walk around the little town and bought some local coffee beans to bring home.

Tonight we went for dinner at a place our guide from this morning recommended – Bar Amigos – which was excellent and then walked back to the little cafe so I could have some pie.  Tomorrow we are heading south to Manuel Antonio, which if I know me, will start my endless complaining about how hot it is.  I’m a complicated man!

Costa Rica….Again

It’s just under 24 hours ago that we left to come back to our, feels like, second home.  And other than a 2 hour nap this afternoon, I have been up since 6 am yesterday morning.  Our flight was a red-eye that left at 11 pm last night and got us into Liberia at 7 am.  Normally in my perfect environment at home I have sleep issues so trying to do it on an airplane just did not happen.  Once we landed, we picked up our rental car, stopped for breakfast, and drove to Monteverde, where we will be for the next 2 nights.

This trip, we have Jordan with us so it is going to be a different trip than our usual one where it’s just me bossing Michele around.  So far, and I know it’s only been one day, things are going well but the weather isn’t cooperating.  It is super windy, raining and cold.  We are in the cloud forest so we weren’t expecting blazing hot but we weren’t expecting cold either.  We could have stayed home for that!  But we went out for a nice supper tonight and tomorrow we have a busy day of nature walks and zip lining.  But not before I get about 10 hours of sleep!

Happy Canada Day!

We are on day 9 of our camping trip and this is the first blog that I have written.  I have thought about writing something but to be honest, nothing spectacular has happened that I can embellish and make into a great story.  So I’m just going to give a quick recap of the trip so far.

We started out the trip with a stop in Kimberley, BC to attend my nephew and new niece’s wedding.  Dave and Rachel were married at a resort outside of town in a beautiful setting backdropped by the mountains.  It turned out to be a perfect day that was a little bit hot but was made better by the fact my brother was buying the drinks.  All in all a perfect day to celebrate with the couple.

The morning after the wedding we packed up and headed south, along with my brother Warren and his wife Wynn, and the father of the bride Art and his friend Marilyn (also the aunt of the groom, hmmmm), to Farragut State Park just north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  The six of us as well as Tucker and Willow (the bride and groom’s dog being looked after by Art) spent 4 days hanging out, having some laughs, doing some biking (Michele & Wynn), some kayaking (me), and some shopping (pretty much just me).  The weather was spectacular for most of the 4 days with a couple of thunderstorms, but they didn’t really interfere with anything we were doing.  Each day was 30 degrees or close to it, but the nights cooled down so much that sleeping was not a problem.

After 4 days, Michele and I split from the other 4 (they headed home to Calgary) and we drove back north to Kokanee Creek Provincial Park near Nelson, BC, right on the shores of the west arm of Kooteney Lake.  This is where we sit as I write this.  The weather has been in the low 30’s the last 2 days and is expected to reach mid 30’s by Sunday and those temperatures will follow us to Creston when we head there on Monday.  But here we have shade, a/c in the trailer, and a big lake for me and Tucker to cool down in.  It also happens to be my favorite lake to kayak on.  So we’ll survive the heat.

That’s it for now.  If I find time between my doing nothing and my naps, or if something exciting happens,  I’ll write again.  Until then, Happy Canada Day!!

Reflections at 37, 000 feet

Don’t worry, I’m not driving and posting.  I’m letting the cool guys who fly planes for a living do the driving, cause I still have momentary flashbacks to the last time I tried landing a plane “PULL UP, MORE, PULL UP”.  That guy should never have let me have the controls!

Ok, back to good reflections.  We are half way home from our 8 days in Costa Rica and I simply cannot find a thing to complain about (I know, everyone that knows me just did a slow eyeroll but I’m being serious).  This was almost a perfect trip and is how I want to roll when it comes to vacations.  We have done numerous all-inclusive vacations and even though I enjoyed every one of them, they will be a once in a blue moon thing from now on.  The reason – My wife plans the perfect vacation packages!

The last two years we have visited this country, last year 13 days, this year 8 days, and Michele has nailed it for the most part (last year there was that whole condo fiasco but she was a rookie then). This year she couldn’t have planned one thing differently to make the trip better. Well she could have researched the tubing a little better and warned me there were rocks involved.  But even that was fun (Yes typing this with one hand is really hard but she did her best).  The best part of her planning these trips, I just have to show up.  She does the research, she does the bookings, she does the organizing, and I play video games and then get to go on a great vacation!  No wonder I love this girl!

So as my ears are popping ands we descend into Toronto, all I can say is – I can’t wait till next year’s trip! Pura Vida Baby!

The Last Day – Relaxing, Tubing, Cheating Death

Maybe cheating death is a little dramatic, but I have a little bit of drama queen in me, so the title in my opinion is appropriate.  One of the activities at this resort is tubing down a river in an individual tube over some rapids.  Sounds like fun, right?  Well it was a ton of fun but as you will read, it was no tame ride.

As Michele  is not a fan of water, she didn’t want to do this activity, even though a group of young ladies assured us that “as long as you follow their instructions, it is very safe”.  Words that played over in my head more than once today.  I booked the adventure for myself and at 10:30 this morning, myself and 3 others were picked up by our guides and taken to the river.  Once there, we were outfitted with life jackets and helmets, which turned out to be a good idea. We were each given a tube and instructions on how to ride the tube over rapids, which turned out to be good advice, if only…Now I am normally very good at listening to instructions and successfully  following them.  In hindsight, today was not one of those normally days.

We all got into our tubes and started to float down the river to the first rapid.  This is where hell and the hand basket met.  I was second to reach the rapid and the first guy was hung up a little in the middle. Even though the river was wide, the rapids narrowed to the width of our tube so there was no room to go around and no stopping once you hit the rapid.  So as I shot in and bumped the first guy, the next thing I know I am upside down in the middle of this rapid, tumbling and smashing off rocks while my tube is heading down the river.  They said if you fall out, your life jacket will help you float.  The problem though with this is you have to be on top of the water and not flailing at the bottom.  After what seemed like a long time (probably 7 or 8 seconds actually) I finally surfaced and was able to pull myself over to a rock.  There was a split second, right in the middle of my tumbling that I was a little freaked out, but when one of the guides asked if I was ok, I said hell yeah, as it was kind of invigorating.  After the other guide tracked down my tube and got it back to me, I hopped in and we were off again. There were about 7 other rapids that we went through and darn it if I didn’t fall out 2 more times, neither one of them being nearly as violent as the first fall, but none the less, the other 3 people combined fell out 0 times.  That’s right.  Me 3 times, the rest, none!  Remember  the earlier instructions – lean back when going through the rapids!  Makes sense to me now!

So there ended up being a little damage.  My left arm and shoulder took a beating and I badly sprained my right wrist.

I am pretty sore this evening and am pretty sure tomorrow won’t be much better.  Thank god I have Michele here to do the heavy lifting as my right hand is useless right now.  Everything will heal in time, including my pride, but I will certainly remember the advice from those young ladies for a very long time!

Rio Perdido…Hot Springs, Cold Cerveza

I don’t drink beer but Cerveza in the title sounded more masculine than Pina Colada.  We travelled to our last Resort – Rio Perdido – yesterday, which took us about 4 hours with a couple of stops in Liberia, one to pick up some snacks, the other to have lunch at the #1 Trip Advisor lunch spot in Liberia.  We had a great lunch and will rate it very high when we do our review, so I’m pretty sure it won’t lose its ranking.

Our Resort this time has 20 individual cabinas located in a dwarf forest.  Each cabina has huge windows and a deck, complete with hammocks, that overlooks the forest.  The resort also contains a hot springs river and 3 different natural pools.  It is a bit of a hike down a natural stone path but looks like it would be refreshing. (Whether we decide to test the refreshing part remains to be seen.  Michele got me to hike down there once just to check it out. Now that I know what’s involved, it’ll be harder to convince me).  There are also 3 different pools at the main building of varying degrees of cool/warmness.

There is also approximately 16 km of hiking trails and other activities such as zip lining and tubing on a river.  So Michele will probably enjoy the challenge of some of the hiking trails, I imagine I will take the less strenuous route of floating on a tube in the river!