When Life Gets Hard: Phuket

Our final stop in Thailand was the wonderful and very popular Phuket!  This place may be set up for tourists, but there is definitely a reason for its popularity: delicious food, bumping nightlife, stunning beaches, island excursions, wildlife experiences, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, we had a rough start with our accommodations in Phuket.  We were scheduled to stay at Centara Villas which overlook the ocean and are nestled peacefully into a lush mountainside.   When we arrived, they had us wait over an hour before telling us that our villa had been flooded and drove us down the road to Centara Kata which was not our cup of tea.  It didn’t have a view, our room smelled musty and it was full of drunk people and large, loud family groups.  Clearly, this wasn’t a place to lounge at so even though we were tired from traveling, we freshened up and hit the streets!

Our first night in Phuket we walked around quite a bit and saw massage parlors, restaurants, open air bars, street food stands and shops.  Eventually we came upon Palm Square and sat down for some drinks, Thai food and live music.

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Enjoying a Chang beer and a shot of Jack after a frustrating day of travel

The next day we were pretty happy to have a full day of excursions so that we didn’t have to stay at our temporary hotel.  We were picked up early by a minibus for some island hopping.  It was a long drive to Phuket Marina, but when we got there we were served tea and coffee while introductions were made and boat safety was discussed.

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Waiting for the boat!
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How cool is the Thai architecture behind the marina?!

The first island we visited was called Bamboo Island.  Each of the islands we visited had something different to boast about.  Bamboo Island had HUGE stretches of white sands, excellent snorkeling and rows of the picturesque traditional Thai wooden boats.

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The new and the old: we were on a three motor speed boat like those seen here.

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Trying to find our own little secluded spot
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My turn with the camera!

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Could have sat in that water all day

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All aboard the three engine speed boat and on to Ko Phi Phi Don!  Phi Phi Don was a much more populated island with huge, open-air restaurants.  This is where our group stopped for a buffet style lunch with amazing massaman curry and rice.  We didn’t have much time to explore this island, but of course Scott got some good shots in.

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Continuing with the Phi Phi trend, our next view was of Ko Phi Phi Leh.  We didn’t get off the boat at first, but instead watched monkeys jumping in the water off of the cliffs and then went snorkeling off of our boat.  It was stunning and so much fun to watch the wildlife.  So much so, in fact, that we didn’t take a single photo at this stop and just enjoyed the frivolity of it all.

The boat eventually anchored off of Phi Phi Leh’s Maya Beach.  This beach was crowded and had several deadly jelly fish warnings posted, but it was quite a sight.  There were massive cliffs, turquoise waters, white sands, and lush greenery to stare at through the crowds of bodies.  I was all about risking the jelly fish to get back in that water.

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Coming in off the boat.
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Ignoring the jelly fish warnings
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Awe-inspiring cave-like cliffs
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Walkin’ the beach
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Cave selfie!

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After a long and exhilarating day of island hopping, we traveled slowly back to our temporary hotel.  We didn’t want to eat at the restaurants there so we hit the streets once again.  We were so hungry that we stopped at the first thing we saw that looked edible and we were pretty stoked about that decision.  Street food in Thailand is delicious and cheap!  We sampled some BBQ pork, BBQ chicken, Pork satay with honey sauce (best thing every) and washed it down with some Chang for an appetizer.  Then we found a live seafood restaurant and chowed down on some Phad Thai (we weren’t feeling adventurous enough to try one of the fully intact fish we were seeing on other tables).  With full bellies, we walked back home and crashed out in a damp-smelling bed.

And just like that it was finally elephant day!  I had been looking forward to visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary since we started planning this trip.  This time, we were picked up in a pick-up with a covered bed and rode through the jungle with a few other girls.

Upon arriving at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket, we were immediately able to feed a mother and her baby, Cho, pounds upon pounds of banana and watermelon.  It was cute to see their preferences and personalities.  As visitors to the sanctuary, we were also volunteers so we loaded baskets with more fruit than I’d ever seen in my life and fed it to  16 more elephants.  We were taught the command, “Bon” to get the elephants to lift their trunks and open their mouths for a treat.  Some elephants were calm, others were frisky, some were friendly, others swayed back and forth in a dance of anxiety.  It’s clear that some of these elephants were rescued from less than desirable circumstances and it was eye opening to see them in recovery.

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The look of pure excitement!

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I loved the babies!

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Had to give that rough pachyderm a kiss

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Getting a back scratch in before mud baths.

The last step of elephant care on our tour was giving the group a mud bath.  Scott and I actually didn’t participate for quite a bit of this because the mud baths were full of elephant dung and super crowded.  Some of the HUGE creatures were doing barrels rolls unexpectedly right next to people and it just looked like chaos.  Eventually, however, I couldn’t resist going in up to my thighs and interacting with two of my favorite elephants while Scott kept his roll as bystander.

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Excited for their baths!
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This loner was my bestie

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This mama and baby were so funny!  She kept doing barrel rolls and the baby kept throwing mud at the tourists.

Elephant day was amazing, but it wasn’t over yet.  After a lunch buffet and a long ride back to the hotel we were originally supposed to stay at, our villa was STILL not ready.  So they upgraded us to a villa with a view and a private pool (would have been nice to have that for four nights instead of two, but we settled right in).  We took a dip in our private pool, napped in the villa with the doors open, and fully relaxed for a few hours.  When the sun set, we were up and running again.

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We had heard there was an amazing night market in Phuket and this, my friends, is very true.  Naka Market was the best market we saw during our time in Asia and we visited many.  We purchased tons of goodies here including some of our favorite art from the trip and some tasty pork buns.

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When the market got too crowded we snagged a cab to one of Phuket’s most famous attractions, Bangla road.  This is where this blog gets a little “explicit”.  The sex trade is famous in Thailand and Bangla road is one of the epicenters of this kind of activity.  As soon as you arrive on Bangla road, you feel a Las Vegas type atmosphere: loud music, peddlers trying to sell you a show, people walking around with adult beverages, go-go dancers, etc.  Scott and I sat at one of the open-air bars with go-go dancers and had a few drinks while trying to absorb everything we were seeing.  There were bracelets for sale with the most obscene expressions you could possibly imagine, advertisements for “ping-pong” shows, “husband daycares”, strip clubs of every type of intrigue, and you had to pay for most of the toilets.  Overall, probably the best people watching I’ve seen.

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When we’d seen all of the interesting sights we could handle for one day, we packed up our market purchases and took a cab back to our villa for the night.  The next day was our last full day in Phuket and we decided to spend it relaxing.

There was a primitive pathway down to the beach right behind our villa so we were able to walk straight from our beds to the beach.  It was an overcast day, but it was warm and perfect for reading and enjoying the waves without getting fried to a crisp.  We could even see the famous Big Buddha from the beach and Scott was able to get a couple of photos of it.  We ended the day with dinner with a view at the hotel restaurant and went to rest up for another day of travel.

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Check out Big Buddha all the way in the top left!
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A bit better shot of Big Buddha
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Walkin’ in from the waves
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I have some awesome tan-lines from the cutouts in my one piece.
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He always takes walking shots of me, gotta get one of him!

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He’s pretty dreamy
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LOVE to read on vacation, this was such a good day.

Our time in Phuket was scenic and jaw dropping.  It was also our final stop in the country of Thailand before the city-state island of Singapore.  It was time to trade in Thai food and beaches for skyscrapers and cocktails.  Looking forward to sharing our time in that unique city in my next post ❤

Until next time,

Lexi

Hustle, Bustle and Feasting in Bangkok

Our next stop on our November 2017 trip to SE Asia was the bustling city of Bangkok.  So far, Bangkok is the largest and busiest city we’ve seen on our travels.  The traffic was INSANE so public transportation was a must!  Since it was so hard to get around, we were limited to how much we could see in a short time.  Most of our visit was spent eating and shopping and taking in the urban Asian culture.

The first day we were in Bangkok we spent most of the day in a taxi trying to get from the airport to the Riva Surya Hotel where we were staying.  Driving through the city, we realized how dedicated the Thai people are to their king and that many people use some sort of smelling salt to stay awake while driving in the basically non-moving traffic.  Once we finally arrived, we ate a nice lunch on the river, went to the gym in our hotel and pretty much relaxed the rest of the day away.

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An intersection with tributes to the king

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View from our hotel during lunch
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View from our hotel at night

Our first full day in Bangkok was a day of eating delicious Thai food.  We weren’t sure where to go in Bangkok so we took a cab to the center of town where we found Siam Square and the Siam Paragon Mall.  This mall was amazing. You could literally buy or eat anything you want in this place.  Scott was enamored with a whole floor of the mall dedicated to luxury cars and I loved the apparel and the seeing the largest food court of my life.  You could buy anything in this food court including whole chickens and sweet buns shaped like teddy bears.  We also went into a gourmet market and picked up some teas, spices and durian products for my sister who has a love of foreign delicacies.

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More traffic on the way to Siam Square

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A display in the mall…I couldn’t resist

My favorite part of Siam Paragon, however, was our stop for some tea.  TWG stores are all over the world but I’d never had the pleasure of visiting one.  Not only does it have the largest selection of loose leaf teas I’ve ever seen, but we were able to sit down and each have a pot of tea made especially for us using tea perfecting techniques.  Of course, we had to buy a whole bunch of it to share with friends and family and each other.

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This is JUST the tea menu
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Scott’s drinking White Passion Tea and I tried Immortal Tea

After tea time, I bought a new dress and we took a cab to the COMO Metropolitan Hotel to eat at their restaurant, Nahm.  Nahm is the only Thai food restaurant to be listed amongst the top 50 restaurants in the world, it has a Michelin star and it consistently ranks in the top 10 restaurants in Asia.  Since Thai food is my favorite cuisine, I was dying to try this place.  It truly did not disappoint!  The atmosphere was actually pretty casual and inviting, but the food was AMAZING!  Scott had a Strawberry Mule while I sipped a glass of Rosé.  We were served an amuse bouche of pineapple and spiced meat and we ordered a pork and lobster canapé (spicy and so flavorful).  For our main courses I got the coconut curry with blue crab and Scott ordered chicken with ginger sauce.  By far one of the best lunches I’ve ever had.

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Lobster and Pork Canapé
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Excited to dig into our main courses

We went back to our hotel after Nahm and rested our stomachs before a quick afternoon workout at the hotel gym.  Then we got ready for yet another culinary experience.  For dinner we wanted to get the best view of the city possible so we chose to eat at Saffron at the Banyan Tree hotel and then get cocktails at The Moon Bar.  The dinner at Saffron didn’t really compare to our amazing lunch at Nahm, but The Moon Bar was incredible!  This lounge was on the 59th floor and had 360 degree views of Bangkok.  The service was really nice and the atmosphere was swanky and fun.

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The next day was our last full day in Bangkok and my favorite day in this city. We finally discovered the Sky Train public transportation and getting around the city became much easier!

I dabble in cooking my own curries at home and when we first started planning our trip to Thailand, a cooking class was top of my list.  We found Pink Chili Cooking Class in Bangkok and it was more of a cultural experience than just a cooking lesson.  We met our guide and she took us through a local market which was much larger and more foreign than the ones we saw in Chiang Mai.  There were huge stalls of fresh produce, bins upon bins of rice, sauces and spices I couldn’t begin to name and pretty fascinating (or maybe even disturbing) displays of meat.  We saw full pork heads, every part of a chicken, live toads, and live eels just to name a few delicacies displayed.  Another interesting thing is that nothing was kept over ice.  I’m assuming the goods sell so quickly that preservation isn’t an issue, but it was odd to see a slab of meat just perched on a tile countertop.  I could have stayed in this market for hours, but we were there only to purchase the freshest ingredients possible for the meals we would be cooking for lunch that day.

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Poor toads…maybe they were being sold as pets? :/
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There was gold everywhere you looked in Thailand!

We took our super fresh ingredients straight back to Pink Chili’s kitchen where we began chopping and slicing immediately.  The first thing we made was our own red curry paste with mortar and pestle.  We then continued on to make sweet and sour chicken, crispy spring rolls, red curry with chicken and eggplant, a sweet chili sauce and pumpkin in coconut milk for dessert.  I thought absolutely everything was DELICIOUS!  I just wish we had some of these ingredients back in Seattle so that I could recreate this curry.

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The cooking set-up
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Ready to slice and dice!
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The freshest ingredients

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Grinding that curry paste
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Smelling our delicious curry
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Showing off our sweet and sour chicken
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The full meal (except dessert)

We made some fun friends during our cooking class and one of them took a polaroid photo of us newlyweds before we all went our separate ways.  Scott and I took the Sky Train back to Siam Square and wandered around for a while and then decided to check out a Thai movie theatre.

We went to a 3-D Imax showing of Thor Ragnarok and sat in a love seat style chair at the very top of the theatre.  They had amazing popcorn and some funky tasting Sprite and, of course, some Hello Kitty decor.  One of the more unexpected things about seeing a movie at a Thai theatre is that they do a tribute to the king before the previews where everyone stands up.  The movie was great and exactly the relaxing night we needed to end our time in such an intense city.  The next morning we would be getting up and catching yet another early flight to Phuket!  That will be a much longer blog full of AMAZING photos by Scott.  As always, thanks for reading and going on our adventures with us!

 

 

 

 

 

Dazzling Sights in Chiang Mai

It has been well over a month since we returned home from our nearly three week trip in Southeast Asia.  With the holidays, building a home and life just getting in the way, I haven’t had the time yet to write about this experience.  Lack of writing aside, I have had plenty of time to reflect and be grateful for such an amazing trip and hopefully this next series of blogs illuminates which moments were most significant to us.  I considered breaking this blog series up into two parts: activities and food (the food was just incredible and so different everywhere we went, it deserved it’s own post!).  In the end, however, I decided to continue writing about each, individual place as a whole experience.

On my list of places I would most want to revisit Mykonos (from a trip I went on without Scott in 2011) and Chiang Mai would be at the top.  I hope that the photos throughout this composition make the excellence of this place obvious and fully explain why we would want to return so badly.

Scott and I traveled for 30 hours before landing in Chiang Mai.  This is BY FAR the longest day of travel I’ve ever had.  We flew EVA Air from Seattle to Taipei, Taiwan to Bangkok and then took a regional airline to Chiang Mai.  For the longest leg of our flight, we took Advil PM and we will now be doing this for any flight we have that’s over 7 hours.  We were dead asleep for 8 straight hours.  One thing of note during this travel was the Taipei airport:  it’s full of themed waiting rooms and shops that make it quite obvious you’re in Asia.  The most popular of which was a Hello Kitty waiting lounge which looked like something straight out of the cartoon.  We also had some of our first Asian cuisine while waiting in the Taipei airport and it set me off on a dumpling obsession that continued for the rest of the trip and likely for the rest of my life.

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Finally arriving in Chiang Mai, we couldn’t find the car that was supposed to be waiting for us to take us to our hotel so we ended up waiting in the WORST taxi line of all time.  We checked in at Amata Lanna Village Hotel after dark, but even without light we could see that it was an incredibly beautiful place to call home for the next three nights.  We walked over a koi pond on cement stepping stones to a lobby with traditional Thai architecture.  The doorways to each room were fully carved and each feature seemed to have detailed artwork incorporated into the design.  Most exciting of all was that we could see the first night of Loy Krathong (the Thai paper lantern festival) taking place in the background.  It seemed as if Chiang Mai was greeting us as we watched thousands of paper lanterns drift through the sky and over our hotel from the doorway of our room.

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Our view of the lanterns from right outside our room
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View from our hotel room towards the city during daylight
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Our bathtub
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Our room was second from the right on the top floor!
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These sculptures were placed throughout the hotel property…so cute!

On our first morning in Thailand, we were scheduled to visit the highest peak in Thailand, hike some waterfalls and visit Doi Inthanon.  We ended up getting so much more out of this day.  The hotel we were staying at was owned by a family and they were amazing hosts.  Breakfast begins at 6AM with a menu of fruits, sticky rice, bacon, sausage, eggs, porridge and more.  We were given an appetizer of Chinese fried bread and fresh fruits.  I had my first taste of Mango Sticky Rice and I will now be seeking this out for breakfast whenever I can.

 

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To-Die-For Mango Sticky Rice

 

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My daily tropical fruits fix
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Enjoying my coffee and Chinese bread

After breakfast we were picked up by our tour guide and started our first day of sight-seeing in Thailand.  Our first stop was going to be the tallest peak in Thailand, but we stopped and purchased some fresh fruit from a street vendor on the way up the mountain.  Our tour guide wanted to make sure we got to try everything.  Our first new fruit to try was called a longan (a small version of a lychee with a tough peel and squishy, grape-like insides).  We also tried persimmons, Thai sweet potatoes, fruit wine, and several different dried fruits.  We ended up purchasing plenty of samples for our family back home.

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One of the many markets that lined the streets
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Peeling and tasting a longan in our karaoke/tour van

My favorite thing of all, however, was a sweet pork dumpling that our tour guide bought us from another street vendor.  I spent the rest of the trip looking for more of these delicious, warm, sweet rolls filled with ground pork.

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Next, we arrived at Doi Inthanon National Park and peered over the tallest peak in Thailand.  There was pretty dense forest surrounding the peak, so there wasn’t much of a view to show off, but stay tuned for some killer views of Chiang Mai we got the next day!

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After leaving the highest spot in Thailand, we traveled winding roads towards the stupas of Doi Inthanon.  Along the way, we saw several Buddhist offerings nestled into the forest and I was fascinated by the intricate details and the effort put into these works of art.DSC_0001.jpg

The primary attractions of the day were the stupas and gardens of Doi Inthanon built for the king and queen.  Each stupa was the same number of feet tall as the monarch was old.  Inside each stupa were statues of Buddha corresponding to the day of the week the queen/king were born.  Each stupa and corresponding garden were designed around the personality of the queen and king.  The queen’s was ultra feminine with purple glass tile decorating every surface while the king’s had more of a brown and brass tone throughout.  It was truly something to behold and it is difficult to pick any number of pictures to represent it’s beauty because Scott captured so many gorgeous images of this place.

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A view of both stupas over the garden pond

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A close up of the king’s stupa
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Scott and I in the gardens
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The view from the gardens over the cliffs
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Some of the tile work outside of the queen’s stupa
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The Buddha inside of the queen’s stupa
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More of the incredible view from the gardens
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Some of the tile work outside the king’s stupa
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Inside the king’s stupa
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The garden was getting some maintenance
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About to head up the long stairway to the stupas

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After spending a lot of time gawking at these masterpieces and wandering the gardens, we were off to have lunch and visit some waterfalls.   Lunch was at a huge gathering place with several restaurants and one communal outdoor cafeteria with a covering.  We had cashew chicken, a Thai omelette, steamed veggies, and one of our favorites: Thom Kha Gai (a spicy coconut based soup with chicken, mushrooms and lemongrass).  On our way to the first waterfall, we got to hike past farms and rice fields and were able to see some of the canal systems and methods for farming in the region.

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A close up of some crops
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Rice fields amongst the jungle

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The tour guide prompted me to test the strength of the vine so I pretended to be Tarzan over a farming canal.

The first waterfall we visited was called Siriphum Waterfall.  After Costa Rica, we had seen our share of jungles and waterfalls, but there was something truly special about this national park and we loved hiking over the rickety bridges to get closer to the powerful spray of Siriphum.

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Resting by the river
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Trying to show Scott something cool from the bridge viewpoint
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Hiking over to the bridge

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The next waterfall we visited was the largest in Doi Inthanon National Park: Wachirathan Waterfall.  After seeing this beauty, we continued on a path that followed the flow of the water and found some of the most vibrant rainbows I’ve ever seen.  Usually rainbows are hard to capture on film, but these were not camera shy one bit.

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Not our best photo, we were getting hit directly in the face with cold waterfall spray

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Wachirathan marked the end of an amazing first tour and we were driven back to our hotel.  We decided to rest for a brief period, change our clothes and head out on the town to get our first taste of an Asian city.  We decided to go on foot (which we would later regret) and walked over the river towards the Nawarat Bridge which was supposed to be the center of the town.  As soon as we started our walk we could tell something special was happening in the city.  There were street vendors set up everywhere selling toys, sweets, lanterns and other celebratory wares.  We decided to get dinner at River Market Restaurant so we could stay near the bridge and watch as the celebrations picked up in fervor.  We enjoyed spring rolls and massaman lamb curry (YUM), and Scott had a Chang beer (this would soon become one of his all time favorites) and I had some Chardonnay.  As we ate, we began to see people practicing the lighting and releasing of lanterns.  We were shocked to see lit lanterns landing in trees or lawns and continuing to burn and then just going out.  The vegetation was so wet that fires just never started.  Coming from Washington State this went totally against our prevent-forest-fires nature!

Finally, the sun went down and we went to the bridge to join in the festivities.  We chose not to purchase a lantern because we had no clue what we were doing or what was being celebrated and felt like imposters.  We truly felt lucky just to watch.  We had a great viewpoint on the bridge and watched several people try and fail to set off lanterns (who knew it would be a challenge?!).  Eventually, lanterns started successfully taking off all around us!  After watching several successful launches, we decided to help a group of young travelers from San Diego launch theirs after many failed attempts.  They were gracious enough to give us a lantern to launch of our own.  We succeeded on our first attempt thanks to all of our observing.  We learned that the releasing of the lantern symbolizes letting go of negativity and sending blessings into the New Year.  The festival takes place on the evening of the full moon in November which is the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar and, therefore, the end of the lunar year.  It was such a happy accident to arrive in Chiang Mai during this festival and getting to share it with the local people is something we will never forget.

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View from our restaurant

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That’s our lantern!

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When we felt it was time to leave the festival, we walked all the way home.  We dodged traffic (mostly scooters and tuk tuks) and walked through narrow unlit streets for what felt like several miles.  I was wearing sandals and ended up having blisters on my feet for the rest of the trip, but it was totally worth it.

The next day, we had another jungle hike and temple tour booked.  Again, we were served a delicious breakfast and then we were off to Doi Suthep.  The previous day, Scott and I were the only members of our tour.  This day, we were joined by four Asian Canadian students and a Dutch couple.  Unbeknownst to us, we actually had quite an extensive hike through the jungle to arrive at today’s temple.  Luckily, we were both dressed for the miles we had to trek through dense forest and my blisters decided not to give me too much trouble.  At Sai Yoi Waterfall we did get to take off our shoes and frolic in crystal clear waterfall pools and climb some giant boulders to cool our feet.  During the hike we were surprised to come across monks leading individuals into the jungle.  They are portrayed very accurately in art and media and seem to radiate a kind of peace and tranquility in their mannerisms.  Eventually, we arrived at a kind of cabin resort for temple visitors at the top of the hike and were able to rest before exploring the temple itself.

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Our group at the first waterfall before the hike began
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Jungle trekkin
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Waterfall pools with small catfish in them!

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Barefoot, wild and free

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Finally arriving at the cabins with one of the temple’s gold pagodas in the background

Since we had just hiked straight up a mountain through the jungle, our group was starving.  At the bottom of the stairs into the temple there was a huge, bustling market where we found a cramped noodle place and had our first authentic phad thai and thai iced tea.  Honestly, they were quite like what we were used to in the U.S. and super delicious!  We enjoyed getting to know the Dutch couple and learned that they were from Amsterdam so we got all the travel tips we possibly could for our upcoming 2018 Europe trip!  Finally, it was time to enter the temple.  Everyone made sure there knees and shoulders were covered (most of the girls had to buy sarongs to enter) and started a secondary hike up a long, ornate stairway.

The temple was so stunning it’s difficult to describe.  There was genuine worship taking place all around us and the smell of incense was sweet and heavy as soon as we crested the top of the stairs.  Every square inch of the structure was decorated and dazzling.  Gold, jade and other precious jewels were everywhere you looked.  This is by far one of the most incredible manmade sights I’ve ever beheld.  I hope these photos can portray some of the wonder this place instilled in all of us, but it’s definitely something difficult to capture.

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The long stairway to the temple
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A close up of the dragons on the stairwell
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An epic entrance way
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Each of these Buddhas represents the day of the week you were born.  You are supposed to pray to your own Buddha.  I was born on a Sunday so I am the first buddha called “in pensive thought Buddha”.  He stands upright with his hands clasped low contemplating his wisdom.  Scott is Thursday so he is the meditation Buddha (fifth from the left).

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Elephants represent good luck in Thai culture
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We love goooollldddd!
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You have to kneel inside of the prayer rooms, we were fortunate enough to watch a monk lead a mass blessing in a similar room.
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A jade Buddha
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A close up of the gold pagoda
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Some realistic Buddhas

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The breathtaking gardens outside of the temple’s exit

After exiting the temple we walked through stunning gardens like the one above and went up some more stairs to a gazebo that looked over the entirety of Chiang Mai.  It was an incredible view and the underside of the gazebo was decorated with carvings of the different Buddhas.  I became a little obsessed with learning about my Sunday Buddha and seeking him out in religious artwork.  The tour ended with a bathroom break in a ginormous store full of anything you could imagine made out of jade from chess sets to bangles (unfortunately, it was such a quick stop we didn’t get any photos).

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Another elephant sculpture on the way up
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More stunning architecture outside of the temple
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An incredible view of Chiang Mai
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Our tour guide helping me find my Sunday Buddha
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The whole gazebo
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Looking out over Thailand

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I didn’t even know I was doing my Buddha posture!

It was a really intense day of hiking and sensory overload at the temple, but this was our last night in Chiang Mai and we weren’t done with this city yet!  After we rested off our tour, we got changed and ordered an Uber (no more walking) and went to the Chiang Mai Sunday Market.  We were instantly struck by how busy this place was!  Crowds filled the entire width of the street and the smells of street food wafted out from behind the people selling their trinkets.  Even more shocking was the price of this stuff!  So inexpensive we could hardly believe it.  We ended up buying clothes, lanterns, art, and other gifts for people back home.  Then we stopped at a restaurant called Cooking Home and I ate one of my favorite Thai dishes to date:  Khao Sui.  This is a yellow curry soup that you can only get in Northern Thailand and it’s to die for.  When the night was over, we took our first tuk tuk (basically a chair rigged to the back of a moped) ride back to our hotel and so ended our time in Chiang Mai.

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The huge crowd in the market
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Not the prettiest picture but the most delicious dish:  Khao Sui
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Tuk Tuk Driver!
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Feeling a little nervous on our super fast tuk tuk ride

Chiang Mai was our favorite part of Thailand and we can’t wait to go back.  BUT I can’t wait for my next installment in this series where we visit the insane and massive city of Bangkok!

Costa Rican Honeymoon: San José and the Pacuare River

Costa Rica is famous for its white water rafting scene.  People come from all over the world to raft here and the Pacuare River is destination numero uno.  Although I’d never white water rafted before, we decided we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  Plus, there was a hotel nestled in the jungle along this river that I was DYING to experience.  We may have gotten a little more than we bargained for, but one thing is for sure, we will NEVER forget our final few days of honeymooning in Costa Rica.

While planning our trip, I Googled the most stunning honeymoon suites in Costa Rica and found The Pacuare Lodge.  This lodge is listed amongst the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.  I didn’t know this, I just thought it was gorgeous.  You could book a treehouse with a private pool and we had to try it out.  It wasn’t until we were half way through our honeymoon that we realized why this place was so unique.  The only way to get there was to get picked up in San José at your hotel, take a bus ride for a few hours East and then white water raft two more hours down river.  You are also allowed very limited luggage as it has to also arrive at the lodge by raft.

Scott and I arrived in San José (TERRIBLE TRAFFIC), got a quick bite at McDonald’s, and settled in at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.  Then we spend the rest of the evening attempting to pack ONE backpack with enough clothes for both of us to last three days knowing that we would also need clothes to get wet on the rafting trip.  It was a challenge…I don’t pack light usually.

The next morning we got up super early and grabbed a quick bite at the hotel (I had more amazing mango that I couldn’t get enough of) and waited for our river guide to pick us up.  Our luggage would remain at the Crowne Plaza until we got back.  Our river guide, Danny, showed up right on time and we drove through the city to pick up another couple.  As we drove, Danny told us about his trips to California, Oregon and other parts of the U.S. where he spends time as a river guide and his passion for life on the river.  Then we stopped at Bocadito Del Cielo for a bite of second breakfast.  This name of the restaurant translates to Little Taste of Heaven because it sits overlooking stunning views of the valley.

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Some views of the drive through San José
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Views from breakfast

Finally, we arrived at the Pacuare River.  We were taught on the spot how to raft while we were geared up and our luggage was handed over to a skilled rafter named Rafa.  We were taught commands so we knew when to paddle forward and backward and when to jump inside the raft or lean.

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The start of our rafting journey

At first, I was terrified of rafting.  Especially since I was brand new and would be starting out on Class 3 and 4 rapids.  Scott had been rafting in Oregon, but failed to mention this until after I’d had a few moments of panicking.  It only took a couple big rapids, however, for me to LOVE it!  I was smiling and laughing pretty much the entire trip and the two hours which had seemed so daunting went by in a flash.  We did have one break where we were able to visit a secluded little waterfall and take a swim.   Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity and we were the only ones to jump right in the river, clothes and all.  We did learn later that the Pacuare River is full of piranha, but they have soft teeth and aren’t dangerous to humans.  We also saw the biggest spider I’ve seen to date sitting on a rock that our raft got VERY close to, and enjoyed watching different birds in their natural, untouched environments.

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Eventually, we rafted by a couple of extremely remote and off-the-grid cabins before arriving on the banks of the Pacuare Lodge.

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We were then escorted to the Honeymoon Suite which was a short hike up from the main lodge and restaurant for seclusion.  Our suite was nestled right up against the jungle and raised up a hillside so as to be in the canopy and turned into a treehouse.  This was by far the most gorgeous hotel room I’ve ever been in.  It was made out of rich woods with a tree platform, hanging bridge, hammock, private pool, 4-poster bed, glass walls, and an outdoor shower.  We were then informed that there was no electricity except for in the main lobby and we would need a solar flashlight, rubber boots and an umbrella.  We also told that when we came down for dinner (which was served at a very specific time) a worker would come to our room and light a whole bunch of candles for us.  Being near the equator, the sun sets around 6PM all year round.  We were given two choices for dinner and were asked to make our selections and were left to rest after the long travel and rafting day.

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The pool and the bridge to the tree platform

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The cute little sign they made for us
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View to the tree platform
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Walking back towards the room
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View of the room from the tree platform
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Enjoying the hammock and the deck
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A teeny tiny lizard we found in our curtains

We were so secluded that we didn’t even both to unpack our swimsuits to test out our private pool.  It was cold but so refreshing after a rafting workout in the humid jungle.  Then we quickly changed into dry clothes and went down for lunch.  Our river guides became our servers and chefs at the lodge restaurant!  They served us an elegant spinach soup, mushroom tomato penne, coconut flan and some DELICIOUS beers that they brewed onsite.  After lunch, we went upstairs from the restaurant to the bar and ordered some tasty sangria, the spiciest margarita ever and sweet coconut mojitos.

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Finally, we were just exhausted.  We went back up to our paradise room, watched some downloaded shows on our iPad and had a long nap with all the doors open.

Since dinner was at a specific time, we had to get up from our nap and head down not long after.  The restaurant was also without electricity so we were seated with candle light and had to bring our solar lamp everywhere.  We enjoyed really good wine, bread, and squash ginger soup.  Scott’s entree was steak with eggplant puree and potatoes while I had a tuna steak with green beans and rice.  Dessert was a passionfruit mousse for me and a chocolate torte for him (he made the right choice this time…yum).  The daily menu was designed and executed by locals without formal training but with an inherent love for cuisine.  I thought it was super unique and everything we ate was awesome!

After dinner was when the real adventures began.  We went back to our room in pitch black and got ready to brush our teeth.  As we rounded the corner to our bathroom we saw a HUGE cockroach stuck on his back in the hall.  It wasn’t moving so Scott grabbed some tissue to try and pick him up and throw him outside.  My job was to hold a phone flashlight so he could see in the dim candlelight.  Of course, as soon as he touched the roach it started moving furiously and we both screamed and then he didn’t have any light and comedy ensued.  He tried two more times before finally getting it outside.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.  Our bathroom was backed right up into the jungle and wasn’t very well sealed.  There were two spiders hanging out waiting for us and almost no light to see by.  We knew this was going to be a long night at this point.  There were a few small insects on the mosquito nets surrounding our bed AND another layer surrounding the entire bedroom.  This got in our heads and we felt like bugs were everywhere.  After watching some more shows we tried to blow out our candles and go to sleep, but we kept feeling bugs crawling on us (probably just in our imagination) and had to relight a candle and keep it burning all night for our sanity.  At one point I got up and went to the bathroom on my own and saw a shadow on the ground.  When I put my phone’s flashlight on it, I saw that it was a massive cave dwelling spider.  From that point on neither of us went to the bathroom alone or got much sleep.  As terrifying and restless as this night was, Scott and I were totally bonded over our mutual fear of creepy crawlies and the fact that we loved each other enough to accompany each other to the bathroom over and over.  Like I said, we’ll never forget it.

The next day we were scheduled for two serious activities: an extreme seven hour hike and a candlelit dinner in the treetops that we had to zipline to get to.  At breakfast we were surrounded by bees and ants and we had just had a night full of bugs.  We realized that a dinner in the treetops where we wouldn’t be able to really see our surroundings was more than we could handle.  We knew we would be exhausted from our hike and, frankly, couldn’t handle the idea of new and exciting bugs to befriend.  So, we canceled our dinner and got ready for the hike.

This was the most difficult hike we’ve done to date.  Due to the wetness and wildness of the jungle, we had to do the entire thing in rubber boots and long socks or pants.  We were warned about bullet ants (a bite from one of these will paralyze you and give you extreme fever for a couple of days) and poisonous snakes and spiders.  After we were shown the bullet ants we recognized them from right outside our suite…great…However, this hike was a truly incredible experience.  We had two guides: a Costa Rican named Edgar and an indigenous local named William.  They were incredibly kind and knowledgeable and let us practice our Spanish with them.  Their aptitude and fitness for the jungle was astounding.

The jungle was insanely humid and we went through several large canisters of water.  Walking sticks were entirely necessary for the steep and slippery terrain.  At one point, we crested a hill and could see over the canopy.  A breeze from the Caribbean came through and was the most refreshing thing I could imagine at the time.  We walked past indigenous villages and farms completely hidden within the jungle.  The final destination, however, was a hidden waterfall that we could only reach by repelling down a sheer rock face.  Here we had lunch, stripped off our rubber boots, and took a lonnngggg, well deserved rest.

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Getting ready: Scott looking fine in his rubber boots
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The indigenous village
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Trekking through pretty untamed trails
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A look up at the canopy
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The start of the repel
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Finally reaching the waterfall

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Our awesome guides

The trek back was long and painful, but it was totally worth it.  At one point, Edgar found a jaguar den and we had to be very quiet and walk really close together.  Honestly, I was more scared of the spiders in our room, but I had heard of guides and tourists being stalked and snatched by jaguars.

When we returned to the lodge we enjoyed coffee and cookies and hung out near the river for a while before dinner time.  This time we I had duck and Scott had pork ribs.  I honestly still think about this duck dinner, it was SO good.  Night two really didn’t go much better than night 1 and our spider friends returned to torment us.

The next day we were due to raft back West towards San José and return by bus to the Crown Plaza.  We packed up, said goodbye to the spiders and went down for breakfast and to wait for our river guides once again.  While we were waiting, Edgar (our guide from the day before) grabbed us and told us he had something that I’d been waiting to see.  He had set up a telescope and told me to look through it towards a treetop.  On our very last full day in Costa Rica, I finally saw a wild sloth!!!  I was so happy! It was sleeping, but I could still see it really well and watched as it breathed as slowly as you would expect a sloth to breathe.  He also showed us a glass frog which camouflages with its eggs perfectly on the bottom of leaves, a blue jeans frog which is very loud and colorful, and a green iguana-type lizard which was so well camouflaged that we had to look directly at it several times to see it.

On the four hour rafting trip back, we went through much more advanced rapids.  At one point the guide turned the raft completely backward so we wouldn’t see the size of the upcoming rapid.  Apparently he didn’t trust us not to spook and ignore his commands, but it was so fun.  We stopped along the banks and the river guides turned our raft into a buffet and served us a lunch of fruit, salad, sweet tea and delicious chicken burritos.  This is when we were shown the piranhas.  You could throw a piece of cheese into the river and a SWARM of fish would destroy it.  We let them eat out of our hands and felt their soft teeth.

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On the bank where we had lunch and fed piranhas

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The raft buffet
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For this trip we had to have a safety kayaker for the more dangerous rapids

When we resumed rafting, we came upon a canyon and everyone jumped off the raft to float through the green waters and admire the scenery.  It was truly a moment of peaceful surrender for all of us.

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The canyon with a primitive bridge
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Clearly I’m enjoying the float

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Finally, we finished our river adventure, took the bus back to the Crowne Plaza, had some sushi and crashed out in Costa Rica for the last time.  In the morning, we returned our rental car which had driven us all over the country, went to the airport, bought some more amazing coffee, and got on the plane that ended our honeymoon.

We chose Costa Rica because we wanted adventure in a beautiful, relaxing place.  Honestly, we had mostly adventure and not much relaxing, but that’s more our style anyways.  Maybe next time we’ll spend our days on the Caribbean side and take in more of the beach life, but there’s really way too much to experience in the land of Pura Vida.

Costa Rican Honeymoon: Volcanoes and Jungles

For Part 2 of our Costa Rican honeymoon, Scott and I travelled inland to visit the cities of Arenal and La Fortuna.  We drove quite a distance from Tamarindo to get to our hotel in Arenal.  We stopped at a Costa Rican Walmart and tried a ton of local snacks: chocolate covered pineapples and bananas, yuca chips, and palomitas (popcorn).   We also enjoyed a scenic drive around the entire perimeter of Lake Arenal which is a manmade lake at the base of an epic volcano.

For this portion of our trip, we stayed at the Arenal Manoa Hotel.  This is one of the many hotels in the area with a STUNNING view of the Arenal Volcano and in-house hot springs.  We were greeted with a blackberry drink and taken to a villa with a view.

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View from our villa
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Enjoying some Chardonnay on our porch
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A beautiful Bird of Paradise
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Humid volcano selfie!

After we got settled in, we went down to the pool and swim up bar where we had a few too many mango daiquiris and margaritas.  The pool was busy and had a party atmosphere so we enjoyed people watching.  Then we got changed for dinner and went to the hotel restaurant, La Saca.  We had SUPER rich mushroom risotto and pesto gnocchi and went back to the villa to go into a sugary drink and rich food coma.

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One of the swim up bars

The next day we woke early, had a 10 minute breakfast stop at La Saca, and went to catch a shuttle for an all day tour.  We were going to tour two major destinations:  The hanging bridges at Mystico National Park and La Fortuna Waterfall.   These two hikes were very different, but equally incredible.

At the hanging bridges, we saw unique plants, vipers, tarantula, countless birds, loud and fascinating cicadas, howler monkeys, and the most rare sighting of day: peccaries!  Upon entering the park, we saw a deadly, baby viper right away.  Then we looked back towards where we walked in and saw a small herd of peccaries!   The deeper into the forest we went, the louder the buzzing sounds throughout the air became.  We learned that these were cicadas and they became the soundtrack for this entire trip.  They provide a constant humming melody that differs depending on region.  These massive insects live only one day, but certainly make their presence known during their short lives.  We had wonderful tour guides who spotted camouflaged animals that we would have never seen.  My recommendation after this trip is always to do wildlife tours with a guide!

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At the entrance for Mystico National Park
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A juvenile viper (could kill a human with one bite)
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Peccaries looking for food
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Tarantula
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Some cool plant-life
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Fuzzy caterpillar!
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A spider in a crazy tunnel web

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Super speedy lizard

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Woodpecker
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A cicada next to his old skin

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Another big lizard

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Our shuttle picked us up from the hanging bridges and took us to our next stop:  La Fortuna Waterfall.  This was one of my favorite parts of this trip!  We had to hike down about 500 steps (which meant we eventually had to hike back up them) and arrived at a gorgeous waterfall and crystal clear pools.  We were able to swim in the pools amongst tons of not-so-small fish and mossy cliffside.

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A view of the waterfall from afar
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The hundreds of steps to the pools
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A close-up
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Staring at the powerful waterfall in awe
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Waterfall selfie!
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Sitting on a rock and channeling my inner Little Mermaid

After a long day of touring, we all enjoyed lunch together.  This was our first experience with a Costa Rican cuisine staple:  Casado.  Casado consists of meat, tortillas, beans, rice, a fried plantain, salad, cheese and sometimes eggs and sautéed onions.

It was a long day of hiking, so we spent the rest of the afternoon watching American football in Spanish and napping.  For dinner we drove slightly outside of the hotel to a delicious pizza place called !Que Rico! which means “How Delicious!”.

The next day we had another tour planned.  This time we drove two hours in a shuttle to do the Rio Celeste (translates to Light Blue River) hike.  This was one of the most fascinating sights and the photos truly don’t do it justice.  The Rio Celeste is full of minerals that create the optical illusion of a light blue color.  The water is in fact clear, but the reflection of the light off of the white mineral particles makes the water looks like an opaque, bright blue.  We saw many more animals on this hike including frogs, different kinds of insects, spiders, monkeys, snakes, and coati (a raccoon-like mammal).  We also saw hallucinogenic leaves the size of a car tire and one of the largest and oldest trees in the country.

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Catarata = Waterfall
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Another long hike down to a waterfall, but this one was a no-swim-zone.

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The water bubbles like it’s boiling here and smells STRONGLY of sulfur.
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A very rickety bridge that you had to cross one-at-a-time.
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Where the minerals enter the stream and change the water from clear to bright blue.
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A wild turkey
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A female spider who eats her tiny, brown mates
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A giant and ancient tree
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A poison dart frog
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A very well camouflaged cricket
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Scott on another rickety bridge.

We finished this day with a delicious meal of arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and a dip in the Termales (Hot Springs).  These hot springs were at our hotel and were actually rerouted from a naturally hot river that’s heated by the volcanoes.  Of course, the hot springs also had a swim up bar and we had to take advantage on our last night in Arenal.

The following day was the day we were supposed to travel to the capital, San José, but we couldn’t resist squeezing in one more activity while we were here: A Coffee Tour.  If you’re ever in Costa Rica, do a coffee plantation tour!  I have alway been an avid coffee drinker and this tour completely changed the way I buy and drink coffee.  Scott has even been drinking more java after this experience.  During the tour we planted, harvested, roasted, and ground beans to see every step of the process.  We also made our own chocolate and sugar cane juice which was amazing!  We may have gotten bitten by some ants in the process, but it was totally worth it.

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Harvesting coffee beans the old-fashioned way
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Making chocolate
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Juicing sugar cane

The coffee tour marked the end of our time in Arenal and the beginning of our journey to San José and the Pacuare River.  Another treacherous drive that ended in some horrific traffic began and a whole new scene awaited.  Part 3 will outline our time in these Eastward destinations!

 

Honeymooning in Costa Rica: Pacific Coast

FINALLY I’m getting around to writing about our Honeymoon!  Scott and I chose Costa Rica for our 10 day honeymoon because it offers adventure, romance and relaxation all in one.  We started this adventure September 5th which is actually during Costa Rica’s rainy season.  We took a risk going during the low tourism season, but it paid off!  Not a single activity was interrupted by weather and we felt as if we had beaches, bars and restaurants all to ourselves!  We chose three distinct regions of this gorgeous country and each was so full of unique experiences that they warrant their own posts.  Our first stop was the Pacific Coast, specifically the Guanacaste province.

We flew United airlines without incident from Seattle to San Francisco to a hurricane ravaged Houston and finally to Liberia, Costa Rica.  After picking up our rental car, it was  about an hour long drive to our hotel in Tamarindo.  The drive was AMAZING and we knew right away that we would love our time here.  There were tropical farms, colorful houses, and crowded neighborhoods to view along the sides of the highway.  We had to stop for sheep in the road and dodge crazy Costa Rican drivers.

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View from the plane

For our time in Guanacaste province, we stayed at Cala Luna Boutique Hotel in Tamarindo.  We were greeted with a hot towel and some of the most delicious lemonade I’ve ever had.  While our room was prepared, Scott and I took our exhausted butts to one of the hotel restaurants to enjoy tropical drinks and some ceviche.

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Of course, we were beyond tired from a full day of travel, so once our villa was ready, we took a long and well deserved nap.  One of the best things about our hotel was that they offered free sunset cocktails on their stretch of beach.  We couldn’t miss the opportunity to see our first Costa Rican sunset so we headed to the sand.  On our way we had our first of many wildlife sightings: a tiny tropical skunk.

Since Costa Rica is so close to the equator, the sun sets at around 6PM every day regardless of season which was hard to get used to coming from a Seattle summer.  However, we loved seeing the beach at twilight.  There were heavy clouds, massive volcanic rock formations, crabs and seashells.  The most interesting part to me was how the beach backed right up to a dense jungle.  Definitely not what I’m used to from the beaches in the United States or even Europe.

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After sunset cocktails, we took a night swim at the pool and I saw my first lightning bugs all throughout the night sky.  They were followed by actual lightning warning of the storm to come.

After our swim, we got cleaned up for dinner and had some more tropical drinks and tropical seafood.  We watched two resident cats politely beg for scraps and saw lizards scurrying over the walls.  Half way through our meal we experienced a total power outage and we knew we were in for a pretty decent storm.  Later, as we snuggled up and watched People of Earth on our iPad, we heard the most insane thunderstorm of our life! We tried to capture video of the massive rolling thunder and super bright lightning, but it was a challenge.  In the end we really only have a selfie to show for it.

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Nighttime thunderstorm selfie!

The next day we had our first planned activity:  paddle boarding!  After breakfast at the hotel (with amazing tropical fruits and Costa Rican French press coffee), we went to Playa Tamarindo and picked up our paddle boards from Kelly’s Surf Shop.  We found out that the locals call this area “Tama-Gringo” because it has some of the best surfing in the world which draws thousands of tourists during peak season.  Being September, we were some of the only “Gringos” around.  After a super nice Costa Rican man who sells coconuts helped me carry my paddle board to the surf and Scott lost his sunglasses to the waves, we were finally out in the bay and able to see a whole new side of the beach.

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After a couple of hours of paddling around the bay, we returned our boards and walked along the beach.  We found tons of pristine sea shells and some crazy blue crab claws.  Then we bought a coconut from the man who helped me (DELICIOUS) and had some beers at Volcano Brewing Co.  I recommend the Tropical Golden Ale, it was sublime.

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The towns of Costa Rica were so quiet, it was hard to use our usual method for choosing a place to eat:  go wherever there are the most people.  So, we had to use a new technique:  our noses.  While walking around Tamarindo we smelled Longboard BBQ and ended up getting some mojitos, ribs and smoked fish tacos there before heading back to the beach and body surfing until we were reading to go back to the hotel.  When we returned to our hotel we saw monkeys swinging through the treetops surrounding our villa (the jury is still out on whether they were spider or howler monkeys).

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If possible, the sunset the second night was even more breathtaking.  Unfortunately, sunsets are one of those things that a camera just can’t do justice to, but Scott sure tried!

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The next day was our last full day in this region and we took full advantage of it.  Rather than take the surf lessons we had planned, we ate breakfast at our hotel and then began an hour and half long drive inland to Diamante Eco Adventure Park.  The roads were washed out, steep, winding and super dangerous.  We even drove straight through two rushing rivers.  When we safely made it to the park, we were relieved to have a shuttle pick us up in the parking lot.

We then did a multi-stage zipline that included a free fall and a super long, face first portion with views of the coast line and jungle.

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View from the platform
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Waiting for my first ride (pretty good GoPro pic)
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Suited and booted!

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The zipline adventure was followed by a tour through the animal sanctuary.  We arrived JUST in time for feeding-time for Lucy the sloth, got a private tour of the jungle cats (jaguars, margays, pumas and ocelots), and spent some time in a massive butterfly enclosure.

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My new bestie, Lucy
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Blue morpho butterfly (these were EVERYWHERE)
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A napping female jaguar.

The park served us an amazing lunch (arroz con pollo, yummmmm) and we started the scary drive back to Tamarindo.  Once back on the coast, we explored the town stopping at juice stands, shops, restaurants and bars and ended our last day with dessert at our hotel.  I had some incredible passionfruit mousse while Scott had caramelized bananas with caramel ice cream.

The next morning we had insanely good coffee at Nordico Cafe in Tamarindo and started another long drive to our next destination!  Writing about this reaffirms my convictions that this was not our last trip to Costa Rica.  The people, coffee, and activities were all wonderful and I can’t wait to return.

Celebrating Love in Maui: Part 1

Less than a month before our wedding, Scott and I went to Maui to celebrate his Uncle Tom and Aunt Lori’s 25th wedding anniversary (July 2017).  I titled this blog “Part 1” because we will be returning to Maui for the wedding of our friends, Vince and Morgan, in March of 2018.  Maui seems like a pretty great place to celebrate love, but it’s also a great place to have some adventures.  Hopefully, “Part 2” will be full of totally different experiences on this incredible island!

This time, we stayed at a condo at the Maui Schooner Resort which is in Kihei.  The beaches here are lovely and it’s a quieter part of the island.  I definitely recommend it for people who like to stay out of the super touristy parts of the island.  However, the rest of our family were staying at the Marriott Ocean Beach Club in Lahaina which is heart and center of tourist activity.  Although these two resorts were a short distance apart, the traffic on HI-30 made for about an hour drive in between.  Luckily, this highway is incredibly scenic and makes for pretty great ocean viewing.

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The View from Maui Schooner Resort
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The Beach at Marriott Ocean Beach Club

For our first full day in Maui, we enjoyed the very family friendly pool at the Marriott and then swam in the ocean.  It was hilarious to watch the waves force us all to take a tumble at some point.  There was quite a bit of coral in the surf and eventually, I sliced my foot open and ended my ocean fun for the day (this seems to happen to me a lot).  I took the opportunity to go snuggle my brand new, baby niece Alice and get ready for our first ever Luau.

The luau was at the neighboring Hyatt resort.  We watched several performances which portrayed the history of island cultures (not just Hawaiian) and they saved the best for last: the fire dance, of course.  The food was incredible and we ate too much, but the drinks were basically sugar bombs with no real alcohol in them.

The next day was my favorite day from this short trip.  We took a Trilogy Snorkeling tour to Molokini Crater.  They played Pirate and Moana music while we sailed away from the marina eating cinnamon rolls and drinking coffee.  We took about an hour long catamaran ride and arrived at the Molokini Crater where there was incredible marine life and crystal clear waters to explore.  They also offered professional photography and and snuba diving.  On our way back to the main island, we took another stop to see massive sea turtles and eat a delicious BBQ chicken lunch.  I got a little sea sick, but it was totally worth it.  At the very end of the day, the captains turned off the engines and we did some true sailing back to the marina.  The crew made this so fun and you can tell they really loved their jobs (I mean, who wouldn’t?).

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Scott and His Mom

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The whole crew!

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After an exhausting day, we stopped at a fruit stand and went back to the condo.  The mango and pineapple were out of this world!  I also finally got to stick a straw in a coconut!

The next day, we did a little shopping at some of the markets and craft fairs in Kihei.  I was on a mission to buy my bridesmaids all gifts and was able to find plumeria earrings for all of them.  You can definitely find a lot of Larimar, pearl, mother of pearl and opal in jewelry stands throughout Hawaii.  We ended our shopping experience at a restaurant called Three’s Bar and Grill which had AWESOME food and drinks and a fun, tropical sport’s bar type of atmosphere.  That night, we got dressed up and went to Tom and Lori’s anniversary celebration in Napili Bay.  Scott took a bunch of family photos and we had an incredible special menu at Sea House Restaurant for a night of celebrating.

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On our final full day in Maui, we did The Road to Hana.  We took our rented Jeep, Tahoe, and Old-Van-With-No-AC and drove them ALL day over winding roads and past incredible scenery.  There are tons of hikes and adventures along this old road and views that take your breath away.  Although any of these stops are said to be fun and exciting, we were heading for The Pools of Ohe’o (Seven Sacred Pools) in Haleakala National Park.  You can no longer swim in The Pools, but it is still a sight worth seeing.  There are cliffs, jungle hikes, waterfalls and sapphire blue oceans.  There are also lots of fun places to eat on The Road to Hana.  We stopped at a taco truck at the entrance to another park and it was DELICIOUS!  They also had any kind of fruit smoothie you could ever want.

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Chillin in a Crazy Tree
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Hiking the Cliffs

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Until next time, Maui!

First Bite of The Big Apple: 14 Things to Do in NYC

Last year Scott’s youngest sister Raynie graduated from Middle School and in celebration, we took her to New York City.  Scott had been once before, but Raynie and I were first-timers.  We stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan (https://newyork.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/our-hotel.html) which was an incredibly convenient and central location.  As it was our first time, we wanted to do everything!  I think we did a pretty fantastic job of experiencing the city and seeing the sights using the following New-York-City-Newbie Itinerary:

  1. Central Park:  I know this one sounds cliché, but it really is top of everyone’s list for a reason!  Central Park is massive and incredible.  We visited it several times during our trip.  I later found out that this was Scott’s original choice of places to propose, and I can definitely see why.  Our first visit to Central Park took us ALL day.  We began at the Southern most end of the park and walked the entire length of it, ending on the Northern side where we decided to get pizza in Harlem.  Although Harlem is not usually recommended as a tourist neighborhood, the pizza we had was worth the adventure.DSC_0005DSC_0008DSC_0013 (1)DSC_0015DSC_0020DSC_0030
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    The view from the tower of a castle inside of Central Park

    DSC_0037The next time we visited Central Park, we decided to check out the zoo that is in the park.  We got to sea the sea lions at feeding time and it made our day.DSC_0083 (1)DSC_0090DSC_0094Each time we visited Central Park, Raynie and I would try to become acquainted with the resident turtles.  There is a larger number of animals in Central Park than one would expect in such an urban setting.  It’s like an isolated little world.DSC_0075.jpg

  2. See A Broadway Show: While in New York, we got to see two Broadway shows.  One of my life-long dreams was to see Phantom of the Opera.  I never saw it in another city when I had the opportunity because I wanted to see it on Broadway in its original theater.  Although it was hard to hear the dialog and Raynie and Scott were a little lost, I LOVED IT.  When you know a show by heart, you don’t need clear dialog.  However, if I’m being honest, the better experience was seeing Something Rotten.  I had never heard of this show and it was amazing: good music, great comedy and expert production.  We had so much fun!DSC_0102IMG_3074
  3. Carnegie Deli: It’s breaking my heart to write this, but Carnegie Deli closed four months after our visit.  However, you can still order their food to be shipped nationwide (http://carnegiedeli.com), also there was a restaurant competitor across the street (whom sold the same sandwiches and cheesecake, but didn’t have the notoriety of Carnegie) which might be worth a try.  We went to Carnegie Deli late at night after experiencing Broadway and it was incredible!  Their hot pastrami sandwiches and strawberry cheesecake can’t be beat.
  4. Brunch in The Upper West Side:  I was lucky enough to have an old friend living in New York for an internship while we were visiting.  We wanted to see her and we wanted to do brunch, so we asked her for a recommendation.  We ended up going to Jacob’s Pickles in The Upper West Side (http://jacobspickles.com) and it was awesome!  Super creative drinks and delicious southern style food.
  5. The 9/11 Memorial: If it’s your first time in New York City, I would not miss this attraction.  You can feel how New York City has been shaped by the horrific events of 9/11 as you’re walking the streets, but you really understand it when you see these exhibits.  The monuments outside are one thing, but the museum itself really takes you back to that day.  We all left feeling awe-inspired, melancholy and full of thoughts and questions.DSC_0042DSC_0044 (1)DSC_0046
  6. The Museums:  The museums throughout New York City are incredible!  During our time here we visited a few of them (including the 9/11 Memorial Museum), but we spent the most time in the American Museum of Natural History.  There was something about the fossils of ancient creatures that kept us enthralled for hours.DSC_0056 (1)DSC_0060 (1)
  7. SHOPPING!: Raynie and I love to shop when we get together and New York might be an expensive city, but it is also a city of bargains!  We shopped on 5th Avenue and in Times Square and can’t wait to go back.
  8. Times Square at Night:  Times Square is a chaotic place.  It definitely feels hectic and urban and isn’t a place in which we wanted to spend a ton of time.  That being said, it is a place everyone should see if they’re in New York.  It’s captivating and you never run out of new characters to look at.  Some of the street performers have been doing the same thing for generations and have a “classic” act while others are constantly changing and updating to shock the public.  IMG_3053IMG_3073
  9. Walk The High Line: The High Line is a repurposed rail road that has been turned into a park.  You get incredible views of the city, run into plenty of interesting New Yorkers and get to stretch your legs in a beautiful setting.  We never would have done this if my friend, Katie, hadn’t recommended it and I’m so glad she did.  One of the coolest things we did during this trip.DSC_0223 (1)DSC_0229
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    A sculpture that tricked our minds on The High Line 

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  10. The Empire State Building:  This might seem like another “duh”, but don’t miss this!  The inside of the building feels like it’s frozen in time and is a relic of a glamorous era.  The view from the observation deck is simply the best view of the city you can get: 360 degrees of unobstructed Manhattan.DSC_0166DSC_0200DSC_0170 (1)DSC_0206DSC_0173DSC_0215
  11. The Statue of Liberty: Confession:  We didn’t even get off of the boat when we took a ride out to the The Statue of Liberty, but we didn’t need to.  The view from the tour boats is as good as it gets and we were getting exhausted with crowds.  In person she is more impressive than we could have thought.  Her power isn’t in her size, but in her presence and it is a formidable one.  Plus, the boats give you a new perspective on the New York City skyline.DSC_0255DSC_0259 (1)
  12. Make a Pit-Stop at a Pret A Manger: We first discovered Prets when we were in London and were ecstatic to find them all over New York City.  If you want delicious, organic coffee and a plethora of healthy lunch and breakfast choices, this is your spot.  Walking the streets of Manhattan is exhausting and we found ourselves grabbing quick bites at Pret throughout our time here.
  13. Sip Cocktails at a Rooftop Bar: We only got to do this one during the daylight hours since Raynie was only 14, but we definitely got to see the draw for rooftop bars in the city.  Our next trip will be full of glamorous night caps at these stunning locations.
  14. Explore the Streets:  Finally, just see the city!  Whether you see the city by foot or take a bus tour, explore as much as you can.  The architecture, people and artwork are amazing (and have been seen in so many movies) and there’s never a shortage of sights.  We happened to walk and ride a bus tour during our visit and each method gives a different perspective.DSC_0098DSC_0127DSC_0150DSC_0134DSC_0121 (1)DSC_0152IMG_3065

Last Stop: London

To round out our 2016 trip to Europe, we just had to Stop in the United Kingdom to visit one of my best friends, Kirsty, and her family.  We spent three nights at a hotel called Thistle which was right by Trafalgar Square in the heart of London (Thistle Trafalgar Hotel).  It was modern, clean and incredibly centrally located.

I had been to London, Oxford, and Brackley back in 2011 when I was studying abroad in Greece so I had five specific things I wanted Scott to experience:

  1. Indian Food
  2. London Theatre
  3. A Sunday Roast
  4. Afternoon Tea
  5. A Bus Tour

The first thing had to be the incredible Indian food that is ALL over the United Kingdom.  Indian food in the UK is like Mexican food in The States, and it’s amazing!  Rather than going to a curry house of which there were many, we went to a more gourmet Indian experience and chose a restaurant close to our hotel called Lotus (http://www.lotus.london).  Unfortunately, Lotus is now closed, but we had a great time there sampling some dishes we’d never seen at Indian restaurants before.

Scott and I spent a very short time taking in the sights before we had to take the Underground (London’s version of the subway) to a train station and get ourselves out to the countryside to see Kirsty.  As incredible as London is, there is something about the English countryside that really called to us.  It is vibrantly lush and green and the people are kind.  We were exhausted and amazed so we completely forgot to take photos, but we adored our train rides out to Kirsty’s house.

Upon arriving in Brackley, we settled in to Kirsty’s guest room and prepared for dinner with her parents and brother.  We drove a short way out from Brackley (on the opposite side of the road which was trippy for Scott at first) to Aynho and came to a small farm-like restaurant nestled into the green hills of England called The Great Western Arms (https://www.great-westernarms.co.uk/index.html).  This was some of the best British food of our entire stay here in the UK and it was gorgeous!

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The next day, we scooped up Kirsty and took her back to London with us where we all stayed at The Thistle and played tourists for a day.  There is SO much to see in London so we all bought a Red Bus hop-on-hop-off tour and spent the day driving around and staring in awe.  The coolest thing about London, to me, is the juxtaposition of new and old everywhere you look.  There is nothing like it in The States.  There are glass and steel skyscrapers in the background and ancient stone castles in the foreground.  Scott was shooting off of the open air bus for hours and I could post his photos for days.  Here is a sample of the sights:

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Red Bus Tours:  A Must for London-First-Timers
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Trafalgar Square Street Performers

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Kirsty and I in front of Parliament and Big Ben

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Scott and I in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace

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That evening we went out to a casual restaurant that Kirsty had been dying to show Scott (because Scott’s favorite food is simply: chicken) called Nando’s (Nando’s Website).  This place is so popular in the UK that they even have a slang phrase “Cheeky Nando’s” for when someone is being feisty.  It definitely lived up to the hype.

After dinner, it was time to see a show.  Similar to New York, you have to see a show if you’re in London.  Every day they sell discount tickets, dinner-and-a-show packages, and other ways to have the experience at a discounted rate.  In 2011, Kirsty and I saw Chicago and it was my first live musical.  It was life-changing.  This time, we all decided to see Thriller, which was a montage of Micheal Jackson songs.  I’ve NEVER seen an audience get so involved in a show, the energy was so high and the performers looked like they were having the time of their lives.  We even got to meet some of the cast members after thoroughly enjoying a night of theatre.

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We finished with a few drinks at a pub in London in a trendy area and met some true characters before crashing after a long, active day.

The next day Kirsty had to return home to Brackley and Scott and I had another day to explore the city.  At this point, we had been abroad for a couple of weeks and were starting to miss our bed, our dogs, and our friends, but we were determined to see what we could see.  So, we took the advice of some friendly strangers and went to check out some of London’s amazing shopping.

If you’re shopping in London, your first stop should definitely be Oxford street.  Here you can find everything from low budgets trends to high end fashion statements and I bought enough to fill a second suitcase (which I did not have, oops!).

One of the last items on our list was a famous British Sunday Roast.  Scott and I got reservations at a very fine London hotel and had the experience of a roast with all the fixens:  Yorkshire pudding, roasted carrots and potatoes, roasted turnips, au jus, etc.  You can literally find this at almost every pub, restaurant or hotel in England on any given Sunday.

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Then we went to one of London’s incredible street markets: Camden Passage.  The street markets in London are like nothing I’ve ever seen before (they blow Seattle’s Pike Place Market out of the water).  These places are eclectic, hectic and exciting.  I believe that everyone who travels should collect something.  In every country I visit, I find a piece of street art so that I can be taken back to that place whenever I see that particular piece.  In the markets of London, we found some of the BEST and most affordable street art hidden in their crazy bazaars throughout the city.  We bought some for our home, our friends’ homes and still wanted more.  We also found jewelry, clothing, and food that we couldn’t resist.

After shopping and exploring until our feet were about to fall off, we visited a curry house near our hotel for the second or third time called Salt N’ Pepper (http://www.saltnpepperuk.com) and returned to our hotel room to drop off our loot.

For our final night in Europe, we were so tired we couldn’t imagine another dinner out or walk around the city, so we simply revisited the theatre district and discovered what it was like to go to the movies in London.  We saw The Secret Life of Pets and ended our night early to get ready for the long flight home.

The one thing on our list that we didn’t get to do this time was Afternoon Tea.  This was one of my favorite experiences from my first trip, I guess that means we will just have to plan a return visit to one of my favorite cities!!

-Lexi

 

A Parisian Pit-Stop

During our time in Europe, we spent the majority of the trip in Spain with the intention of going to the UK to visit one of my best friends (and bridesmaids) on our way home.  However, we couldn’t resist the temptation to stop in Paris since neither of us had ever been there.  It’s one of the most famous cities in the world!  How could we not?!  We didn’t have a ton of extra time in our itinerary so we were only able to stay in Paris for about 48 hours, but we squeezed a lot out of that limited time.  As always, Scott took some incredible photos of this timeless city.

The first night, we arrived fairly late in the afternoon/early evening.  We took a LONG taxi ride through incredibly dense traffic to the heart of the city.  We noticed several things on this ride.  First, Parisian drivers are the most terrifying we’ve seen so far.  They didn’t seem to care for other vehicles, pedestrians, motor scooters or bicycles.  They would honk and yell out their windows at one another and I had never been so grateful to not have a rental car.  Second, we were reminded immediately that there were soccer finals going on and Parisian fans represented the teams they supported with a fury I hadn’t yet witnessed.  There were flags flying out of vehicle windows, people yelling off of balconies and out of their cars, it was madness.  Finally, Paris has ethnic districts unlike any I have seen.  When we entered the city, it was as if we were in India, then we transitioned into Africa, then China.  Every block seemed to have signs in a different language, clothing of a different style and people of a different color.  Once we arrived in the center of the city, however, it became extremely diverse.  You could hear different languages all around you and the city was full of life and color.

Our hotel was very urban and the entry way was hardly noticeable stuffed between different storefronts as it was.  We hurried up to our TINY hotel room (we didn’t even have a place to set our suitcases other than the bed) and quickly changed so that we could enjoy our first of only two nights in Paris.

Our hotel was just down the street from The Louvre which was on our agenda for the following day.  Not knowing the city at all, we went towards the only landmark we knew from our taxi ride, The Seine River, and started to explore.  Sun was setting over The Seine, we caught our first glimpse of the tip-top of The Eiffel Tower and could see the ferris wheel spinning amongst the fire-orange clouds.

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We stood on the bridge for a while, taking it all in.  We watched river boats cruise up and down under the bridges, couples walked along the sidewalks that lined the canal-like river, lovers stopped for sunset photos, and locals marched home from work or out for a meal.

One of the things we were most excited to experience in Paris was THE FOOD, of course! We had dinner reservations for the following evening, but the first night we were flying by the seat of our pants.   We saw a restaurant a couple blocks away directly on the river and thought that it looked inviting and traditional so we walked over and hoped it wasn’t too fancy to allow a couple of tired looking walk-ins.

We were seated right away and we were NOT disappointed.  In fact, this impromptu, late dinner was our favorite of all the Parisian eating experiences we had during this short visit.  The restaurant was called La Frégate (http://alafregate.fr/en).  We started our meal with Foie Gras, which Scott had never had, and my first taste of French red wine.  I was totally in love with French wine after this night.  Growing up in Washington wine country, I’ve always loved wine and I’m turning Scott into quite the wine-o, as well.

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We then ordered entrees that we thought would give us a true taste of French fine dining.  Scott got rack of lamb and I got duck with raspberry sauce.  We savored these meals because, though simple, they were EPIC.

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After an delectable dinner, we strolled along the river under the street lights for a little longer before returning to our tiny room and passing out.  We had big plans for our one and only full day in Paris which was yet to come.

The next morning we had early passes to The Louvre.  We got up, showered in the teeny tiny bathroom, got a coffee and a croissant (something I had also REALLY been looking forward to), and walked the short walk to The Louvre.  We were immediately overwhelmed.  The outside of The Louvre is a work of art in itself and spans 652,000 square feet.  The courtyards are all immaculately landscaped and the entrance to The Louvre is a glass pyramid with escalators inside.  We knew we were only going to be able to see a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of pieces inside.

We chose to see Greek sculptures, Renaissance paintings, ancient Egyptian works, and historical Christian pieces.  Essentially we were following the yellow-brick road that would lead us to the Mona Lisa (which is what every other patron seemed to be doing, as well).  Although we have about 100 photos of the pieces, murals and rooms at The Louvre, I’ve chosen only a few to share here.

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When we got to the Mona Lisa, we were shocked by how tiny the painting was.  She was contained behind a wall of glass and hundreds of  pushy tourists were snapping photos of her.  Surrounding her, were hundreds of incredible, large-scale, paintings from the same time period that were equally awe-inspiring, but were ignored due to the fame of this one portrait.  It was quite a scene to take in.

Eventually, our eyes and legs were exhausted from scouring the rooms and walls of this immense museum.  We had so much more to see and decided to return to our hotel room, change into some walking shoes, and hit the streets of Paris.  Of course, we had to stop first and get some lunch at a corner cafe and get some to-die-for fresh fruit juice.

One of the landmarks I most wanted to see was Notre-Dame de Paris.  I had grown up watching the Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.  I was amazed at the skills of the animators.  They were able to take an incredibly ornate, stone structure and turn it into a cartoon while preserving the character of such a place.  I felt like I actually recognized some of the gargoyles.  One of the things you don’t get to see in the cartoon, however, is the garden.  The courtyard at Notre-Dame is just as gorgeous as the bell towers that have become so well known.

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After Notre-Dame (which was quite a trek from our hotel), we did some more walking along The Seine, explored the street markets for souvenirs, and returned to the hotel to get dressed up for our planned Parisian fine dining experience.

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For dinner we had reservations at Le Violon d’Ingres (http://www.maisonconstant.com/violon-ingres/) which we found by searching “fine dining near The Eiffel Tower”.  Before hailing a taxi to take us towards the 7th arrondissement of Paris (the district in which The Eiffel Tower resides), we stopped in a small bar near our hotel and ordered a few glasses of wine.  The bar tender was friendly and informative and helped me pick out some new favorite varieties of French wine.

At Le Violon d’Ingres we ordered a bottle of wine and both decided to enjoy their tasting menu.  This was a six-course meal with two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts.  The unanimous favorite course was the first one: a truffle bisque with tiny bits of fried pork belly.  This course set the tone for a ridiculously rich meal (thankfully the courses were quite small) complete with pigeon, macaroons, and a salad with a soft-boiled egg on top.  We were so enraptured with the food that we completely forgot to take pictures of the stunning presentations.  After the third, surprise dessert course, I was stuffed and uncomfortable wearing a pretty tight, red dress but so satisfied.  We decided to walk off our feast by heading over to The Eiffel Tower.  As the evening sun went down, we watched the famous tower light up.

We had NO IDEA that the final soccer game was letting out at the same time and as we came upon The Eiffel Tower (which had a huge inflated soccer ball hanging from it) the streets became FLOODED with angry or ecstatic fans.  Feeling full from a rich meal, we were overwhelmed in such a huge, rowdy crowd.  We found some steps that led directly into The Seine and we wet our feet while the world calmed down around us.

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This marked the end of our one day in Paris.  The next morning we would be getting up very early and flying to London where Scott and I would meet up with my dear friend, Kirsty, and visit with her and her family.  Someday we will return to Paris and enjoy the plethora of things we weren’t able to see during the hours we had in the summer of 2016.