Sunshine Blogger Award

We’ve been traveling domestically and internationally for many years, but we have gotten older now, which may seem a sad thing, but for our travel life it is a very happy thing. Besides having an empty nest, my husband has now retired so he always enthusiastically agrees to any travel ideas I throw his way. Anyways, a dear Twitter friend, Laura @countryexplores, has nominated our blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award and I am thrilled to participate! Thank you for the nomination, Laura, and I am honored that you thought of me! I also appreciate your posts!

So here I go:

1. Why did you start your travel blog? What was your inspiration?

We have been traveling more frequently so we have had more stories to tell. I’ve been sharing my photos on Instagram for a few years, but although a picture supposedly speaks a thousand words, I think I have a least 400 I’d like to say personally about each experience. I usually tell my stories to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen. A friend actually encouraged me to start a blog.

2. Where is the next place you are visiting and why?

We are going back to Costa Rica next week!  EEEEEEE! We love Costa Rica. In fact, we are considering trying to find a way to live there for a while some day.

3.Where has been the best place you have visited and why?

My favorite place was Paris. We loved Paris. We stayed in the Latin Quarter, which is a quiet and unpretentious neighborhood in the 5th arrondissement with a very intimate  feel. We didn’t do a lot of touristy things in Paris. We mostly sat at cafés and sipped cappuccinos and ate chocolate croissants. My husband sketches, so this is his bliss.

4.What is your long term goal for your travel blog?

I would love for people to read it. I would love for people to be inspired.

5.What are your top things to take with you on your travels and why?

My phone (which is also my wallet), my lip gloss and my glasses. Ha! Everything I need is this, the clothes on my back, and my passport.

6. What are your top 5 destinations on your bucket list and why?

We want to experience more of Costa Rica, Cape Cod is the very next trip on our list. We are planning a trip in the fall to Branson, Missouri, which is a total tourist trap, but I’ve never been and I’m pretty excited about it. Other than that, we’d like to visit Portugal and Ireland in the near future.

7. What are your hobbies?

Learning Spanish right now. I like to eat. Does that count? And of course, travel! ha

8.Which social media site is your favorite for travel inspiration?

I would have to say Twitter. I have really loved setting up my Twitter account and finding folks to follow. The traveler community on Twitter is a very open and friendly community and I see so many wonderful photos and find a lot of great information and ideas!

9. Do you have any advice for other travel bloggers?

Mostly to work your Twitter account. It seems to be one of the best places to get exposure and find readers. Also, be yourself and share your stories, even the stuff that goes wrong.

10. Have you ever used Couchsurfing when travelling? If not, what are your reasons for not using it?

Well, we travel as a couple, so I don’t think this is an option for us.  We have used Airbnb, but I mostly prefer hotels. We enjoy our privacy and solitude at the end of a day.

Thanks again, Laura, for nominating our blog. I found this to be a great opportunity to share a little more about us and our travels!

My Kind of Town

Chicago is a best kept secret. I’m fairly convinced that if it were summer year round in Chicago, everyone would live there. No one would ever leave. I have never so quickly and unexpectedly fallen in love with a city as I did Chicago last summer. I really didn’t see it coming.

Long ago, I had passed through Chicago. I had attended business meetings in the suburbs of Chicago. I had watched Oprah, recorded from her studio in Chicago, for years. I had wondered why she lived there when she could live anywhere she wanted.

My past image of Chicago was this: rough and tumble inner city, gangsters, corruption, some nice neighborhoods around it, wind and miserable weather. But the truth is downtown Chicago in the summertime is paradise.

Have you seen the color of Lake Michigan along the Monroe Harbor? Sublime. Grant Park and its regal Buckingham Fountain are found along the lake’s shore and are perfectly manicured, lush, and welcoming. It’s a place where you’ll see folks on their lunch breaks, walkers, joggers, moms with strollers, and tourists galore. It is alive with activity and blissfully peaceful all at the same time.

There must be a half dozen bonafide upscale shopping districts in downtown Chicago. Just when you think you’ve seen the best of Chicago, turn a corner and there’s more. Chicago Dogs are legit. And Chicago-Style Pizza is surprisingly different and amazingly fantastic. So. Much. Cheese.

When you plan your trip to Chicago, stay at the Congress Plaza Hotel and ask for a room above the third floor with a view of the fountain. From there you can walk almost anywhere you want to go, but Uber is also available and quick. We took the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour and ended up circling through twice we loved it so much. You can purchase tickets and catch the bus just a couple blocks from the hotel in front of the Hilton on Michigan Avenue.

We got off the bus at Shedd Aquarium (which was fantastic and the cafe offers stunning views of the city) and also at Portillo’s (which is not to be missed – try the Italian Beef Sandwich). From the bus you can plan many stops including the Navy Pier and the bean (Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park.

Chicago has a colorful and interesting history. You will see lovely and remarkable architecture in Chicago. The city is well planned and this is a story in and of itself. It’s an iconic city in our nation and well worth the visit. In fact, summer is coming! Excuse me while I plan my next trip.

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Usually when we travel, we stick to the big cities. We spend our time walking city streets or trying to figure out train schedules. We Uber. And we do love the city. But this trip out, on a lark really, we decided to visit the arid and quiet western coast of Costa Rica.

The airport near Liberia is a short three hour flight from Houston Intercontinental and we were in our rental car headed to our hotel on the Pacific Coast well before noon. By 2:00 pm, we had eaten a delicious traditional Costa Rican lunch of arroz con pollo, checked into our room, taken a walk, seen monkeys sleeping in a tree and realized those loud birds carrying on high up in the trees were parrots.

We saw so many iguanas it was funny how impressed we were with the first one we saw. By the way, I am told the black ones are not actually iguanas, they are called ctenosaurs, but it seemed like the general consensus was that all large lizards are iguanas. Ctenosaurs lay real still until they don’t, and then they move fast like a tornado. We were walking along the road and got too close to one which unexpectedly bolted and scared us half to death. I actually attempted to jump into my husband’s arms. I thought surely those things must weight 20 pounds, but I looked it up and they only grow to four pounds. I’m telling you when a three foot, four pound lizard goes from zero to TWENTY MILES PER HOUR in a split second it will send a shock right through you. But I digress.

We made our way to Playas del Coco on our second day. I’m not saying this place is some major tourist destination, but it was perfect for us. It’s basically about ten blocks of shops and restaurants all on one street that dead ends into the Pacific Ocean. They have created a lovely space along the water with sidewalks, landscape, restaurants, shops and seating areas. It’s a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon.

In Playas del Coco I met Tina, the best snow cone maker in all of Costa Rica. I know this because it says so on a sign posted on her cart. And my snow cone was very delicious and topped with a large marshmallow covered in sweetened condensed milk and sprinkles, then a strawberry and a little pink umbrella. I’ll have to take her word for it that it was the best snow cone in Costa Rica, but it was definitely very good!

We both fell completely in love with this quaint corner of Costa Rica. More than its raw beauty, its amazing wildlife, and the laid back atmosphere, it was the Costa Ricans we didn’t want to leave behind. We knew very little about the country before we visited. We picked it for the criteria it met: warm climate, close destination. What we discovered is that the people there are kind, warm, friendly, funny and easy-going. They love to visit with you in your broken Spanish and tell you how well you speak the language after you’ve only managed a few words. They are quick to tease and quick to laughter.

Costa Rica is a rare find indeed. I can’t wait to go back to explore and learn more!

Travel Light

Often when I travel folks comment, “Wow, you travel light!” I’ve heard it from TSA agents, gate agents, other passengers and flight attendants. Even before it cost money to check bags and they forced gate-checking because of full flights, I never packed much. It’s probably just me. But maybe if I share my ‘travel light’ strategy, I can make someone else’s life a little easier.

My husband doesn’t like to check a bag either, but he did love his overhead bin carry-on roller bag. He would stuff that bag full and insist on bringing it every trip. And he has had to gate-check it a couple times. Eventually, I bought him the under-the-seat-sized roller bag and we reached a satisfactory compromise. They don’t make him gate check that bag – they don’t even really notice it – because he collapses the pull handle and carries it on.

So here’s an example of what is usually in my mid-sized over the shoulder bag:

  • One or two spare pair of pants and/or shorts (tightly rolled)
  • Two-three tops (tightly rolled)
  • MAYBE one extra pair of shoes (usually I wear the same shoes the entire trip)
  • Undergarments for each day (of course) 😉
  • My clear bag with a minimal amount of liquids

In my purse I carry my passport, phone, headphones, charger(s), makeup, and other necessary miscellaneous items.

That’s it. Two bags. Both of which easily fit under the seat in front of me.

If the weather will be cold at my destination, I wear the heavier clothes and carry my jacket.

Most of our trips run about four-five days, but I have been on more than one ten day trip with only about this much clothing. I can wear each outfit twice and easily be clothed for 7-8 days.  If I plan a longer trip, I wash everything at the half way point.

I have never lost luggage. I have never been delayed because I’m waiting for my luggage. I’ve never had to gate-check a bag and hope to find it at the end of my journey. I don’t fight for overhead bin space with my neighboring passengers.

And I have never once done without anything I needed.

A View of Manhattan

Apparently, tomorrow we are expecting the ‘Blizzard of 2018’ in New Jersey. I really hope it doesn’t complicate our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Thursday. We will see.

But today the skies were crisp and brilliant blue. Knowing what is coming tomorrow, we wanted to spend as much time outside as we could today. We didn’t waste any time getting bundled up and outdoors this morning.

We decided to have brunch at a nice little place called Turning Point in Hoboken. The food and service are great, but the big attraction here is the view of the city. What a view! Close and unobstructed, there are few places like it. And on a clear day and it’s an amateur photographer’s heaven.

Street parking can be a bit tricky, but there is a public parking garage on 12th between 15th and Sinatra Drive. If you park in the garage, the three block walk along the water to the restaurant is quite pleasant. Come when the temperature is moderate and you won’t ever want to leave!

Buckingham Palace

On the morning of our third day in London, we decided to see Buckingham Palace.

Before each trip we take, I google, read, study and ask questions and consider. I look at maps and learn train routes. I memorize the method and route from the airport to the hotel and I make sure to have options in mind. (My husband, on the other hand, occasionally asks me, “When are we leaving again?” But I digress.) Other than making a hotel reservation, we make no concrete plans. We wing it.

So, Buckingham Palace may or may not have been visited by the Tumbleweed Tourists when we made our very first trip to London ever last November. I mean, I knew it was there. But it wasn’t at the top of my list.

We decided to Uber to Buckingham Palace and had a wonderful driver from Poland who engaged us in delightful conversation about his homeland, why he moved to London, why everyone moves to London, and why we’ve only met about three folks in three days who were actually British. Eventually he says, “You’re going to see the changing of the guard?”

We didn’t know anything about when the changing of the guard happens and honestly had not considered checking into it. But there we were, at 10:30 am, about to arrive at the palace where the changing of the guard happens every day. At 11:00 am.

Of course, as it turned out, the changing of the guard of Buckingham Palace was the highlight of our visit. I don’t care how many tourists are mobbed around those gates, this is a show worthy of the watching.

Takeaway

The changing of the guard happens every day at 11:00 am at Buckingham Palace. If you walk up Birdcage Walk from Parliament, you will pass the guard’s museum on your left. If you time it right, you can watch the Queen’s Guard Band gather in formation and march to the palace whilst playing lively tunes. It’s totally worth looking like a tourist running alongside them with your phone in the air to capture video which you will show to everyone you know for weeks.

A Sense of Paris

We made our first trip to Paris last spring and we hit the jackpot weather-wise. A light breeze, 70 degrees and sunny in the daytime and 60 degrees at night. Every single day. At night we slept with our windows wide open.

I spent hours and hours in the weeks prior to our trip reading about Paris and trying to learn a little French. And surprisingly, we needed more than a little French at times. But mostly it was ‘Bonjour,’ pointing at what we wanted, and ‘Merci!’ We tried though. We really tried to blend in.

My husband wears a ball cap pretty much every where we go, but I absolutely insisted he not wear a ball cap in Paris. We compromised and I bought him a newsboy cap and he looked so darn cute in it. And in fact he really blended in, which of course was my goal. I believe our mission was accomplished. It was a wonderful trip.

Takeaway

1. Learn a little French and give it your best to use it. Most people in most cultures at the very least appreciate the gesture. And then, realizing your French is hopeless, they will immediately switch to English if they can. Some will find you amusing. Some will say in their head, ‘Sit down before you hurt yourself.’ But most of the time they will greet you warmly and do their best to help you.

2. Blend in. In any culture, observe and emulate. But especially in Paris. Parisians take pride in their culture and you will be appreciated because you took the made the effort.

Pictured is my husband in his newsboy hat.