Around Cahuita, Costa Rica

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Exploring Cahuita National Park

Happy Thursday! Today I am going to share the second half of my trip to Costa Rica. You can read about how I spent my time in San Jose here. After leaving San Jose, I took the bus through the mountains to the town of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. The pacific coast of Costa Rica is more popular with tourists, but the Caribbean coast has a lot of great natural and cultural experiences as well. The bus ride itself was much longer than expected because of construction, but it was still enjoyable to see the countryside along the way. Cahuita is a small, quiet town with a wonderful national park. I stayed at the Hakuna Matata Hostel where I rented a private room with a shared bath. I was very pleased with the service and amenities (including a pool) and overall vibe.

Day 1-Cahuita National Park

My first day in Cahuita, I explored Cahuita National Park. It is situated on a spit of land just south of the town. If you are staying in Cahuita, it is a quick walk to the park entrance. There is an easy trail that runs around the edge of the park and offers a mix of gorgeous beach scenery, quiet jungle paths and a variety of wildlife. There are two beaches along the way, Playa Blanca and Playa Vargas and you can stop and swim at just about any point. The palm trees form little coves and it is like having your own private beach! Just be careful with your belongings while swimming.

This was one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip, and I would highly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

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An ornery whiteface capuchin monkey along the trail
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Rainforest pathway

Day 2-Waterfall Dos Aguas

On the second day, I took a tour organized by my hostel to Waterfall Dos Aguas, which has this name because of there are two waterfalls, one big one flowing into one smaller one. There is a small entry fee to get into the waterfalls and then a quick hike down a steep slope. Along the slope, my guide, David (who also manages the hostel) pointed out a tree where tiny poisonous red frogs hang out. Swimming in a waterfall was on my Costa Rica bucket list and these did not disappoint. If you are very adventurous you can climb up the rocks on the side of the waterfall and jump in, but I stuck with swimming in the waterfall pools. After swimming, we hiked back up to the entry area where we bought fresh coconut milk and talked to the woman who was collecting the entry fees. There was even a kitten who ate coconut meat!

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Waterfall Dos Aguas
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Building a fire to roast hot dogs
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Fresh coconut milk and plantain chips with chili
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Cerveza, casado and colones back in Cahuita

Day 3-Jaguar Rescue Center and Puerto Viejo

On day three, on the recommendation of the hostel, I visited the Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo. The center rehabilitates wild animals for eventual release back into the wild when possible. It is a great opportunity to see monkeys (and baby monkeys!), sloths (and baby sloths!), crocodiles and some small cats up close. The staff is funny and informative and all entry fees go to fund the center which runs on donations.

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Up close and personal with a two-toed sloth
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A margay at the Jaguar Rescue Center

After visiting the center, I ate lunch in Puerto Viejo. It was very busy and I was relieved to return to comparatively quiet Cahuita. There was a street fair going on each night I was in Cahuita and it was fun to get drinks and people watch.

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The beach at Puerto Viejo
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Spotted along Cahuita’s main road
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Carnival rides were part of the street festival

The next day I caught the bus back to San Jose and flew home. It was a long journey, but went relatively smoothly. I loved my time in Costa Rica. I can’t wait to go back and explore more. There were so many things to do and places to see it was hard to know what to choose. I will say that I did get a little lonely, especially in Cahuita. It can be part of traveling alone, but I’m thinking my next trip will be with friends just to mix things up a bit 🙂

How about you? Have you traveled to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica? What was your experience?

xoxo Anna

 

3 days in San Jose

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Trip to the Sarapaqui River

Hello! I’m back and happy to share the highlights of my recent trip to Costa Rica. I’m going to break the trip up into two posts. Today, I’m sharing what I did during my three days in and around San Jose.

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is a busy, noisy, interesting city. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but I found a lot of beauty and hidden gems during my explorations.

Day 1-Arrival, concert at El Cuartel

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A busy street scene in Central San Jose

After arriving in San Jose and settling into my Airbnb, I walked around the center of the city for a while. I stopped at a couple of shops and bought some brightly-colored fabric and lace. I ended up at the Mercado Central, which is an enclosed market with all sorts of different food and craft stalls. It was fun to wander around and see everything being sold. I bought a variety of food to go including empanadas, fruit and chicken.

At night, I decided to go to The Public House, which was described as an Irish Pub. Uber now works in San Jose, so I gave it a try and was able to get a car right away. Unfortunately, since there are no real addresses in San Jose, we couldn’t find the pub. I ended up going to El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte, which is a bar, restaurant and music venue in Barrio la California. I stumbled into a band rehearsal for Easy Rider, a classic-rock cover band. I was welcomed warmly and even got a shout out from the band during their concert, which was extra special. I also tried a traditional Costa Rican dish called Chifrijo. It is a mixture of rice, tomatoes, beans and fried pork pieces and it is insanely delicious. I loved this bar so much that I returned on Monday evening for their famous music night.

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A booth at Mercado Central
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Spices at Mercado Central
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Chifrijo at El Cuartel

 

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Tropical flowers

Day 2-River cruise and horseback ride, movie

For Day 2, I booked a river cruise and horseback ride in the jungle. It was an easy, relaxing day. We were transported by boat along the Sarapaqui River, where we saw monkeys, iguanas and crocodiles. We ended up at a lovely house in the jungle where we ate lunch and could choose between horseback riding or zip lining. I chose horseback riding, which was pretty comical as my horse, Paloma, clearly did not want to be doing the tour and keep trying to run me into low-hanging branches. It was still enjoyable, though. After that, we took the boat back to our original location and headed back to San Jose.

There are so many tours you can book out of San Jose including zip lining, hikes through the cloud forest, hot springs, volcano tours and so much more. I had originally booked two tours, the river cruise and a combo tour of the Arenal Hanging Bridges, Volcano and Hot Springs. When the second got cancelled, I decided not to book another tour, which I think made for a more relaxing trip, but I was a little sad not to see the bridges and hot springs. And, while I enjoyed bumming around San Jose on Day 3, I feel like I missed some of the more exciting adventures that Costa Rica has to offer. I guess I will just have to go back 🙂

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Paloma going off trail
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Our boat on the Sarapaqui River
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Cine Magaly in Barrio la California

At night, I went back to Barrio La California and saw Lady Bird at Cine Magaly. It was a beautiful theater and a great movie (conveniently in English with Spanish subtitles). I ended up liking the feel of this neighborhood quite a bit and would recommend a visit to anyone spending time to San Jose.

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Museo del Jade

Day 3-Museo del Jade, walking around and craft shopping

On the third day, I went to the Museo del Jade. It had some interesting exhibits featuring pre-columbian life in Costa Rica. I especially liked the top floor which had shelves and shelves of fantastic pottery. I enjoyed the museum but I’m not sure it is worth the entry fee of $20.

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Pottery at Museo del Jade

After the museum I walked to the Museo National de Costa Rica. It was closed, but it has a beautiful park (Plaza de la Democracia y de la Abolición del Ejército) on one side and on the other side is Calle 17, a pedestrian street with fantastic murals (see the featured photo for this post). From there, I made my way to Chieton Moren, which is a fair-trade craft store I had read about. Each piece in the store is labeled with the name of town and craftsperson who created it. They had a great selection of interesting hand crafts in a range of prices. After shopping, I had a late lunch/early dinner at a small restaurant across the street. Casados are offered by most restaurants and are a typical Costa Rican dish. A casado is a large plate with meat, rice, beans, salad and a vegetable stew (not really sure what this was but it was delicious). At around 3500 colones ($6.00), they are a good and filling budget option.

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Chieton Moren: A great fair-trade craft store
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A delicious casado de pollo
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A fountain near the Teatro National
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Afternoon sunlight over San Jose

After eating, I walked past the Teatro National and through Plaza de la Cultura and made my way back to my apartment. In the evening, I went to Stiefel Pub, which was cute and has a large selection of craft beers. On my way to the pub, I walked past groups of political demonstrators who were voicing their opinions on the hotly contested and polarizing Costa Rican presidential election, which was to be held on April 1. It was fun and interesting to get a glimpse into local politics.

In the evening, I went back to El Caurtel de la Boca del Monte and enjoyed the music and had a shot of chiliguaro, which is a local liquor called guaro mixed with tomato juice, hot sauce and lime.

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Political demonstrators

San Jose may not be the most picturesque city, but I enjoyed it immensely. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and very patient with my very basic Spanish language skills. The food was fresh and delicious and the nightlife was interesting. It is not recommended to walk around alone at night, but I had a very positive experience using Uber to get around. It was cheap and reliable and made me feel safe going out at night alone.

How about you? Have you been to Costa Rica or San Jose? What was your experience?

And stay tuned for my next post on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

xoxo Anna

100 followers!

I was so excited to reach 100 followers this week. Thank you to all of you who have followed, read and commented on my posts over the last 10 months. It means the world to me! I feel like I have learned so much by being part of the blogosphere. I’m looking forward to continuing to grow and refine my style and vision for the blog. If you have any feedback on the blog so far, I would love to hear it 🙂

In other news, I am off to Costa Rica in a little over a week. I always find the last week before a trip to be anxiety provoking. So many little details to figure out. I am trying to remember to be grateful that I have the opportunity to travel and not get overwhelmed by annoyances. This weekend I plan to lay low and get ready for my trip. I think this will definitely help with the pre-trip anxiety. I’m hoping to finally share an outfit post with you next week (hint: “travel”). Then I will be off from posting the week I am on vacation. If you don’t already follow me on Instagram, definitely do, as I will be posting all sorts of vacation photos during my travels.

How about you? Any successes you are celebrating right now? How do you deal with pre-trip anxiety?

xoxo

Anna

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica travel picks

Happy Thursday 🙂 I’m getting excited for my trip to Costa Rica! I am planning to bring mostly things that I already own but I thought it would be okay to splurge on a few pieces that would make the trip feel extra special. All of the items are investments, especially the luggage, and I hope to use them beyond this trip in the coming months and years. I think they will neatly fit into my slowly developing capsule wardrobe.

  1. First, I splurged on this cute rolling suitcase in my favorite color, rose gold. The company, Calpak, has so many amazing options. I almost got this one but in the end I felt like the rose gold was more my style. Plus I didn’t care for the lining on the second one, which apparently makes a difference to me 🙂
  2. When I pack for any trip I like to be super organized, like Marie Kondo-level tidy. I am learning that giving in to my desire to have everything match and be packed precisely makes me happy, so why not just embrace it. With that in mind, I also purchased these packing cubes. I can’t tell you how my heart leaps with joy to think of how well coordinated and packed my luggage is going to be. Now I just have to plan the perfect travel outfit!
  3. In addition to the rolling suitcase and packing cubes, I purchased this backpack/laptop bag from Calpak. It fits on top of my rolling luggage which is very satisfying. I’m hoping it will make a great structured day pack for my trip, but I also plan to use it when I get home to carry my work laptop which I have been throwing in random tote bags that always slip off my shoulder 😦
  4. I immediately bookmarked this bathing suit after seeing it on the blog A Beautiful Mess. I am just in love with the retro 70s aesthetic and how softly feminine it is. I can’t wait till it comes in the mail. Unfortunately, I had it sent to my old work address! A good friend who still works there generously offered to intercept it, so fingers crossed.
  5. I will be hiking in the jungle on this trip, which requires long pants. I love being outdoors, but hate most outdoor gear/clothing. I just never feel put together. These leggings, though, are sleek and beautifully made. I am thinking of pairing them with a loosish crop top and all black sneakers for a put together look. The company, Outdoor Voices, is also sustainable and eco-conscious which makes me feel better about this purchase. I found the company via this great article on ethical workout gear.

How about you? How do you like to pack for a trip? Are you super-organized or do you throw everything in a bag and go?

xoxo Anna

 

Costa Rica in March

I have been itching to travel again since last summer when I went to Phoenix for a month and then to St. Croix. I usually book my travel plans well in advance but I was recently inspired when a friend of mine jumped on an airplane to Puerto Rico last minute. I decided I wanted to go somewhere too! But where? I knew I wanted to go somewhere that I had never been, somewhere warm, and somewhere relatively close (ie, not Tahiti). I checked out places like Portugal, Dominica, Turks and Caicos and even Iceland (not warm), but eventually settled on Costa Rica because of the diversity of adventures it offers. So, I booked a trip for the end of March, not exactly last-minute but definitely spontaneous. March, through no planning on my part, happens to be a great time to visit the country weather-wise.

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What are my plans, you ask? I will be flying into San Jose and staying downtown at an Airbnb for a few days. I plan to check out the surrounding offerings like the Poas Volcano and Braulio Carillo National Park. After that I am making my way to Cahuita on the Caribbean coast where I will explore for a few days. I plan on visiting Cahuita National Park, doing some snorkeling and drinking cocktails on the beach. I have reservations at a hostel in Cahuita for a private room. I was thinking of renting a little house, but I think it will be nice to connect with other travelers.

I still have a lot of decisions to make. For example, I am not sure if I am going to rent a car or rely on public transportation. I am leaning toward public transport because I think it will be more relaxing. I also haven’t decided if I will take any smaller day tours on this trip or explore on my own. I do know I am looking forward to hiking, eating chocolate, hanging out on the beach and seeing all sorts of cool wildlife. Oh, and I am hoping to swim in a tropical waterfall at some point. It’s on my bucket list. I also can’t wait for all the fabulous photo opportunities 🙂

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I picked up a Lonely Planet guide book and I am going to do some planning leading up to the trip so I know what all my options are, then I will decide while I am there what I want to do day by day. I don’t know about you but I get overwhelmed by all the options available when you travel. So many decisions to make!

I think I will also brush up on my Spanish for this trip by using DuoLingo. I have used it before to practice my French and it is a great app.

How about you? Have you been to Costa Rica? What was your experience like? Any recommendations?

xoxo Anna

Adventures on St. Croix

 

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The courtyard of my Airbnb

I recently spent a week in St. Croix for a wedding. I will always look back on this trip and smile, but not because everything went as planned. It was, in fact, a combination of minor frustrations, comical mishaps, interesting characters and truly heartwarming moments. It was the first time that I have traveled out of the country with a big group of friends. I’ve done a fair amount of solo travel and have enjoyed it, but there is something very special about being abroad with a bigger group. There may be more time spent organizing the group, but I loved being able to share adventures with some of my closest friends and meet new people as well. It was also very special to me the way that our group came together to handle inconveniences and potential problems with grace and kindness. Here are some of my favorite moments from the trip:

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Rainbow beach view
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Hello Mr. Crab!

Rainbow beach and this crab

Our first beach day was at Rainbow Beach. I rented a beach chair and an umbrella for $20 and proceeded to lounge and swim. There is a cute, beachy restaurant/bar where I got a piña colada and some fried shrimp. Everything was tasty! Overall it was a successful day and I would recommend this beach 🙂

 

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Fort Christianvearn
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Limpricht Park

Exploring Christiansted

I’m a sucker for historic architecture, especially of the colonial, island variety. My Airbnb was in Christiansted and I really enjoyed walking around and looking at the beautiful old buildings. Fort Christianvearn was just down the street and was a great place to wander. There was also a cute park down the street that had a lot of character.

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Beach at Hotel on the Cay

The beach at Hotel on the Cay

We went to this beach two days in a row. I went the first day on my own and liked it so much that I convinced other people to come. It’s a short (it felt like 30 seconds!) ferry ride to a cute island with a small beach. There is a hotel on the island but non-guests are asked not to explore the island beyond the beach and bar. The water was calm and clear and there was a bar/restaurant (great pineapple daiquiri) and a watersports stand where I rented a snorkel on the first day.

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There were so many gorgeous chickens!
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An iguana grabbing a maraschino cherry!

Good weather

Rain was predicted for our entire trip. There were a few storms, including one torrential downpour, but we also had plently of sun and beach-worthy weather. The weather even cooperated on the day of the wedding which was a blessing.

The wedding

The wedding itself was beautiful and intimate. It was on the beach at one of the island’s resorts. I was asked to perform the wedding ceremony and I enjoyed the process of getting ordained, writing a ceremony and performing the actual marriage. I am not a confident public speaker, but when the time came to do the ceremony I was reassured by the happiness of the moment and everything fell into place naturally. The wedding was followed by a dinner/reception. There were only about twenty people there in total and I really liked the intimacy and relaxed nature of a smaller wedding.

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Relaxing before the wedding

 

A few frustrations…

Lack of transportation options

I would recommend that anyone traveling to St. Croix rent a car. A great deal of our group’s frustrations came from figuring out how to get people staying in a variety of locations to and from different places. The island is fairly big and places were farther away than they seemed they would be on the map. It was off-season and finding a cab after 6 pm (and sometimes even during the day) was difficult and expensive. I didn’t end up renting a car, but some of my friends did and I would say it saved the vacation. I will note that driving is on the left-hand side of the road and some roads have sharp turns, and steep inclines or declines. But I think these discomforts would be outweighed by the convenience of more control over your transportation.

Comically (?) strange lodging experiences

To the person, all of us had some sort of funny, annoying or awkward story about the places we stayed including strange Airbnb hosts, poor service, remote or hard-to-reach locations, flooding, and beaches overrun with seaweed. I’m purposely not including the names of the places as this is not meant to be a review of specific establishments and more of a commentary on the travel in general. When you think of spending a week on a tropical island, or really on any vacation, you have certain expectations built up in your mind about stress-free, perfect travel. But that’s not always how things play out. Previously, these imperfections would have weighed on me and affected the joy I took in the vacation, but this time I was able to focus on the good things and really enjoyed the time I spent with the other people on the trip. I think it was the difference between dwelling on what you imagined your trip would be rather than being present and thankful for the opportunity to share experiences and find beauty in unlikely places.

I would definitely return to St. Croix. I feel like I just got a small taste of what the island has to offer.

How about you? Have you ever taken a group vacation? And how do you handle unexpected trip snafus?

xoxo Anna

Bound for St. Croix

Hey everyone! It has been a whirlwind few days. I came home from Phoenix on Saturday and tomorrow I am headed to St. Croix for a wedding and some tropical fun. I have never been to St. Croix before, although I have been to St. John where I got stuck in a tropical storm! I love the tropics almost as much as I love the desert. There is something so magical about that aqua water. I have my own tiny Airbnb apartment located in Christiansted. I am looking forward to snorkeling, hanging out on the beach and discovering the history of the island. By the looks of the map, I will be in the heart of town and very close to the historic Fort Christiansvaern.

I will be taking the week off from posting to focus on spending time with friends and drinking things out of coconuts! If you don’t already, follow me on Instagram for snapshots of my vacay! I have plans for lots of content when I get back including a St. Croix travelogue and more ethical fashion looks.

Till then,

xoxo Anna

 

Six snaps

 

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Pretty but dangerous

If you follow my blog, you know that I have been spending the month of July in Phoenix visiting family. I thought I would share some snapshots that I have taken during my visit. This will be a recurring series where I share interesting snapshots and moments that don’t really fit into a set category. As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of baking and cooking, observing local animals (chipmunks, lizards, quails) and plants (so many kinds of cacti!), and shopping at the local Goodwill. Every time I come out here I try to spot a rattlesnake, but no luck so far. I look under every bush when I go on my daily walks because I feel like that is where I am going to see one. On past trips I have seen coyotes and javelinas, but never a snake! Wish me luck 🙂

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Homemade dinner rolls
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Love the pastel shades on this prickly pear cactus
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Denim and red nail polish
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I made two strawberry rhubarb pies!

Nice and Paris highlights

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Cap D’Ail
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Salade Nicoise

From Dublin, I made my way to Nice, France. You can read about my time in Ireland here. I was originally supposed to meet a friend in Nice but because of a travel snafu, I ended up flying solo for my week on the French Riviera. Here are my favorite moments…

Watching locals jumping off the pier at Castel Plage

I spent a lot of my time in Nice at the beach. Following tips I read on the internet, I splurged on private beaches. The going rate for a towel and beach chair was around 20 euros for the day. Since I was alone, it allowed me to safely leave my belongings on my chair and go for a swim. On my first day I went to Castel Plage, conveniently located at the end of the Promenade des Anglais. I felt pretty chic sunning on my beach chair, drinking mojitos and watching acrobatic locals jumping of a nearby rock outcrop. My only complaint (really more of an annoyance with myself) was that I kept forgetting to bring reading material. Oh well, I guess I’ll get another mojito and people-watch some more! Most beaches in and around Nice are composed of pebbles of varying sizes. Some are large, like rocks, and some a tiny and more like sand. Castel Plage had the first, making it a little uncomfortable to get in and out of the water. My favorite beach for swimming was Beaulieu-sur-mer, which I went to on my second day. This was a tiny pebble beach and was very comfortable to walk on. After Beaulieu, I visited Villefranche-sur-mer which has a lovely old town. I had an excellent dinner at Les Garcons followed by coconut gelato overlooking the harbor.

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Fresh vegetables at the market in Nice
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Villefranche-sur-mer

Eating socca and farcis

Socca is a crispy, thin chickpea pancake and a traditional street food in Nice. Farcis is vegetables (I had tomatoes and zucchini) stuffed with a ground meat mixture. I sampled both of these classics at Lou Pilha Leva at Place Centrale. After ordering at the counter I settled at one of the communal outdoor tables to eat, where I was immediately engaged in conversation by the other guests. I had a fun time practicing my French with actual French people in actual France 🙂

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View from the citadel in Entrevaux

A rainy day in Entrevaux

The Train des Pigne runs from Nice through Haute Province to Digne-Les-Bains. I decided to take the train to Entreveaux, a small medieval town along the route. The views along the way were magnificent. Entreveaux itself is a sweet, little walled village with winding, narrow streets and a high citadel. For a small price you can take a self-guided tour of the ramparts and visit the citadel. The ramparts contain a strange, somewhat comical museum of sorts which has dioramas about the history of the town. It started to rain while I was exploring. I dodged into a small shop to avoid the rain and ended up having an extended and lovely conversation with the shop owner in broken French. When the rain subsided I hiked to the top of the citadel and explored the ruins. It was quite a hike, but well worth it for the views and the citadel itself. There were no restaurants open inside the town so I ended the day at a small café across the street from the entry bridge. They were not serving dinner but the shop owner made me the most delicious jambon et beurre avec cornichons (ham and butter with pickles) and I sat on the porch drinking coffee and watching the rain for quite a while before catching the train back to Nice.

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Cap D’Ail

Getting lost on the way to the beach in Cap D’Ail

On my last day in Nice, I decided to go to Cap D’Ail by train. When I got off the train, I tried to make my way to the beach, but couldn’t find it. I figured if I walked in the direction of the water I would find it, but ended up getting more and more lost. I was wandering along a random road when I spotted a local driving by and asked for directions. They instructed me to climb over a fence and some rocks to get to a pathway that ran right along the sea. The path turned out to be magical, running up and down along rocky outcrops with the turquoise Mediterranean waves splashing below. Unfortunately, it ended in a locked gate. The gate was high and I couldn’t climb over. To get around I would have to scale the side rail and suspend myself over a 30 ft drop to the water before climbing over the side rail on the other side. I had spent 20 minutes on the path and didn’t want to turn around and go back. A woman passed by on the other side and tried to help (I’m pretty sure I looked mildly crazy clutching the bars) but there really wasn’t any way so she moved on. Finally, I decided to risk it and climb around the gate. 30 or so seconds later, during which I questioned all my life decisions, I was over and on my way to the beach. The beach at Cap D’Ail was stunning and I quickly forgot my adventure in haze of swimming, sun and more mojitos. Comically enough, on the way home from the beach I found out there was a stairway that went to the beach just a little further down the random road I was walking on. Oh well!

From Nice I flew to Paris for the last 3 days of my trip.

3 relaxed days in Paris

I ended up meeting my friend in Paris. It was so nice to see a good friend after all my solo adventuring. We had both been to Paris before and had covered most of the major touristy stuff, so we had a relaxed three days wandering around shopping and eating. We were staying in Bellville near the Parc de Buttes Chaumont so we had a picnic there (which involved a trip to the local grocery store, one of my favorite things to do on vacation). We also had a fancy dinner at Pirouette in Les Halles (super!) and found a bunch of really cute boutiques to shop in. I am guilty of buying some clothing at H&M. However, I am convinced I made different decisions because I was in Paris, and my purchases have mostly stood the test of time.

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Pigeon for dinner at Pirouette
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Rosé for days at the supermarche

I also got a tattoo 🙂 I had been wanting to get a tattoo in Paris since the last time I visited and spontaneously decided to do it. However, I didn’t choose the best place and the tattoo didn’t stand the test of time. Instead of a tiny heart (so cute!) it ended up looking like an amorphous blob on my wrist (not so cute!), so I recently had to have it touched up (cute again!). No regrets, tho!

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Last meal in Paris

Then it was back to my other favorite city, NYC. I will be sharing details of the souvenirs I bought in Ireland and France, as well as my strategies for choosing souvenirs and gifts while on vacation, in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

 

Ireland, you’re awesome

In August of 2016 I took a solo journey to Ireland. What follows is by no means a comprehensive travel guide or even a “best of” but more of a reflection on what sites and experiences really stood out from a vacation packed with memorable moments.

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Dublin street scene

Traveling alone has its ups and downs. I am, by nature, a person who is comfortable alone and able to entertain myself for long periods of time. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to set my own schedule and rely on my own resourcefulness to get around. That said, there were many moments when I felt in need of familiar companionship and at a loss as to how to find it. There is nothing like being thousands of miles from home, on your own, to bring out feelings of vulnerability. On a positive note, I think this lead me to be chattier with random strangers and I ended up meeting many interesting people. My advice to others traveling alone would be to not let feelings of loneliness or vulnerability get you down or make you feel like you have failed as a solo adventurer. I think it is part of the process for many. Despite these feelings (or because of them?) I look back on this trip as a grand adventure. Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I look forward to returning, as I feel I only got a small taste of what this country has to offer.

Dublin 
I started my trip with a day in Dublin, which is an intriguing city with tons of history but also a modern, artistic edge. Aesthetically, I loved the bright and graphic signage mixed in with older architecture. Dublin is a very walkable city and I took a relaxed approach to exploration. I made a few touristy stops in Dublin including the Oscar Wilde memorial sculpture (super cool!), St. Stephen’s Green (lovely ramble), the Book of Kells at Trinity College (fascinating) and the Old Jameson factory (meh). I also loved browsing through indie shops in the Grafton Street part of the city and stopping at antique shops and vendor fairs I came across, one of which was at the Generator Hostel pictured below.

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The Generator Hostel in Dublin
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A sign (of sorts) in Dublin
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Cheese toastie at The Stags Head, Dublin
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Blue skies in Killarney, Ireland
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I tasted all the whiskey!

Ballycarberry Castle and the Ring of Kerry
From Dublin I made my way to Killarney to explore the Ring of Kerry. I had read that Killarney was a tourist trap, which is accurate, but it is still fun to visit the many shops and pubs (sampling whiskey all the way :)) and meeting fellow travelers.

I debated renting a car to drive around the ring. As a city resident with a fear of heights, who drives approximately once a year, the idea of driving on the left hand side of winding coastal roads sounded borderline suicidal. I imagined hordes of honking, angry drivers trailing behind me as a crawled along the highway at 5 miles an hour. The idea of taking a tour bus was even less appealing. So for this part of the trip, I splurged on a private taxi tour of the Ring of Kerry. It felt ridiculously decadent, but ended up to be well worth it. The driver took me to places that were not on regular tour bus routes and would stop in any place that I wanted. One of our stops was Ballycarberry Castle, a tumble-down structure surrounded by coastal plains. It may be controversial in terms of historical preservation, but the best part of this experience for me was that you could climb all over and into the ruins. It really made me feel connected to the place and to history. The sweeping green landscape around it wasn’t too bad either. The scenery on the Ring of Kerry was more breathtaking and green than I could have imagined, and wandering briefly in the foggy, mysterious forests of Killarney National Park made had me making plans to come back for an extend hiking trip.

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Hello!
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Views on the Ring of Kerry

Coffee facing the ocean in Waterville
Along the ring of Kerry is the coastal town of Waterville. Spending a relaxing hour here drinking coffee facing the ocean and watching kids on the beach having an ecology lesson was mind altering. It had me wondering how feasible it would be to relocate all of my friends and family to this tranquil spot.

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Coffee by the shore in Waterville

Lisdoonvarna
Lisdoonvarna is the site of a famous matchmaking festival which draws hopefuls from all around Ireland and even the world. At other times of the year it is a quiet place. Without a lot of research, I had decided to use Lisdoonvarna as a jumping off place to visit the Aran Islands, rather than Doolin which is more popular among travelers. I arrived a week before the Matchmaking festival and it was fun to watch the town prepare for the coming crowd. There was definitely a sense of anticipation in the air. The Rathbaun Hotel is small and charming and has well-known live music nights, which I enjoyed both nights I stayed there. One thing I will note is that—as of August 2016— there were no ATMs in Doolin or Lisdoonvarna. I mention this because it took me by surprise and caused a little stress. Some establishments offer cash for credit at a fee, which saved me, but I would recommend getting the cash you need before you get to town.

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The Matchmaker Bar in Lisdoonvarna was about to see a lot of action.

Riding bike through stone walls of Inis Oírr
Inis Oírr (pronounced “sheer”) is the smallest and southernmost Aran Island. I took the ferry from Doolin and rented a bike to explore the island. August is the height of tourist season in Ireland and yet I found myself alone riding between the island’s famous, interlacing stone walls. Inis Oírr is small and you can see most of the highlights in a day including a magnificent, rusty ship wreck, cool coastal rock formations dotted with tide pools, an interesting wind-swept grave yard and the ruins of a castle on the uppermost point of the island.

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Open road
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Famous interlacing stone walls
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These Superga sneakers were the best for walking

Fish chowder and brown bread at Café an Chaisleán, Inis Oírr
This was my favorite meal in Ireland. It was delicious, lite and simple. The adorable, chatty waiter made me feel like I was eating in a friend’s house.

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So good!

Dolphins dancing in front of boat by Cliffs of Moher
On the ferry ride back from Inis Oirr the boat made a special trip to view the Cliffs of Moher. At first it was rainy and the cliffs were covered in haze but then the sun broke through and highlighted these spectacular formations. A school of dolphins rode the waves at the bow of the ship heading back into the dock. I have never been so close to a dolphin and it was a memorable experience.

The bus ride from Lisdoonvarna to Galway
For the most part, I traveled by public transport through Ireland. I love doing this when traveling. The act of having to negotiate a foreign transit system has the instant effect of making me feel engaged in the daily rhythm of the place I am visiting. The bus route I took hugs the burren coast from Lisdoonvarna to Galway. It was an unexpected opportunity to see more of the countryside and to get inspired for future travels further up the western coast of Ireland.

From Galway I made my way to Dublin by bus and caught a flight to Nice. Stay tuned for highlights from my Nice adventure.

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Interesting rocks formations and flowers on Inis Oírr