1 Week in Costa Rica: Arenal Volcano, Monteverde Cloud Forest, Tamarindo Beach

There are few things I like more than a warm escape from the NYC winter.   The usual fix is a weekend in Miami, but this past December, a few of us traveled down to Costa Rica for a real getaway from Christmas to New Year’s.
Not only was it one of the easiest places to travel that I’ve been, but the range and diversity of places to go and things to do — even in such a small country — meant that we were never bored!
We planned our trip with an adventurous start – beginning at the Arenal Volcano and then off to the Monteverde Cloud forest – and a relaxing finish – ending at a surf camp in Tamarindo for a few days at the beach.
Here are my recommendations
 
Arenal/La Fortuna
We flew into the Liberia airport — and boy are we glad that we hired private transport for the 2.5-3 hour drive to La Fortuna, the town outside the Arenal Volcano.  The roads were horrendous and poorly marked.  Thank you, blogs and friends, for that good advice. We spent 2.5 days in Arenal, which was great – there certainly was more to do – particularly with outdoor activities, but we felt like we got a great overview.
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IMG_7280 Top photo: In front of the volcano…before we began the hike…  Bottom photo: after climbing Cerro Chato!

What to do
  • Hike the Arenal Volcano National Park and go to the Arenal observatory.  Arenal is one of the ten most active volcanos in the world.  Note to the non-athletic (like me): the Cerro Chato hike is the devil.  Awesome, but the devil.  Caveat hiker.  You only have to pay an entrance fee to the park, there are free tours at 8:30am.IMG_7390
  • Go to the Tabacon Resort geothermal springs – total luxury.  Spend the whole day and get lunch.  If you want to book a massage, do it ahead of time.  Also, get on line EARLY – check in is very slow.
  • Other things we didn’t do but heard were awesome: La Fortuna waterfall hike, ATVing, hiking around the lake, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and more hiking (sensing a theme here).
Where to eat
While we didn’t have any particularly notable meals:
  • Mediteranneo had very good Italian food (I know!) in La Fortuna, though terribly slow service
  • “Sodas” are small, family run restaurants that are a great place to eat local cuisine and offer amazing value – pricing is usually half of that at other destinations.  Meals ran at $2-5  each!
  • Local food: Casados: you pick a protein (or vegetarian) and get a plate with rice, beans, salads, and plantains.
Where to Stay
  • Luxe: We wanted to stay at Tabacon, but alas, we booked too late during peak season
  • Budget: We stayed at Selvita Lodge, a Costa Rican B&B run by an adorable family. Located in La Fortuna

 

 
Monteverde
From Arenal, we took a van to the MonteVerde Cloud Forest (we used Anywhere Costa Rica for transportation – far and away the safest drivers we found and nicest vans).  Note: bring layers for Monteverde, it was much cooler (much!) and windier than anywhere else we were in Costa Rica
What to do
Everything to do in Monteverde centers around nature.  Our top highlights
  • Incredible guided tour of the cloud fIMG_7391orest.  Well worth it to have a knowledgeable guide who can point out the different animals hiding and the flora, as well as explain what, exactly, a cloud forest is (I still don’t know).  There’s also an adorable humming bird sanctuary on the premises and a great coffee shop.
  • Ziplining.  Errrrmagad.  The scariest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve zip lined elsewhere).  We used Sky Trek for walks along the hanging bridges (can skip, particularly if you do the cloud forest walk).  And then we went zip lining.  High Winds. Insane Heights. Not for the faint of heart.
Tamarindo
Tamarindo was quite the experience.  Because we went over Xmas week…and booked late…all of thIMG_7549e hotels were booked.  So we ended up “Glamping” at the Dreamsea Surf Camp, which was a hilarious (and awesome) adventure.  While next time I’ll plan to stay at a hotel on the beach, we definitely had the besIMG_7486t food of our trip at the Surf Camp (the chef there is amazing) and had built in surf lessons every day (well, some of us) – and even some yoga.  Pack DEET.
The Tamarindo beaches get very crowded – and it’s a young crowd.  It’s a bit of a party town with a strong bohemian, surf vibe.  During the day, the one street that runs along the beach is wall-to-wall with cars.  Despite all this, we were able to post up for free on beach chairs outside La Palapa restaurant every day.
What to do:
  • IMG_7440Take a surf lesson
  • Those sunsets though
Where to eat: 
  • Tamarindo Diria for dinner. Al fresco on water with hanging lamps under tree. Great fish dishes.
  • Noguis for pie.  All of the pies.  Seriously though.  Fish tacos are also great.
  • Mandarina for make your own smoothies
  • La bodega for fresh, healthy lunches and breakfasts

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August 19, 2015 · 11:46 pm

6 Google Flights Tricks That Are Better Than Any Travel Agent

Chances are you’re familiar with Google Flights. The flight search engine does everything you assume it would, like locate flights based on your ideal outbound time, inbound time and number of stops. After all, it’s the same technology that powers both KAYAK and Orbitz.

The site also includes a whole host of features that aren’t so easy to imagine, probably because they’re so unimaginably amazing. In some cases, this online tool can beat out any human travel agent. Don’t believe us? Check out these six tricks below.

1. Don’t know where to go? Search for a general region, and see a map of specific flight prices.

Just Google “flights to Europe” and click the Flights tab below the search box. A map of the entire continent will pop up, along with prices. You’ll be able to compare how much it would cost to fly to London versus Paris — and you can even filter the options by type of airline, duration of flight and price you’re willing to pay.
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2. Or go with “I’m feeling lucky” to let Google plan your dream trip.

What “I’m feeling lucky” does for search, it also does for flights. Click on a map within Google Flights, pick your departure spot, and click the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button tolet Google choose a destination based on your search history and what’s popular. You’ll also see a bar graph letting you know when flights will be at their cheapest.
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3. Google will tell you which flight is the best bang for your buck.

The “Best flights” box tells you which flights are the best combinations of price and speed, so you won’t have to decide whether a layover is a good idea or if a nonstop is worth the extra buck. Google also highlights its top pick in green. It’s like having your very own travel agent say, “If I were you, I’d do this.”
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4. It’ll also show you the lowest price for any given day on the calendar.

You can see prices for your trip on every day of the month, with the cheapest days highlighted in green. A bar graph at the bottom lets you know how prices will likely drop or rise over time.
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5. Automatically see swaps that will save you money.

If you search for a flight that has a similar yet less expensive option, the “Tip” bar lets you know how much money you’ll save if you’re willing to fly earlier, later or from a different airport. Then you can weigh the cost and decide!
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6. Once you find a potential flight, let Google monitor the price for you.

If you find a flight you like, then hit the “Save This Itinerary” button and let the Google Now app track its pricing. You can hit the app on your phone to see how prices are changing, and Google will email you if they dip dramatically.

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The Fall ’14: 14 Things to do in NYC this Autumn

It’s my favorite time of year in New York: the moment between summer-weekends away and the Holiday season.

If you blink, you might miss it.

Here are my 14 top things to do and places to go, eat, and drink for Autumn 2014 in NYC.  (A broad @ home)

Am I missing anything? let me know in the comments

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Do

1.  New Yorker festival  (October 10-12)  In its 15th year, covering a range of topics, with some of the most notable people.  I’m thinking Lena Dunham or Mindy Kaling — any takers?

2. DONE! Barry’s Bootcamp  – I’d always been too intimidated to try this workout, but thanks to a few fit friends (ahem, AD), I now worship at the altar of the Barry’s Bootcamps.  Layla Luciano’s 12:45 pm Saturday workout is, hands down, the best workout I’ve ever had.

3.  DONE! Jeff Koons Retrospective at the Whitney (until October 19th)   “Jeff Koons is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular, and controversial artists of the postwar era…This exhibition will be the artist’s first major museum presentation in New York”  How I didn’t make it this summer is beyond me

One of the best-curated exhibits I’ve been to in a long time. Do not forget to use the free “ipod-touch”-esque guide given out in the Lobby to hear Koons’ own thoughts on the different exhibits and pieces.  Do not miss!

4.  DONE! The Moth – This open-mic-put-your-name-in-a-hat-and-get-called-up-to-tell-a-story-in-front-of-hundreds-of-strangers-event was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.  Cannot wait to go back. – True Stories. Told Live.  H/t to CK for the suggestion.  (October 6 StorySlam, Theme: Hunger)

5.  Celebrate Oktoberfest  Ok, so it’s not quite the same as going to Germany, but in the spirit of A broad at Home, I want to check out some of the newer beer gardens that will be celebrating Bavarian brews & pretzels.  Particularly this one at Zum Schneider (October 3-12). 

6.  DONE! Jay Z @ Global Citizen Festival, (September 27 ): If you want some snark, ask me what I thought of this event.  Luckily, it was a beautiful day spent in Central Park w one of my favorite people.

7.  Upstate Escape: Daytrip to Cold Spring.  Thanks, Sosh, for the inspiration. 

8.  Greenwood Cemetery.  I’m having a total Baader Meinhof moment with the Greenwood Cemetery.  I’d never heard of it and now it seems to be everywhere.  478 acres of p ublic green space from a time before New York had public parks.  Apparently, it is filled with famous residents and has a ton of wild parrots that live over one of the gates. Seems like a good adventure around Halloween while the weather is still nice.  

9. DONE! Matisse Cut-Outs Exhibit at the MoMA.  Totally joyous, beautiful exhibit of Matisse’s ahead-of-his-time “drawing with scissors.”  Didn’t hurt that it was free with my CUID. (Oct 12-Feb 8)

Eat & Drink

10. DONE!  Ivan Ramen  My obsession with ramen only increased after my 2013 trip to Japan and this sraight-from Tokyo LES notable newcomer has a vegetarian-broth base on the menu that will make it one of my first stops this fall 

11.  Barcade  $0.25 arcade games  (Ninja Turtles!) + tator tots + 20+ microbrews… in my neighborhood?  Sign me up.  The Williamsburg bar just opened up an outpost in Chelsea. As long as my brothers aren’t hogging the NES console, pretty much sounds like my happy place.    

12.   DONE!  Dear Irving  this cocktail parlor on Irving Place is the newest creation from the team behind Raines Law Room.  Rumored to be inspired by Midnight in Paris, I’m just having trouble deciding whether to start with The Godfather Part 2 or the Whiskey Business  — 

Possibly the best new date spot in the city — reservations are highly recommended.  Oh, and all of the whiskey-based drinks are awesome.  A particular favorite is their pear-infused take on the Gold Rush.

13. Attaboy  The crisp air makes it easy to trade in rooftop summer nights for cozying up in one of NYC’s many, many speakeasies.  Nope, that’s right, we here in Manhattan are still not over the cocktail + speakeasy craze.  Attaboy is in the original Milk & Honey LES space (brought to us by that very same team!), with the same knock-and-buzz entrance and mixologists-extraoirdinaire.   

14.  Miss Favela – now that I live downtown & venturing to brooklyn is no longer such a schlep, it’s time to visit Miss Favela, the Brazilian comfort food spot in Williamsburg, known for its caipirinhas as much as live Samba music on Saturdays  

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Balkans Road Trip Part V: Montenegro & the Adriatic Coast

It’s hard not to be enchanted by the coastline of Montenegro.  It is what I imagine Croatia was 15 years ago, on the cusp of becoming a highly touristed destination, but still a hidden gem.  Montenegro is the only country we visited that is on the Euro, making it pricier than Serbia and Bosnia, but still quite inexpensive as compared to its neighbors Croatia and Italy.  The food is the best of all worlds: excellent Mediterranean fish,  pizzas, pastas, and, of course, bureks.

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Bay of Kotor (town of Perast)

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Bay of Kotor (town of Perast)

in town

Bay of Kotor (town of Perast)

Highlights:

  • The only ‘fjord’ in the Mediterranean, the Bay of Kotor, and all of the little towns along the Bay.
  • Don’t miss: make a dinner reservation at Galion Restaurant in Kotor and sit out on the water for the sunset.
  • The walled old city of Budva (which is like a mini Dubrovnik) and 3 miles down the Coast, the (now) private island resort of Sveti Stefan, famous as the vacation destination of Elizabeth Taylor and Sofia Loren
St Stefan

Sveti Stefan, private island resort

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View of the bay of Kotor from Galion restaurant (town of Kotor)

 

Word of warning:  Montenegro’s “undiscovered” nature lends it to be a tough place to drive/navigate.  The roads are unmarked, unnamed, sometimes unpaved, un-railguarded on the sides of cliffs, and one lane for two ways of traffic (particularly in Lovcen National Park).

GPS

25 Hairpin turns up a mountain later…

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Ari & Pierre in the old town of Kotor

 

 

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Balkans Road Trip Part IV: Mostar, Herzegovina

Just a few hours south of Sarajevo, Mostar feels like a different world.  It is closest destination in Bosnia to Dubrovnik, Croatia and as we entered this mixed Croat/Bosniak city in Herzegovina, we fell back in love with the Adriatic landscape that enticed us to return to the Balkans to begin with – particularly the drama of the mountains plunging into bright blue-green waters.
Mostar is one of the Balkan’s most well-known gems and it is a-bustle with tourists who stop by for an hour or two during the day; it’s even the cover of the current Lonely Planet Southeastern Europe guide book.  There isn’t much to do in the town itself aside from take pictures on and of the eponymous bridge and, for the those who dare, jump off the bridge.   That said, it’s well-worth the stop, especially as a point to relax and break up the drive to Montenegro or Croatia, and a great base from which to go out on day trips and excursion in and around the area.

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The famous Mostar Bridge

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Where to Eat, Drink, & Stay
Admittedly somewhat touristy, we enjoyed great food at Sadravan and Konoba Taurus, and drinks at the fun Black Dog Pub overlooking the water, included the locally brewed OldBridz brown ale.  We stayed right in town at Villa Fortuna, which has the most charming inn keeper, if not the most reliable internet.

 

from the drive down to Mostar from Sarajevo

from the drive down to Mostar from Sarajevo

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Balkans Road Trip Part III: Sarajevo, City of Heartbreak

Sarajevo is a tale of two cities: the city before 1992 and the city after.

Pre-1992 Sarajevo is that which is first apparent to visitors; it is the city of east-meets-west, where, from the center of town, the eastern side of the city is a mini Istanbul, reflecting its establishment and first 400 years as an Ottoman Turkish city.  From the west of the center, the city is a mini-Vienna, reflecting its 40 (highly productive) years of Austro-Hungarian rule, which brought Europe’s first electric-tram system.  It is the city where Gavrilo Princip, trained by the Black Hand in Serbia, assassinated the future Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand – the excuse for the start of World War I.  It is the city that was known as little Jerusalem, where from a main square, one was never more than a few hundred feet of an Eastern Orthodox church, a Catholic Church, a mosque, and a synagogue.  It was the gem of the former united Yugoslavia, when it hosted the 1984 XIV Winter Olympic Games.

Sarajevo was under siege from 1992-1995, surrounded by the Serb army, the scars of the war are visible on the facades of buildings, on the Sarajevo Roses around town (red resin filling in mortar scars indicating where people were killed during the war), from the tour guides who are no older than I am who talk about growing up in a city under siege, and by the abandoned Olympic venues – which are now surrounded by land mines and are a haunting reminder of just how transient the coming together of nations can be.

Bosnia & Herzegovina today is complicated beyond my understanding.  It is mandated as two territories post-war – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS).  It has 3 postal systems, 2 tax systems, and 3 governments with 3 presidents (one Bosniak, one Serb, one Croat), which has lead to the 45% official unemployment rate.

Sarajevo, as the New York Times wrote last year, has a charisma that “is intoxicating, but the hustle and bustle belies a tragic past.”

It is hard not to fall in love with Sarajevo, but it is a city that will break your heart.

The eastern side of Sarajevo is a mini Istanbul

The eastern side of Sarajevo is a mini Istanbul

The western side of the city is a mini Vienna

The western side of the city is a mini Vienna

mini Vienna

mini Vienna

What to do

  • Don’t miss a walking tour of the city, we loved the Free Walking Tour with Neno, a Sarajevo-born guide just a few years younger than I am, who presents his personal history alongside that of the city
  • The underground tunnels (near the airport) from the siege time – which has an interesting 12 minute documentary and 25 meters of tunnel still open
  •  the abandoned Olympic venues – impossible to get to by public transportation, but well worth renting a car or going with a tour (most of the hostels and a few of the tour companies will run them) (thanks to T.Cain for this rec!)
  • Gallerija 11-7-95, which I wrote about here
  • The food!! Recommendations below.
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The siege tunnels from 1992-1995

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The Latin Bridge where Archbishop Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, aka the beginning of WWI

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The red resin “Sarajevo rose” over the mortar shell scar

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The abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Olympic Winter Games

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The abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Olympic Winter Games

Where to eat

  • Bakeries selling Bureks, the phyllo pastries filled with cheese, spinach, potato, or meat, are on every corner, but we highly recommend Buregdzinica Bosna, which is in the old town, and came touted as the best in the city (we won’t argue with that!)
  • Bosnian coffee at Divan – also in the city, and a great place for people-watching
  • Cevapici, the mini-sausage version of Turkish Kebabs, served with pita and onions.  The city is divided on its favorite Cevapdzinica along sports team allegiance, but Zeljo and Ferhatovic are a toss up for #1.

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Where to stay

  •  Once again, we opted for AirBNB.  The $35/night apartment (6 minutes from old-town )was only bested by the adorable host parents who adopted us for our time there (the apartment is owned and rented by their daughter and attached to their home)

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Balkans Road Trip Part II: The (treacherous) drive from Serbia to Bosnia & Herzegovina

Part A: The Road Trip

After a few great days in Belgrade, Serbia, it was time to get on the road and begin the actual road trip.  When I originally decided that now was the right time to do my long-awaited Balkans trip, there were a few modes of transportation that I’d looked into.  Trains were out of the question, as many of the lines were never restored post-war and those that were, are outdated and take twice as long as any other mode of transit.  Our options were buses or driving – we opted for the latter for the flexibility in travel itinerary and timing – and despite what transpired, it was one of the best travel adventures I’ve ever had.

There were some obstacles we were made aware of from reading blogs before the trip, namely:

  • a manual-transmission car
  • the lack of highways
  • reckless drivers
  • one-lane roads that cling to the sides of the mountainous topography
  • land mines that remain on the side of the roads once you enter into Bosnia – wartime remnants from the Serb army

There were some obstacles that were a surprise:

  • a total lack of roads entirely for some stretches
  • roads in total disrepair that were barely drivable (7 mph, max)
  • our cell phones not working at all in the Balkans (thank you, Verizon)
  • flooding caused by the torrential rains during parts of our drive

We took a detour to stop in Srebrenica – my thoughts are below – and so, in its entirety, the journey took us 8+ hours from Belgrade to Sarajevo, which is 120 miles as the crow flies.  Stocked with a great Spotify music playlist, a bagful of pastries from Belgrade, and the best co-pilot/company a girl could ask for, we ended up having an incredible adventure – and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

 

Sometimes there were roads...

Sometimes there were roads…

Sometimes there were not...

Sometimes there were not…

Beautiful Bosnian countryside, though we dared not step off the road to take pictures, because of the land mines.

Beautiful Bosnian countryside, though we dared not step off the road to take pictures, for fear of land mines.

Part B: Stopping in Srebrenica on Yom Hashoah

I was 11 years old when the genocide in Srebrenica took place in July 1995.  I had just finished 5th grade.  I remember hearing the news coverage of the systematic massacre of 8300 Bosniak (ethnically Muslim) boys and men age 12-77 by the Serb army as the Dutch UN peacekeepers stood by and watched.  Here’s a link for a brief recap of the history.

The moment we decided to make this a road trip, I decided I needed to stop in Srebrenica along the way.  It’s not “my” history per se, but perhaps as a Jew (and as a former camp counselor who brought students to bear witness at the concentration camps in Poland), I felt compelled to acknowledge the history of the other 20th century European Genocide.  What I didn’t realize until the night before, is that the day of our trip was Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I don’t want to add much commentary for fear that anything I might possibly be able to write risks making the experience seem trite.  My only note is  how particularly difficult it was to read the echoes of the Holocaust’s “never again” in the memorial prayer in the cemetery  “…May mothers’ tears become prayers that Srebrenica Never happens again to no one and nowhere,”  because it did happen, again – and in our lifetime – as the world watched, again.

For visitors to Sarajevo, Gallerija 11/7/05 is a moving 2 room gallery with a photo exhibit and a 27 minute documentary that is not to be missed, despite the heavy topic.  (Because it was the 1990s, the Serbs were broadcasting much on their news coverage – which is now part of the documentary.)

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