Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hello again

I've never been gone this long.  I'm not even sure anyone's still out there waiting for me to return.  But life has been good.  So good in fact, that my blog has clearly moved to the end of my priority list.  There are a few reasons for this... 1) I kinda did a big makeover of myself which includes running (a lot) and consuming A LOT FEWER baked goods.  When you consume a lot less, you bake and cook a lot less.  You also lose a lot of weight - so this is a good thing.  2) Most of my favorite things to bake and cook have already been blogged!  You wouldn't want to see repeats, right?  3) Blogging used to fill a void in my life that I seem to no longer have.  I won't go into detail on this, but it still comes into play here.  4) I've been busy living a fabulous life!  Can't blame me for that one, right?!

Mine's the beer, J/K!
So I haven't been baking a lot, or cooking a lot, or eating a ton... but I've still been traveling!  And I've always said, my blog is my blog to blog about what I want to blog about.  So if I go somewhere and want to tell you about it - I shall!

I recently returned from a 10 day trip to Costa Rica.  No, not exactly the adventure travel I've gotten a little used to (Africa or China, anyone?) but still a great vacation.  I always say there's a difference between "travel" and "vacation".  Travel is hard work, but one can have the greatest experience of their life while learning so much about themselves and the lives of others.  Vacation is relaxing, vegging and the dulling down of one's brain.  We thought Costa Rica would be travel, but in fact, it turned out to be a vacation.  I didn't complain too much.

Our view each morning from Villa Alegre's patio (breakfast)
Monkeys playing in the lobby of a local hotel!
I planned my own trip after doing a few zillion hours of online research.  No all-inclusive resorts or package tours for me.  I like learning about a place and then picking exactly which towns/hotels I want to stay in and for how long.  It's just my controlling organized nature.

Playa Langosta -> Monteverde -> La Fortuna
We spent 3 nights in 3 different towns all in the northwestern-ish part of CR.  We started in Playa Langosta / Tamarindo, then headed east to the mountains (4600 ft in elevation) of Monteverde, finally ending in hot-humid, La Fortuna at the Arenal Volcano.

First and most importantly, in light of this blog... The Food.  It is nothing to write home about (hmm and yet here I am).  We kept discussing how even the most average meal in San Francisco is better than most of the food we ate in Costa Rica.  We constantly claimed how spoiled we are living in the Bay Area, where the food and restaurants and chefs and ingredients are not only good, but phenomenal.

A couple additional local faves: Imperial cerveza and sea bass ceviche (and in all honesty - Lizano Salsa too)
We kept asking the locals for their favorite local food and KEPT getting the same answer: casado.  Casado is the traditional national dish of CR.  The plate consists of a meat (beef, fish, pork or chicken) beans, rice, fried plantains and sometimes a salad.  It's certainly well-rounded.  But it's EVERYWHERE.  I mean it'd be like if a foreigner came to the U.S. and everyone they asked told them to get a steak and potatoes.  Sure it's tasty the first few times but after that you just want some VARIETY.  I hate being "that" traveler who orders pizza or a burger in a foreign country, but by the end of our trip I found myself doing just that.  It was sad... I was ashamed of myself, but really I couldn't HANDLE it anymore!
My First Casado: mahi-mahi. Not bad...
One thing I was quite happy with about our trip were our accommodations.  Sure I did a lot of research, but the research paid off.  We ranged from a private and personal bed & breakfast on the beach to a clean and basic lodge in the mountains to a 5-star tropical resort with hot springs.  And on the whole, I was pleased with all of them.

Doggie waiting for his surfing master
Our first stop was Playa Langosta which is a very small [Pacific Ocean] beach village immediately south of the much more famous beach town of Tamarindo.  It seemed like a good idea to stay close to a "big town" like Tamarindo which had restaurants and hotels and grocery stores and tour operators and a store that sold Apple products banks with ATMs and basically a large spot on the map.  But I didn't exactly want to hear the boom of Aqua Disco as I tried to sleep each night.  So I chose Playa Langosta which is a mere 3/4 of a mile south of Tamarindo.  A $5 cab drive, 5 minute bike ride or 15 minute walk gets you between the two, yet puts it just far enough away to have peace and beauty.

Welcome to Villa Alegre Bed & Breakfast
Would you move back to L.A. if you had all this that gazed out onto the ocean?  Me neither...
We stayed at Villa Alegre Bed & Breakfast after I read their wonderfully glowing reviews on TripAdvisor.  They are not inexpensive (NOTHING is in Costa Rica) but it was an incredibly personal and convenient experience with Barry and Suzye as such friendly and welcoming hosts.  I honestly felt like I was a guest at a friend's home (well... err... a friend who charges.)  The Los Angeles transplants fed us grand breakfasts each morning, answered all of our questions, booked our tours, drove us to town, chatted about world travel and politics, lent us bikes, bodyboards and snorkeling gear and yet seemed to make themselves sparse when we were relaxing around the pool and common areas.  We also got so lucky as to be the only guests 2 of our 3 nights there!  It was like having this HUGE home to ourselves - very quiet, relaxing and peaceful.  Just what we needed as our first stop.

Typical Tamarindo
We sat here and had drinks and snacks for an hour or five one afternoon
I have mixed reviews on Tamarindo itself.  There was no shortage of restaurants and small shops and bars and.... Americans.  It sorta kinda felt like Hawaii, minus the polish.  But people were friendly and being there was easy.  2.5 days was just enough before we would have needed to start venturing outside the area to see additional beaches along the coast.  And of course, as I mentioned before - the food was not excellent.  Even venturing away from the casado and trying the local seafood.  Dishes were over-salted or under-flavored or just not done well. 

Taco Tico - tho I don't think tacos are very Costa Rican...
This was the portion of the trip where we kinda just decompressed.  We tried a lot of food, drank a lot of daiquiris, watched a lot of sunsets and put our bathing suits on each morning.  We took surfing lessons, but I think I'll need to try again when the ocean is not quite so "enthusiastic".  As I was dragging my board back into the beach, the hard bodied surfers were running past me to head out - a true sign that perhaps it was not the BEST day for me to learn...

One of Barry's unbelievable breakfasts: chili egg pie. I meant to ask for the recipe!
I'll wrap this up here while I still have some steam.  A bit about our other stops in Monteverde and La Fortuna will be upcoming - I promise think.  It's probably best that I leave myself with topics to continue talking about or I might not make my way back.  But it's not that I don't love and appreciate you all!
Our first sunset in Costa Rica. It did NOT disappoint.

And yes, if you've read this far down into my post you may have caught on that I somewhat danced around the existence of a companion on my trip.  I've found myself someone worthy of being a traveling partner.  It's definitely a great thing.  I think you'd all like him too, since he's more than a few times urged me to get back to my blog... it is kind of nice to be back.


  1. I am pleased that you have been spending the time wisely and having fun. I figured that you being away meant that you were having a great time - and I am so pleased that I was right! The trip looks wonderful, especially the sunset.

  2. Welcome back! What alovely trip...



  3. cool monkeys... they're probably trying to steal your stuff when you're not looking! the dog looks very pensive as well.

  4. Welcome back! You reader. Christine. Found your post via dessert first and martha stewart show.

  5. Glad you're blogging for YOU! I've been slacking big time on The Bite Me Kitchen, but spending more time on my triathlon blog ;) I always plan trips through copious research the same way!

  6. I follow your post too and I love especially ur recipes, french macarons (especially) and afternoon tea. We have a mutual friend and I stumbled across ur website through FB somehow... I can't remember. But I miss it when you are gone.

  7. Nice post and really impressive one to read this kind of blogs.