Balkans Road Trip 2018 - Part 8 - Split, Diocletian's Palace & Hvar Island

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 9 & Part 10.

We arrived in Split around 7pm. Our GPS went a little nuts. It really struggles with roads that have no car access.(Usually due to the stairs...)


Luckily as per our usual practice I had called our host, Petro about 30 minutes from arrival, and had received instructions. We ended up having to meet our host, and then have him drive us in, and park. Our rooms were located just minutes from Diocletian's Palace. We walked into the old city, and grabbed a burger before heading back to bed.

As you may have guessed I have a slight obsession with the laundry out the window thing. Well, our rooms had shutters that opened up, and they had a washing line! So naturally we had to try it. (It works very well.)


Our rooms in Split did not have a kitchen (only a small fridge which was fine.) So our first morning we ambled into the old City to find some breakfast.


 This (above) photo is of the closest entrance into Diocletian's Palace from our rooms. I had thought that Diocletian's Palace would be a Roman ruin empty except for tourists. It isn't. It actually is a vibrant old city - filled with shops, hotels and restaurants. It's lived in! We found breakfast at a place (hotel) called Augubio. There we had omelets, juice and coffee.


The stone and brick walls behind Kevin are original from Diocletian's Palace. After breakfast we found a tourist vendor office and booked for the 12:15pm Walking Tour (100 Kuna per person.) The photo (below) is a reconstruction of what the palace must have looked like. Not bad for a place by the beach to retire to!


 The tour ended up being a private tour - just us and a very nice guide. We learned about how the different eras left their architectural marks behind - Roman, Venetian, Ottoman and Medieval. Diocletian was quite an emperor. He built this palace (sea views, a Temple of Jupiter - so that he could be worshipped, and of course his own personal army) as his place by the sea. (It certainly puts my retirement plans into perspective!) All the columns came from Egypt.


Including a couple of Sphinxes...


One had lost its head, as its head was used as decoration elsewhere...


Romans loved their arches, and liked big wide windows. Later periods, such as during Medieval times bricked them in and made them smaller.


We saw evidence of Roman mosaics (for the baths)


And amazing arches...


Water fountains...


Later during the Medieval times, the streets and windows became narrower...


 Caper bushes grow out of the cracks... (I had no idea what caper bushes actually looked like. My only experience with capers is buying the bottles in the store.)


More caper bushes, Roman walls, and Roman mosaics...


The underground cellars are still largely intact, but now house vendors who sell souvenirs to passing tourists...

The Romans were good engineers, and some of the drains they built are still intact. Like this one we saw in this shop...


The original Diocletian's Palace was expanded by the Venetians with additional defensive fortifications against the Ottomans.


This is the view along the Riva. It is lined with restaurants.


It is gorgeous at sunset...


We ate dinner at a restaurant in Diocletian's Palace - I had mussels and Kevin had the swordfish. He had a local beer, and I had a glass of local wine.

We decided to catch one of the ferries from Split to Hvar Island. While we were waiting for our City Walking Tour we had walked to the ferry docks and had purchased tickets to leave early in the morning, and to return mid afternoon the following day. The ferry we caught was a passenger only ferry that took us directly to Hvar Town. The car ferry has a different route and landing point. It took about one hour to get from Split to our destination.

Here's a screen shot of Google Maps tracking our location.


We arrived rather early in Hvar Town, so it was nice to see the town in the morning light. We saw another ferry line picking up waiting passengers...


 Restaurants and coffee shops lined the small harbor.


Small boats including water taxis were lined up in the dock...


A fort overlooks the town...

There are wide open plazas


After exploring a little, we decided to walk around the harbor and see whether we could find a spot for a swim.


I thought that Hvar Town was very pretty.


I loved how it looked in the morning light.


It did have a list of rules... which came with some hefty fines (the fines are quoted in euros.)


 And soon we found a place to swim...


 The beaches are rocky so wearing water shoes is advisable. We felt too cheap to pay money for the beach chairs. We found a spot to set up for free.


The water was very clear, and refreshing. We really enjoyed our swim.


After a nice lazy time by the beach we enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the Town.


Passed yachts...




We found a restaurant on the plaza and shared a Greek salad and a pizza. After lunch we decided to do some more exploring. The streets are narrow and photogenic. They are lined with restaurants and art shops as well as accommodations for visitors.


None of the streets were very wide, and some were simply stairs.


This is the way up the stairs to the fort...


We got a little distracted by other things, and so never had time to visit the fort.


We had been so used to seeing cats everywhere we had to stop and take a photo of this friendly canine...


I found the architectural details quite photogenic - like this griffin...


and these columns...


I can see why Hvar Town is such a popular tourist destination. It is very pretty.


And then things got interesting. The blue sky gave way to gray, and the weather turned bad - we had winds, and rain. I was worried that the ferry would be cancelled due to the storm, and we would be stuck on the island. All the outside seating was packed away due to the wind and rain, which made indoor seating hard to come by. We found a spot for a snack, and took shelter from the wind and rain as we waited for our ferry to arrive, which it did in due course. The ride back to Split was interesting. It felt as though we were in an hour long roller coaster ride as the ferry sailed through some quite rough seas. We had a number of passengers that got sick - really sick. I spent most of the time concentrating on not getting sick. My legs were shaking and my stomach was in knots when we eventually arrived in Split. This was only the second day in our entire 3 week stay where we had rain. Boy was I glad to get back on terra firma. I think that the ferry ride aka the roller coaster ride was the scariest moment of our trip. (Kevin disagrees. For him the drive in Biokovo was more scary.)

We were sad to say good bye to Split. Again, we didn't get to see all the things we wanted to see at the pace we set. I would definitely come back, and I would also spend some more time on the Hvar Island. Our next stop - Krka National Park, and Rakovica.




Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 7- Makarska, Biokovo National Park & St Jure Chapel

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

After a lovely breakfast provided by Ivana on the terrace of our apartment, we checked out. Our next destination - 3 nights in Split. But before we got there we decided to visit Makarska, and Biokovo National Park. The drive from Dubrovnik towards Split takes you through 2 border crossings. This is because Bosnia and Herzegovina extends towards the coast to include the coastal town of Neum and a narrow strip of territory that separates and splits Croatia into two - with Cavtat and Dubrovnik in the south and the rest of the country to the north.


We decided to stop at Makarska, Croatia for lunch. We shared a salad and some pasta.


We ate outside and enjoyed the view.


After lunch we decided to explore the town. We found this amazing square.


With a stone church and a mountain behind it.


Kevin wanted to go to Biokovo National Park. We had read about this amazing road up the mountain to St Jure (George) Chapel. So we decided that we would do that. It is a little bit of a back track to get to the entrance of the park. It is 50 kuna per person to get in. They made us wait a little for a swarm of scooters who were coming down and out the park. And then the epic adventure began!

The roads up to St Jure Chapel are paved. But the road gets narrower and narrower the higher one gets.


As you can imagine it makes passing oncoming cars or scooters quite nail biting. In areas where the road was only a single car wide, you would need to take advantage of the occasional carve outs that would allow two cars to pass. If a carve out was not close by, you would have to reverse until you found one.


We were very glad that we had rented a small car.


We found the scenery amazingly stark and beautiful.


And rugged.




We kept thinking that we should be reaching the top soon, but the road continued up and up, winding and zig-zagging up the mountain. This photo gives the phrase "against the ropes" a new meaning!


We even saw cyclists attempting the route. What a climb!


 Eventually we got to the top, and found a parking spot in the sky.


We left our car and followed the path to St Jure. But not before looking back down to see part of the road we had to drive to get there.


And the views! Did I mention the views?


The path to the chapel is not far from the parking lot. Just follow the loop and the rope.


A chapel built on sky.


 The church of St. Jure is the highest church in Croatia (1,762 meters above sea level.) It is dedicated to St Jure who is supposed to have killed a dragon.


I certainly can imagine this country side being the hunting grounds of a dragon.


After the epic and nail biting drive coming up the mountain, we had to go back down. Luckily we had a perfect vantage point. We waited and watched for the arrival of three minivans (we didn't want to meet them on the way down the first section of switchbacks - backing would be a drag!), and then we were off - and down we went... (this photo looks like we are still going up!)


And down...


This drive to St Jure Chapel was one of the highlights of our entire trip. It is an amazing drive. But do make sure you have a small car, the roads are incredibly narrow! (Of course, if you are super fit - the bike ride looks like quite the work out!)

This excursion meant a wonderful sunset and arrival in Split around 7pm.

Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 6 - Dubrovnik, City Walls & Mount Srd

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

After an amazing 5 nights in Kotor it was time to head to our next destination - Dubrovnik, Croatia. We planned to spend 3 nights in Dubrovnik. As with all our spots in this amazing trip we found it was too short. We found an alternative border crossing which had no tour buses and we were soon driving in Croatia. We stopped in Cavtat for lunch. We shared a Greek salad and an octopus salad at a restaurant called "Ivan." We found parking at a pay for parking lot.


The photo above was taken as we walked from our parking spot towards two restaurants. The octopus salad was very tasty.


As we got close to Dubrovnik I called our host, Ivana. We had booked 3 nights at an apartment in the Port Gruz neighborhood of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is not car friendly. We wanted a place where we could safely park our car, and then leave it to explore the Old City. Access from the Port Gruz to the Old City is via bus, or if one was feeling energetic one could walk it (a brisk 30 minutes.) Ivana explained where to meet her. She had been saving a parking space for us. After her other guests had checked out, we ended up moving our car to a reserved parking spot down the street. Access to the apartments was through a Ulica (or street) of stone stairs. Our one bedroom apartment had a bathroom with shower, a kitchen and the best part, a lovely terrace.


For a small additional fee we could arrange to have a cooked breakfast either inside the apartment or on the terrace.

In the photo below shows the street of stone steps.


After settling in, we decided to have a nap. After a nap we decided to explore just a little. It was Kevin's birthday so we ended up having dinner at the Amfora restaurant. It was in walking distance from our apartment - you just had to go down the street of stairs until you reached the bottom. I had the beef, and Kevin had the sea bass. I had a glass of the most amazing local wine.


We sat outside and enjoyed the evening. The beef was amazingly tasty and tender.


After a leisurely dinner, we went back to our apartment where we lit candles provided and sat on the terrace and shared a local Croatian beer (complimentary supplied by our host) and ate ice cream we picked up from the local market. Bliss. 

We had organized with Ivana to have breakfast the next morning on the terrace. We had omelets, coffee and juice.


The easiest way to get to Old City Dubrovnik is to catch the bus. We had the option of catching bus numbers 1A, 1B or 3 at the bus stop in Port Gruz (an easy walk down stairs to the port below.) The buses take you into a bus station right outside the old City (Pile Gate.) It sure gets crowded on the buses. One day it was early and all the buses were full. We did walk - it is not impossible, although it could be unpleasant in the heat without water. We also ended up buying the 24 hour tickets. These allowed you to catch the buses back and forth (Old City and Port Gruz) numerous times in a 24 hour period. We opted not to buy the Dubrovnik City Tourist Cards - given what we wanted to see and do, and did not make sense to us. (Purchasing these cards may make sense for you. It all depends on what you want to do. Just do the math.)

There is no comparing Dubrovnik to Kotor. Kotor is small, quaint and kind of crumbly. Don't get me wrong, I loved Kotor. But Dubrovnik is amazing - its old city is large, its walls massive. Also Dubrovnik was heavily bombed during the wars. Most of it has been repaired- you can imagine the extent of the damage by counting the number of new looking roof tops.

For our first day we caught the bus to the old city, and then spent a leisurely day wondering around. The crowds and tour groups were out in full force. The Stradun (main central thoroughfare) was packed with tourists. This made us immediately dive into the small narrow side streets. Like Kotor, it was fun to wander around and get lost.


Cats were in evidence, but not in the numbers that was so noticeable in Kotor. They also appeared to be healthier and better fed. It was fun to amble the side streets, and when we found a cafe in a square we would stop and have something to drink, and engage in our favorite past time - people watching. We visited the Dubrovnik Cathedral and St Ignatius Church. Both had free entry. (We like free.)


This is the (above) Dubrovnik Cathedral from the outside, and (below) the interior...


 For lunch we found a small family run restaurant in one of the narrow side streets. We shared a tuna salad and a plate of local cheese. Public transportation is really convenient, and it was kind of fun to catch the bus. The 24 hour bus ticket made the most sense to us. (There are no limits to the number of city bus rides within a 24 hour period.) Easy to buy at the ticket shop at Port Gruz. This meant we could catch the bus to and from the old City without too much trouble. That meant an afternoon nap and then a bus trip back to the old city for the evening.

We spent an evening having dinner,


listening to live music


and people watching.


The Old City is very attractively lit at night. There are so many people out and about - tourists and locals. The buses run late. It is really a wonderful vibe and we felt perfectly safe.

One thing that I haven't mentioned is the ice cream. Kevin would always find a place where he could buy a scoop of ice cream. (He would give me a taste, but ice cream is his thing.)

This photo is of one of the many ice cream shops we found all over. This one happens to be in Dubrovnik.


One must see activity is to walk the City Walls. There is an entrance fee of 300 Kuna each. Credit cards or cash (kuna only) are accepted. Euros are not accepted. If you buy the Dubrovnik Tourist Card the City Walls are included. We decided to go early. As early as we could stand it. The buses from Port Gruz were packed. So we decided to walk - it was lovely to do this walk into the Old City. It's a brisk 30 minutes, and I am glad it was in the morning. We had packed lots of water. We started our City Wall walk at the entrance near Pile Gate. There was already a line for tickets around 8:15am when we arrived. I am glad we went as early as we did.


The light was beautiful, and while there were people around it wasn't packed.


You can see new roofs (showing where roofs had been repaired and replaced after the Serbian and Montenegrin bombing of the city) and old roofs.


There are lots of steps. It took us about 1.5 hours to walk around the city.


We went at a very slow pace, mainly because we were stopping to take photos. Given how narrow the walls are in places, it is a good thing that the walk is one way. Everywhere we looked there was a photo. Such as this photo (below) of old and new roofs...


My fascination with washing lines continues...


The Wall Walk affords amazing views looking down on the Old City...


Amazing gardens...


But also views outside...


Such as...






Along the walls are the occasional restaurant offering overpriced water, juices and meals. I am glad we followed advice and did the walls as early as we did - there is no shade. I would imagine it would be extremely hot and unpleasant to do it any later.


 Another absolutely must see is to catch the Cable Car up to Mount Srd to go to the war museum and watch the sunset. So after a nice nap we again caught the bus to Pile Gate, and after buying tickets, walked to the cable car station. Cable car tickets are 150 kuna per person, round trip. Cash only.


For 30 kuna per person we visited the War of Homeland Museum at the top. It told the harrowing story of the Serbian and Montenegrin attack on Dubrovnik. It told the story of the incredible bravery of civilians and how a under resourced Croatian force tried to defend the city. There was an illusion that Dubrovnik under UNESCO's protection would be spared the destruction in case of war. This proved to be erroneous.

The City was blockaded as the Serbian and Montenegrin forces used former Yugoslavian Navy to blockade the city. This diagram (below) shows the extent of the destruction of the Old City. The Serbian and Montenegrin attack on Dubrovnik Old City (a world heritage site) drew wide spread international condemnation.


Serbian and Montenegrin forces also attacked the Fort Mount Srd. There were only 31 defenders defending the Fort on Mount Srd (which is where the Museum is located.)


This photo (below) is of the Fort, which now houses the museum.


The Museum describes how the Croatians tried to protect themselves from Serbian and Montenegrin forces, the destruction, the Croatian offensive and the eventual reconstruction. The museum serves as another reminder of the tragic human cost of war.


Given the reconstruction of Dubrovnik, and that it now is a vibrant city visited by tourists from around the world, it is hard to think that only twenty odd years ago this was happening.


This museum is well worth a visit. After the museum we went outside to enjoy the sunset. There are still remnants from the war - trenches for artillery, and the defense of Fort Srd.


We spent a wonderful time exploring, and enjoying the light as we watched the sunset. It was simply magical.




 After sunset it was time to join the long lines, get into the cable car and head back down to the Old City for a light dinner - cheese and wine, and people watching.


We had an amazing time in Dubrovnik.


We really didn't get to do all the things we thought we were going to do. We really didn't want to rush around like headless chickens, and try and cram everything in. We wanted to take our time and relax. That does mean of course that we have a perfect excuse to return (although I really need no excuse at all.)

Our next stop - Split.

Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 3 Mostar, Blagaj Tekke, Pocitelj

Part 1. Part 2, Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

After a good breakfast at our Sarajevo hotel, we checked out. We were driving to our next stop, Mostar. Kevin had done some reading about the road along the Neretva River, and we were really excited to see what it would be like.

The road was very good. There were farm stands along the road - selling fruit and honey.


The road is well signposted. The A-1 toll road was open, but we opted for a slightly slower, more scenic route. The first big town is Konjic. We parked at Restoran Han which overlooked a pretty river (Neretva). There we had Bosnian coffee for the first time.




We asked our kind waiter to show us how it's done. Each serving comes with sugar cubes. You place the sugar cubes in the little ceramic cup, and then carefully pour the coffee into the ceramic cup, stirring the coffee and the sugar. The extra hot water was to add to the coffee. Bosnian coffee is made to be sipped slowly. It is strong, but smooth. We loved it. The Turkish Delight candy is to be enjoyed afterwards. Do not put it in the coffee.

We continued along the road through the most amazing countryside. The river is the most amazing color. The mountains are dramatic and very photogenic.


Kevin used this opportunity to scout out and mark the spot for a photograph that he wanted to try and shoot- but for the next day.

We had booked a room at Pansion Villa Nur. Our room had a balcony overlooking the river. Pansion Villa Nur is located within Old Town Mostar. We arranged to call our host, whose father met us at the top of a very narrow, cobbled "street". He drove our little car down to the Pansion. Thank goodness he did. It was very narrow and challenging.


Our rental car is the silver one. As you can see you really need a small car. Do not get anything larger!

This (photo below) is our Pansion from the other side (the family lived on the first 2 floors.) We had a room on the top floor - and middle balcony. The minaret in the background is from one of the many mosques in Mostar.


The guide books talk about Mostar as being a good place to visit for a day trip (from Dubrovnik, Croatia especially). However, it is a good place to spend the night or two. We had two nights in Mostar, and I am glad we did. The most favorite times was early in the morning - having breakfast and watching the vendors get ready for the influx of day-trippers, and in the evening with the final Muslim call to prayer, and watching the moon rise.

The old town of Mostar, is famous for the Old Bridge (Stari Most.) This bridge was a most magnificent architectural relic from Ottoman times. The 1992 - 1995 conflict devastated the town (although reports of civilian casualties were low.) The defense of the city was left to Croat and Bosniak armies (long time allies) against the Serbs. It's a little hard to make head or tail of this, but the Croat and Bosniak allies ended up fighting with each other, and the beautiful bridge was totally destroyed by Croatian tank bombardment. Nothing like a bit of double crossing! In 2004 the bridge was reconstructed, as a symbol of unity. Again, according to my guidebooks Mostar still remains divided along religious lines.

 This photo (below) is a view from the bridge.


Here are some views of the bridge...


and the old town - stone walls, windows bordered with flower pots...


Vendors getting ready for the day trippers...


 We decided to travel to Blagaj Tekke. It was not far away from Mostar. Again we used our GPS and Google Maps to get there. It was built around 1520 was a monastery for Sufi Muslims. We wanted to see it for ourselves, and it wasn't far to drive from Mostar to it. On the advice of our hosts, we found a nice place to park, in the shade for a fee. We then opted to walk to the Tekke. We could see that this place could soon become overrun with tour buses and crowds.

It wasn't far to walk from our car to the Tekke. Although we were glad for some water, as it did get quite hot.


 Even the roofs were made of stone.


The area where the Tekke (monastery) was located had a number of very pretty restorans.


Along the road towards the Tekke, vendors lined the street selling souvenirs, figs, water and cold drinks. We stopped off at the vendors to buy cold water, and the most delicious figs.


The Tekke, itself is beautiful. It seems to float on the water.




After some exploring we ended up having lunch of cheese, olives and bread at one of the many local restorans. It was very tasty.


After lunch, we walked back to our car, paid the attendant and then decided to continue to do some exploring.

We found the tiny medieval town of Pocitelj. Parking is free- and we parked in an available space just next to the main road. The town itself is amazingly quaint. You have to walk. Kevin found the most amazing frozen pomegranate juice that he bought from a local lady.


We needed the juice as the walk was up hill, and the weather quite toasty.


On top of the hill, overlooking the town (it's really a village) is the Sahat Kula - a fort that housed the watchman to guard against attack from the Neretva Valley. Apparently the old town used to be completely surrounded by a protective wall. We enjoyed wandering the maze of winding steps.

Beautiful views...


Shaded, secret places...


 And pomegranate trees...


We did purchase some souvenirs while we were there. It was a delightful little village.

Then we decided to head back towards Mostar, and then north on the M17 highway to our special photo spot.

Again, we were blown away with how photogenic this area is. It reminded me strongly of Poudre Canyon, with a bigger river and higher mountain walls.


After 2 nights in Mostar, it was time once again for us to pack up and head onwards to our next adventure - Kotor, Montenegro.


Costa Rica 2014 Part 5 and Final Thoughts

We were glad that during our final two nights in Costa Rica did not have any activities planned. Quite frankly I was exhausted, and in need of some serious vegging.

The interbus transfer from Arenal to Tamarindo certainly gave us a sense of what driving in Costa Rica is like. (Remember thus far we had been thoroughly spoilt by the safe, quick service of domestic air travel provided by Nature Air.) Our shuttle bus driver (spanish speaking) was polite and efficient and drove well. The bus was comfortable, had air conditioning and seat belts. I had read reviews of Interbus on TripAdvisor.

The one thing that one does miss from the air is that one doesn't get to really see the country (from the ground level!)


Views from the Interbus...







And then the countryside changed..






Tamarindo is a really small town, with a very youthful vibe.


Ocean views from the resort... (Tamarindo Diria Resort)




We used Xplore Costa Rica for our transit from the resort to the Liberia International Airport. We had a 7:55 am departure time. I had emailed the company prior to coming to Costa Rica, and had received some advice. We decided to visit their offices and book our transfer. We arranged to be collected outside of our Resort at 4:45am. I was very impressed with the service provided by Xplore Costa Rica. I can highly recommend their services.

In order to leave Costa Rica, you have to pay $29 departure tax per person prior to check in.

The Liberia International Airport is small, but modern.

Final thoughts about Costa Rica?

We had a fabulous time in Costa Rica. I was very impressed with Trip Masters. The entire trip went like clockwork. I was very impressed with Costa Rica. I definitely want to return. Costa Rica does tourism very well. Costa Rica has a lot to offer - honeymooners, nature lovers, families, adventure seekers!


 (Photo above taken by Kevin at Osa Peninsula.) Scarlet Macaws.


Costa Rica 2014 Part 4

See Costa Rica Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Our next adventure to La Fortuna/ Arenal area began with our transit from our Lodge to the Drake Bay airstrip. Our lodge organized the transfer, and the staff made sure that we were in the right place at the right time. Transfer consisted of a short boat trip from the lodge's inlet to Drake Bay for a wet landing. Then we put our shoes back on and were met by a mini bus with other tourists. We then drove through narrow, winding, bumping, pot-holed track to a river almost completely submerged by water. We disembarked from our mini bus and were met by a 4wd vehicle that forded the river, and took us to the landing strip.

Again we used Nature Air for the domestic flight from Drake Bay to La Fortuna airstrip.


Here we wait at the "terminal." Fortunately prior to this trip we had discovered the "One Bag" philosophy of travel. So luckily, none of these behemoths belonged to us!


Here our baggage is being loaded into our plane. 

While the airstrip and facilities were kind of crude by USA standards, I was terribly impressed with Nature Air's service. I didn't feel at all unsafe, or insecure. Given how slow, winding, and bumpy Costa Rica roads are, I do highly recommend this alternative approach. I think I felt safer in the air than being a passenger on the roads! And of course instead of taking 8 hours to get to one's destination, you can reach it in next to no time!

P1100915 We had beautiful views from the windows. This is a view of Cano Island.

Our flight to La Fortuna (Arenal) included a transfer at San Jose. Here we were again truly impressed with Nature Air's service - we were met by an employee as we disembarked our plane, and were escorted to the check in counter, through security, and to our gate. 


This is a photo of Kevin taking pictures through the window of the plane.


 Views from the air...


View of Arenal Volcano (partially obscured by cloud) from our approach to the La Fortuna airstrip.


Ironically the best views we had of the Arenal Volcano were from our hotel, Volcano Lodge and Spa.


We were extraordinarily fortunate to actually have views of the two peaks.


 We spent a total of 3 nights at this hotel. We found our rooms comfortable, the gardens (and bird life) beautiful, and the breakfasts tasty and filling. The hotel is some distance from La Fortuna (a small little town with a square, park, church and a number of tourist places, soda's and restaurants.) We were told by the front desk that a taxi one way into town would cost $11. So any trip into town and back would be $22 plus whatever you spent in town on food and what not. It actually turned out to be cheaper to simply eat a meal (usually after our siesta) at around 3/ 4pm than go into town. 

We had pre-booked two half day excursions while at Arenal - the first was a hike to the Arenal Volcano. Our guide met us at hotel reception at the agreed to time after a filling buffet breakfast. Our guide was bilingual, punctual and polite. We had no other guests so for the first excursion we had basically a private tour with Oscar, our guide. Our mini bus took us into the park (park fees and water were included.) We stopped off at the entrance to take advantage of the facilities as there are no restrooms on the hike to see the Arenal Volcano. The path was flat, and easy to navigate. We followed the path through mostly secondary forest, and areas where prior lava flows had occurred (but bamboo forests had started to claim it back.) We saw an amazing amount of critters, and beautiful plants, and flowers. We learned about prior volcanic eruptions, and were shown evidence of how lava flows, and boulders had impacted and altered the landscape.


I just had to have this photo of us "entering the zone of high volcanic risk". Very cool.


The only part that was not flat, was the last part which was the path we followed over dark volcano lava rocks to get to the viewing site.


This is the view from the site.

But there is more to this than simply a view of a volcano, provided you are prepared to take your time. One thing that I don't understand is how grumpy other tourists seemed to be, and how rushed they appeared. We took the time to admire the light on this spider web. 






and ...




And when we got back to our room this is what waited for us...


a Costa Rican Elephant!

The second excursion booked was a half day trip to the Hanging Bridges. Again we were met on time at reception. We had the same guide as the day before, and this time a full mini bus load full of other tourists. The excursion included the entrance fee into the park, and drinking water.

I am not really fond of heights which is why we didn't go zip lining. I think the hanging bridges experience is really not for anyone who is afraid of heights. Oddly enough I was not nervous.

This is a photo on our way to the park. Lake Arenal is a man made lake but it is beautiful.


 This is a photo of Kevin and I, and in the background is the volcano covered by clouds.







A better photo of the little frog taken by Kevin... (below.)


View from canopy...






Our hotel's gardens were very beautiful and we enjoyed taking in the colors, and watching the birds.


A hummingbird!

The next day our transfer (Interbus) picked us up on time as scheduled at reception and we made our way by shuttle to Tamarindo for our final couple of days in Costa Rica.


Costa Rica 2014 Part 3

See Costa Rica Part 1 and Part 2.

I have never been snorkeling before. Before we left for Costa Rica I managed to get a snorkeling mask with prescription lenses. So at least if I managed to put my head under the water, that at least I would be able to see. That was the plan. 

The second excursion we had planned was a trip to Cano Island, for some snorkeling.

We left after a great breakfast. The excursion was via boat, about a 45 minute trip.

In addition to those guests that would be snorkeling we had some guests that were scuba diving. I am rather intimidated by the whole idea of scuba diving. But it was fascinating to watch the divers get into their gear, and then back flip into the water from the boat. Then once our boat was in position it was our (the snorkelers) turn to get into the water. It was hilarious. We were provided fins, and snorkel gear (except for my mask) and float vests. For my first time I wanted to simply "float". It was hilarious trying to get off the boat, and into the water. Not very elegant. I then adjusted my mask, bit into my snorkel tube, and simply put my head under the water. It was MAGICAL! I could see! (Please remember that any time I go swimming I take off my glasses. So I really don't like swimming, especially in the sea, because I can't see anything. But with prescription lenses in my mask, I could see!) I could see very interesting rocks, and fish of all shapes and colors darting, and drifting around. The water was a beautiful blue. Clear and gorgeous. I could feel the ebb and flow of the tide/ current. I started to relax.

That was not a good idea. Because it was so beautiful, and I was so relaxed, I forgot a small little very important fact! You are not supposed to breathe through your nose. It tends to result in a suffocating, panicky feeling.

Not a nice feeling at all.

Since I was feeling so panicky (breathing is really not an optional activity) and I had drunk some of the Pacific, I immediately signaled Kevin, and our snorkel master. As I couldn't quite calm down, we signaled the boat which came over to collect us. (Not being able to stand, probably added to the general panic.)

Well, getting into the boat proved to be even more difficult, and awkward. I got the giggles. I really felt terribly sorry for our poor captain. He had to haul me out... I think he wished for a harpoon and a net! I have absolutely no upper body strength!

We waited for the rest of the snorkelers, who soon came over, and then we went to fetch the scuba divers. We made our way to the rangers station to rest up, and to fill up the tanks. We just sat on the beach and watched the sea (very calming.) Then it was time to go out again.

I decided that I wanted to try this again. I didn't want my first and only experience to finish on a negative note.

Again the scuba divers were dropped off first, and then it was the turn of the snorkelers. Again, a very inelegant jump off the boat (will I ever be graceful?) The captain made sure that my mask and snorkel tube was adjusted correctly, and Kevin and I were good to go.

Kevin had mounted his GoPro on his head, and he filmed the whole thing. (I was too busy concentrating on NOT breathing through my nose.) It was MAGICAL. We floated above a marvelous rock/ reef formation, whose edge just seemed to disappear into the blue. I just loved it.


We had a marvelous second swim. I was very proud of myself for facing my fears. It was most empowering. I am hooked. I can't wait for my next snorkeling adventure!

After we collected the rest of the snorkelers, and the scuba divers, we went back to ranger station. Our guides prepared a most amazing picnic, which we ate while watching the Pacific. The lodge provided towels, which was very useful.


The photo above is of the Ranger Station. There are no restrooms.


This is the view as we ate our picnic lunch.


 We had some monkey business before the weather started to turn.


Our guides packed up the picnic, and we were soon on board our boat and heading back to the lodge. We passed through some choppy seas, and some rain (but we were already wet) before getting to the coastline, and then to the Lodge's inlet.

What a satisfying day! We were exhausted, and really glad to get back to our beds for a siesta!

We had booked only 3 nights at the Aguila de Osa. I think this place deserves at least 5 nights. We were due to depart for our next adventure at La Fortuna/ Arenal the following day.

I absolutely loved the Osa Peninsula and our stay at the Aguila de Osa Lodge. I highly recommend this. This area is not developed, and is a little more challenging than the usual tourist places to get to. But it is amazing, and well worth the effort. I definitely plan a return visit!



Costa Rica 2014 Part 2

See Costa Rica 2014 Part 1.

After an incredible first day in Costa Rica, we woke early, had a scrumptious, filling breakfast, and were ready to depart for our first excursion at 6:45am. We boarded a boat with a number of other couples and made our way south hugging the coast line to the Corcovado National Park. We had a wet landing at the Ranger station, and made our way to it to sign in, and visit the bathrooms. 

Our guide's name was Tony.

We began the hike by crossing the river (about knee high) and took some time to dry off and put our shoes back on. Hiking shoes are really not needed, but ordinary running shoes came in handy. I wouldn't hike in sandals - too many creepy crawlies, and biting critters.

Tony told us that we would start the hike by walking along the beach.


It was slightly overcast, which made it only slightly cooler (or that is what we told ourselves.)


Here is our group hiking along the beach.


We found this beautiful orchid. Tony told us that it is only pollinated by one species of bats.


While hiking on the beach we saw ...


... Common Black/ Mangrove Hawk.


... heron.


 ... howler monkeys...

We went back to the Ranger station for a pit stop and our group changed into their swimsuits, we hiked to see the waterfall, and then had a swim in the smaller water fall pool.


There is the larger waterfall where swimming is not recommend.

There is a small crocodile in the pool directly upstream of our swimming pool.


This is where we swam.


After our swim we returned to the Ranger Station.


While we rested up there were hundreds and hundreds of hermit crabs...

like this one...


Our guide prepared a great picnic lunch which we ate at one of the picnic tables with this magnificent view...


After our picnic lunch, we made our way back to our boat for the trip back to the lodge. We were glad to get back, to shower and change and to have a much needed nap.


 After a delicious appetizer, and mixer, we had dinner, and were met for our night tour with the Bug Lady.

I had read great reviews about the Bug Lady Night Tours, and decided to give it a try. I had emailed Tracie before arriving in Costa Rica, and scheduled a night tour for the night of Friday, August 1st. We were met at 7:45 pm at the Lodge, and were taken for approximately 2.5 hours on a night tour into another world. We met all kinds of spiders, reptiles, frogs, and found a sleeping possum and hummingbird. It was a riveting 2.5 hours!



This photo (above) was taken by Kevin.


We were given head lights with both white and red lights.


 We got back to the Lodge around 10:30pm, and were glad to shower, and crawl into bed. Tomorrow we had an early wake up, and another adventure.

Costa Rica 2014 Part 1

We decided on the "spur" of the moment to visit Costa Rica. Thanks to Trip Masters we managed to select our itinerary and get it booked within 2 weeks before departure. we had a fun and intense two weeks researching and planning for our trip.

Why Costa Rica? Well we wanted to have a trip out of the USA, that did not involve a transatlantic flight, or massive jet lag. We wanted something a little exotic, and accessible. Everything we had read about Costa Rica seemed to fit those requirements. We were not disappointed.

Our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica flew via Dallas Fort Worth. We arrived 7pm on Wednesday night. I was very impressed with the airport at San Jose. It looked new, and modern. We caught a taxi to our hotel - Country Inn. (We found out the next day that the hotel offers complimentary shuttle to and from the airport.) Ah well. Taxi to Country Inn and Lodge cost us $12 (USD).

We spent a very comfortable night at the hotel (enormous room - large enough for an additional couple), and had to get up early to have breakfast, and be ready for the shuttle to transfer us back to the airport to catch our flight on Nature Air to the Osa Peninsula. This is us having our first breakfast in Costa Rica.


 And this is us on the tarmac at the airport waiting to take off. (Actually we are in the small plane behind this one...LOL)


Kevin does not like to fly. So we were not expecting to enjoy the flights in small planes. It turned out fine and it was quite a lot of fun taking photos from the plane. I was glad to have packed our cameras.

This is our pilots. Our experience with Nature Air the entire trip was extremely positive. We found the pilots and staff friendly, professional and efficient. This is a mode of transportation that really spoils you for the more usual land transportation (on bumpy, windy and slow Costa Rican roads.)


This is a view of San Jose after takeoff.


 We had such fun seeing Costa Rica from the air. We could see how mountainous it was, and everywhere the land was we could see rich verdant jungle and dirt winding tracks that looked completely impassible!


We also had amazing aerial views of the coastline.




We landed briefly at an airstrip for some passengers to disembark, and then we were on our way to the Palmar Sur airstrip.



From the Palmar Sur Airstrip we caught a taxi to Sierpe to meet our boat to take us to our lodge - the Aguila de Osa Lodge. We ran into a small problem - we spoke no Spanish, and our taxi driver  spoke no English. But he got us to Sierpe in plenty of time and even managed to get us to pose in front of this train engine. 



We had a slight confusion (due to our poor language skills) but eventually we were made to understand that we were at the correct place, and that the Captain would tell us when they were ready to load the boat. So we sat in the shade, by the river and watched the activities around us.


There were a number of small establishments where tourists could wait for their boat transports. Even Las Vegas!


Did I mention that it was hot? Super hot and humid. I felt as though I was slowly melting in my seat.


 This photo is of the Sierpe River. It is wide, muddy and flowing quickly.


 We were loaded into a boat with a number of other tourists who were catching the same boat transport not to our lodge but to Drake Bay and other lodges in the area.

It was an exhilarating boat ride down the winding river and out into the Pacific.

This is our first view of Cano Island (this photo we have come out of the Sierpe river mouth into the Pacific Ocean.)


After a short time on the Pacific our boat pulled into a private inlet, and the Lodge's landing area...

At last, we had arrived at our lodge.


We disembarked at our lodge, said goodbye to the other tourists, and we were met by Carlos. He escorted us to the dining room, where we were given a complimentary Daiquiri, and had lunch.

We were so glad to have arrived.


We had very comfortable rooms with two double beds, and an en suite bathroom. There was no air conditioning, but also no glass on the windows. We used the room fans quite a bit, to cool down (as well as numerous cold showers.) The photo above was the view from our room.


And this was the view of our room's front porch.

And this is a close up of the gorgeous door...


The gardens around the lodge were beautiful and exotic.



We could watch the boats coming and going.


This is the view from the dining room/ reception/ bar area.


We saw this beautiful moth.


Every evening at 6pm guests gathered in the dining room/ bar area for appetizers, and general chit chat. During this time Carlos would confirm the next day's activities. Dinner was served at 7pm, and guests were seated at different places each night to mingle with others and share the day's experience.

Just before the 6pm mingle we were called away by Robert one of the employees who had something special to show us.



It just kept getting better...


And better...



What a marvelous end to our first day in Costa Rica!


Kenya Part 3 and final thoughts

See Kenya Part 1 and Part 2.

Our driver Samson fetched us from Archer's Post that morning. On the way out I took this quick picture, not realizing that two men had walked into the photo...


On the way back to Nairobi (about a 5 hour trip) it was interesting to watch the changing landscape.


And I got another view of Mt Kenya...


How beautiful!

As we approached Nairobi, our driver Samson told us that he wanted to buy some banana's for his children. He warned us not to open our windows, and I was prepared for the photo. People sell all kinds of things on the side of the road. (I mentioned earlier the roadside nurseries, which fascinated me, but there were also hawkers for fruit, and other goods.) We watched in some amusement where stationary cars are blanketed with hopeful sellers. Here Samson quickly seals the deal, and buys his bananas, and he is quick to wind up his windows, and start the car moving.


Nairobi traffic is notorious. It really has to be seen to be believed. Below are two photographs that really don't capture the traffic. The first is a photo of the traffic during the day on our way to various meetings that we had in Nairobi, and the second photo is a night shot as we sat in grid lock for what felt like hours...




I guess if you are planning any time in Nairobi, prepare for traffic. Leave plenty of time to get where you are going (and no an hour is not enough time!)

I was also intrigued by the contrasts in Kenya. Below are two photos that I thought portrayed these contrasts quite well. The first photo I am going to call "Nairobi Glass" ...


This is a typical glass skyscraper that could be in any city in the world. The next photo I am going to call "Construction"...


We visited (very briefly) United States International University

and University of Nairobi. (I believe we were at the North Campus?)

This photo is taken at the USIU... I believe the building in it, is the library. (Ever since I was a child I have always loved libraries.)


And this photo is inside that library...


 The photo below is at the University of Nairobi...


Once we had finished with our meetings, we need a place to simply hang before battling traffic to get to the airport to catch our flight home (via Heathrow.) Samson, our driver, took us to do some curio shopping (at my request) and then to a great place for a cup of tea. I had some fun haggling over my items. I bought Kevin a gorgeous beaded belt, and a few odds and ends that could fit in my suitcase. The place Samson took us, was perfect. It was so nice to simply sit outside, sipping our tea, and chatting. Below is a picture of Samson, and my colleague, (and traveling companion) Laura.


I call this photo... "Smiles are for free..."

Samson was a fabulous driver, and I would certainly recommend him to anyone who needs a reliable driver in Kenya. He is also an incredibly patient Swahili teacher.

Would I want to return to Kenya? Absolutely, yes.

This was a very intense week in Kenya. And yes, I was there for work. But it made me think how lucky students are to have these experiences. It also made me want to do more travel. Not the tourist trap kind - I really don't simply want to experience the resort experience, or the shopping experience, or the cruise experience (no offense, whatever floats your boat.) I want to see beautiful places, but I think that there should be something more. I want connection.