Costa Rica – Staying on the beach.

Playing a bit of catch-up here… finally posting about our Costa Rica trip. Which happened 7 months ago. 🙂 Better late than never. 

We flew in to Liberia airport midday and went straight to our hotel “on the beach” in Playa Hermosa.  Hotel El Velero was a fantastic first introduction to Costa Rica. It truly is ON the beach. Basic hotel amenities (don’t come here for luxury), decent food and a killer location.  We wanted inexpensive, clean, and simple, and we got it.

Being able to hop off the plane and into the water within about 1.5 hours is a gift to any family who travels long distances (by plane, train or car). After dumping our belongings into our rooms, the girls jumped into the small outdoor pool right on the edge of the sand. You could sit in the pool while watching the waves and beach.

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After getting some energy out, we headed to the beach. The waves were a bit intense for our kids to actually play in the waves, but they loved running in the sand and playing in the tide.

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That evening, we walked a long 3 minutes down the beach to Aqua Sport, a groovy outdoor bar with high beach chairs and tables on the sand. We enjoyed some of the best fish tacos I have ever had, along with an enormous margarita while watching the kids play in the sand, swing on the tree swing and just generally relaxing and watching a spectacular sunset.

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One of my favorite things about traveling with kids is watching them enjoy themselves and enjoy the new world they are exploring. A fellow traveller brought their dog to the beach and let my kids play with him for nearly an hour. These are the special times.

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We all slept deeply and woke up ready to play some more in the pool and on the beach. Breakfast at the outdoor dining area was wonderful with fresh juices and coffee and your choice of American or Costa Rican breakfasts. The background music of crashing waves and wind through the palm trees was an added bonus.

Thank you, Costa Rica, for welcoming our family with open arms, cool breezes and spectacular sunsets.

My review of Hotel El Velero.

My review of Aqua Sport. 

Next up… Lake Arenal!

Categories: Cross-Cultural Experiences, Global Travel With Kids, International Travel With Kids, Travel With Kids | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Costa Rica Family Vacation

This past December, our family met up with my mother in the Lake Arenal region of Costa Rica for 2 weeks of peace, relaxation and adventure.

We fell in love with the #puravida lifestyle, and with the local Tican culture. From the enthusiastic welcome to their lovely country, to a plethora of wonderful experiences, it is a place we will not likely forget any time soon.

I will be blogging about how we as a family of 6 (3 kids 8 years old and under, and 3 adults) managed to balance having a truly peaceful and refreshing time with plenty of adventures and experiences. It is not an easy balance to work out at times, but some of our choices really helped us along the way.

Stay tuned!

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Categories: International Travel With Kids, Travel With Kids | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Nova Scotia to Maryland – Days 10-12

 

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Otherwise known as THE veryveryvery LONG ROAD HOME. 

We left Meat Cove by 9am, drove the east coast side of the Cabot Trail, all the way through Nova Scotia, and to Fredericton, New Brunswick in one day. It was a long day. The kids were excited to start heading home, although Nadia was confused pretty much the whole time every time we would stop at a hotel instead of magically being home. If we were headed home, why weren’t we home??!!

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My mother (aka – travel companion, super-grammy) had the brilliant idea to try to find a hotel with an indoor swimming pool so the girls could get some of that pent-up energy out. We found a lovely Best Western and there was indeed a pool, as well as a hot tub, much to MY delight. Adelaide, my 8-year-old social butterfly, immediately made fast friends with an 11-year-old girl from Toronto. They played and played and talked even more. I could tell Adelaide was starved for social interaction outside her family this trip.

We left the next morning for Portland, ME where we were dropping Grammy off for her flight back to Texas. I just have to say that I will forever treasure the fact that we all got to have this “girl trip” experience with my mom. I kept telling my girls that this was a very,very special treat to have such an adventure with their Grandma!

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Not far from Portland, I saw a sign for a Beach in Kennebunkport, ME and decided to take the “short” detour to let the girls play on one last beach before the trip was over.  As is often the case, is was not a short detour and once I found a parking space at the completely packed beach, I saw the $20 day pass fee. I decided to risk it and we just slipped down to the beach in hopes the girls would run wild and free for a few minutes. But alas, there were crabs ashore… so we just looked for and handled crabs for about 15 minutes before heading back to the van. They were greatly disappointed I wouldn’t let them bring the crabs home with us in the car. Not a chance.

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Again, we (thankfully) found a hotel with an indoor pool and they had much fun that evening near Boston. Hotels are always fun for kids. I do have some travel advice here… My mother and I were trying to book a hotel deal through Priceline’s Express Deals mobile app. We thought we found a hotel with the right amenities (free wifi, parking and indoor pool) for a great price, booked it and then found out it was a Marriott. Unfortunately for us, we must have misread the fine print. Because Marriott hotels do not have free wifi, which in my opinion is outrageous this day and age, and this particular one did not have free parking either. A parking lot, yes, but also a parking fee. Nice. So, our “steal” of a deal for the hotel was no steal at all when all was said and done. I will be avoiding Marriott hotels at all costs until they change their ways.

Finally, Saturday morning we embarked on our last   (LONG) leg of the trip. I had been dreading the drive from Boston to Maryland on I 95 specifically because of the astronomical toll fees along the way. I searched for an alternate route that wouldn’t be too much longer than the proposed route via 95 and settled on one through New York and Pennsylvania. Let me tell you, it was perfect. Yes, it was a Saturday and maybe there would be more traffic on a weekday, but even with several construction corridors along the route, I think we probably made time in the end getting home. AND it was a breathtaking view all the way to the Maryland border almost.

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(at this point, the odometer had rolled over a third time…. so this is actually 3,044.1 miles)

 

 

We made our usual stop at Cracker Barrel for food and junk stuff for the road. The girls seemed to rally and have a second wind with the addition of some new coloring books, a stuffed animal and then the coveted Sonic Lemonberry slush for the last several hours of driving. The girls were beyond excited to get back to their animals and their dad. 🙂 The animals? Not so much….

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In the end, we traveled 3, 559 miles. 

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ROADTRIP LESSONS LEARNED v. 2014

  • pack healthy snacks that are easily accessible for the road. i had good intentions of doing this, and i did pack some fruit and such to start with. but refilling along the way was difficult and healthy snacks in rural areas of Canada was exorbitantly expensive. so i gave up. and man, i am feeling it. even the girls were tired of all the junk.

 

  • if at all possible, connect with friends along the way , preferably friends with kids your kids’ ages. we did connect with friends in Cape Cod our first night of the trip, but were not able to do so for the rest of the trip. we all felt this loss. reflecting on last year’s road trip to Colorado and Wyoming, i realize now how vital those few stops to see friends with kids were. not only does it give the parents a break, but it gives the kids a break from being with each other 24/7. my kids bickered ALOT this trip, which was extremely exhausting and wearing on the nerves. i think we all could have used a break from each other about halfway through… even a brief one.

 

  • when heading to an ultra touristy place (such as PEI for instance), search out someone who has done the same trip with kids around your kids’ ages. find them online, through friends, whatever. ask for personal experiences and recommendations. i wish we had done this for our PEI trip as we would have spent more time at the things we liked and less time (and money) at places we didn’t really dig.

 

  • download all movies onto your devices BEFORE LEAVING YOUR HOUSE. i am still frustrated about this. i downloaded several movies via iTunes and only half of them loaded. even when we stopped at hotels/motels with wifi, they never finished downloading. and often the places we stayed had very weak signals (rural-ish areas), so there was no downloading to be done.

 

  • audio books and CD’s are our saving grace on long trips like this. we alternate listening to one CD at a time whether it is music, audio book, etc… and then take a break and eat or stop somewhere, then watch something on a device, and then back to the audio etc. this trip we (fittingly) brought Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea audio sets and got through both of them. our girls also love, love the Adventures in Odyssey sets as well… they are very animated and exciting to listen to… even for parents, actually.

 

  • although i didn’t do it this time, i think i will try a schedule of sorts for the next trip… and also have some sort of organized way of sharing devices without fighting and bickering over them. i should have employed the “pick a number between 1-10” method way more than i did… that way you aren’t the bad guy (over and over and over).

 

  • practice booking or navigating things on priceline.com and hotwire.com BEFORE you have to actually do it, so you are not disappointed when you miss something.

 

  • when traveling with multiple kids, try to get each one off alone at some point during the trip to have that one-on-one time together. i found i was butting heads with one of mine pretty consistently. when i suggested some one-on-one time, her choice of activity, things improved dramatically. for both of us.

 

  • be respectful of the little one’s limits and boundaries and desires. i blew it on this trip a few times along these lines. one time, i got it in my head that i wanted to drive to another part of PE Island to see a famous lighthouse. i talked it up to the girls and convinced them to get in the car for 2 hours to check it out. when we got there, it cost $5 per person to go to the top of the lighthouse. something in me snapped and i refused to pay the money so we snapped a few pictures and got back in the car for another 2 hour ride home. total fail on my part. the kids and my mom took it in stride, but i knew i really pushed my agenda too much and there was nothing in it for them in the end.

 

  • always have a good amount of cash on you, especially when traveling to rural areas. when it came time to pay for our lodge stay in Meat Cove, we were scrambling to gather all the cash we had (Canadian and USD) to pay for our stay. we ended up being $15 short and the nearest ATM was like an hour away. the owner of the lodge was so gracious and kept telling us it was no big deal… we were “close enough.” not everyone will be that gracious, though.

 

  • bring home personal souvenirs that you will actually use and see to remind you of the memories you have made. we collected rocks and decorated them with sharpies. we also collected driftwood pieces that i am going to make into picture frames. lastly, we bought a cd of celtic music from the local musician playing live music at one of the restaurants we went to. i figured i could have spent the time searching for just the right celtic music CD out there, but this one is special because the girls saw the musician’s face, danced to her music and will remember that when we listen to it.

 

  • lastly, its ok if not everyone is happy all the time. i found myself taking it personally when the girls were crabby and totally not into the trip, second guessing the trip over all… but actually, we all had our moments, and that was OK. here is a perfect image illustrating how we often felt.. me, happyhappyjoyjoy, one of them notsohappy. 🙂 (for further reading on this concept, check out one of my favorite photographer’s posts on this very thing: ROAD TRIP TRUTHS

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What about you?? Any Roadtrip advice to share? Please comment !

 

Categories: International Travel With Kids, Roadtrips GLOBAL, Roadtrips USA, Tips and Tricks, Travel With Kids | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Nova Scotia – Days 7-9

Nova Scotia, or New Scotland, as I came to find out, blew my mind. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Nova Scotia far exceeded those expectations. I didn’t think I would ever find anything in North America that rivaled my love for the Rocky Mountains… but Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia succeeded to do just that.

From the moment we drove off the Ferry (after getting a jump on my dead battery and holding up half the Ferry…)  onto Nova Scotia dry land, the difference between PEI and Nova Scotia was noticeable. Where PEI is tame, manicured, open and quiet, Nova Scotia was rugged, dense, wild. This difference appealed to me immediately. I knew I was going to like this place. I just didn’t know how much.

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We started our drive up to Cape Breton Island from about the middle of the province (where the Ferry lands). As soon as we crossed the causeway over to the Cape, our jaws began to drop. We took the Ceilidh Coastal Trail up towards Cape Breton Highlands National Park.   The views were truly breathtaking, and we hadn’t even gotten to the infamous Cabot Trail yet! We decided to spend the night in the little village of Cheticamp right outside the park. Not only did we eat delicious fresh caught seafood at a local restaurant with live Celtic music, but we witnessed a most spectacular sunset.

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Fun fact: Canadian Gaelic is still taught and spoken on the Island. All of the road signs have both English and Gaelic on them. I love that!

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The next morning, we packed up and within 5km were pulling into the park and onto the famous Cabot Trail. There is a reason this scenic drive has been voted “one of the World’s Most Scenic Destination Areas” year after year. I could hardly contain myself and ended up pulling over to scenic overlook after scenic overlook. I knew then and there I would leave a bit of my heart at this place.

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Our destination for the next two nights was Meat Cove, at the far northern tip of the island. Literally, at the end of the dirt road. You feel like you are at the end of the world.

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Why such a name for such a picturesque place? I did a little research and found some interesting articles on the Cove.

Q: Where did the name Meat Cove come from?

A: It was given by Europeans back probably in the 1700s. They would come in here and do a slaughter (of moose, deer and bear). They were more interested in the hides and antlers as opposed to the meat.

And from another article:

Meat Cove is a visitor’s perfect antidote to a world filled with the clamouring urgencies of modern life.

I would have to agree whole heartedly. Being in Meat Cove was like entering an alternate universe. We scored an incredible little lodge, Meat Cove Lodge,  all to ourselves and had the added bonus of getting to speak with and learn from it’s owner, a 5th generation resident of Meat Cove.

 

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Life happens very differently in Meat Cove. For one, the lodges have an open door policy. Literally, the door is unlocked, with a note saying “Come on in! If there is a room available, you are welcome to it. Just use the phone and call this number and let me know you want to stay here.” Crazy!

From the lodge we could take a 12 minute walk down a boardwalk to the pebble beach at Meat Cove. The girls loved this place, as there was a freshwater pool there to swim in, and tons of rocks to explore and climb. We collected lots of driftwood and I plan to make some fun souvenirs with our loot. The lodge was perched on the edge of a babbling brook. With windows open the sound of the wind in the trees and the water in the stream was enough to put anyone into a peaceful trance.

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One morning, I took Sydney and Nadia with me to hike a trail to a lookout point overlooking the Cove and specifically Meat Cove Campground. 

*Note: if I were to come to Meat Cove again, I would bring my tent and snag a spot on the most beautiful campground I have ever set my eyes on.*

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The trail led us to the tip of a grassy hill overlooking the Cove and the view was more breathtaking than anything I have seen. The gusts of wind were intense, though, and I made the girls sit down on more than one occasion as I took pictures standing on the edge of the cliff.  But we all survived and I cannot begin to describe the feeling of sitting and standing at the “edge of the world” that morning. It will forever be filed away as one of my “most amazing life experiences” memories.

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We took one small day trip from the Cove to visit the village of Neil’s Harbor off the east coast of Cape Breton. We found another spectacular beach and spent hours playing in the fresh water lake right next to the ocean, looking for sea glass, catching jelly fish, making sand castles. It was just perfect.

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The morning we (sadly) left Meat Cove, it started to lightly rain in the hills. As we drove out, we came around a bend and I slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the van to capture this gem of an image. Perfection. Absolute perfection.  What a perfect sendoff from a perfect little slice of heaven on earth.

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I cannot recommend this place highly enough. For those who want to just hit the pause button on life, go to Meat Cove. Unplug. Sit. Rest. Hike. Eat chowder. And watch the sun rise and set on a little slice of paradise. 

If you want to stay in a beautiful, clean, simple, cozy lodge, please check out Meat Cove Lodge on Facebook. If you are camping type, you really must check out the campground. Whatever you choose… bring cash, as there are no credit card options in the area.

 

 

Categories: International Travel With Kids, Roadtrips GLOBAL, Roadtrips USA, Travel With Kids, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Prince Edward Island – Days 4-6

** Note: because of the lack of wifi or sporadic access at best, I was not able to blog about the trip in real time. Bummer.**

I just have to come out and say it…. Where in the world would PEI be without Lucy Maud Montgomery?! Holy all things Anne Shirley. I mean it is seriously overkill and I really wonder how L.M. would feel about it all. “Shining Waters Internet Cafe” and “Kindred Spirits Insurance” and everything in-between.

However, on the flip side,  it does give you pause to think about the power of the written word and the impact L.M. had on this place with her vivid imagery and true to life descriptions of places all over the island.

My favorite PEI experiences in random order:

1. Green Gables Heritage Site – visiting the site of the actual “Green Gables” that inspired L.M.’s tales was magical. Buying an embarrassingly over-commercialized bottle of Raspberry Cordial while meandering through Anne’s “Haunted Wood” was just awesome. I made a significant point of showing the girls how simple and tidy and minimalistic the rooms were in the house. So far I have convinced one of them to go this direction for her room upon returning home. Unfortunately, this is the one that hoards everything, so we shall see what happens…

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2. Walking through Avonlea Village after hours – We decided not to fork over the $$ for the Avonlea experience , but had fun meandering through the town/village and imagining it all. I picked up a couple of L.M Montgomery books I haven’t read before, and we had fun trying on all kinds of period hats.

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3. The beach(es) – Oh, we went to the infamous Cavendish beach, home to the beach scenes in the Anne movies. But we fell in love with a little beach, Cousins Shore, 5 minutes down the road from our cottage with its red cliffs and gentle waves. The girls could have spent days on end here… Except for the ungodly amount of jellyfish that were in the water, it was a perfect place to park and play for a while each day. If you google “Cousins Shore in PEI” you can find endless vacation homes claiming they are on the “best beach in PEI”. We would have to agree.

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4. The Anne of Green Gables Museum – this was our first stop as it was literally right around the corner from us. I would say it was false advertising as it really was just a museum about L.M Montgomery. The museum was the house of Montgomery’s cousins (interestingly enough, a 7th generation man from that family is still running the place), a house she spent many years visiting and even writing at least 4 books there. I found the place inspiring, but not worth the money and the commercialism. We caved and took a ride in “Matthew’s Carriage” and took lots of photos at “The Lake of Shining Waters.” If you are a die-hard fan of the author, this is a place worth visiting. Especially to see some first editions of her books she gave to her relatives. Otherwise, save your money and spend more time at Green Gables.

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5. The rolling farmland that literally rolls off into the sea – I have never seen anything like it. Driving along the coast in PEI makes you feel like you are driving through a painting. Our cottage was right down the road from the infamous French River fishing village that is one of the favorite places for photographers and artists from around the world to visit.

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Lessons Learned : 

– skip the anne museum and spend a day at the Green Gables Heritage Place.

– when you drive an hour and a half to see a famous and quite breathtaking lighthouse, pay the damn $$ to climb to the top for the experience and gratification of the drive at least.

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– ask the locals what beaches to go to before forking over $$ to go to the most touristy one.

– skip charlottetown altogether. although the girls did get to play a bit at their 150th Birthday celebration zone.

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– rent bikes for a day and explore the trails.

– spend no more than 3 days there unless visiting locals.

 

NEXT STOP:

Nova Scotia!

 

Categories: International Travel With Kids, Roadtrips GLOBAL, Roadtrips USA | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maine to Prince Edward Island – Day 3

The last two hours of this day were the most challenging by far. I guess we had all just about had it with each other. Just keeping it real, folks. 

Thank goodness for peace-keeping Grammy’s who help hold us together. 🙂

In keeping with my desire to revisit some of our favorite places along the way, we made a slight detour to drive through the Schoodic Peninsula area of Arcadia National Park. We spent a week here in 2011 and had some great times as a family, fishing, driving, exploring, picking berries, falling off docks…

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Finally, the weather cleared up and the drive was quite uneventful…

… until we got to the border and the guy asked for my husband’s letter of consent to take the kids across the border.

 

UH, WHAT?

 

I must have looked shocked and oh so innocent. He let us pass, but sternly warned me that next time I HAD to have a letter of consent if the father of the kids was not with us. Noted, dear fellow.

 

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Finally, after about 8 hours of driving and a couple of pit/food stops, we made it across the PEI bridge to the magical land of Prince Edward Island.

And by magical, I mean like right out of a story book. I told my mother, “I feel like we are driving through a painting.”

 

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Categories: International Travel With Kids, Roadtrips USA, Travel With Kids | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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