Category Archives: vacation

Living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica – Manuel Antonio

Hello online blogging world! It’s been quite a while, and a lot of food adventures have breezed by. A week ago I came back from Costa Rica after a week long vacation. As I was talking to my friend at the airport terminal waiting for my flight back to Chicago, she mentioned she read somewhere that Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world. After coming back from the lush paradise and back to the chilly realities of Chicago I can believe that. There’s something naturally simple about the Costa Rican life. Of course I was on vacation, but I can see how the day to day Costa Rican life is the pure life.

On my flight from the States to Costa Rica I sat next to a local heading back to Costa Rica. She told me that in Costa Rica people always greet each other with the phrase “pura vida” meaning the pure life. I didn’t fully understand the phrase till I experienced Costa Rica for myself. People greet each other with this phrase, and it essentially means the simple life. Learning to embrace life to the fullest with the genuine appreciation for everything. Though Costa Rica is becoming the mecca of tourism in Central America there are still many parts of Costa Rica that are knee deep in poverty. Huts with roofs made out of sheets of metal perched on the side of the mountain are not an uncommon site. But yet they all go about their day with a smile and the contagious phrase pura vida. Learning to live and to be truly happy with whatever you have is a true skill of the pura vida lifestyle.

Manuel Antonio – Costa Rica 

The first location that my college roommate and I visited was Manuel Antonio, a beach city along the southern coast of Costa Rica. IMG_7082This is the view from our hotel balcony. Just being surrounded by so much green was so soothing. Hidden behind all of the foliage is the open area where we had breakfast every morning.

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This is the traditional Costa Rican breakfast consisting of eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), fruit, and some type of sweet bread. I had this breakfast for three days in a row! Plus eating it in the open air dining area made for a perfect start to the day.  

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We spent many days bumming around on the beach. The view was just breath taking. Since we went during low tourism season it felt like we had the beach all to ourselves. We were bombarded by locals trying to sell us all sorts of things including cigars, handmade wooden bird whistles, coconut drinks, and even horseback riding along the beach.

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This is the flower that was in my fruity strawberry mojito drink. Nothing better than drinking a fruity drink on the beach.

IMG_7140We rented these reclining beach chairs for the day. When the tides came in, I dragged my chair into the tides. Let’s get washed away!

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We headed into the downtown area Quepos for dinner. A staff at the hotel told us the beaches were definitely not as great as the one we went to earlier that morning, but the view was spectacular especially during sunset.

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Since Yelp does not work abroad, I used TripAdvisor to find a good place for dinner. I wanted a traditional, non touristy dinner experience and Bohemia Cafe popped up. As we headed into Quepos I forgot to take my phone where I screenshotted the Bohemia Cafe TripAdvisor page which contained the name and the address. Luckily while wandering through Quepos we stumbled across Bohemia Cafe. It was tucked away on the other side of a small stream that ran through the town.

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This place was owned by a young lady and her mother. The restaurant is actually located in the living room of her house! As we approached Bohemia Cafe I saw the owner, her mother, and her baby sitting in the living room. The living room was tastefully decorated with a very carefree, Anthropologie like decor. The windows did not have any glass or screens on it just bars. An open living room felt so pure and wonderful. The owner is also a seamstress. She displayed her clothes and accessories that she made in her living room. I loved everything about this experience. My kind of ambiance! We were literally eating dinner in someone’s house!

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I got the Mahi Mahi with Passionfruit sauce. The Mahi Mahi tasted so fresh. It came with sides of brown rice and plantains. The meal was delicious. I wanted a traditional, authentic dining experience, and this was more than I could have ever imagined.

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The next day we went to the Manuel Antonio National Park to experience more beaches. This time I hid under trees, because of the terrible sun burn I got from the first beach day. Lesson learned!

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We encountered so many friendly raccoons. They darted across the beach to people’s bags and scavenge through for food. Here they are in action! As I commented in glee that they looked so cute, my friend exclaimed that they were rodents. Well I have never seen a raccoon before, so this was quite an exciting experience for me especially being so close to them!

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Baby raccoons! Cute little banditos.

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The other banditos at the beach were these monkeys. While we were in the outdoor showering area one of the monkeys stole a shampoo packet from a lady’s purse. Then a group of three monkeys sitting on a tree branch opened the packet and started rubbing it on themselves. Pretty adorable.

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The sneaky monkeys and I.

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They called these the traditional Costa Rican platters. I personally love side dishes, so these platters were perfect for me. The plantain at this place was so great! Since Mahi Mahi was the fish of Manuel Antonio, I couldn’t help but have Mahi Mahi again.

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Wouldn’t be a meal without ceviche! I got the fish ceviche, and both my friend and I agreed that this was one of the best ceviches we both had. The fish was so fresh combined with the perfect tanginess of the juice was perfect! My mouth is salivating just thinking and writing about it.

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We had dinner at a really fancy hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant was situated on a very high cliff so it overlooked the tops of the rainforest. A golf cart took us all the way up there. I tried the Mahi Mahi, and this was the best Mahi Mahi I have tried in Manuel Antonio. There was some type of batter on the Mahi Mahi giving it a crunchy exterior and a juicy soft interior. Priciest meal in Costa Rica, but for this Mahi Mahi it was definitely worth it.

Next stop Arenal Costa Rica! Look out for another blog post soon!

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Los Angeles, where people wear winter scarves and gloves in 60 degree weather

Greetings from Los Angeles! Nothing better than escaping the cold, chilly Chicago weather with a trip to LA before I start real life working. Visiting and living in the other major urban cities, Los Angeles definitely has a very different feel. Spread out on 502.7 sq miles compared to 234 sq miles in Chicago and 468.5 sq miles in New York City, LA is the largest urban city in terms of surface area. Though LA does have the largest surface area, the population in LA is a lot smaller compared with NYC: NYC with 8,244,910 inhabitants compared with 3,819,702 in LA. With that there is a lot of space in LA. Everything is super spread out making LA seem more like a populated suburb than the urban cities I am use to.

One thing that I can get use to for a while is this LA weather. My cousin noted that the weather does not drastically change as in Chicago or NYC where the four seasons are quite apparent. I am a big fan of warm weather! Apparently when the weather starts dipping into the 60s, the people of LA start breaking out their winter gear. I was so confused, when I saw people walking around in the daytime with scarves, gloves, and even puffy winter coats. A bizarre sight when the temperature is in the 60s! Maybe because I am not use to warm weather all the time I feel the need to take advantage of every single warm day in LA by wearing sandals, dresses, skirts, and t-shirts. When I get back to Chicago, I will sadly have to convert back to puffy winter coats, sweaters, and boots.

CALFORNIA dreamin! Here is a picture update of my adventures in LA so far!

on USC campus

Here I am in front of a water fountain on USC campus. The campus is huge and very beautiful. There are a lot of relaxing places outside to just chill around. What a wonderful way to spend the day! If I went to school at USC, I would have so much trouble focusing and actually going to class. Why not just spend the entire day sleeping on the grass outside, basking in the sun?

dinos at the Natural History Museum

We stopped by the Natural History Museum. They had a very large collection of dinosaur fossils. I learned that it is easier to discover fossils on the west coast where it is mostly desert compared with the west coast where the fossils may be hidden in large forests.

Trying my best to fend off the big Polar Bear, but obviously failing.

We walked through the Rose Garden. What a magical garden with all of the towering palm trees in the background!

The Space Shuttle Endeavor recently rolled into the Science Center after retiring from many missions into outer space. Here is the beauty!

farmer’s market in Culver City

The farmer markets in LA are fabulous. Lots of fresh produce at reasonable prices! After seeing some fresh greens and salad leaves, I was craving a fresh salad.

Urth Farmer’s Salad at Urth Caffe

I got the Urth Famer’s Salad at Urth Caffe after visiting the farmer’s market. Inside the salad were locally grown baby spinach salad with peppercorn dressing, heirloom tomatoes, French radishes, grilled artichokes, onion, shaved fennel, glazed pecans & shaved parmesan cheese. The spinach leaves tasted so fresh! I could get use to year round fresh produce!

This outdoor art display of lamp posts called Urban Light at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was featured in the movie No Strings Attached. It must be so gorgeous at nighttime when they turn all the lights on.

Here is Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher at the Urban Light display at LACMA in a scene from No Strings Attached.

Kalbi Bun

I had this Kalbi Bun from a food truck outside of LACMA. There are so many food trucks in LA. There is just something so whimsical and cute about buying a meal from a food truck. Wish they had more of these in Chicago!

More LA adventures to come, sans scarves, gloves, and puffy winter coats of course.

Universal Studios Orlando and Harry P. Leu Gardens

Continuation of my trip to Orlando. I was suffering from serious Disney World withdrawal during the first couple of weeks back in Chicago. Listening to my Disney playlist on repeat, getting excited for Disney movie marathons and spreading my enthusiasm for Disney magic. Unfortunately the Disney magic obsession has slowly died down, but I think I will always have a little bit more spark and a little bit more whimsical magic in me after this terrific trip.

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Harry Potter World – Hogsmeade

Butterbeer in Hogsmeade

Harry Potter World – Hogwarts

My favorite part of Universal Studios Orlando was Harry Potter world. It was a lot smaller than I imagined, but still great to walk through. A real life version of what I imagined from reading the books, and what was pictured in the movies. If you ever wondered what Butterbeer tastes like, it tastes like a super sweet Coke float.

The Lorax in the World of Dr. Seuss

I loved the World of Dr. Seuss. The world where imagination comes to life. The things I love about the Dr. Seuss books are how unique his wording is and how creative the characters look. Everything looks like it came from an entirely different universe. Dr. Seuss is quite the character.

The Lorax at the parade

Here I am eating a monstrous chocolate sprinkle dipped sundae on a stick. Talk about a sugar rush!

Harry P. Leu Garden 

I wandered over to the Harry P. Leu Gardens on my first day, since I got in way before my friends did. I spotted this beautiful fountain in the Rose Garden.

Though people are not suppose to do this, people etched their names into the bamboo.

At first I thought this was a sundial, but it is an actual clock with the flowers and plants adorning the face. How unique!

Check back on Wednesday for a post that was inspired by this quote that I overheard from a bro on the train. Bros… gotta love them.

Today we’re only going to eat foods that begin with B: burgers, brats, beer … and bananas

– random bro on the train

Everyday is a Magical Day in Disney World

I hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day Weekend! Over Labor Day weekend I went to Disney World, “the most magical place on earth“. I didn’t quite believe in this Disney magic till I got to Disney World, and every conversation with a Disney employee ended with “Have a magical day”. Wandering around Downtown Disney, a large outdoor shopping and dining area, all the trees were twinkling with white Christmas lights. There was even a store that sold Disney themed Christmas items year round called 365 Days of Christmas!  Booths sold light up Mickey Mouse ears that made for a festive night. A colorful merry-go-round spun around to the tunes of classic Disney songs.

Most importantly the continuous stream of Disney songs that brought back childhood memories of watching the classic Disney movies. For a twenty-something college grad like me, it is fun to pretend to be a kid for a weekend. The entire ambiance of Disney World brought out the kid in me. Thrilled and ecstatic to be in Disney World. To pretend to be a child, free of responsibilities of the real world, even if it is only for a weekend.

Downtown Disney

Let the magical memories begin in a place where all dreams come true!

dragon made from Legos

enjoying a drink at Paradiso 37

cilantro rice, fried sweet plantains and griddle corn cakes

Paradiso 37, a restaurant that features food from North, South and Central America, was a great place for a upbeat dinner. We sat outside overlooking the lagoon. There was also a live singer singing old and new hits. We made this dinner into a karaoke session belting out hits such as Adele’s Someone Like You to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. Not only was the atmosphere terrific, but the food was delicious too. I got a combination of different sides. I really enjoyed the cilantro rice. It was the perfect texture with just the right amount of flavor. I never had griddle corn cakes before. Tasted like a softer, moister version of corn bread. Yum!

Rigatoni Calabrese – Italian sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, escarole

On our last night at Disney World we ate outdoors at Portobello, an Italian restaurant. I really enjoyed this dish. It was one of their lighter pastas with a chicken broth reduction sauce. The rigatoni was cooked to perfection, and really absorbed all of the flavors of the broth and the other ingredients.

the wonderful world of Disney

I’m a princess

Had my little kid moment, and tried on Belle’s dress from Beauty and the Beast. I love the weird looks I am getting from the man and his daughter in the back. I could just imagine them thinking “Why is that big girl in a princess dress?” Well this is Disney World, and I can totally try on a princess dress if I want to. My shining Disney princess moment!

Disney’s Coronado Resort

These are pictures of the Coronado Resort where we were staying. A beautiful Southwestern themed resort with a gorgeous lagoon in the middle. The luscious greenery added to the picturesque resort. I loved how the water had such perfect reflections of the resort.

The pool area in the resort. Funny story about our pool adventure. My friends and I were standing around in the pool bopping to some poolside Disney songs. This preteen boy swimming underwater resurfaced in the middle of our circle. This happened more than once. The final time he resurfaced in the middle of our circle, he appeared out of the water. He then proceeded to do that hair flick, where you whip your head back and water flies out of your hair, and gave me this face. I didn’t realize what was happening until my friend told me that he must have thought I was a preteen, and subsequently tried to put his flirting skills to use. I do look young, but preteen young? Must find a way to look older, or more my age. I don’t think putting on that Disney princess dress helps in looking older. Oh the wonders of Disney!

I have only seen a couple of rainbows in my life, and this was just so breathtaking to see. It’s a circular rainbow around the sun. How magical!

Check back on Sunday for a post on the rest of my trip: Universal Studios Orlando and Orlando’s Harry P. Leu Gardens!