Category Archives: Travel

Pura Vida – Costa Rica

tierza-yoga-e1472293428801The first thing you may notice about Ticos is the, “Pura Vida”. This symbolizes a way of thinking or an idea of letting things go, and simply enjoying life. After everything I had heard of Costa Rica, the people (Ticos) and the beauty, it’s not hard to understand why I have wanted to visit such a place for many years.

Our itinerary for our first visit to this wonderful country, came from simply researching online and playing the safe route. If I were to visit this country again, I would definitely do things differently. With that being said, I hope you will be able to learn a little from our mistakes, and hopefully you will be more knowledgeable if you are planning a trip this way.

From where our flight landed in San Jose, we took a shuttle to the car rental company. Mistake number one for the budget traveler. After all the add-on costs such as insurance, car upgrades and gas, we spent about $350 to $400 for transportation for one week. This seemed worth it at the time, but I would much rather take the bus, which takes you just about anywhere for extremely cheap, and spent the money we would have saved on fun adventurous things. Although, I must say, driving in Costa Rica was not as stressful as I had imagined. Especially with a GPS, which was one of the upgrades we added at the rental company.

Now, with our GPS in hand, we drove North West, through the Cloud Forest and on to Tree Houses Hotel in the town of Santa Clara. We arrived after dark and had to maneuver our way through the unmarked roads. Tree Houses Hotel is a unique Bed and Breakfast where the cabin style rooms are built high up in a tree. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. They only have 3 tree houses on the property, so it is VERY secluded. When you are taking a shower, the only thing between you and the outdoors is a screen!

In the morning, everybody gathers in the common area, which is a separate house where innkeeper, Renee, makes you a wonderful breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit. Renee is very informative and eager to answer any questions you may have about the area. There are a few hiking trails on the property, one that leads to a waterfall.

This place is not for the faint of heart or those who get squeamish around animals. We found this out after we got to know our neighbors, a family with 3 kids, who took us over to their tree house to show us the family of bats that were living outside of it. For more info about staying here go to Tree Houses Hotel Costa Rica. The rooms are slightly more expensive than the other places we stayed, but well worth it.

After our hike we got back on the road to make the short drive to La Fortuna, where the active Arenal Volcano is located. We checked into the Lavas Tocotal. Our large room had a nice panoramic view of the volcano and was right next to the pool. We took it easy the rest of the day. We ate lunch at a small restaurant in the center of town, walked around a bit, and found a good deal on a zip line tour for the next day.

After dinner, we drove about 5 minutes to Arenal Paraiso Resort to soak in their many hot spring pools. We had originally tried to book a room here, but they didn’t have any availability, and after visiting this place, I can see why. They have 14 pools, 13 of them with thermo-mineral water. The temperatures vary from 78 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. We pretty much had every pool to ourselves, although I’m not sure how often you will be able to get that lucky.

Beautiful Greece

Winning tip: Walking on Sifnos, Greece

Sifnos, in the Cyclades, provides a mix of beautiful beaches with a few cafes, restaurants and bars. There are great hiking trails that will lead you to remote, quiet beaches; and delightful hilltop villages with independent boutiques and tavernas. The hiking trails of over 100km are well signposted and maintained by the authorities with a website that provides details of each trail (difficulty level, point of interest, distance and more) and detailed, downloadable GPS maps. We particularly liked trail 4, a loop that offers great panoramic views, solitude, and two beaches to ourselves at Fikyada. For a sundowner and dinner, head to Apollonia and don’t miss the bakeries that offer traditional Greek pastries and baked goods. Melopita, a cheese pie with honey, is a must. I stayed at Villa Antoniadis (from €50 a night) at Platis Gialos: it’s a B&B five minutes’ walk inland from the beach. It has a large pool and friendly owners, who serve delicious and indulging breakfasts.

Astypalaia, Greece

This butterfly-shaped island in the Dodecanese is the true arthropod of the Mediterranean. Three minutes away from Livadi beach is Kalderimi “hotel” – actually a group of traditionally built houses (doubles from £50 a night B&B) with a clear view of 13th-century Guerini Castle’s Venetian splendour. While staying on this isolated island, we felt truly at peace with the world. Among the island’s attractions are its caves, with fantastic formations of stalactities and stalagmites. Caves have always been a part of Greek mythology and Astypalaia has some glorious examples.

On the trail of Leonard Cohen, Hydra, Greece

See if you can capture the spirit of Leonard Cohen on Hydra – with some ingenuity and just a little local help we managed to find the house he bought back in the 1960s. Later that day the mature lady sitting at the table next to ours at a taverna told us that she had known Cohen – but in what capacity we never quite found out! Hydra, which is just off the Peloponnese, is a one-hour trip from Piraeus by Hellenic Seaways Flying Dolphin (from about €50 return). It has no motorised vehicles and a harbourside to die for. Boat trips will take you to idyllic beaches.

 

 

Protection Tips for Summer Travel

To help prepare for your upcoming travels, Raid® has asked us to share our best tips for bug protection. They’ve recently launched a new product, the new Raid® Bed bug Detector & Trap, to expose evidence of bed bugs before an infestation occurs.

As frequent travelers, bed bugs are a huge concern for us. Whether we’re temporarily renting an apartment or staying at a hotel, it’s something we definitely think about. We’re happy to see the Raid® bug experts have provided consumers with tools that can help prevent a more costly bed bug infestation.

Here are some tips to protect yourself from bed bugs, mosquitoes, and ticks during your upcoming travels.

Bed Bugs

Unfortunately, not all insects live outside. Bed bugs can live in any climate and urban travel-hotspots are particularly susceptible to spreading them. Checking into a hotel with bed bugs can ruin a summer vacation; even hard-to-spot bed bug larvae can cause itching and welts, as bed bugs must bite their hosts at every stage of growth. Worse, it’s tough to perform thorough inspections on the go.

To keep from being eaten and bringing home unwanted guests, use an early detection device from Raid®. The Bed Bug Detector & Trap can be placed anywhere bed bugs hide—under the mattress, behind the headboard, and in corners of the bed frame, to name a few.

The partially enclosed trap is designed to keep bed bugs trapped inside and the see-through window allows you to easily identify any trapped bugs. With the early detection, you can spend your vacation well-rested and bring home only enjoyable souvenirs!

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes breed naturally from still water, so you should expect to find them pretty much everywhere. Lakes, ponds, even puddles that will stay long enough: all create the ideal environment for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes don’t just bite at dawn and dusk. To get the most out of all outdoor activities, be sure to apply DEET-based mosquito repellent across all exposed body parts.

Luckily, using mosquito repellent has long been a proven method of keeping yourself protected from mosquitoes, so make sure you pack a bottle. Hang bug netting around your sleeping area at night for extra protection.

Ticks

Ticks are an even more insidious bloodsucking pest than mosquitoes. Not only can they carry Lyme disease, they will burrow down into your skin and become hard to find. Even pulling them out can be difficult, as tugging with tweezers can leave their head behind!

To protect yourself, make sure to wear sleeves, light-colored socks and long pants while hiking, especially in long grass. Ticks will crawl upwards until they find exposed skin, so tuck pants into your socks or boots. Tick repellents can also help, but won’t remove the need for full-body tick checks—don’t forget your hair!

If you do find a tick, grab the tick firmly as close to where it is attached as possible and then gently pull until the tick releases. Watch the spot for a few days and, in case of rash or skin irritation, consult a doctor.

Your Guide to Cabo, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo make up “Los Cabos,” a resort corridor with exclusive beaches, preserved natural spaces, and an adventurous nightlife. If you’re planning a trip to this luxury destination (and you should!), here’s everything you need to know to get started:

Typically, it’s easiest to fly into the Los Cabos airport (SJD) unless you are already in Mexico. Some hotels offer shuttle service to and from the airport, but to really see the best of Cabo, you’ll want to rent a car. We have found the best rental car prices on RentalCars.com, which searches all of the rental car agencies.

Keep in mind that liability insurance is mandatory when renting a car in Mexico. Loss Damage Wavier (or collision damage) is not mandatory, but before you decline this insurance, make sure your auto insurance or credit card insurance will cover you in Mexico.

If your hotel does not offer shuttle service and you do not want to rent a car, Transcabo offers airport shuttle service starting at $29 USD per person. If you are adventurous and on a very tight budget, it is possible to take the bus from the airport.

The weather in Cabo is comfortable year round, ranging from the mid-70’s in the winter to the mid-90’s in the summer.

Wetsuit, If you are visiting in the winter months and you plan to do some diving or snorkeling, you may want to bring a wetsuit. I love this spring suit for snorkeling because it keeps me warm and provides sun protection. For diving in the winter, you will most likely want to bring a 2/3 or 3/4 full wetsuit. I get cold easily when diving, so I prefer the 4/3 suit. Wetsuit Wearhouse has some great deals on full and short wetsuits.

Photo Equipment, highly recommend bringing a GoPro for underwater photos (or selfies!) and a nice camera for whale watching. (See our complete travel camera buying guide here.)

Clothing, Don’t forget to bring a light cardigan or sweatshirt and long pants if you visit during the winter months. Sandals or flip flops and a swimsuit are a must any time of year.

Activated Charcoal Pills , Montezuma’s revenge is real. We never leave home without our activated charcoal pills.

See Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

0000156982Have you dreamed of visiting the Garden Isle of Hawaii? Kauai is home to stunning natural wonders including Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Bay and Wai’ale’ale Crater, but no visit to Kauai is complete without visiting the majestic 17-mile stretch of the Na Pali Coast.

You have three options when visiting the Na Pali Coast — hiking, helicopter tour and boat ride. I’ll go over each of these options below, but if you only have time for one of these activities while visiting Kauai, book a helicopter flight!

By far, the best way to view the Na Pali Coast is by Helicopter because most of the areas are inaccessible by land or sea. I booked a flight with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters — the same company we used for a helicopter tour of Maui — and from start to finish, the service was top notch.

If you plan to take any photos, Blue Hawaiian’s pilots fly on the left of the aircraft which means there’s more seating for the best views of the Na Pali Coast. All of the helicopter tours fly from the south, up the coast, so you’ll want to be on the right side of the aircraft and most of Blue Hawaiian’s passenger seats are on this side. I also highly recommend requesting Shay as your pilot!

Blue Hawaiian also provides black shirts to every guest (as a courtesy) because black reduces glare on the windows. I’ve been on flights where the other passengers are wearing white or detailed print clothing — which means their clothing choices are affecting everyone’s photos.

You can hike in some areas of the Na Pali Coast — depending on the weather — but the hikes are not for the faint of heart. This side of Kauai is extremely wet, which results in muddy and slippery conditions along the edges of the towering cliffs. If you do hike the Na Pali Coast, please come prepared with walking sticks and plenty of food and water and check the weather beforehand!

We hiked a section of the Kalalau Trail (an 11-mile trail that leads from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach) and were advised by a ranger to turn around after 2-miles due to flash flood warnings. The day before we arrived, hikers ignored these advisories and were forced to spend the night along the trail because the water level was too high to pass on their return trip.

Gorgeous Island For Honey Moon

Vid is sitting in his winter living room among the large model boats he has carved from driftwood – everything from galleons to the Titanic. “This is not a job,” he tells me. “This is a lifestyle. I came here five years ago to escape the world of business and city life. There are only three rules: no politics, no assumption of status and no grumpiness.”

On this Croatian road trip we have reached, it seems, the furthest possible point from cities, politics and grumpiness. Vid is an avuncular presence, gently supervising his hostel-campsite-taverna on the island of Kornat, the largest in the Kornati archipelago, a chain of 140 limestone outcrops off the port of Zadar. Vid has forgotten to mention another rule, actually a necessity, of his kingdom: you cannot drive or walk to it. The only access is by boat or kayak.

“It’s like a filter,” he says. “Paddlers and sailors are more likely to be good people. They’re friendly and don’t look down on other people.”

For us, that has meant paddling. The journey begins when we leave our vehicle in a car park in Zadar. (My question, “Will my laptop be safe inside?” prompts reassurance from a local: “There is very little crime here. But to be extra sure, lock the car.”) We then catch the passenger ferry to Sali on Dugi Otok – Long Island. This ferry is our first step towards Vid’s kind of normal: local people heading home from Zadar’s markets laden with fruit, veg and flowers. People who bring their own sandwiches, drink out of thermos flasks and never stop chatting.

In Sali, an unpretentious little port, we meet Marko, our guide and kayaking mentor. Over the next four days he’ll take us from our base on Kornat on kayaking day trips to explore the archipelago. Marko likes to talk, and in a jokey conversation held across the waves during a long paddle later on, we decided that if he were a dog, he might be Timmy, the endlessly enthusiastic hound of the Famous Five.

We stock up on snacks in Sali, then cycle for 20 minutes to a quiet little bay where we spend an hour packing everything in dry bags and inspecting the conditions out at sea.
Maddy prepares for the kayak crossing in Croatia

“This wind is the bura,” Marko declares. “But this is the third day of it, and it will die down soon.”
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Our tiny flotilla sets out, performing a nervous turn through choppy waves and heading south. My daughter Maddy (13) and I, however, are in a double sea kayak which is as steady as a rock, and when we turn, the wind is at our backs, propelling us quickly around a headland, then through a narrow strait into the necklace of small outer islands that hangs from the neck of Kornat.

It is already clear that August is not Kornati’s quietest month. In fact, Italian families with speedboats love to whizz across the Adriatic and then spend an idyllic week or two carving these tranquil waters into white slices. Another summer migrant to spot is the billionaire. You might spy his super-yacht lying sleek and supercilious in a lonely cove, but sighting an actual superhero of capitalism himself is unlikely. (Croatia’s ports are full of gossip about them. One relative of a crew member told me how the flowers, €5,000-worth, were changed every day, whether anyone was on board or not. As this yacht belonged to a very minor member of the species, I shudder to imagine what other pointless extravagances are perpetrated.)

It is also clear, however, that a kayak can take you places no speedboat or superyacht ever will. On our first day out from Vid’s little paradise, Marko leads us to a chain of rocky islets with tough, bleached faces of karstic limestone, anything between a few metres tall to epic edifices as high as St Paul’s cathedral.

We have already had a lesson in how to exit a kayak at sea, and climb back aboard. Now it is time to practise. But the bura has been replaced by the mistral, a steady southerly that is rapping insistently on these cliffs. The reflections cause all kinds of wildness and into this we jump. Marko ties the kayaks together and steers away from the cliff. We swim into a mysterious and wonderful little cave, unseen from above the waves. The cliff is deeply undercut and so a theatrical blue light shines from below. After a few minutes we retrieve our boats and climb aboard – which is actually not as difficult as you might imagine.

Next day some of the group want to relax so Marko and I drop them at a lovely shingle beach with a restaurant and head for Mana. This island has truly magnificent cliffs set in a vast overhung amphitheatre, on top of which is a ruined castle. It is actually a film set, built before CGI for some lost epic about the new world.
aerial shot of kayaks near Kornat, Croatia

Below it, the snorkelling along the edge of a dark deep drop is stunning. Then we paddle over to Baluni island for some deepwater solo climbing. This is Marko’s first love, I feel. He rolls from the kayak, swims strongly to the cliff, and climbs barefoot up a vertical 10-metre crack before leaping off the top and doing it again. My own attempt is fun, but not half as elegant or successful.
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The days roll by. The initial annoyance with speedboats fades as I realise they all go to the same spots – the ones we don’t visit. One morning I climb up the hill behind Vid’s place to watch a panorama of islands, ethereal and mysterious in the dawn mist.

When we have paddled back to Dugi Otok and cycled to Sali, we are getting down from our bikes when a man approaches and hands out cakes. Who is he? A Marko stooge? No, just a passerby, heading home from the bakery, who felt like handing out delicious buns. Well, if nowhere can ever be paradise, this is about as close as it gets.
Discovering Croatia: anyone for picigin?

Croatian beaches in August can be crowded, but don’t rule the popular spots out too readily. Split’s Bačvice beach, for example, is where the game picigin was invented, and braving the crowds to see it or, even better, take part, is fun. The idea is simply to keep the ball out of the water. Aficionados argue about rules: some say the ball must be a tennis ball with all the fur removed – handy for using up local hero Goran Ivanesovic’s cast-offs. Others argue that one team should be in the water, the other not. On Bačvice this is often unrealistic, since you won’t find an inch of space on land.

Great Place Must Be Visit

I was just “a wee scrap”, as my father would say, when we left the north east coast of Scotland for the south coast of England. Dad is from London, but after six years living in Dundee he was pretty much bilingual.

Then he joined the army and for the next decade my brother and I were shunted around various military bases, clocking up schools and fighting over bedrooms, but the one thing that grounded us was the fact that we came from Dundee.

I learned how to be Dundonian by listening to my mother (Dundee born and bred), and from highly anticipated trips back. And I pored over The Broons and Oor Wullie: iconic cartoon strips written in broad Scots that first appeared in The Sunday Post in 1936 and still come out as annuals every Christmas. My language is, I’m told, peppered with words and phrases from mid-century Dundee. “It’s like talking to my granny,” said a friend when I was last up.

So whenever I get the chance to go back, I do so in a spirit of great excitement. To my mind, Scotland’s fourth largest city has always been a little pot of gold at the end of the A92: the place where I first tasted tablet, a proper fish supper, and Scotch pies – from Doig’s, naturally. It was where my older cousin bought me my first record (“Jan-u-arry” by Pilot, second-hand from Groucho’s), where I spotted my first red squirrel but never quite caught sight of the haggis that roamed the hills.

I realise now that this impression of Dundee is not everyone’s. Often the disclosure of my birthplace is met with snorts of derision. The worst critics seem to be Dundonians themselves. Poet and musician Don Paterson describes the recent regeneration efforts as “post-apocalyptic”. Chef Jeremy Lee, who admits to having a soft spot for the city, talks about “a black cloud of negativity hovering above and in many cases in it”.

But on a sunny day, with the wind behind it (so often the case), Dundee does a great long weekend – and its position just below the Cairngorms makes it a good stop-off for Highland trips. I was commissioned to make a public artwork there this summer, as part of the popular Oor Wullie Bucket Trail, and was glad of the chance to reacquaint myself with this handsome, misunderstood city.

How things have changed. Arriving by train means walking past the magnificent RRS Discovery, the tall ship in which Captain Scott travelled to the Antarctic, currently dwarfed by the adjacent building site that will, in two years’ time, become the V&A Museum of Design.

Last time I was here I built a replica of The Broons’ but ’n’ ben (their highland cottage) at the McManus, the fantastically gothic museum and art gallery. This time, continuing what has become something of a theme, I made an interactive sculpture, Oor Wullie in a 7ft snowglobe, which was duly wheeled into its temporary home at Ninewells Hospital on a surgical trolley by a consultant anaesthetist.

Ninewells arrived after I first left, and the hospital I was born in, the historic Dundee Royal Infirmary, has since become “yuppie flats”, a taxi driver told me. Doig’s, our family pie purveyor of choice, is gone. If you want a decent hit of grey meat in water-crust pastry you must go to Goodfellow & Steven on the Perth Road.

The Oor Wullie Bucket Trail has been very popular among Dundonians and tourists, with more than 50 painted sculptures of the comic-strip laddie installed all over the city, from the top of the Law to the banks of the Tay. Among them are Oor Bowie, a homage to the Starman himself, and Woodland Wullie, by the first female cartoonist at DC Thomson, who worked on The Dandy. All will be auctioned on 13 September.

I often wonder if my decision to study art was somehow mixed up with Dundee. The city has long been a hub of creativity – albeit a quietly seething one. Some of the derelict jute mills are now occupied by artists and designers. It’s a little-known fact that the computer game Grand Theft Auto was created here. There’s Dundee Contemporary Arts, renowned for its exhibitions (and restaurant). And you can’t miss the statue of Desperate Dan near the Caird Hall, testament to the enduring legacy of DC Thomson’s comic heroes.

Down at the Overgate, I nipped out to the shops, dodging the giant seagulls that divebomb passers-by for their sandwiches. Inside is the biggest branch of Greggs I’ve ever seen. Maybe that explains the size of the birds. Weirdly, right next door to the shopping centre is the Howff, an atmospheric and ancient cemetery, which makes for a slightly jarring transition when stepping from one to the other: like a very dark episode of Mr Benn.

My uncle Jim once told me that a one-eyed gangster named “Och Aye’’ stalked Dundee’s badlands, but I’ve yet to spot him. He’d make a great comic strip character though.