Sunday, September 28, 2014

Costa Rica | Our 5th Wedding Anniversary

About a year ago, we decided to go on a low-key beach vacation to celebrate our 5th anniversary. Oddly enough, we've really never gone on a true beach trip - yes we are usually in the sun but it's typically in between lots of activity and adventure. We originally were looking into Caribbean destinations, but when Marriott announced its affiliation to a new Autograph Collection hotel (our favorites) in Costa Rica it was a done deal for us. We booked our stay at Hotel Punta Islita immediately!



We flew into Liberia and rented a car for the 2.5 hour drive to our hotel. I am forever grateful to the Hertz agent who upgraded us to an SUV with 4 wheel drive, as we never would have made it in the tiny car we reserved. The first half of the trek was just fine on a paved road, but the second half was horrendous. The dirt roads were a mess since it was the middle of the rainy season, so we had to drive through a few mini-rivers and up and down the mountains. By the time we got to the hotel I was ready for a drink. I assume everyone else feels the same way upon arrival, as check-in is at the bar and they serve you free guaro sours. Congratulations on surviving the drive, now forget about it! :)



In hindsight this is one place where I do not recommend a rental car since it would have cost about the same to pay for transportation between the resort and the airport, and then we wouldn't have had to deal with driving on the roads. Live and learn.



We were surprised to find out this wasn't your typical hotel, since everyone is in a bungalow! Again they spoiled us with an upgrade to a suite with our own private jacuzzi and a view of the beach. It was incredible. We always stay at Marriotts and they are generally all the same, but their Autograph Collection is a little more unique and boutique-y and this one takes the cake by a long shot! (So far, anyway...we still have many more to visit on our must-go list!)




Our first full day there was our anniversary. We spent most of the day hanging out at the infinity pool and bar area. Could not have asked for a more beautiful day to start our trip!





The one thing we did book in advance was a couples massage for that afternoon. We sure wish that could also be a more regular thing.



That evening we made reservations for a private dinner on the beach. All of the food at the resort was amazing and this was probably the best meal we had of the trip, especially since it wasn't on the regular menu.



Special Dinner Guest!




Since our main goal of this vacation was to get some serious R&R, this was also the first trip we went on without doing any research and with no planned agenda. I will admit I was a little nervous about getting bored and needing something to do, but just in case, our hotel had several awesome excursions we could sign up for.



Turns out we didn't even need all of the excursions, as we are surprisingly quite good at doing nothing and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Even though we both grew up in Florida, we hardly ever go to the beach. And Bo never really wants to just lay by the pool for hours. So much to our amazement we found that both are much more enjoyable when the chairs are already setup with towels, someone brings you food and drinks all day long, and there is plenty of shade to escape from the sun. We are almost always on the go whether we are traveling or not, and this forced relaxation was just what we needed. So much so that we are hoping to make this a more regular thing.




The first big decision we had to make every day was whether we should go to the main infinity pool, the other pool, the beach, or hang out in our jacuzzi and hammock. And the second big decision was which fruity drink to have for the day. Stressful stuff, I tell ya.

 

 



After logging several hours at each of the pool bars we made friends with most of the people staying there, especially Melissa and Nathan, fellow Marriott loyal world travelers. We got along really well with them and traded travel recommendations, so we are thankful for all their suggestions for future trips! Hopefully our paths will cross again one day :)



By about day four, we decided to finally move past the resort property and put our rental car to use. We really didn't go very far since technically we could have walked to the nearby town. The one restaurant in town was closed that day, so we stopped in a few of the local shops, and then...back to the resort we went. We waited until low tide and walked along the beach out to the point, which was probably the furthest away from the resort we ever got.









On our last night, we decided to go zip-lining. Neither of us had ever been, and several people told us that Costa Rica was one of the best places to do it, so we figured what better time or place to check it off the bucket list. We ended up being the only ones who signed up for the twilight session, so we got a private tour which is normally double the cost of what we paid. Sweet! It was pretty cool, though I'd recommend a GoPro over the iPhone for pictures :)





We loved Costa Rica. Among other firsts, it was also our first time visiting Central America. Everyone was extremely friendly and happy, we had great food and drinks (that were very reasonably priced, especially at a resort), and it was just beautiful. We definitely hope to go back some day!!





Thursday, August 28, 2014

San Francisco & Sonoma | Reunion Trip

Four days after we got home from London and Brussels, we got on yet another plane headed the opposite direction across the planet, to San Francisco! Sonya and Brandt were married in Carmel a few years ago and we spent a few days in San Francisco and Napa before their wedding. Soon after, they moved to SF and had been inviting us out there to visit ever since. We finally had (what we thought was going to be) a pretty free summer, so we started vacation planning purely revolving around eating and drinking since we'd already done the typical touristy stuff. In the meantime, Amy and John (and baby Jack) also moved to SF, and when some of our friends caught wind that we were planning a trip they decided to join us and so we made it a big reunion trip.



We flew in late on a Thursday night with Adrienne, and Kelly & Matt got in the day before us, so we all spent Friday together while our hosts were at work. We had lunch in Sausalito, a really cute town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks Alisha for the recommendation!



From there, we went to Muir Woods for an afternoon of hiking. Travel tip: Make sure you have enough fuel, as there aren't many gas stations along the way and there is no cell phone service so you can't rely on Google Maps to tell you that you were almost there before you turned around and then came all the way back just to go 0.1 miles further. Lesson learned.



Once we finally got there, it was packed and we had to park really far away, but we were determined to go at this point. And after all that, we were pretty disappointed with the "trail" - it was a completely flat, wide wooden-plank path and only about a half mile long. There were a few small trails at the end, so we went on one of those to get an actual hike in for the day. The trees were huge and beautiful, and it was a pretty easy hike.



By the time we got back, everyone was home from work and Alisha got in town soon after. We all went out to dinner and caught up over a few drinks - we had to keep it a low key night since we had a long day ahead of us on Saturday!



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We spent the next day in Sonoma! We rented a limo to take us out to wine country and back, which was definitely the way to go with such a large party. Compared to Napa, we thought Sonoma was much more laid back, the wineries were just as beautiful, not as crowded, and not as far apart, and it was generally more affordable. We all did a wine tasting of 4-6 wines at each winery we visited. The tastings were all about $10, and they waived your tasting fee if you bought a bottle of wine. Such a great deal! Bring on the wine.

 






We went to four wineries: Larson Family, Robledo, Imagery Estate, and Kunde Family. I think the majority of us liked each winery better than the last (or maybe that was all the wine talking?). It was such a gorgeous day (perfect picnic weather, don't mind if we do!). We had such an awesome day.




Baby Jack was an absolute trooper the whole day. He did SO well, and we all loved being able to love on him :)  Bo is still not so sure about babies, but Jack made quite the impression on him. Baby steps...


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Since the theme for Saturday was wine, Sunday was all about food. Sonya and Brandt took us on a walking tour of their neighborhood and we went to so many cute and tasty places. We started with brunch at The Reverie Cafe - super cute, great patio, and delicious food - cash only! Then we picked up some macaroons from La Boulange - I saved these for later, perhaps too much later since they didn't quite compare to the ones we had in Paris, but still good. We continued walking down the street to Say Cheese, aka a small slice of heaven. This place had an overwhelming selection of meats and cheeses, and after much deliberation we finally narrowed it down to a select few. It's probably a good thing we don't have something like this in walking distance to our home in Atlanta, since it was dangerously amazing. By then we of course needed dessert, so a little further down the street we stopped into The Ice Cream Bar, an old fashioned ice cream shop and we loved it! I'd say we had earned it after walking up and down all the hills in that area ;)  Our final stop of our food excursion was Bacon Bacon, which as I'm sure you can guess, has quite the selection of bacon. We got a to-go order because we just had to try it but we were so full at this point!

  


We went back to Sonya & Brandt's to recover from our food coma. They have such a great view of the city from their place! The rooftop was super windy but I couldn't resist the photo opp.





Later that afternoon, we met up with the other half of our group at Off the Grid Picnic at the Presidio - an outdoor picnic with food trucks, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge. We brought all the wine we purchased in Sonoma and several snacks we picked up on our food excursion earlier that day and just relaxed at the park for a few hours. Once again it was a beautiful day! I love California.






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Our last day in San Francisco we took it pretty easy. Alisha flew home the night before and the locals were back to work, so we slept in and started packing up to go home (boo). We met up with Kelly & Matt at Blowfish for Bo's required sushi of the trip. From there, we all walked to the Anchor Steam Brewery. After all the wine we had that weekend, it was time for some beer :) A word of warning if you plan to go here, make your reservations early! We got the last few spots of our tour when we called two months in advance. It's worth it though since the tour and tasting are both free! We tried most of the beers they make and we found a few new ones that we hadn't had before.


 


Adrienne left that afternoon and we were down to the final four. Bo and I had dinner with the Forrests at The Slanted Door, which is a modern Vietnamese restaurant that had just won the James Beard Award for Most Outstanding Restaurant in America. It was incredible, and is located in the Ferry Building so we had a gorgeous view of the sunset that evening.






And just like that our trip was over. We all said our goodbyes, and Bo & I took the red-eye home that night. We had such a fantastic time with everyone. Sonya did all the legwork in finding wineries and restaurants and making reservations for the whole weekend, which really made everything go as smooth as we possibly could have imagined for such a large group. We cannot thank you enough for such a great weekend!! If only we didn't all live so far away and could do this more often :) Until next time...