All posts filed under “travel

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Honeymoon : Brainstorming

The husband-to-be and I have started throwing around some ideas, the result has been the rapid conclusion that deep in the middle of the worst winter NY has ever had is probably not the most neutral time to plan a honeymoon. As in, all we want to do right now is go to places that look like this:

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Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

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Flamingo Bay Lodge, Inhambane, Mozambique by Aquila

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   The Phoenix Resort, Ambergris Caye, Belize by A.J. Baxter

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Koh Tansay, Cambodia by Jason Tabarias  

2310833595_db09b5d998_z Tahaa, Tahiti by Kat Kellner

DSC_0037-2Or even someplace I’ve been before. Tamarindo, Costa Rica by Scott Johnson
 

DSC_0542 Tulum, Mexico by Scott Johnson

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Destination : Guilt

Yesterday, on my daily read of APW, the lovely Amanda spoke about her lovely wedding weekend, and well, I wanted to cry.

Our wedding game plan took a long while to get decided on, and as much as I want to stick to our decisions after all that, some days it’s just fucking hard.

 

Because while our plans are steadily evolving, there’s still a long way to go—namely, how to evoke the feel of a camped-out wedding weekend when you’re wedding is local and you only have your venue for the day…

But we’ve come a long, long way from my initial struggles with the guilt of having a destination wedding. This was written back in August:

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I’m a mess of a wannabe DW bride.


It’s no surprise that I’ve always known I wanted something very small, simple and faraway—I didn’t have birthday parties as a girl, I took friends on trips (courtesy of my amazing mom, who is no longer living), first to the zoo, and then later to Disney World or Hawaii. My closest friends and I have been all over the world together, to Italy, England, Australia, Hawaii, and on. And my fiancé, who hates flying (well so do I) has been successfully peer-pressured into the travel bug, and we’ve been on some awesome trips together already.


We got engaged last September in Mexico, and a year later all we know for sure is that we don’t want (and can’t afford) the traditional church ceremony/catering hall reception model that is so popular around our home on Long Island. Basically we want to gather like 30 of our closest friends at a nice house to hang out and celebrate. Doing this, uh not in NY, seemed practical at first: almost anywhere is cheaper than here, some people are traveling anyway, and I know if we did something local I would get far more wrapped up in details and planning.


So when we found an all-inclusive private villa in Costa Rica (where we had always wanted to visit) that fit the bill (and was 100% recommended on Trip Advisor), we were super excited. After a preliminary survey of whether friends would even considering coming down to CR we took a trip to check it out. The villa was everything I imagined it would be, and I know we would be in good hands there. And yet I’m totally stuck in terms of moving forward.


I think 2 things in particular are holding me back.


1) I had imagined finding a venue that was THE ONE. Like everyone says about the dress, and of course, the fiancé. Is it OK to go with a very solid option, even if it doesn’t speak to you?


2) I’m paralyzed with the thought that it is totally unpractical to ask our friends to actually do this. I know they can decline, but it seems downright wrong to even ask them to fork over ~$600 to come to our wedding. Even though the handful of potential invitees are as close to family as I’ve got (my immediate family is deceased), and they’ve all said over and over no matter where we go, they’re coming, it seems like too much to ask of my struggling twenty-something friends. We’d cover airport transport and hopefully even some of the all-inclusive accommodations, but it’s hard to know what kind of subsidizing we could do without even knowing how many people will come…it just feels like it would be so wrong to NOT pay for our guests.


While we’re seriously considering the local wedding route to go easy on our guests, I feel like it’s compromising quite a bit of who I am and what I want. Not to mention, every time we go over the numbers we end up saying, but this money (that we still don’t have) could pay for everyone to stay in Costa Rica…

I know if we go the destination route it must be expectation-free, we must be prepared for everyone to say no. But of course that’s easier said than done… 

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Yep. I was stressin’. And that was just the beginning. And I felt soo ALONE. Indie-wedding-blog-land seems devastatingly devoid of helpful sane people talking about DW’s. If I had gone that route, I wanted that to be me. But I’m not going that route, so if you are, GO!, DO! Reign with benevolent sanity and DW expertise!

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What I’m doing these days…

(Because I don’t really travel that much, that’s just what I get off my ass and blog about…)

 

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1) Finding and emailing every potential beach wedding venue this side of the Jersey Shore…

[this one’s blissfully all wrapped up, but I’m leaving it as a reminder of how long it takes me to finish a blog entry.]

 

2) Designing a kitchen we can’t afford…

 

3) Watching tv, especially HGTV with which I’m hoping our snark can be one day be turned into a blog…

 

4) Entering the last 3 years of financial data into quicken…

 

5) Online shopping

 

6) Lots of personal reflection/growth time (including Mondo Beyondo, tons of books, and APW’s well-timed things to think about)…

 

7) [Mostly avoiding] Selling off the contents of my house on Etsy and Ebay

 

8) Squeezing in some kind of exercise in the increasingly colder and darker days…

[thanks Jackie Warner for lighting a fire under my ass this summer]

 

9) Taking an acting class…

 

10) And trying to write this damn blog.

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Costa Rica : Tamarindo

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pc: sej

 

Tamarindo was muy caliente. Physically. I thought I just couldn’t hack it in CR’s Pacific Northwest/Guanacaste region. Then a local told us no, this isn’t normal, it’s awful. So I decided to amuse myself by looking at the weather report. The day we arrived in Tamarindo it was 98 degrees F, with a humidity of 100%.

 

I kid you not.

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Our hotel, Capitan Suizo was decidedly more rustic than Arenal’s Hotel Mountain Paradise, which attempted to be sort of plush even if it didn’t quite succeed. Capitan Suizo’s no fuss European sensibility dictated the decor (and lack of TV). I was prepared for this, but in that weather? I just wanted to feel pampered.

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"Ants" and mosquitoes do not = pampered. The "ants" that flooded our room about 2 hours after checking in, were later revealed by our helpful travel agent to be termites, err, "exploding" during the annual termite "explosion". The staff were really great about coming right over with a can of Off, and spraying away, but you can only call them so many times in one evening before taking things into your own hands—or flip flop, as the case may be. AND, as there were LESS termites outdoors than in our room, it might’ve been nice to sit on the patio, but that’s where the mosquitoes came in. Mosquitoes had not yet been an issue on our trip (possibly due to my rampant use of 100% DEET—one week of DEET won’t kill me, but Dengue fever might…), but they really flourished in the 100% humidity. 

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pc: sej

 

The lesson learned? May in CR is the rainy season. If the rain doesn’t bother you (it didn’t last longer than a few hours at a time until our last day), the termites and mosquitoes and humidity will. (For us other stressors included the boy’s camera battery charger breaking, and him leaving his debit card in an ATM and not noticing for a day. Banks in CR, much like the States, are not open on Sundays… I promise he’s usually [more] together.)

I learned something else on our Costa Rica adventure. If you don’t look at traveling as an adventure, if you lose sight of the "disasters make the best stories" mentality, if you forget to laugh—you have a shitty time. It wasn’t all bad. We had fun. I could see this as it was happening but sometimes…it’s just so hot.  

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Though it nearly broke my budding love of Costa Rica, we survived. The heat broke, we enjoyed a nice day by the pool and exploring the beach, a great dinner (Dragonfly Grill – fun menu, beautiful, secluded and relaxed), and less termites.

 

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And again, monkeys running rampant are cool on paper, but surprisingly normal sitting on your patio. I was more enchanted by the cats—especially the one that hung out with us on a late night walk on the beach (chasing bats up a tree!) and then tried to come in and sleep in our room. And the squirrels! Now they I wanted to take home with me.

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After Tamarindo came a quick detour to our potential wedding venue. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but I will say it = pampered. The few hours we spent there were HEAVENLY.

 

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For more deets on Capitan Suizo—which was a cute place—it totally reminded me of the kind of place my mom would’ve taken me as a kid, and I would have died of happiness with the animals, and great stuff and places to run around, and the our Tamarindo experience, find me on TripAdvisor.

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The discerning dilettante gets engaged…

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sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico
right before (after?) ‘his’ proposal

Ok, so this is not really news, I’ve been engaged since December 2008 or September 2009 depending on what you’re counting from. But knowing I don’t want this to turn into yet another wedding blog, I’ve been avoiding mentioning it.

 

Well in the last month or so, I’ve knuckled down to planning, and it has quickly taken my to-do list hostage. It’s been growing increasingly difficult to write a blog about a lil bit of everything, and not include the one thing that’s taking up most of my time and mental capacities. 
 

So let me do this properly and start at the beginning… 

 

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An Unconventional Proposal

The boy and I fell in love during a holiday season, complete with tearful Christmas Eve separation. So it seemed fitting to get engaged then, and I just generally love Christmas. Oh crap, ok, back up further…

 

The boy has been proposing to me since about 3 weeks after we first starting hanging out. Since looong before we were in any kind of monogamous relationship. Oddly, my commitment-phobic self was not scared shitless by this, my reaction was closer to "how long can I delay the inevitable?" Not long, apparently.

 

At one point while talking about engagement and marriage and logistics, I pointed out that I had a perfectly good engagement ring sitting in a jewelry box from my grandparent’s 30th anniversary. I thought it was beautiful and meaningful and it was more than good enough for me. So, cash saved, no excuses from either of us, right?

 

So here comes the part were I decided one happy Christmas that the next year I was going to give him the ring to give to me. I’m a long-range planner, and I figured a year was plenty of time to chicken out if need be.

 

Well I didn’t need it, and the year was agonizing. I watched friends get engaged, get married, I secretly read weddingbee. I also hadn’t told anyone what I was planning. For me, who needs a survey of no less than 3 opinions to buy a pair of shoes, there was something oddly freeing about doing this on my own. Until the nerves kicked in about a week out.

It’s funny, I never got why proposing was considered a hard thing to do. I mean, you’re talking about the person you’re closer to than anyone else in the world. How hard can it be to say something to them, right? Wrong!

 

I swear to god, I was so nervous I went blind. I literally couldn’t see anything. And I had to open all these presents and pretend like I cared. It was excruciating.

 

I had every right to be nervous, because it didn’t exactly go to plan:

me: so he pulls out the little bag with note card and ring box out of his stocking

and he opens it and is like "are you serious?" all like stone cold serious

and then, "but all i got you was this book"

and im laughing maniacally because i think im dying…but trying to assure him im serious

friend: aw

me: so we’re laughing and kissy and he says he doesnt know what finger it goes on and now i think HE’S kidding. and im like, well it doesnt fit anyway

friend: lol

me: and then i think it was just sort of implied that he should ask me properly later…or maybe i actually said it?

it was all downhill

 

Not all engagements are easy…

So uh yea, way to backfire.

 

The next few months were peppered with awkward discussions and analyzing with friends via IM. It was almost like life pre-monogamy…

friend: hand, fair enough, but FINGER?

it’s called a ring finger for a reason

i feel like i’m in a CW show and should be like rolling my eyes and holding a cosmo and saying "men!"

me: hahahaha

this is my life

friend: i wonder if he’s just been secretively kicking himself like "i’m such an idiot! i should’ve done it then!" because seriously, HELLO! DUH!

me: oh totally…i would put money on that

friend: what most guys agonize over you put right in his lap, literally, wrapped up with a bow

me: all i want is for him to ask me (yet again) seriously, so i can respond seriously

friend: if i were you i probably would’ve started crying and been like forget this! the engagement is off you moron! and ran away

hahah well not really, but i would’ve felt like it

me: yea, i had that moment, but i know what it comes down to, is that i had a plan, didnt tell him the plan, and then expected him to know what to do. which is crap.

friend: well to be fair to you, you set it up pretty damn clearly. he was probably just taken aback and everything in his brain slowed down and he blew the moment without realizing he’d blown the moment until after the fact

me: exactly. so now, i basically have to forward him this IM and hope he acts accordingly

friend: precisely

my question is when he said he didn’t know what finger it went on… was he trying to propose then? or was he trying to put it on your finger to seal the deal?

me: probably…and i probably totally blew it, because i said it didnt fit

the only thing i cling to, is that the whole thing is so "us"

 

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Textbook Proposal

After several (months and months) missed opportunities (romantic Valentine’s Day dinner/long weekend!? I didn’t plan that shit because I’m sappy!), a little green box accompanied us on a long weekend to Mexico. I know this because I checked before we left, and quite frankly if it hadn’t moved from where it mocked me on the nightstand I would’ve packed it myself.

 

Funnily, after checking that he had brought it I managed to promptly forgot all about it for our entire trip. (Thank god, could you imagine if I’d spent the whole time looking out for romantic proposal moments?!) It wasn’t until suddenly someone was acting bizarrely (it doesn’t take that long to pick out a pair of socks) before our last nite’s dinner, that I remembered. And I was suddenly very glad that I had made him do this. Because watching him be nervous was so cute. And I felt wonderfully smug in enjoying his nervousness, having gone through it myself.

That is, until he told me he was nervous to fly the next day. And I fell for it hook, line and sinker. And nothing happened, and I was grumpy, and yet somehow managed to forget all about it again as we got up for sunrise on the beach (something I’d been too lazy for every other day). So yea, totally shocked when he busted it out then. Which was miraculous. And fitting. And oddly perfect.

 

And now what.

In the time it took for us to get ourselves engaged, I’ve literally watched as entire engagements and weddings took place. I’ve fought against feeling like a turtle in a race of hares. Because I know it’s not a race. Or a contest. That would be a ridiculous.

I’m starting to see the engagement debacle as a sneak preview for the circular reasoning and indecisiveness I should know by now will characterize any large-scale planning process with myself involved…

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Costa Rica : Arenal

About ten years ago, when I was a wee lass, I went to Australia and New Zealand. It was terribly exotic, and yet I realized that everywhere looks a lot like somewhere else. Cities are cities, deserts are deserts, seasides are seasides, and as my globe-trotting mother’s dear friend "Aunt" Ruthie was known to say: "You’ve seen one church/pyramid/wonderoftheworld, you’ve see them all." Wise woman.

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And yet somehow, Costa Rica was different. Yes, it was one part Spanish-speaking Hawaii, one part run down Caribbean island, and one part monotonous scenery a la Pennsylvania, but it reminded me of so many places, it became uniquely itself. (And we only visited 2 destinations in our short week there.)

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pc: sej

Our first stop was La Fortuna de San Carlos at the base of Volcan Arenal. It was reached by a beautiful and challenging three hour drive through the mountains. The pic above was taken when our driver (I didn’t say it was us being challenged…) stopped halfway at one of those restaurant/rest stop/gift shop type places that’s an oasis in the midst of nothing but hillside farms. As we enjoyed our first Costa Rican cerveza (because this was vacation…), we watched weather roll in unnerving quickly, and soon were happily driving along in our first Costa Rican monsoon. This was followed by unhappily napping along, as we struggled to stay awake, and not miss a single grazing pony. This did not so much happen, but I woke up in time for a first glance at the faraway volcano. It had promptly disappeared again by the time we got to the town of La Fortuna.

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The "elusive" volcano proved to be a running joke for the 3 days we spent near Arenal, as it was consistently visible despite our constantly being told that we were lucky to see it. I know this must actually be true, and not local lure, because of the number of people on Trip Advisor who spoke of entire weeks spent in Arenal without seeing it. Yes, it was clearest in the morning, and in the afternoon after a rain, but the clouds moved so quickly it was always being covered and uncovered.

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pc: sej

 

We stayed at Hotel Mountain Paradise a few minutes outside of town, and it was a beautiful boutique-y place. (Search DiscerningDilettante on TripAdvisor to read my opinions on the hotel itself.) The rooms are little casitas facing the volcano, and the grounds are amazing. The flowers and the birds there alone made the entire trip. Next time I might upgrade to the Arenal Nayara down the road, or downgrade to the Observatory Lodge or the Treehouse, but this was a great middle ground for a first trip.

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Our first evening was spent at Eco Termales, which it was lovely. It’s not large, but it’s peaceful (even when it got more crowded as the nite went on), and the drinks and food were some of the best we had in CR–simple, well-prepared fresh ingredients that weren’t trying too hard. And I know I would have been disappointed to go to Tabacon in the evening and wonder what it actually looked like! Even at Eco T, I really longed to see what birds and animals were making all the noise in the trees. When at Eco Termales, I recommend the smallest, hottest pool with the waterfall and misters, a mango daiquiri, and having dinner early—most people chose to eat right before leaving, and so we had nearly the whole place to ourselves for the last hour.

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pc: sej

Our second day featured a visit to the Arenal Hanging Bridges with our awesome guide Javier. Our trip to the Hanging Bridges taught me that there is a such thing as too much Trip Advisor, as I knew what Javier was going to tell us before he said it. This made my visit to the rain/cloud forest kind of anticlimactic. But the bridges and scenery were beautiful, and not nearly as scary as I’d imagined. And the fact that we saw almost no wildlife made me feel less guilty about all the times we go birdwatching at home and see nothing. I mean, if Costa Rica can disappoint then obviously NY can.

 

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pc: sej

We spent our third day at Cano Negro wildlife refuge, with Javier again, and we saw some neat things, but to be honest it felt very Nature Sighting 101 on the Jungle Boat Cruise. Animals you think are going to wow your face off, are not necessarily all that exciting once in a tree 30 feet away doing their thing. [See Ruthie’s Law above.] Sadly, I’m guessing I could be on safari in Kenya and be like, yea that zebra is just like the zebras I saw [insert zoo/wildlife preserve] when I was 6.

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Sightings included some caimans, lots of howler and white-faced monkeys, tons of egrets and herons, kingfishers, lizards, and more cormorants that I could really stand. Several of the other couples on the tour (we were lucky to have a small group of about 10), had been to Madagascar, etc. and were still excited about birds we literally have in our backyard! Birding, I thusly determined, is all relative–I should confess to acting terribly jaded and disappointed until we saw an Amazon Kingfisher, the cutest little green bird that I fell in love with at the San Diego Zoo’s aviary.

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pc: sej

 

I was sad to leave Arenal, (the blow was softened by a hilarious driver who played hip hop and pop mash up videos that kept us entertained for close to 2 hours en route to Tamarindo)–I simultaneously knew that we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do there, and was amazed by how content I was to just sit on the porch or in the pool and watch the birds and clouds roll over the volcano, and wish we could stay another week…

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pc: sej

If you love details like I do, you can read them all over at TripAdvisor.

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Asheville, NC: More than Biltmore

Our 24 hour trip was nowhere near enough to see much more than Biltmore, but we did get one little taste (derp!) of Asheville before heading back to Charlotte—on our previous nite’s waiter’s recommendation we headed to 12 Bones barbeque in the River Arts Distract for a late lunch. (They close at 4pm, so don’t get there too late, as one guy did and was very sadly left knocking on the locked door.)

The drive from Biltmore in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a one lane road through the industrial warehouse side of Asheville in excruciating sunshine was a mind-numbing 45 minutes (in addition to the 25 minutes it took us to get out of the damn estate). But it was totally worth it.

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It might not look like it could possibly be worth that much effort, but as the best things in life usually do, this one came in an unexpected package. An order at the counter and then sit at an indoor/outdoor picnic table sort of place, one of the best things about 12 Bones was the  random clientele—everyone from an elderly couple to Asheville’s best-dressed rockabillies and hipsters seemed to be there enjoying the food.

 

They served fancily-flavored bbq with local ingredients, local beers, and the biodegradable corn type of disposables. I had blueberry-chipotle ribs, various type of pulled pork were tried, and we all (especially my vegetarian friend – one portobello burger for her) gorged on amazing sides like mashed sweet potatoes and cauliflower and cornbread. 

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They also had several unconventionally flavored ketchups/mustards—between those and their marinades we could probably single-handedly keep an online business going. Just sayin’, if someone at 12 Bones is interested….

 

I’m definitely bummed that we didn’t get to explore downtown Asheville. I hadn’t expected to feel quite as out of place in NC as I did (though maybe it was just the retiree-heavy Biltmore), but the rest of Asheville seemed like the kind of place we could hang out for a while. I mean, so far as I could tell, their "River Arts District" had galleries in actual warehouses, not post-modernist hipster, but "this is a real warehouse" at $5k for a month’s rent…

I’d really love to go back and see more than just Biltmore. Not too long after we got back to NY did I find out about this awesome-looking shop through my day job (they want to carry Esopus!):

 

And one last plug for the awesomeness of Asheville–not to be left off the map, they have their own street style blog:

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We did take the time to take the scenic route back to Charlotte (and miss my friend’s concert because of it, but that’s another story), and it was also way worth it. You see, I have this habit of looking at a map and saying, "But this way will also get us there and it looks cooler." And you know what, it usually is.

 

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So the trip to 12 Bones was just the beginning of NC-driving-induced-delirium for us, as we were soon winding through the mountains at 30mph not quite sure if we would ever reach a "real road." But there was plenty to see, and plenty to laugh hysterically at. (Hickory Nut Gap, NC anyone?) Luckily our plucky little rental Suburu was up for the challenge. (Pretty sweet for a rental, I know. It took us 2 hours and the manual to figure out it was mistakenly in "sports" mode.)

 

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Some highlights…

DSCF9992Idyllic Camp…Crystal Lake 

DSCF9995 "Moonshine Junction"

DSCF9999 Chimney Rock…is up there somewhere…

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Lake Lure

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What North Carolina does for fun…

So a good time was had by all at Biltmore, Asheville, and ultimately Charlotte. (Though please don’t get me started on their fresh-from-the-frat club scene…)

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Finally to Biltmore.

Back in April the boy and I had a wedding to attend in Charlotte, NC, and he and some friends relented to my quest to visit Biltmore Estate.

 

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Biltmore was another stop in a life-long obsession with the Vanderbilts, among other Gilded Age celebrities. Although it’s the largest privately owned home in the US, I was surprised to find it isn’t like the Hudson Valley, Newport, or Gold Coast mansions. It’s a home. Some rooms are spectacular, some rooms are, *gasp*, “normal” (for the early 1900s), and there are a lot of them! In its day as a private privately owned home, it was probably more like a supersized B&B. Such is why the Inn on Biltmore Estate is such a great concept.

 

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Our night’s stay at the Inn was a delicious splurge. I basically wished that I was still 9 years old, playing pretend that I was a special guest of the Vanderbilt’s daughter Cornelia. But being a grown up there was almost as good: the service was exceptional (hello upgraded room!), the rooms were lush, the grounds fabulous, and it was just so calming. I’m a New Yorker–I don’t know how to relax, and yet, there surrounded by aging Southerners taking a weekend away to read the paper on a terrace in the mountains, I was…unwinding.

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After we checked into the Inn the four of us headed the short (downhill) walk to the winery buildings for dinner. It was too late for most of the shops and wine tasting, but we were able to grab a yummy meal at the pub, and then explore the farmyard and kitchen garden. The sun setting over the mountains was a beautiful sight, best enjoyed frolicking among vegetables and [penned] sheep.There were even fireworks! (That, admittedly, the welcome letter in our room announced were “practice fireworks.”)

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The only snafu in our blissful 24 hours occurred when we went down to the pool/hot tub after dinner.  The boy and I were just beginning to relax in the romantic and deserted hot tub when we noticed that the underwater light was out and someone had placed it, still wired, onto the deck beside the hot tub. We were debating exactly how hazardous this was, when a hotel worker came out to take a look at it. He told us it needed a repair (obviously), and he’d have to shut down the pool area for the night. Sure it was a massive letdown, but he was so apologetic, and what else could you do. I consoled myself with the spa tab in our upgraded room instead.

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We got up early for a walk around the grounds with some complimentary (and delicious) coffee. It’s amazing how easy it is to get up at 7am when it’s not for work. We went by the pool area, and I was very impressed to find everything repaired and reopened.

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After checking out, we headed over to the house and grounds. Yes, it is such a Disneyfied experience, from the parking lot shuttles to the “ride” (I mean, walking tour) photos that you can purchase upon exiting. But, like Disney, it’s all very orderly , clean, and well-organized, with reasonably-priced, tempting gift shops (and outrageously priced foods). And you’re more likely to get stuck behind seniors than screaming 3-year-olds.

The house is…um…extensive. And I can hardly comprehend how there’s more to be seen behind the 50+ rooms on the basic self-guided tour. If we’d had more time, I was really lusting to do the rooftop/balcony tour. Nooks, crannies, stairwells and amazing views? Yes, please! If there’s a tower to be climbed, I’m all for it. And I think the boy would’ve enjoyed close-ups of gargoyles, even if he had to grapple with his fear of heights.

 

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The gardens are picturesque in the most art history use of the term. I’m not a Frederick Law Olmstead fan (he also designed Central Park), but there were some pretty views and had we not been EXHAUSTED by the 2.5 hour walk through the house, it would’ve been fun to explore everything at a more leisurely pace. The (expensive) horseback rides or bike rentals are probably lots of fun and a great way to see the grounds.

 

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But we had to get on the road, with a not-so-quick lunch detour and a very “scenic” scenic highway standing between us and seeing my friend open for Lupe Fiasco back in Charlotte. SPOILER ALERT: We did NOT make it in time.

 

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On the Road: Our Riviera Mayan Edventure

 

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Tulum Ruins – pc: the dd and sej

 

Edventure was a Trip Advisor word-of-mouth find, and an awesome one. They really were like all the things the reviews say they are like. Super nice, super accommodating, and turned my initial misery into what was, the best day of our vacation. I say misery because, as there website states: “While it may be raining at your resort, it could be sunny at our office in Tulum.” Well, what we didn’t keep in mind, was that it may be sunny at our resort and raining at their office in Tulum. So the rain jackets stayed in the suitcase, and we got drenched while visiting the ruins at Tulum. The ruins that I’d read about being the hottest place on earth and there being no protection from the sun. No protection from the rain either…so I was soo wet and miserable when we headed to reunite with the other couples (who’d gone zip-lining) on our the second part of our “edventure.” I seriously wanted to just go back to our hotel, but was eventually soo glad we didn’t.

 

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Dos Ojos – pc: the dd

 

The second stop involved snorkeling in a cenote (a kind of freshwater cave), which was eventually awesome, after initially forgetting how to snorkel, and having my 10-yr old mask

crap out. At this point my knight in shining armor stepped in–he was a friend of the Edventure family and was tagging along helping on tours while he was in town. An absolute sweetheart, he was completely my hero for letting me borrow his mask while he fixed mine, and just generally making me feel like if I ever needed someone to hang back or help me out, it was OK. An dandy-ish expat with what sounded like kick ass past life, his enthusiasm and love of Mexico and its people was totally contagious. The cenote, Dos Ojos, was insane. Easily one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. We could see cave divers way down in the cavern, and bats flying and roosting up in the eaves.

 

After Dos Ojos we headed to Akumal for lunch and more. I don’t even know if I can describe Akumal in words. Something about the rainy, misty day seemed more evocative that the sun ever would have. The grey and the turquoise ocean looked like a tie-dyed chiffon ballet skirt I once had. Terrible analogy. Look at the photo. Lunch was at La Buena Vida which had good food, generous portions and an amazing beachy charm. It was like Jimmy Buffet level Corona and margarita paradise. They do weddings, and don’t think we aren’t tempted. Frankly, we’re tempted to emigrate to Akumal in general.

 

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Half Moon Bay in Akumal – pc: the dd

 

After lunch we snorkeled at Yal-ku Lagoon, which my boyfriend really loved. He apparently noticed there were apartments that cozied right up to the lagoon, which…well wow, is what that would be. You could go swimming in an aquarium every day. Some awkwardness followed in that we were going to forego snorkeling with the sea turtles in Akumal Bay to save some money and time as we‘d both snorkeled with turtles before, but it was easier for the group of 6 to stay together, so we got brought along turtle snorkeling for free. The boat ride out onto the bay was probably my favorite part of the day, the endlessness of the ocean kept bringing to mind the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Had we planned on going, it would’ve been disappointing. It was turtle-tagging day for the Akumal Turtle protection patrol people and so almost all the turtles had gone off and hidden themselves, though we did see a crazy beautiful squid. Our guide, Hector, was telling us that they’d spotted a hammerhead the other day (in the area we were not swimming)—a sighting of that probably would’ve made my life!

 

The only downside of our adventure with Edventure—I seriously dehydrated myself and did not put 2 and 2 together until around 1pm the next afternoon. It wasn’t very hot or sunny, so I sort of forgot to keep up with drinking water, especially when one didn’t really know when the next restroom opportunity would be. And when you’re *in* the water all day, you really don’t think about your body not having enough. Thus the 20 hours of sleep that followed before I sorted myself out with about a nonstop liter of water. So my word of advice, bring plenty of water (they have a cooler in the van), and remember to drink it!

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On the Road: Riviera Maya

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Before you read any further you should know that I’m a compulsive over-planner.

When I was a small child there were always charts involved regarding wardrobe choices, lodgings, attractions, etc. And ever since Excel has entered the world, that level of “organization” (I say tomato, you say tomato), can be taken to blissfully masochistic levels.


Therefore, had I know that the Riviera Maya was a region just begging to be spread sheeted I would never have bought our flights. And not as part of a package (because I became overwhelmed with all-inclusive options almost immediately and could not decide on a resort in the 3 hours before our JetBlue vouchers expired at 11:59pm August 4th).


Did I mention I’m also a procrastinator?


The ultimate irony didn’t strike until 3 weeks later when we finally (mostly) committed to a resort that was…Valentin Imperial Maya–my original choice during those frenzied hours on JetBlue.com. So maybe now I’ve learned to listen to my instincts and not untold hours of TripAdvisor-review-reading? Hardly. At any rate, one spreadsheet of 30 all-inclusive resorts later, I had a shortlist. The honorable mentions were:


Xpu-ha Palace.
I wanted to love this one, I did. In fact for almost all of the research process it was the standard which all the other resorts were measured against. Lots of critters for the FI and Robinson Crusoe (or is it Swiss Family Robinson?) bungalows for me. I could live with 2 restaurants and a non-existent beach since the Palace passport and free excursions seemed a worthy trade off. But I just couldn’t get past maxing out our budget for big black fences around an itty bitty pool. Sorry Xpu-Ha and your aviary…that I’m still daydreaming about.
There was Hacienda Tres Rios, part of a nature reserve! But astronomically expensive.
Grand Sirenis.
We actually seriously considered this like an hour after I found a review on TA with mention of a TON of bird species. I mean, haven’t you always wanted to visit the set of the Planet of the Apes sequels?
El Dorado Maroma.
Adorable bungalows. Or plunge pools on your balcony. Awesome deal. Sort of sad that the architectural discrepancy between the Mi Hotelito section and the rest of it is so horrifying it renders me totally unable to set foot on the property.
And lastly, Excellence Playa Mujeres. A great deal had through Amex Wishlist, that I’m still not entirely convinced they’re still not going to call me up and make me use. EPM (oh yeah, the Riviera Maya world is FULL of nonsensical acronyms) is known for its…wait for it…RTTs. Known in English as rooftop terraces, these come complete with plunge pools and giant outdoor beds. After an inappropriate amount of deliberation, this was given up for VIM, which was slightly more expensive but the reviews were more reliable and it allegedly had more animals. Is it obvious that I really wanted to go to EPM? Oh well, next time…
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VIM was stunning and I really can’t complain. Except to say that we weren’t there long enough. After playing Mexican roulette at customs (Scott lost and had all the shit–that’s right, because he was carrying both our bags–searched), we were picked up immediately. Thank you CancunTransfers–way to be completely on top of things, even when we rescheduled our return trip at the last minute!

I don’t understand the people who talk about Riviera Maya hotels in terms of not being close enough to the airport. I get not wanting to spend hours of your long weekend in a van, and probably would’ve regretted staying all the way in Tulum at some point or another, but VIM was like a sneeze away from the airport. I know don’t understand how people stay in Cancun proper without feeling like they’re at an airport hotel.

DSC_0194The driveway from Highway 1 (the Yucatan, much like Canada, really has one road) up to VIM’s “motor” entrance was endless, and I could practically smell the ocean in my excitement (enough research and map-looking-at and it’s like having internal compass). I entertained all sorts of daydreams about borrowing bicycles and riding along the driveway bird watching. Very ambitious, I would later learn. 

DSCF9438The entire place looked just like all the pictures in the best way possible. Complete with champagne. I got off to a responsible start by not finishing it in one gulp. Our swim up suite bred a level of laziness even I have never reached before. (Thank god we never ordered room service, because I seriously think if we had gone down that road, it would have been all over.)

The bed was comfy (so much for the hard Mexican beds rumor), the bathroom fairly luxe (though being spoiled I would’ve liked some tv in the sightlines of my spa tub), and the living area pretty useless, except for widening the distance between everything else and our pool access. (I did watch a movie and nap on the couch once to make it have purpose).

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Being able to walk outside and jump in the pool was literally a lifelong dream I didn’t even realize had never been realized. I mean, what little girl doesn’t want a pool? Especially during hot LI summers when every single one of her neighbors does? Pools to me, are quite literally the point of going on vacation. But I never really experienced what life would be like to truly have one in your backyard. It would be awesome.

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The beach was fairly awesome too. Mexico’s no Hawaii, but it was in serious contention with the Bahamas and rest of the Caribbean, and definitely surpassing California and Australia. And the best part—not a soul to bother you, no one selling anything! Beaches in Mexico are public, so it is surprising, and impressive that there was none of that. The VIM beach seemed to cater to every possibility, with plenty of quiet areas away from the volleyball, water sports, etc. The whole resort was very diverse in terms of people of different activity levels finding something for them.

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Our first morning there, I decided to take a yoga class. I was thinking, resort yoga class, that’ll be easy. Oh hahaha, tell that to “Eduardo” the sexy Mexican yogi a la pretty much every movie that’s ever featured vacation yoga. Hardest class I’ve ever taken–almost as rough as our 12 hour snorkeling extravaganza with Edventure Tours.

DSC_0821 The food on average was good to great. Not bad at all considering what we paid, and there really is something incredibly relaxing about not having to think about how much what you’re putting in your mouth costs.  After our Edventure day, we ate at Ginger, which was our favorite of the restaurants, I could have had a buffet full of their desserts, which sadly was not offered in buffet form. (For more food-related details, check out my review on Trip Advisor.)

After loads of Mexican food warnings, and the solid advice to do daily shots of Pepto, my delicate stomach was probably more affected by the possibility of getting sick than what I was actually eating. We ate all kinds of fruits and veggies (yes, I had salsa!) and drank the filtered(!) water, and for the most part were fine. In fact, there were several nights where I ate and drank such bizarre combinations of things (mudslides and sushi anyone?) that I‘m amazed I survived. (And the not fine could easily have been the antibiotics I’d taken a couple earlier that had, you guessed it, intestinal unpleasantness as a side effect.) I would advise to add some probiotics to the pepto routine and to keep taking both for a week after returning home.

We went in September which was hot, but bearable—you’re in or near the water most of the day anyway, and luckily for us it only rained briefly in Tulum and the morning we were leaving. Or maybe it rained other mornings and I just slept through them, haha.


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From someone who’s been there.
Don’t leave home without :
1) pepto, sunscreen and bug spray
2) a pool float – it’s worth the few bucks to not have to worry about whether or not they’ll be any around
3) singles!!  – the staff is great, and it’s so much easier to tip when you don’t have to track down the cash
4) more than one swim suit – today’s is not going to dry in time for tomorrow in all that humidity

What to do if you’re…
1) Feeling lazy. Book a swim-up suite – you’ll never have to worry about finding a lounger poolside when it’s right outside the room.
2) Feeling adventurous. Try Edventure tours. It really was the best day of our vacation.
3) Feeling thirsty. Find swim-up pool bartender David and ask him for his signature
mango, tequila, and milk concoction. Nothing short of amazing.