Monday, December 29, 2014

Pura Vida!

Numerous people list Costa Rica as a “must visit” vacation spot, and when given the chance to join a few friends, we took it! They were going to the Guanacaste region, which is only a few hour plane ride from DFW to the Liberia airport, and in the same time zone… “easy” travel destination for us!

Arriving at the airport, Russell and I were picked up by Giovanni (CocoTours.) He was recommended
by a friend of ours (an avid Costa Rican visitor.) We were informed by many that the roads are not well marked and driving can be difficult…I now agree with this! Giovanni took us to the first stop on our trip, Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. (We snagged a great deal on Jetsetter!) On the drive there he explained that November was an ideal time to visit because low (rainy) season was just ending, so everything was still lush and green, yet it wasn’t always raining. He was right! The weather was absolutely beautiful, staying in the 80s during the day and cooling off just a bit each evening. After about 30 minutes, we were dropped off at our little piece of paradise for the next couple days.
The polite and attentive Andaz staff welcomed us into an open aired lobby surrounded by mountain views, and served a fresh glass of juice, while they checked us into our room. A golf cart picked Russell and me up for a quick tour of the grounds before arriving to our room. The ambiance was serene and romantic; just what you need for relaxation. The room was just as incredible…floor to ceiling glass doors opened to our balcony and from the rainfall shower! You truly felt as if you were in your own bungalow nestled in the rainforest. The resort provided a beach bag, complimentary flip flops and hats to take to the beach and pools.

Speaking of the beach and pool…there were several levels of infinity pools, and the beach offered free activities. We made sure to take advantage of the stand-up paddleboarding! I had thought most of our time would be spent at the “adult” pool, but since there were not many kids around, we stayed at the main pool area getting served delicious and strong cocktails. Russell enjoyed the drink that came in a coconut, and I loved their sangria! 
One of the “must do” items on my list for this trip was to zip line…if you are going to zip line, Costa Rica is the place to do it! Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour was a short 5 minute drive from Andaz, and they provided transportation. After some quick training, Russell and I joined another family and started our tour. They took us on 11 different lines…it was exhilarating! I also checked off another “must do” which was to see monkeys. While climbing to one of the zip lines, an entire family was swinging from tree to tree. The instructor mentioned that they usually do not come out this time of day. We got lucky!
Each night, we relaxed with a glass of wine on our tranquil balcony before heading to one of the resort restaurants. (Tip: Russell bought a couple bottles of wine at the duty free store once we arrived at the airport. This helped save us some money!) The first night we chose Ostra, their seafood spot. They welcomed us with a mixed, pineapple cocktail that gave me a new love of their Costa Rican liqueur, Cacique. It has a neutral taste, so you have to be careful…you can drink a lot without realizing! Ostra offered a ceviche bar. I am not a big fan because cilantro is often mixed in ceviche, but this allowed me to make it just the way I like, and it was delicious!
The following night we went to Chao Pescao, which has live music on Saturday nights. This restaurant is known for their array of “small plates” and mojitos. Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of their mojitos, but the waitress quickly brought another cocktail, and ended up not charging for my that’s good service! Even though I didn’t care for their popular mojitos, we absolutely loved their Patacon, which is a popular dish in Costa Rica, and now I know why! This dish is fried plantain slices that you top with shredded beef and guacamole…YUM! Luckily the resort allowed us to extend our check out to 3:00 and we enjoyed the pool and Rio Bhongo restaurant on our last day before beginning the second part of our trip and heading to the house to meet our friends.

After some wonderful downtime and resort life, 
we were ready to experience Costa Rica a different way. Giovanni picked us up from Andaz and had us pulling up to our meeting spot after about an hour drive. The house was located in Playa Flamingo (still Guanacaste region,) and the owners were not kidding when they said you’d need a 4-wheel drive car for the 4km “trek” up to the house, but it was worth it. The views were like nothing I’ve seen before. It was exquisite. We couldn’t wait to take a dip in the infinity pool, and us girls jumped into the hammock with a glass of wine as soon as possible. This was going to be an incredible next few days. (As long as we watched out for scorpions!)

When we weren’t relaxing by the pool, we ventured down the 4km “trek” to explore. Giovanni had told us about Shell Beach (Playa Conchal)…literally a beach composed of billions of tiny shells. 
It was astonishing, and luckily not painful to walk on (actually a great exfoliator!) It was a bit difficult to find; we had to drive on the sand of another beach to get to it, but sure glad we did!  

The grounds keeper at the house, Diego, was extremely resourceful. His family owned a restaurant and market in town, and his father-in-law cooked dinner for us a couple nights. The food was marvelous. This was my first time to have a catered dinner like this…it’s something I could get used to!  We made sure to visit his family’s restaurant, Las Brisas. My friends loved the ceviche, and the large serving size! (I passed because of the cilantro.) We went to Soda Marcell a couple times because of the delicious fruit smoothies, and another restaurant, Sol y Mar was an experience. As we were eating, a family of monkeys joined us from the tree above. It was too cool!
One of my favorite parts of our trip was the Panache Catamaran cruise. They welcomed us aboard a beautifully clean and spacious sailboat for our snorkel and sunset expedition. The drinks were delicious and didn’t stop coming. I was disappointed in the clarity of the water and the lack of seeing any unique fish, but the spectacular scenery made up for it. They served us a good meal after we worked up an appetite swimming. This was the perfect way to wrap up our trip in Costa Rica.
The following morning, Russell and I dropped off our friends at the resort they were staying for the remainder of their trip to attend a wedding. It was probably one of the most difficult things to do knowing our vacation was coming to an end. We then made our way to the airport (be sure to remember the $29 per person exit tax that you have to pay.) 

Until next time Costa Rica…Pura Vida!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Vino; I came. I saw. I drank wine!

My husband and I like to mix work with play whenever we get the chance. If you need to be on the west coast, why not extend your stay?! Since we were meeting in San Francisco, and he has never been to the wine country, this was the perfect chance to explore Sonoma.

Landing at SFO airport, I caught the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)…which was a little scary by myself, but so cheap, quick, and easy! We were staying at Hotel Union Square, which was only a block away from the Powell St. BART stop. This hotel was in an ideal location, the staff was courteous and resourceful, and the price on was hard to beat! Once our hectic work day concluded, we met for a pre dinner drink at Kuleto’s, just across the street from our hotel. They offered a happy hour that was just what we needed to start our mini vacay. Then headed back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner and walked into our lobby full of live music, guests, and complimentary wine...end up staying for a few songs and glasses.

Some great friends of ours live in and near the city, so for dinner we grabbed a table for 6 at Plouf. Catching up with great friends over mouth-watering seafood and wine, in the streets of San Fran was unreal. We are very fortunate!
Russ and I were picked up early from our hotel (by Million Services) to take the drive to Sonoma. The views were stunning, and each minute that passed I was getting more and more excited! We pulled into our quaint and adorable bed and breakfast, Inn at Sonoma, and were ready for relaxation to begin. The square was a short walk away, and full of charming shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants. Everyone we talked to and all the Sonoma “guides” had said “The Girl & The Fig” is a MUST…so of course it was our first stop! It exceeded our expectations (which were pretty high!) I had the Viognier wine flight to start (the 2012 Tangent was my favorite) and I’m not usually a white wine drinker, but it was perfect for the abnormally warm weather we were sitting in out on their patio. Russell had a Sonoma Mule that was equally as refreshing! I had to have the fig & arugula salad to eat. The figs were as expected, Fig’N awesome! Russell’s sirloin burger and our smoked salmon cakes were tasty as well. I could eat lunch here everyday!

Our waitress, Rachel, had recommended the winery around the corner, Roche...headed there next. We were quickly realizing how friendly the people are in Sonoma. Everyone seems to want to get to know each other and make recommendations on other great places to stop by. The wine and the company at Roche was superb. We truly enjoyed our time, and it was a unique experience to take part in the barrel tasting of the 2013 Syrah.

The late afternoon was spent at our hotel happy hour with complimentary wine, again meeting and chatting with friendly guests. We grabbed dinner at an Irish Pub on the square, took a dip in the hot tub right outside our room, before calling it a night. (The two hour time difference had us a bit tired.)
What an ideal start to our Saturday... I sat out on our balcony with a cup of coffee and caught up on my book, Gone Girl, while Russ caught up on the college football games. We then picked up complimentary bikes the Inn at Sonoma offers to head to wineries. I now believe this is one of the BEST ways to experience vineyards. It was breathtaking! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being driven around drinking wine in a limo, but this was romantic and thrilling, and everything was done at our pace. 
Our first stop was Gundlach Bundschu (love their clever way of using pictures to help with pronunciation!) Biking UP (pretty steep,) the scenery was a mixture of vineyards and palm trees…reminding you you’re still in Cali! We ran into friends made the day before and had another delightful time. Russell and I then headed to Bartholomew Park after stopping by the Cheese Factory for a packed lunch. We bought a bottle of wine and headed to a picnic table. It felt like a scene from a movie…sitting beneath a towering tree, with a rich bottle of Syrah, gazing at the vineyard and a pond, while eating an assortment of fresh cheese, meats, and fruit, and of course with an extremely handsome man! Doesn’t get much better than this!  After lunch it was time to ride to the next one…Buena Vista.  Biking to this winery, the path was surrounded by incredibly massive trees. To no surprise, the atmosphere, wine, and people (especially Ali, who was so gracious and helped us with our wine tasting) was exceptional!  Russ made sure to purchase a bottle of their 2012 Pinot Noir to bring with us to dinner that evening.

We headed back to our hotel, dropped off our bikes, hit up the happy hour again, and got ready for dinner. A great couple we had met at Roche suggested Depot Hotel, an Italian restaurant that offered BYOB, or should I say BYOW? Luckily, we got last minute reservations and ended up with the perfect table for two next to the pool. The atmosphere was stunning. It was like stepping into a beautiful backyard, with an amazing garden, twinkling lights, and the water fountain running. The Italian food was just as exquisite, we ordered Prosciutto e Melone, Cannelloni alla Michele, Filet of Beef, and finished our dinner off with Salted Caramel Gelato. Our walk home was definitely needed!

 Of course our ride to the airport the next morning came too soon. I wish we could have stayed in this town longer, but it gave us a much needed break from the hustle and bustle we deal with throughout the week. Until next time Sonoma
Veni, Vidi, Vino!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Labor Day; National tribute to contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country

We love any excuse to travel and visit our friends, and this time it was for good reason…a friend of ours was turning 30 and recently became an American citizen (originally from Poland.) A’merica! So what better way to spend the Labor Day weekend than with red, white, and blue decor in the historic town of Charleston, South Carolina?

Our rented, 16 people, beach house was located on Isle of Palms, which we were quickly informed is known as “IOP” to the locals. The private pool and short walk to the beach were superb, and where we spent the majority of our days. We arrived on our friend’s actual birthday, so we were excited to take him out and celebrate. We quickly experienced the hospitality and kindness you hear about of this charming town at a cozy, Italian restaurant, Coda del Pesce. The entire restaurant chimed in to sing “happy birthday” and cheers to our birthday boy. After eating exquisite Grilled Octopus, Oysters, Tagliolini with Clams “Vongole” (which was talked about for days after), and the best Scaloppini Pork with Risotto I’ve ever had, we all headed a few doors down to a bar, the Windjammer. Thanks to DJ Natty Heavy (a childhood friend to one of ours in the group) we danced the night away to our favorite new hits as well as hits from the 90s…yes N’Sync was played. 

After spending a full day at the pool and beach, we cleaned up to head into Charleston to board a sunset cruise, or in our case, a “self-proclaimed” booze cruise on the Charleston Explorer. The sites were stunning, and it was thrilling to spot dolphins. I also loved the boat mascot; he was such a sweet dog… “ruff” life! We then caught a water taxi to take us into town to catch our dinner reservation at Cypress. I loved their wine wall, and of course had to grab a picture in this glass room…my heaven! All the food was mouthwatering. The Sashimi Tuna & Oysters were not what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised. My husband’s Steak Diana was the perfect concoction of mushrooms, swiss fondue, and truffle flavors. I also witnessed the Lamb fall off the bone of my friend’s meal beside me. We all left satisfied, and took a much needed walk to burn off some calories to the next bar…

Sunday morning was a bit rough after a night out on the town. We were looking forward to the brunch reservations we had made at the Boathouse that was less than a 5 minute walk from our house. Hair of the dog? Why not?! We ordered a few, affordable $15 crafts of mimosas, and many of us were glad we chose their Omelet of the Day that included BBQ Pulled Pork, mushrooms, and grilled onions. It was unique, but delectable. I was not looking forward to getting into a bathing suit after this meal! 
Thankfully, the sun helped us work up our apatite again for dinner. We enjoyed beer, burgers, and fish tacos at a laid-back and casual joint, Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island, and you guessed it…Edgar Allen Poe was everywhere! Keeping with the theme, their menu included items such as the “Raven” and “Pit & Pendulum” as ways to order your choice of beef or chicken sandwiches. It was very obvious why they are known for their burgers!

I was sad for our last full day of vacation, but it was the perfect way to spend Labor Day…laying by the pool and playing at the beach. We decided to head into Charleston later in the afternoon to explore the town…this “exploring” quickly became a bar crawl. Our first stop was the Rooftop at Vendue Inn. This hotel is actually dedicated to the arts, which gives you the chance to experience the different pieces as you walk through the lobby. We spent a lot of time at “LOOK” which took us back to our childhood memories of playing with the red Fisher Price View Master toy. Finally reaching the bar, the drinks and view was exactly what we were hoping for!  Our second stop, the Bar at Husk, made us feel like we had stepped back in time with the dim lighting and exposed brick. This was not the type of place I could order my go-to Michelob Ultra, but the guys were like giddy school girls with the extensive list of bourbons to choose from…which resulted in us staying a bit longer than planned!
Our final stop was at Poogan’s Porch for our dinner reservations. We started by ordering a few bottles of wine, Fried Green Tomatoes, Crab Cakes, and tried not to fill up on their homemade biscuits that melt in your mouth. Their menu was impressive; everything sounded so enticing that it was hard to choose what to order. My entre of Pan Seared Scallops made me really regret the biscuit I ate; they were to die for! Our table had many other dishes such as Shrimp & Grits, Short Ribs and the Seafood Combination, that met and exceeded our expectations. As our meal was coming to a close, we learned more about the mysterious legend behind Poogan’s Porch. Due to our curiosity, our waitress gave us a printed handout with the full tale. My friend then read this to our entire table as we all listed intensely. I have to say, this was a first to have story time in a restaurant, but who doesn’t love a good ghost story…?!

It can always be a little tough getting back to reality, but at least celebrating with good friends in a charming, beach town over the Labor Day holiday, helps reiterate the fact of working hard to play hard…at least that’s the Meg Williams’ Way!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Way : a road, track, path, or street for traveling along

We recently attended my husband’s 10 year high school reunion in Austin, Texas. Thanks to all the social networking sites, some initial interactions were awkward, because when asking the usual, “how have you been, and what have you been up to?” …In reality, you already know! There was no surprise of who married who, which couples had kids, or what they did for a living. We’ve already seen their posts, tweets, LinkedIn profiles, and blogs all about it!

As expected, the conversations throughout the night revolved around our travel, as they do on a regular basis with our friends and family… “You two are always traveling! Are you ever home?!” 

It’s true, we absolutely love to travel. We caught this bug after college when we moved to Dallas to start our careers and finally began to make some money to get us from point A to point B.

After spending this past Labor Day Weekend celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday in Charleston, South Carolina, I was inspired by Kerri Welsh to start my own travel blog! (Make sure to visit her blog at  Kurious Kerri!)
When we travel, we are looking for an experience. We want to immerse ourselves in the culture by trying new foods, drinks (especially wine), activities, meet new people, learn about the history behind the town, and explore the unknown. I want this blog to share these different experiences with you and give you ideas on which mountains you want to ski, the waters you want to jump in feet first (or dive), the valleys you want to bike through, and suggestions on the local cuisine you must try, or maybe even skip. This blog will show you the Meg Williams’ Way to travel.