Bangkok, Thailand

Arriving in a new place is always interesting, we never know what to expect. The traffic is the first thing we noticed in Thailand. Multiple lanes of cars and motorbikes driving in every which way and traffic lights had little effect. Traffic is a constant flow and we had to become one with traffic in order to cross streets. Crosswalks were very unusual; normally we just followed other pedestrians across the street. Public transportation was easy and we especially enjoyed the public riverboat that was just down the street from our Airbnb.

Our second impression of Thailand revolved around its food; which is amazing and the prices are even better. Hands down our favorite thing about Thailand is the exchange rate. We were able to enjoy beautiful rooftop views for dinner almost every night. Our most expensive dining came to $20 and we had drinks and dinner. Not to mention it was one of our favorite views of the city’s skyline.

The street food vendors were another highlight of Thailand. Although they lacked the pretty views, the food was just as good if not sometimes better and we’re only a fraction of the already inexpensive prices. 

The night markets are an incredible experience and do not compare to anything we have seen in the US. The best way to describe the night markets is like a flea market, but even that does not give it justice. The items for sale were things you would find at a mall. Fashionable clothing (with much better quality than expected), off-brand electronics, and services like nail salons, barbershops, and a tattoo booth. 

Bangkok was one of the hottest places we have been, but it was easy to escape the heat and find air conditioning. It was as if there was a shopping mall on every corner, and we are not talking about your average run of the mill malls either. These malls were huge, five stories or more, and absolutely stunning on the inside. Our favorite one was the Icon Siam mall, which is home to the first Apple store in Bangkok, a Porsche and Maserati store, and of course many other name-brand stores. This mall had a waterfront view and entertain their guests with a water show twice a night.

All the locals were very friendly, Thailand is known as the land of smiles and its not just a marketing slogan. Tim stubbed his toe and ripped a deep layer of skin off. It was bleeding pretty badly but thankfully it was not anything serious. Multiple locals came up to us to help, they felt terrible that he had gotten hurt. They gave us bandaids and clean wet wipes. 

The thing that surprised us the most was the grande place and the giant swing, the two most famous landmarks in Bangkok, were located in a very underdeveloped area of the city. It was very eye-opening to see some of the locals ‘houses’. Just another reminder of how blessed and privileged we are.

 Bangkok was the destination I was looking the lest forward to. I was scared of the culture shock and just afraid of how different everything would me. Honestly, we almost took it off our list. Man am I so glad we didn’t do that. Thailand was great and we hope to have the opportunity to visit again. 

Germany

Where do we start? We are extremely thankful that we were able stay over a month in Germany and experience so many great adventures. This was a huge park of our trip where we saw great provision. Europe was added and removed from our travels multiple times. We thought about holding off on Europe entirely and saving it for later in life. It wasn’t a final destination until Nicolai asked Tim if we wanted to go to Oktoberfest with him. Soon after we decided to travel to Europe, my sister Jenny applied for a job in Germany. Not only did she get the job, which was in the same town we were meeting Nicolai in, but her and her family were already there by the time we were scheduled to fly over. We couldn’t have planned it any better.

Germany is centrally located and was easy to explore other countries in Europe. We were able to take a train to Prague, Paris, and other neat towns in Germany including Munchie, Tubingen, and Frankfurt. The train system was very interesting and convenient. It was incredible to watch the country side out the window as we traveled.

We timed our visit to attend the Stuttgart Oktoberfest festival, called Cannstatter Volksfest. This fair / festival is the more local German version of Octoberfest. Although we did spend a day at the Oktoberfest in Munich just to cross it off the list. Volksfest had more of a family feel. We spent one evening inside of a tent with Nicolai and his family where we were able to watch and listen to the local Germans sing and dance. We had a great time eating, drinking, and riding carnival rides. Although the bumper cars could be quite dangerous after 9 PM. 

During our visit we were able to help a local farmer and pick grapes for a Vineyard. My sister Jenny signed us up through the Army Post with around 20 other Americans. For our hard work, we got a free lunch and a few bottles of wine. We also got to tour the processing garage. It was a great learning experience.

It was so nice to spend some quality time with my sister’s family. In addition to the Volksfest, we also went to the Mercedes-Benz and the Porsche museums. We even were able to tour the Dachau Concentration Camp. I could go on and on about each of these places, but there is too much to mention. I will say that seeing an concentration camp was such an eye-opener. The things we saw and learned there will will not be forgotten.

The food in Germany was absolutely amazing and it was so nice to meet up with family and friends and make new friends along the way. Tim and I visited the local bakery down the street quite often. My sister did not have Wi-Fi yet so we went down to the bakery to use the Internet. The owner became quite fond of us and even gave us a couple free treats. 

The language barrier was the least of our worries. Costa Rica had already prepared us, but a lot more people spoke English then you would have realized. Sometimes they were very helpful and tried to teach us German words. Other times you would be sitting on a train asking questions and trying to figure out what was happening and we would have to flat out ask ‘do you speak English?’ for them to help at all.

Overall it was a beautiful city and a beautiful country. We are so excited for my sister’s family to grow up in such a neat area.

Quepos, Costa Rica

We arrived in Quepos on August 10th. The Airbnb host was very nice and picked us up at the bus station. The apartment was located on a very local street with a lot of ticos (Costa Ricans) homes. There was a friendly local family living in the house below our apartment. Unfortunately, they did not speak any English but he introduced himself and we always said hola while passing by. The family had two very friendly dogs and the small Chihuahua would come to visit us on our porch. The larger dog was kept down below, but on our last day, he got out to visit us and was very friendly. It amazed us that he could fit between the columns to access our porch.

 

On our first full day, we went to explore the shops in Quepos. It was a pretty small town, probably about 5 by 10 blocks, right next to the water. There was a very nice walking path around the water leading to the colorful Quepos sign right on the edge of town.

We continued walking on the path in the opposite direction and reached the Quepos Marina. This was a newly constructed plaza with shopping, restaurants, and tourist excursions. We came to the Marina a couple different times just to sit, relax, and listen to the ocean. One day, we walked past the Marina and found a nice park with an outdoor gym and exercise machines.

The biggest highlight from our trip to Quepos was visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park. The entire time we had been in Costa Rica all Tim had wanted to do is see a monkey. He talked about it all the time and anytime we were near what might have been considered a rainforest, he would start calling out for George. You know, George the curious monkey? Well, George never came when he was called until we went to Manuel Antonio National Park. And after that, we saw George and all his friends quite often.

 

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The Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest, but most popular national park in Costa Rica. The park had multiple beaches and hiking trails, which mostly consisted of walking up and down stairs. My legs were very sore the next day.

We saw a group of monkeys on the path while walking to one of the beaches. They were jumping and swinging from all of the trees. When we were relaxing in our hammock on the beach another group, or maybe the same group, of monkeys invaded the trees above us. One monkey actually tried to steal our plastic bag with our flip-flops. After a short tug a war match between Tim and the monkey, Tim won and the monkey ran away empty-handed.

We were in the middle of the last hiking trail of the park when it started to downpour. We had to get out of the park and run to the bus in the pouring rain (around 3 miles). Who would have thought it would rain in the rainforest?

One evening we went to eat at the Tico Rico restaurant that was located in a hotel on the side of the mountain. It was covered by the trees and had a beautiful view of the water and sky. While we were eating a monkey walk across the restaurant’s roof and jump into the trees below us. Our waiter told us that in the mornings they had to be extra careful because the monkeys would try to get into the kitchen and steal the food. We went back another night to this restaurant and got to enjoy the pool and water slide.

We took an hour bus trip and spent a full day in Uvita and went to Marino Ballena National Park, which is actually just a beach. What makes the beach special is that it has a huge sandbar shaped like a whale tail that is only visible during low tide. Unfortunately, we got to the park right when the tide was rising and we weren’t able to fully enjoy the sandbar. But, we were still able to relax on the beautiful beach.

Our last day came too soon, literally. We got the dates mixed up and thought we had another full day. We were planning to go back the Manuel Antonio National Park and do a couple other last-minute things. Oh well. Lucky our host sent us a message the night before asking us what time we were planning to leave. This allowed us to wake up extra early to pack and clean up.

This was a beautiful area and we are blessed that we were able to create these lasting memories.

Jaco Costa Rica

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Jaco is the prime example of a beach town. The area is known for tourist and the main strip is filled with restaurants and shops of all types. Everything you need is in easy walking distance; we didn’t get on a bus or call an Uber during the stay. Surfing is one of the main reasons tourist visit Jaco. During our stay, the waves would get up-to 10ft tall. The language barrier was non-existent because most everyone there is fluent in English or knew enough to get by.

Our Jaco trip began by catching the bus from the 7-10 Bus Station in San Jose. The tickets were $5 per person and the trip was two hours long. We meet a passenger on the bus that spoke English and we had our first English speaking conversation while in Costa Rica. He was an older man and we were skeptical of his motives at first, he looked like he might’ve asked us for money or tried to sell us something at any moment. However, he turned out to be friendly and gave us some helpful tips about the area.

 

Our room was right on the main strip, one block away from the beach. Each morning we walked to the beach and found a different spot to hang the hammock. We never hung it in the same spot twice, but one of our favorite spots was on the north end of the beach, which was a more secluded area surrounded by large boulders in the water.

 

Lose dogs roamed all over the town and beach. They all seemed very friendly but kept a respectable distance. At first, we thought the all were strays, but they looked much healthier than normal strays. We finally learned that it is very common for pet owners to allow their dogs to roam free and the dogs would just come home when they were hungry. It seemed like a perfect life for a dog. Come and go as you please and spend the majority of the day on the roaming the beach.

 

There was no use looking at the weather app while in Jaco. Each day, and hour, it would say the same thing: high of 84, low of 81, and a 50% chance of rain. It rained at least once every day. Sometimes it was just a light sprinkle that lasted 3 hours or a heavy downpour lasting a couple minutes.

 

Although most days were pretty cloudy, we spent each sunset out on the beach. A couple nights we lucked out and had a beautiful view. We stayed near the north end of the beach and it wasn’t until our last night in Jaco that we discovered that the south side had a much prettier view of the sunset.

 

There were multiple tents set up on the beach advertising local surfing lessons. We decided to make the most of being tourists and took surfing lessons from one of the local guides. The best spot for surfing lessons was on the south side of the beach, the waves are much calmer and great for beginners. This was a great experience and lasting memory. Tim and I were both able to stand up as we rode the waves in. Tim did a much better job than me and stood up on almost every wave. I kept putting my font foot in the wrong spot making me lose balance and tumbling over. But regardless, we both had a great time.

 

While surfing, the guide pointed out a local lookout spot that you could see from the beach. It was an old abandon building, probably a restaurant or hotel but no one know for sure, that had a beautiful view of Jaco. The hike up the Mountain was paved for the most part and a lot easier than I expected. We felt completely immersed in the rain forest. Tim eagerly kept his eyes open for monkeys, but we had no luck. The building itself was very unique. It had three tiers and the top and second tire were completely open. The bottom tier was sectioned off into what looked like six individual rooms; each one had a spot for a balcony and bathroom.

 

One of Jaco’s main attractions, besides the beach itself, was the Jaco Walk. This was a brand new shopping plaza area filled will upper-class restaurants, stores, and coffee shops. We explored this plaza almost once every day mainly so Claire could use the bathroom. Our favorite trip to the Jaco Walk was when we went to the Puddle Fish Brewery. We struck up a conversation with one of the brewers and a couple at the bar from Settle, Washington. The wife was a Spanish teacher and had just ended a school trip in Costa Rica, she stayed an extra week after and her husband met her there. The beer, food, atmosphere, and company were great.

 

We really liked Jaco and would defiantly consider going back if we had the opportunity.

 

 

Heredia, Costa Rica

Our troubles all started when we stepped off the plane and realized we were no longer in America. Okay, I’m being overdramatic, but we did have a rude awakening coming to a Spanish speaking country without knowing any Spanish. English was the second language listed on all of the signs in the airport (weird, right?) and the further we went into the airport the less English there was. None of the guards at our apartment building spoke English and trying to tell them our room number was quite difficult. The guard finally asked “something something Español?” and we were able to tell him “no!” Thankfully the Uber driver could read our room number and then we showed our IDs and were good to go! All of the guards knew who we were after that interaction.

Once we hid in our room for a little bit trying to regain our confidence to step out into the non-English speaking world, we decided it was time to get food. We had only eaten granola bars and cheese-its all day. We walked down to a little shopping plaza pretty close to our building. There was a subway, a chicken restaurant similar to KFC, a convenience store and other little shops. We decided to get some food from the convenience store so we didn’t have to try to order off a menu. We bought two pre-prepared meals with rice, beans, meat, and some veggies, a container of eggs, bread, and milk. We learned that eggs do not come in packages of a dozen but groups of 5. Also, Costa Rica has cold and warm options for milk. The cold option has a shorter life while the warm milk has a longer life. We decided to stick with the cold milk for now; maybe later on we will try the warm milk. One adventure at a time. The cashier knew right away that we were not local. I think my “Hi” gave it away. The first thing she asked was, “Español?” thankfully she was very nice and showed us the total on the screen instead of trying to tell us.

Our goal for this week was to become more comfortable in uncomfortable situations, like being in a store where no one speaks English. We were very thankful that Tim’s phone had data and Google Translate, we are not sure how we would have navigated our way around without it. We focused on the small wins during this time. Going a little further on each walk, visiting Wal-Mart, getting on the bus, and exploring a new area each day. We never had any expectations of where the day would take us but it somehow always turned out great.

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When we finally had the courage to ride the bus, we rode it to the last stop. It happened to be a very popular shopping/sightseeing spot in downtown San Jose. We spent the day walking up and down the streets and viewing the stores and restaurants. There was a small park area filled with pigeons. Many of the locals were selling bags of food to feed to them. Tim and I sat and watched a little boy trying to catch the pigeons, he was actually successful a couple of times. After the park, we went to a small restaurant on one of the side streets. This was the first time we were brave enough to order off a menu. Thankfully it had pictures. Tim had a very traditional meal with rice, beans, and some meat. I thought I had ordered a cheese quesadilla, but it turned out to be just a plain rice cake.

The area had two large malls. Yes, apparently malls are still quite popular in Costa Rica. We stumbled upon the first mall during a long walk. It had two floors and was a traditional mall layout. The second mall was brand new and pretty difficult to describe. The layout was very futuristic and had just as much outside space as it did inside. The food court was in the center of the mall, open to the outside and covered by a dome-like ceiling. On the outside, the dome ceiling was covered with grass and it looked like it was a perfect spot for a music venue. It was a very unique space.

This week was a great success. We were able to experience the local culture and step out of our comfort zones. This time helped prepare us for the rest of our stay in Costa Rica.

South Bimini, Bahamas

Take a moment to close your eyes and try to picture paradise. Imagine sitting in a hammock under palm trees, the sunny salty air all around, and the sound of waves crashing on the shore.  Yep, that was Bimini. Honestly, we would have been happy if Bimini was the only traveling we got to experience.

The Diaz family kindly welcomed us to their beach house and showed the most gorgeous sights around the island. We got to snorkel through SS Sapona (a sunken concrete ship), ride jet skis, drive and ride the golf cart all around the island, feed and swim with stingrays and sharks at Honeymoon Cay, fell in love with Bimini bread, ate conch fritters and conch salad for the first time, and found a countless amount of sea glass on the beach.

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Feeding the stingrays and sharks at Honeymoon Cay was one of my favorite highlights. This was an experience that people would pay big money for and we were able to tag along just because it was a local spot that they knew about. There were dozens of stingrays and sharks swimming around waiting to be fed. The stingrays would swim right towards you and then turn at the last second, but their fins would brush up against your body. This is a memory we will keep with us for the rest of our lives.

We were in Bimini during the 4thof July, and Uncle Wayne brought a ton of fireworks to set off. Tim, Máximo, Isabel, and I had a blast lighting the fireworks and watching them explode in the sky. One of the firework boxes ended up tipping over and shooting under one of the neighbor’s beach house. Thankfully no one and nothing got hurt, but it sure is a funny story to tell.

Another neat thing about Bimini was meeting and interacting with the locals. Every Saturday night the locals would have a huge bonfire on the beach. The local residences were a mix between actual local Bahamians and retirees. One of the local residences carved faces, or full people, in the dead trees. His name was Mike and he drove his tractor around the island. We tried to find all 13 cravings, but were only able to find 6.

But, even in paradise there are bumps in the road. In Bimini, those bumps were noseeums. These were tiny little bugs that are very similar to mosquitoes but even smaller and more annoying. Tim and I both got eaten up, my legs getting the worst of it. But on the bright side, neither of us got sun brunt!

We can’t thank the Diaz family enough for allowing us to spend the week with them in paradise.

Florida

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Spending time in Florida was a great start to our adventure. We were able to relax, research our trip, and spend time with family. The time in Florida felt like a transitioning period. It was very different from our normal everyday life in PA, but we weren’t yet on our own traveling. Tim and I had multiple “I can’t believe this is actually happening” moments and spending time in Florida allowed us to mentally prepare.

It was such a blessing to visit and stay with Tim’s Aunt Diane and Uncle Wayne. We learned some cooking tips that will be helpful for our travels and got to do some exciting activities. We went to an out door market, bowling with Aunt Barb and Thumper, spent a whole day out on the boat at Sebastian’s Inlet, had a family pool party/cook out, and a midnight trip to the beach with Aunt Barb. These were just some of the highlights that we were able to enjoy.

We also took a couple days to visit my brother John in Jacksonville. We spent one evening exploring the local restaurants in the JAX beach area. On John’s day off, we took a day trip to St Augustine, which is the oldest town in America. We started at the Fountain of Youth and learned about the first settlers and then went to the downtown area for lunch. Tim and I did not know much about St Augustine and didn’t know what to expect. The downtown area was much larger than we had thought and we spent the rest of the day exploring the shops and restaurants.

For our last adventure in Florida we were able to spend a couple of days in Orlando. Aunt Diane had a hotel room for a conference and she let us stay with her since our flight left from the Orlando airport. It worked out perfectly. Tim and I spent most of the day lounging in the sun at the hotel pool. One evening we ate at Morimoto Asia in Disney Spring, formally known as Downtown Disney. We ordered tuna, ribs, and salmon and each of us had some of each. The food was excellent and the restaurant atmosphere was just as good. We walked around Disney Springs and were amazed by how large the area has grown.

Our flight leaves on Wednesday, July 24th at 8:48am and then we are on our way to Costa Rica!