Day 5 In Costa Rica- Hanging Bridges and Zip-lining In Monteverde

This morning we woke up and enjoyed a delicious assortment of fruit, cheeses, eggs, and bread, all typical of Costa Rica. The food here, especially the fruit is so fresh that it makes you question the quality of what we eat back in the States. After we finished eating, we embarked on our morning tour which was the Selvatura Canopy Tour.

The Selvatura Canopy Tour is known for being one of the best ones in Costa Rica. The cables and platforms are built into the Cloud Forest, which really allows you to feel as though you are in the sky. With 15 cables and 18 viewing platforms stretching over two miles of cloud forest, Selvatura Park has the longest cable length in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Cloud Forest is known for its incredibly diverse ecosystem. It is home to 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, 130 species of mammals, an astounding 500 species of birds, and more than 3,000 species of plants.

We began my viewing all of the “Hanging Bridges,” which have this name due to the fact that the bridges honestly feel as though they are hanging over the entire forest. From there, we zip-lined all throughout the Cloud Forest, which was scary to say the least, but definitely worth the experience. To be able to see the breathtaking views everywhere you look during this exhilarating adventure is truly an experience of a lifetime.

At the end of the tour, we came across a “Tarzan Swing” which is a small platform suspended above ground in which you have to jump off and swing out above the Cloud Forest. There was no way I was going to partake in the Tarzan Swing, but after hearing everyone who did it say how exciting it was, I figured I would give it a try. Here I was boasting about how incredible breakfast tasted, and I felt as though it was about to come back up! I hesitated before jumping off the platform but when I did, a rush of wind hit me in the face. I closed my eyes for a few brief seconds on the way down, but knew I had to open them again if I really wanted to enjoy this. I opened my eyes and saw the cloud forest in front of me as I swung towards it. It was truly invigorating, but I have to admit that I was overcome with gladness when my feet reached the ground upon landing.

The tour was followed up with a much calmer activity, as we entered the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to visit the Gallery of Hummingbirds. Costa Rica is known for having 50 species of hummingbirds, many of which are known to nest around the Cloud Forest. It’s difficult to take pictures of them since they fly so quickly, but if look closely at the pictures below, you can see them eating at their feeding stations. We had to keep a watchful eye though because they had no problem flying right up to us, but there were so many of them flying up to us at once!

Day 4 In Costa Rica- Leaving Arenal for Monteverde

Today was our last day in Arenal before continuing along with our travels throughout Costa Rica. Upon waking up, we embarked on a two-mile hike along Las Coladas trail in the Arenal National Park. The view of the volcano was incredible, and fortunately the weather was great too. Upon the conclusion of our hike, we proceeded to Monteverde, also known as the cloud forest due to its high elevation, which will be discussed more in-depth in the next blog post. We took advantage of happy hour in our hotel, Hotel El Establo once we arrived to Monteverde, and since there’s never really a limit on how much one eats during vacations, we made sure to go out for dinner at a local restaurant too.

Day 3 In Costa Rica- Full Day In Arenal

Today we had a full day to spend in Arenal, so we took an optional Caño Negro boat tour with our group. The Caño Negro is a wildlife refuge where one can take group tours along the Río Frio, or cold river that slowly progresses into the Caño Negro Lake. Since the tour leaves from Los Chiles, which is less than two and a half miles from the Nicaraguan border, every passenger must bring a copy of their passport because you the tour starts beside a checkpoint along the Nicaraguan border. We were given the opportunity to take pictures by the Nicaraguan border, but that was as far up as the boat would go before returning to shore. We encountered a boat that was headed to Costa Rica from Nicaragua, and we were told that often times people from Nicaragua will travel to Costa Rica by boat for work and return home later in the evening since.

After the Caño Negro boat tour, we were provided lunch in a local restaurant and returned back to Arenal from there. We made a quick stop for fruit flavored ice cream because everything involving fruit in Costa Rica is absolutely delicious. As we walked off the bus and headed towards the ice cream shop, we noticed large green iguanas sitting around outside. The iguanas pictured below are so large that we sat next to them just to compare! If you find one on a tree branch, don’t be surprised if you see it jump to a different branch. They’re a lot more mobile than they look!

We made it back to Arenal where we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around at leisure and came across more beautiful views of the Arenal Volcano just before the sun started to set. We had another traditional Costa Rican dinner before turning in for the night, and if you couldn’t tell by the pictures, the food hasn’t disappointed!

Day 2 In Costa Rica- Traveling to Arenal

Upon waking up and eating breakfast, it was time for us to board the bus and officially begin our tour of Costa Rica. We drove around San Juan are got to see the city by bus, before continuing with our drive to Arenal. On the way, we stopped in Sarchi, which is known to be an artisan town, also known as a tourist trap for travelers eager to start spending their allotted souvenir money. Sarchi is home to traditional oxcarts of all different colors, which happens to be Costa Rica’s most famous type of craft since oxcarts have been used to transport coffee beans for centuries. And if you didn’t already know, Costa Rica is home to incredible coffee (which will be discussed in a later post).

We were given snacks, drinks, and fresh fruit before leaving, because the key to any tourist’s heart is to give them free food to get them in the mood to start spending. Once we left Sarchi, we continued on our way, but stopped again thirty minutes later in the city of Zarcero. The bus parked right outside Iglesia de San Rafael, a blue and pink church with various paintings of the stations of the cross. When you exit the church, you’ll find yourself in Parque Francisco Alvarado, which is a fun and beautiful park known for its shrubs that have been trimmed in the shapes of different animals and fun pathways to walk through. We had a little bit of free time to quickly have lunch, so we did so before boarding the bus again.

We made one more stop along to way to the hotel, and that was to a local Costa Rican school. While at the school, we got a chance to meet the students and watch them perform a cultural dance for us that they put together themselves. It was truly a unique opportunity that we all really enjoyed. We boarded the bus once more and finally continued on our trip straight through to our hotel in the district of La Fortuna in San Carlos alongside the Arenal Volcano. As you can see in the pictures below, we had an incredible view of the volcano from our hotel, and once we were finished taking pictures we went out into the city for a traditional Costa Rican dinner, thus concluding our first full day in Costa Rica.

Day 1 In San Juan, Costa Rica

Two years ago, my family and I traveled to Costa Rica for a few days on a group trip. I have been meaning to post about our experience ever since, so here it finally goes! We flew into San Juan, Costa Rica on Sunday morning and had the afternoon to ourselves before the trip officially began the following morning. My brother, sister, mother, and I walked around the city and had lunch at a local restaurant called Nuestra Tierra, which translates to “Our land.” I ordered chicken, salsa, black beans, plantains, and tortillas, and surely wasn’t disappointed! For dessert, we had rice pudding also known as arroz con leche, along with coffee made from a chorreador.

The chorreador is a coffee making device used in Costa Rica in which hot water is poured into a cloth fiber containing coffee grounds. The coffee then seeps into the cup placed below the cloth (as pictured below). This unique method of making coffee definitely interested us tourists, and it was as delicious as we imagined it would be.

Following lunch, we continued to walk around the city until it was time to return to the hotel for dinner. We had black bean soup, homemade chips, and fish before heading to sleep for the evening. My brother and I slept in one room and my sister and mother shared another room across the hall from us.

The two of us both woke up in the middle of the night to a loud continuous banging sound in the room next door. We both assumed that it was just a couple being loud and intimate with one another, so we tried to ignore the sounds until we fell back asleep. It wasn’t until the following morning that we found out there was a minor earthquake overnight, and the loud sounds were unoccupied beds moving back and forth!

Last Day In Vienna, Austria

Today was our last day in Vienna, so we made sure to see whatever parts of the city we hadn’t yet seen. On our way out of the hotel, a collection of rare cars were actually driving past us on their way to a parade, so we got our own private a sneak peek!

We walked around the city, and came across a beautiful memorial, called Heldendenkmal, or the Soviet War Memorial built by the Soviets upon the liberation of Austria. In 1945, this memorial was built by the Soviet Army to commemorate the 17,000 Soviet soldiers who died during World War II in the Battle for Vienna. In 1955 when the troops withdrew and Austria became independent, a treaty was signed that included the fact that Heldendenkmal had to be maintained and could never be taken down. There have been various attempts to dismantle the memorial, but at the end of the day, historians have a point when they say that Heldendenkmal is important in remembering Vienna’s history.

We then walked through Stadtpark which is a beautiful park in the city, opened in 1862, making it Vienna’s first public park. Stadtpark has been called the richest park in Vienna due to the numerous monuments and statues that can be found throughout. The most well known monument in the park is one that commemorates Johann Strauss, an Austrian composer born near Vienna. One of his most famous works is “The Blue Danube,” which is the European Union’s longest river, found in Central and Eastern Europe. Other monuments in Stadtpark include ones for Franz Schubert, Franz Lehar and Robert Stolz, a marble statue of the painter, Hans Makart, bronze busts of composer, Anton Bruckner, Vienna Mayor, Andreas Zelinka, under whose governance the Stadtpark was laid out, and many more (http://www.wien.info).

After walking around the city, our group went out to dinner to celebrate our last night in the city, which also happened to be my last night on the trip before having to return home. Everyone else traveled to Prague the following day, but I had to fly back before school started. Luckily for us, this night was a part of a Viennese three-day harvest festival from Friday until Sunday at midnight. During this time, locals wear colorful dresses, short pants, and high-socks and celebrate with one another, which was evident since all the bars were packed! There is also a wine festival celebrated in Vienna which takes place during the first Sunday of October, but unfortunately we weren’t going to be there to celebrate.

A side note/interesting fact that we learned was that there is a pipeline system that comes to Vienna from the alps, which is why the water is so pure. This makes the taste of the water much more delicious and it is said to be softer water too, which can be noted when taking a shower. Since the water is so pure, no purification systems are needed, and one can drink straight from the tap!

Our dinner consisted of all traditional Viennese food including traditional salads, spreads, wine and beer, chicken and veal schnitzel, and of course apple strudel for dessert! This was the perfect way to end an incredible trip to Poland, Hungary, and Austria, all throughout Central Europe.

Day 1 In Bratislava, Slovakia Continued

Continuing with our tour, we walked by the oldest University in Slovak territory, which was founded in 1465. Not this particular university, but public schools of higher education are free to students in Bratislava, which made me start thinking about potentially sending my children here for school in the future!

During World War II, 160,000 Jews were taken from Slovakia, and only 70,000 returned, but left again shortly after. Currently, there are only 4,000 Jewish citizens in Slovakia, and a mere 600 residing in Bratislava. With that being said, we passed a family owned bookshop called “Steiner”, which had been in business for close to 100 years in Bratislava before the government confiscated all Jewish property. Selma, one of the daughter’s in the family was the only member who survived the Holocaust. Her parents and siblings were all killed, and by the time the war ended, she was 20 years old with no remaining immediate family. Selma’s surviving family left Bratislava after the war, except Selma and her cousin decided to stay. Although the bookstore was rightfully returned to her, it was confiscated once again shortly after due to the course of communism. In 1991, Selma was able to reopen her family bookstore with a simple oval sign, “Steiner” that has shown its resiliency since the first reopening after the war Selma passed away in 2010, but her employees own and run the store, still under the Steiner name, with the sign continuing to hang outside.

There are 5.4 million people living in Slovakia, with a 14 percent rate of unemployment and a 4 percent rate of unemployment in Bratislava. The monthly average salary is around 800 euros, which comes out to around 910 dollars.

Many of the traditional restaurants here serve gnocchi covered in cheep cheese and bacon bryndza, which is the city’s typical meal. Creamy garlic soup and cabbage soup are also both typical for important holidays such as Christmas and New Years.

Continuing with our city tour, we came across Michael’s Gate, which was built in the 14th Century as one of the four main entrances into the city. It is currently the only gate in the city that has been preserved after all these years.

We kept on walking and stopped at the Main Square, which was used for executions during the Habsburg monarchy in front of the old Town Hall. There is a statue of a “Watching Soldier,” and it is said that this soldier from Napoleon’s army came into town and found a beautiful woman, but somehow lost her. So he continues to stay right where he is, with hopes of finding her again. The public fountain in the Square has been around since the 1500’s. We then came across an old-looking measurement stick and butcher’s knife which were both used by the government during the Habsburg monarchy. The government used the stick to check sizes of meat and vegetables to make sure they were good enough to sell in the markets. The butcher’s knife showed the size requirement of the knives to be used during this time period as well. Knives used by butchers couldn’t be any bigger than this hanging knife or else they’d be considered weapons, and the owner would be arrested.

In 1989, the Velvet Revolution was hosted in Bratislava, and it received its name because it was a peaceful revolution where no one died. People went outside with their keys dangling from their hands to make noise, in an attempt to show that they wanted to break away from the communistic regime.

In 1993, the government decided to separate from the Czech Republic, which is when the country became Slovakia. The decision came from the Prime Minister, and some say it was for money and others say it was for power. The idea was thrown around too that Czech likes beer and Slovakia prefers wine, so a separation was destined to happen.

We spotted the former summer place of the Arch Bishop which distinctly had an arch bishop hat atop the building. As we continued with the tour, we spotted a peace treaty between the Habsburg Monarchy and Napoleon/France from the 1800’s. We then passed a statue of St. George successfully fighting a dragon. On the street, we came across a statue sticking out of the sewer which has been there since 1997. It is said that he is smiling because he gets to watch all of the women walk by. It is good luck to touch his hat and nose, and this happens to be the original statue since it was built first, whereas the one in Russia is actually a copy.

We also walked past the Slovak National Theatre as well as the American Embassy, consisting of two neighboring buildings, making it the largest embassy in Bratislava. I wish we would have had more time to spend in Bratislava because it truly is a beautiful city, but it was time for us to return to Vienna.