Canadian Weekend

I’ve spent this past weekend up north, with Mark – my godson – and his family. I got there on Friday night, the usual way: driving with Roxy’s father from NYC to Waterloo (it’s a 10 hour drive, if you’re curious). I wish I could say we did more than sleeping, playing with Mark and eating, but that was pretty much all we did the entire weekend. Not that I’m complaining, of course, I enjoyed seeing my favorite Canadian family and my godson Smile I came back with Roxy, Mike and Mark today – by plane from Buffalo to JFK – and they continued their journey to Seattle.

Adorable little scoundrel Smile All the pictures can be found at the regular place.

Pura Vida

This was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. I should just stop here, put a link to all the pictures I have so far (from my camera only, I’ll get the ones from the others during the weekend) and publish the post. But on the other hand, I know that writing about it would later bring back the memories.

First, the “specs”: we were six people – Bogdi, Renee, Roxi, Slava, myself and Miguel (he replaced Linh, who cancelled last minute). The trip lasted nine days, from the Saturday after Thanksgiving to the first Sunday in December. The first half of the week we were in Tabaçon, a resort in the middle of the country, next to the Arenal volcano (which I mentioned before…). It had a mix of adventure – hiking, ATVs – and relaxation in the hot springs. The second half was spent at Paradisus Resort at Playa Conchal on the Pacific side of the country. The one word description for it would be pampering, as we had everything included and spent most of the time relaxing in the water.

Now that you have the big picture, let’s get into the details…

Gallery: Travel Diary

Gallery: Travel Diary

We left from La Guardia, via Miami, on a very early Saturday morning. I think I barely got four hours of sleep that night so both plane rides were spent dozing off while listening to music. We landed in San Jose sometime in the afternoon and we got picked up by someone from Tabaçon – the resort where we spent the first 4 nights. The drive was about 4 hours, through the countryside, hills and in the end the mountains. At the first look I have to say rural Costa Rica looks pretty much like rural Romania, but with tropical vegetation.

After checking in at the resort we went for some dinner and to check out the famous hot springs. Since the place is right next to the active volcano, the river flowing down is really hot and it was nicely constricted into a series of pools and streams. Imagine a huge garden full of lush vegetation and interconnected man-made pools. There was even a mini-waterfall, complete with small cave beneath it – who due to the hot air temperature was practically a sauna.

Gallery: Tabaçon Hot Springs

Gallery: Tabaçon Hot Springs

We pretty much chilled – poor choice of words, I should say steamed – in the pools all Sunday. In the evening we took a cab to the nearby town – La Fortuna – to sample the local food. Which is heavily based on rice and beans, mixed with various meats and fruits. The girls had piña coladas served in real pineapples and the guys tried out the local beer. Which I have to say it’s pretty good, even though I don’t usually like beer.

The next day Slava, Roxi, Renee and myself went hiking on Cerro Chato, a nearby inactive volcano. I was looking forward to this, as I’ve been missing the mountain trips I used to do with my friends in Romania and this would have been my first time hiking through a rainforest. It was a bit hard – for a bunch of city office workers like us – mostly because we had to crawl through tiny forest paths and cross muddy ditches, but I loved it nevertheless. The overload of vegetation was in a stark contrast to the day-to-day vistas we have in the urban jungle of New York and I for one welcomed it.

Gallery: Hiking Cerro Chato

Gallery: Hiking Cerro Chato

The hike consisted of climbing one side of the mountain, circling the crater lake on top and descend on the other side. We passed through all three types of forests growing on the volcano: regular at the base, rainforest for most of it and cloudforest at the top. The last one was very interesting, adding a thick fog to the already crowded vegetation.

Over on the other side we took a lunch break and then went to check out a nearby waterfall. Me and Slava even went for a dip at the base, so I can check off another item from the things I want to do in my life.

Gallery: La Fortuna Waterfall

Gallery: La Fortuna Waterfall

While we were out in the forest, Bogdi and Miguel rented a car to drive around and got aquinted with manual driving. With hilarious results. Not so much for the clutch, which most likely will need to be replaced.

We started Tuesday with an ATV tour – first through the ditches and muddy roads of a nearby farm, then driving through the country road all over the area. In the afternoon the girls had scheduled a massage at a spa, so me, Bogdi and Miguel took the car for a ride around the volcano. In the evening we drove to a nearby steakhouse, kitchly decorated with wild wild west paraphernalia, but the food was great.

Wednesday morning we checked out and started our travel west, to Paradisus. It took us about 3 hours to get there and I have to say there was a huge difference in temperature between the rainforest and the beach areas: as soon as we got out of the car we got hit by a scorching sun.

The checking in had a surprise. For some reason – I’m still not sure what happened, either Slava had a hotel chain membership or we booked our stay through a special site – we got upgraded to Royal Service – the highest class available. Which meant that on top of the all-inclusive resort we would have access to restricted areas and restaurants, free activities and… personal butlers. I don’t think I’ve ever been pampered like this in my life.

Gallery: Paradisus at Night

Gallery: Paradisus at Night

It got dark pretty fast so we went to check out the beach and swim in the Pacific. At night, the water glows when moved around creating a very interesting effect. It’s hard to describe, but very fun to experience it.

We spent most of the time in Paradisus by the pools – they had a huge common pool and a nice, smaller Royal Service exclusive one – and taking advantage of our free food and drinks. We had dinner each night at a different place – the (supposedly) 5-star restaurants – and we really pigged out (on the last night I had a six course dinner). All this topped with free drinks, which means I got to experience a lot of interesting cocktails (I have a new favorite: nutty colada). Also the fruit juices were exceptionally good, which kinda makes sense considering it’s one of the country’s biggest exports.

On Thursday we decided to take advantage of the free activities and try out kayaking and snorkeling. If I knew what I was going to get myself into, I would’ve skipped it. After getting our gear we split into kayaks: the couples sharing one each and me and Miguel in the third. Halfway to the snorkeling place (which was a good 20-30 minutes out in the ocean, next to a small bank of rocks) our kayak flipped over and we found ourselves stranded (the others were way ahead of us). Any attempt to get back on the kayak proved unsuccessful, especially for Miguel. Eventually our guide came back, but not even he could help us – the kayak was taking a lot of water. In the end, with the help of another guide on a skijet, we made it to the snorkeling place.

We watched fishes for a while – even got to touch some tropical sealife – but the thought that we’ll have to paddle back kinda dampened the whole experience. When the time came we got back in (easier this time with the kayak held in place in between all the others) but not for long: at the first paddle, the damn thing flipped again. Convinced that the boat is faulty, the guide gave me his kayak (a one-seater) and sent me on my way. I had to paddle all the way back without stopping too much to rest since the water would pull me back into the ocean. Let’s just say I was really happy to get it over with.

In the evening we booked a sunset cruise, again courtesy of the resort. We got picked up from the main lobby in a few minivans, along with about 40 loud, middle-aged women. It seems we picked the same day to watch the sun go down as the members of  a tupperware (?!?) club… Needless to say the boat trip was pretty crappy – there’s only so much yapping I can take – but at least the view was great.

Gallery: Pacific Sunset Ride

Gallery: Pacific Sunset Ride

Friday morning we took a cab and went to check out Tamarindo, the nearby town. We didn’t stay long, just enough to check out the beach, some souvenir shops and a small beachfront café. Again, it reminded me a lot of places in Romania – Costineşti for example.

In the afternoon we did another free activity: an archery tournament! Which is something I always wanted to try, since I always play ranged characters in RPGs Razz We had a bit of “training” (= target shooting) followed by the actual tournament (= more target shooting). I managed to win, not by excelling at it, but just by sucking a little less than my competitors Smile Later that night, after dinner, I ran into the activity organizer and he gave me a “medal” (it’s a wooden little plaque) for winning.

Gallery: Archery Tournament

Gallery: Archery Tournament

Saturday was designated relaxation day. The only plans we made for it were souvenir shopping (inside the resort) and some jetskiing in the evening. We even got to play some table tennis and pool in between. The jetskiing was great, it really topped off the vacation. We got back after sunset, and after a final swim in the ocean we hit the big pool for some water basketball.

We left Sunday morning around 10am, and by 11 we were already at Liberia Airport. Which is about as big as a train station in countryside Romania: just a large building with parking on one side and the runway on the other. The security process consisted in passing through one small room with a metal detector and a table. No door, no windows, everything in the open. They did question me a bit, I guess they don’t see Romanians that often.

We waited almost 2 hours in the scorching heat until we boarded the plane. Left Costa Rica and flew over Nicaragua, Honduras and eventually Cuba before landing in Miami. Add another few hours of layover and finally we got back to La Guardia a little after midnight. New York City welcomed us with freezing temperatures, but at least it wasn’t raining. Or snowing, which I heard happened the previous day. I shared a cab with Bogdi and Renee back home and that concluded our awesome trip. Pura Vida!

Gallery: Flora and Fauna of Costa Rica

Gallery: Flora and Fauna of Costa Rica

Gallery: Food of Costa Rica

Gallery: Food of Costa Rica

PS. Pura Vida (Pure Life) is the national expression of Costa Rica. People use it as Hi, Hello, Cheers, Thank You, You’re Welcome.

Rainy Days

The past two weeks have been packed. Almost every night I had somewhere to be, someone to see or something to do.

On Friday night I went to see an independent movie, the “artsy” kind. Or so it was supposed to be, because it didn’t move me much. The director tries to combine sexual psychology with horror elements, but it comes out a bit of a mess. Good thing I knew about the really gory scenes from before, otherwise I would’ve had a bit of a shock. Chaos reigns, indeed.

On Saturday I decided to pay Ethan a visit in Flushing, for more Debasaki and bubble-tea. Which would’ve been great, except for the pouring rain that started when we got there – it did rain all day, but not as bad as that evening. In conclusion, we got to the place – a 15 min walk from the subway – completely drenched. Later we dried (a bit) at E’s place, while watching Rock’n’Rolla.

On Sunday I took advantage of the sun and got out in the afternoon to take a walk and some pictures of Queensboro Bridge. In the evening I joined my friends and went to see Video Games Live.

Monday, Borderlands was released. Been playing it almost every night since.

Tuesday night I met with a classmate from primary/junior high school that was in NY as well. We’ve reunited by accident, as she was supposed to meet with one of my friends that visited me last month. That didn’t happen but at least I saw her last week and got to catch up on our former classmates. Surprising how many of them ended up here, in the US. Andreea, if you’re reading this, holla!

Wednesday night I went with Yacine and Ethan to an iPhone developers meetup, a tech talk about concurrency and threading in application development. It was pretty interesting, but the best part was that they gave us free swag for attending it: books, download coupons, notebooks.

On Thursday night I joined E and his friends for ramen (japanese noodle soup). After, more Borderlands.

Friday, Roxana celebrated her birthday at a small restaurant in Brooklyn. Afterwards we went to her and Slava’s place for drinks & cake.

Saturday I got up early to help Francis get his son to the doctor – he’s been having some problems with his eyes and he can’t drive. Since we were in the neighborhood, we met up with Ethan afterwards for dim sum. In the afternoon I joined Bogdi, Renee, Linh and others and went to Jersey, to Roman and Jenny’s place for a belated birthday party. It was a fun afternoon – and since it was Halloween, we got plenty of trick-or-treaters. Also, I got to put my camera to some use.

After we got back, late at night, I got to experience some Halloween of my own: I went to a costume party at Studio Square, the nearby beer garden. The place was crowded with zombies, superheroes, video game characters (a Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Jade from MK) and even some japanese school-girls. I tried to take some pictures there as well, but they came out too blurry.

I’ve spent Sunday resting after the previous nights. Watched Up and some episodes of FlashForward (which is very good btw) and uploaded pics from the party.

Finally, Monday night, while checking out Facebook, I decided to take out some information from my profile: namely the relationship status (I figured it was a bit TMI). Next morning I woke up to find “who’s the lucky girl?” written on my wall… Could be worse I guess, considering I took out also the “Interested in: women” part, I could’ve found “who’s the lucky guy?” Smile