Tag

travel

Browsing

Hitting the road with your kids in tow

Going on a road trip with kids can be a challenging experience, but if you have all the right preparations in place, it can create some of the best memories.

I am often filled with wanderlust and a desire to hit the open road, and I bring my daughter along for the ride. We have driven from Vancouver to Calgary, down to Seattle, across the great Canadian prairies to Winnipeg, and down to Chicago. We’ve also cruised through Ontario and into Quebec and New Brunswick. We have had many great adventures and some trying times as well. Throughout these ordeals, I have learned a few secrets on how to travel with my little lady.

Most importantly, be prepared for the worst. As morbid as this sounds, it is essential for the safety of your kids and yourself. Bring extra clothes in the car, blankets, a first aid kit, and a car charger in case of emergency. Also, bring a lot of snacks and water. Driving across to Vancouver a couple years ago in the summertime, an accident shut the highway down leaving us stranded on a one-way road for seven hours in rural B.C. Without snacks and water, things could’ve become quite terrible.

Another winter drive back from Vancouver left us in a freak blizzard where several car drivers teamed up and pushed our cars up a steep and icy hill. Without extra layers and blankets stored in the car, my daughter would’ve become quite cold. I always carry child gravel as well. On especially hilly drives, I have learned my lesson on how dire an upset stomach can really become. Also avoid dark drinks and messy foods. A change of clothes and hand wipes can help with a variety of spills.

Another challenge is keeping your child entertained. My daughter is five years old and talks like there is no tomorrow. It is cute, but can become distracting while driving to an unknown destination. My daughter’s LeapPad and headphones are an absolute lifesaver when driving. My daughter uses her LeapPad camera to document our trips. She mostly photographs her feet, but it is fun to see our travels through her eyes.

Bringing a baking tray to put on their lap for colouring and playing with toys is a good way to avoid the common occurrence of dropping unreachable toys onto the car floor (most annoying thing ever). I also recommend bringing washable markers and craft supplies that do not stain. After renting a car for a drive to Quebec City, my daughter decided to use her marker to decorate the car door and I spent a few hours scrubbing it off upon arrival.

Other creative activities include making food necklaces out of Cheerios and pretzels in advance for easy munching on the road. Using paper bags to create surprise bags with from their toys and a few cheap add-ons such as stickers or stamps is also a simple addition to a road trip if your child is getting really bored. You can also put different destinations on the bags, for example “open when we reach highway 22”. It keeps kids interested in the journey, though it could prompt an “are we there yet?” scenario.

Playing audio books or kid’s music is good family entertainment. I have many fond memories of my daughter and I rocking out to the Frozen soundtrack. As well, games such as “20 questions” can help keep your child entertained. Have your child ask you questions to try and guess what animal you are thinking of. Another fun game is “would you rather?” where you give two ludicrous outcomes and your child has to decide which one they prefer is way to pass the time. Just make sure you aren’t too distracted too drive.

Before leaving, I always have all of the toys, snacks and other supplies positioned in easy-to-reach places for my daughter and myself. Her water bottle is in her cup holder, snacks are beside her with a variety of play options and I put other toys and options on the passenger seat for easy access when she eventually drops all of her toys. Preparation ultimately makes our driving adventures fun and we love going for a cruise together.

Good luck, and remember: you do not have to stay home just because you have kids. Instead, create a wanderlust baby and hit the road in style.

My daughter and I hitting the road. By Andrea Hunter
My daughter and I hitting the road. By Andrea Hunter

Villa Arches in Sint. Maarten

St. Martin or Sint. Maarten is the smallest island in the world to have two different countries each governing one half. The north side of the island is French, while the south side is Dutch. Our villa, Villa Arches, is on the Dutch side,  just south of the French border in Dawn Beach.

The villa is perched on the east side of a mountain and has a wonderful view of dawn beach and the morning sunrise. With warm red italian tiles and wide doors open to let in the cool breezes from the ocean, it is a terrific spot to watch the large boats come in to anchor in the protected cove far below, and also take in some sun and a swim in a good-sized pool.

The villa is well stocked with pots and pans, a coffee maker, and utensils and, unlike a lot of islands, the wifi and electricity was reliable and never went out during our stay.

We had dinner at “Big Fish” a fantastic seafood restaurant in Oyster Pond right beside Dawn Beach. The restaurant is owned by Teresa and Mike Wilson, a terrific couple from Toronto – who started the Fox and Fiddle chain of restaurants. Their sushi chef was terrific, but so too was the snapper, shrimp dinner and passionfruit sorbet. It’s a must visit when in St. Martin.

We drove around the island and stopped at a couple of beaches – Friars Bay, Le Gallion – which were too crowded for our liking. We read about Happy Bay beach, which is a short hike north of Friars bay, and were delighted to find it after a wonderful walk along the coast.

We had lunch in Grand Case and ate at a beach bar with an amazing chef. The beach is narrow with restaurants built right up against it. The only drawback was that it lacked beach chairs, so it is not a great place to take elderly visitors – although the kids enjoyed it.

The butterfly farm is a great place to visit on a sunny day and the market in Marigot (French side) and Phillipsburg (Dutch)- filled with colourful wraps, bags and jewelry were filled with activity.

Photo by Sarah Thomson
Photo by Sarah Thomson

Villa Arches is conveniently located so that excursions around the island didn’t take more than 30 minutes and it was nice leave the bustle of Marigot and come home to a quiet villa with the sound of waves breaking on the shore far below.

The only negative draw back is for those who must get sun –  the villa is tucked onto the east side of the mountain so by 4 p.m. the sun is blocked by the mountain, making late afternoon sun tanning impossible. But, we found that by that time in the day we’d had enough sun that it was rarely missed and the warm breezes with a cocktail sitting out on the deck more than made up for the lack of sun.

Wherever we go, I find it is the people who make or break a vacation. We rented a car from Dollar-Thrifty SXM and unfortunately had a tire blow out on the road. They were terrific people and delivered a new car to our villa. While we waited on the side of the road for our taxi to arrive – numerous locals stopped to make sure we were okay and offer help. The locals are terrific.

The only negative attitudes we experienced during our trip came from the people representing the Westin Resort at Dawn Beach. We were flagged down by two of their sales people – they were friendly but wanted us to scratch some tickets to win a prize once we had taken a 90 minute tour of the Westin Dawn Beach and learned about their fractional ownership units. The sales people warned us that other staff might try to take their commission so we should hold on to our scratch tickets and we could win a stay at the resort, an Ipad, or a$1000. We received two sets of cards – two weren’t winners and two were. But the prize was a stay for four at the Westin Dawn beach that could not be used in the week that they are issued. They were also non-transferrable.

The Westin Resort at Dawn Beach is just down the hill from Villa Arches and I wanted to check out their beach to see if my mother could swim there. I also wanted to check out their service, thinking that if they had to sell fractional ownership it might be abysmal. Customer service is so easy, but can be completely messed up if the staff don’t feel encouraged or supported. We poked around and found the restaurant and beach practically empty. I decided to talk to a supervisor about getting a day pass to review the resort.  When I spoke to him to see if we might purchase a day pass in order to review the resort, he claimed they were completely sold out. I told him the place was practically empty, but all he did was shrug. So we decided to ignore him and use the beach facilities anyway.

The beach chairs were mostly empty and the waves were pretty rough, but we had a nice swim and left without anyone the wiser. What irked me most was that the supervisor refused us access to review the resort while, at the same time, they are paying people to go out and lure possible customers into the resort. Terrible management and customer service. If a resort like the Westin at Dawn Beach has to sell fractional ownership  then they obviously aren’t providing the highest possible service at the best possible price.

Instead of luring people to the resort with “scratch tickets,” simply try welcoming everyone who walks through the door, offering them a free drink at the beach bar, and enticing them to come back everyday and spend money at the restaurants, on beach chairs, and towels — giving them great service the entire time. It’s much more likely their next stay will be with you. Instead the Westin Dawn Beach gave the impression they were trying to be an “elite” club while behind the doors the room was empty.

I highly recommend spending $3500 and renting Villa Arches for a week – where the customer service from the owner far exceeded anything the Westin Dawn Beach can offer!

 

The Fountain residence – Anguilla

Warm breezes greet you as you exit the airport in St. Martin, add in a short 20-minute ferry ride and you will reach the white sand beachs and aqua-blue waters of Anguilla — pronounced AN-GWILL-A. We drove (on the left hand side of the road) from Blowing Point, the southern tip  of the island, up the main road to Shoal Bay on the north east side. The road was dotted with small homes, with free range goats and chickens everywhere.  The island is relatively flat, but the roads curved around small hills with beautiful ocean views visible with each turn. Once we reach the main turn off to Shoal Bay, the larger villas and hotels start to appear, followed by a beautiful view of the white sand and amazing blue water.

Fountain residences is located at the southern end of Shoal Bay Beach. There are two complexes, each with beautiful landscaping. The only difference was the view: one had an open ocean view and the other behind it was limited to a pool view. There is a hill to the west that blocks out  the sunset, but we were able to see the waves breaking on the shoal far out in the bay. It’s a short walk down a path to the white sand beach of Shoal Bay.

Our two bedroom unit was clean and furnished nicely with teak and wood trim. The appliances are new and our concierge, Whitney, was a terrific help. She purchased groceries and stocked our fridge for our arrival. Her advice on the best restaurants on the island was excellent. The villa; however, wasn’t truly big enough for six people. We found the sitting area on the deck outside a bit small for all of us, with only four chairs around the dining room table the space was limited. We had to ask the staff for chairs so that all six of us could sit around the table.

The windows lacked screens – this is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t  want to fly south and stay close to the ocean just to shut all the windows and blast the air conditioning. I’m not alone in wanting to have the windows open, but there were too many mosquito’s to do this without screens. This meant we had to leave the screendoors open all night, which made us a bit uncomfortable. It may be a small detail, but towel racks on the outside decks to hang up wet bathing suits are also needed.

The manager of the residences was extremely friendly – giving us access to the barbecue, extra dining chairs, and a free bottle of wine that we enjoyed immensely! The cleaners come everyday and were friendly and kind, providing us with extra towels and frying pans when needed. Given the location close to the beach I suggest they mop the floors daily as the sand fleas tracked in from the beach dotted our legs with bites.

Crocus Bay Beach.
Crocus Bay Beach.

Anguilla is a beach destination. Most of the beaches have restaurants with beach chairs out front. Crocus Hill Beach is by far the best for anyone wanting a calm peaceful swim in a protected bay. Da’Vida restaurant and its neighbouring beach bar occupy most of the beach and their food was exceptional. We stayed and watched the large sail boats come in during the afternoon, and rented some paddle boards to venture around the point to paddle through caves filled with birds. Small manta rays floating under the boat dock entertained the kids for hours.

Unfortunately, the Fountain Residences don’t supply beach chairs, but they suggest you hike to the other end of the beach where there are chairs to rent ($10U.S./day) at the Merriman Beach Bar. I’d recommend they invest in a few chairs and sun umbrellas, as it was impossible for my elderly mother to make the hike all the way down the beach. But, if you like playing in the waves and body surfing – Shoal Bay Beach is the place to go.

Anguilla has art galleries around every corner and a lot of very good restaurants – Cafe De Paris in the west end is a must for chocolate croissants.

We visited and swam at dozens of  perfect white sand beaches, surrounded by aqua-blue water. If it is a beach vacation you are after, Anguilla is the island for you!

GlobeTrotter Woman: Luggage and handbags for the professional woman

The 21st century businesswoman is a traveller. Deals are now brokered on trains, planes and automobiles, and important meetings can happen at a moments notice. It’s important to have the necessary equipment to deal with these types of business scenarios, and GlobeTrotter Woman has you covered.

GlobeTrotter Woman offers sleek and elegant luggage equipment and accessories that will meet the needs of the professional women on-the-go. The items they sell are unique and stylish—each has been hand-selected to ensure the highest quality. The products are presented in a beautifully clean website that is easy to navigate, so you can shop from the comfort of your home.

The company’s goal is the following: “We want to bring you a touch of elegance and practicality as you conquer the world.” And their products really do meet that criteria.

Their Ultra-Light Luxurious Luggage Set is made of jute tweed and consists of five elements. It has two wheeled Pullmans, one duffel bag, one carry-on and one garment bag. The entire set is priced at a reasonable $239.99. Other products of note include a security-friendly laptop bag (which is TSA compliant) and a genuine leather carry-on rolling laptop briefcase. Both are professional looking and practical—two aspects that are common in all of GlobeTrotter’s products.

Travel accessories include high resolution binoculars, phone charging wallets, and suitcase GPS trackers. The company also offers sport gear and electronics. All of these items are great to have in your bag in case of emergency meetings or trips.

The company also launched their G Lux Line this week, which includes a number of elegant and classy high-end leather bags. These gorgeous bags are made to order, by hand, in Italy.

GlobeTrotter is a startup that understands the international aspect of business and knows that professional women deserve to use the best tools out there .

PRACTICAL. RESISTANT. ELEGANT.
​JUST LIKE YOU.

logo

Tips for travelling alone as a woman

I spent the month of September travelling across Europe. I ate snails in Paris, rode a gondola in Venice, visited flower markets in Amsterdam, and walked through the colleges in Oxford. This was my first time travelling internationally, and I did so on my own.

There are a million articles out there about why travelling alone is something every woman should do. They cite the newfound confidence a woman can achieve and how much she’ll learn about herself.

At the same time, every article cites safety concerns—be careful when getting in a cab; don’t dress like a tourist (whatever that means); be aware of your handbag. Sometimes, its enough to frighten you. I know that before I left for my trip, my mother’s friends helpfully told us about all the times their daughters were pick-pocketed or attacked while abroad.

The Government of Canada even writes about how to safely travel as a woman. The page is called “Her Own Way” and begins by stating in a matter-of-fact manner that “Women travel for countless reasons, whether to discover new frontiers, pursue business opportunities, or simply to rest and relax – not unlike men.” Thanks for the clarification Ottawa.

While I may mock some of the information presented on this website, they do make a few valid points. For example, always do research before you travel to ensure there are no cultural differences you should be aware of, especially when it comes to gender. Accept the cultural practices of the country you are visiting—if women dress more conservatively in that country, it is polite to do so as well. Be safe when travelling in dark and lowly-populated areas. Only use legal forms of transportation.

Actually, a lot of those tips apply regardless of gender.

Some of the information, however, is a bit over the top. The Overseas Romance section explains that “while abroad, a foreign affair with a fairytale ending may be more than a flight of the imagination, but it may also be fraught with danger and disappointment.” I wonder if this would ever appear in a travel tips page for men. By the way, there is no “His Own Way” page posted by the Canadian Government.

I agree that women can be more vulnerable when they travel. I noticed that many of the pedlars and vendors at the tourist destinations I visited flocked towards women—single women in particular. They would yell “Hey, Lady Gaga!” as I walked by and would follow me or grab at my hands. Usually people back off if you make your intentions clear. Essentially, as long as you were cautious and aware of your surroundings, you were fine. Be smart and your travel experience will be amazing.

Here are some of my travelling tips:

1. Pack light: Pack only what you need, which I know is easier said than done. It’s better to have the freedom to bring items back home with you. I packed two dresses and that was enough to keep me comfortable on my evenings out. It also allowed me to buy a few items without going over my weight limit.

2. Do what you want to do: The best part of travelling on your own, regardless of your gender, is that you get the opportunity to do what you want, without having to compromise with your friends or colleagues. Take advantage of that and do as much as possible!

3. Take chances: Always try something that you’ve never done before. I like to think I developed a “never say no” mantra. Sadly, this mantra cost me a pretty penny, but it was worth it!

4. At the same time, make sure you are safe: It’s great to take risks and try things you’ve never done before. In fact, I encourage it. However, if that risk puts you in harms way or makes you uncomfortable, feel free to say no.

5. My final tip is to save up enough money to travel comfortably—because staying in hostels and participating in the “backpacking experience” is only exciting for the first week. After that, you’ll dream of a clean bathtub and room service. If you are going to travel—go big or stay home.

And, in case you were wondering: My two favourite destinations were the French Riviera and Oxford. Stay tuned for a post about those fantastic experiences.

Hamilton: The Location For Your Daycation

Can’t take time off work to go on vacation? Plan a day-cation to Hamilton, Ontario. With only a couple of hours away from Toronto, you can go on the road trip you desired– without all the pit-stops. Whether you want to immerse yourself in the beauty of mother nature or just get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Hamilton has various peaks and creeks for you to enjoy.  The best part? It’s free! You’re welcome, folks.

Devil’s Punch Bowl 

 

11301618_10156368524675377_585088909_n

It’s easy to see where this falls gets its name from. The 37 meter waterfall has been a attraction to many tourists, and has even made a movie appearance in the 2005 horror film, Silent Hill. With many haunting stories as well as its unique details, this punch bowl will certainly quench the thirst of your inner geologist and paranormal enthusiast.

11421495_10156368524865377_1289307033_n

Steps away from the Bowl is a breathtaking lookout of Hamilton, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city’s gems, including Hamilton Harbour, Lake Ontario, and Stoney Creek Castle. (Quick tip: End your day at the lookout to enjoy the sunset with your loved ones!) The beautiful scenery, the convenient benches, and the calm ambiance creates the perfect atmosphere for a little down time.

 

11419790_10156368555030377_250783602_n

 

Albion Falls

Looking for an adrenaline rush? Albion Falls is the place to go! Whether you choose to stand on the top of the falls and feel the current moving under your feet or you want to admire the water falling from down below, this popular tourist attraction will have you feeling on the edge of glory.

11419762_10156368525070377_40100653_n

The steps to climb up the falls is nature’s way of inviting you to come and realize the true meaning behind TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” It’s not everyday you have the opportunity to sit near a waterfall, let alone in between it. It’s a great location for bloggers, photographers, and couples looking for engagement or wedding photos. Besides, the sound of the water, the coolness of its splashes, and the overall beauty of it will make anyone forget all their worldly thoughts. Did you get finish that project you were working on? Who knows!

11426976_10156368524350377_752190346_n

Tew’s Falls

Simple and refined is one way to describe Tew’s Falls. Hamilton’s highest waterfall. Unlike Albion Falls, however, this waterfall requires a bit of a hike to reach the bottom. You can choose to skip the hike and take in the pleasure from afar but like most nature enthusiasts, a walk through some greenery never really feels like ‘exercise’.

11350046_10156368523820377_2105528865_n

Not tired yet? Another 20 minute walk away is a gem called Dundas Peak. On your way to the peak, keep on the lookout for scenes such as this one. Yes, there are eagles (at least that’s what we thought they were) in Canada. Who would’ve known! Their majestic soars through the sky will leave you wanting a little bit more…

11419790_10156368555030377_250783602_n

A little bit more is exactly what you’ll get. Dundas Peak provides a stunning view of the city beneath you. Filled with lush greenery, this scenery is worth the hike. Take a seat, catch your breathe, and take in nature’s beauty. Just don’t be afraid to look down!

Have fun and don’t forget to let us know how your trip went by tweeting us @womenspost!

Featured Image

Jerusalem: In search of identity

By Gabriel Levin

“The eyes of all the Jews in the world praying right now are on you”. Our tour guide Yuval is explaining how Jews all across the world face the Western Wall when they pray. Our group of 39 young adults from across Canada are in Jerusalem on the third day of our Birthright Israel trip. The program Birthright Israel sends young Jews between 18 and 26 from all over the world to Israel for free.

Despite being afraid of tour groups, my addiction to travel, as well as a curiosity to see Israel, could not let me pass up a free trip. The people who fund Birthright do so in order to create a link between the Jews in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel. My own Jewish roots are complex. I grew up religious and was immersed completely in Judaism. My friends were all Jewish, my school was Jewish, my life was Jewish. At 15 I decided that the religious life was not for me, I abandoned almost everything Jewish. My trip to Israel was about not only seeing a new country filled with culture and history, but also about perhaps finding my own sense of what it means to be Jewish.

As I write, the trip is just starting to settle nicely into memories. My experience as a whole was mixed. I’m not someone who enjoys traveling in groups. The hours spent waiting… for people to use the bathroom…for people to get on the bus… for people to finish shopping are incredibly frustrating.

Also, because of the super security on the trip, it often felt as if we were looking at Israel from a distance rather than actively discovering it. For me, as pretentious as it may sound, there is nothing I prefer to sitting in a café on a busy boulevard and just watching the new city go by. On the other hand, Israel is absolutely gorgeous and ripe with the history and myth that are fundamental to Western culture. We visit a valley where David fought Goliath; a mountain where the Zealots held off the Roman army; a river where Jesus was baptized (not that Birthright stressed the Christian or Muslim importance of Israel), and so on.

Birthright also brings Israeli soldiers along with the group for a few days, which gives the group a chance to interact with real Israelis. As a Jew, it is incredible to be in a country where almost everyone is Jewish. There is a commonality; a mutual understanding there that is not present anywhere else in the world for me.

One of the discussions the group had in Israel was about our loyalty to Israel versus our loyalty to Canada. This is always a tricky question because it is the basis for so much anti-Semitism, dating back thousands of years. The idea that Jews’ loyalty will never be the state they live in but lies elsewhere is even written in the Bible: Exodus 1:10 says “Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.” It’s a very difficult position to find myself in, because I love Canada. To me, Canada is the greatest country in the world. At the same time, I know history and I know that again and again throughout history, countries in which Jews have felt secure were ultimately not secure. In the end, there is no such thing as security for Jews. Israel, in that sense, acts as a security blanket for all the Jews of the Diaspora. So, I do have loyalty to Israel, but it is different from my loyalty to Canada.

Ultimately, my quest to understand my Jewishness was not answered with any finality. As usual, I was looking for easy answers where there are, of course, none. Being in Israel opened up new questions and new ways of looking at myself as a Jew. I know I will spend the rest of my life trying to answer them. Some people define their Jewishness based on religion, some on race, and yet others on culture. I have attachments to all three identities. Why is it that I feel attachment to other Jews? Is it common history? What makes me feel so attached to Israel? Is it purely self-interest or is it something more? I may have to go back to find out for sure.

First publisher in Women’s Post Jan. 2005 print edition

In search of Monarchs and Green Zebras

By Kate Zankowicz

I can still see the photos in the National Georgraphic of my mind. The startling realization that those dead leaves coating the trees are in fact thousands of living butterflies. They rustle in faded oranges, against the 1970s blue of the sky,  preparing for their 3000 km migration to Mexico. I clip the photo out, breathless, file it away into my “things I must see before I die” folder. Then I begin to associate Point Pelee with very drinkable wine and briefly forget that each year a tiny insect goes on a  monumental journey equivalent to going around the earth eleven times, and all for the nourishment of the poisonous milkweed plant.

Knowing that the milkweed is the only food source for monarch larvae, and the only place where they will suspend their cocoons has made me a socially inacceptable person. I have scolded ignorant teenagers with lawnmowers who regularly massacre milkweed, and endanger the lives of monarchs unknowingly. I have chastized young children with butterfly nets who are out with their parents enjoying a “nature moment”. I have broken open pods and seeded abandoned urban lots. No I do not have a butterfly tattoo on my ankle, but I do have an unflagging desire to see the magnificent monarch roostings on the tip of Point Pelee.

If you’re planning to make it down to Point Pelee there are a few accomodation options. For the more epicurean traveller there is the Vintage Goose Inn, a lovely guest house that offers facials, and omelettes and a wrap-around porch. I stayed in a charmless motel in Kingsville and treated myself to the Strawberry Rhubarb Goose Liver Pate Brulee at their restaurant on Main Street. This way I wasn’t tempted to sleep in—the monarchs are most viewable in the early hours of the morning.

The best time to see the monarchs preparing for migration is in late August to early September. That certainly does not mean that you will see them. There is a monarch hotline that you can call that will report monarch sightings and I highly recommend giving them a ring before you go, to dispel any false hopes (519) 322.2371

Thanks to the torrid temperatures this summer, I was able to spot exactly four monarchs, flitting away, all at different times and in different places. Global warming has robbed me of the desired life-changing experience yet again.

Luckily one of my other obssesions was being celebrated just around the corner from the National Park. By pure fluke, Leamington was in full swing with its annual Tomato Fair at Seacliffe Park. After a few hours of watching the Leamington Idol competition, I forgot about global warming completely. And after stomping on a few tomatoes (not heirloom varieties) I was able to face my failed monarch expedition. Being monarchless was something I was beginning to accept, when all of a sudden, I was gripped by the need to eat something other than Beefsteak and Roma. I wanted a Green Zebra. Possibly even more difficult to find then a horde of migrating monarchs, the Green Zebra is a tangy tomato with  lovely green stripes, that was created in 1986, and is perfect in sandwiches. It is food guru Alice Waters’ favourite tomato, and, like the monarch, it apparently didn’t enjoy our hot summer either. I was in the tomato capital of North America, and the Green Zebra was nowhere to be found.

Instead I comforted myself with some Earl of Edgecomb tomatoes, purple, swollen-looking and delicious. Then I settled down to witness a few waterbarrel fights, a geriatric swing dance extravaganza, and a  Miss Tomato pageant. It was just as impressive as watching the flutter of thousands of butterfly wings.

Caille Blanc, St. Lucia

The birds wake you in the morning as the sun rises, a soft breeze passes through the shutters and I understand now why there isn’t any glass in the windows. This is the way to wake up in St. Lucia.

We are staying in the southern area of Soufriere, up high on a mountain overlooking the Pitons and the Caribbean. At night when the birds go to sleep you can hear the waves crashing on the rocks far below, during the day when the sun is high the bugs seem to take over the air waves but they haven’t come out of their hiding yet. Our boys are sleeping without misquito nets and haven’t had a bite yet.

The rain comes often in short, light mist and then disappears with the sun drying up everything in a few minutes.

The hummingbirds are everywhere, with gold finches, morning doves and songbirds that I can’t name.

The villa has an Italian/Spanish flare to it, and with the mountains so close it feels a little like Italy and Costa Rica rolled into one.

The gardner comes at 7 a.m. and I can hear his brooms sweeping the leaves off the front step. My son rushes out to help him feed the gold fish in the small fish pond beside the kitchen gazebo. At nine the chef comes to make us breakfast, she prepares dinner leaving it for us to cook. My husband and I like to make dinner together so it works out perfectly.

Yesterday we walked down the road to the beach, it was hot and beautiful. I dream about building a place like this with our boys in another few years…

If you are planning a vacation this is a beautiful place to relax and you can book it here: http://www.vrbo.com/289848 

Costa Rica family getaway under 8K

Do you want rain forest, nature reserves, sun and sand? Then Costa Rica is the land for you, as long as you don’t mind bugs that are the size of small birds.

[metaslider id=6821]

The Cerros de Escazú  mountain range runs down the west coast of Costa Rica and provides great views of ocean sunsets as well as some spectacular zip lining.  The average ocean temp in February hovers at 27 degrees – so if it’s warm waters and cool mountain breezes you need this is the place for you.

I look for places that are peaceful and quiet, which can be hard to find when travelling with children on a budget, but I’ve found some terrific villas that offer more beauty at less price.

I’ve found that  VRBO  is a great way to find a villa and below are some good finds if you are looking for a great family vacation for 4-6 people for under $8000.

And some friendly advice. It’s best to fly into San Jose, mid-week. For example direct return flights from departing Feb 3,2015 and returning Feb 17, 2015 are (today) priced at $729.66 for a family of 4 that’s under $3000 for flights.

If you like to explore than a 4 wheel drive vehicle is essential. Aside from the main highway most of the roads are steep and often filled with large pot holes. Some mountain side villas require a 4×4 just to get up to them – the views are well worth the drive! You can rent a 4×4 Suzuki from Mirage for $30.39 a day this includes unlimited mileage bringing the total in around $500 for 2 weeks.

Another key thing to know is that if the villa you rent here is over 1000 feet elevation then you don’t need air conditioning as the mountain breezes are cool and constant. I prefer being a little more remote, away from the dogs barking in small towns but close enough to go out to a restaurant. Here are some choices that will bring you in under $8000 for a 2 week getaway for 4 people:

1. RAIN FOREST RETREAT

The first villa I would recommend is in a secluded  but beautiful setting. This home high up in the mountains but with an amazing view of the “Whales Tale” http://www.vrbo.com/273452  the drive up to the villa is extremely steep but you get accustomed to it quiet quickly. The peaceful srroundings, with howler monkies calling in the early morning and evening was beautiful. Rental price is $1195/week.

 

2. WALK TO THE BEACH

This listing on VRBO is one place that we stayed with an easy walk to a small beach. Shana Residences are beautifully laid out with a great view and  quite large for a 2 bedroom http://www.vrbo.com/3687824ha The sunsets were beautiful and the monkeys were everywhere. It wasn’t at a high enough elevation to go  high without air conditioning, but we only used it during the warmest part of the day. For $2000 per week, it was an easy drive in on paved roads, and close to restaurants and the town of Quepos.

[metaslider id=6795]

If you are going to the Manuel Antonio area it is worth the splurge to spend 1 or 2 nights at Arenas Del Mar Beach Resort – a small  eco-resort with rooms perched on the sides of a cliff situated in the rain forest. If you want to wake up to the sound of birds, bugs and the surf crashing against rocks far below this is well worth $600 – $800 a night. The pools are beautiful as is their private beach. And if you are there on a Thursday the beach dinner is amazing!
[metaslider id=6793]

 

Have a suggestion or recommendation please contact me!