Birding in Costa Rica

I was attracted to Costa Rica to explore its lush jungles, mighty volcanoes and the dramatic coastline. Little did I know that I would return home with a new hobby. I was well aware of Costa Rica’s reputation as the most biodiverse country on Earth and I was eager for the opportunity to spot monkeys, sloths, coatis, wild cats, frogs and whatever else I was lucky enough to observe. I also knew that Costa Rica was a birding paradise but I really didn’t give much thought to that. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy birds but honestly I really didn’t pay that much attention to them. Costa Rica changed that.

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Misadventures in the Mayan city of Tikal

The ancient Mayan city of Tikal conjures up otherworldly images of mystical pyramids rising above the dense, steamy jungles of Guatemala.  I was drawn to the area in order to explore the ruins of of one of the most powerful Pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas and I left with some of my most surreal travel experiences to date. Our journey started in the border town of San Ignacio, Belize; popular for its proximity to a multitude of Mayan sites. Joining our guide Max we crossed the border on foot, a first for me and I do admit to being slightly nervous walking by the guards with AK-47s.Once we safely passed Max ushered us to the dusty jeep he had arranged for the 2 hour journey. After a brief stop at a roadside stand for homemade tamales (the best in Guatemala we were assured and yes, they were indeed tasty), we arrived at the gates of Tikal National Park.  It was here that Max informed us that he would not be able to personally guide us as he picked up one of the many locals standing at the gates offering guide services. Raul introduced himself, flashing a partially toothless grin and began telling us about his 10 children from his 3 ex-wives. Raul accompanied us on the “sunset” tour which lasted from about 3:00 – 5:30 pm as all visitors needed to be out of the park by dusk. He was a jovial fellow but being a tour guide just wasn’t his calling. In between telling us stories of his childhood antics he would make a reference to King Chocolate, look at us quizzically asking “Riiigght???”, expecting an answer. Steve and I would glance at each other not quite knowing what to say before assuring Raul that he was indeed right. (Note: King Chocolate did indeed exist, his name was Au Cacao and he ruled Tikal around 700 A.D.He also favored a drink featuring his namesake pod, honey and vanilla presumably sparking the our worldwide obsession with chocolate). Raul did show us around the major sites at Tikal ( an UNESCO World Heritage Site) which were impressive. Our first stop the Great Plaza which is home to Temple I, Temple II and both the Northern and Central Acropolises; this plaza was the center of public life and was home to ritualistic ceremonies, theatrical performances and sporting events. Raul let us  explore  on our own and being that most of the day trippers had left we largely had the plaza to ourselves. While Temples I and II are not considered safe to climb you are allowed to scale the Northern Acropolis which affords some fantastic photo opportunities.

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My favorite street food in Prague

Wandering through the cobblestone streets of Prague‘s Old Town you catch a whiff of something comfortingly familiar yet enticingly different. Navigating  the medieval labyrinth of the Staré Město in search of its source, the sweet nutty aroma an irresistible olfactory temptation. A tube shaped sign above the shop points to its singular ware and signals that you have found what you’re looking for.

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Luxurious stay at the Sans Souci Vienna

 

The city of Vienna is synonymous with elegance and a visit here deserves a stay at an equally luxurious hotel. The  San Souci Vienna hotel fits the bill perfectly. Located in the upscale Bohemian neighborhood of Spittelberg the Sans Souci is perfectly situated near the Museum Quartier, convenient to the sights within the Ringstrasse and public transportation. I enjoyed exploring St. Stephen’s Catherdral, the Spanish Riding School and the imperial grandeur of Vienna’s first district by day and then to be able to escape the tourist fray at night. Upon entering you’ll be struck by the modernly elegant interior awash in cool silver and gray accented by the hotel’s signature violet color. The staff is courteous and eager to assist with anything guests may need, from tickets to the Opera to tips on the best way to explore the city’s museums and shopping. Downstairs lies the Sans Souci Spa and 20 meter long pool(unique amongst Vienna’s city hotels), I did not have time to enjoy these amenities but will certainly make time on my next visit.

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The wild side of central Florida

I recently took a trip to Tampa to visit family and have some fun with my 8 year old niece. She loves animals and there is no shortage of wild life attractions throughout central Florida. I wanted something a little more up close and personal than some of the major theme parks so we decided to try out the Safari Wilderness Ranch in Lakeland, Florida. Located on the Green Swamp between Orlando and Tampa, this rural swath of Florida is known for farming, particularly strawberries and beef cattle. There are also large areas of protected land as the Green Swamp sits over the aquifer that provides central Florida with its fresh water.

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3 Meals: Where to eat in Salzburg, Austria

Comforting homey meals are mainstays on menus throughout the Austrian Alps. From schnitzel with noodles to crisp apple strudel, here are a few of my favorite things to eat in Salzburg.

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The wild horses of the Outer Banks

After an unusually cold and snowy winter it was the end of February before we finally had some sun. A day trip would be the antidote to my cabin fever and the Outer Banks, being only a 90 minute drive away, would be a perfect destination. I love wildlife experiences and have traveled as far as Alaska and Costa Rica but only recently have I started to find out more about the fauna in my own backyard. With this in mind I went in search of the Outer Bank’s most famous residents, the wild horses. Known as “Banker Ponies”, these small shaggy horses have been a fixture on the islands for nearly 500 years. They’re thought to be descended from Spanish mustangs that survived shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Other theories posit that the horses were survivors of failed English settlements in North Carolina.

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Along the Danube on 2 wheels: cycling in Austria’s Wachau Valley

After spending several days exploring the imperial grandeur of Vienna it was time for some fresh air and green spaces. I love to explore the countryside and small towns in Europe, so when looking a day trip options from Vienna Melk and the Wachau Valley (pronounced Va-how) looked like a perfect fit. Quaint villages, an incredibly picturesque church, wineries and the opportunity to cycle along one of Europe’s most storied rivers? I was in.

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Business luxe at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta

I don’t often travel for business but when a recent conference brought me to Atlanta I jumped at the chance to stay at the InterContinental.  Located by a 5 minute walk to the MARTA in the upscale Buckhead area of Atlanta the InterContinental is convenient to some of Atlanta’s top restaurants and a quick train ride to downtown. After a seamless check in I headed upstairs to my corner suite. The spacious room was decorated in a tasteful palette of neutrals highlighted with pops of orange and the curtains revealed a great view of Georgia’s monolithic Stone Mountain.As you would expect in a hotel of this caliber the bedding was plush and luxurious. I liked the pillows so much I checked to see what brand they were so I could get some for home! The bathroom also didn’t disappoint with a huge soaking tub, glass steam shower, plenty of counter space and marble throughout.

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My one and only travel resolution for 2014

The new year is a time to reflect on the year past and contemplate our dreams for the months ahead. 2013 was the first year I felt I had both feet firmly entrenched in adulthood. As a thirty something woman I feel like I’ve advanced to the next stage in life, I’ve got a wonderful marriage, most of my friends have started families and as an old high school friend put it “I really don’t feel like I have as much in common with the people just coming out of college”(I still haven’t accepted that the 1990’s were over 10 years ago!). I’ve been asked to speak as an expert in my profession as well as asked to write about my passion by a national travel magazine. 2013 was also the year I watched Alzheimer’s slowly take more of my mother until her passing in early December. I feel as though I emotionally aged 20 years in the last 5 weeks of her life.What Alzheimer’s never claimed was her bright smile and her love of family. The death of someone close always makes you examine what’s important and what you’d really like to accomplish.

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