Monday, November 15, 2010

Chilling at Peace Lodge!

In November, to celebrate our 3rd anniversary, we went to Peace Lodge, about an hour's drive from our new house in Cariari (blog to come with more photos, if you haven't already seen them on Facebook!). The hotel was amazing! High up in the rainforest, right next to the Poas volcano (we didn't manage a trip there but maybe next time!) and surrounded by waterfalls, Peace Lodge is one of Costa Rica's five small, distinctive hotels and is set in La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which also has a small zoo (if you can call it that!), so we got to see a lot of Costa Rican wildlife, including monkeys, toucans and parrots as well.

Note: I'm a bit of a silly fool! Managed to write this weeks ago and not post it! :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Umm... English Teacher turned Poker HR Manager??

So, I am no longer teaching English in Costa Rica! In August, I was offered the the position of HR Manager at The Poker Farm, where I'd have better hours, a little more money and a much easier commute (ie with the boys and not constantly in taxis!). I just had to jump at it! At first, I tried to juggle 2 jobs. That involved 17hr days and falling asleep in my books trying to plan lessons, so that wasn't really feasible. When I was due to come home in September, I took a break from Berlitz (the language school where I was teaching) for a couple of weeks whilst only working at Poker Farm and realised how much more easy my day was. I wasn't stressed or clock-watching, my skin cleared up and I made it to the gym for the first time in weeks. Then, after weeks of putting my body through too much, it crashed and I got hit by the flu. That's when I knew that it was one or the other.
It's an odd switch from teaching English to managing poker players and all of their details, but I am enjoying it. I loved my classes and the people that I met at Berlitz, but I just could no longer keep to the hours of 645-830am and then 4-9pm, because I just spent my days waiting around or then working my other job, which meant that I didn't have time to plan for the next day. I couldn't give it my all, so I knew that I had to leave. Sometimes, life takes you on a path that you never expected. But I am still using my Spanish and living in the sun, so my ambitions weren't all that different to the current situation!

Stef x

Welcome to The Palace!

We have moved house! Check out the photos below!

Entrance hall and Living area.

Pool room and Dining area

Sofas and Kitchen
The staircase and landing.

Our room and ensuite.

What do you think? Outside photos coming soon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Virginia is for Lovers

Back in July we went for a break (and quick tourist visa renewal!) to Virginia to visit Simon and Meredith (Mark's bro and his girlfriend for those of you not in the know!). It was the middle of summer and it was HOT. We also arrived perfectly in time to celebrate one of the biggest days on the US calendar: 4th July.

Having arrived with my glass of wine in 1st class (yes, they bumped me up, and no they didn't award Mark the same pleasure!), I was feeling chilled and relaxed and fully ready for the next day ahead, which consisted of drinking all day long at a pool party at one of Meredith's friends houses complete with grill and good ol' Southern hospitality. Angela and her parents were lovely, I had a long chat with her mum about her book club and writing. She wants to write a book some day and I hope she does. So many people think that they have a book in them, and I always feel like they should try and get it out. The day was a blast and the Americans loved making fun of our "cute British accents". The week continued to be much the same.

The next day we got up early for a road trip to Washington DC. It was just as fabulous! We saw the sights, and queued up for a very long time to eat at Ben's Chilli Bowl (hey! If it's good enough for Obama...!) before almost fainting in the heatwave (over 100 degrees!) and failing to get very close to the White House (I just had to zoom in on my camera - it was all too much!)

The one thing I couldn't get used to was the obligatory tipping - surely the restaurants should pay their staff's wages?! And when somebody has been particularly terrible, why should I add 20% to my already hefty bill?! It was very different to Costa Rica, where service is included and waiters don't expect tips (apart from when they think you are American!)

We then spent a couple of days exploring Richmond before heading to Virginia Beach for a couple of fun-filled days! Mark treated us all to a lovely hotel (as a thank you for letting us stay at Simon's and for Meredith being such a good tour guide!) All of these road trips were such a laugh, as we blasted music and chatted all the way. Plus, the Gray boys with a bit of fuel in them is always amusing!
We also managed to fit in a couple of lovely meals, mini golf, a day at Meredith's parents' pool and a massive shopping spree at Target and Forever 21. I'd heard so much about these places before on blogs and I went a little crazy! Neither of us can wait to return for more Party in the USA! One problem that Mark did have was that gambling is illegal in Virginia - he nearly got back on the plane when he heard that one!

Thanks guys for a great trip! Sorry this blog is a little (or a lot!) late!

Stef x

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Girls' Weekend in Jaco!

Me, Kate and Cameron.

Last weekend, I went away on a girls' weekend with my friends Kate and Cameron to Jaco, a local beach town about an hour away from San Jose (well, it's longer on a 'doing the rounds' colectivo bus!). It was my friend Cameron's birthday and she just wanted to get out of the city, but what she didn't know is that we had booked a gorgeous resort to hang out in!

We had a fab weekend at Hotel Club del Mar in Jaco, with it's tropical rooms and pretty pool area. Cameron was just happy to have a comfortable bed and a hot shower, as she has neither in their apartment in San Pedro (on the other side of town)! We didn't do a whole lot. Kate and I got pedicures at the hotel spa whilst Cameron caught up on sleep in the sun. The weather was pretty humid, so we didn't really move from the side of the pool for very long!

On the Saturday, we had dinner at Lemon Zest - a well-known and popular restaurant near the beach in Jaco centre. We had an amazing meal. Hands down, the best food that I've had the whole time that I've been in Costa Rica. I can't even tell you how good it was, partially because I had consumed quite a lot of sangria prior to entering the restaurant, and partially because there are no words. I had duck in a blackberry jus, Cameron had filet mignon on garlic mash and a red wine reduction and Kate opted for Madeira Chicken with roast vegetables. This is our little vegan from Chicago, chowing down on poultry and licking her lips! haha. It's very difficult to be vegetarian in Costa Rica, let alone vegan. Especially when you are staying with a local family, which is where she was during the TEFL course.

At Lemon Zest

On Sunday, we couldn't get a bus back to San Jose until 6.30pm so we were thrilled ot be allowed to hnag out at the hotel until we had to leave. The sun came out for us and we just worked on our tans all day. All in all, a fab end to a fab weekend with two fab girls! I can't wait for the next adventure!

Stef x

PS. I know that Mark hasn't been blogging much and I'm going to get him on
here as soon as possible! It's just that at the moment, we have no internet in
our house and he works very long hours, so he doesn't always want to sit down
and start writing when he walks in!

A place to call home...

Our balcony sunset one evening

It just occurred to me that I haven't given you all a tour of our fabulous new pad here in Costa Rica. We are living in Santa Ana, one of the more exclusive areas of San Jose. It is very americanised, which can be annoying but also quite nice in terms of home comforts in the supermarkets! Obviously, we still can't get baked beans, as said home comforts are from the USA, but I do come across Cadbury's Fruit and Nut every now and then (and have stopped myself buying it each time that I do!).

So, here it is for you:

Our room is here:

Stef x

Friday, July 16, 2010

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

A few weeks ago, I went to Manuel Antonio, a lovely beach town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I went with a few friends from my TEFL course. We had a 3day weekend, so we took advantage and caught the bus to the beach after class on the Friday, returning on the Sunday. The bus trip takes about 3 hours or 2 if, like me, you neglect to buy a return ticket and have to get some strange car taxi service on its way north from Panama! This is not as dodgy as it sounds, by the way!

The beach was absolutely beautiful, as was Manuel Antonio National Park, which we attempted to hike through, but unfortunately were not appropriately dressed to do so! There are more pictures on my facebook profile to prove this!

We stayed at Backpackers Hostel, a simple place with stunning surroundings for $12 a night. A far cry from my Santa Ana mansion I must admit, but I had a great time! It was like summer camp. We actually stayed up all night whispering and giggling whilst trying not to wake up the other fifteen people in the dorm! And check out the view from the pool area! Costa Rica is beautiful, even though we may not always see this side of it when we're in San Jose! I definitely recommend this place for a cheap place to stay - you won't spend much time there anyway and it's really social if you do! The only drawbacks were a lack of clean sheets and hot water in the hostel and it is a little far from the beach, but it's a very cheap taxi or bus ride down the hill, so not a huge issue.

We managed quite a few cocktails throughout the weekend too - who can resist a mango daiquiri being brought to you whilst sitting in the sun on a tropical beach?!

And Kate and Kara got naughty with a Tico Tiki after a couple of tequilas! Nice ladies!

All in all, a fabulous trip, but I'd love to go back and take the poker boys to show them the real Costa Rica!
Stef xx