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A Sprinkling of the Best: The Expected

I’ve already covered the unexpeced things and places I loved on our travels (here is part I and part II), but now for the expected.

Part of the planning of our big trip was that we would be visiting some of the most amazing places on Earth, places that may not be around forever. There is a reason the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat are world-famous and that is something we took into consideration when explaining what I considered “the best thing.”

Taj Mahal in Fog Lora Kathleen
Taj Mahal

Delhi was covered in a fog the morning we left for Agra, our train crawled across the country side and we couldn’t see a thing. That didn’t bode well for the Taj everyone told us. So we arrived in Agra in the late morning, only a couple hours overdue, and headed to a cafe near the southern entrance where we could wait off the fog. Our tuk tuk driver told us the afternoon would be better, but as the minutes ticked by we figured we’d go ahead and enter.

The Taj Mahal in the fog was stunning. This photo is the first time we could see it. It was impossible to see from the entrance. There was no crowd and it was actually quite cold, making our experience rather pleasant. We could study the inlay without being rushed. It was a good day to see the Taj after all… however no beautiful sunset photos here. Another time maybe? If it doesn’t collapse first.

Golden Rock Kyakito Myanmar Lora Kathleen
Golden Rock

As I mentioned in a previous post, Golden Rock was THE inspiration for this entire trip. Of course, it was one of the expected amazing things. You can read all about it here.

Angkor Wat Cambodia Lora Kathleen
The Temples at Angkor (more commonly called Angkor Wat)

Of course the Temples at Angkor were amazing. This city was lost and then rediscovered by missionaries in 1860, a vast complex of crumbling Khmer temples. Ryan and I reserved a motorized tuk tuk with driver for the day and went to some really inspiring places. While Angkor was amazing, I didn’t love the town of Siem Reap that has grown up around it, but that is for another blog post.

In sum, Angkor Wat is amazing and it is worth seeing. You can see more photos here and here.

Great Wall of China Lora Kathleen
Great Wall of China

Another big hitter on the list of amazing places. Here we took a day tour, arranged through our AMAZING Airbnb homestay (also, please use my Airbnb referral link… free money for both of us!), to the Mutianyu portion of the Wall. It had snowed the previous day and was freezing when we left Beijing in the morning. Fun fact: if it’s cold and windy on the ground, it only gets worse up on the wall without the protection.

We were very lucky that day, as the sun was shining and the wind was generally low. Meaning it was somewhat hot up on the wall with all the hiking around. We opted to take the stairs to the top, instead of the gondola, and covered something like 7 watchtowers. I wish we’d had a little bit more time to explore, but am happy I got to see a beautifully preserved/rebuilt portion of the wall. Seeing the expanse of wall laid out before you is incredible.

Hagia Sofia Istanbul Lora KathleenInside Hagia Sofia Istanbul Lora Kathleen
Hagia Sophia

The Hagia was once said to be the most beautiful building in the world. It served as a functioning Christian cathedral for over 900 years and then a mosque for almost 500 years, making it the longest-serving religious building in the world. Atatürk converted it into a museum in 1935, allowing everyone the ability to see a piece of this incredibly beautiful building.

I’d seen the Hagia before, on a previous trip to Istanbul, but it was just as incredible to see a second time.

Camels at Petra Lora Kathleen Panorama of Petra Lora Kathleen
Petra

Petra is considered one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World, and with a very good reason. Seeing this ancient city carved out of rock–and seeing the engineering it took to make it happen–was phenomenal. Click through on the panorama for a bigger photo.

We visited in mid-March, shortly after news came out that a Jordanian pilot has been executed by ISIS in Syria. Petra is in Jordan and Jordan is just south of Syria. Needless to say, the place was deserted. Others loss was a huge gain for us, as we were able to spend an entire day exploring without seeing very many people at all. Most of our photos are empty of people, a bizarre experience to say the least. That said, we felt perfectly safe the entire time we were in Jordan. Most of the big tourist sites lay toward the south, near Israel or Egypt. Jordan was incredible and certainly a highlight despite the short time we spent there.

Western Wall Jerusalem Lora KathleenInside Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem Lora Kathleen
Jerusalem

Jerusalem is another one of the world-famous big hitters. The entire old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it’s more known for the pervasiveness of religion that surrounds it.

The only place we weren’t able to visit was Temple Mount because it’s restricted to Muslims only during a vast majority of the time. However, Ryan and I really enjoyed the Via Dolorosa, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is believed to have been buried and risen (by Catholics and Orthodox, Protestant Christians believe he was buried elsewhere) and we visited the Western Wall, the holiest place in all of Judaism. The Western Wall is often referred to as the Wailing Wall and my experience there was quite powerful and personal, something I have found difficult to experience in the modern Western religious context.

Side note: Jerusalem was also on my list of unexpected places I loved.

 

So there you have it, the places we expected to be awesome, and they were.

On the Road Again

via pinterest

I love to travel. Last weekend I was in NYC, this week will be in Miami, travelling home this coming weekend and then I have a few weeks off before I get started again with Orlando and Portland.

I’m excited this week to be visiting Miami for the first time.  Pretty much everything I know about Miami comes courtesy of Burn Notice and CSI: Miami. We have a great venue on the beach so I’m optimistic we’ll have pretty views from the windows of our training room.

Hope everyone has a wonderful week!

(image via pinterest)

Actual Cost of Five Days in Costa Rica

Dining in La Fortuna

When I say five days, I actually mean three days IN Costa Rica and two travelling there and back.

So how does the cost break down?

Flight: $585
Obviously the biggest expense was just the flight to get there.

Insurance: $50
Maybe I’m a little paranoid, but I really didn’t want to lose all the money I paid if I got sick/injured before leaving or a couple (or more) thousand if I had to be airlifted out. Costa Rica has great public healthcare, but I’d rather be covered in case the worst happened.

Lodging: $90
Between the four hotels/hostels we stayed in, this ended up not being bad at all.  Averages out to $22.50 per night.

Food/Drinks: $125-150
This surprised me that it was higher than the lodging costs, but was definitely worth every penny. Costa Rican cuisine was so incredibly fresh and filling, plus Imperial (the national beer of Costa Rica) was REALLY good.

Transport: $85
Covering eight cab rides and four buses, I think I have all the transport in here. 60% of this is split up between the cab to Jaco and rides to/from the airport.

Activities: $175
This is pretty much just the canyoning/waterfall repelling and ziplining in Arenal. The second biggest expense overall but SO worth every penny.

Miscellaneous: $40-50
I bought some stickers and coffee. And any other miscellaneous stuff not accounted for above.

GRAND TOTAL: $1,150 – $1,185

Additional costs:
Vaccines: $315
I didn’t necessarily need these because I have the major vaccines covered, but I figured typhoid wouldn’t hurt and the other 2 I’d be needing soon anyway.

I didn’t purchase anything else specifically for this trip. I loved having everything I needed ready to go!

How do your vacation budgets usually shake out?

 

#4: Get another stamp in my passport.

Costa Rica stamp in my passport!

Note: I know the last post had a similar picture, but I forgot that I needed the picture of the passport stamp for this post… doh!

Costa Rica was amazing! My friends and I packed so much into the three days we were there, I don’t even know if or how I’ll be able to do it justice. Maybe I’ll just let the pictures do the talking and add some stories here and there.

Thursday:

Early morning bus to La Fortuna

View from our cabin… Volcan Arenal

The first waterfall while canyoning… can’t even see the bottom!

Papaya

Bananas

Friday:

Lake Arenal

I don’t usually take pictures of my food, but this was the best tipico meal of the entire trip

THE bus

Costa Rican church

Saturday:

Playa Jaco

We did SO much in the three days that it’s really difficult to pick a best part, so here are some of the highlights:

  • Canyoning/Canyoneering (video)
    I would HIGHLY recommend anyone who likes a more adventurous vacation to try this. I am pretty afraid of heights but it was so much fun to rappel down the canyon walls/waterfalls. This is something I’ll do again if I can!
  • Ziplining (video)
    I had been ziplining in Whistler, BC, previously so I jumped at the chance to go in the Costa Rican rainforest. It was a different experience, but awesome nonetheless.
  • Taxi ride from Puntarenas to Jaco
    We missed our third bus of the day by just 10 mins… but it happened to be a wonderful blessing in disguise. We met the coolest taxi driver in the world who not only drove us the hour south to Jaco for a really great price, but helped us find a better hotel as well.
  • Last night in San Jose
    One of my friends has family in Costa Rica so we spent the last night with her cousins in San Jose. They took us to a new club where we were the only tourists, giving a true taste of the local scene. I don’t speak Spanish, but it was still a lot of fun and we met some great people.

It would have been awesome to have an extra day or two… so I’ll just have to go back someday!

Onward

“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.”
-Alan Keightley

Pura Vida

Pura vida is the phrase that embodies Costa Rican culture. It doesn’t really have one meaning, but is used to say “full of life”, “this is living!”, “going great”, “real living”, “Awesome!” or “cool!” (according to Wikipedia). It’s used as a greeting, as goodbye, as you’re welcome, as how are you doing…l as everything. The phrase just is.

The Good Life

I spent only three full days in Costa Rica, but it felt like it easily could have been a week or more. I originally thought today’s post would be about the things we did and we saw, but how I felt was all I could think about as I began to write. The small taste of pura vida was both rejuvenating and heartbreaking at the same time.

I’ve talked a lot about change in the past and this has just reinforced where I want to end up. I still feel completely lost on the means to achieve it, but the fact that I’m heading in the right direction is reinforced every day.

As we rode the bus through the Costan Rican rainforest on the second day, meandering along the mountains with the cool air whipping through the open windows, my heart suddenly felt very, very full. I felt content to sit there and stare out the window as time slipped by, knowing that was moment and I was happy to just be.

And so I move onward, wherever the next bus might take me.