Travel Diary: Nosara, Costa Rica

Travel Diary: Nosara, Costa Rica

As I mentioned in my New Year’s Resolutions post, one of my goals for 2018 is to travel to at least three new places, and I am happy to say I can now check one off the list! If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I went to Costa Rica for a week with my mom. We went for a One Yoga Global yoga retreat, and stayed at the beautiful Blue Spirit Retreat Center in Nosara.

This vacation was the first time I’d taken a full week off from work since I started my new job in October, and it was exactly what I needed. It was the perfect blend of relaxation, sunshine, fun excursions, and of course yoga. Instead of walking you through what we did every single day, I’m going to just share the top highlights from the trip.

The Location/Accommodations

As I mentioned, we stayed at Blue Spirit. We had a great experience there, and I would highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to stay there. One thing to note is that it is for yoga retreats specifically, so if you practice yoga you should definitely try to go on a retreat there. We stayed in a Nature Suite room, which looked like a little cottage with trees all around it which made it feel like a tree house!

There was a swimming pool at the resort, and a peaceful area with a koi pond that was nice to go to when you wanted some privacy. The beach was only a short walk away, so most days we would go for a swim in the ocean, and then go to the pool to cool off.

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Our room for the week
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My mom and I enjoying the ocean view

Besides the beautiful views, the best part of the accommodations was all of the delicious food! We got breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, buffet style. It was almost exclusively vegetarian, with fish being the only meat served. The chefs actually made a cook book, and my mom and I bought it so we can try to recreate some of our favorite meals back in Austin now! Stay tuned for some cooking posts in the future, where I’ll share some of those recipes.

We also became obsessed with drinking coconut water, which we drank out of real coconuts!

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One of the breakfasts. The plantains were delicious!
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Posing with my coconut water

The Yoga/Gong Practice

As you can probably assume from the fact that it was a yoga retreat, yoga was a big part of the trip. We woke up every morning bright and early for a sunrise yoga class, then had some free time before returning for a sunset yoga class, followed by a meditation after dinner. For those of you who are familiar with different types of yoga, we were practicing Kundalini yoga.

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Meditating during a sunset yoga class

Another big aspect of this trip was the gong instruments. During almost every yoga class the teachers would play the gong while we relaxed. If you’ve never heard a gong played before, you’re missing out! It is a very calming, yet transformative experience to lay and listen to the sounds. Our brain actually can’t fully understand all of the tones and sounds the gong makes, because it is so different than any other instrument.

Besides listening to the gong, my mom and I also attended a training course a couple of days out of the week, where we learned all about the gong and how to play it, as well as how to connect it to Ayurvedic beliefs and practices. Despite the fact I had only ever played the gong once before this trip, I actually got multiple compliments about how well I played. I will definitely consider learning more about how to play, and possibly even get my own gong someday!

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Meditating and listening to the gongs
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Gong virtuoso right here!

Zip lining adventure

One of the highlights of the trip was when we went zip lining with Miss Sky Canopy Tours. It is the longest zip line tour in the world, with 21 different runs! If you read my Colorado travel post last summer, you know I tried zip lining for the first time then. This one was actually less scary, but much more fun. Unlike in Crested Butte, we didn’t have to jump off any platforms. Instead, we started on the solid ground each time and went off of the mountains. The views were incredible, and it was actually really relaxing to just lay back and fly through the air!

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The view from the top of one of the lines
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Right before going down upside down!

Refuge for Wildlife

Our last excursion of the trip was a visit to the Refuge for Wildlife, which is an awesome rehabilitation center for injured, displaced and orphaned wildlife such as howler monkeys that have been injured on electrical wires or bitten by dogs. The purpose of the center is to rescue, rehabilitate, and then release the animals back into their natural habitat after they are better.

We got to tour the facility and see some of the different animals that are being helped right now. They specialize in the howler monkey, but they help all types of animals from birds to raccoons. They don’t want us to share any photos publicly, but you can see a gallery on the website here.

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If you look closely you can see monkeys playing in the trees at Blue Spirit

 

Those were the main highlights of my trip! I hope you enjoyed hearing about it and seeing some photos. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever traveled to Costa Rica, and which places are on your travel bucket list. Also, enjoy my travel diary video below!

 

July, August & September Recap

July, August & September Recap

I dropped the ball on my monthly recap posts since June, so I thought I would bundle the main highlights from the last few months into one blog post to catch you guys up on my life. Enjoy!

Family Beach Vacation
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Growing up, my family and I used to go to Port Aransas every summer. We hadn’t been in a few years, so we decided to take a trip for old time’s sake. I took three days off of work, and left my laptop at home so I could completely disconnect and have some much-needed relaxation time. (I’m thinking of writing a post about how to have a work-free vacation, so let me know in the comments if you’d be interested in that.)

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It was my ideal type of vacation, because it had the perfect mix of chill-out time and adventuring. We spent a good amount of time reading, swimming in the pool and ocean, and watching the Olympics, but we also went out and explored new places in Corpus Christie like the botanical gardens (where a parrot with no beak hung out on my shoulder) and the aquarium!

Elizabeth’s Wedding
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One of my first ever friends, literally from when I was an infant, got married in August! Although she and I haven’t stayed in touch very well in recent years, my mom and her mom have remained best friends, and I was really excited to be able to attend her wedding. It was cool to to witness such a big milestone in her life and to remember playing with her when we were kids. Time really does fly!

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This was the third wedding Brian and I have attended together, so it was fun having him there with me along with my parents. Their reception was in a really cool lounge area. It was decorated with beautiful flowers, and the lighting was perfect. They also had an adorable slideshow playing with baby pictures, and I made it into one of the pictures!

Lauren’s Visit
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Last month, my friend Lauren (who I wrote about in my June Recap post) came to visit me for the weekend! It was so much fun having her here, and we managed to fit a lot of fun into a few days. We went to the Blue Cat Cafe (mentioned in my May Recap post), and ate delicious food at VoodooSpun, and Gourdough’s.

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On Sunday we went to an awesome event put on by Aerie, where we got to take free yoga classes, and meet the very sweet and super inspirational model Iskra Lawrence! Aerie is a unique brand in that they don’t retouch or Photoshop any of their models, and they make an effort to promote body positivity for young girls. I love everything they stand for, and it was really great to meet Iskra and get to hear her talk about how she has managed to stay positive and love herself despite the media and people in the modeling industry making it difficult.

Family Time in Wimberley

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My parents recently rented a house in Wimberley, and they’ve been staying out there almost every weekend. It’s right on the creek, and they are walking distance from a coffee shop, some restaurants, and even a library which they are now members of.

My younger sister and her boyfriend went out to stay with them for a weekend in September, so Brian and I went out on Sunday and we all got to swim and have a nice lunch at The Leaning Pear (which I mentioned in my June Recap). It was really nice visiting with everyone and having a “triple date”, and I can definitely see why my parents are loving it out there so much. It’s so peaceful and quiet compared to the bustle of the city, which makes for a great escape on the weekends.

I hope you enjoyed reading about what I’ve been up to the past few months! I will definitely try to write a recap every month like I did in May and June, so be on the lookout for an October Recap next month.

Answer in the comments: What was your favorite memory from the last three months?

Adventures in the UK

My last hurrah of the semester was a trip to the UK. My trip included London and three different cities in Scotland. I stayed in each country for about three days and four nights, and was lucky enough to have friends to stay with in both places.

I stayed with Tara and Katherine in London. They are both in my sorority and were studying abroad in London for the semester. Katherine was actually only there for one of the nights I was there, so she let me take her bedroom while she was gone. Because I haven’t had a room to myself this entire semester, it felt as if I was staying in a luxury hotel. I even got my own bathroom!

My first full day there, Friday, I went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is just outside of London. For any of you who know me well, you know that this was an absolute dream come true. My Harry Potter love knows no bounds. I’ve also always been a bit of a nerd with discovering behind-the-scenes secrets about movies, and the making of movies really fascinates me. So basically this tour was two of my absolute favorite things in life wrapped into one amazing experience.

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Outside the Harry Potter Studios!

The tour was almost completely self-guided, starting out by walking into the Great Hall. It was set up exactly how they used it when filming. The only thing missing was the magical star-lit ceiling, which they explained had to be added in with special effects (of course I knew that must have been the case, but even so, it is crazy how different it looks without the ceiling). The rest of the tour consisted in walking up to different sets like the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s Office, Hagrid’s Hut and The Burrow, all of which were decorated exactly as they had been in the movies, complete with dummies of each character positioned as if they were performing a scene.

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At the entrance to Dumbledore’s office

One of my favorite parts was an un-exceptional looking cork board, that when I went closer was covered in photos of different animals. They were all of the “animal actors” that had been used in the movies, from Crookshanks (Hermione’s cat) to Hedwig (Harry’s owl) to all of the different dogs that had played Fang (Hagrid’s dog). Each animal had a notecard with a description of their personality, which films they had been featured in, and funny facts about them. There was also a TV with a video (videos were playing next to a lot of the sets), explaining the process of training the animals. It’s crazy to think about how much time and effort must have gone in just to get Hedwig to fly and land on Harry’s shoulder.

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The animal actors

On Saturday morning, Tara took me to Portebello Market which is located in Notting Hill, where a lot of famous people have lived, and where a lot of movies take place. The market was huge, complete with everything from clothes to ceramics to every type of food imaginable. We ended up eating kebabs, and delicious pastries for dessert.

After the market I headed to my walking tour. My tour guide was Australian, but moved to London a few years ago and loves giving tours. He was eager to point out all of the Australian things in the city like the Australia House, which coincidentally was used as Gringotts Bank in the Harry Potter movies.

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Australia House aka Gringotts Bank

The rest of the tour covered a lot of the oldest parts of London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about all of the history behind each sight, and I definitely feel like I learned a lot about the city. On Staurday Tara took me to all of the major places that I hadn’t seen on my tour, including London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and St. James Park. One of the the things I liked best about London was that although it is a huge city and has that big city feel, it is also very beautiful, with plenty of parks and antique architecture.

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Tower Bridge
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London Eye

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see a musical while I was there. I really wanted to see Once, but I guess that just gives me an excuse to go back to London some day! Monday morning I headed out fairly early to the airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh, followed by a few hours on a train to get to Aberdeen, where Rowan goes to school. Even just from looking out of the window of the train, I was taken by how beautiful and green Scotland is, and couldn’t wait to explore.

Rowan met me at the train station, and we headed to her apartment for a little while before going to meet some of her friends at a restaurant for dinner. It was great to finally meet her friends. She had told me so many stories about them that I already felt like I knew them all! The next day Rowan had class, so I decided to explore a bit on my own. I went to the Botanical Gardens, which were gorgeous! People gave me some strange looks for taking so many pictures, but I didn’t even care.

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Botanical Gardens

After walking around the gardens for a bit and enjoying the sunny weather (which would soon disappear), I headed to St. Machar’s Cathedral. At this point I have lost track of the number of cathedrals I have seen while traveling, but it’s a lot. I still enjoy visiting them though, because I feel like I should appreciate them before I head back to the United States.

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St. Machar’s Cathedral

That night Rowan’s friends came over to her apartment for “Mexican Food Night.” Because we are both missing the taste of Mexican food, and because  her friends weren’t really familiar with Mexican food as they are not from the U.S., we decided it would be fun to cook some food to educate them on how delicious it is, and to satisfy our cravings. We made chicken enchiladas and tortilla soup, which turned out great! And when I say we, I really mean Rowan, she deserves all the credit for cooking. It was definitely nice to taste my favorite cuisine after months of living without it.

Wednesday we began exploring. We took a train to Edinburgh for the day, which was a really cool city. We began our day at a coffee shop to eat a bit of lunch and drink some coffee. The cafe had a very Austin-y feel, so we both felt very at home there. We then headed up to the castle, but ended up just taking pictures as far as we could go without paying, since you had to pay an arm and a leg to go inside. We then stumbled upon a kilt factory, which led to many laughs. There was a little photography station set up where you could pay to dress up in an ancient Scottish costume and get your pictures taken. Though we were extremely tempted to experience it, we settled for just looking at all of the pictures they had displayed, which were priceless.

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Me and Rowan at the Edinburgh Castle
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Some of the classy photos

We ended the day at the Scottish National Gallery, the national art museum, which includes Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the start of the 20th century. After the gallery we had a little bit of extra time before our train back to Aberdeen, so we actually went bad to the same coffee shop for “Luxury Hot Chocolate” and a piece of cake. And yes, it was just as delicious as it sounds. 

The next day, Thursday, was when the real adventure happened. We took a short train ride to Stonehaven, a tiny town whose two big claims to fame are the castle and deep fried mars bars. They also have a great ice cream shop, which we went to. You can either get ice cream with or without “the toppings.” Instead of choosing one or two toppings, they put a whole bunch of things on your ice cream if you ask for the toppings, including marshmallows, a piece of waffle cone, and assorted hard candies. It was amazing to say the least.

We then made the long hike up to the castle, which starts out completely up hill but gets easier as you go. We again wimped out and decided not to pay to go all the way inside, because we figured the inside basically looks the same as the outside. After looking around a bit, we decided to take an adventure and walk down to the beach area. We found a few caves, and at one point we paved our own path down the mountainside, to get down to the water, later seeing that there was a clear path that we had missed. I only slipped and fell three times, which sadly is pretty good for me. Anyone who saw us probably laughed. We must have looked pretty ridiculous galavanting through the Scottish countryside.

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Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven
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One of the caves we found

Unfortunately Friday rolled around too soon, and I had to begin my journey back to Spain in the early afternoon. I went back the way I came, which was longer because I had to go back to Edinburgh by train, fly to London, then fly to Seville. By the time I arrived back in Seville I was exhausted, but I would do it all over again if I got the chance. I absolutely loved London and Aberdeen/Edinburgh/Stonehaven. London was the perfect blend of historical and fun, and Scotland was just as I had imagined it would be, from the beautiful green countryside to the kilt factory.

Although I am sad that my travels have come to an end, I am glad I ended my semester there. It was a great end to a wonderful semester filled with travel adventures. This is normally when I preview where I will be heading next for my next blog post, so it is really weird to not have another trip! I can’t believe I only have one week left in Spain. The semester really did fly by! I will probably write a wrap-up blog filled with feelings and stuff at some point this week, so keep your eyes pealed for that. But right now I need to study for finals, so I don’t have time for emotions.

Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience as much as I enjoyed living it! And for those of you considering studying abroad: do it! It will be challenging at times, but completely worth it.

Bye for now,

Shelly

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Madrid y Barcelona

Yes, I am aware that it has been forever since my last post. But in my defense, I’ve been really busy traveling for the past two weekends. Isn’t it ironic that when I actually have interesting material to write about, I’m too busy to write about it? Anyway, in this post I am going to quickly fill you in on my recent travels to two awesome cities in Spain: Madrid and Barcelona.

The Madrid Trip

Ever since I randomly chose to do a speech about it for a speech class class year, Madrid has been on the top of my must-see list. I didn’t really know much about it before I went, except that it was Spain’s capital and there are three of the most famous museums there. So my list of things to do/see consisted of:

1) Museums

2) Anything and everything else

We took a train that left at 6:10 in the morning. Yep, you read that right. For any of you who know me well, you know that I am nowhere near being a morning person. As I was walking to meet my friends, I saw people walking home from going out the night before. That’s how early it was. On the upside, leaving early meant that we had the whole day to spend in the city on Friday.

Since the weather was nice and we knew it would rain Saturday, we decided to do all of the outdoor activities (aka the “anything and everything else” category), and save the museums for Saturday. We ended up doing our own little walking tour of the city. We walked through the huge park called El Parque Retiro. It has a beautiful river where lots of people were on boats, a bunch of gardens and fountains, and a building made completely of glass, called the Palacio de Cristal.

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El Parque Retiro
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El Palacio Cristal

Saturday it was raining and freezing, my favorite weather (*heavy sarcasm*). So like I said, we decided to do indoor activities. We first went to El Palacio Real, which is the royal palace where the king used to live. You get to walk through and look at all of the rooms, which are exquisite! Seriously so beautiful. Unfortunately they were very strict about no pictures inside the castle, so I was only able to take pictures of the outside, which sadly looks way less impressive in comparison (the gloomy weather certainly didn’t help).

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El Palacio Real
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Courtyard of El Palacio Real

Afterwards we went to El Museo Nacional del Prado, the museum I had been looking forward to. It holds works of art from all of the most famous Spanish painters. It was really interesting, but a little overwhelming. There were way too many different rooms and paintings to possibly see everything, but it was worth it to just see what I could.

On Sunday we just woke up and went to catch our train, which was at 9 AM. 9 seemed late compared to 6! Overall it was a great trip. Madrid is a much more crowded and bustling city than Seville, and I found I felt a lot more comfortable when I got back to Sevilla. I think Madrid can be compared to lots of big cities in the U.S.: they’re fun to visit, but not everybody would want to live there full-time. I definitely enjoyed visiting, and would go back again if I got the chance. But if I had to choose a city to live in, I would have to pick good ol’ Sevilla.

The Barcelona Trip

The weekend after Madrid, aka this past weekend, I headed to another city that had been on my top must-see cities in Spain: Barcelona! I had always heard that it was a really fun and exciting city, and also very beautiful. I was not disappointed.

Like Madrid, I was forced to wake up ridiculously early in order to catch the bus to the airport and make it to my 8:30 AM flight on time. This is apparently becoming a trend, because my flight to Venice this weekend (yep, finally time for ITALY) is at 8AM. But again, it is totally worth it. The flight to Barcelona was pretty short and painless (mostly because I slept the entire way there) and before I knew it I was in Barcelona! Luckily they have a bus that shuttles people to the city, and the bus stop happened to be only a few blocks away from my hostel, which was in a great location in the city center.

I decided to explore a bit before checking into my hostel. I walked down Las Ramblas, which is one of the main streets in the city for shopping and restaurants. There is also a market there called La Boqueria, which I walked through. It had all of the different types of food and drinks you could imagine. I tried a strawberry and coconut smoothie which was to die for.

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La Boqueria

Later that day I met up with Masha, who I know from high school, and her friend Kim. The three of us went to el Museo Picasso, which was really cool, and then just walked around the city for a while. They showed me Parc de la Ciutadella, and the beach which is beautiful. It made me a little jealous that Seville doesn’t have a beach to walk to!

On Saturday I had a jam-packed day of sight-seeing. I first went to La Sagrada Familia, a large Roman Catholic church designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí. It is still unfinished, though Gaudí has already passed away. I have to admit all of the construction on the outside took away from the beauty a bit, but it was still an amazing piece of architecture. And the inside was just as breathtaking, with extremely intricate ceilings and colorful stained glass windows.

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La Sagrada Familia
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Inside la Sagrada Familia

I wanted to get some pictures of me inside the church, and the woman that I asked turned out to have quite a creative streak, and decided to take one at an interesting angle. It was actually a good idea, because she was able to capture the beautiful ceilings. And the color of my sweater matched the stained glass, which was a nice added touch.

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Getting artsy in La Sagrada Familia

I then headed to the other place I was excited to see, Parque Güell, a huge garden complex which was also designed by Antoni Gaudí. One of the most famous parts is a large terrace overlooking a beautiful view of the Barcelona skyline, with a bunch of colorful mosaic benches. My sweater matched nicely with the tile there as well. My outfit choice was just on point that day! The park also includes Gaudí’s home which they have turned into a museum. It contains original works by Gaudí and several of his collaborators, and was declared a historical artistic monument of national interest in 1969.

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Mosaic Terrace at Parque Güell
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Gaudí House Museum

Overall it was another great weekend! Barcelona is definitely my second favorite city in Spain, after Sevilla. Not only does it have a really unique culture, but it has beautiful parks, museums, and a beach. I didn’t want to leave!

Saturday I will be leaving early in the morning (of course) to fly to Venice! One of my oldest friends, Rowan, and I will be spending a few days in Venice, then heading to Florence for a few days. It’s sure to be an extremely blog-worthy week, so stay tuned for my next post!

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Masha and I, throwing up our Westlake High School chaps sign!