Christmas Markets in Germany

One thing that can put even the meanest Grinch in the holiday spirit is the Christmas markets, or Christkindlmarket, in Germany. First held in Dresden in 1434, they have been an annual Advent tradition throughout Germany and Austria since. Many markets are held in the town square and nearby pedestrian zones; which sells food, drink, and seasonal items from open-air stalls. I went for a week and drove all over Germany to experience as many markets as I could. It was quite the adventure.

I left from home and flew into Amsterdam as my starting and ending point into Europe. From Amsterdam, I ended up doing a huge 1,274 mile loop of Germany to see as many markets as I could in a week. Driving down the autobahns were an experience you will never forget. You will learn very quickly that the left hand lane is only for passing and that’s it! The first stop on my trip was Frankfurt, where I found out that would be eating bratwurst on this trip. Lotsmore lots, and even more lots of bratwursts. I made stops in Frankfurt, Schlitz, Bad Hersfeld, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Coburg, Nuremberg, Munich, Stuttgart, Cologne, Bonn, and Düsseldorf! Small markets were really small, others were crazy busy.

Some of the best markets to go to are the busier ones in Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne if you are looking for a lot of various options for shopping and food. I liked the market in Erfurt because it has a ferris wheel in the town square. My vote for the best stall was in Bonn, because they had deer singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in German. I went in early December, which is a great time to go to avoid most of the bigger crowds of tourists right around Christmas. If you get the chance to go to Germany in December, take it! It’s a wonderful time of year to go!

Costa Rican Beaches

One of the greatest assets that Costa Rica has is its beautiful beaches. My buddy Mike and I started out one morning at our hotel and decided just to go beach hopping the whole day along the Nicoya Peninsula until sundown.

From the touristy beaches of Playa Hermosa and Playa Flamingo, to a more secluded Playa Conchal, there is a beach that suits so many different tastes. My personal favorite of the day was Playa Conchal. It was different experience to get to the beach be driving down multiple dirt roads and driving right on the beach. The water was very warm and calm, which was great for swimming and wading. Tamarindo was a different story.

We finally reached Tamarindo at sundown, and it was a beautiful site to see. Tamarindo does not only have an awesome beach for swimming and surfing, but a whole lively beach town to go with it. They have everything any surfer could ever want and dream, from any budget range. From nicer full service restaurants, to little sodas on the side of the road, any one can enjoy a full day at Tamarindo.

Selvatura Adventure Park

One of the most exciting things to do in Costa Rica is to check out the scenery via a zip line! I highly recommend heading to Selvatura Adventure Park in Santa Elena.

From our hotel in Papagayo, it was about a 3 hour drive up to Santa Elena. The route does not look that long, but once you get off the Pan American Highway, some roads are dirt and very steep. Once you are in the cloud forest, you are in a completely different world from the sand and beaches just an hours drive below. Selvatura Adventure Park is partially located in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which contains over 26,000 acres of cloud forest. It is a very unique experience on this zipline company than most of the other companies in the area.

The zipline tour is about $50 USD, which is not a bad deal for the 3 hour experience. There are 12 cables and 18 platforms on this tour. One of the cables is 3,280 feet (1 km) long, which at the time of my trip in November of 2015 was the longest zipline in Costa Rica! If you have the time, or are in the Monteverde area, you should check them out!

Tough lessons in Costa Rica…..

I have traveled to Costa Rica a handful of times before with no issues. I usually travel with my passport on me for the most part. This time around I left my passport in the safe at the hotel for the whole trip. I have heard about random police checkpoints in the country, but I never ran into one until my last trip in November.

After a fun day of beach hopping around Tamarindo, we were driving back to our hotel in Papagayo in the evening. We ran into a police checkpoint about halfway back to the hotel. The police were nice and friendly, but they asked us for our passports, which were back in the hotel safe. It seemed to me that their English was limited, but I was fortunate to have a local wifi hotspot connection and used google translate to the best of my abilities. The one officer then decided to search the car for any drugs or alcohol, while the other one was calling “someone” at the station. Once our car was cleared, the other officer wanted to talk to someone on his phone that was more fluent in English.

The person on the other end of the line told me that since I did not have my passport with me, they could do one of two things. One, they could call a traffic police official to come out and write me a ticket, which could take an hour or more. Or two, I could pay the officers 60,000 Costa Rican Colons and go about my way. My friend and I did not have that amount of money on us, but the officers offered to take us to an ATM to withdraw money. My friend and myself were hesitant to give the officers money directly, but we did not want to wait and possibly suffer more consequences. We drove about an extra 5 miles into town to the closest ATM to pay the officers. Once I gave them the cash, I asked if there was a receipt, ticket, or anything in writing to prove I paid a “fine”. Both officers assured me that they made a radio call with our plate number and we should have no issues for the remainder of the night.

When we drove closer to the hotel, my friend said that maybe we should go to the Hard Rock Cafe, since it was just a bit out of the way and he collects Hard Rock Cafe items during his travels. Just before we got into Coco, there was another police checkpoint……. this time there was an official traffic police officer with them. I explained them what happened about 45 minutes earlier. At first, he did not believe me. Once I showed him my ATM receipt and that I had no cash on me, all three officers looked at each other, smirked, and then wished me a good night.

Once I got back to the United States, I did some research into this. It appears that the need for passports is to verify that you are still legally in the country within your visa period. Other than that, I have not seen or heard of anyone else paying a fine. If you have, comment and let me know! Did I get scammed? I may never know. If you do rent a car and drive in Costa Rica, please do yourself a favor and have your passport with you. It will save you time, and even possibly your money.

Experiences at Hyatt Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort

I was very excited to hear that Southwest Airlines was launching service to a second city in Costa Rica, Liberia, back in March of 2015. The first flight down was not until November 1st, but I was already doing research into the area and surrounding hotels. I found a hotel close by to Liberia where I had elite status at. The Hyatt Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort!

Once we flew in on the inaugural flight to Liberia on Southwest Airlines and picked up our little Suzuki  Jimny, we were on the way! The drive from the airport to the resort was an easy half hour drive. The check in process at the Andaz properties is different from your normal front desk check in. The lobby had a huge sitting area where the agents checked us in on a tablet while we enjoyed a cool refreshing beverage. Being a Diamond elite in the Hyatt Gold Passport program netting me an upgrade to a Relax Twin room. The room was amazing! It had a huge rainfall walk in shower that opened up into the room and balcony. The mini bar was included in the room rate and was restocked daily. We at an amazing view of the treetops and bay. The front desk also advised us to keep the balcony doors closed when we were not in the room, as the local monkeys may end up wreaking havoc in our room!

Luckily at this property, they offered breakfast in the morning for free for Diamond members and their guests. I took full advantage of the open breakfast buffet and picking an item from the menu, like the coconut french toast and Gallo Pinto, a traditional Costa Rican breakfast! The hotel also has two pools, one family pool and one adults only pool. One of the biggest benefits of the hotel is its two private beaches within walking distance on property. One of the beaches has hammocks (as seen in the featured image) and lots of chairs in the shade with towels neatly rolled up on each chair. The beach is swimmable and the water was warm even in November! There were also 3 different restaurants to pick from on the resort, but my friend and I ate off the resort since there were more options at a more affordable price.

If you are looking for a nice resort in Costa Rica, you should check out the Hyatt Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. I used Hyatt points to stay at the resort since rates are very expensive and hover above $400 a night. If you can afford it, I highly recommend it!

Best Hot Dog in Europe?

My friends and coworkers usually come to me and ask about what recommendations and advice I have when it comes to travel. I was once asked what is to best place/thing I ate? I would have to surprisingly say that one of my top 5 places was easily Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (Town’s Best Sausages in English) is a small chain of hot dog stalls in Reykjavik, Iceland. The chain has been around since 1937, but its popularity took off after a visit from former President Bill Clinton in 1994 during a UNICEF conference. Afterwards, the chain started to appear in travel guides.

There may be a long wait to get a hot dog and soda, but the wait is worth it! A hog dog costs 400 ISK, or about $3.11 USD at this time. The sausages are lamb based, with pork and beef as well. All the toppings are a must, which include ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crisp fried onion and raw onion.

This is a must stop, must have location if you are ever in Iceland!

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall

When you think of the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, you think about the numerous beaches and the dry climate. Who would had thought that this area of the world had an amazing waterfall? We just happened to stumbled upon it by chance!

My travel buddy Mike and I were lounging around at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort on our first full day in Costa Rica, when I looked up what to do in the Liberia area in my Lonely Planet travel guide. There was a little box about this waterfall that was highlighted and stood out to me. After some research, it was an easy drive to the waterfall!

Llanos de Cortez waterfall is about a 30 minute drive  south from Liberia. In our case, from the resort was about a 75 minute drive. It is along the Pan American highway about a few miles west of Bagaces. Once you pull off the highway and drive a short distance, you come up to some locals working the entrance. This is not an entry fee! It is a donation to the local school in the area. I gave them $10 USD as a donation, but I heard that the minimum recommended is $2 USD per person. The road from here on out to the parking lot for the falls and all dirt. If it had rained recently in the area like it did when I was there, it is very muddy and very rough. I highly recommend renting a four wheel drive vehicle when in Costa Rica!

From the parking lot, the hike is a moderate decline for about 5 minutes. Once you reach the falls, it is so awe inspiring. The water is fairly warm and it is very shallow until you reach the last 30 feet to the falls, then it drops significantly. There is a rocky area right behind the falls you can hide out/hang out in. You could even be risky like Mike and I and do a shallow dive off into the water! This is definitely a must see location in Costa Rica!

Hitchhiker from Belize!?

I usually never have any issues from any of my travels aboard. I am always trying to play it safe and protect myself from any negative experiences. This trip to Belize was a very different story though.

I went to Belize with my good friend Mike and myself to be on the first flight on Southwest Airlines to Belize. We had no plans and no ideas on where to go and end up at. After some debate at the airport, we bought tickets and hopped on a turboprop to Caye Caulker. This was in October during Belize’s rainy season, and did it rain…. We got into Belize on October 15th. When we finally decided to leave early on the 18th, Belize City had flooded due to a tropical depression that park right over Belize dumping over 10 inches of rain in a 36 hour period. We decided to leave Belize early because every tour we tried to get on was cancelled. Snorkeling? Cancelled. Cave tubing? Cancelled. Maya ruins? Nope, cancelled too!

Trying to leave Caye Caulker on Sunday the 18th was a mess…. First we tried to get a speedboat back to Belize City to get to the international airport. All the speedboats were cancelled until the last one of the day. This would had not worked out to fly out of Belize that day, so we heading to the small airport in Caye Caulker to buy another ticket to fly out. The flooding in Belize City was so bad that Belize City Municipal Airport was shut down for the day too! We finally got seats on a flight to Belize City International Airport, but it was a long waiting game since we had a flight that overflew the airport since Caye Caulker Airport does not have any runway lights at all. After waiting another hour for the next plane, that flight was able to land and pick us up! We made it back home just fine after we left Belize.

After I got home though, my body was starting to act strange. I had an appetite and was able to eat, but everything was coming out runny and very sulfuric smelling. I had just assumed that I had food poisoning and that it would run its course. I was very stubborn about going to the doctor, but after a week of this issue, I went to see a medical professional after my wife insisted that I go. I was lucky enough to get a nurse practitioner who was a nurse for Doctors Without Borders for a couple of year in Africa that was very familiar with all the different travelers ailments and diseases. After some questions about my recent travel and medical history, plus a quick feel of my abdomen that had pain in the area around the lower intestine, she diagnosed me with Giardia!

I had heard about Giardia in my past travels when I was avid into camping and hiking, but I never knew what the symptoms were or what to do about it. The nurse practitioner knew exactly what antibiotics I needed to take to combat this parasite since she herself had been infected in Africa years before. I was feeling much better and normal after a couple days of being on the antibiotics.

The moral of my story is definitely go see a medical professional if you had just got back from a foreign country. You never know what you could bring home with you! Don’t be stubborn like me and get checked out!

Golden Circle Tour in Iceland

One of my favorite parts about Iceland is driving around on the Golden Circle tour. One can go with a tour company for 10.500 Icelandic Krona, about $82 USD per person, or rent a car and go at your own pace. I personally rented a car for the long drive around Southern Iceland.

I recommend starting out early to beat the tour buses, and if it winter it can get dark very early! The first stop for most people on the Golden Circle is þingvellir National Park, the founding site for the Icelandic Parliament. þingvellir is also in a rift valley, where the North American and Eurasian plates are slowing pulling apart from each other a few centimeters a year! I took a few pictures from a distance, as it was rainy and very cold out. The average driving time from Reykjavik to þingvellir is about thirty-five minutes.

The next stop on the Golden Circle tour is to Geysir. Geysir has a couple of active geysers around the area. The Great Geysir rarely erupts much anymore, maybe about three times a day with no predictability. A little farther up the road there is another geyser named Strokkur. Strokkur is a much smaller geyser, but it erupts very predicatively every eight to ten minutes with heights between fifteen to twenty meters on average. The average driving time between þingvellir to Geysir is about fifty minutes.

A little father up the road is a huge waterfall called Gulfoss. Gullfoss is a huge waterfall with a three-step “staircase” down. Gullfoss almost disappeared from existence because some foreign investors wanted to dam up the falls for a hydroelectric plant. The story goes that Sigríður Tómasdóttir saved the falls by threatening to throw herself into the falls. The average drive from Geysir to Gullfoss is about ten minutes.

Some people like to continue their drive around Southern Iceland by heading south to Selfoss and driving back to Reykjavik on the ring road. I personally drove back the same route I came, since it was a shorter drive back to Reykjavik. I highly recommend the Golden Circle drive while visiting Iceland!

Something better than the Blue Lagoon while in Iceland?

During my family trip to Iceland, I really wanted to see the Blue Lagoon again. I went there on my previous two trips to Iceland and loved every pricey second of it. After further research, I found out that they do not allow children under the age of two in, as well as children under eight have to wear inflatable armbands. As my child was under two, we could not experience the Blue Lagoon together as a family. What could we do?

As I was on the side of the road in Gullfoss debating whether to still go to the Blue Lagoon or call it a day, I found out about the local swimming pools in the Reykjavik area. One of the more popular ones that was a couple of blocks away from our Airbnb was Laugardalslaug.

Laugardalslaug is a local swimming pool in Reykjavik that also uses geothermal waters. One of the biggest differences one would see right away is the entrance prices. A ticket to the Blue Lagoon is €40, which at this time is about 5,654ISK. The entrance price to Laugardalslaug is only 600ISK, about €4.24 or $4.59! Sure, the local swimming pool doesn’t have the bells and whistles or silica mud, but to hop in some warm water you can’t beat the price! Another good selling point for us was that there was no age restrictions for Laugardalslaug, very good for families with kids of all ages.

Laugardalslaug does not allow photography once you enter the locker rooms and in the swimming area. Once you enter and pay your fees, which include swimsuit or towel rentals, you come up to an area where you take off your shoes and leave them on a rack before you enter the locker room. In Iceland, it is always proper to shower off before and after you hop in the water completely nude. If you think you can try to slip past without showering, good luck, there is an employee staffed in the showers to make sure everyone does in fact shower off.

When you finally pass the showers and get your swimwear on, Laugardalslaug is an amazing place. There are 5 different “hot pots” with water heated to different temperatures, an Olympic sized swimming pool, a children’s pool, and another pool with a huge water slide! We spent most of our time in the children’s pool with my daughter and she had a blast! I did split off for a bit to check out the hot pots. The coolest one starts out at 36 degrees Celsius, then increases to 38, 40, 42, topping out at a hot 44 degrees Celsius! The pots are very small lining up along the Olympic sized swimming pool.

If I were to go back to Iceland or heard about a friend going to Iceland soon, I would highly recommend Laugardalslaug over the Blue Lagoon if they had to go to only one place. Laugardalslaug is full of locals and it is easy to be a part of the Icelandic culture at a local swimming hole than a big and pricey tourist destination. More information and hours can be found here: http://www.visitreykjavik.is/laugardalslaug