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From Strong Roots…..

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Journeys

Piedmont to Genoa or Getting Lost and then Found Again

Some travel days have themes.  Some of these are fun, others, not so much.  Almost all are amusing in retrospect.  Our third full day in Italy was apparently designed to test my navigational skills.  I basically failed but I had a lot of fun doing it.

I started the morning by waking early and decided to get in a run before we traveled to our next stop.  I set off on the winding country road, sure I couldn’t get too lost with a simple out and back route.  I intended to run 3 miles so after heading down the road 1.5 miles, I turned around.  After about a mile or so, I realized that the scenery didn’t look all that familiar.  I was in a foreign country, though, so maybe that was it.  After another half mile it was pretty clear that I wasn’t back at the agriturismo.  Luckily, I had brought my phone with me and pulled my map which indicated that somehow, on my simple out and back route, I had taken a wrong turn and ended up WAY off the beaten path.  Perhaps some day I will learn to embrace this type of situation but at the time all I could think was that my children were expecting me back at a certain time and I had no way to call them and that we had a train to catch in Genoa and a pretty tight time schedule.  Damn.

I thought through my options, hoped and prayed that my Google Maps were actually going to be accurate this time in a foreign country, and began hiking up a rustic trail through an orchard.  Eventually I came to the top of the hill and from there navigated my way back home.  Phew.  We ate breakfast, loaded the car, and set off for Genoa.  However, the navigation system in the car decided to be a bit finicky and had us going up and down a rural path multiple times.  We were hopelessly turned around, going in circles and getting later and later for our train.  I had about lost my mind when fortuitously, the correct road appeared.  It would seem that it was always there and I just didn’t see it, but who really knows?

After getting on the correct road we enjoyed a stunningly beautiful drive through mountain passes and along the coast to the seaside town of Genoa.  Total time in the car was about 2 hours.  I was anxious about finding the car drop off at the harbor in Genoa but it turned out to be really easy thanks to my eagle eyed backseat navigators who spotted it immediately after getting off the autostrada.  We dumped the car and hiked 20 minutes to the train station where we met my husband who had purchased train tickets for us.  We had a few minutes to wait and then boarded our train to Monterosso.

The train ride was less than an hour and deposited us at the train station in the new town section of Monterosso.  From there it was a 10 minute walk to the old town where we were met by our Air BnB host and showed up five flights of steep stairs to our apartment overlooking the neighborhood square.  The apartment was ideally located in the center of old town.  It was a bit noisy, though, and without AC we had the windows open all night and the noise of the town was definitely noticeable.  The long hike up and down the stairs was a bit of a pain, too.  We knew about it ahead of time and weren’t surprised but I think next time we will find somewhere a little more peaceful (which in Monterosso would mean moving only a few blocks up the street).

We had lunch at Belvedere (good pesto pasta) and then met our friends at the Monterosso beach.  One of the luckiest parts of our Italy trip was convincing our good friends to join us in Monterosso for nearly a week.  The girls had friends to play with and the adults had good companions for a variety of activities.  If you’ve read my earlier posts you know I love traveling with friends and having our friends with us on this trip was indescribably amazing.

Anyway, I digress.  The kids hit the ocean, we lounged on the chairs and drank prosecco and soaked up the Italian sun.  Life is good!

At the end of the day it turns out that we got lost a few times.  But we also got found.  And at the very end of it all we found ourselves with our dear friends on a beach in Italy, enjoying the good life.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

A few logistical details: the main beach in old town Monterosso is a pay to play operation.  You rent lounge chairs for the day.  You can also rent paddle boats which were a big hit with the girls.  There is a small walk up restaurant and you can order at the counter or from your chair.  There are sandwiches, salads, etc as well as snacks and drinks.  Beach loungers with umbrellas were 20 euros for the day, lower cost for a basic chair.  The food and drinks were very reasonably priced.

 

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Seaside in Monterosso

 

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End of the day

Piedmont Day Two

The day dawned sunny and peaceful which was more than I could say for the night prior which saw me awake for 3 hours wrestling with the jet lag demons.  We enjoyed breakfast at our agriturismo then hopped back in the car to journey to our second winery, Ceretto.  Ceretto is a family run vineyard located just outside of Alba and produces glorious Barolo wine in addition to Barbaresco and a lovely Arneis. They offer typical wine tastings as well as a wine trek which allows you to explore the entire property.  I was intrigued by the idea of wine trekking so booked the experience months in advance (absolutely necessary).  This turned out to be a very enlightening, educational experience both for myself and my children.  We toured the vineyards, hazelnut orchards, and greenhouses which provide produce for the family owned restaurants in Alba. We received a rich history of the land and family as well as the wines that are produced there.  An absolute experience of terroir.

Side note: bring comfortable, closed toe walking shoes.  The paths are dusty.  If the day is hot, also bring along a water bottle, sunscreen, hat, etc.

The trek lasted for approximately an hour and was followed by an hour long wine tasting in the air conditioned tasting room with magnificent views of the vineyards.  The staff very graciously accommodated my children who enjoyed the views and the snacks of grissini and hazelnuts.  We tasted a variety of exceptional wines during the tasting and before leaving I purchased a multitude of bottles.  A few to keep and consume during our trip but many, many to send home.  The Arneis was a crisp, refreshing white, perfect for summertime drinking.  Cases of Barolo were also sent home to age in the wine cellar.  I also purchased two special bottles of Barolo Prapo.  This was first produced by Ceretto in 1976, the year I was born.  These bottles will kept and one will be opened on each of our daughters’ 21st birthdays.  (They will be ruined for mediocre wine!)

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View from the Ceretto property.
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View of the gardens and greenhouses.
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Destined for the restaurant!
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So many choices!
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Vines of nebbiolo.
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From the vineyards looking up to the tasting room.

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Following the tasting we went back to the agriturismo for a lazy afternoon of lying by the pool, snacking and napping.  Dinner was enjoyed on the patio as we snacked on our assorted meats, cheese, fruits and vegetables, played games and enjoyed each other’s company.

Piedmont Day One

Following a not so auspicious start to our Italian trip, we woke on our first full day of vacation to clear, sunny skies and improved outlooks on life.  We ate a quick breakfast at our hotel and hopped in our rental car in search of a gas station.  We found one without too much difficulty and I thanked my lucky stars that I had at least briefly skimmed the information in my guide book about gas stations in Europe.  This one was full service (!!!) which was a major plus.  It felt decadent to just pull up and allow someone else to figure out what gas to put where.  After a huge sigh of relief, I entered our final destination into the GPS and we hit the road.

We headed towards the small Piedmont town of Alba.  We had a reservation at an agriturismo in an even smaller Piedmont village, La Morra, and wanted to explore Alba on our way there.  With the help of GPS and my backseat navigators we hit the Italian autostrada.  The roadways were really easy to navigate and traffic was fairly light making the entire experience as stress free as it could possibly be.  We drove through farmland and countryside with occasional glimpses of the Alps towering in the distance.  The drive took us approximately 2 hours and we arrived in Alba just before lunch time.  We parked in a small parking garage and walked to the town center.  From the center there is a pedestrian only shopping area that extends for a few blocks.  We snagged an espresso (and restroom) and then explored the shops.  Hazelnuts and truffles are produced in this region and can be found in many of the shops here.  The village feels very friendly and relaxed and the streets are just the right amount of busy.  We sat briefly at a restaurant intending to get lunch but the service was poor and before we could be waited on we discovered a small food shop a few doors down.  We quickly abandoned our menus and headed to the food shop to snag fruit, cheese, salami and bread.  The Italian woman who was running the store spoke no English and my Italian is quite limited but we managed to figure it out and walked out with a lovely picnic lunch.  We took this with us up the road about 20 minutes to our agriturismo, La Morra Brandini.

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Pedestrian street in Alba.

 

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So many truffles!

 

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Nocciole!

At La Morra Brandini we were greeted with warm hospitality, a refreshing swimming pool and stunning views of the valley below.  Our suite featured a main living area, lovely bathroom, and sleeping area in the loft with a large bed plus a couch bed.  There was a common area outside with tables and chairs for relaxing.  There was a garden on site as well as resident chickens, a goat and a mule.  My children quickly made friends with the goat (whom they named Albert) and he became our very own one goat welcoming committee.

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Poolside is a good place to be.
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Albert!

 

After enjoying our picnic lunch we commandeered chairs poolside.  I read and journaled and the girls swam.  I spent much of the time simply sitting in my lounge chair, taking in the views of rolling hills and green countryside.  There are rare moments in life when I feel fully and completely content and relaxed and at peace.  This was one of those.

Following our respite, we hit the road again to visit our first winery,  Fontana Fredda.  It was located approximately 20 minutes from our agriturismo.  On a side note, navigating through Piedmont requires a sense of humor and a well developed appreciation for adventure.  You must have GPS or an exceptionally good map.  The roads are narrow and sometimes steep.  The speed limits are posted for a reason.  You can easily get lost and sometimes feel like you are going back and forth across the same road fifteen times.  You might be.  But I’ll always advocate that getting there is half the fun.  And sometimes getting lost is all the fun.

At Fontana Fredda, we were treated to the cellar tour which was rich in historical information as well as wine facts.  The story of the estate is really cool and even my children enjoyed it.  The tour lasted approximately an hour and a half and cost 30 euros for myself while the children were free.  While the tour was great, the tasting afterwards was very limited.  We tasted just two wines.  Not sure why the tasting was so short.  No explanation was offered.  I decided to just roll with it.

IMG_7813After the winery we drove back through La Morra stopping for a few groceries and gelato.  Then back to the agriturismo where we enjoyed more swimming as well as a decadent dinner of gnocchi, pasta, wine and cheese plate.

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Gelato time.

 

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Appetizer with fresh vegetables from the garden.

Sometimes when you travel you are lucky enough to be with amazing people.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be doing something you really love to do.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be in that magical place that just feels right.  Every once in awhile, all the forces of the universe come together and you get all of it at once.  That is what Piedmont was for me.  It was the most amazing, perfect people, in the most amazing place, doing the most amazingly simple yet fulfilling things all at once.  It gave me that warm, full, relaxed, contented feeling that will continue to inspire my travels for years to come.   

Italy or Bust!

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Goodbye Montana.

We’re off again, this time to spend three weeks touring Italy.  My daughters and I will be joined by a rotating cast of characters during this trip to ensure that we don’t get utterly tired of each other!  Unlike our last European adventure where we spent the majority of our time based in Paris, this time we are traveling around the countryside.  The girls are older and a little more adaptable when it comes to packing up and moving on every four to five days which makes this approach more feasible.  It also allows us to cover more ground and ultimately, find things that appeal to everyone.  The greatest joy for me, however, is that it allows to sample Italian culture in all it’s variety and glory, from the top of the country to the bottom (almost).

First stop…..Milan and Piedmont.  I’ll admit, the first leg of this trip was more about me than anyone else.  I don’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty about claiming a small slice of the trip for my agenda.  First, moms deserve to have a bit of what they want, too.  Particularly as the children get older there can be a bit more accommodation for our wants and needs.  Additionally, in true serendipitous fashion, my girls found plenty to love on this leg of the trip.  Even though there were no beaches or grand tourist sites, we have fond memories of little villages, local farms, good food, relaxation and a goat named Albert.

I’ve long been a lover of European wines and have recently had a particular interest in wines from small vineyards in the Piedmont area.  The family and friend portion of our trip was slated to begin in the Cinque Terre which isn’t all that far from Piedmont (if you’re an optimist with a sense of adventure).  Truthfully, to get to the Cinque Terre in a cost effective fashion we were going to have to fly into Milan.  Once in Milan, you might as well take a few extra days and detour to Piedmont.  It turns out that even a few days is just not enough, however,  and next time I’ll go back for a week or longer.

Our journey into Milan was fraught with difficulty.  When you are traveling thousands of miles via three different flights and one rental car there will almost certainly be problems.  Or opportunities.  Depends on your frame of mind.  Generally I’m of the opportunity mindset but by the end of this particular venture I was of the “get me out of this recurring nightmare” mindset.  I’ll spare you most of the details but I can’t help sharing a few of the highlights.  We were just pushing back from the gate at 6:00 am on our first flight when the crew announced that they needed a physician to come to the front of the plane.  I pretended to be something other than a physician for a nanosecond until my daughters outed me.  I proceeded to the front of the plane where I found a lovely, gray haired, tenacious woman in her 70’s who felt dizzy and nauseated and couldn’t catch her breath.  Given that I’m a pediatrician, this was not really my wheelhouse.  No matter.  It didn’t take me long to realize that whatever this woman was experiencing was not going to be improved by climbing to 30,000 feet of altitude so back to the gate we went for medical services.  After some time, the woman was removed from the plane, evaluated by EMS, put back on the plane (!!!), and we took off for Salt Lake City.  There we enjoyed a little club room access (thanks Delta business credit card) and boarded our next plane to Atlanta.  That flight was blissfully uneventful.  Upon arrival we walked around, stretched our legs, stocked up on some drinks and snacks, and boarded our plane to Milan.

Those of you who have flown through Atlanta surely know that that airport is utterly cursed.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a flight go well from there. This time was no exception.  We were just about to push back from the gate for our 9 hour flight when the captain informed us that there was a “small crack” in one of the panels that needed to be fixed.  No worries.  Within 20 minutes they would have us on our way.  I stand in awe of the optimism that airline personnel must possess.  Because as all of you know, this was not a 20 minute kind of problem.  This was a 5 hour kind of problem.  Five hours!  On the tarmac!  We were given a small bottle of water and bag of Cheez-Its to tide us over.  Thank goodness.

You can imagine the scene on the airplane.  It was all hungry, tired, chaos ridden angst.  People were threatening to get off the airplane, sue the airline, etc, etc, etc.  Apparently water and Cheez-Its don’t quite soothe the masses.  Regardless, at the very bitter end, just before the pilots timed out and the flight got canceled, the crack was fixed and we were on our way!  I was so tired from keeping myself and two children from flying off the handle during this ordeal that I didn’t even have energy to waste wondering about the safety of the aircraft.  Seems like it was just fine, though, because we landed in Milan in the middle of a hot, sunny afternoon, only 5 hours later than planned.

We managed to navigate through customs and immigration, get our passports stamped and grab our luggage.  We muddled our way to the Hertz rental car desk.  I know, I know.  Car rental in a foreign land attracts me like a moth to a flame.  But really, to navigate Piedmont you have to have a car and I wanted to go to Piedmont.  So I got a car.

We waited in line forever.  Literally.  Time is just different in Italy.  When it was finally our turn, the representative gave me grief about being five hours late and said that our car had already been rented to someone else.  Like being five hours late was somehow a choice I had made and now I was suffering the consequences of that choice.  But wait, magic!  A new car was available.  Brand new.  Just perfect for us.  So we hauled our luggage out to the parking lot and waited in another line until someone could direct us to our car.  It did indeed appear to be clean and new.  We loaded our stuff and headed out gleefully for our hotel.  We had made it approximately ten feet out of the parking lot when it became apparent to me that this brand new, clean, good smelling car wasn’t capable of accelerating past 5 mph.  As I merged into airport traffic I checked everything.  In drive, check.  Parking brake off, check.  Evidence of weird European car settings that I just wasn’t aware?  Nope.  So I attempted to pull back into the rental car lot which unfortunately was up a small incline.  This car wasn’t going up a small incline.  In fact, it stopped halfway up said incline.  So, I got out of the car, children in tow and trudged up the hill to the man working the booth.  I explained to him my trouble.  He looked at me like I was an idiot.  I invited him to drive the car.  He tried.  It didn’t go well.

Eventually, there were six Italian men (in full suits, ties and dress shoes, in the 90 degree heat), attempting to push this car up the incline.  This didn’t go well either.  They eventually abandoned that idea.  As far as I know, that damn car is still sitting there.

After much ado and a lot of negotiating I found myself in another car.  This one was definitely not new.  It was definitely not clean.  It didn’t smell all that great.  Come to find out, the gas tank wasn’t even full.  But the car did run and it was beat up enough that I didn’t really worry about inflicting further damage upon the poor thing.  Basically, it was perfect.  We took off down the road to our hotel where we would spend one night before heading out to Piedmont.  It felt like we had surely used up all of our misfortune for one trip.  After a shower, a stroll around Milan, some gelato, wine and pizza (I don’t like to mess around), I was certain that sunnier days were ahead.

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Gelato!
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Hello Italy!

 

Travel with Friends

We are really, really fortunate to have great friends that we love to vacation with.  We most often travel with my former college roommate (and med school classmate), her husband, and two girls who happen to be almost the same age as our two girls.  Our first big trip together was to a medical conference in Cancun when our girls were just little (ages 3-6).  The trip was such a success that we have repeated it multiple times.  In fact, my girls really only consider it a true vacation if this family gets to go with us.  We have been to Mexico three times (Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo) and Hawaii once (Maui).  We have been camping with them every summer for 7 or 8 years now and also do a girls’ weekend every holiday season.

When we all get together, one of our favorite topics is rehashing past trips and planning for future ones.  Half the fun of traveling is in the planning and that fun is even greater when you share it with someone else.  In the many months that often pass between seeing each other, we share multiple messages about this VRBO or that AirBnB.  We debate the various merits and downfalls of resorts and camping sites.  We share our research about zip lining and food tours.  We compile shopping lists and lists of activities that we must do.  We meal plan and share the packing list.  You know, I’ll bring the salt, you bring the Ziplocks.  I’ll buy the wine, you bring the beer.

We have tried pretty much every style of vacation with our friends.  We have camped in trailers, stayed in all inclusive resorts, stayed in separate VRBO condos in the same resort and on our last trip even shared one large penthouse suite (yes, it was a blast!).  Somehow, with these friends, it all works.  I don’t think that would be true of everyone but this family is the one family I can honestly say that we can vacation with under just about any circumstances.  This has a lot to do with the kind of people they are.  It also has something to do with the fact that we have vacationed together a lot and know how to anticipate and prevent problems by now.  But mostly, they are just great people and that makes it work.

So, what do you look for in a vacation partner family?  First, I think that having kids of similar ages is a must.  That way, the interests and abilities are likely to be similar.  When our kids were younger they loved to swim (with us in the pool), build sand castles, collect shells, do crafts and play simple games.  Now that they are older we go zip lining, take long beach walks, body surf in the ocean, ride bikes down treacherous trails and let them explore on their own with in a safe distance.  Another plus is that they can all tolerate a similar amount of waiting and walking and time between meals.  It’s tough to have a two-year-old who needs to eat every hour and take a daily nap combined with a 12-year-old who needs privacy and freedom and adventure.

The other plus with similar aged kids is that we can mix it up. Nothing kills a vacation faster than sibling squabbling.   The best antidote for sibling squabbling is friends.  I can take the two younger girls shopping and my friend can take the two older girls to the beach.  The older girls can have a little freedom and walk down the street one block for ice cream while the younger girls do a puzzle on the dining room table.  When they all reunite, bliss reigns supreme (or something like that).  Seriously, though, it helps to shake things up a bit.  Having friends with you increases the odds that everyone will get what they need, when they need it, and even have someone like to do it with them.

Another attribute that I think is key in happy friend vacations is at least a modicum of economic parity.  I know, I know, I hate to bring this up.  Money is a touchy subject but one that has to be negotiated and agreed upon in order to pull off a successful friend vacation.  I love that our vacation partners are reasonable about money.  I know they won’t agree to take a vacation with us unless they can afford it.  We have reasonably similar incomes and reasonably similar ideas about how to spend our vacation dollars.  As I mentioned above, we ended up sharing a penthouse suite on this last vacation.  It was a huge unit with plenty of privacy for everyone.  The shared cost factor made it possible for us to afford some luxuries we wouldn’t have been able to afford on our own. Most importantly, we all agreed at the outset that it was worth it.  My friend and I are both very happy to pay for an ocean front condo when we are on a beach vacation.  We are also pretty likely to eat breakfast and lunch in said condo in order to save some money.  We will splurge on nice dinners with drinks but if we want a drink at happy hour we will make it ourselves in the condo instead of ordering from the resort bar.  We talk ahead of time about adventures and excursions and agree on one or two that everyone will like and that we can afford.  When we get there, we won’t be spending wildly nor feel that we have to keep up with each other.  We know that no one will be stressing about money and that is essential to a relaxing vacation.

Finally, you want vacation partners who are flexible.  We all know that the unexpected happens when we travel.  The last thing you want is a tantrum throwing, inflexible, stressed out travel partner.  If you travel enough, some gnarly stuff is going to go down and when that happens you want someone with you who remembered to pack a good attitude.  I’m pretty sure I can’t even remember all the things we have been through with our vacation partners but there have been hotel rooms that didn’t get booked (anyone need a roommate?), reservations that got lost (how will we keep these kids happy while we wait???), menus entirely in Spanish (we took college Spanish, right?), beach walks interrupted by lightening storms, ocean sick kids on boats, dropped ice cream cones, transit on local Mexican buses, poop in hot tubs (that was your kid, right?), sand in shoes, vomit in beds, head injuries, lacerations, and one really epic screaming fit in the middle of a lake on a paddle board.  And you know what? These people that we travel with took it all in stride.  No big deal.  We shared a hotel room, we kept the kids entertained, we found food for everyone to eat, we danced on the beach, we held hair while kids vomited and cleaned up afterwards, we closed lacerations and evaluated for concussions, we scooped up the ice cream and put it back on the cone (ten second rule!), we emptied shoes of sand and we helped our oldest daughters mend their friendship after that really epic screaming fit in the middle of the lake on a paddle board.

After all of that, I can honestly say, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.  The right travel partners exponentially increase the fun, lighten the load, enrich the memories and enlighten the journey.

San Jose del Cabo—-Friend Edition

One of our great pleasures in travel is traveling with friends.  More on this later but suffice it to say that we had a great time traveling in Mexico with our dear friends.  Our time in the Cabo area was fun filled and enjoyable and I hope the below tips will help make your trip better, too.

The first consideration is, in fact, where to stay.  I didn’t know this before we booked accommodations but San Jose del Cabo is NOT Cabo.  It is a smaller, more intimate town just to the east of Cabo.  It is also much closer to the airport which is an added bonus for me.  We stayed in San Jose on this trip and visited Cabo and I am so thankful that we stayed where we did.  Cabo (or Los Cabos) is busy, hectic, tourist filled and a bit pricey.  San Jose del Cabo is a 25-30 minute drive down the road but has a local, small town vibe that is refreshing.  Yes, there are tourists and yes, there are touristy things to do but it felt much more relaxing than being in Cabo itself.  We spent our first night at the Cabo Azul resort which is beautiful and everything you would expect in a high end resort.  I was happy to leave the next day, though, and check into our condo at Las Mananitas.  This is a relatively small, beachfront condo community which provided everything we needed for our week long stay.  I’ve included the link here and you will see my review of the property on the site as well.  https://www.vrbo.com/466060?utm_source=direct&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=earned:vrbo:sharecopylink:USA&utm_content=466060

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Las Mananitas

 

Next up, transportation.  We flew into San Jose, arriving at 6:00 at night.  I had decided to get a rental car for this trip.  (See my previous post).  Regardless of your mode of transportation, once you leave baggage claim, get out of the airport as fast as possible without talking to anyone.  There are men all over trying to get your attention, scam you, sell you something.  Arrange your transportation ahead of time and know where you will meet your driver/shuttle/taxi.  Go directly to that meeting spot.  You will be tired, and hungry, and dirty and overwhelmed and everyone you are traveling with will be a hot mess, but DO NOT GET SUCKED IN!  As a side note, Uber works in San Jose and surrounding areas but cannot pick up at the airport.  They are also currently in a pissing match with the taxi companies and local government because, as far as I can ascertain, Uber just hasn’t greased the wheels in Mexico quite enough for smooth operations.  We were told at one point by a “security guard” that Uber was in fact illegal.  This turns out to be a scam perpetrated by the taxi companies and I suspect it will be a nonissue as some point. There is a good review here if you are interested.  https://www.gringogazette.com/?q=content/uber-finally-legal#sthash.kF4U1zih.dpbs 

That being said, we found Uber to be a great way to get around the area.  We took it to restaurants, into the center of town, into Los Cabos and even back to the airport.  The area is also very walkable and safe and we enjoyed many strolls to and from dinner.

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Playa Palmilla
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Playa Palmilla

 

Now that you are here, what is there to do?  There are, of course, all the usual vacation suspects.  Reading, lounging, swimming, walking.  We found a great public beach, Playa Pamilla, a short 5 minute Uber ride from our condo which was perfect for beach play and swimming.  Much of the beach in San Jose is NOT safe for swimming but Palmilla is much calmer and was very safe the few days that we were there.  We loved the Thursday night art walk in downtown San Jose.  It runs every week from November through June with galleries and shops staying open late and artists and dancers displaying their talents in the town square.  We spent one day ziplining with Cabo Adventures which was fun for the whole group.  Our other big activity was a cooking class at Flora Farm.  Flora Farm is a great farm to table operation in San Jose.  They offer a beautiful setting, delicious food and cooking classes a few days a week.  The class we took was informative and fun for our group (ages 9-51).  I have reviewed these all in detail on tripadvisor.com.  You can find them under my profile @JenniferH456.  Here is the link for Flora Farms to get you started https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g152516-d6424449-r653275229-Flora_Farm-San_Jose_del_Cabo_Los_Cabos_Baja_California.html?m=19905

 

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Flora Farm

 

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Flora Farm

We did take a day trip into Cabo to check it out.  We did a bit of shopping (Pandora charms for the girls’ bracelets) and had lunch.  It didn’t take us long to grow weary, however, of the noise and bustle and head back to our hacienda in San Juan.

Food and drink options are plentiful.  These are also reviewed on Trip Advisor but, some highlights were Cynthia Fresh, El Fish, Cantina Sardina and Las Cazuelas del Don.  Las Cazuelas is a must do if you get the chance.

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St. John’s platter at Sardina Cantina.

 

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Las Cazeulas!

 

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Gorgonzola pasta at Cynthia Fresh!

Last stop, shopping.  El Wine Shop is a great place to get your morning coffee and buy your wine.  They offer a large selection of Mexican as well as European and American wines.  La Comer is the large grocery store in town and is well stocked with food, alcohol, clothes, games, boogie boards, etc, etc, etc.  The main plaza in San Jose offers a huge number of local shops and art galleries.  We didn’t buy much on this trip which is a bit rare for me but nothing really tugged at my heartstrings.  The girls each chose a dress at La Comer ($5).  My oldest and I split a pair of earrings ($20) and my youngest bought a bracelet with her name on it ($6).  We bought a bottle of tequila for my co-worker ($20) and eight bottles of vanilla (less than $1 each).

And that’s a wrap!  Leave me a note if you have questions or comments!

Unexpected

By now you probably know that I’m a planner.  I plan everything.  EVERYTHING.  When I travel I know where I’m going, when I’m going, who I’m going with.  I have it all planned down to the smallest details.  This is how I roll.

Sometimes, though, plans just don’t work out.  Sometimes we finds ourselves journeying at unexpected times to places we never thought we would go.  I don’t love these kinds of journeys, I really don’t.  But sometimes I’m forced to go on them.

I took one of these journeys recently with my oldest daughter and our oldest dog.  It was a gut wrenching journey.

Our oldest lab was approaching 13 years old when he began to show signs of slowing down.  Nothing specific really, just a little slower, a little weaker.  But he still seemed game for his daily walks and twice daily meals.  He still loved to be petted and eat ice cubes.  He was still the patriarch of our three dog pack.  This was the dog that had grown up my oldest daughter.  He was only two when she was born.  When I brought her home from the hospital, I told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to protect her, look out for her, and keep her safe.  He took those instructions to heart.  As a toddler, she would take her naps with her head rested on his belly.  Once she was out of the crib, he would sleep in her bed. Every night.  The muddy bedding made me crazy.  But the two of them loved it.  When she went out to play, he went outside, too.  When she went down the hill to her playhouse, he went too, and sat on the porch.  He walked to the bus stop with us every single morning, even on his last day of life.  He went to school with a Santa hat on.  That girl and that dog were best friends.

Over time, though, his weakness increased.  He had to be lifted up off the floor.  He needed help navigating the stairs.  His appetite waned and his muscles atrophied.  He made multiple trips to the vet.  He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and prescribed a lot of medications.  He took them all but still, he didn’t get better.  He developed large, weeping sores on his torso.  His weakness worsened.  We watched him get worse and worse, spending his days lying on the floor.  I prepared the girls that his time with us was coming to an end.  Either he would die soon or we would have to make the difficult decision to put him down.  They received the message well, took it in quietly.

Another week passed and he worsened still.  My husband and I talked about it and made the incredibly difficult decision that it was time to put him down.  He no longer had anything he loved in life.  I called the vet and we scheduled a time on Thursday to take him in.  Wednesday evening I told my daughters that it was time to put down their beloved pet.  There were tears.  There was sobbing.  There were heads buried under blankets.  I asked them if they wanted to come with me to the vet’s office when he was euthanized.  My youngest said no.  She wanted to stay in school.  She was sad but she and this dog had never been particularly close.  My oldest, though, that was a different story.  She said she wanted to come with me.  I wasn’t sure I could handle that.

She never wavered, though, in her desire to come with me and be with her dog at the end.  So, I picked her up at school at noon on Thursday.  We took the long way to the vet’s office.  She snuggled her dog in the back seat and held his paw.  She helped me get him out of the car and into the vet’s office.  She sat with him while he ate treats and had a sedative injected.  She wrapped her arms around him while the catheter was placed in his left front leg.  She buried her face in his neck while the lethal drug was injected into the catheter.  She held him tight while his heart stopped beating and his soul left this earth.  And she sobbed.  She sobbed, and sobbed and sobbed.

I told her we could stay with him as long as she wanted.  After a while she said, “Mom, I can’t leave him”.  So we stayed longer.  And still, she couldn’t leave him.  So we talked about how sometimes you can’t leave because you just need more time.  And how sometimes you just have to leave because more time isn’t going to make anything any better.  A few minutes later she kissed him one last time, said goodbye, and we walked out the door.

The ensuing days were filled with intermittent bouts of sobbing.  At bedtime when would lay in bed and cry for her dog.  I know with time this will get better.  I know she will move through her grief and come out on the other side.  I know that I’m incredibly proud of her for doing the hard thing and being with her first best friend all the way to the end.  I also know this was a journey I never wanted to take to a place I never wanted to go.  But I’m heartened, at least, that I had the best traveling companion ever.

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