The Beach Bungalows: Our Home Away from Home

The Beach Bungalows
The Beach Bungalows

I have wanted to visit Costa Rica since the idea was brought up in my Spanish club in high school (which Kyle and I were both in!) Just hearing about the tropical rainforests, the active volcanoes, and the pristine beaches was enough to have me dreaming about an adventure. But it never happened, and the idea of going there has been stuck in the back on my mind for nearly a decade.

Why Tamarindo?

When we decided we needed to spend Christmas at the beach, I knew just where to go—well, almost. I started researching the best parts of Costa Rica to visit, and quickly became overwhelmed by the offerings of the various regions. There are so many things to do and places to see, and they’re all spread out, separated by hours of driving on unmarked roads. Past travelers advised against renting a car, and as much as I hated to abandon my MO of packing every little thing I can into a trip, I knew I had to pick one place as a hub for our nine-day trip. The thought was a bit unnerving. I have never stayed in one accommodation so long on any trip—aside from my apartment in Italy during my study abroad, and I don’t think we were ever there for a nine-day stretch.

I chose sun-splashed Guanacaste for its warm temperatures, white-sand Pacific beaches, and proximity to day-trip options, including Arenal Volcano, which I was bound and determined to visit.

But where to stay?! I explored traditional hotel options and came up short. Did I really want to stay in another big, impersonal hotel with its packed pool and overpriced drinks? Nah—been there, done that; not doing it for our first Christmas away from home.

Although I’d never booked an Airbnb property before, I’ve always loved the idea of the sharing economy, and have been intrigued by the amazing places people post on the site. I searched in the Guanacaste region, and lo and behold, I saw an oasis pop up on my screen.

The Beach Bungalows in Tamarindo looked absolutely idyllic. I sent the host, Trish, an e-mail, and she answered all of my initial questions in no time at all. I booked almost immediately, feeling very good about my decision to stay there for our entire trip, and so looking forward to lounging in my own private hammock. Ironically, when I was booking, Trish was visiting family where she grew up—an Upstate NY town roughly two hours from where we live. And there I was thinking I was talking with someone a world away. Loved that first connection!

The Best Hosts on the Face of the Planet

I booked six months in advance, which is very uncommon for Airbnb, but it allowed me to talk with Trish periodically as I was trying to book a few activities. She was so incredibly helpful, even booking the majority of them for us and arranging our airport transportation.

Finally the day arrived. Our plane was late taking off, and since we were already supposed to arrive late at night, I let Trish know. Much to our surprise, her boyfriend Claudio was waiting up for us when we got there at almost midnight. Not only did he want to show us our room, but he sat and had a “welcome beer” with us, regaling us with tales about his adventures as a dive instructor. Originally from Milan, Italy, he moved to Costa Rica 20-some years ago to teach people how to explore the 70% of the world we can’t see on land. If only I weren’t terrified of sea creatures, I’d go back right now and learn to dive from him! He made it sound like such an amazing experience. And he’s such a nice guy with a great outlook on life. He embodies the “pura vida” saying you so often hear in Costa Rica. One of his dive boats started sinking on Christmas day, and he worked tirelessly to get in back on land for a handful of days. When I told him how sorry I was, he said, “It’s not about how many times you fall, but how you get back up.” Grazie, Claudio!

Our first morning at the Bungalows, Trish greeted us with big hugs and a beautiful breakfast prepared by Maria who comes each day to cook and clean—and she’s phenomenal. (As is Edwin who works to make the ground and pool look beautiful). We enjoyed the first of many breakfasts spent lingering at the table talking with Trish and other guests from around the world. Trish took a lot of extra time with us going over a map. She covered everything from where to go to get the best whole red snapper to where to leave your beach bag when you’re playing in the waves. Most helpful were her tips about what not to do. It’s so evident that she wants each guest to have a wonderful time in Tamarindo, and she helps you figure out what experiences are right for you. Do you know of any front desk staff at a hotel who would do that?! I certainly don’t! She also does one heck of a howler monkey impression, letting you know that’s the source of the unearthly sound you hear in the trees each morning.

The Girls: Parker and Stella

Perhaps the sweetest dogs on earth, Parker and Stella, help welcome guests to the Beach Bungalows. It’s hard not to fall in love with these two! Trish has taught them adorable tricks from fetching her a tissue when she “sneezes” to grabbing her a beer, and even putting their paws together to say their prayers before they eat. They were too much fun, and we loved it when they decided to spend an evening with us on our patio. I miss them already!

The Bungalows

Trish has been pouring her heart and soul—and incredible design sense—into her property since she moved to Costa Rica about two years ago. She rents out four two-story teak wood bungalows that surround a central pool. The top floor of the bungalows is the bedroom and bathroom area, complete with private shower and other amenities, like a refrigerator and a safe, which were nice to have. There’s no air conditioning, but believe me, you don’t need it. The ceiling fan and bedside fans are more than enough to keep the bungalow cool for sleeping. The entire property is cloaked in the shade of big palm trees, so even during the day, it was much cooler than the beach. We always found ourselves going back to the Bungalows during the afternoon to escape the direct sunlight.

Early on, I equated staying at the Bungalows to “glamping” (glamor camping), which I’ve always wanted to try. I felt like I was in an eco-hotel, getting to listen to the geckos and monkeys while I slept. I won’t say it was the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life, but it was so hard to care! I’d sleep there every single night if I could.

The bottom floor of the bungalows is an open-air private patio, complete with hammock, daybed, and little table. It’s the perfect place to take an afternoon nap, spend an evening reading, or just lounge the day away. There are some privacy screens between neighboring bungalows, but you’re close enough together that you can enjoy great conversations with your new friends. There are outlets on both floors of the bungalow, which was really great for charging phones and iPads (so I could continue to watch my favorite Christmas movies by the pool!)

Speaking of which, the pool is very refreshing after a hot day at the beach. Because of the shade of the palm trees, it’s much colder than the ocean, but again—it’s hard to care! On more than one occasion, Edwin got me a floating lounge chair, and I had to pinch myself several times as I was floating in the pool, looking up at the beautiful bungalows and palm trees—was I really here in this oasis for Christmas?! Oh yes, I was!

Trish allows guests full use of the outdoor kitchen and the grill, something we took her up on several times. Some of our best meals in Tamarindo were spent at the Beach Bungalows! Trish also has a rec room set up for guests to enjoy complete with air conditioning, TV and Netflix, a book shelf, and a phone to call internationally—free of charge. (Our parents really appreciated hearing from us on Christmas day!) Often, she calls over local masseurs who set up in that room. A 60-minute, four-hand massage? Don’t mind if I do—it was heavenly!

Trish also rents out a “treehouse” behind her apartment. At any time, five couples can stay at the Beach Bungalows.

Going Above and Beyond

Trish treats her guests like family, and nothing solidified that more for me than when she invited us to her Christmas dinner. It was actually before we even got there—she asked us if we could find her liquid smoke, as she was going to be frying a turkey for the first time, and she couldn’t find it in Costa Rica. On Christmas evening, all the guests came together to help put finishing touches on the meal. (Trish says Kyle is a great potato masher!)

Some of Claudio’s family lives in town and came over dinner. It was so amazing to not only be staying in this beautiful place, but to be sharing Christmas dinner with new friends from Italy, Switzerland, and Canada. We spent hours at the table, sharing fantastic food and wonderful conversation. For many of us, it was our first Christmas away from home. What had the potential to be a lonely day spent away from family turned out to be one that I know all of us around the table will cherish forever. And it was all thanks to Trish, going above and beyond what any host ever has to do. We could never thank her enough.

 

You Should Stay There, Too!

If it’s not obvious by the length of this post, I simply can’t say enough about our stay at the Beach Bungalows. It is hands-down the best place I have ever stayed on any trip I have ever taken. Trish and her team have created the most perfect place for guests to stay, and I felt so fortunate to have stumbled upon it. It’s within walking distance to restaurants and the beach, but it’s far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the main drag that you feel like you’re in your own little oasis. It felt like home the moment we arrived, and I’m SO glad we stayed there the full nine days we were in Costa Rica. I can’t imagine booking it for a few days, realizing how amazing it is, and then having to move on to our next stop—which many of our fellow travelers did, and they were so sad to leave! This is the place that anyone going to Costa Rica wished they knew about… so here I am telling you. Book an extended stay at the Beach Bungalows, and it will be one of the best vacations you’ll ever have.

Muchos, muchos gracias to Trish, Claudio, Maria, Edwin—and of course, Parker and Stella! We can’t wait to return!

 

Places

The Beach Bungalows

The Beach Bungalows (Bed & Breakfast), Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Beach Bungalows

The Beach Bungalows (Bed & Breakfast), Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
http://www.tamarindobeachbungalows.com/
thebeachbungalows@gmail.com

It’s Christmastime in the City

Christmas displays in NYC
Christmas displays in NYC

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…

Despite the fact that when I tell people I’m from New York, they automatically assume I live in the Manhattan, I only get to the City about 2-3 times per year. I’ve always wanted to see it at Christmas—those iconic sites you see in the movies: Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Central Park—all aglow with holiday flair.

Kyle and I try to give “experiences” for Christmas as often as we can. We decided it would be lots of fun to take his parents to NYC with us as their gift this year, since his dad had never visited. We would get to do all those fun touristy things you have to do on any first trip to Manhattan, but somehow, it would be just a bit more magical at Christmas.

And it was. I’m not going to lie, I become a different, slightly more aggressive version of myself in NYC crowds, but despite all that, the City really is beautiful all decked out for the holidays. We began our day with a visit to Bryant Park to check out the Bank of America Winter Village. Although it didn’t exactly have the European ambiance I so desperately want to experience again, we had some ridiculously decadent hot chocolate that was to die for—and some people may have! It was fun to sip what I can only fathom was pure, melted Ghiradelli chocolate while perusing the little huts filled with treasures crafted by artisans, and watching ice skaters fly around the rink.

Next, we walked up to Rockefeller Center—we had a mission to see it in daylight and darkness. We were almost unimpressed by day, but at night, the tree absolutely came alive. (And so did the masses).

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A highlight of any New York City trip at Christmas is seeing the elaborate window displays. We passed by Saks Fifth Avenue, marveling at their fairytale-themed windows, depicting the stories of different characters. We wandered into Tiffany’s to get a better look at the massive trees all decked out in that iconic blue. And I couldn’t help but drool over the incredible façade of Harry Winston.

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It was a nice day, so we took a stroll through Central Park. Even in the wintertime, it’s such a beautiful place. I first visited on my last trip to the City in April. I’d always had this love-hate relationship with NYC, but walking through Central Park last spring, seeing that New Yorkers really do take a moment to stop and smell the flowers in this little bit of an oasis inside this bustling city, made me realize that I really do love New York. And winter is no different. I loved seeing all the horses and carriages decked out in rich reds and deep purples for the holidays.

After our stroll, it was time to see the City from above. Most people go to the Empire State Building on their first trip to Manhattan, but I think the best spot is the Top of the Rock (aka, Rockefeller Center). You get the same view, plus you’re directly across from the Empire State Building, and thus, it’s in all of your pictures. The view never gets old. It looks so quiet—so peaceful—high above it all. That speedy elevator ride transports you 70 stories to a parallel universe. Pro tip, though: Leave your pocket knives at home. Somehow Kyle always brings the pocket knife I got him in Switzerland—and his dad had his, too—so Kyle had to stay with them on the ground. Luckily we had done the Top of the Rock last year, so he was perfectly content to go shop the NBC Store while he waited for us.

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

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No NYC trip at Christmas is complete without heading to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes preform the Christmas Spectacular. Kyle’s mom had seen the show in high school and remembered it fondly. Honestly, I knew it would be great, since nearly every show in NYC is, but I had only seen Broadway shows (mainly Wicked three times!) so I really didn’t know what to expect of this show. But it was fantastic from start to finish, aside from the bouncing children “sitting” in front of us. The use of light displays and even 3D was really impressive, and the different scenes were both fun and poignant. I especially enjoyed the “New York at Christmas” scene where the Rockettes dance on a double-decker bus, and the “Living Nativity,” complete with live camels and sheep. It was hard to believe 90 minutes had gone by when they got to the last of 14 scene. I highly recommend this show if you ever find yourself in the City at Christmas. It’ll get you in the spirit of the season!

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Since we caught the 4:30 p.m. Rockettes show, the City had completely transformed while we were inside. Manhattan by night is an experience all its own. The famed Rockefeller tree was absolutely dazzling, surrounded by literally thousands of people trying to take that perfect selfie. Despite the crowds, it really is worth it to venture there to see it, so put on your body armor and your game face, and witness one of the iconic symbols of Christmas in America.

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

Just as we did, make some time to shop Times Square. It’s completely touristy, but an absolute must for any first-time visit. We went in all the clichéd shops from M&M’s World to the Disney Store. And we saw that beautiful Waterford Crystal ball that will drop is less than two weeks—yikes!

For me, every single NYC ends on a sweet note: a visit to Cake Boss Café. It’s a Thompson family tradition—seriously. We typically travel to and from the City via bus, and Port Authority is conveniently located next to this little decadent paradise that helps me endure the 4-hour bus ride home. The personal tiramisu cake is my absolute favorite!

I’m so glad I finally got to experience NYC at Christmastime. I’ve always said NYC really is beautiful if you don’t look too closely, but this time of year, the beauty is truly in the details. In a year when I haven’t put up any decorations of my own, it got me feeling very festive, and I’m so glad we could share it with Kyle’s parents. I love helping people experience new aspects of travel for the first time.

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, look for some beauty in your corner of the world. Whether it’s an elaborately decorated tree in the center of town, a local merchant’s window display, or a festive wreath on a neighbor’s door, appreciate the details, and soak in the spirit of the season.

Happy holidays!

Places

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States
http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States
http://www.radiocity.com/

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.bryantpark.org/things-to-do/wintervillage.html

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.centralparknyc.org/

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States
http://www.timessquarenyc.org/index.aspx

Charleston: A Love Story

Middleton Place: The Sundial and Rose Garden
Middleton Place: The Sundial and Rose Garden

This fall, I took on some freelance work, which included putting together a road trip guide to coastal South Carolina, with a focus on Charleston, a place that time and time again has been ranked No. 1 for best cities in the U.S. and Canada by Travel & Leisure magazine. I had never experienced the quintessential “South”—the Southern charm, the Spanish moss. The more research I did, the more I realized I had to visit this vibrant city.

Kyle and I made a relatively spur-of-the-moment decision to book tickets to Charleston and Savannah for Thanksgiving. I’d been told you’re either a Charleston person or a Savannah person. I, for one, am certainly a Charleston girl—100%. Although Savannah certainly has its charms, Charleston has this intrinsic blend of vivaciousness and history that you’d be hard pressed to find in many cities.

The best way to tell you about Charleston is to let the city do the talking.

I’ve always been completely captivated by Spanish moss, but have never had the pleasure of seeing it in person. All I could do was stare in awe at the bewildering beauty of the drapery of the South.

What a way to spend Thanksgiving! A visit to two of the most spectacular plantations in the country: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and Middleton Place.

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I don’t know how the historic downtown pulls it off?! There’s a certain bustle to it. You know it’s the place to be and be seen. There’s an elitist air to it. But then there’s this sense of calm. You know you can linger over a sweet tea or take a leisurely stroll through the market. Everyone is so down-to-earth, and there isn’t a soul who doesn’t welcome you to the city with open arms.

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There is so much beauty in every single detail in this city. It is completely and utterly enchanting.

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And best of all, the South knows how to decorate for the holidays.

Cheers, Charleston, you beautiful city, you!

Stay tuned for more about one of my new favorite cities: What to see, what to do, and best of all, what to eat!

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