There are no Dragons in Wales

I’m telling you, I looked. There are no dragons. Except that red dragon icon they put on everything, but don’t let that fool you. The only fire breathing going on there is from old men eating mushy peas at 9am in the pub.

So no dragons, sorry to disappoint. But there are rolling green pastures, sheep, and castles, which is really what I was there for anyway. Particularly the latter.

Let me back up. Caleb and I had left London on a Sunday evening on a train out of Paddington Station. It took maybe three hours to get from there to Bridgend, our final destination. You have never heard of Bridgend, nor will you ever again after this post. It’s just a small town in South Wales. There’s nothing there. Oh sure, a couple castles and a river live there, but that’s like all of Wales.

Guinness Chips

Guinness chips (sorry, “crisps”) that we had on the train. They were rubbish.

Anyway, we arrived in Bridgend and made our way to the hotel that Caleb’s work was putting him up in. Pretty much the only hotel in town, above a pub. Naturally.

To set the scene, I’ll start with the main core of the town. Everything is old, as Europe does, and of course lots of stone. Cobblestones, stone houses, you get it. A few fine examples are in the slideshow below.

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The one week that I spent there Caleb went to work every morning and I would see him at lunch time and again in the evening. I spent my days either in the hotel room, at a cafe, or wandering around.

The hotel room was, how shall we say it, bland. It was fine enough. They gave Caleb a “family room” so it was bigger than the other rooms. But the place was definitely old. Single-paned windows, dingy carpet, and uninspired decor. However, they did provide a tea tray. Because any upstanding member of the U.K. provides tea trays, as far as I know. Pictures related to the hotel below, though of course I never took a picture of the room or the building. Really not much to see. At any rate, the place did the job. We could even get wifi from the pub.

Random comment about Wales: they love Welsh. Sorry, it appears that they do. I never found anyone who could understand Welsh, but every sign was translated into Welsh (and Welsh was often listed first). The announcements on trains were also in Welsh. It seems that someone somewhere is trying very hard not to let the language die.

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The cafe that I went to every single day was about halfway between the hotel and Caleb’s office, really just a few blocks. It was called Bauhaus and it was run by a very kind Jamaican man who gave me a free bagel when I discovered that I didn’t have enough £. One of the best meals I had in all of Wales (well, Bridgend) was goat curry and an iced coffee at that cafe. It was just perfect.

After I spent the first half of the week on work, since I had a big project I needed to finish, I spent Thursday exploring the area. Which I will have to cover another day, but I promise there will be castles and sheep.

Cheers London!

In April and May, the husband ditched me for Wales. He was on a work trip for a couple of weeks, which was much too long for us to be apart, so I decided to visit him.

Via my miles collecting ways, I had around 50k American Airlines miles, and the dates I was looking at going to visit him fell right before the off-season cut off. You see, during the off season you can fly to Europe roundtrip for 40k AA miles. That’s a ridiculous deal. I found an easy flight from Seattle to NYC, then from there to London Heathrow. My Heathrow flight was a red eye, naturally, but it was on an empty plane – one of AA’s newer remodeled ones. So I got a whole row (my choice of whole rows really) to myself to stretch out and nap. 40k miles! So cheap.

After I landed (at 6am no less), I took a 1.5 hour tube ride (the tube is so darn easy to navigate, about 10x better than the NYC subway) from the airport to my hotel waaaaaaaay across the city. But the hotel was free via my points-gathering ways. Mwahahahaha. And a free hotel in London is worth a lot, let me tell you. That is one spendy city.

Of course my room wasn’t ready when I got to the hotel at 9am, so I dropped my bags at the front desk and then spun myself around to head off to Westminster in my red-eyed daze. I hadn’t really done much planning for this trip. I mean, I bought my flight less than two weeks prior. So Westminster was about the only place on the map I could think of to go to in my bleary state.

Coming out of the tube at Westminster you’re greeted by Big Ben. It’s just right there. 

Oh hi Big Ben!

Oh hi Big Ben!

After recovering from the overwhelming British-ness of it all (including taxis, red telephone boxes and double decker buses), I meandered across the street to Westminster Abbey.

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It’s so grand. 

Now, I don’t remember much else of this day. I know I saw those two things since I have pictures, but that’s about all I know. Oh, and I passed out when I got back to the hotel. I was absolutely exhausted.

BUT WAIT. THAT’S NOT ALL.

I just remembered (rather, found the photos) that I didn’t go back to the hotel yet. Oh no. I went to the Tower of London. Of course I did. I think it was only noon at this point and I couldn’t check in until 2.

So I paid the rather expensive entry/tour ticket ($30) and wandered right into a tour group hosted by a Yeoman Warder (A.K.A. “Beefeaters”, no one knows why…). I thoroughly enjoyed the tour as the Beefeaters are quite amusing. I’m not much of a tour girl, but this one is worth doing. I learned so very much about the Tower. It’s been kept in very good condition and apparently the Beefeaters and their families live inside the fortress. How. Cool. After the tour I wandered about and saw the crown jewels, of course. So shiny.

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The next day I went to the Edelman London office for work, which was fairly close to Westminster. I believe I got off at the stop after it. The London office is quite large, and they have a bar in the office which is pretty cool. I spent the day frantically working on a project that I really wanted to finish and then afterwards I met up with Caleb back at the hotel. He trained (it’s a verb now) from Wales that evening for the weekend.

That weekend we went back to Westminster and a few other neighborhoods so Caleb could do the touristy things too.

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We also visited this most wonderful wine bar that Saturday afternoon, the oldest wine bar in London. It was called Gordon’s Wine Bar and it was basically in a cave in the middle of the city. You can see pictures here. It was dark, very dark and rather dank. Also crowded. Apparently it’s always crowded and it’s near impossible to get a seat inside during peak times but somehow our fancy selves snagged a table and some wine. It was magical.

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Sunday afternoon we left Paddington Station to go to Wales, but that’s a story for another day.

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The Best Hotel in El Salvador

The best hotel in El Salvador is La Joya del Golfo. You’ll never find it. You could never happen up on it. And that’s what makes it absolutely blissful.

Last January we spent three quiet days lounging in hammocks, glued to our kindles and feasting on spiny lobster and watermelon frescas. Even during the holidays the place was quiet. It was like we had the whole place to ourselves most of the time; there are only four rooms.

The location was a little three story house with a wide deck area, owned by an El Salvadoran and American expat with their older children. The house is on a sizeable, remote island off of the southern coast of El Salvador, about two hours from the airport if I remember correctly. You can see Nicaragua and Honduras from the island, it’s that far south. It’s circled in red below.

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We got there via panga boat from La Union. La Union is no destination and is a bit…smelly. But as you pull out of the harbor and weave your way through the islands, the air gets so fresh and signs of life become fewer.

After 30 or 40 minutes on an exhilarating boat ride, you arrive to this.

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Photo Source

The deck you see there is where we spent 90% of our awake time. Except for maybe afternoon siestas in our air conditioned room, though it didn’t really get unbearably hot there. The cool air from the water tempered the 90 degree heat. Also not moving a muscle really helped. I love vacation.

We did so little that I think it made our hosts uncomfortable. We just wanted to lounge in the hammocks and read. And then eat. And then read some more.

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Ahhh, heavenly hammock. In the distance to the left you can see a little uninhabited island, called Bird Island. So many birds live there, a lot of pelicans and other things I can’t identify. On one part of the island, if you look up, the sky is just covered in circling birds.

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We did spend about an hour one day kayaking around the island with the sit-on-top kayaks they had on site. Once you get to the other side of the island, you don’t really see any signs of life except for maybe a boat or two. We saw some strange marine animal as well in the water. It poked it’s head up, but it was a weird head. We came to the conclusion that it was either a very large turtle, like, huge. Or a dolphin. Perhaps.

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Those little buoys in the background are an oyster farm.

Back at our little house on stilts we wined and dined on seafood every day. Caleb had lobster every day, prepared in a variety of ways. They gave us massive lobsters for only $15 each. They were huge, really really. And they had large spines. They weren’t like Maine lobster, that’s for sure. Here’s one decimated by one of us.

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The family’s older son made us sushi out of a local fish one day. talk about fresh. They also  kept us well supplied with cheap pina coladas. Because what is vacation without pina coladas?

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If anyone is reading this that wants to visit El Salvador, I highly recommend this place. Amazing, friendly service. Very nicely appointed rooms with TV, AC and comfortable beds. Great food and even greater prices across the board. Not to mention the hammocks, the kayaks, the little boat ride they had someone take us on to a secluded sandy beach. I left my sandals on that beach if anyone finds them. They were great sandals, glad it was at the end of the trip.Image

Anyway, anyone and everyone should go there. You can even just take a boat out there and have dinner, then boat on back to La Union. I don’t recommend that, I think you need at least three nights at La Joya. Now go, feast on lobster and while away your days in handmade white hammocks and enjoy that sea breeze. With a pina colada in hand. Obviously.

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Gordo, the resident bulldog, and his coconut.

 

 

Introducing Gertrude

As you know, we have a plethora of fauna in our front yard. There’s Potter the otter (and Sons, his baby otters), Scooter the sea lion, Scampers the harbor seal, and the newest member of the cast – Gertrude the elephant seal!

She’s big, she’s clumsy, and she huffs and puffs back and forth in the water. She’s a real character, and the largest pinniped we’ve ever seen in the wild (I may or may not like to pretend that it’s a walrus). I don’t have any photos of her, but here’s one I found on the interwebs of a female elephant seal.

kevincole

Photo by kevincole

Isn’t she pretty? The boys are the ones with the big, ugly elephanty noses.

The other day while Caleb and I were watching some boats go by, none other but Gertrude popped up and started huffing and puffing on by. Then naught but a moment later we saw Scampers poke his little head up! He just hung out, staring at us. The pinnipeds seem to like to come out when the water is especially choppy.

I learned through the grapevine that there have been quite a few transient orca whale sightings around the island, but Caleb and I haven’t seen anything. Though my tally of seeing whales from the water taxi is now up to two! And I haven’t even been riding the boat for a year.

Not to brag or anything, but the Puget Sound is awesome.

View from the Ferry

View of Vashon from the state ferry

Manamana Panama

For Christmas this year Caleb and I decided we needed to get some sun, seeing as how the sun cruelly abandoned us to the clouds, rain and darkness for the winter. Thanks Mr. Sun, thanks.

So right before Christmas we fled south to Panama.

There it is, the Panama Canal in all its glory.

There it is, the Panama Canal in all its glory.

Christmas day we spent at someone’s house we found through AirBnB.com, which is my most favorite site when looking for places to stay. Usually much cheaper than a hotel, and nicer too.

The house we stayed at belonged to an expat couple from California. They actually bought the land and had the house built there overlooking a big valley. It was in the mountains of Panama, which means that it’s not too hot there, it hovers around the 70s most of the year. What I really loved about this house is that the terrace was very much a part of the house. Almost all of the terrace-facing doors were always open 24/7.

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Onwards we went from there to Playa Venao. This was the only part of the trip where we took a bus, and that’s only because the bus system in Panama is probably the best in all of Central America. However, it all went awry in the trashy town of Penonome. Eeeeeeevil Penonome (read pen-oh-no-may).

We had to take two buses for this trip. One from the mountains to Penonome and then from there to the beach. Well, the first bus driver told us to wait at the wrong spot for the Playa Venao bus. So we waited for three hours. Three I say. On the side of a horribly hot, dusty highway with not bathroom and little water. Staring at the crest of a hill about a half mile away, watching for the coming of the bus we needed. Of which three drove by and didn’t stop. WOE.

So eventually we did end up at the right place and got on the right bus. We also arrived at our destination about 5-6 hours later than I had hoped. Oh well.

Fun fact: The buses pretty much in every Central and South American country play loud mariachi music and the like. For hours. Thank goodness for headphones.

Anyway, we made it to the beach after dark. We checked in to our $30/night room and headed to the restaurant and got some fried fish and ahi tuna steak.

Our room was worth exactly $30/night I think. It was just a double bed with a rough sheet and a fan in a claustrophobic room. The lock was a chain through the door with a padlock. Cute.

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But this place was totally worth it, mosquitoes and all. We ate amazing seafood every day, lazed in hammocks by the beach for hours and Caleb took a couple of surfing lessons.

This was also a place where we basically didn’t sleep hardly at all. The howler monkeys started yelling, “THAT THE SUN WAS UP! THERE IT IS! EVERYONE GET UP NOW!” at about 5 or 6am every day. And of course it took awhile to fall asleep because we didn’t have air conditioning here, so it was humid and hot.

One morning we just got up right when we heard the monkeys start rustling about and went and found them. It was a nice little hike and Caleb got to see monkeys in the wild.

Another fun fact: we could drink the water there. Yep, in the middle-of-nowhere Panama. In fact, we could drink the water almost everywhere in Panama. Apparently this has something to do with the Americans putting in the water system in lot of places. Though this place on the beach had clean water because they had their own well and filtering system.

So that was Panama! It was hot and lovely, and we’d recommend it to anyone. We probably won’t go out of our way to go back, but it’s still a beautiful country. Though the people were rather rude in my opinion, but that’s besides the point.

Next time I’ll talk about a few of the pictures from El Salvador below…

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