Category Archives: Vashoff

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. The island is circled in red below.

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We got there via panga boat from La Union. La Union is no destination at all and is a bit…smelly. Imagine the scent of sewer, salt water and rotting fish. Add in some diesel for good measure. Despite the smell, as you pull out of the harbor and weave your way through the islands, the air transforms from into a fresh breeze and signs of life become fewer and fewer.

After 40 minutes on an exhilarating and bumpy boat ride, you arrive to this exact view.

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The palm frond covered deck is where we spent 90% of our waking hours. The afternoon siestas in our air conditioned room interrupted our leisurely time spent swinging in the locally crocheted hammocks. The cool air from the water tempered the 90 degree heat, making the weather quite bearable. Not moving a muscle for days also helped. I love vacation.

We did so little that it made our hosts uncomfortable. We just wanted to lounge in the swinging hammocks and devour the countless books on our Kindles. Followed by a fresh catch lunch and a pina colada. Rinse and repeat.

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In the distance to the left you can see a little uninhabited island, called Bird Island. Swaths of birds live there, mostly pelicans and a few types I can’t identify. On one part of the island, when you look up, the sky is so covered in circling birds in dims the bright white sun.

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We spent about an hour one day kayaking around the island with the sit-on-top kayaks they provided. Once you get to the other side of the island, you don’t see any signs of life except for a boat or two off in the distance. As we reclined in our kayaks, we saw a strange marine animal poke its head up and break the surface. It’s head was a strange shape, quite round and large. We came to the conclusion that it was either a very large turtle or a dolphin.

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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 always selected the lobster, prepared a different way each day. They were massive with spiny shells, and only $15 each! They were markedly different than Maine lobster, in taste and look. Here’s one decimated by Caleb.

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On one glorious, sunny afternoon the family’s older son made us sushi out of a local fish caught that day. I wouldn’t say that the fish was particularly best suited for sushi, but we were impressed that he knew how to make it and serve it on this remote island. Besides seafood they  kept us well supplied with cheap pina coladas. Because what is vacation without pina coladas?

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If you have the itch to visit El Salvador, I can’t recommend this hotel enough. Amazing, friendly and down-to-earth service. Nicely appointed rooms with TV, AC and comfortable beds make the indoor stay pleasant. Great food and even greater prices across the board. Not to mention the hammocks, the kayaks, and boat rides to secluded sandy beaches. I left my sandals on one of those beaches if anyone finds them. They were great sandals. I’m sure they were swallowed by the Pacific by now.Image

Everyone should go there. We spent our time there relaxing for several days, but you can even take a boat out there and have dinner, then boat back to fragrant La Union. I don’t recommend doing it that way as I think you need at least three nights at La Joya to completely wind down. Now go, feast on lobster and while away your days in handmade white hammocks and enjoy the fresh sea breeze. With a pina colada in hand. Obviously.

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Gordo, the resident bulldog, and his coconut.

 

 

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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