Happy Costa Rica Birthday

Sometimes the mysterious workings of the universe are perfectly aligned in your favor. Like that time I got to spend my birthday in Costa Rica. Sure, I was attending a workshop rather than on vacation, and I missed being with my family, but I suppose if had been able to choose anywhere to go on a birthday getaway, San Jose would have been high on the list.

We stayed at a hotel tucked away in the suburbs of the city, with large gardens and a great view of the mountains from my window. In a fit of birthday wellness (which has since passed, don’t worry), I spent most mornings at the gym or playing tennis with colleagues in the gorgeous morning sun.

During the week, we took a field trip to an agropastoralism pilot site. I brought along a film crew, hoping to capture some great footage of how farmers are helping regrow forests on their fields.

Ah, naïveté. As it turns out, agropastoralism, at least according to that site’s manager, really just involves a lot of cow poop. So we got a lot of great footage of excrement treatment pools, bio-gas collectors, and plain old manure. Many a #ShitPile #OscarSelfie was taken that day!

We also enjoyed a few nights out on the town. One began in a hard metal bar named ‘Steppenwolf’, or rather, whatever ‘Steppenwolf’ is in Spanish, which I can’t remember anymore, and ended in a beer hall where the servers kept trying to give the 1L beers I was ordering to the men at the table instead of me. I was offended. Also, I drank all those dudes under the table.

Another evening involved a team dinner at a poor, unsuspecting local establishment. They might have had an inkling when we booked a table for 25, but I don’t think they were expecting us to discover these crazy ‘Beergaritas’ on the menu and proceed to order about 20 of them. What’s a beergarita? Well, it’s a fluorescent blue alcohol slushie with an open Corona bottle somehow added to the liquid upside down and then garnished with a stick or two of fruity decorations. It sounds better than it is. Actually, it doesn’t even sound very good. But we ordered a bunch of them.

The chartered bus on the way home turned into a drunken karaoke singalong to such classics as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’, and we spent the rest of the evening drinking a few clandestine bottles of rum out in the parking lot. I don’t think we can ever go back to that hotel.

When the hard week of work was over, I had a single day to try and pack in some sightseeing outside the city. There are a number of beautiful places around San Jose, and if you have enough time, you could visit national parks, beaches, volcanoes, wildlife reserves, and more. Some lovely work friends agreed to take me on a trip to one of the nearest volcano parks, to see some craters and lagoons up on the summit.

The drive was about an hour, passing through coffee plantations and fields of berries and bananas as we spiraled toward the top of the volcano. We looked down and saw the city stretching out below, ringed by distant mountains, imagining the way down to the ocean over the other side.

The crater park was extraordinary. As we walked toward the peak, the ground opened up into a huge pool that was changing color from blue to opaque white with the passing clouds overhead. The rocks told a story of violent geology, streaked with red and brown, covered with dark, ashy soil climbing up the sides. The forest around the crater’s edge was dark and moist, swallowing us from above like a knitted roof.

And it was windy. And cold. We could barely hold onto our coats and bags as the wind and fog whipped past us. But we watched the morning mist roll through at an accelerated speed, like the world was on fast forward.

There was no way to cap off such an amazing place. So we drove away, and I hopped onto a plane and flew off into the night. Happy birthday to me! I’m now accepting suggestions for next year.

Fête de Pâques: Flowers, Flowers, Flowers, Ewok

Easter was a quiet time this year, but still full of fun. First of all, I traded in BigB for my parents, who have come to visit while he is back in Canada. They’re here for two weeks while the kids are off school for the holidays.

The weather has been perfect – sunny and beautiful, and all the flowers are in bloom. We’ve enjoyed some lovely walks through Nyon and Geneva, checking out the old town, playing chess in the park, and looking at all the holiday displays.

For Easter, the Bunny brought us a nice selection of gummies hidden around the house, plus a bunch of Star Wars toys – including a hilarious Millennium Falcon ship-car hybrid and an Ewok that makes Ewok sounds when you squeeze it. He was kind of enough to bring me some Cognac-filled chocolate eggs, obviously knowing what I needed to get through the holiday.

Later, we went to Morges for a local tulip festival. Being from Ottawa, which is renown for its own tulip festival, I wasn’t sure what to expect – but, sorry Ottawa, the Morges festival was quite good! It might be a bit smaller, but there were so many many varieties of flowers, including some heritage ones. I spent most of my time taking photos of the odd flowers out – the one weird red one growing in a field of yellow, for example. And then we had to find flowers from each of our birthday years.

Enjoy the gratuitous flower gallery and happy (belated) Easter!


Cape Breton sunshine

Summer 2013 at the family cottage in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. This one is credited to LittleB, who photographed every single thing in the outdoors after we gave him an old camera to play with. The sticky-fingerprinted camera lens led to this unexpected gem of a photo – a perfect memory of breezy summer leaves in the late afternoon sun.

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Ottawa museums galore

One of the best things about Ottawa is all the museums. There are so many that, growing up there, it’s commonplace, almost boring, to go to a museum. But lucky for us, fresh off 3 years of no museum visiting in Indonesia, the kids still think it’s pretty cool! It’s not so cool for the pocketbook, but hey, we’re on vacation, right?

The first museum we decided to visit was the Air and Space Museum. The kids were keen, but I’ll admit that I also pushed for it because it was the one I have visited the least often myself, so it was still a fresh experience. And, of course, who doesn’t want to look at awesome old planes and rockets? And maybe there was a chance that Chris Hadfield would be there, right? (He wasn’t.)

We saw everything from old-timey flying (and hilariously non-flying) contraptions to slick air force jets, a huge bomber, rescue helicopters, courier planes, cushy 50s passenger planes. And the space section was lots of fun, with some hands-on activities and neat artifacts from Canadian space missions.

But, really, I think we had the most fun taking photos of the kids in the photo board cutouts. These things are classic:

We also visited the Canadian Museum of Civilization History. We are well aware that our museum timing is limited to only a couple of hours, so we have to triage. B and I can never get enough of the First Nations hall and the Inuit art in the basement (which is always shamefully undervisited), and we made a point of visiting the special exhibits rather than the permanent ones, keeping in mind our triage decisions. The exhibit on Greece was very cool, and I was able to crack into the depths of my undergraduate brain and read a lot of the ancient Greek writing. B was uber keen on the “Confederation” exhibit, which was a bit tedious for the rest of us non-politicos until we found a table where you could wear a top hat and pretend to be one of the fathers of confederation! And we also saw a Terry Fox exhibit, which was timed for the 35th anniversary of his run. It was great to share this important Canadiana with the kids, even if B did spend most of the time just photographing close-ups of all the hockey jerseys in the room.

And of course there’s a great Children’s museum that we needed to visit. We also decided to watch an IMAX movie about Lemurs. Lemurs are cool, but for some reason this film was a bit too over the top, and felt like it had been made 10 years ago, despite being recent and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It was missing some kind of legitimate messaging, like “lemurs are good, deforestation is bad” is pretty trite, even when you’re targeting a young audience… But we had a good time over all. We even ran into the kids’ cousins who were at the museum with a summer camp trip, so that was a nice surprise.

The final museum on the list was the Billings Estate Museum, which is a manor right in the heart of the city, the home of the original settlers of the area. In fact, I didn’t visit for the museum itself, but for afternoon tea. My mom and I escaped for the day and spent a lovely few hours enjoying tea and snacks overlooking a beautiful outdoor garden. Probably my favourite kind of museum trip!