“The best adventures, if you just let them be, are the unplanned ones.”
After experiencing Prague earlier this year, my intention was to go to San Juan, P.R. in late summer. But when I learned that my oldest would be studying abroad in Costa Rica, I did a little research (like, 5 minutes) and added San Jose, Costa Rica to my Hopper watch list. That’s pretty much all I did in terms of planning 🙂
In June I was able to grab a $370 roundup trip ticket on American Airlines, my preferred carrier. Not bad, right? Extending a layover can be an inexpensive way to get bonus time on a holiday. On my excursion to Prague, I was able to take a walking tour of Berlin and a leisurely afternoon people watching from a coffee shop near Piccadilly Square in London. On this trip, AA offered Dallas or Miami as waypoints. I chose Miami both ways, 6hrs on the way out, and overnight on the way back.
I’m very committed to “no stress travel”, and it almost cost me this trip. Almost. Because upon my leisurely arrival to the airport, about 1hr before departure time, I was informed that I’d missed the cutoff for checking in my luggage, and would either have to do carryon or take a later flight. With a long layover in Miami I really didn’t want to be dragging a suitcase around, but I also knew it was too large to go in the overhead bins. What to do? Well, I recalled from seat selection online that the flight was fully booked, and so I pulled my trunk through security, making a very experienced bet that they would offer free bag checks at the gate. And they did. Phew. I was already $25 ahead on this trip!
While my arrival in Miami was uneventful, there are two observations I’m going to make that apply to many US cities. 1) too often, the directional signs seem to assume you step off your flight and have some level of familiarity with the airport. What would really help is a simple sign when debarking the jetway that would simply tell you what Terminal, Gate, Level, etc. you are on. I spent way too much time just locating the Shuttle/Pickup area. 2) While I hate the asthetics, front license plates are really, really helpful when you’re looking for your Uber. Ok.
With the temperature expected to be in the 90s and humid, I did not relish sitting outside all afternoon in Miami, so I took a chance and Uber’d to the hotel I would be staying at on my return, the Hotel Cadillac by Courtyard on Miami Beach, figuring I could hang out in the lobby or poolside. If I were to be asked if I was staying there, I was sure t
hey would understand and consider the fact that I would be a guest 5 days later. It never came up, so I was able to relax in comfort there and at the little market/sandwich shop across the street. Given the early hour that I’d left, it was a nice respite before the 3hr flight into San Jose.
Now, Barcelona is one of my favorite travel memories, and so I was looking forward to a similar climate and possibly culture. I did begin to do a little more reading on Trip Advisor, Wikipedia, if only to get a sense of the climate, tourism, history, and economy. What I discovered was that I would be experiencing a very traditional Spanish city with a very proud a vibrant heritage, good food, and a busy urban city. While I considered staying on the outskirts, in the hopes of spending some time with my son on his arrival, I decided to stay in the city. Next time.
After a great Airbnb experience in Prague, I was set on the same type of lodging. And while there were some beautiful condos available for $75-100/nt or less, I decided to leverage my Expedia points and see what I could get. So, sadly, no penthouse suite for me. Instead, I ‘settled’ for the Park Inn by Radison, where a 4nt stay only cost me $270! I made a point of contacting the hotel on their Facebook page before my trip, and was pleasantly surprised to get a
response back from the Manager, welcoming me. While I can’t say for sure the upgrade to a King Executive (from 2 Qns) was a direct result, I was both pleasantly surprised and appreciative.The hotel is relatively new, spotless, and only a 5 minute walk from the main streets of the city. A free breakfast buffet each morning is a great start, with a nice assortment of eggs, meats, beans & rice, pastries, fruit, and cereal. Most of all, the staff was always helpful, smiling; it’s something I will always remember when I think back on my stay there.
I’ve learned that the best way to experience a city is with your own two feet – I walked 5 miles on average each day, with no
real agenda but a fairly good idea of where I was, interesting sites to look out for, and (most importantly) a general idea of how to get back to the hotel. As with Prague, people watching and exploring the various markets, alleyways and
random events was exactly what I’d hoped it would be. But I was surprised to discover that English is not spoken commonly nor found on much signage, and that made for some interesting attempts at conversation. I finally resorted to using Google Translate to see the phrase I was attempting and then verbalizing it, and that helped. Still, I will make a point of having a small vocabulary next time.
Food. Because I was in the city, there were many of the US fast food restaurants available, which I shunned. I did find the one and only Starbucks
, but I consider that more of a mecca, and therefore felt obligated to attend service there. It was kinda odd though, that even though it looked like every other ‘bucks, there too English was not spoken. But I survived, because Americano is universally reckognized. I enjoyed shrimp every.single.day. and that was fantastic.
Beans, rice, pork and chicken in some fashion was enjoyed every day and I loved it. The Central Market had several food stalls to choose from, and so I through caution to the wind (but not my Immodium or Pepto-Bismol) and partook with no side effects.
I did decide to try and do one ‘activity’, and that was ziplining, with tours that would take you into the jungle for what would be 2-2 1/2 hours of zipping through the forest. Sadly, because of the rain they were experiencing and the fact that I wasn’t willing to pay double because I was traveling alone, it didn’t work out. A little disappointed, but again, I’m in Costa Rica on holiday. Perspective 🙂
As I m
entioned earlier, I decided on an overnight layover in Miami on my return. Partly because I wanted a slower acclimation back to life, but mostly because I could. The Zika virus seemed to have impacted tourism a bit, because there were many good and economical choices near the airport, figuring I could take an Uber to the beach. On a lark, I decided to dust off my Marriott account and discovered that I had enough points there to stay on Miami Beach. The oceanfront room was fantastic, as was the experience of being able to just relax on the beach and really thank God for a great holiday time. All together, the trip was way under my budget, but provided the time for reflection, relaxation, and new experiences that I really look forward to.