Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Yoga in Bryant Park

One of the hardest parts about working full-time is that suddenly I have very limited time to take my daily picture. And very limited environments too because my day either takes me to either the Upper East Side or Midtown (both big ol' snores!) I have been heading to Bryant Park a lot after work because it's close by and there are always interesting people hanging about. They are having yoga in the park every Thursday night during the summer, so last week, I thought I would check it out to snap a few pics:

This girl was my muse....not only is she gorgeous, but she had amazing strength and control of her body.

Only in NYC....talking on your cell phone during a yoga class. Seriously?

You can see some more of my pics here. The New York Times shot a similar photo story for a big yoga event in Central Park, so it was interesting to see how a professional would cover the same kind of scene.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The last three weeks - in a nutshell

Back from the wedding & honeymoon, back to reality. As soon as I came back home, my phone started to ring and after months of work inactivity, I am now juggling three freelance jobs at once! I haven't worked five (plus) days a week since 2007 (I know, cry me a river). It's definitely an adjustment. I feel tired all the time and my free time is limited and all I want to do is eat chips (not a usual craving for me). I am going to take advantage of the opportunities and just work hard and make money and try to get our finances back in shape.
Hopefully things will come to a more normal pace in a few months.
Besides for working, the rest of our lives lately has looked something like this:

Dan has World Cup fever, and while I haven't been following along too intently, soccer is on the TV all the time in our apartment, so I get my fair share of vuvuzelas. It's put a bit of a damper on our social life. It's been the first nice June weather-wise in years, and we've been stuck inside watching games, saying no to plans. Dan even suggested we head to the beach this weekend (getting me extremely excited) until he realized we couldn't go because of the Germany v. Argentina game was far more important. Boo.

The first weekend of the World Cup, our friend Jason invited us and the poker people to a fancy lunch at The Modern to celebrate his 30th birthday.

We had a private room to ourselves and had a delicious meal and copious amounts of wine. The dessert was the greatest--it was dark chocolately-pistachio heaven.

The birthday boy.


We got out of there just in time to watch the second half of the USA v England game. Here's some fake cheering (for the picture's sake!)

The following weekend, my sister Annette came into town. Her friend A.J. (who wasn't there) treated us to brunch. (thanks!)

We went to see American Idiot on Broadway. Green Day's album is one of my favorites (maybe top ten all-time) and so I had to see the show even though it's been getting lukewarm reviews. Luckily, my sister was just as excited to go. I ended up LOVING it...although it's not for everyone. If you are not a fan of the music, don't bother.

Walking around Times Square, we bumped into The Naked Cowboy.

We then stumbled across this street performer handing out fliers. He was one of the most handsome men I have seen in a long time and look at that outfit! I asked if I could take his picture and this is the pose he gave me. He was such a ham.

Since we weren't going to the beach, this weekend I went home to New Jersey to finally pick up our wedding gifts and cards, and I was surprised to see that my mom had two of the same Mother's Day cards on her refrigerator.

I know I gave her one of them. Who gave the other? Apparently, me! Last year!

I even wrote the same message inside! I must have thought this was a really good Mother's Day card.

I went to visit my friends Stacy and Mike who had a baby girl the weekend of my wedding. (It's probably a good thing they didn't end up coming to New Orleans.) Her name is Juliana Grace and she's so pretty, even though in about 10 minutes time, she went from perfectly clean baby to a complete mess. We had to give her a bath.

Good thing she's so stinkin' cute that she can get away with this kind of stuff.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homeward Bound

On our last day in Costa Rica, we drove from Arenal to San Jose, which is the capital of Costa Rica. Every thing we read or heard about the city was unappealing (unsafe, dirty, nothing to do) but I kind of did not believe everyone. How could a city be so bad?

While the drive there was easy and lovely, driving through San Jose was a bit of challenge. We found out very quickly there were absolutely no street signs anywhere. The only way we figured out where we were was based on a random marking on a store front. Luckily I had a good map and was able to figure out how to get to our hotel based on our limited knowledge, but if you are a person who is geographically challenged--this city is probably your worst nightmare.

It was Sunday, so we decided to walk down the main strip which seemed to be what everyone else was doing. There were some stores and fast food places, but everyone was right. There was nothing pretty or worthwhile or interesting about it. We couldn't even find a decent place to eat so we settled on McDonald's and ice cream. We turned in early and spent the evening looking at our wedding pictures and videos. Having spent most of the vacation away from email and the internet, it was a real treat and made the fact that our honeymoon was over a little bit easier to deal with.

Signage in Costa Rica.

We stopped at this colorful soda for lunch.

And of course we nabbed some local candy...lots of caramel-sort of goodies.

The plane ride home.

It was so much fun. Can we do it all over again?

Hanging Bridges

On Friday we went on another hike but this time we spiced it up with some suspension bridges.

These bridges were long and some of them were really high.

Don't look down!

It was a great way to see the tops of trees...

and offered some amazing views of the volcano.

We saw lots of greenery,

walked through a tunnel,

admired some cutter ants,

and laughed over waterfalls.

In the evening, we went to a hot spring that is naturally heated by the volcano. The most famous spring in the area is at spa called Tabacon, but we got the impression that it was targeted towards old, rich people. Baldi Hot Springs appeared to be aimed toward the party crowd, so we opted for Eco Termes which seemed the most low-key and romantic. There were five pools of water, each one higher in temperature than the next, and a small pool of cold water, which you could use to cool off in between pools. I thought the first pool was already pretty freakin' hot, so I insisted we get some frozen strawberry daiquiris at the honor-system bar, which carried me through the rest of the pools. That hot on the outside, cool on the inside combination felt really nice. We had dinner there, which was good, even though a cicada fell on my head. Ew!

The heated pools were a cool experience but I have to say the most relaxing part of the entire honeymoon is when I got a full-body massage at our hotel spa. You know that music they play in spas to relax you? Well, they didn't need any of that. They led me to a little hut with a crackling fireplace, and I listened to the sounds of the forest (and the occasional rumble of the volcano) while they rubbed me down. Now that was a highlight of the trip.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to hike a volcano

First of all, you don't actually hike the Arenal volcano.

Because it's friggin' dangerous, man! It's an active volcano! Throughout the day, you can hear its stomach rumbling. You never know when it's going to spew! So "hiking the volcano" actually means hiking very close to the volcano, near its base.

So close that if the volcano exploded we would have three minutes to run away, so we might as well just sit and watch it because we'd never make it out alive. At least that is what our guide Daniel told us. He also showed us animals, plants and stuff we would have never noticed if we had hiked the volcano on our own.

Like crazy termites in the trees. Daniel just tapped a stick on the bark and all of a sudden, they all came out. Gross.

Daniel told us as a kid that he used to collect fossilized leaves, just like these.

On the trail, he pointed out many spiders, each one getting bigger the deeper we went into the woods. This was the biggest one of them all!

Although you can't tell from this picture, we're standing next to the tree from Avatar. Just kidding. But that's what it looked like in person.

After the woodsy part, we hiked up a bunch of volcanic rock left from some explosion in the 90s. It took the rocks five YEARS to cool down.

On the top of the rocks, we saw a beautiful view of Lake Arenal.

We took a requisite portrait in front of the volcano.

Then I attempted to take a more artistic shot of the volcano.

And another.

After the hike, we went back to the hotel to lounge by the pool and then on our way to dinner, we drove past these cows grazing in the pretty sunset. I had Dan stop the car so I could take a picture.

And then we ate a steak (sad but true). It was good.

So that, my friends, is the way to hike a volcano.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Horses, lava and soda

On Wednesday, we planned to go horseback riding. Luckily, the stable and surrounding area weren't affected by the storm, so a plaid-shirted man picked us up from the hotel in a 1980s Mitsubushi truck with a handbrake and drove us a half an hour to a rural town where we were joined by two older couples and a guide for the tour.

Dan rode a gray horse named Moscado. We never found out the name of my horse so Dan and I named her Brownie. I tried to talk to Brownie but she kind of ignored me and used every free moment we stopped to eat grass. We would alternate between walking and trotting and Brownie always wanted to go faster than all the other horses and liked run whenever we were going downhill or through streams, making a big splash. Sometimes I was scared I would lose my balance, but Brownie didn't let me down. The area we rode had the most beautiful, picture-perfect scenery: lush forests and rushing rivers and long water falls and pretty mountains. But I spent most of the time looking at the top of Brownie's head. We stopped to go swimming under a waterfall which was cool and refreshing.

It seems like no one here in Costa Rica really cares all that much about weather because even though the sky was getting darker and darker, our guide didn't hurry us or anything. So when it started raining buckets, we had no choice but to tread forward. From my experience, I can tell you that horseback riding in the rain is not as fun as horseback riding in the sun. By the time we were done, you could wring out water from our clothes. For the second day in a row, Dan and I got soaked.

The weather definitely limited us. We had imagined that most of our time in Manuel Antonio would be spent lounging on the beach, but in reality, we only had about a half an hour of beach time the entire trip. We weren't super eager to explore the area in the rain so that night instead of going out we ate dinner at our hotel restaurant, which was covered with a tarp and had its kitchen running with generators. It sounds like a bummer, but it really wasn't. Perhaps on some other trip, we would have minded, but we were so happy to be on our honeymoon and to relax and to enjoy each other that we didn't let it bother us.

First they matched Dan and Brownie together, but Brownie was too small for big Dan.

Dan rides Moscado. BTW: It is really hard to take pictures when you are on a horse!

Lovebirds by the waterfall.

The next day we got a rental SUV (with a stick shift, which made Dan very happy!) and drove from Manuel Antonio to Arenal. Driving in Costa Rica reminded me a lot of driving in Poland. There is no direct way to get anywhere, so most of the time you are on these two lane roads winding through mountains and seashores and small little towns. I had the idea in my head that the trip would take 3 hours, but it was more like 6. It didn't really matter. It was a nice ride. It's kind of a shame I didn't make Dan stop driving to take some pictures because I saw so many great things. Green grass and misty mountainsides. Black and white cows grazing atop on a green hill. Schoolchildren in uniform running down the street. A child wearing a homemade paper mask. Vendors in tiny fruit stands selling mangoes and plantains.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside “soda” where we had the standard fare in Costa Rica: a huge plate of rice and beans, chicken, plantains and veg for $4. The food in Costa Rica is kind of bland yet filling and tasty like a homemade meal. The atmosphere of these sodas were relaxed and open-air and the people working there were always so nice and friendly. I have to say that eating at these places beat any of the “fancy” expensive meals that we have had on our trip (which was basically not-so-amazing American and Mexican food).

We checked into our new hotel that had the perfect vantage point of the Arenal volcano. It's an active volcano which rumbles throughout the day and if you are lucky to be there on a clear night, you can see the lava spew from the top! The hotel said that they'd call us if there is no volcanic activity before 11pm and it acts up in the middle of the night, but when we settled down for bed, I could not shut my eyes. I kept staring, waiting for something to happen. Then I thought I saw the sky change color, almost like lightening, so I woke Dan up.

"Dan, something's happening!" I said. He sat up, put on his glasses and there was nothing there but black sky. False alarm. We went back to sleep. Well Dan went back to sleep. A few minutes later, I saw red. "Dan!" Dan!" We both got up in time to see the volcano spit some red volcanic rock into the sky which trickled down the side. We had planned to take pictures and video and all that, but it was over and done with in a minute. I fell asleep after that moment, happy to have seen the lava. Good thing I was so alert. It was the only clear, lava filled night of our trip.

The volcano!