Category Archives: Travel

Jazz at the Bus Stop Cafe — Pitman, NJ

My good friend Natalie DiBlasio’s father performs with fellow teachers and students at Pitman’s Bus Stop Music Cafe. Denis DiBlasio is the director of Rowan University’s jazz program, as well as an incredible baritone saxophone and jazz flute player.

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Analog in the Mini-apple

In January, I drove from Burlington, Vermont to Providence, Rhode Island, then to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Almost 3,000 miles later, I have scans from the color film I shot using my good friend CB’s Hasselblad 503cx. There was little editing in Photoshop, save for a few crops and curve adjustments.

I love digital photography in all its flexibility, but the sound and feeling of the shutter combined with the physicality of the negatives could never be replaced. Enjoy these as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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Costa Rica Day 3

Day 3 — Today is the day we swing from the tree tops. The quintessential “zip-lining” that has become the poster child for Costa Rican tourism is on the docket for today, and no one could be happier. The ride from Santa Teresa to Montezuma is about 40 minutes over rough terrain, but our expert driver, Luis Medina, knows the roads well. We make it there in 35.

Montezuma is our first stop. The pebble-covered beaches of Santa Teresa would be jealous of the boulders that litter these sands. Massive rolls of black stone bulged out of the ground, and pelicans dived between them for fish. A small restaurant on the beach served incredible food; pita with guacamole, pico de gallo and grilled peppers; black bean soup with smoky chicken; shrimp ceviche; and killer hummus.

A short, steep ride up the hill brought us to our zip-lining venue, where we were strapped in, buckled up and quickly briefed on how to not get our fingers stuck in the pulley system. After five lines, we unhooked and hiked down the hill to a waterfall oasis, where a rope hung from a tree over a cool, deep pool of fresh water and water tumbled down 50-foot drops. The rope swing was good enough for most of us, but one of our tour guides had to show us how to really have fun, and swan dived off the overhanging tree into the small pool below, barely missing an oblivious tourist. After we swam, we re-hooked ourselves into our harnesses and swung our way back home.

For dinner, back in Santa Teresa, Japanese was the menu, a regular Japanese via California via Costa Rican sushi, with some Luigi and Mario thrown in. Apparently the chef’s specialty was chicken parmesan. How odd, we would deduce, that we were eating Italian in a Costa Rican Japanese restaurant. With Argentinian wine. Well, we’ve got four continents covered right there — how worldly.

A pelican flies over the Montezuma coast before diving for fish.

A pelican flies over the Montezuma coast before diving for fish.

The moment a pelican breaks the surface of the water as it dives for fish on the Montezuma coast.

The moment a pelican breaks the surface of the water as it dives for fish on the Montezuma coast.

Natalie zip-lining near Montezuma.

Natalie zip-lining near Montezuma.

Maisie using the rope swing to jump into a river near Montezuma.

Maisie using the rope swing to jump into a river near Montezuma.

The view from the top of the zip-line near Montezuma.

The view from the top of the zip-line near Montezuma.

The view from zip-lining near Montezuma.

The view from zip-lining near Montezuma.

Costa Rica Day 2

Day 2 — When you can describe a place — with all of its complicated social relationships, physical disparities and multitudes of challenges and discomforts — in one word, you know it’s powerful. Therefore, I present to you the word of the day, which hopefully will inspire some sense of what it means to spend 24 hours in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica: Beach. Costa Rican days are beach. That’s really a noun that should be an adjective.

Today was spent safe (erroneously assumed safe, that is) from the sun on the beach, finishing Tom Robbin’s Skinny Legs and All, while Natalie worked her way through a book she severely dislikes. “I have to read it, because they roped me in and I just can’t wait to be done with it,” she said, then passed out in the middle of the flat, hot sand arena.

After returning to Villas Hermosas, I edited photos from yesterday, and the whole crew went to dinner. We watched the sun set (from a distance this time) and ate delicious food. Coconut-crusted shrimp with ginger soy sauce; sea bass, shrimp and Mahi Mahi with potatoes; Mahi Mahi in curry; and shrimp in a bourbon cream sauce. A great day for great food, and tomorrow, for zip-lining.

Natalie and Callan at dinner in Santa Teresa.

Natalie and Callan at dinner in Santa Teresa.

Mint lemonade for Maisie.

Mint lemonade for Maisie.

Sunset over Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.

Sunset over Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.

The most common mode of transportation in Santa Teresa.

The most common mode of transportation in Santa Teresa.

Natalie exploring in Santa Teresa.

Natalie exploring in Santa Teresa.

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Costa Rica Day 1

Day 1 — After a 3 a.m. wakeup in my Minneapolis basement, the family and I crawled our way to the airport and boarded a 6 a.m. flight to San Jose. Immediately before takeoff, I glanced across the aisle at my family. Maisie, my mom and dad to my left, and Callan to my right, were as asleep as anyone can be. Their heads were at impossible angles, mouths agape and appendages twitching as the 747 lifted off the cold, dark runway.

Upon arrival in San Jose, and pending a Natalie greeting, my family and I gave in to one of the innumerable “taxi available” solicitations and made our way to an airfield across town. The ride was full of one-and-a-half-lane roads and cramped neighborhoods of pastel-colored houses. Eventually, we made it to the airfield where we piled onto a golf cart, baggage and all, and sped quietly to hanger 14.

Much to my mom’s dismay, our plane was not the small twin-engine jet parked in the back of the hanger. It wasn’t even the larger prop plane that could seat 12 or 14 people. It was a five-seat, 850-lb. maximum payload prop plane, driven by a pilot with a killer mustache. We entered into the plane, Maisie, Callan, my mom and dad in the back, and your’s truly in the co-pilot seat, and took off for Tambor.

The flight from San Jose to Tambor is a short 40 minutes. But if you’re strapped into a sardine can travelling a few hundred miles an hour at 7,500 feet above sea level, it feels like eternity. The thrill of the flight quickly dissipated as we made 100-foot dips through high-pressure areas. We made our way across the bay, and then after we had all relaxed a bit, in the distance a small sliver made itself apparent in the tree line. Our black dirt runway was upon us.

As soon as our plane landed and the pilot told us, “See, I told you, nothing to worry, yes?” Natalie Diblasio made her way quickly across the caveman tarmac to greet us. A taxi ride to the Budget car rental area would soon reveal a lack of automobiles, though Natalie and Maisie were kept busy by the neighboring bulls and horses. Another taxi ride down the hill from Tambor to Santa Theresa was the perfect venue for Natalie to display her unrelenting energy to learn.

“¿Cómo se díce (insert English word here)…?” rang from the back bench seats of the taxi for all 30 minutes. The taxi driver took everything in stride as he expertly navigated around Rhode Island-sized potholes and dodged motorbikes and ATVs. We ended at Villas Hermosas in Santa Theresa, piled out of the SUV with our bags and quickly made our way to the beach (via villas to change into swim suits, and fridge to get a beer) so we could swim in the Pacific while the sun set.

The bush plane pilot locks my family in before taking off from San Jose en route to Tambor, Costa Rica.

The bush plane pilot locks my family in before taking off from San Jose en route to Tambor, Costa Rica.

Our bush plane pilot flies over the bay from San Jose to Tambor, Costa Rica.

Our bush plane pilot flies over the bay from San Jose to Tambor, Costa Rica.

Above the ocean between San Jose and Tambor, Costa Rica.

Above the ocean between San Jose and Tambor, Costa Rica.

The clouds above the ocean between San Jose and Tambor, Costa Rica.

The clouds above the ocean between San Jose and Tambor, Costa Rica.

Clouds make shadows on the ocean between San Jose and Tambor, Costa Rica.

Clouds make shadows on the ocean between San Jose and Tambor, Costa Rica.

About to land on a dirt runway in Tambor, Costa Rica.

About to land on a dirt runway in Tambor, Costa Rica.

A sign near the airstrip in Tambor, Costa Rica.

A sign near the airstrip in Tambor, Costa Rica.

Natalie petting a horse she named "Princess" near the airstrip in Tambor, Costa Rica.

Natalie petting a horse she named "Princess" near the airstrip in Tambor, Costa Rica.

Natalie petting a horse she named "Princess" near the airstrip in Tambor, Costa Rica.

Natalie petting a horse she named "Princess" near the airstrip in Tambor, Costa Rica.

Sunset on the beach in Santa Theresa.

Sunset on the beach in Santa Theresa.

Natalie with a beach dog.

Natalie with a beach dog.

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Salzburg’s finest in pints and palaces

Salzburg has an identity crisis.

But if there was an endearing quality about a place that didn’t know who it was, this city has it. Modern concrete is mixed with the oldest stones on the continent; young and elderly residents meander the oldest alleys in Europe together; the alps are dwarfed by the 1000-year-old Hohensalzburg Castle. All of these dichotomies allow ones imagination to twist while still enjoying a modern urban culture.

As aforementioned, castles and fortresses are everywhere. Hohensalzburg Castle’s dominance over the city is daunting, and if you’re a citizen of Salzburg, it’s free to visit (roughly four Euro if you’re a visitor). The sheer mass of this place and its deliberate placement overlooking the river and downtown make it the nose on Salzburg’s vast face. There are terraces to view the city and surrounding peaks, and each room of the castle is now dedicated to various museum themes. Military history is a big theme inside.

View from Hosensalzburg Castle

From the lookout at Hosensalzburg Castle in Salzburg, Austria.

As made famous by the film The Sound of Music, Hellbrunn Palace sits relatively close to the city center. From Salzburg Süd, a simple 45-minute walk down one of Europe’s oldest alleys will bring you to its front gates. You have to walk down a long driveway, passing stables-turned-garages and ornate iron gates before you arrive at the main attractions. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what to expect — the vast garden and various pool fountains lie next to the bright yellow house, and the caretakers have kept the iconic gazebo from the movie in great condition.

Hellbrunn Palace in Salzburg

Hellbrunn Palace in Salzburg was made famous by the film "The Sound of Music."

Finally, the gardens at Mirabel Castle on a Sunday afternoon are stunning in simplicity. Immediately downtown, less than a 15-minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof train and bus station, when one enters the gardens all other elements of the confident, modern surroundings are forgotten. The gardens are lined by statues of gods and goddesses, and on a day focused on family and relaxation (nothing is open on Sundays in Salzburg), they are filled with children and old couples alike.

The gates of Mirabel Castle's gardens

Two TV celebrities walk through the gates of Mirabel Castle in downtown Salzburg.

For its nightlife, Salzburg emphasizes its own calm demeanor.

O’Malley’s and Shamrock Irish Pubs consistently house university students and locals for a night of Austrian beer drinking, though on Saturday nights, it’s difficult to find a place to stand without spilling your drink or burning your neighbor with a cigarette. On certain evenings, Shamrock has live cover bands playing American and European rock hits, though their ‘V’s often sound like ‘W’s — the accent makes bad songs humorous.

The Augustiner, as it’s referred to by local college students, is one of Europe’s oldest breweries. Many students claim it was started and still exists on beer brewed by monks. It’s a simple formula for good fun; choose a half-liter or liter glass, walk to the keg, pay, fill and drink. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a castle’s beer hall, with long, heavy wooden tables and benches. They, however, close at 11 p.m., so get there early.

A local bar near the Internationale Kolleg dorms in Salzburg Süd is also an interesting composition among European-style bars. The chic urban artwork in Heinz Music Bar and Cafe clash contrastingly against the older clientele, but its proximity to the university and special 1,90 euro-per-beer for students make it popular with the younger crowd, too. They are open quite late, and is a great place to have conversation and finish a night.

Personal note:

My friend Jack hosted me in his dorm, and I realized that much of the people in Salzburg are as kind as midwesterners. I don’t speak a lick of German, so I needed help with directions constantly; I had no discomfort asking a stranger at the bus stop or train station.

Jack Minich

Jack Minich, a junior at UVM studying in Austria and Salzburg aficionado extraordinaire.

The stark difference between the old and new was insanely evident everywhere I went, and made me realize how little culture much of the U.S. has in history. Just walking down a popular bike path toward Hellbrunn Castle, Jack noted that this happened to be the oldest ally in Europe. He said that less than an hour away were celtic ruins thousands of years old. Much of these instances were completely untouched by tourism, and felt natural and normal.

One of Europe's oldest allies

On the way to Hellbrunn, it would be easy to miss the fact that this road is one of Europe's oldest alleyways.

Thanks for the hospitality to Jack and all of his friends, and to the city of Salzburg. Hopefully I’ll come back to explore some of your more hidden secrets.

Costa Rican recap

Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Playa Grande, Costa Rica — A Leatherback Sea Turtle sanctuary and surfing hotspot, this beach attracts locals and tourists alike for wildlife-watching and wave-catching.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

RECAP

[Minneapolis] On this tranquil beach at sunset, Costa Rican and international tourists mingle with locals; the scene is reminiscent of an American July 4 celebration, with beer-filled coolers and lawn chairs littering the sand.

However, even if one were to drive 10 kilometers north, it would be obvious that there’s something different about Playa Grande. Just a few kilometers long, between the tourist town of Tamarindo and a large boulder jutting out into the Pacific, the comfortable surf of this beach attracts both pro-grade wave riders and wannabe tourists.

Playa Grande is also home to the Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas. This beach is used by the endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle for nesting.

According to one volunteer at the park station, nesting frequency has fallen dramatically in the past 20 years, possibly due to illegal fishing, an increase in beach development and/or global warming issues.

Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, December 26, 2010 — A large tide creates tide pools along the beach during the day, disappearing at night beneath the surf.

Tamarindo is a 20-kilometer drive from Playa Grande, but less than a two-kilometer walk along the beach. A large estuary lies between Playa Grande and Tamarindo, where one needs to go to get groceries beyond the beach diet of beer, chips and pico de gallo, but ferries take pedestrians walking along the beach across for a small fee.

Tamarindo’s bustling atmosphere is countered by the complete comfortability experienced everywhere else. Even in the capital of Liberia, people move slower and attitudes are relaxed. To experience Cancún-style nightlife, Tamarindo may be your best (and only) bet, but don’t expect the party scene to be bumpin’ in Playa Grande, Playa Flamingo or Matapalo.

Costa Rican time is, as some say, Latin time — expect to drive, buy, eat and drink slower. However, for most of those on vacation, this shouldn’t be a problem.

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