In the planning of our spring break vacation this year, Costa Rica emerged as a possibility and I shot it down. We were eager to do something off the beaten path, something a little different from the warm weather destinations that have dominated our previous spring break jams – Jamaica, The Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic. We’ve spoiled ourselves with great vacations, no doubt, but I wanted to do more adventuring. Europe? Rodney said too cold. A Colorado ski vacation? (too cold again). A last-minute trip to New Zealand or Australia felt a tad ambitious, so I opened up my phone’s AirBnb app and started to dig.

Whether it was destiny or fate, or some other powers that be (Jackson, were you guiding this?), I kept landing on Costa Rica. My mum and step dad are people whom I’d describe as “repeat offenders”, visiting Costa Rica year after year, raving about the monkeys and the night walks and the poisonous Fer-de-lance they’d encountered in the jungle. And I had heard great things about the newly-renovated Four Seasons in Papagayo. Suddenly our trip was less about dreams and more about execution: Costa Rica it would be, with a Four Seasons visit on the front end and an AirBnB chaser.

Even though I was a late adopter, I’ve become a sucker for AirBnb. I’m never the first one to try a new platform (hello Instagram, 2013!), particularly when it involves borrowing someone’s home for a few days. But after a few independent stays where I could test out the process and see whether AirBnB is all that it’s cracked up to be, I felt comfortable enough dragging our three young kids down to a rental in a foreign country….two hours from the closest airport (Liberia) and a mile up a potholed dirt road. Costa Rica, it appeared, had some pretty cool properties, including one that I found built into a mountainside, not far from Tamarindo.

Four Seasons Resort, Papagayo, Costa Rica:

I’d read of AirBnB horror stories, the families who’d arrived in faraway locations only to find their island dreams dashed with shoddy villas and construction nightmares. But one of my (unfortunate and time-consuming) skills is that I’m a die-hard researcher. So you’d best believe that I read through every one of our intended home’s 80+ reviews to make sure that the vast majority of people had enjoyed a kick a$$ experience.

Our AirBnb only covered 6 nights (another non-pro tip: find the airBnBs that are usually completely booked), so we reserved the dates that we could, and filled the remainder with the Four Seasons in Papagayo. The hype is warranted, it’s a stunning resort with lush vegetation, giant iguanas, two separate beaches, great hikes, and howler monkeys whose (song? warble? bark?) greets you every morning, like clockwork, at daybreak.

“What’s that sound?” I asked Rodney on our first morning, convinced that someone from housekeeping was attempting to re-start a broken-down golf cart on the path directly above our house. Was it a bird? A dog? A machine? At breakfast we learned of the howlers, those sneaky little creatures whom we only witnessed in the flesh two days later when a furry family of 8 crept into the tree directly in front of our pad. There, they ate, climbed, and napped until it was time for us to leave.

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Hey, are you guys still there? Fantastic. Because it’s time to dish up part two on Antigua’s Jumby Bay Island, and it’s all about the food.

As in fresh-from-the-farm organic food. Plucked from the lady hen herself. Did I tell you that I’m now a chicken farmer? It’s all true. I learned how to enter a chicken coop without any of the residents escaping (harder than it seems) and cautiously step over forty or so chickens who like to greet their visitors like some kind of frenzied poultry paparazzi. It was all very zen, believe me. There was no screaming, no panicking, no running, no clinging to a ledge for dear life, no Hail Marys before plunging my bare arm beneath the feathered breast of a she-hen guarding her egg with a fierce case of stink eye. I may pick up the hobby this summer. Nothing beats fresh, still-warm chicken eggs. Nothing. And I’ll sacrifice life and limb to do it.

Fortunately Jumby Bay’s supremely talented kitchen and farming staff were there to help out with the remainder of our meals. Leaving that one joyous experiencing of plucking my own tomatoes, snipping some kale leaves, trimming herb flowers from the organic garden, and yes, even harvesting my own eggs…to an isolated incident of tomato salad-making for two. Forever encased in that memory box in my brain with the boldface letters A-N-T-I-G-U-A printed on the front. It’s a good set of memories.

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It’s the year of travel, or so I hope! 2018 is off to a good start with a January long weekend in Antigua.

The Caribbean ranks high on my list of must-visit destinations, particularly during the dead of winter when below zero wind chill temps make the simple act of walking the dog around the block a daunting task.

For the past few years, we’ve opted to fly south during the winter months, spending our time in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica (again), the Dominican (again), Barbados, St. Barths, and the Cayman Islands. We’re lucky that we’ve had the chance to travel so much and build up some serious Caribbean island chops, believe me, I don’t take this for granted. Plus, it puts us in a good position to share our experience at an island previously unexplored: Antigua.

I confess that prior to our trip, I wasn’t well-versed in all things Antiguan (and will even admit to having hopped on Jet Blue flight 743, due south, without having checked to find out exactly where in the emerald green Caribbean archipelago we’d be landing).

For the geography buffs out there, Antigua lies just east of St. Kitts, south of the US Virgin Islands, and north of Guadaloupe and St. Lucia. It’s one of the top islands in a chain that looks like an elongated spine that meanders from Puerto Rico in the north to Venezuela in the south.

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It’s officially the holidays. Although we already knew that. I knew that as far back as early November when I touched down in the UK to find that seasonal lights, Christmas trees, and sequined nutcrackers were already in full swing.

But that was London. There were other parts of Britain that I visited too. Parts less showy, less flashy, more understated, defined by rolling green pastures and black rubber boots. Parts that were no doubt celebrating the holidays, but you had to look for it. A seasonal mince pie here, some Christmas pudding gelato there.

Welcome to the countryside.

The Talbot Hotel

Yorkshire that is, and the second and final post of my two-part series on the UK, food + travel.

If there were ever a fitting stop to begin my Yorkshire adventures, it would be Malton. After departing from York and driving past endless meadows dotted with sheep and the occasional herd of cattle, I found myself staring up the imposing stone façade of the Malton Hotel where I’d be spending two glorious nights in the type of comfort that would have driven Laura Ashley into a jealous rage. Fabrics full of bounce and English rose. Handsome paintings of stallions and hounds and fine men in even finer hunting dress. Verdant dales, kissed with sun and a touch of English mist, peeking through every window. Those Bronté sisters knew where to set up shack.

The point of my visit though, despite my sudden desire to learn a craft like floral arranging or needlework, was food.

And much like I did on my city adventures, I tuckered into all that Yorkshire and its countryside had to offer.

The Talbot Restaurant

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“What’s the purpose of your stay?”

“I’m on a food tour of the U.K.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, I have a food blog.”

“I was thinking of starting me one of those too. Me ‘n my partner, we had a name for it, ‘The Wobbly Table’. That’s the worst part of a restaurant experience isn’t it? The wobbly table. The name was taken though. What’s the name of yours?”

“Feed Me Dearly.”

“You got a card on ya?”

I rooted around my 20-year old blue canvas passport wallet, the one that still carries a yellowed love note from my husband, and passed him my information in pseudo-laminate form: website name, email address, social details.

The passport control agent looked at it, smiled at the three mischievous toeheads staring up from his palm, and let me through.

“Welcome to London.”

 

London

The Knightsbridge Hotel

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

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