The Eco Diversity of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a very cool country. It is pretty unique in a number of ways. For one, it doesn’t have a military- the peacenik in me thinks “that’s awesome” but the part of me with an International Relations degree is sweating in panicked confusion.

It also has undergone extreme measures for plant and animal wildlife conservation. Some of the most extensive in the world. A total of 25% of Costa Rica is protected territory! There are countless education programs that teach about protecting and conserving the many natural wonders of Costa Rica. It ranks among the top 20 countries in biodiversity. And, Costa Rica has a goal to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021- that’s amazing!

The country is lined by both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It has volcanoes, rain forests, rugged mountains, hot springs, and gorgeous beaches. So much to offer! Below is a list of the many amazing things I did during my journey through Costa Rica.

Explored the cloud forest

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The Monteverde Cloud Forrest Reserve provides bridges so you can experience every level of the rain forest. From the steamy forest floor, you can spot the frogs, snakes, and unique insects that live there. Be careful not to step on the many lines of marching ants! Towards the middle you can examine the leaves and growing fruit up close. Interesting birds and small mammals weave through the trees. From the highest layer, you will witness the expanse of the forest, seemingly going on forever. You may even see some monkeys!

Getting active in the rain forest

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Not exactly graceful…

The rain forests also provide the perfect setting for two fun activities: zip-lining and waterfall rappelling. It may seem intimidating, but you don’t have to be skilled to do either. Trust me, if I can repel down a waterfall, you can too.

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Follow the path into the unknown!

And of course, there is hiking galore.

Saw the active volcanoes

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Arenal Volacano

Arenal National Park features a large, active volcano. We found a hike that led to a great view point!

Learned about the wildlife

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We took a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide who taught us about the animal and plant life of Costa Rica. She explained the conservation efforts and the best ways to spot certain species. I definitely learned a lot. For instance, did you know the rings on the trees come from changing seasons that start and pause growth? Costa Rica has a tropical climate all year round so the trees never stop growing- and therefore have no rings!

Swam in the hot springs

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We visited the ethereal Tabacon Hot Springs. The many springs have varying temperatures from cold to scalding. There is diverse tropical wildlife to create a very natural-looking experience. The Tabacon also has a luxury resort but you can pay to only use the hot springs.

If you’re on a tight budget, there are also many free hot springs in Costa Rica.

lounged in a resort by the beach

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We stayed at Dreams Las Mareas in El Jobo. The all inclusive resort was amazing. The beaches were yellow-flagged, however, for potentially harmful wildlife. We tried to do some snorkeling but it was pretty foggy from the kicked up sand and my sister got stung by a jellyfish. We didn’t go in the ocean again. Honestly, the resort was nice enough and there was so much to do that the ocean wasn’t required to have a good time.

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Relaxing with my millionth Chunky Monkey

Plus, there are lots of monkeys that swing through the trees lining the resort. Through the week, we searched in vain, scouring the trees for monkeys while we hiked through the rain forests. Then, low and behold, we saw dozens while floating in the pool of a resort!

Final thoughts

My trip to Costa Rica was amazing. The various aspects of traveling there are so diverse, it really felt like the complete package. Plus, visiting Costa Rica changed the way I look at and behave around nature. For one, I always make sure to step out of the way of marching ants!

Have you ever been to Costa Rica? How was your experience?

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6 Ways to Get Your Nerd On in the UK

1) King’s Cross Station

While King’s Cross is a working train station, you can find platform 9 and 3/4. It isn’t actually between 9 and 10 (people could get in the way of the trains), but they have a spot off to the side where a luggage cart is halfway through the wall. There is a small queue and some house scarves you can use. They have a professional photographer to buy photos from but they have no problems with you taking a picture with your own camera.

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Pottermore put me in Slytherin and wearing this scarf was my grim acceptance of my house assignment

2) Harry Potter Studios

You can drive or take a bus out of London to the Harry Potter Studios. It’s huge. They have almost every set, every costume, every prop, every everything. There is a flow to the museum so you can take it all in. You will learn how to use a wand and get your picture riding a broomstick in front of a green screen. Also, they have butterbeer!

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Gryffindor Common Room

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Hogwarts! Many overhead shots of Hogwarts were actually shots of this model.

3) Sherlock Holmes Museum

At 221b Baker Street in London, you can visit the Sherlock Holmes museum. It’s small and the shop is very crowded but the experience is mildly entertaining. It’s focused on the original stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not the BBC series. They have facts and figures, as well as a layout of the apartment as the stories describe. Oh, and some unsettling wax figures.

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Try on Sherlock’s hat and play detective!

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Not creepy at all…

4) Doctor Who Experience

In Cardiff, Wales, you can go to the Doctor Who experience. Similar to the Harry Potter Studios, you can pose with costumes, props, and sets from the show. They also give you a good look into how Doctor Who is made. The tour starts with this interactive bit where a film of the doctor leads you through some dramatized mechanical sets. Warning, if you go on a weekday morning in February, you may find yourself the only  childless grown adult in a sea of 6 year-olds with their parents. You can also visit Mermaid Quay and take a picture on the Time Rift by the Water Tower. I was not able to access Torchwood, unfortunately.

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Which Doctor is your favorite?

5) Harry Potter Tour in London or Edinburgh

Both London and Edinburgh have Harry Potter tours. The London tour will take you to many of the places where things took place in the books or movies. The tour in Edinburgh will take you to the place where J.K. Rowling started writing the series.

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Walking the streets of Edinburgh

6) Game of ThroneS Filming Locations in Northern Ireland

This last one, I’ve never done. But it is on my bucket list. All of the gorgeous filming locations can be found on this interactive map.

That’s what I have. Fellow nerds, is there anything you believe should be added to this list?

Sevilla In a Word: Lackadaisical

When I travel, I overplan. It’s genetic. It comes from a genuine place- I want to see every sight and make the most of my time in any location. But when I went to Sevilla to visit my sister, I knew this time would be a little different. She warned me of the slow service and the molasses-like pace of the city. Where else do they have the siesta- where people literally leave work in the middle of the day to go home and take a nap?! It blew me away. Yet, it forced me to reevaluate and take it all in, which ended up being a gift.

Looking for a stress-relieving trip? Sevilla may just be the remedy to your hectic mind. So sit back and picture a sunny day as I provide some tips and tricks on how to live like a true native when in Sevilla.

Meander through the Alcazar Gardens

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Alcazar Gardens

These gorgeous gardens lay at the back of the Alcazar. They seem to stretch on forever. Follow the maze or sit on the benches and soak up the sun. Take a whiff of that orange tree smell. Keep an eye out for the peacock roaming about.

Let your imagination run wild and imagine planning military strategies or plotting royal intrigue.

Take a boat cruise down the Guadalquivir River

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Let the wind blow through your hair as you lay back on a boat cruise down the river. Admire the riverside restaurants and maybe pick one out for later. Listen to (or ignore) the voice over the intercom point out buildings as you pass. This is the perfect activity for a sunny afternoon with friends.

Take an evening paseo through the Plaza de Espana

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The Plaza de Espana is a great place to be at sunset. The last golden rays play off of the yellow and blue tiles in a way that makes the plaza glow. Read about each region of Spain on the specially decorated benches that line the bend. Maybe jump in a boat and lazily row under the grand bridges. Watch as the day turns to night and the lights around the plaza turn on.

Hang around Las Setas

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Metropol Parasol, locally know as Las Setas, or the mushrooms, has a market in the mornings and restaurants for the evening. Enjoy a sangria as you watch the shoppers and pedestrians flow by. You can even go up onto las setas for a view of the city from above.

Wander through roman ruins at Italica

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Just outside of Seville (easily accessible by bus), you will find the Roman ruins of Italica. Founded about 200 B.C., this was the hometown of two of Rome’s most famous emperors: Trajan and Hadrian. It also holds the best-preserved amphitheater- also one of the empire’s largest. Unfortunately, there is little historical information available to describe the ruins as you walk through, and absolutely none in English. Also, if you go in the heat of summer, remember to bring water as there is very little cover. But if you enjoy walking through ruins and imagining what the longest lasting empire looked like 2,200 years ago, Italica is the attraction for you.

Tapas

Tapas offer the perfect way to make a meal last for hours. A group of friends laughing around a table can order one small dish at a time. Foods favored in Sevilla are paella, jamon serrano, salmorejo, and of course, anything with jamon (ham). Also enjoy some sangria or wine. They have beer but a restaurant usually only keeps one on tap, a light lager.

Cafe Con Leche

No need to wait until you’re hungry to stop at a cafe. Cafe con leche (or coffee with milk) is served everywhere, all day, every day. Enjoy one at breakfast, recharge in the afternoon, or take one after dinner.

La Giralda

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If you can manage the effort, climb the bell tower, or La Giralda, for a spectacular view of the city. Reward yourself after all of those stairs with some gellato or a nutella crepe and more people watching.

Of course, you could fill your day running from church to museum and back to another church. You can always find a way to be busy no matter where you are in the world but in order to truly experience Sevilla, you’ve got to sit back and relax.

City Spotlight: Amsterdam

Amsterdam is by far my favorite city in the world. People always ask me why and I can’t help but think, where do I start? It won’t be everyone’s favorite but I know Amsterdam fits me like a glove. So here’s the need to know information on this canal town in my first City Spotlight.

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Location: The heart of the Netherlands, Amsterdam sits off the North Sea in Western Europe. Centrally located, it has been a hub of commerce for hundreds of years.

Recommended length of stay: If you are pressed for time, I would say minimum 2-3 nights. However, this is a great city to get an apartment for a couple weeks and really soak in the laid back culture.

Travel Speed/Style: Slower is better. It is a very young city, but it draws in people of all ages. Solo travelers, families, and couples will all find it perfect for their style. Also, it is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world, especially during the annual Gay Pride Festival.

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Currency: Euro

Language: Dutch, English- if you are concerned about language barriers, this is a great starter city to get your feet wet, nearly everyone speaks English.

Culture: I would say mellow but it is also known for its young party scene. Famous for its relaxed stance on weed and prostitution, it is one of the most notoriously liberal cultures.

Seasons: Peak Season is June-September, Shoulder Season is March-May, and Off-Season is October-March. If you go in peak season expect long lines for Amsterdam’s many popular museums.

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Festivals and Holidays: National Tulip Day- January 17th. Kings’s Day (previously Queen’s Day)- April 27th every year. Gay Pride- July 25th-August 2nd for 2015. Liberation Day May- 5th for 2015 (only occurs every 5 years).

Cost of Living: high. Average .5 liter beer: €5, converse I had to buy: €60, average inexpensive restaurant meal:  €15

Average Accommodation types/prices: Hostels: $20-30/night, Low Budget Hotel: $75-150/night, Nice Hotel: $300+/night

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Modes of Transportation: walking, bicycles for rent, and tram are best for the central area. This is a terrible city for a car.

Top Attractions: Anne Frank House, Rijks Museum, Van Gogh Museum, Vondelpark, the large I Amsterdam and walking/boating the Jordaan

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Things you can skip: Don’t drop any serious cash on a tour when there are tons of free walking tours! Sandeman’s Europe Tours is by far the best.

Tips and Tricks: Amsterdam is best experienced out and about. Walking tours, biking, boating the canal, and meandering are all perfect ways to experience the city.

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Peak Tulip Season is mid-April

Recommended hostels/bars: The Flying Pig is a famously awesome hostel. I’ve never stayed there (you need to reserve pretty far in advance) but I’ve heard great things. I’ve also heard the bar gets pretty rowdy.

Myths Dispelled: Weed is not legal! The police look the other way as long as the “cafes” are being discreet. So don’t light up right in front of a police station! Also, prostitution isn’t technically legal either.

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I absolutely love Amsterdam.  I hope to live there someday. What are your thoughts on Amsterdam? Overrated or is the hype warranted?

In Pictures: Beautiful Andalucia

Though I went in cloudy February, Andalucia is a beautiful region to visit. I spent time in Sevilla, Granada, and Cordoba. If you like beautiful architecture, a country-wide nap-time, and sangria served all day, Andalucia is the place for you.

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The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Take a stroll through the massive Alhambra complex in Granada. There are gardens, palaces, and amazing views to enjoy.

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Plaza de Espana, Sevilla, Spain

Take a paseo through the Plaza de Espana in Sevilla. Some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here. The plaza is also beautiful lit up at night.

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Plaza de Bib-Rambla, Granada, Spain

I finally got a bit of blue sky as I took a walk through Old Town Granada. Pro-tip: any time is a good time for a cafe con leche in Southern Spain.

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Andalucia, Spain

Orange trees are a dominant characteristic of Andalucia. Not to eat, though. Seriously, don’t try to eat them, they’re very bitter. If you happen to visit while the oranges are being harvested or falling off, like I did, the city pleasantly smells of citrus.

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Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain

Half of Andalucia’s grandeur stems from its Islamic influence. The Moors lived in the area for hundreds of years and Islamic scholars brought math, science, architecture, and different cultures to the region.

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Cordoba, Spain

The Romans always seem to leave a lasting mark. Above is an old Roman wall that runs through Cordoba.

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Granada, Spain

An overlook of Granada from the Alhambra. You can see the Cathedral standing tall above the rest.

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Sevilla, Spain

Any city you visit in Spain is bound to have a grande Cathedral looming above you. The Cathedral in Sevilla is the third-largest church in Europe and the largest Gothic church anywhere. Christopher Columbus is also entombed here.

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Sevilla, Spain

This gorgeous facade can be found in the gardens of the Alcazar in Sevilla. These gardens were also used as a filming location in Game of Thrones.

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Granada, Spain

Andalucia has a lot to offer: good food, beautiful architecture, and easy living. Bonus: it’s also pretty cheap. I’d recommend Andalucia to anyone… but maybe plan your trip for a sunnier time of year.