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Avec Amour : February 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

5 Interesting Things About Tamarindo, Costa Rica

I know I keep going on and on about Costa Rica, but we really loved it. It was such a quick and easy flight (we flew on Southwest but many airlines fly there) and you felt like you were worlds away - I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a tropical getaway!

1. You Can Use US Currency
You can pay in Colon, the local currency, or US dollars, and occasionally by credit card ;) If paying with USD, they will calculate based on the most current accepted exchange rate. What's funny is they might give you change back in Colon (which I think is kind of fun). I remember living in London and people asking if we accepted Euro at the store I worked at, when England uses the GB Pound. I thought it was hilarious that they would even ask! I guess this is proof it happens some places... but good luck finding a US store that will take Costa Rican Colon ;)

It's smart to bring cash and assume you'll use it - because everyone will accept it. Credit cards were excepted a lot of places, but not everywhere like we're used to in the US.

Side note - 5 & 10 Colon coins are made out of aluminum. I could literally bend them with my fingers, which is crazy! But when you think about it, 5 colones is almost worth 1 penny.... but not quite. I actually think they're on to something since our pennies cost us more to make than they are worth! But seeing bent coins made me laugh.

2. Everything (Local) is Very Affordable
When we visited in November, the exchange rate was a little less than 500Colon =$0.90 US. To make it easier, we just rounded up to $1 = 500c so we could do fast math. We went to dinner at Bamboo Sushi Club, and Matt ordered the Tuna Steak Special. I realized after he ordered, we never asked about the price! We joked about how it was going to be $50 or something crazy, but assumed it would be around $25, which isn't the end of the world. When the dish made it to the table, the tuna steak was HUGE. Easily 12oz. When the bill came, we had to laugh - the tuna meal was just under 7000Colon, or around $12 US. Insanity! Can you imagine getting a fresh, perfect tun a steak for that price at any restaurant in the US?

On the flip side, some items at the grocery store were very expensive - anything imported has a high premium price. Luckily, all of the local, seasonal food is what makes Costa Rica such a delicious place, so stick to those!

3. It's Developed - But Also Undeveloped
The water is safe to drink. The food is safe to eat. It's a safe place to walk around at night. Everywhere has running water and free wifi and all the comforts you're used to! But then you look, and many of the roads are unpaved and there are no sidewalks or actual traffic rules. I liked this about Costa Rica, because it felt like a real place - but I also could drink water from the tap without worrying :)

we were walking on the "sidewalk" 

this is the center of town, and has a large section of paved road - but it drops of if you notice the huge mud puddles
4. It's Wild!
We saw so many different types of birds, monkeys, sea snakes (don't worry, they were dead), tons of huge iguanas, crabs, and other kinds of animals! The jungle comes right up to the ocean, so it's really a unique little eco system. The only animal I hoped to see but didn't was a sloth... but maybe next time. What's cool is that we didn't do any type of tour or excursion, these were just animals we saw around town. So fun!
not the best photo, but this little bird was so pretty!
5. It's Casual
And I mean casual. It's the epitome of laid back surfer culture. Very no shoes, no shirt, no problem, attitude. Leave the heels at home, ladies, you won't be able to use them here (and you wouldn't want to since the roads are muddy and rocky and unpaved!) Even at the nicest restaurants, people were wearing cut off jean shorts and t shirts or tank tops. More about packing for Costa Rica here.

Matt "dressed up" for dinner ;) 
As you can see from the number of posts, we really loved Costa Rica. I think it was the perfect combination of tropical, comfortable, easy to get to, and easy to be there. It would be easy with kids, everything is very family friendly!

Pura Vida!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Visit Canada's National Parks for FREE in 2017!


I don't know why I'm so obsessed with getting to Canada these days... it just seems like such a untouched treasure trove. Every picture I see is different from the last one. There are gorgeous snow capped mountains, crystal blue water, tons of wildlife, and millions and millions of miles of terrain. Canada is a little larger than the US, but with so many hidden gems. They have about 10% of the population we have down here, leaving lots of room for beautiful landscapes :)

When I read about the FREE Discovery Pass, I knew I had to sign up, even though we don't officially have any trips planned up north.

This pass gives you free access to any of the Canadian National Parks for all of 2017! If you are a border state, I'd say it's a no brainer for you. If you've even considered planning a trip to Canada in the near future, you should sign up, too! And even if you aren't sure - you have nothing to lose. Just sign up and then you can see all THIS for FREE!

Banff National Park via

Jasper National Park via

The Bruce Peninsula National Park via

They're offering the free pass as a part of their 150th Anniversary of becoming a country. I signed up for my free pass about a month ago, and it just came in the mail today.

I've wanted to visit Banff National Park and Lake Louise for years -  it just looks so incredibly beautiful. So maybe this is my excuse ;)

Get your free 2017 Discovery Pass here!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where We Ate: Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Costa Rica was filled with SO much delicious food. Do you like fresh fish? Local fruits? Freshly baked bread? It's all there. Fresh is absolutely the name of the game when it comes to food in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

We ate out each day for breakfast and dinner, but made sandwiches and salads at the condo since we were primarily focused on spending time at the beach. Here are some of the places we ate during our week long stay in paradise. 

Cala Moresca (dinner)
We went here for dinner our first night, and to watch the sunset most nights. The bar is really beautiful, and the food was good. You can eat dinner out by the pool. 

Langosta Beach Club (dinner)
This was the "fancy" dinner we went to for Matt's birthday. At another hotel (like Cala Moresca) and out by the pool. There was live music, which was so enjoyable! 

La Princesa Cafe (breakfast or lunch)
A favorite of our trip. All of the bread is baked fresh, and they make delicious breakfast sandwiches and avocado toast. We even bought a fresh loaf of bread to take back to the condo for lunches and I'm so glad we did, because it was so tasty!

Fruit Stand on the side of the road (mornings)
Shocking, there's no website or trip advisor page for this - but trust me when I tell you - if you see a fruit stand selling fresh juice and coconuts, STOP and buy one! So fresh and delicious!

Longboards (lunch, dinner, or drinks)
We stopped here for a beer one night before dinner. Very casual, sports bar-esque. Definitely pop in here if you're looking to watch American sports!

Bamboo Sushi Club (lunch or dinner)
Some of the best sushi I've ever had! The fish they served was incredibly fresh, and the prices were amazing. Matt ordered the Tuna Steak special, which came with 2 large sides, and it was $12 USD. $12!!!!!! Definitely stop here if you like sushi or asian fusion.
NORDICO (breakfast or lunch)
Our favorite place in Tamarindo! They are open for breakfast and lunch, and we ate here 5 mornings for breakfast. We got coffee here every day that they were open (they're closed on Sunday). I can't stress how delicious their Acai bowl is, especially with the 90*, humid days! And their iced coffee cannot be beat. We brought 2 bags of coffee home, and my only regret is not buying more. Their other food is also delicious, healthy, and fresh. 

The Shrimp Hole (lunch or dinner)
I loved the Shrimp Hole! It's literally a hut on the side of the road... but the size of this restaurant should not be counted against it, because the flavors were BIG! One of my favorite dinners.

Santa Rita Cafe (breakfast or lunch)
This restaurant was recommended to us for breakfast, and it was very tasty! I personally prefer Nordico for coffee, but their food was absolutely delicious. 

The Falafel Bar (lunch or dinner)
We love falafel, so the Falafel Bar was an easy choice for us! All of the sauces were home made and everything was delicious. 

Places I forgot to take pictures:
Dragonfly Bar & Grill (dinner or drinks)
Dragonfly had amazing, fresh seafood & AWESOME cocktails. One of my favorite drinks in town.

El Sapo Pizza  (lunch, dinner, drinks)
We actually ate at El Sapo twice because it was the closest casual restaurant to our condo (we were staying in Playa Langosta, which is about a 15 min. walk/3 min. drive from "downtown" Tamarindo). BUT the pizza was great. They have a ton of different combos and a lot of veggie options, which was great for me! 

You'll notice I use the words homemade, delicious, and fresh over and over -- because that perfectly describes food in Tamarindo! Every piece of bread we ate was homemade. All the fish and fruit were seasonal and local. My favorite way to eat!

There's no shortage of good food in Tamarindo! Enjoy eating your way around town.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

This Week in Travel: Vol. 47

my succulents plots planted at the end of my sidewalk (they come back every spring like magic!)
Has Spring sprung for you? We have had an unseasonably warm winter (I'm not complaining!) and all of the trees are starting to bloom - in February - which is so early! I spent the weekend doing some much needed yard work and hanging out with friends. Last week was so much fun - we had plans every night Monday-Saturday, and it felt like a week long Valentine's Day spent with so many fun friends! Not to mention lots of delicious food. We chilled hard last night and it was awesome. 

Next week I'm going on a work trip - my first trip since Thanksgiving! A record, 3 whole months since I've been on a plane. I'll get to test out my new neck pillow & eye mask, and I'm pumped! We are heading to Grand Rapids, MI. It's a quick trip (only 2 nights) but I'd love any dinner recommendations. We are staying on the north side of Downtown Grand Rapids.

Since we are self employed, there's no such thing as President's Day off for us, so if you are enjoying a day off, I'm jealous! Hope you're doing something awesome. 


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Amsterdam Recommendations - Send Me Your Tips!

We are heading to Amsterdam in May! Neither of us have ever been before. We have been to a lot of canal cities (Venice, Copenhagen, Bruges), so it only seemed appropriate we hit up Amsterdam next. Plus, it looks so pretty & the flights were crazy cheap (less than $400 per person round trip out of Nashville!)

photo via
Besides renting bikes, exploring the canals, and visiting Anne Frank Museum, what should we do? Amsterdam is super famous for the red light district elements, but I know there has to be more to this city than that!

I've also heard a lot about the TULIPS and I believe they will be in bloom during that time (but I could definitely be wrong)! Are they easy to enjoy from the city? Is it a day trip out? Will we have missed them if we are there in mid-May? Could I possibly ask more questions about flowers? :) I would love all of your recommendations! 

photo via
We will most likely be staying in an Airbnb, so I'd love to know what areas of town are best to stay in. We love good coffee, walkability (or bike ability I guess), live music, and any vegetarian options. I recently read about this avocado themed restaurant and hope it's open by the time we get there!

photo via
We'll only be visiting for about 3 full days, and a little extra time on our travel days, but this will be a quick visit so we're looking to maximize our time. 

Also, what's a girl to pack? Is the weather nice in May?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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Monday, February 6, 2017

This Week in Travel: Vol. 46

  • Yikes! No cell phones on planes, please. 
  • 25 Travel Hacks to save you money this year.
  • A 200 year history of hotels & how they have changed (I thought this was so interesting!)
  • Guess where they found over $400k worth of smuggled drugs on an airplane?
  • Unfortunately, these are all myths. 5 common misconceptions about air travel rights.
  • This Mexican beach looks amazing!
  • A hilarious in-flight item for toddlers. Worth a shot, I think!
  • Cruises and the younger generation.
  • A change to American Airlines planes, but chances are you won't really notice. 
  • Peanut allergy vs. airlines. I once sat next to a man who had such a sever allergy, they did not serve nuts on the flight because the dust may throw him into anaphylactic shock! I made him show me where he kept his EpiPen... just incase! (it ended up being fine)

Since it came in the mail about 2 weeks ago, I've been listening to La La Land on Vinyl constantly. Well, I was listening to it on vinyl - until we started the construction on our living room. Construction on that room means losing access to not only the living room, but the den (where the record player, tv, couch and most of my plants are) plus, the front door. So for now, we're walking around the house :) BUT I'm very excited about the new lighting & paint colors we're doing. I've wanted to do this update for about 3 years - so it's been a long time coming! As with most home updates, we're doing everything ourselves, so it will be a slower process than if we had a contractor, since we have full time jobs & other activities going on. Oh, and when I say "we", know that means Matt is doing 98% of the work and I'll be helping with some trim painting when the time comes :) 

Anyway - back to La La Land. Did you see the movie? Did you love it? I also loved the Golden Globes opening number inspired by the movie. I'm looking forward to our friend's annual Oscar party to see how many little gold statues they take home. I should also note, the silver lining of buying the vinyl was that it came with a free digital download. so my record player being confined isn't keeping me from this soundtrack!

Anyway, I hope everyone had a wonderful week! Cheers to a great one!

From last week:
All About Global Entry
Costa Rica Packing List


Thursday, February 2, 2017

All About Global Entry: The Application, the Interview, the Approval

We recently were approved for Global Entry, so I thought I'd do a little info post & FAQ on what the heck that means, and who should get it!

What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.

We have 3 international trips coming up this year, and the idea of a breezy customs experience is one I covet. While it's not available at all airports, it will always expedite our re-entry to the US. After a 3 hour customs experience at LAX last year, I think I'd pay 5x the fee to have customs expedited.

How Long Does It Last?
5 long, wonderful years

How Much Does it Cost?
$100 total for the application. Yes, that's for the whole 5 years.

What Do You Get?
Expedited customs experience at select airports (but at all US airports that accept international flights) PLUS a bonus of TSA Pre-Check at all participating airports (no matter if you're flying domestic or international). TSA Pre-Check ALONE is $89, so Global Entry is the steal of the century.

Should I Get It?
If you go out of the country even once a year, I believe this is worth it. If you fly often, the fact that you get TSA Pre-Check included, and have Global Entry there when you need it, seems worth it to me too.

First Step: Pre-Application Checklist
  1. You must have a valid passport
  2. Make sure you're eligible (you must have a passport from a participating country)
How to Apply For Global Entry
  1. Create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account. Regardless of your age, you must have your own GOES account.
  2. Log in to your GOES account and complete the application. A $100 non-refundable fee is required with each completed application.
  3. After accepting your completed application and fee, CBP will review your application. If your application is conditionally approved, then your GOES account will instruct you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Each applicant must schedule a separate interview.
  4. You will need to bring your valid passport(s) and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or ID card to the interview. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must present your permanent resident card.

All in all, the application took me about 20 minutes. They will ask you a lot of questions about the last 5 years - where you worked, where you lived, countries you've visited - so be prepared to remember which apartment you were living in in 2013. Once completed, we were pre-approved in about 3 days and booked our interviews. Matt and I booked back to back interviews at 2:45pm & 3pm in Memphis (more on that in a minute). After reading online reviews, I also brought other forms that linked my name to my address (above and beyond my license & passport)- W9's, pay stubs, etc. We did not need these, but it never hurts to have a back up!

The interview was easy - they asked me if I'd ever been arrested, they asked me what we did in Costa Rica - very conversational and was over in about 3 minutes. Then, they take your fingerprints & tell you an email will come in 24 hours or less. Ours arrived in our inboxes before we got to the car 5 minutes later. We quite literally could have taken a flight at 4pm and had all the benefits of Global Entry.

The experience could not have been more simple. 


Apply in Advance
While our process was a swift one (less than 2 weeks), sometimes it can take longer. The online pre-approval is typically less than a 1 week turn around, however - getting an in-person interview is what can take so long. We checked Nashville for interviews (keep in mind, this was 2 weeks ago, around January 15) and there weren't any available until JUNE. Nearly 6 months away. With a trip in March and one in May, this felt hopeless and I was so bummed we hadn't taken care of this sooner! 

It Might Be Worth the Drive
We checked surrounding cities - Louisville, Atlanta, and Memphis - and while the first two were also booked out, Memphis had appointments literally the next DAY. We booked our appointments for the following Saturday (about 10 days in advance) so we could go over the weekend, but if we had the time, we could have driven there the next morning. 

Be Honest On Your Application
There's no need to lie - if you lie, they will most likely catch you. If you're truthful, it may not even be an issue. Also, if you've had any legal issues in the past, bring any documentation that might clear it up. There's no hard and fast guideline to what is/isn't acceptable in this program, but I'm guessing shoplifiting when you were 16 probably won't stop you from getting Global Entry. Just be prepared with paperwork. 

I am SO EXCITED that we have Global Entry now - I have a few friends with it and they can't say enough about it! Do you already have Global Entry? Do you think you'll apply?

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