Get out if You Can! and other favorite Quepos restaurants

I had an office in Quepos / Manuel Antonio for almost two years.  I would visit at least once a month, usually for a week or so.  Sometimes with my missus, often without.  I ate everywhere.  The worst meal I ever had was at the “Mexican” restaurant downtown.  The most reasonable was excellent ceviche at the bus station / market for under three bucks.  This posting is devoted to three of my favorite restaurants, and the ones that I visit again and again. 

Michael&MarcelaSalsiOne of the most fun nights you can have here, is a visit to “Salsipuedes.”  This loosely translates as “get out if you can”.  I have to admit that there have been times when we were having so much fun that it was hard to get out!  

The people responsible for all these good times are the young couple who own and run the place.  Mike is Costa Rican, and from this area.  His dad had a commercial fishing concession in the area, and Mike grew up around fish.  This has served him well in his career as a restaurant owner.  His girlfriend and partner is a lovely Argentine gal named Marsala.  This is a happy and fun couple.  Their personalities and positive attitudes only adds to the welcoming atmosphere.  Their English is perfect (Mike went to school in the US), and they are hands on owners.  Mike runs the bar, and makes sure that everyone has a good time and meets the other patrons.  Marsala runs the dining room, and is usually the first person to greet you when you enter. 

The setting is unusual.  The building was Mike’s childhood home, and it commands a great view of the ocean sunsets.  To take full advantage of this fabulous view, Mike removed the entire front wall of the house.  The end result is a basically a huge covered deck.  This is the perfect setting to enjoy their “tapas”, or what we have been calling “small plates” in the US.  This place is a great value.  Nothing is over about three or four dollars, and three plates can usually more than satisfy a hungry adult. 

They make some terrific ceviche, and the tuna can’t be beat.  I usually over order, and get first four items on the menu.  These are the ceviche, the tuna sashimi with wasabi and ginger, the seared tuna, and the spicy tuna picante.  Can you tell I like tuna? 

Much more upscale and romantic is the restaurant at Hotel Makanda by the Sea, The Sunspot Grill.  This is where I go with my wife for a special meal.  It is a little pricey by local standards, but a very good value for tourists seeking great food in a beautiful setting.  The dining area is composed of colorful “tents” scattered around one end of the infinity pool.  These are actually metal forms stretched with brightly colored fabric.  

On a recent visit I feasted on a perfectly grilled tuna steak that was literally two inches thick.  It was complimented with prosciutto wrapped asparagus and a very interesting fresh salad.  Most items here are done on the grill.  Since we are on the coast, the menu is dominated by fresh seafood.  You will find fresh fish, lobster, huge shrimp, and of course my favorite, tuna!  There is also a respectable wine list, featuring a variety of Chiliean and Argentine wines that are popular in Costa Rica.  All is served up by a happy, professional staff.

Another favorite casual restaurant is at Hotel Plinio.  This is an old standard, and I have been coming here since my first visit to Costa Rica twenty years ago.  The original owner was a Tico.  This was before the big tourism boom.  This area was a little plantation backwater, and had a little bit of a wild west atmosphere.  The story goes that Plinio did not like tourists very much, and kept a gun behind the bar.  He would shoot it into the air when obvious tourists pulled up.  It usually did the trick.  He sold the bar and hotel to new owners, well before I ever even dreamed of visiting Costa Rica.

Hotel Plinio is much more welcoming now.  Like so many restaurants here, it is open air.  There is a very friendly bar with five or six seats.  There really isn’t much of a view.  So the owners have planted huge elephant ears, that reach all the way up to the second floor.  So the setting here is kind of like eating in a tree house.  They offer the most varied menu in the area.  Steaks, pasta, seafood, pizza, even Vietnamese dipping rolls!  The previous owner was German, as are the current ones.  So the kitchen staff can even turn out some pretty delicious German specialties.  All of the dishes are well prepared, and the prices are very reasonable.  They bake their own bread too. 

Because of the varied menu, I often recommend Plinio to families.  The kids can get a pizza fix, and mom and dad can get some more interesting food.  That is not saying that the pizza isn’t good, because it is!  There is something here for everyone, and I can honestly say that I have never been served a bad meal. 

I first visited Costa Rica almost two decades ago.  The food choices then seemed to be beans and rice with chicken, rice and beans with beef, or beans and rice with fish.  But the restaurant community has matured to the point, that even the most dedicated foodie will find something to love.  You will certainly find this to be true in the Quepos / Manuel Antonio area.  Buen Provecho!

Monteverde restaurants

On a recent visit to Monteverde, we spent our last evening in Monteverde at Johnny’s Pizza.  This is one of our favorite spots, though the name is a little misleading. Sure, I have had some good pizzas there, and my wife tells me that they have the best vegetarian pizza that she has ever eaten. But they make some other very interesting dishes as well.

For starters, we shared a huge stuffed tomato with red sauce for an appetizer. I know that doesn’t sound that interesting, but you will just have to trust me on this. They also do a baked mushroom au gratin appetizer that is really good too. My favorite entree is the baked penne pasta. They have a wood fired oven. The pasta and sauce is baked in a metal bowl, the top is smothered with cheese that melts into the dish. It is already good, but the secret here is that if you ask, they will let you add some pizza ingredients. So I usually add fresh tomatoes, olives, some kind of meat, etc. Beats the heck out of rice and beans! 

We also found something totally unexpected for this area. There is a new restaurant in downtown Santa Elena, the small town that is the home to most of the local businesses in the Monteverde area.  “Trio” shares the same building with the supermarket. You have to look a little to find it. It is at the end of the parking lot, and not where you would expect an upscale restaurant to be. It was my wife’s birthday, and Susanna (the owner of Arco Iris Lodge) had made a passing reference to a delicious passion fruit mojito. It intrigued us, so we thought we would check it out. 

We walked in and were a little confused. This place looked like something you would find in a modern European city. Very urban and hip. Gray walls and lots of metal or black accents. There were free form lamps, and hardwood floors. The wait staff was wearing the obligatory black, and fusion jazz played softly. Not at all what I thought I would find in our little Quaker / Tico / farm town! 

But we figured we would take a shot. After all, there were passion fruit mojitos and we were not going to be denied! The food was actually very good, and they had some interesting twists on the usual fare. One was hamburgers with figs and sun dried tomatoes and some interesting toppings that escape me now. I love ceviche, and theirs was made with the usual sea bass, peppers, lime juice, and so on. But they included coconut milk, and some other surprises that really made it sing. They also offered a “tower” of tomato, avocado, and palmito. Everything was well presented. The prices were high by Costa Rica standards, but much cheaper than you would pay for similar fare in a similar setting in the US. 

While the appearance of this place was much hipper than I will ever be, in the end it was still a little slice of Costa Rica. Ticos and Ticas can’t hide behind a facade of sophistication for long. They will never be disinterested urbanites, no matter how trendy the setting. When the waitress heard that it was my bride’s birthday, she was excited and as sweet as could be. After dinner, she surprised us with a dessert and candles. The bartender was friendly and accommodating. He remembered us, and we were warmly welcomed when we stopped by a couple of days later for lunch. And yes, the mojitos were excellent!

“Over the top” in Arenal

Costa Rica is known as the land of the reasonably priced boutique hotel.  But sometimes, it is fun to splurge at a top resort, too. “Over the top”, is exactly how I would describe the new “The Springs Resort and Spa” at Arenal. We did not stay here, but we were invited to use the springs one evening. We went back the next day to tour the grounds and see the suites. 

springsThis property is owned and was developed by Lee and Cindy Banks, the owners and creators of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge. I first met Lee about ten years ago at the yearly tourism convention. He owned the land that was to become La Paz, and had just installed the first paths and walkways. Here was this young guy in probably the worst location in the exhibition hall. But you could tell he was a very dynamic person, very bright, and full of energy. The videos he had of the waterfalls were very impressive, and you could see that he was on to something. Over the years, we have all seen what La Paz has become. 

Was it possible to improve on La Paz? I would not have thought so. But this is an amazing development. My first impression of the place was that a whole teak forest died to construct the main building. It IS beautiful. I didn’t say anything, but I was a little sad. I perked up when it was pointed out to me that the wood was not teak at all. It was laurel, a local renewable wood. It was just stained to a teak color. The huge planks that supported the stairs, roof, etc. were not wood at all. It was the expertly painted concrete and fiberglass. The color and grain were a perfect match. Seamless. I know that it sounds Disneyish, but they did a great job of it. At least it is sustainable, and keeps the natural feel to the place. 

They were in a “soft opening”. Many of the amenities were still under construction. Men and women currently share the same spa. But eventually one whole floor (14,000 square feet) of the main building will be dedicated to the health club and separate men and women’s spas. There will be a casino too. Not my favorite activity, but there is a market for that kind of thing. There is a formal restaurant, and a more casual one. 

But the Springs were amazing. Twelve pools in all, with more on the way. Yes, this place is open to the public for day trips. But I don’t see it becoming as crowded as the other springs in the area. The pools are split between some modern ones of different temperatures, including one with a swim up bar. There are several more natural appearing pools with waterfalls, in the woods. These were our favorites. 

springsresort3There are several different room classes. From beautiful standard doubles, to full blown villas. All high end, and very well done. This is not a cheap option by any means. Rates start at $375.00 per night in high season, and go all the way up to $1400.00 for two attached villas. 

The admission for a day package at the springs is $40.00 per person. Meals and beverages are extra.  

They are also opening a wild cat exhibit soon, and this will be included in the day package.  There was a shelter that was being closed near San Jose.  These were animals that for one reason or another could not be released in the wild.   There was a fear that the animals were going to be destroyed.  The owners here stepped in, and are putting the finishing touches on an exhibit of these beautiful creatures. 

In short, I think that the day package is definitely worth it. The rooms are worth the price, but not in everyone’s budget. Like the Peace Lodge, these will be great for honeymooners or just as a splurge. But even at this price point, I think they are a good value.

Finally finding my way to Santa Teresa

Although I have been to Montezuma several times, I had never made the short trip up the road to the Mal Pais / Santa Teresa area. Shame on me, because there has been a buzz going on about Mal Pais for a while. I was late getting here.

The beach was unbelievable. It just went on forever. We love to take long walks on the beach at sunset (sorry if this sounds like a personal ad!). This was perfect for that. The surfers love this beach, though you have to be aware where the big rocks are. Swimmers have to mind the current as well. But it is also a great place to just hang out with an adult beverage.

During my recent visit to the Mal Pais / Santa Teresa area I made several hotel inspections.  We stayed at Hotel Tropico Latino, and I profile this hotel in my post “Italian Sophistication on a Costa Rica Beach”.    The following is a quick review of some of the other hotels we toured.

The first place I wanted to see, was The Moana Lodge in Mal Pais.  It has always gotten pretty favorable reviews, and this was before they built the new Suites and Jr. Suites. I have a feeling that the reviews are going to get even better. 

These accommodations are the newest part of the hotel. They had only been open for a week when I did the inspection. The only negative I can give is that there are so many steps. I mean lots and lots of steps. But they do carry your luggage.  I promise that once you are up in the rooms, you forget about the climb. The views are magnificent, and the whole front of the Suites and Jr. Suites is plate glass. There is a balcony if you feel the need to sit outside, but you can see the ocean just fine from the living room or bedroom. There are teak floors throughout. The bathroom in the Suite features two sinks, bidet, and a two person jacuzzi tub. It’s perfect for honeymooners. 

moanalodgeThe almost 1000 square foot Suite goes for under $300 per night in high season, including tax. This is really a great value for a suite at this level. I know I am going to be sending some honeymooners, for sure. The new Jr. Suites are $225.00 per night at high season, also including tax. They are smaller than the big Suite, and the bathroom is not as over the top. But again, they are extremely well appointed and not a lot of money for an accommodation at this level. 

All of the rooms at the Moana Lodge are done in an African theme. The older existing rooms have also been redone to reflect the theme. While they are not as spectacular as the suites, they are attractive and a good value. The only other small negative to mention here is that the hotel is located across the street from the beach and up a bit of a hill. So you have to walk a little back and forth from the beach. Between the steps and this walk, I don’t think I am sending anyone elderly or with mobility problems. But for the young and fit looking for a romantic spot, this is a great choice. I can’t wait to return to Mal Pais, and actually stay here. 

Even more over the top was Flor Blanca. But with high season rates that start at $475 per night, and climb to over $850 I guess you expect to be amazed. I know I was. Each of the deluxe secluded individual villas feature tastefully decorated huge open air living rooms, complete with hammocks. The garden bath is also open air. But the bedrooms are air conditioned for comfort. Very private. If you have the budget, this is the perfect romantic spot. I glanced at the restaurant menu and the spa. Both appeared to be first rate. 

There are a couple places that I missed, and would have liked to inspect. Most notable was Hotel Casa Marbella. I have heard very good reviews about this hotel, but I just ran out of time. 

The former owner of the Flor Blanca is also constructing a new hotel up the road on the beach. I knew these folks before Flor Blanca, when they operated a hotel in the Tamarindo area. We sent them guests on a regular basis, and once used them for a lovely destination wedding. This new project will be their third hotel, and the last two were very interesting. So I am eager to see what they have come up with. There was no one at the construction site but some local workers. So I didn’t get the tour. It was hard to see what was going on, but I know there will be some open air showers. I guess I will have to go back!

Taking a group to Amsterdam


I love Costa Rica.  I love to travel there, and it is my business.  But my wife and I are now “empty nesters”, and are finally getting the chance to travel to some other destinations.   I thought it would be fun to share some of our experiences to other places. 

Every year, I arrange a large group trip to somewhere fun for the gang in my Mardi Gras krewe. The groups have at times exceeded 40 people, but most of the time we have 12 to 20 people. Since we now had a little experience in Amsterdam, we thought that this would be a fun place to take the gang.  On this trip, eighteen of us traveled to Europe. 

We worked it out so that most of the group would spend a full week in Amsterdam. Everyone then went in different directions. Some went to Paris, others to Rome, and some to Germany. We went to Prague after Amsterdam with three other couples. My Prague experiences are detailed elsewhere in this blog. 

We flew overnight from the US.  We arrived at the Amsterdam airport at 7:00 AM.  We then took the local train to the Central Station in downtown Amsterdam. This was pretty easy, except that it seems that the ticket vending machines were experiencing problems with credit cards. We learned later that this was indeed the case. But at the time, we figured it was just “operator trouble” brought on by jet lag. We finally were able to get some euro change and purchased our tickets. After a short train ride we arrived at the Central Station. From there we walked the short distance to our group’s lodging, “Amsterdam Escape”. 

We had stayed in Amsterdam Escape ( the previous year, and had a very positive experience. This year was no different. We rented the “Chillout”, “Nest”, “Home” and “Suite”. The apartments are a little pricey, but this is such a great way to go. Especially with a group. The apartments are fully furnished, and include computers with Internet access, stereos, full kitchens, cable, DVD players with movies, game system, etc. Two of the units even had full laundry facilities. Everyone quickly made themselves at home. These apartments are located in the Nieumarkt area, right next to the red light district. This was a group that likes to have a good time, and the close proximity to bars and restaurants was just the ticket for them. 

This is a fun group, and we had some good house parties. We would also meet at different apartments in the mornings for coffee to compare experiences, and to plan our days. Our first night, we had an amazing throw down dinner at Restaurant Gusto ( This is right next door to the Chillout. We have eaten here on previous visits, and highly recommend it. The house specialty is pasta, that is finished by placing it into a huge hollowed out parmesan cheese wheel. The hot pasta melts the cheese, and it is all scraped together on the plate. They have lots of delicious Italian specialties and appetizers. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore, and washed it down with copious amounts of red wine. It didn’t really cure our jet lag, but it sure was fun! 

Within a day or two, the members of our group started to do their own thing. My wife and I spent a day in Haarlem, only a 15 minute train ride away. We had visited Haarlem last year, and had been unable to get inside the ancient church that dominates the town square and skyline. We were luckier this time. They were getting the massive 300 year old pipe organ ready for a concert, and we were lucky enough to hear the “sound check”.  Some of the pipes are 30 feet tall, and the rumbling sound was nothing short of amazing. 

Some of us also took a day trip to Zandvoort aan Zee, a beach resort. It was freezing cold and rainy in early October. But we were just there for the mussels. It cleared a little, and we had an opportunity to walk on the beach. 

We also took an afternoon to go to Zaandam. There are some authentic old windmills here, and scattered nearby there is the Dutch equivalent of a colonial Williamsburg. The little village has a pewter shop, with ongoing demonstrations, and cheese factory, a wooden shoe factory, several old buildings, and of course a gift shop. We got the chance to crawl around inside an old windmill that was grinding chalk for paint. It was fascinating to see how these actually worked.  My wife is an amateur artist, and this windmill had actually produced pigments for paint used by Rembrandt.  She was thrilled for the opportunity to buy some pigments here.  I am waiting for her masterpiece! 

Our own apartment at the Amsterdam Escape actually fell through. The apartments are scattered over several buildings, and our building failed the annual fire inspection. So we were forced to scramble a little at the last minute. But it all worked out. My wife and I were able to obtain lodging at a very small B&B, called “Sunhead of 1617″ on the Herengracht ( This is only about a block from the Anne Frank house, and considered one of the better neighborhoods in Amsterdam. 

This really wasn’t a bad thing.  I love my friends like family.  But escorting any group is a little stressful.  This B&B was located about a mile from our group.  The separation was good for all.  They learned that they did not need us for every little thing, and we were able to enjoy some private time in what has become our favorite European city. 

The rooms at the Sunhead are small, but well appointed and decorated. I had to keep in touch with my office.  I had my laptop, and found the free WiFi a huge plus. Of course, the stairs are a killer. But that is typical of 400 year old houses in Holland! The B&B is owned by a gay couple.  One of the guys is Dutch, and his partner is Filipino.  We enjoyed our mornings chatting with Carlos (from the Philippines) and savoring his fabulous breakfasts. We enjoyed the other guests as well. Over the course of a week, we shared meals with Russians, French Canadians, and Brits. It was a wonderful way to start each day. 

After breakfast, we had to walk a bit to meet up with our friends.  We found that we enjoyed our morning strolls across Dam Square and through the neighborhoods to Nieumarkt.  Because this was our second visit to Amsterdam, we had done much of the major “tourist” things. So we were able to slow down and enjoy Amsterdam. We enjoyed eating in the neighborhood restaurants, and actually started to establish a relationship with the staff at a local pub.  We would stop by for a last drink every evening on our way back home. After a few nights, they would have our favorite drinks ready within a couple minutes of us hitting the door.  We had arrived! 

All in all, we always found our Dutch hosts to be friendly, and they always seemed to approach everything with a sense of humor.  They were usually very willing to have a conversation, and were happy to share history and insider tips about their city.  I can’t share all of our memories here, but suffice to say that Amsterdam is the perfect introduction to Europe.  Easy and forgiving.  We found that almost everyone we encountered spoke some English, and most were quite fluent.  Even a rookie traveler can feel comfortable here. 

We have so many places to see, and we have been to Amsterdam twice now. So I guess we will have to put it on the back burner for awhile. That is hard to do. It is a wonderful place, full of history and interesting people. I do not know when I will return. Actually by the third or fourth day, everyone in our group was musing about living there and scheming about how to make it happen. No solutions yet! 

From Amsterdam, we flew to Prague for a week.  Look for that trip report on this blog!

Our visit to Prague

Our last European adventure started in Amsterdam for a week, when I escorted a group of friends.  Our group then scattered all over Europe.  Some went to Paris.  Some went to Rome.  My wife and I flew to Prague with two other couples. My Amsterdam trip report can be found elsewhere in this blog. 

Before I start. Let me tell anyone considering a trip to Prague that your first step should be to buy Rick Steve’s book on Prague. We used it as our bible, and it never steered us wrong. 

The six of us flew from Amsterdam to Prague via SkyEurope. The tickets were extremely cheap, under $60.00 per person. We purchased them online at Their list of destinations is short, but we found the service to be quite good. It kinda felt like Southwest here in the States. Not a lot of frills, but the plane was clean, and the staff was very friendly. You do have to watch the tight luggage restrictions, though. But we were forewarned and packed accordingly.  The flight is kind of like being in the audience of the Home Shopping network.  The flight crew had everything for sale from chocolates to Swiss watches to travel gadgets.  The beverage cart rotated with the merchandise.  We got a kick out of the whole experience. 

We rented apartments through a rental agency: They came with a free transfer in. This was a very good thing, because we arrived at 11:00 PM and the airport was deserted. We do not speak Czech, and really had no idea where our apartments were from the airport. Details regarding the airport pickup were sketchy, and my emails were not responded to in the last couple of days prior to our flight. So it was a relief to see the guy at the almost empty airport holding a sign with my name on it. We piled into his nice clean Mercedes van, and it was off to our apartments. Once there, we met up with another couple who had flown in from the States earlier in the day.

I should mention our group of travelers.  My wife and I have been lucky enough to fall into a group of friends / traveling companions, that have proved to be a perfect match for us.  We have traveled with everyone on other trips.  But this was only our second trip to Europe together.  Our little group of four couples are all fast friends, and easy companions.  We all love travel, and usually are up for anything.  Traveling with a group can sometimes be problematic.  But that is not so here.  We have never had any drama.  Nothing can be better than finding the right group of travel mates.  We are working on a trip to Italy soon. 

“Old town” is the area that you always hear about in Prague. We rented four apartments in the “New town” section of Prague. This turned out to be a perfect choice. Old town is the tourist section of the city, and can be very crowded. All of the bars and restaurants in Old town cater to the tourist trade and are more expensive. 

We found better prices on food and drink in New town, and enjoyed the more local crowd. It was only a short walk to Old town when we wanted to do the tourist thing. We also found that our section of town (more below) turned out to have quite a lively weekend scene. Several of the small bars nearby had live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and there were some excellent restaurants in the neighborhood as well. New town was the site of widespread demolition of ancient buildings in the 1900’s. Sad as that sounds, they were replaced by art deco buildings. Some of these are magnificent, and every single one seems to have great statuary or bas relief, or some other kind of elaborate decoration. One of our group members loves to photograph architectural details. He had a huge camera lens, and was a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of subjects. 

Our studio apartments were all more or less the same, and cost us about $100 per night for each. Each came with a bath, full kitchen, and living room / bedroom combo. They were not luxurious, but very clean. My only real complaint was the thin threadbare towels. We only got two of them, and they were changed out twice during our week. But all in all, the apartments were very livable and were the perfect home base for our stay. Our group adapted quickly.  So it quickly developed into an almost dorm like atmosphere. Lots of popping up and down the stairs for morning cups of coffee (sometimes in bathrobes), or bedtime nightcaps after an evening out. 

These were the Opatovicka apartments, on Opatovicka Street. Very close to the National Theater ( I would stay there again. 

On our first real night, we stopped for “one beer” at a local pub. What a mistake that was!  But in a good way (I guess). We stopped at the Styl, a small bar and restaurant up the street and around the corner from our apartments. We got to know the waitress and chef working there. Delightful young people in their twenties. We quickly developed a very friendly rapport with them. We told the chef (Peppa) to just feed us, and feed us he did. We had a wonderful meal and too many drinks, including real absinthe. I won’t bore you with details of our evening here. But suffice to say that Peppa was serving flaming drinks, and occasionally would spill one to light the whole bar on fire!  He was ex Czech military, and in great shape.  As we could tell by his skill at turning cartwheels across the restaurant floor. What a night!  Our behavior was bad too, but I ain’t tellin!  Hmmm, maybe there is a reason that absinthe was once outlawed in the US!  

But our meal was awesome. We returned later in the week for another meal.  One of the members of our group was celebrating her birthday.  Peppa served some of the best duck I have ever tasted. If anyone wishes to visit the Styl, be aware that the name is not on the front of the bar. There is just a Budweiser sign. It is located on Opatovicke St., just after the street makes a bend towards the river. Free Wifi (wee-fee) here too. 

Another benefit to our location was close proximity to a major tram stop and the Tesco department store. Tesco was pretty handy. They are actually like the Walmart of the UK, and recently opened a store in Prague.  There is a grocery store in the basement, and just about anything else you need on the other three floors.  We were able to buy coffee and snacks there to stock the apartments. 

The Tesco shared a building with the tram station.  Here is a secret that I learned from Rick Steve’s excellent guidebook. There are two “tourist” trams that leave from here. They take a loop past most of the things that you wish to see in Prague. They go past the National Theater, across the Vltava River to the Little Quarter and Prague castle. You can buy a 90 minute ticket with unlimited transfers for about a buck, and just take a ride. Then make your stops at the castle, the funicular up Petrin hill to the tower, the Church of St. Nicholas, The Monument to the Victims of Communism Who Survived, etc. There are lots of reviews of these sites elsewhere, and this is getting long. So I will let you do your own research. But every single one is worth looking at. It would be hard to pick a favorite. You want to ride on tram #22 or #23. For some reason, #23 was always less crowded. 

Our only bad experience was that one member of our group was pick pocketed while taking pictures of the changing of the guard at Prague Castle. We all knew this was possible, and took precautions. But it still happened.  Be careful y’all. These guys are good. Fortunately, there was no cash in the wallet.  He had to cancel his credit cards, but his wife still had hers.  So he barely missed a beat. 

But Prague Castle and the St. Vitus cathedral were still the highlights of our trip, and not to be missed. 

We enjoyed Old town as well. Lots of little cobblestone lanes.  Easy to get lost, and impossible to navigate.  But we had fun trying.  This is where you find the famous Astronomical Clock, interesting shops, and fun restaurants. But this is the priciest place in the city to eat or drink. After a morning on our own, Melissa and I met up with our group to watch the clock perform. The sidewalk cafe served us what we dubbed “the most expensive beer in CZ.”   I think it was about $6.00 for a draft. Triple the price you would pay elsewhere in New town, and about four times what we paid at our local pubs. We shopped hard for crystal, and found the best prices at Crystalex, just off the Old Town Square on Male Namesti. 

The old Jewish cemetery is not far from old town, and one of the most interesting and somber places I have ever been.  This is sacred ground, and it is estimated that as many as 100,000 people may be buried (in layers) in this tiny plot.  Maybe an acre or two?  The cemetery is centuries old.  In addition, thousands of Jews “disappeared” during the Nazi occupation of Prague.  The old Synagogue here has every single name listed on the walls.  The names are in small print, and cover every wall.  They also have exhibits of the holocaust children’s art.  I had been to the Anne Frank house not long before my visit here.  The Frank house made the holocaust personal.  The old Synagogue brought home the sheer enormity of this tragedy.   It is something that I will always remember. 

On a more cheerful note, we attended a classical concert at the Rudolfinum. This is where the National Symphony plays. This night, there was a twelve piece string orchestra. It was expensive, and the music was “top forty” classical. By that I mean the most popular pieces, like Bizet, Pachobel, Vivaldi, etc. But the musicians were from the National Orchestra and very professional. It was extremely well played and the concert hall was a jewel. So it was worth the price. 

Kutna Hora Bone ChandelierWe also hired a van for a day trip to Kutna Hora, about two hours from Prague (Google this.)  What a wonderful and strange day this was. There is an Ossuary there that contains the bones of 40,000 people. These are victims of plague and war, dating back to the 1300s. They have used the bones for decorating!  There are bone chandeliers, wall hangings, pyramids, etc. Very macabre and fascinating.  Our driver knew of a great little restaurant here.  We had another fabulous and inexpensive meal, and had big fun kibitzing with the owner. 

We also visited the beautiful little town of Sedic, with its magnificent Gothic church that was built in the fourteenth century.  Our driver was a very interesting character.  I couldn’t really call him a guide.  He spoke almost no English, and was an insane driver.  He was trying to right notes to us in Czech, while driving like a madman, and yelling “Communist!  Communist!” at the other drivers.  We really hadn’t signed up for an adventure tour.  But it kinda felt that way! 

After touring the church in Sedic, our driver couldn’t be found.  So we ducked into a pub to avoid the chill. Eight pints of beer, for six bucks. We dubbed this “the most inexpensive beer in CZ.”  Not bad! Good beer too. 

Overall we found the young Czech people to be open and very friendly. We enjoyed all of our interactions with them. The younger folks are fascinated by US culture and were very interested in whatever we could tell them about New Orleans (our home).  The folks our age (am I really middle aged?) were friendly too, once they loosened up. But you could see the effect that growing up under communism had.  We found that the older (60’s and up) folks working in the lower service jobs were the worst. Very abrupt, and impatient if you did not speak Czech. 

But we did not let these few encounters color our opinion of the locals. We found them interesting, bright, and well educated. They have a quirky dark sense of humor too, which we enjoyed.  The people watching was great. Someone told me that all Czech’s consider themselves philosophers. I can see that. You could spot the intense young men hurrying along the sidewalk, with a stack of books under their arms.  In their beat up blazers and with wild hair perfectly askew, they kinda looked like beatniks. My wife thought they were extremely cute.  A thought that I am sure would have offended them greatly! 

It is a developing economy, and you could almost smell the money. The nouveau riche status symbol seems to be a new Corvette, and we saw several on the street. I hope capitalism doesn’t screw them up too much. 

They are also still learning to do business. I experienced a couple of miscues as I tried to reserve our apartments. But Prague City Apartments was mostly professional. We were also stood up TWICE for our day trip, with no real explanation or apology. This was very frustrating for someone that works in the travel biz. But I am sure that they will eventually get the hang of it. 

The architecture was amazing, outstanding, and overwhelming. Very dirty. I am guessing that the communist administration didn’t bother with maintaining anything. So there are some beautiful statues and buildings that are just black from pollution. But we noticed that there was scaffolding everywhere for the cleaning crews. The city has a lot of tourist dollars pouring in, and they are using some of it to clean up their beautiful surroundings.  They haven’t got a handle on the air pollution yet.  The air was noticeably smoggy. 

All in all? One of the most fascinating places I have ever been, and I hope to return someday. It has only been twenty years since the fall of communism. It is going to be very interesting to see how the change affects these thoughtful and witty people. I can only wish them well.

The Quakers of Monteverde

In the 1948, four young Quaker men in Fairhope, Alabama declined to register for the draft. This was shortly after WWII, and feelings of national patriotism were running high.  To stand up for their beliefs at this particular point in time was an extremely courageous decision. 

The young men were sentenced to a short prison term, of which they served four months (one young man served a little longer).  Upon their release, the young men returned to Fairhope.  Along with their families and other members of their meeting, they began to discuss the possibility of leaving the United States and make the move to a less militarized country.  They considered several Central American countries, before eliminating them for various reasons. 

Costa Rica turned out to be the perfect choice.  The government was stable (the oldest democracy in Central America), the economy seemed sound, and the country had recently abolished its military.  In October 1950, a group left Fairhope to travel overland for the arduous journey to Costa Rica.  Over the next year or so, a total of 48 Fairhope Quakers arrived in Costa Rica.  More joined the group in Costa Rica later. 

Several locations were considered around the country, before they hit upon this mountaintop.  The group was able to purchase 3400 acres, and the community was established in mid 1951.  When you think about it, this was really an amazing undertaking.  Some may even say foolhardy.  Many of these people were not farmers back in the US.  There was no electricity, no telephones, no hospital, nor a school.  Plus, if you think the road up the mountain is bad now, can you imagine what it was like a half century ago?!  But they had a strong community and an even stronger will.  Eventually, the community thrived and became what you see today. 

Another interesting development from the Quaker influence here is the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve.  The Quaker holdings at the very top of the mountain were originally set aside to preserve the watershed for the farms below.  This also preserved the delicate ecosystem that is a tropical cloud forest.  In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the area was discovered by biologists.  Eventually, the Cloud Forest Reserve was established.  This also marked the beginning of tourism in Monteverde.   Tourism is an important source of income for the community today. 

This is an extremely brief history of the Quakers in Monteverde.  If you should be fortunate enough to visit, look into picking up a copy of the “Monteverde Jubilee Family Album”.  This was published in 2001 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the community.  Drawn from old letters and personal recollections, this is the most comprehensive record of the history of this area.  Even if you don’t know a soul here, it still makes fascinating reading.  Except for the occasional mention of generators and jeeps, it reads like something from the homestead days of the US.  The later chapters refer to much more recent developments in the area, including local conservation efforts, and educational opportunities. 

Look for the light green soft bound book at the Reserve gift shop or in the book store in Santa Elena.