Craving Costa Rica

Whenever it’s hot, I get that jones to be someplace where heat is part of the lure, making the water feel wetter, the breeze more flirtatious, and the mojitos mintier. I’m up for some basking.

A few years ago I deviated from my usual rainforest/cloud forest/volcano love-paths in CR and landed in Liberia for a taste of Flamingo Beach. With higher temps and lower rainfall, the northern regions boast bounties of a plant you never see in most of Costa Rica — cactus. I love wandering the backroads and passing fields of cattle contained by living fences — a tight row of cactus — or planted single-file to serve as guard rails along risky roads.

Playa Flamingo sits on a drop-dead bay with movie star houses, drool-worthy views, and treacherous beach access, but a slow meander down the road brings you to sand that runs right up to the pavement, tree-studded beaches, hammocks, and lunch shacks. Head south a few more miles to Tamarindo for surfing lessons, or beyond the beach to the Tropical Dry Forests of the Guanacaste region, famed for cowboys, ziplines, horseback riding and mud baths.

Dos Equis anyone?

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Chateau de Goult

Luberon Vallery, Goult

Grand Staircase, Chateau de Goult

This drool-worthy staircase is young, relatively speaking, harking only from the 17th century, as opposed to the chateau’s 14th century Salle des Gardes, or the 12th century watchtower. With eight bedrooms (including a dungeon), terrace and balcony gardens, walls two metres thick, a turret, a secret passageway, gardener-and-chef-on-call, secluded pool and valley views to die for in a quaint and untouristy French village in the Luberon of Provence, um, yes, it’s on my list.

Website here: http://www.chateaudegoult.com

Reviews here

Sleeps: 20

Cost: 7-11,000 Euros/Week

Location: here

French Windows

Perhaps the only thing as lovely as waking and gazing out an artisanal opening across the French countryside, steaming cafe in hand and flaky croissant on the sill, is walking the cobbled lanes and staring up at these pretties, wondering what hearts and hearths lie within.

The windows below were snapped in the following villages of the Luberon Valley, Provence, France: Oppede-le-Vieux, Gordes, Gault, Menerbes, Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Avignon, and St. Remy de Provence.

 

Quirky Rome

Ashley Hayward c. Ashley Hayward

Ashley Hayward, Self Portrait with Pantheon

There is much to consider when spending a week in Rome — a penuriously brief period to take in a seismically abundant history so close and so real that you can walk on it smell it taste it hear it. Excavations are stumbled upon all over the city (at night, often “peopled” with cats), walls and floors are cut away to show the ancient bones, and bones themselves tell stories in the undergrounds of the city. Rome doesn’t need museums, because she is one.

Moss Man in Rome

The Moss Man

I could spend a lifetime here and still be a stranger; for every hidden gem I discover, there are hundreds more that my eye will never find, a thousand whispered secrets and asides. I’ve got my ears perked, but I’m also delighted to soak up a little Roma Lite along with her headier sights.

Rome, of course, is known for the fabulous carvings that delight even in the most obscure passages. From Leonardo to Bernini to pilfered Egyptian art to unknown artisans, abundance abounds. A few, however, still manage to seem a bit out of place.

Tiny Cars in Rome

Do you need a license to drive it?

I’m no sculptor, but that decidedly is not your typical male body. And those moss pants . . . ? Caesar may have worn a dress, but I’m not buying the baggy gangsta attire.

And this most decidedly is not your average-size car. I’m not sure what the height limit is on this baby, but I’m pretty sure you won’t be racking up any speeding tickets.

I’m a fan though — who doesn’t love a venture that includes “kisses” in its company name? Poodles excepted, you might be even happier here.

Rubber Band Purse, Rome

Pretty sure it bounces.

If rain-proof scooters and vintage Vespas don’t thrill you, nothing beats walking the streetsĀ  for a little window gawking. A recent cobblestone stroll yielded a close-up gander of this way cool rubber band purse, a funky marriage of artistic-frivolity-meets-transportation-map.

Not bad on the multi-tasking either, since the purse comes complete with emergency accessories: two strands of beads and quite-a-few-extra hair elastics. Gotta love a total package.

Dol Heads in Rome

Hanibal Lecter Ate Here

A bit removed from the designer district I foundĀ  AACK! the crazy broken doll head store. We’re talking the seeds for one helluva Chuckie movie right here. It’s bad enough that so many of the pretties have been scalped, and I’m wondering where I might stumble upon the arms and legs. There seems to be only one whole bitty baby in the lot, and I’m thinking his days are numbered.

Fountain, St. Paul's Within the Walls

Thirsty? Devil-Water at the Ready

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he’s eaten tomorrow by this guy, who appears to be the worst decoration for a drinking fountain that I’ve ever seen. Even stranger, he resides in the whimsical garden of St. Paul’s Within the Walls, the first non-Catholic church built inside the city walls of Rome (in 1873 — making her quite the newcomer).

Art on the Ceiling

I had fun. Did you?

And in the end, as always, what you SEE is what you get: a kitty slurping spilled gelato by the fountain, a full dress parade rounding a corner, wildflowers sprouting from cracks in the forum ruins, turtle fountains and gaping mouths that eat your hands if you tell a fib. Only a fraction make the guidebooks.

After a delightfully indulgent meal at La Carbonara one evening, I leaned back in my chair and raised my eyes to the heavens. Instead of angels, I found this charming couple penned onto the ceiling, most likely in appreciation of the delicate brown butter sauce. Rome rewards at every turn. Cin cin!

The Reds of Rousillon

Rousillon Cliffs

Cliffs of Rousillon

Raised in the south, I’m no stranger to good old red clay. But outside of mud pies and bricks, I never really considered that ruby dirt might have a higher purpose until I made a day trip to Rousillon in Provence. The village, with a whopping population of 1280, sits charmingly atop the cliffs of old ochre quarries, their reds and peaches and yellows mingling in a landscape that looks handpainted. In a sense, it could have been, since the very earth itself was mined to create pigments for the dying of cloth.

Rousillon Quarry

Quarry of Rousillon

A trip to the top of the town and then down into the quarry takes me far, far away from my usual days in France — those hours I like to spend sipping in cafes, strolling cobblestones and scouring tiny antique shops. The earth is scooped out like a bowl, but her sides rise in wavering walls sculpted by the scraping of tools and of rain, leaving behind a landscape that could rival any vision of another world. Note the scale in relation to the people standing near the center bottom of the photo at left.

Rousillon House

House in Rousillon

And of course it’s no surprise then, that the homes and shops, the studios and restaurants of Rousillon are similarly rouged. After all, while the ochres may have brought big money for 150 years (in 1929 a record 40,000 tons were mined here), enough remained to color the town whose inhabitant discovered the formula for turning a dye used since prehistoric times into a fade-resistant and non-toxic coloring agent. Still, walking among the many buildings that so clearly and fancifully echo their humble beginnings in the landscape makes for a singularly whimsical excursion.

Rousillon Pigments

Color for Sale in Rousillon

They say the glorious colors of the earth in Rousillon were created by the receding sea that covered the area millions of years ago, combined with rains pouring against limestone, as well as a mineral called goethite. The endless shades, though, are harder to explain. What I do know is that spending a day in the ochres is a lot more fun than sliding around in the red dirt of home, and staining my white shorts with a little bit of France feels a bit like bringing home some holy water. And hey, in Rousillon, you can bring home all kinds of holy — pigments for the soul.

God-in-a-Box

Boxed Pastries, Gordes, Provence

Isn’t it lovely how boxing a purchase and adorning it with even the simplest ribbon transforms the contents? Granted, this particular box holds French pastries, and French pastries are pretty closely akin to god-in-a-box. But dress up my single euro baguette like this, and I’m just as happy. Throw in the fact that I can lug home my groceries by a ribbon instead of a plastic bag from Bi-Lo, AND tickle my tootsies on mossy cobblestones instead of blistering asphalt, and I’m good for the day.

Paper, plastic, or bring your own? The issue of waste aside, I’m endlessly charmed by efforts to bring a little magic into the everyday.

This particular magical day was hosted by the local bakery in Gordes, a perched village in the Luberon mountains of Provence, France, on market day. Where I also bought a really cool dress off the street, but that’s another post :)