Monday, June 6, 2016

All Around the World: Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Plus Some Engagement Photos...Wooo!): PART 1

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.

Granada, Nicaragua

When I know I'm going to one specific country, I look at a map and see what other countries are close by and try and fit at least one more in. I'm a maximizer of travel, what can I say? If I'm going to be on a plane for hours on end, I want to make the most of it. Thus, when I knew The Fiance and I were heading to Costa Rica, I decided we could fit a couple of days of Granada adventures in too.

Calle La Calzada
A quick PSA: There's something about third world countries that enthralls me. I love the culture, the food, the experiences. Going to London, for example, is awesome. I adore London. However, it's getting to a point where a lot of places are starting to look alike, thanks to the advancement of technology and global business.

Sometimes, when I've traveled thousands of miles, I find the same stores, the same food, the same looking things that I have back home. That's unfortunate, because each country has such unique roots. This is one of my biggest gripes and fears. I hate the idea that one day all of these fantastic and once very diverse places will look alike. It's already happening. I can't even imagine what it will be like in 20 years. Therefore, for me, getting to places like Nicaragua is a must. PSA over.

While we had a wonderful time in Granada, I must say that our two days there were plenty. Things to do within the city limits are, well, limited. We did pretty much all the sightseeing possible, plus got massages, napped and slept in, shopped, did two tours, and we saw every single thing we wanted. That being said, there are many options outside of the city, so a longer stay would be appropriate if you've figured out all of the activities.

So what do you do while in the city? Eat, shop, relax, and take in the sights.

First things first...where to stay? There are a lot of hotel options in Granada. We opted for Hotel Xalteva. It's a 10 minute walking distance from the heart of town, which I actually loved. It was nice to have the peace and quiet. The walk itself is totally safe. The Fiance, who had never really been to a third world country at this point, for sure thought we were going to get shanked on our walk, which was hilarious. It didn't take him long to realize we were totally safe and that streets just look different than in good old America.

The hotel was awesome, and only slightly odd (I say that with love). We had a living room, fully functioning and fully equipped kitchen, a DVD player (for which we had not one single DVD - this is why I'm telling you, be prepared), bed and bath, and an enclosed patio. The hotel has a pool, an awesome breakfast, the cutest tiny pineapple I've ever seen in my whole pineapple loving life, a hammock, and AC (mucho importante)! The hotel will give you an entire jug of drinking water to use for a very small fee. The tap water, however, is safe to drink. They super chlorinate it, which can be rough for our stomaches that aren't used to that level of chlorine in water, so we still opted for bottled water only.
Our "condo"style living room and dining area at Hotel Xalteva
The Hotel
The baby pineapple. Ooo...ahh.
Now, the odd thing I mentioned? In our living room we had three little windows that went into some other room not accessible to us. We had no idea what, but when we heard water sounds coming from that space we assumed it was a kitchen from the condo that shared a wall with us. The Fiance decided to confirm what it was, by way of stepping on a chair and looking, and it turned out to be the bathroom of the condo next to us, not the kitchen, not at all. Luckily for them, we're not peeping toms. Well, except for that one particular moment.
The updated alley with all of it's beautiful art work.
All of that being said, the staff was AMAZING. Every single person was fantastic. The breakfast, as prior mentioned, was great, especially for me and my gluten free needs (think lots of awesome fruit and juices and tea), and it was beautiful. Also, bonus: about 10 minutes away is a grocery store, so one night we bought some food and cooked dinner in our super decked out kitchen. The grocery store didn't have a ton of options, but enough for a chicken dinner with corn and rice.

Last, but not least, almost right across the street-ish is an old alley (formerly, a prostitute alley if we're keeping it real) that has been transformed with beautiful art work and leads to a church and some other cool things to check out. The down side of the hotel was that the bed was pretty hard and, of course, the window weirdness.

Shopping and Sightseeing

The main part of town has everything you need. Getting there from the Hotel Xalteva means you get to pass by La Merced Church. Definitely stop there for 15 minutes to check it out and if you want, you can pay a small fee to climb some stairs for a view of all Granada. To be honest, however, you won't see too much. A lot of roofs, actually. But it is still kind of a pretty view in its own way.

La Merced Church during the day
La Merced at night. Just for fun.
The view from La Merced lookout tower.
Before you get to the central part of town you'll come upon a bustling Central Park. Right next to the park is the famous and beautiful Granada Cathedral. From there, your options are endless. If you go left (facing the cathedral), and up a couple of streets (another left) you'll find the Chocolate Museum, a co-op store selling local art, and right around there is also the most magnificent cafe/store/place - The Garden Cafe. Definitely go here.  You can get lunch (salads for us GF peeps), get a solid wi-fi signal, relax, read a book in their mini-library, or do some kick-ass shopping in what I thought was the coolest store in town. Here, you'll find hand crafted goodies galore. Ornaments, jewelry, hats, towels, art, coffee, clothes...the list is long and mighty.
Central Park
Cathedral of Granada
The Garden Cafe
Just one sitting area inside the cafe, with the shop right peeking through the opening.
Back to the central part of town. If you take that same left, but go down a couple streets (right) you'll find what I thought was a pretty awesome spa PURE. This is where we got our massages and they were excellent. You can take a yoga class here or workout at the gym or just hang out in a rocking chair with their rescue turtle, who now has a very awesome life thanks to the folks that saved her.

Back to Central Park. If you want to go where absolutely every tourist ever goes, you'll take the main street straight past the church- Calle La Calzada. Here you will find restaurants, more spas, and a handful of places to shop. Soy Nica, a local leather store, is a must see. They handcraft every possible leather item you could ever imagine in pretty much every color your little shopping heart could ever dream of. I must recommend Super Frutto Gelataria for your gelato eating pleasure because let me tell you, when it is somewhere in the 90's and you're walking all over town, all you want is some ice cream and this place was awesome.

As for resteraunts and being able to eat gluten free, Pizzeria Don Luca was really quite yummy. I had a steak and some veggies and was very pleased. We also ate at Restaurante El Marlin, which was crazy good and had amazing service. On our last night we ate at El Zaguan, which was pretty expensive for Granada, but also quite delicious. All in all, I stuck with proteins, veggies, and salads and was good to go the whole time.
Soy Nica - Handcrafted leather goods.
Just one of the many beautiful buildings around this area.
If you walk this street all the way down you'll find the Guadalupe Church and, eventually, you'll hit Lake Nicaragua. While there isn't much to do at this point, there were some nice gentleman filming what I believe was the nightly news and we somehow ended up on it. You should know, the entire interview was conducted in Spanish and we only understood 3.6% of what they were asking us, so it was the most awkward interview ever. Also, it lasted FOREVER given that none of us had any idea what each other was saying. Our lack of dialect didn't stop these friendly people from interviewing us, no sir! I'm pretty sure we ended up on the news as the dumb tourists who need to learn more Spanish. Accurate.

Guadalupe Church
Lake Nicaragua
On our second day there, we took a tour of La Isletas, the many tiny islands that sit right off of Lake Nicaragua. This, I highly recommend. We spent several lovely hours riding around in a boat, learning about the residents of the islands and monkey island, a little piece of floating paradise where Michael, the star of the show, lives with a few of his friends.

Starting point of the tour.
Those, my friends, are bird nests in the tree.
Michael on Monkey Island
One of the homes on one of the many islands.

One of my favorite things about Granada is all the different colored buildings. It really makes everything bright and beautiful. Before you scroll down to look at them, something important to note: You don't need to order foreign currency. Like, at all. Stores, and even street vendors, label everything in US dollars. The only time you would need local currency is for a taxi ride. You're welcome.

Granada - You definitely are most fresh. Thanks for hosting us and putting up with our minimal Spanish speaking skills. I hope all the local residents enjoyed our obviously amazing interview.

Part 2: Costa Rica and the engagement photos coming soon! (Basically, I need to go to bed. Just keeping it real, friends.)

Also, I've got some pictures up on my Society6 page, but I'm working on the rest. Because, sleep.

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