Sunday, February 26, 2017

Zorba the Greek

Today we joined a group exploring the countryside around San Jose. We went to Atenas and Grecias, two suburbs named for Athens and Greece. Every town in Costa Rica has a church, a park and a soccer field and maybe more. The downtowns, or centros, have shops, restaurants and small supermarkets. Fresh fruits and vegetable sellers are there too and usually a bus terminal. Most people here do not have cars and use the buses, taxis and light rail to get around. Lots of people walking along the roads and on the weekends many bicycles navigating some really high hills.

View from a high hill.

The church in Atenas with Mass starting on this Sunday morning. The park was really cute with all the concrete benches painted a bright blue.

Grecias is a larger town and boasts a church made of metal.

This Mass was mobbed with not one vacant seat and many people standing. I was told that the entire church is made of metal, except the roof is wood and the altar is marble. Apparently the church is a prefab made in Europe and was to be shipped to Athens, Greece. Somehow it ended up in Atenas, Costa Rica by mistake and remains there. This is the Grecias park.

At one stop I was impressed by these healthy pointsettias.

We stopped for lunch at a neat place with a large shaded patio. Food was traditional and very good. They also have a factory that makes wooden chatchkes and a nice gift shop.

Back at the hotel we went out for our last dinner in San Jose. As usual, we used Uber and very happy with their services. Tonight we picked a casual seafood restaurant. I had fettucine with shrimp and Jeff had shrimp with spaghetti. The salad was very good and completely red. The waiter said it was shredded carrots and beets.

Said Buenos Noches for the last time to our doorman at the hotel. He is so sweet and speaks not one word of English. We talk to each other in Spanish and I am sure he doesn't understand me and I only get a tiny bit of what he says to me. He is such a sweet man and always helps me up the steps making me feel really old.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Cocoanuts

We went on a tour today to see some neighborhoods around San Jose. We started off at a farmer's market. Many areas host one on Saturdays and the fruits and vegetables were fresh and looked beautiful and the prices were very good.

Lots of strange looking items that are local or seasonal.

Muchos huevos, many eggs...

I got a coconut for a whopping $.60 and enjoyed the sweet milk.

Next stop was a mini Spanish lesson where we learned the names of many of the fruits we had seen at the market. Our profesor, Wagner, was a hoot and a really good teacher. Best of all, we got to sample all the fruits.

For lunch we went to a special chicken place where they rotissiere the whole chickens over wood from coffee plants. It was so tender and juicy with a nice, aromatic flavor.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Oseh Shalom

Not much happening today. Met some nice people and learned a lot about living in Costa Rica. Found out there is a Reform Synagogue here in San Jose and made arrangements to go to service tonight. This involved sending information to the representative including copies of our passports and information about where we go to shul and name of our rabbi.

At the appointed hour we got a cab and headed over to the shul. Now you need to know there are no street addresses here, only directions. I had the information about the corner and what the building looked like. The gal who wrote to me included a paragraph in Spanish to show to whomever was driving us over. I showed my phone to the cab driver and he said he knew the place and got us there.

Outside were two security guards. We climbed up steps to the heavy steel door where a guy with a clipboard had our names on a sheet. He also had the copies of our passports and checked our pictures. We felt really safe once we got inside. Several people introduced themselves and the rabbi came over to greet us. He asked me to join the women lighting a tray of votive candles and then asked me if I would light the Shabbat candles. I was so honored. The service that followed was amazing and the most enjoyable service we have been to - maybe ever!

There was wonderful music with the rabbi leading the singing with a terrific voice and loads of ruach. A keyboard player accompanied and kept up the tempo. We sang familiar songs in Hebrew (Yedi Nefesh) and chanted the prayers. The congregation is reform and they have a prayer book that is trilingual, Hebrew, Spanish and English. Many of the congregants are formerly from the US and Canada. We had so much fun and found the service so meaningful. The rabbi gave his sermon in Spanish and a guy came around with English translations that were given to those of us that needed them.

There was a small group visiting from San Jose, California. It was four students who were recently confirmed with two chaperones. We enjoyed talking with them and they all spoke a bit of Spanish. I have never been part of such a friendly group of people. We all hugged and held hands as we sang Shalom Aleichem. We sang Debbie Friedman's Misheberach and were able to say the names of those who need special prayers for healing. The entire congregation wished us a Shabbat Shalom with hugs and kisses, even from the teenage boys. A very special evening.

In the small world category, we met a man who grew up in Nashville. His rabbi was Ken Kanter who is now our rabbi at Oseh Shalom several months each year. Afterwards a couple drove us to a nearby place to get a light dinner and then we took an Uber back to the hotel.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Amigos Para Siempre

Hanging around today and went to a seminar about Costa Rica. A speaker from the US Embassy was on the program and information about the country and life here was so interesting.

We went to dinner at a small Italian restaurant with excellent food and ambience. Talked for a long time with two young women at the next table who are from the Chicago area. Both are educators working with private schools around the world. Fascinating conversation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park

Glad to fit in a Tom Lehrer song as he is a favorite  of mine. Woke up to a sunny day in San Jose. We are back at Hotel Autentico and ready to explore this city of one million people. The city looks kind of shabby and is spread out with many suburbs. Traffic is beyond horrible most of the time.

I took a great, hot shower with good water pressure and had the buffet breakfast included at the hotel. Jeff called Uber and the driver arrived promptly and dropped us off in the central area.

Our first stop was a tour at the National Theatre of Costa Rica. Built in 1897 by the government as the showplace of Central America. It is impressive and the marble stairs and walls, statues and murals were brought over piece by piece from Europe and installed by local workers. It resembles the opera house of Paris. We had the same luck here as in Paris. There was a rehearsal, so no lights in the main auditorium. We never got to see the great chandelier, but we did get to sit in a darkened box and watch a bit of a rehearsal. The show is tomorrow night for a performing arts school.

We did see the grand foyer and reception area with women's and men's lounges. The ceiling murals were beautiful and painted from sketches sent to European artists.

The art is representative of the local agriculture and life. Sadly, the European artists were guessing about many things and put coffee fields next to the ocean and no birds or wildlife are seen. This piece was used on the Costa Rican money on the 1960's which is now sold as a souvenir.

This is the upstairs lounge with a beautiful ceiling mural.

Entrance to the President's Box

The lobby statues made me laugh. There is a Greek or Roman woman playing a lyre who is traditionally clothed. The Latin lady playing castanets has her breast exposed and her skirt is pulled up.

This is a famous sculpture in Costa Rica and very beautiful. Heroes de la Miseria by Juan Ramon Bonilla, 1907.

Next we visited the Catedral Metropolitano built in 1871. Luckily there was a mass and lots of people in attendance. Pretty stained glass windows and altar.

In the garden is a large statue of Pope John Paul II carved by Costa Rican sculptor Jorge Jimenez Deredia after the Pope visited the city.

We walked about two blocks to a pedestrian walk that houses lots of stores and restaurants.

Lots of chain restaurants here including Starbucks! Saw KFC, McD's, Subway, Quiznos and Pizza Hut just in two blocks.

Street vendor selling funny faces. The security guard in the doorway was laughing as it was so silly.

Next stop was the gold museum which is housed under the Centro Plaza in a bank building. Inside we literally walked through vault doors to enter the museum area.

I was very impressed with the exhibits. Floor two had ceramic and pottery art made by ancient peoples. Floor three had a movie with English subtitles and a terrific display about gold. Starting with the collection and processing and moving to the artistry and finished pieces. Also exhibits about the shamans and use of gold in ceremonial, burial and life. This is a typical village diarama.

An amazing neck piece.

A warrior adorned for battle. Note the arm bands (ankle bands also), Chest plate, head band and enormous spools in his ears. The gold hook below his mouth was sickening to me, but what do I know?

Women were very important in the ancient culture keeping the home and traditions. Many were allowed to perform special ritual duties.

We had a nice lunch on a terrace overlooking the walkway and now back at the hotel resting. I sat outside by the pool in a shaded lounge chair which was very pleasant.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hang On, I'm Coming

Selvatura Hanging Bridges is the activity for this morning. We were picked up in a medius size bus and whisked off to the highlands for this adventure park. They have zip lining, nature walk, butterfly gardens and hanging bridges. I thought we would walk on these bridges and look out over the forest canopy. Two and a half hours later we had trapsed over 10,000 steps at 6000'. Jeff was not a happy camper and I was ecstatic. A view from the bridge.

The place is so beautiful and the paths are pavers and easy to walk on. The bad news is the constant climbing uphill and it got hot. There are 10 bridges of varied lengths and they go over deep canyons with magnificent views. The foliage is lush and lots of birds. Giant philodendron.

 Our guide poked in a hole and out came a tarantula.

We did not see any other animals or even hear monkeys, but a great time.

Our guide described the forest and foliage well and showed us a tiny hummingbird nest. A little later he heard a quetzal and tried to find it. Eventually he saw a quetzal fly across the valley while we were on a bridge but I did not see it. But, he heard another rare bird and eventually found a Bell Bird. I had looked for this bird in Boquete and now was able to see one. Our guide got him in the scope and took pictures for us. They are a little blurry, but just to have them and remember seeing this bird with my own eyes.

This is my favorite place of the trip to Monteverde. Our walk took longer than expected and we had to rush back to our hotel and eat a quick lunch before being picked up to return to San Jose. The ride back was okay with just three passengers in the van. The other traveler was a young man who is a nursing student. We had a nice conversation in my poor Spanish. The rush hour traffic was impossible as we approached the city and we finally got to our hotel. Had dinner here in the restaurant and to bed.