Our First Return to the US In 18 months..

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It's been 18 months since Franny and I set out on our journey to begin the second half of our lives.  For weeks leading up to this first vacation trip back to the States, we've been planning our schedule with military precision.  But as it turned out, it was all to no avail. 

Regardless of how precise and detailed our itinerary, changes were occurring daily and even continued while on the road.  It became quite clear that the only way to insure success was to have a flexible schedule.

Before I fry too many of my brain cells due to the sins from overindulgence, I figured I better start chronicling my thoughts and observations from the road, so here we go...


Thursday, October 21, 2010:  Departing Liberia International Airport

This is our first time flying out of Liberia Airport (LIR).  Unlike the sleek, modern amenities found in Costa Rica's only other international airport, San Jose, Liberia harkens back to the day of airports of the 1950's, complete with an open air waiting room replete with efficient (albeit) uncomfortable seating. 

Anticipating chaos at the airport, we prepaid our exit fees days earlier.  Delta advised us to make sure we got to the airport at least two hours early, and so we did, only to find no crowds, no lines and smooth sailing.  So far, so good.  Stress levels are way down.  Yo estoy muy tranquilo!

Security was extremely tight at LIR.  In fact it was the tightest airport security I've encountered since 911.  By the time we moved into the waiting area, we had to tell our life history to no less than 4 sets of security personnel and received the "nasal once over" by at least two adorable canine "narco" hunters.  The airline personnel did this all with complete efficiency (strange for Costa Rica) and a courteous smile (not so strange).  The total elapsed time was only 20 minutes! Boarding time is still 90 minutes away!  Chill Browne, you're on vacation.

For the weeks leading up to this trip, all Fran and I were thinking about were the foods we have not had since moving to Costa Rica.  I was "Jonesing" for a great steak while Fran was salivating  over the thought of a soft serve ice cream cone.  Both of us were craving really good Chinese food, so facing a two hour layover in Atlanta, we decided to take care of one of these cravings by sharing a Chinese meal in the airport's Food Court. 

That was a big mistake for I don't think what we ate was either FOOD or CHINESE.  This lousy culinary choice was only the precursor to many more bad gastronomic faux pas choices we were to make while on our U.S. Odyssey.


October 22 thru 26: Florida

The vacation really started when we picked up our rental car in Ft. Lauderdale.  We headed straight for Sawgrass Mills, a huge factory outlet center that specializes in the sale of "everything."  Our goal was to acquire things we needed (or wanted) but couldn't buy or afford in Costa Rica.  Thinking ahead, we even brought two additional suitcases for the loot we planned on buying.

Tops on our list were small kitchen appliances, new clothes and various household items like shaving cream, shampoo and bug spray etc.  We concentrated on those items which are either very difficult to find here or are just flat out too freaking expensive in CR.

It became evident (on our first day) that this visit was going to be a gastronomic adventure, reliving many of the flavors of our past life.  Starting with a reunion with Fran's family at an incredible Chinese restaurant, it only got better as we moved from state to state.  Fresh lox and bagels in the morning at the local deli generally kicked off the day.  And so this story will show, there are times we made pretty dumb choices (like eating Krystal burgers), and then again there were times we actually ate stuff that was good for ya!  But those times were too few and far between.

When we weren't shopping, we were generally visiting with friends.  On one of the days while Fran was out doing "her thing," I connected with an old buddy, Glenn, for a day of fishing. 

Fran and I grew up in Florida, so to be totally honest, if it were not for some friends and family living there, we see no reason why we would ever want to step foot inside the Sunshine State.


PURCHASING NEW COOLER


A MALL HOT DOG


REAL CHINESE DINNER


DAIRY QUEEN FOR DESERT


BREAKFAST IN THE ROAD


A DAY OF FISHING WITH GLENN


TOO SMALL TO KEEP


FRAN IS IN HEAVEN


OMG - SLIDERS!


HEART ATTACK IN THE MAKING


THE URGE TO PURGE


DEALING WITH FLA DRIVERS


October 26 thru 28: Cleveland Tennessee

Driving out of Florida has always been a pain in the ass for me, laden with crazy and rude drivers and boring scenery.  One thing I did like about the drive was the incredibly low price we were paying for gasoline.  Gas in the States is almost half that of Costa Rica.

But after four, gastronomically intense days in Florida, we headed to my sister's house in Cleveland Tennessee, a small town nestled in the mountains just east of Chattanooga. 

My sister (Ellen) is a pretty good cook.  Since she follows in the footsteps of our mom and granny, it was no surprise that for the next two nights my appetite for the flavors of my youth were gloriously satisfied.  It was also good seeing the gang again especially my long lost niece Debbie, who I have not seen in more than 30 years.


ALMOST HALF OF COSTA RICAN GAS

GETTING READY FOR DINNER

THE GANG'S ALL HERE

ELLEN AND HUBBY DICK

NIECE DEBBIE

October 28 thru November 1: Charlotte North Carolina

Driving from Tennessee to Charlotte was an absolute joy AND OUT Timing could not have been any more perfect.  We experienced the change of seasons at it's absolute and most colorful peak.  Seeing the trees showing off their blinding colors of orange and gold while the vapor from our breath got bigger with each exhale... this was an experience impossible to replicate back in Costa Rica.

Our stay in Charlotte was centered around our annual Halloween event tradition hosted by me and a few neighbors.  As the kiddies begged for candy, we projected old horror movies onto my garage door.  As the kids got candy, we passed out shots of Jack Daniels and highly spiked Jell-O cubes to the adults who strolled by.  This year I introduced my newest creation, Margarita Jell-O Shots.  To make things complete, Erik and Cady (the couple who now live in our old house) joined in by lending us their garage door and sound system.  It was deja vu all over again and it seemed as if we had never even left.

We also seized the opportunity to get in more shopping.  I scored big when I came across a video store that was going out of business.  I wound up buying about 25 new movies for $100.  What a deal!

Personally speaking... while it's only been 18 months since we lived here in Charlotte, to me it no longer feels like home.  Fran disagrees.  While we had a great time seeing all our old friends and neighbors, that was then and this is now.  But we made sure our friends knew that they were welcome in Costa Rican.


SHOTS A WAITING

MY NEW BEST FRIEND

HANGING OUT WITH FRIENDS

FRAN POST JELL-O SHOTS

BAGELS IN THE MORNING


GREASE IN THE AFTERNOON


WINE AT NIGHT


WHISKEY TOAST WITH FRIENDS


LOOKING FOR NECESSITIES

AND MORE NECESSITIES

MAKING A COSTCO RUN

NOT A FAN OF IRISH WHISKEY


AT THE MOVIES


BAND OF RAFTERS!


EATING AND DRINKING


MORE EATING AND DRINKING


November 2 thru 4: Lancaster Pennsylvania

After saying adios to all our good friends in Charlotte, we set out on an excruciatingly boring 8 hour drive north to Amish Country, Lancaster Pennsylvania.  It was here we had the opportunity to celebrate his 34th year of life while having the chance to resurrect our roles of "Pop Pop and Grammy" once again with Jayden and Spencer, our two rambunctious grand kids.  We also had the chance to meet Erik Bay, a 17 year old exchange student from Norway that Sean and Jen are hosting.

One other really cool thing, I was able to reconnected with an old elementary school chum of mine who I have not seen in over 48 years.  The last time Ted Mondzelewski and I remembered seeing each other was way back in the 6th grade at Oak Grove Elementary School, circa 1962!  It really was cool hanging out again and reliving the memories of decades gone by.


SEAN - HIJO #1

THE GANG'S ALL HERE

HAPPY 34TH BIRTHDAY

JAYDEN HACKING AWAY

SPENCER EATS REAL FOOD

POP POP AND SPENCER

FOUR GEEKS
 
REUNION AFTER 48 YEARS

November 4 thru 5: The Big Apple

When one thinks of American excess and opulence, nothing says it better then New York City.  Only a short 4 hour drive from Amish country, here we hooked up with Fran's younger sister, Joni, at her home in Yuppieville USA, Rye New York. 

As we continue to eat our way through America, Rye played host to the best damn pizza we have had in the last two years.

We awoke the next day to cloudy skies and 37 degree temps.  Fortunately we were able to borrow a few jackets from Joni, donned our only pair of wool socks and headed out to catch the train to Grand Central Station.  This, our only day to explore the Big Apple, was jammed with tons of things to do.  Of course, we did a bit of shopping.  It was here we saw an unique escalator dedicated to hauling only shopping carts to the various levels of the high rise market. 

After hopping a subway down to Battery Park, we took the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and then to Ellis Island, the initial entry point for immigrants coming to America. 

By late in the afternoon we had no plans except for possibly heading back to Rye when all of a sudden someone offered us discount coupons to see the Broadway show "American Idiot," based on the album of the same name by Green Day.  We jumped at the chance to see a show for half price but not before ducking into an Irish Pub for a few drinks and then dinner at a ridiculously expensive NYC eatery.

Totally exhausted from our day in the Apple, we took the train back to Rye and managed to crawl into bed around midnight.


NICE FALL DAY IN RYE

FRAN AND JONI (SISTERS?)

AWESOME NY PIZZA

SHOPPING CART ESCALATOR

NYC CORNED BEEF SANDWICH

UMM... STREET PRETZELS

FREEZING HER ASS OFF

ELLIS ISLAND

SISTERS IN TIMES SQUARE

GETTING TOASTED

TIMES SQUARE @ NITE

NO COMMENT!

GOOD BUT PRICEY.  $11 SPUDS!

A $47 VEAL PARMIGIANA

ELLA ESTA MUY CANSADA!

November 6 thru 8: Washington DC

With not a whole lot of sleep under our belts, and with a strong desire to avoid any early morning rush hour traffic leaving New York City, we quietly make our exit from Joni's house and began the long drive towards Virginia.

Our number two son (chronologically speaking) resides in Arlington, just a stone's throw away from our Nation's capitol.  Because Mike's basement apartment is so small, Franny and I opted to stay two nights at a nearby hotel.  Thank goodness for HOTELS.COM because we snagged a wonderful KBNS (that's online speak for King Bed No Smoking) for $70 a night.  Awesome deal, especially considering the location!

But before we hooked up with Mike, we paid a visit to new friends Tom and Dina Duffy at their home in Chantilly Virginia.  Tom and Dina are avid fans of the Boomers Offshore website, knew of our US travels and offered us a hot meal and a place to rest for the night.  How can you pass up an offer like that.  Even better, Dina took Fran shopping at a nearby Steinmart where she loaded up with more clothes from the Summer Closeout rack.  At least the savings averaged 90%.  After shopping, we headed back to their home to sip some fine scotch and Irish whiskey followed by a fantastic Italian BBQ dinner.


TOM & DINA DUFFY

SHOPPING FOR MORE CLOTHES?

SIPPIN' FINE SCOTCH

AWESOME DINNER

Next day we hooked up with Mike and did the "tourist thing" but not without first having our usual deli breakfast of lox and bagels.  It was great hanging with the kid for a day and a half especially when we got to have dinner with his wonderful girlfriend Jen.


BAGELS AGAIN - :-)

$10 MATINEE?

VIEW FROM THE TOP

I'M ACTUALLY ON MY TIP TOES

FRANNY ON THE MALL

FRANDY ON THE MALL

WHAT A WASTE!

REMIND YOU OF ANYTHING?

MOM AND HER DOODLES

550 FEET UP

MARGARITA TIME

MIKE AND NEW JEN

OUR DOODLES

NEW JEN

 


CLASSIC
JEN

JEN2

Since our older son Sean married a "Jen" and now our youngest Mike is dating a "Jen", is was important for us to be able to differentiate one Jen from another when having discussions.  We decided (after consuming copius amts of nice Merlot) that we would refer to Mike's girlfriend as "New Jen" while referring to our daughter in law as "Classic Jen."  As of now these verbal identifiers are working quite nicely. 

In fact, New Jen even signs her email that way. 
How cool is that?


NEW
JEN

 


November 9 thru 11: The Home Stretch

From DC we headed back to Charlotte for one last night with our friends the Potestivos.  Darcy managed to wow us one last time with an incredible Shepherd's Pie, washed down with a few pints of Guinness and some smooth Irish Whiskey.

The next day, with duffels all loaded and weighed, we drove down to Atlanta but not before visiting with two more fans of Boomers Offshore, Dave and Neyla K. of Anderson SC and Paul M. of Atlanta.  Both are contemplating a Costa Rican retirement.  We had a chance to meet face to face and share with them many things we've learned over the last two years.

The one question we were asked over and over on this trip was...

"What do you miss about the US after being away so long?"

For me the answer was simple... THE ROADS.  North Americans take for granted the design, quality and structural integrity of the roads on which you drive every day.  For Fran the answer was even simpler... DAIRY QUEEN!  Which begs the issue... Fran and I appeared to act like ravenous pigs on this gastronomic adventure.  I guess one of the reasons there is an obesity problem in the US is due to the fact that you can't look 50 feet without being seduced by some grease laden purveyor of something resembling food. 

Over the last 18 months I can say that we have eaten American fast food less than 5 times, primarily because they are few and far between and secondly because they taste like shit... which is a good thing!  But now it's time to get back to normal and to begin shedding the 7 pounds we each gained over these last 3 weeks.

The Aduana Experience...

One of our primary goals in visiting the US was to purchase "things" (or as I like to call them Objects of Necessity) that are either too expensive or whose manufacturing quality sucks.  Since Delta Airlines allows 2 bags per passenger on International flights, we brought with us 4 roller duffels, two of which contained our clothes and two empty duffels were stored inside the the two.

On our return, using dirty, smelly clothes as padding, all four duffels were stuffed to the brim with our Objects of Necessity.  Aside from more new clothes, we had over 30 DVDs, a new toaster, a Water-Pik, polycarbonate wine and beverage glasses (service for 8), two collapsible pool/ocean floats, deodorant and shaving cream plus nearly 15 pounds of stuff we were muleing in for our friends and neighbors.  That doesn't even count the 62 donated metal Matchbook cars Fran's had in her carry on which we were donating to a local school's Christmas party.

Leaving Atlanta was a breeze but arriving at the Liberia airport was another manner.  Here, Aduana (Customs personnel) search all of our luggage by hand.  It took three inspectors to open and check all our stuff. I don't think they have ever encountered such a blatant case of smuggling and tariff evasion before.  Finally, with the lines of people waiting to get processed to start their vacation, Aduana just gave up and let us pass.  Next time we'll need to be more discreet.


FINAL DINNER WITH FRIENDS

APPROACHING ATL AT DAWN

ANDY THE MULE

CHECKING IN

PERFECTO!

ON ITS WAY

AIRPORT BREAKFAST

LIBERIA BOUND

ANXIOUSLY AWAITING CR

NEWS OF THE DAY

COMPLETING CUSTOMS FORMS

HOME SWEET HOME

THE HOME TURF
CHECK OUT ALL THE CRAP WE BROUGHT BACK


THIS IS OUR BOOTY! -
TV ALREADY HERE

In Summary...

It was wonderful having the chance to go back to the place we once called home.  But today, Costa Rica is our home and will (in all likelihood) remain that way for the foreseeable future. Reuniting with friends and family was an absolute treat as well having the opportunity to meet several of our new friends we met thorough the Boomers Offshore website.

We hear a lot of things here in Costa Rica, mostly from gringo visitors, about how bad things are in the US and how polarized everybody is. Having driven almost 3000 miles across seven states, we saw absolutely no evidence of that.  Sometimes I think some people just like to just stir up shit because they are personally disgruntled with the way things are.


We can't say for sure when we'll be heading back to the States again.  It may be as soon as this coming summer. 

Franny and I have always wanted to spend a week rafting the Colorado river.  Maybe this will be our year.  Stay tuned.  By the way, if you are interested in joining us on the river, let me know and we can factor that into our plans.

Pura Vida Y'all


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