Monday, October 29, 2007

Costa Rica My Next Holiday?

Update January 2010
I just got back from a spur of the moment cheap flight deal to Costa Rica! I am so glad I had researched the trip 2 years ago. When I saw an ad in a Saturday paper for a sell off from Toronto to San Jose, I called to check if it was still available. It was. It took me less than an hour to find a hotel online ( that had a room, then call back Flight Centre, book the LAST seat, call back the hotel free from Canada and USA, and in 3 days I was on the plane.

Will post pics and info soon as possible, but now back to our original program. And yes, Costa Rica is wonderful!!
I'm still comparing Bermuda, Turks and Caicos and Costa Rica as winter holiday getaways. I had an idea of flights and flying times (see previous posts), and so I started researching hotels and tour packages.

A preliminary result for a group tour through Costa Rica had not been encouraging. With the single supplement, it was rapidly pricing itself out of my budget. But by chance, through a typo on Flight Centre's website, I googled the typo to find what airport they were talking about, and came across the Go Visit Costa Rica site, and I spent a happy hour looking around.

That day's featured tour seemed just the trip for me. The rates are posted for one, two or three travelers/room, so you know what to expect, and it's still reasonable for what's included. I checked the itinerary of a few other tours. One starts in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and focuses more on Nicaragua before ending in San Jose CR. That one was particularly tempting, as it's been a long time since I've been to Honduras. Plus, road trips are one of my favorite things!

Then, I delved into the weather -- still on the same site. Turns out that mid February is an excellent time to travel there.

My former travel agent daughter sent me two more tour operator sites that she particularly liked, so I checked them out. They have set departure dates. Yes, I can work around them, and yes, I can add on days. But I prefer tours that uptake any day of the week. Plus, the GVCR site had a toll free number for the U.S. and Canada. Always a plus to talk to a real person.

I'll go back and research a bit more before deciding. But for an interesting trip that involves a bit of beach time, spa time, road trips, wildlife, volcanoes and cloud forest canopy walks, and meals and drinks are cheap, it hits all my buttons. A Spanish speaking guide comes along, so language is not a barrier, though it's a good chance for me to dust off my Spanish and jump in.

To be fair, I really should check more about Bermuda and Turks, but gosh darn it -- I am leaning towards Costa Rica, even though it's the longest flying time from Toronto.

Later! Gotta go check on visas.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bermuda Winter Getaway : Comparing Flights, Weather,currency

After checking the flights and air costs from Toronto to Costa Rica and the Turks and Caicos, (see my previous post), I checked for flights to Bermuda (BDA is the airport code; flights land in Hamilton, Bermuda).

I went directly to the Air Canada site, as I knew it was one of their destinations. Still using the random dates for travel of February 8-15, the Air Canada fare, tax included, is $545.00. That's the lowest of the three, and no free food en route. I miss free food, as bad as it sometimes was. Canadian and U.S. dollars, among others, are on par right now.

Bermuda is further east into the Atlantic, and the Turks are just north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Flying time from Toronto to Bermuda is given as 2 hours, and to the Turks as about 3 hours. Costa Rica, south of Mexico and north of Panama, is about 5 hours.

One of the Bermuda sites I checked listed a few package tours, which included air flight and hotels, but no meals or drinks.

To recap:

Destination: (via Air Canada from Toronto)
Bermuda flight : $545.00
Turks and Caicos flight : $1,237.00
Costa Rica flight : $974.00

Flying time:
Bermuda : 2+ hours
Turks and Caicos : 3+ hours
Costa Rica : 5+ hours

Bermuda : Bermuda dollar BMD is on par with US/ CAD
Turks and Caicos : U.S dollar; no difference.
Costa Rica : Costa Rica colon CTC : 517 colones = $1 U.S.

Weather in February:
Bermuda: pleasant but not hot.
Turks and Caicos : hot, maybe rainy. Will have to check rainy seasons.
Costa Rica : depends on mountains or beaches, and also if it's the rainy season.

On the surface, Bermuda seems a good choice time and money-wise. Last night I checked for hotels in Bermuda. I've stayed at the big chain resorts in the past, so I thought I'd look for something a little different. A few interesting possibilities, including some with housekeeping suites (great for making snacks, or breakfast, when you don't feel like getting dressed and going out in public). Even though February is still off season, the prices would be about $200/day, not including my spa time. Spa treatments run around $80-$100 each.

As a relatively small island nation, prices in Bermuda are high compared to Toronto, since most goods are imported. (Not as bad as the Caymens, though, where, at one time anyhow, a box of Special K cereal cost $8 U.S.)

I would budget about $100/day for meals, though it's just a working amount for now. I think Turks are expensive, too, but I will keep an open mind. I don't mind splashing out a few bob, as they say, for something I really want, or will really enjoy. But all things being more or less equal, I am going to go for value for money every time.

Tonight, I'll look for hotels and packages to Costa Rica, and try to find some possible resorts in Turks, and get back to you.



Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shopping for a Winter Getaway Vacation : Turks, Costa Rica or Bermuda?

Though the weather's been wonderful in lovely downtown Mississauga and environs, I know it can't last. Just one rainy, dark day this week was a harbinger of the dreary winter to come.

And, though I feel like I'm chained to my iBook and will be for some months, I decided to shop around for a winter getaway as a reward for my hard work. Ideally, this vacation will be someplace warm, and someplace I haven't been before, and someplace not too far from home (Canada). Sometimes, I just fon't feel like a long international flight.

Turks and Caicos, I think, or maybe Bermuda. It's been so long since I was last in Bermuda, it would feel "new". Or, at the outside mileage-wise and flight time-wise -- Costa Rica.

Regular readers will know that, for value for money, my first choice is Asia, and my first love is Hong Kong. There's so much to see, I'm never at a loss for things to do. But I want somewhere close to home this winter.

So last night I checked out a few sites to find sample air fares so I could plan a budget. Randomly, I chose February 8 as my departure date, and started filling in flight checkers.

The airline code for Turks and Caicos, I found out, is PLS. Now, call me dim, but that is the most unintuitive code I can imagine. The key, apparently, is Provodenciales, the capital. Flights via the site I was using were all on U.S. carriers, so any flights from Toronto meant a stop in a U.S. gateway city and a change of planes. This is not good: One extra arrival and departure, one extra airport check in, one large hassle and a lot of extra time. And the cost? $951.00 U.S., tax in.

So I checked Air Canada: A direct, non-stop flight from Toronto, including one meal (which Air Canada usually only springs for on international flights) with taxes included came in at $1,237.00 CAD (The Canadian dollar is roughly on par with the U.S. dollar right now).

Okay . . . a little pricey, considering a week in the Dominican Republic (which is further south from Provo) is about the same amount with an all inclusive package for hotel, meals and drinks. And I have no idea how much hotel and food and drink would cost in the Turks. I don't think the Turks are cheap, though, at least not Asia cheap.

Let's try Costa Rica. The flights arrive at San Jose; the airline code is SJO (See? Intuitive!) The U.S website flights were priced at $600-$1100 US, and Air Canada came in at $974.00, no meals included. And no idea as yet as to where I could stay, or eat, or tour and sightsee.

I did find a website offering land-only tours of Costa Rica (airfare is extra) for $$2,200.00 plus a $435.00 single supplement. Figure about $3,000.00 once you add in the meals not included, and perhaps an extra night in a hotel waiting for your flight, and any drinks and tips, and my one week getaway is up to about $4,000.00.

Now I don't know about you, but for that kind of money, I'd rather go to Hong Kong for 2-3 weeks. Value for money: it always comes down to that. That's what I spent to got to Hong Kong and Borneo for two weeks, with lots of domestic travel, tours and hotels and meals included.

And so, tonight I will check for all-in packages to Costa Rica, and perhaps Bermuda. Usually, I can get out of the single supplement by booking air and hotel myself. After all, the tour operators prices are based on blocks of pre-costed units. Hotels don't charge single supplements -- they charge by the room, just as airlines charge the seat. And if a hotel offers all-ins to group tours, they are happy to add in the cost for single customers.

Now, I'd better get back to work.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Eda Neuheimer

This is not the usual travel blog post, though my friend Eda Neuheimer was a great traveler, and has taken the ultimate trip. Rather, I am posting this note on the public blog for those who may be looking for Eda, thinking she seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. She has.

A sad day, today. I learned that I have fewer friends than I did yesterday, but one more angel: After some weeks of wondering why Eda's emails had stopped and my phone messages to her weren't returned, I finally contacted her employer, Peel Board of Education, in Mississauga. Through them, I learned that Eda died on / about August 23, 2007. At home, alone in Mississauga, Ontario, she had 'slipped into a diabetic coma' and never recovered'.

In Eda's memory, the staff at Elm Street School, in Mississauga (where Eda taught for a number of years) has planted a tree, and will contact me when the memorial plaque is ready to be placed.

To those online students she tutored, I apologize for breaking the news so bluntly and in such a public medium, but I wanted you to have some means of finding out what happened to your teacher.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Helen's Fish and Chips Port Credit Ontario

July 2008 Updated review at New Owners Helen's Fish and Chips.

One little gem of a diner in Port Credit is Helen's Fish and Chips. You could drive along Lakeshore past the lighthouse every day and still not notice it tucked back behind Starbuck's.

In fact, it was because of a stop for coffee one blustery day last March that I first came across it at the back of the parking lot. When I saw the sign for fish, I forgot about coffee and veered into this little resto below. It's just west of the lighthouse and bridge, on the south side of Lakeshore. Parking in the lot to the left in this photo, or out front as shown.

Now, the quirky thing about Helen's is that it does NOT accept any currency except cash. This means no credit cards, no debit cards, no cheques (checks). No exceptions. (The priciest dish is about $12 or so) Scramble through your pockets and wallet, and come up with hard cash. It's usually worth it.

I say 'usually' because I have had fabulous lunches here, and sometimes less than fabulous (ease up on the oil, fellas!). The fish and chips plate in the picture below is cod with Greek salad. The week before, I had an almost identical meal, except with halibut. I prefer halibut, and will not ask for cod again.

The first time I had the Greek salad, it was so delicious, I couldn't stop eating it; The next time, the dressing was too oily, with none of the classic tang. Chips are not salted, though, for which Helen's is to be commended.

The menu is posted on signs above the open kitchen, with daily specials on the blackboard. There are no substitutions allowed, though if salad is part of the special, you get your choice -- Greek, ceasar, slaw, etc. The menu allows for many variations, though, so you can usually find the combo you want.

Place your order at the counter. If it's really busy, they assign you a number. Get your table as fast as you can, and wait till it's called. If it's not too busy (say, a weekday mid afternoon), take a table and listen for your meal to be called by name.

Helen's also serves liquor, beer, etc, and there's a cozy bar area at the front. Not a late night place by any means -- I think it closes around 8p.m. I'll check when I go by later this week.

And on a blustery day, forget the fish -- try a bowl of steaming hot soup instead!

March 26, 2008 Update:
On Tuesday, April 1, 2008, Toronto's CityTV show Breakfast Televison (BT) host Jennifer Valentyne and crew are filming at Helen's Fish and Chips. Come on down, Everyone!