Saturday, September 29, 2012

NYC part 2: South St. Seaport and Sprinkles

Would it surprise anyone who knows me that I planned the heck out of our NYC trip?  Yeah, I didn't think so.  I'm a huge trip planner, and add in a short stay and not too much money and I went a little crazy.  Needless to say, it all went out the window the very first morning when my lovely husband slept in (and I let him cause he was tired) while I paced around mentally subtracting minutes from our Met visit.  I had to give myself a little attitude adjustment and force some calm, and move on.  Much to my delight we were able to do almost everything I had hoped, and discovered some new, unplanned, but absolutely wonderful places.

South Street Seaport was a really nice surprise.  We had made the trip to the tip of Manhattan to visit the Bodies exhibit (sooooo great, if you are in to science/ medicine/ coolness I can't recommend it enough) which is located in the Seaport.  It turns out that the Seaport would be a great destination in itself.  The area is pedestrian only, and there are bunches of charming shops and restaurants with old-fashioned architecture lining a cobbled street. Then heading out towards the water, you see this:

A maritime museum.  What a juxtaposition, it looks like the ship is going to plow into the skyscrapers, doesn't it?  Unfortunately the museum was closed.  Also unfortunately closed:  a learn-to-trapeze school (!!!).

Looking in the other direction, there is a wonderful view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

After soaking in the sites, we walked a few minutes down to pier 11. I had discovered in my research that a free-with-purchase ferry runs from the dock to Ikea Brooklyn.  Conveniently for us, they also run a free shuttle in Brooklyn from the store to a metro stop 2 blocks away from where we were staying.  So we headed over, taking the scenic route home.

Of course, at Ikea we had to take advantage of the crazy cheap Swedish meatball lunch :)

And now, let's talk about Sprinkle's cupcakes. My original itinerary had included a tour-du-cupcake stores of Manhattan.  Sadly, this (shamefully well planned and researched) tour had to be sacrificed in order to spend time with the family (Rough).  However, I did notice that one store was not that far from the Met, and was also kinda in the path we could take to catch a Metro home.  Also my sister said they were good.

Our walk took us down Fifth Avenue, right along Central Park.

a jazz concert on the steps of the met

Central Park squirrels
Me at Sprinkles, before I had actually tasted a cupcake.  The after picture would probably have been me, clinging with all my strength to the door while rooting through my purse, trying to scrape together as much cupcake money as possible.

Oooh my gosh, Sprinkle's cupcakes.  I got two (WHY?? I DON'T KNOW.  Uncharacteristic modesty in the face of baked goods.)  The dark chocolate cupcake was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. My entire life.  It was so good, I only ate half, and slowly nibbled away at the rest over the next 2 days.  Is that pathetic or what??  Lets just say that in any future trips to NYC, Sprinkles cupcakes will be priority number one.

NYC, we will be back. Guard your cupcakes.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

NYC visit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Last week we took a very quick trip up to NYC for my sister's wedding.  We were mainly there to visit with family and attend the wedding, but how can you be in New York and not take advantage of all the things there are to do?  Daniel and I took a few mornings to do a few fun things.  I knew I had to get to Metropolitan Museum of Art, if only to fill up my "culture and beauty" reservoirs for a bit longer.  I lured Daniel in with the promise of medieval armor.....

in front of a Tiffany mosaic

Initially when I researched the Met I was floored by the $25 US per person entrance fee.  But it turns out actually all that is required to enter is a donation of your choosing... which isn't very apparent on the Met's web site for obvious reasons.  I paid what I thought was a fair price, knowing we would only be able to stay for about 2 hours, and the ticket lady didn't even flicker an eye at the much smaller then recommended amount of cash I handed over.  I had also heard the exhibit on the Met's roof was worth checking out.  Since timed tickets were required, we headed up there first.

The sculpture is called Cloud City, and you can climb through. The floors and walls are either clear plexiglass or mirrors, which gives a slightly disorienting effect.  It only took a few minutes to walk through, and there weren't very many other people on the roof.  The weather was just perfect.

enough with this perfect-weather-perfect-skyline thing.  Find me some ARMOR.
Since we were working with limited time, we walked through the ground floor at quite a brisk pace, trying to take in as much as possible as quickly as possible.  Highly not ideal, but better then nothing.  We decided to  budget a little more time on the period rooms and medieval armor, but managed to take in the sculpture halls also.

same nose.
I was geeking out a bit at the absolutely perfect light in the sculpture halls....
Yay Armor!
incredible details

A L-shaped metal bar was welded on the back between the helmet and shoulders of this jousting armor, my theory is that it was to prevent the knight's head from being knocked off.  

Growing up in Belize, Daniel has not had many opportunities to visit museums like the Met.  I really enjoyed viewing exhibits with him, because vague history, so hard for him to relate, began to come alive.  He walked through the sumptuous period rooms from 1700 and 1800's Europe, and silently took in the idea that people had actually lived in these rooms with their glittering chandeliers, gold trimmed walls, and delicate silk-covered chairs.  He stood inches away from a marble statue, carved with perfection 2000 years ago.   When looking at a fabulously intricate metal medieval strong box, he turned to me and said, "I didn't know these things were real.  I thought they were just made up for movies."  Daniel has always been one not to take much stock in history, and always says it is better to remain focused on the present.  But walking through the Met, he commented that he wished his students could come and experience the rich collection of history.  It would open their eyes to the world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where a local eats in Cayo District

I have issues with guidebooks and sites like Tripadvisor that review local places to eat.  The guidebook writer probably ate one meal at the reviewed restaurant, and most online reviews are written by tourists who probably eat... one meal at the restaurant.  The highest rated places to eat around here pretty much cater strictly to tourists, and the prices and food quality reflect that.  If a restaurant only has to impress you once, they don't have to try very hard.  And $9 burritos?  You have got to be joking.  I wouldn't say you can expect gourmet cooking at any of the following places (if you are looking for gourmet restaurants you are in the wrong country), but you will get decent food at decent prices.

Benque and Succotz

1.     Benny’s kitchen
      We eat here a lot, because it is the only restaurant in Succotz.  The service and quality can be inconsistent, but when you hit a good day it’s well worth it. Stick with local specials such as rice and beans, or smaller items like tostitos and burritos.  The breakfast is serve all day, and is pretty consistently good.  Juices are freshly squeezed.  Avoid the pizza and burgers. 

2.     Xu’s chinese restaurant
Chinese restaurants are legion in Belize.  Randomly, the best thing to get at any one is probably a $5 plate of fried chicken.  This comes with large section of breast or thigh along with French fries and your yearly recommended dose of sodium.

3.     Panaderia la Gracias de Dios
Right up the street from the Catholic Church in Benque.  This has serve-yourself breads, pastries, and DONUTS.  My favorites are the spicy ham and cheese pastry and the custard-filled donut.  This place is seriously cheap too.  The only problem is the baking hours are kinda random.  I’ve gone in at 10am on a weekday, and they don’t have any stock because they haven’t started the day’s baking.  Well worth checking if you are in Benque.

4.     The BBQ stand across from the Catholic Church (no name as far as I know…)
They only BBQ on Friday, Sautrday and Sunday nights.  It is consistently  the best BBQ stand in the area.  A large piece of thigh or breast + a tortilla and beans = $5bz.

San Ignacio

1.     Sanny’s Grill
This place is hard to find, it is in a residential area outside of the center of town.  The menu is more varied than what you usually see, with interesting chicken and beef dishes.  The salad is good also.  Two caveats: it is only opened after 6pm, and it has a major mosquito problem.  Wear long pants.

2.     Hot Taco
A bit of a step up from the usual taco vendors, this place is clean with freshly made food and friendly service.  The food is more Americanized, but you get plenty for really cheap prices. The chocolate chip cookies are really good too.

3.     Mr Greedy’s
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this place.  It is pretty touristy, and has a sand floor (which ick, how do you clean it?)  But they have really good calzones.  For $12, you get a huge calzone with your choice of fillings.  The salads are pretty good too.


1.     Puccini’s
This place is pricey by local standards, but worth a splurge.  I’ve had their calzones and hot subs—really good.  My favorite is the chicken bacon ranch sub.  Also, sometimes they have root beer on tap (the only place in Belize I’ve found).

2.     The Calladium
Right across from the Bus station.  I usually stick with their chicken sandwich because the menu is a bit pricey.  But the food is good, and best of all there are CLEAN bathrooms.  If you are stuck at the bus station and desperate for a bathroom, go here instead of the absolutely filthy restrooms at the station.  You’ll have to buy something, but it’s well worth it.  Avoid the lunch hour if possible, lots of government workers eat here and it gets packed.  

Spanish Lookout

Midway gas station and diner
Ok, this is totally random.  The set up is downstairs is a gas station/ fast food bar/ convenience/ hardware store.  Upstairs is a variety store (with a pretty good selection of camping equipment and musical instruments—see what I mean about random?)  Separate and through glass doors upstairs (and AIRCONDITIONED) is the restaurant.  It is head and shoulders above any other place to eat in Spanish lookout (and actually better then most places in Cayo).  Large menu, reasonable prices, and CLEAN.  Last time we were there we split a massive chicken Caesar salad and a BBQ beef sandwich.  It can look a bit crowded, but there is more seating out of view around a corner.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

children's day

This morning was one of those mornings.  I went to San Ignacio to do an errand, and when I got there realized that the necessary paperwork was comfortably sitting on my kitchen table.  I ran a few other errands while I was there, and a feeling of foreboding started as I was walking through town.  "Hmm," I thought, "there are a lot of suspicious looking groups of people standing about.  I wonder if there is a parade today."

September in Belize is independence month... because one day just isn't enough.  Actually, several patriotic holidays are scattered throughout the month, and with holidays moving around to avoid weekends and new holidays being added, one can never be quite sure when one will run into a parade.  However, I was reasonably sure that today was not a holiday.  I drove home and back... and on my way back into San Ignacio ran into not one but THREE parades.  Luckily I was able to backtrack and take alternate roads, unlike some unlucky drivers who got quite stuck.

At the bank I enquired what the parades were for.  "Children's Day" was the answer.  Honestly I'm not entirely sure what the point of Children's Day is (when we were little and complained to my mom that there is mother's day and father's day but no children's day, she would reply, "every day is children's day.")  A Belizean parade is not as elaborate as many you see in the States, with a few floats or a band if you are lucky, but mostly people just walking together in the street. Today seemed to be school children walking (and bonking each other on the head with flags and screaming).   It was probably close to 90 degrees out, but it didn't seem to be fazing  the  kids.   For them it's probably one of their favorite days of the semester... cause any day not sitting in class is a good day, right?

someone lost their flag...

mini cadets started the parade.  very cute.

all schools have uniforms here, and each school has their own colors.

the sole drummers in the whole parade.  They were having a lot of fun.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

coke in glass bottles

There is not much better on a muggy afternoon than an ice cold bottle of coke.  Especially because coke has a monopoly here, so you can't get a pepsi even if you wanted.
Something about a glass bottle just makes the experience better though. Although in Belize you do have an interesting option if you would rather not pay the 25 cent deposit for the bottle.  The checkout person at the grocery will ask if you want to take the bottle, which is quite confusing at first. How else would you carry the liquid home? If you decide not to take the bottle, the cashier will open your coke, pour it into a small plastic bag, and pop in a straw.  Dubious hygeine, but you have just saved 25 cents...

Monday, September 3, 2012

where I shop: clothes

In college I was an InStyle magazine devotee.  Every month one of my circle of friends would buy the latest issue, and we would gather in a dorm room, sit on bean bags and beds, and discuss the latest trends.  Even though my current wardrobe tends more to jeans and rubber boots, a part of me still  wants to be at least somewhat fashionable.  This is a challenge, to put it mildly.  Belize does not have ANY malls.  There are no chain stores- not one Gap, H&M, or even Wal-mart for goodness sakes.  Stores that sell new clothes follow what I imagine Miami Beach sees as fashionable: short, see-through, and lots of sequins.  So this leaves me with the second hand stores.  Fortunately, I am somewhat of a thrift store pro (I mean, how many people can claim they have shopped at a thrift store in Guatemala?).

dress: market clothes piles, 50 cents (altered by me), belt: Guatemala thrift store, 30 cents, bag: the boundary store, $2.50
All that In-Style education actually helps me.  I’m pretty good at picking out quality fabrics and construction from a literal huge pile of clothes.  I’m also good at recognizing quality brands.  For example, I’m going to pick Ann Taylor over Gloria Vanderbuilt., and silk over polyester.  Another thing in my favor is that I am taller then most Belizeans and have really different tastes.  We tend to gravitate towards different items… not only because I wear more uncommon sizes, but also because I don’t like rhinestones on my clothing.  This is probably why no one snapped up the Manolo Blahniks I found for $5bz, or the Hermes Scarf for $1—my two most exciting finds.

the kitty claims the Manolos

 shopping in Belize

1.     know where to go.  All piles of $1 a piece clothes at the market are not equal.  I stick with the vendors whom I’ve found have a nice, frequently updated variety of higher-end brands.  If I’m looking through some place new, I quickly check brands and materials.  If they aren’t up to my standards, I move on.  In Cayo, Ceci’s clothes are consistently good.  There is also Cayo Bargain center, which has new-with-tags on it clothes from Target, Kohl’s, and other places for very reasonable prices (I’m pretty sure their buyer buys up clearance racks…. I hope).  Then there is the shoe mecca—the Boundary store in Orange walk.  They have thousands of pairs of shoes, none for more then $20Bz.  Don’t worry, mom, I clean and bleach any used shoes I buy :)  

My favorite market vendor.  Scores that day: an Old Navy dress for $5 and a silk J Crew top for $2

2.     Look outside your regular size, but know your standard sizes.  I know my size in most of the chain brands.  However, since most of the places I shop don’t have fitting rooms, I have been known to try something on over my clothes in the middle of the store.  If I ever have children, I fully intend to embarrass the heck out of them with this.
trying to see myself in the mirror while squashed in a fitting room which is actually a closet

3.     Be willing to do a little work.  I will mend small holes, take things in slightly, and shorten sleeves.  Also, a lot of places have constantly changing stock, so it pays to check in frequently.  I usually spend 5-10 minutes on Saturday mornings at the market checking through my favorite places to see if anything new catches my eye.

sometimes competition over an item of clothing can be fierce

4.     Know your style.  Huge piles of unsorted clothes are overwhelming, and it's easy to walk away with something you really don't need or even like. The other day I came across a beautiful high-end silk top for $5bz.  But  it just wasn’t something I ever would have a place to wear, so I petted it a while and moved on.  My Pinterest board has really helped me define my style and figure out what items I need to look for. 

So anyone want to come shopping with me?
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