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    North America Travel

    Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos

    A Review

    We had a wonderful ten day stay at the beautiful Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos a few weeks ago. It’s incredibly rare for us to stay in a resort, or even in a hotel. We usually are in an Airbnb or VRBO, with our hotel stays limited to one night here and there usually at an airport. But we gave this a try and we were not disappointed. Here is my review of the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos.

    Royal West Indies Resort

    Turks and Caicos

    Turks and Caicos is a small Caribbean country in the Atlantic only 736 miles off the coast of Florida. The country has a population of 39,000 within its collection of 40 small islands, of which only eight are inhabited. They use US dollars, drive on the left and are a British territory. Queen Elizabeth names a Governor for the country.

    Turks and Caicos

    Most of the population are descendants of slaves, who were forcibly brought here to work the salt flats and cotton fields. More recently many people have immigrated from The Bahamas. Today the economy is based on tourism and off-shore financing.

    Grace Bay, Providenciales

    We spent our time on the island of Providenciales, home ot the international airport (by the way, the airport is the worst thing about the island, sadly in need of an upgrade). Our lodgings were in a small town known as Grace Bay. Grace Bay has an astonishingly beautiful long white sand beach where the lovely resorts sit, including the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos.

    Grace Bay

    The town of Grace Bay seems to be fairly recently developed, with resorts, shops and restaurants spread out over a few miles and all easy walking distance from our resort. A really nice grocery store was less than a mile, dozens of restaurant and shops about a mile or less. Everything seems practically brand new. Sidewalks are good, and roads too. I felt very safe doing a five mile run each morning.

    Grace Bay

    Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos

    This resort was far better than I expected, which of course was a great surprise. We booked the least expensive room, a “studio” for $260 a night via Expedia. With all the taxes and fees, the actual cost was closer to $300. The “studio” is basically a large hotel room that included a table and chairs for two, small sitting area, small kitchen with fridge and microwave (see last week’s blog about hotel microwave cooking), a bathroom and a washer and dryer. Having a washer dryer was a big bonus we weren’t expecting. Our room also had a very large deck with table, chairs and lounge chair over looking one of the two pools.

    Our Studio Room

    The Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos also has one bedroom suites. In addition you can combine a one bedroom suite and a studio like ours to create a two bedroom space.

    Small Kitchen

    Made up of 8 buildings with 15 units in each, the buildings are spread out around beautifully landscaped grounds. All units either overlook one of the pools or the beach.

    There is no elevator, but a very nice and strong bellhop carried our bags up to the third floor on our arrival. Staff also secured the taxi for our return trip to the airport. Taxi’s are different here…usually shared vans.

    View from our room

    First Rate Amenities

    We were pleasantly surprised to find such beautiful pools as well as access to a beautiful beach area on Grace Bay that included lounge chairs and umbrellas just for the guests of our hotel. Beach and pool towels also available from the friendly staff.

    Enjoying the pool

    In addition the hotel offers guests the free use of Hobie Cat sailboats, kayaks and bikes.

    Enjoying the free bikes

    Dining

    Pelican Bay Restaurant and Bar sits poolside at the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos. It is highly rated and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition they had one of the most generous daily happy hours I’ve ever encountered offering half off all drinks from 5-7pm. Special weekly Fish Fry and BBQ are also popular. On Sunday nights they have live music and it was so good.

    Pelican Bay Restaurant and Bar

    We cooked in our room five of the nights we stayed and ate out four nights. In addition to enjoying the Pelican Bay Restaurant and Bar for breakfast we walked to four more dinner restaurants and one lunch that we really enjoyed.

    More We Enjoyed

    Coco Bistro and Coco Van – When we couldn’t get a reservation at the highly rated and very popular Coco Bistro we ended up having a really good meal at their food truck called Coco Van. We had Chicken Fried Burger, Duck Tacos, Egg Roll, two side salads and four beers. $80.

    Coco Van
    Coco Van

    Another highly rated restaurant we tried was called Caicos Cafe. I was expecting it to be Caribbean food but it actually was Italian with lots of pastas and other things too. I had a spinach salad and grilled octopus. Arne had the local specialty Conch Chowder and BBQ Ribs. With one beer and water $120

    Caicos Cafe
    Conch Chowder at Caicos Cafe

    A short walk down the beach we discovered The Flamingo Cafe, a tiny beach shake with great water view. Not much to look at but the food was great and inexpensive. Conch Salad and two Grouper entries $60.

    Flamingo Cafe
    Conch Salad at the Flamingo

    We ate lunch out one day at the local food truck called Roosters just a block from our resort. Fish Tacos and burgers on the menu but we also tried a local Caribbean pork dish called Griot. $18

    Roosters Food Truck
    Griot

    We splurged a little on our final night on the island and went to Coyaba, one of the highest rated restaurants in the area. Fantastic service. Cute space. Excellent food. Two fish entries, one salad, beer and water total was $160.

    Coyaba
    Coyaba

    Visiting Turks and Caicos

    We chose not to rent a car and not to wander beyond Grace Bay during our visit. But for those interested there are great beaches around the island (some remote), a national park, snorkel and dive tours, sailing tours, sunset tours, kayaking, parasailing, golf and more. Although groceries and dining out were quite expensive, overall we had a really positive experience and would definitely recommend it, as well as a stay at the Royal West Indies Resort Turks and Caicos.

    Relaxing

    Read last week’s post about Hotel Microwave Cooking on a Budget

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    North America Travel

    Birds of Antigua West Indies

    Amateur Bird Watching With Merlin

    Location: Antigua West Indies

    As we travel around the world on the Grand Adventure we have become amateur bird watchers. We didn’t set out to do this but it gradually happened as we marveled at the world’s amazing avian life. A few years ago we discovered the bird identifier app called Merlin. It quickly became one of our most used travel apps. Using it in the Caribbean we have really enjoyed the birds of Antigua West Indies.

    Bananaquit

    The Merlin Bird Identifier App

    The free Merlin app is created by the Cornell Lab, part of Cornell University in New York. My husband discovered this app, and it’s honestly amazing that it is free because it offers so many features. Our favorite features include the easy search function, excellent photos (most photos in this post from Merlin) and the super fun birdsong/sound identifier.

    Broadwinged Hawk

    As we travel we catalog the birds we discover around the world. And we discovered 13 new birds while on Antigua West Indies. Thanks Merlin!

    We spent ten days on this tiny Caribbean island. Here is a list of both the 13 new as well as several others that were repeats with a little bit about each one. These photos below are from the Merlin App.;

    Birds of Antigua West Indies

    Green Heron – beautiful blue green water bird with a rust colored neck and a crown that he fluffs up when he is agitated or happy.

    Green Heron

    Broad-winged Hawk – beautiful small hawk, multi colored with spectacular underwing color.

    White Winged Dove – usually on the ground or perched, smaller with gray and brown and white on the wings

    White Winged Dove

    Zenaida Dove – shy and keeps to beachy or scrub area, similar to Mourning Dove. Distinct white edge on wings when seen in flight.

    Zenaida Dove

    Green-throated Carib – large for a hummingbird, the fluorescent green color can appear black in certain light.

    Green-throated Carib

    Common Ground Dove – tiny dove dull brown color keeps to grasses and shrubby areas

    Common Ground Dove

    White-crowned Pigeon – large dark gray with white cap and pink legs, common in low coast areas and mangroves.

    White-crowned Pigeon

    Gray Kingbird – medium gray and white, primarily Caribbean and found in dense woodlands near the coast.

    Gray Kingbird

    Yellow Warbler – prefers brushy areas near water but easy to spot due to flash of color although females are duller in color.

    Yellow Warbler

    Carib Grackle – Black with yellow eye, long tail and rather obnoxious call

    Carib Grackle

    Bananaquit – Gray with yellow belly and black and white head, known for screeching call. Found in woodlands and gardens, feeds on fruits and at bird feeders.

    Bananaquit

    Laughing Gull, distinctive call that sounds like laughter, most common shorebird on Antigua, white and gray with full black head.

    Laughing Gull

    Common Gallinule – chicken-like marsh bird found near cattails, black with distinctive red face and yellow legs.

    Common Gallinule

    Lesser Antillean Bullfinch – tame and often seen at your picnic or on your deck, males are black with red throat and females are brownish green.

    Lesser Antillian Bullfinch

    Great Egret – Large, long-necked white heron found in marshy area, quick to startle.

    Great Egret

    Cattle Egret – common white stocky with short yellow bill, usually in dryer area than other egrets, splash of pink on the head.

    Cattle Egret

    Black-necked Stilt – fragile looking water bird with distinctive pink legs and tuxedo body. Forages in shallow pools and marshes.

    Black-necked Stilt

    Brown Pelican – large and gray brown saltwater habitat, very long bill with pouch for scooping fish. Often gather in groups.

    Brown Pelican

    Magnificent Frigatebird – huge seabird found in tropical ocean areas black with forked tail with inflatable red pouch on throat (males) and females white chest and gold bar on shoulder.

    Magnificent Frigatebird

    Apps Make Travel Fun and Easy

    There are several apps we use for travel on nearly a daily basis including Google Maps, Google Translate, Airbnb, Expedia, PictureThis Plant Identifier and The Weather Channel. But Merlin is one of our favorites for both the education and entertainment value it provides. Whether you travel or not, we recommend you check out Merlin Bird Identifier App.

    Thanks for reading our post about the birds of Antigua West Indies. See last week’s post about Exploring the Neighborhoods of New York City.

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    North America Travel

    Exploring the Neighborhoods of New York City

    New York, the largest city in the United States, is a collection of distinctive neighborhoods covering more than 472 square miles. Home to 8.5 million people, New Yorkers are proud and hard working, ambitious and love their city and individual neighborhoods.

    New York is made up of five boroughs; The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Within the boroughs are numerous neighborhoods. Below is a list of my favorites, but please note I was not able to visit all the boroughs or all the neighborhoods. My twelve days in the city were incredibly busy, but even so I didn’t see it all. I would love to go back for even more exploration. So with that in mind, here is what I discovered, exploring the neighborhoods of New York City.

    I’ll start in Lower Manhattan and work north up Manhattan Island before coming around clockwise to Long Island. Again please note, this is not all neighborhoods, just the ones I was able to briefly visit.

    Manhattan Skyline

    Lower Manhattan

    Lower Manhattan – lower Manhattan encompasses a variety of unique places including Wall Street, the September 11th Memorial and Museum, NYU and much more. Here I have broken out four neighborhoods from lower Manhattan; Chinatown, Gramercy Park, Little Italy and Greenwich Village. But there is much more to Lower Manhattan.

    Views of the Statue of Liberty, the free ferry to Staten Island, great restaurants, shops and museums; Lower Manhattan has a great vibe and should not be missed. It’s the jumping off point for most tours to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

    Recommendation The Tenement Museum, Katz Deli, Wall Street

    Lower Manhattan
    Lower Manhattan
    Tenement Museum
    Lower Manhattan

    Chinatown

    Population 100,000

    Lower East Side covering 2 square miles

    Recommendation Spicy Village for handmade noodles and dumplings

    Manhattan’s Chinatown today is a bustling gritty area of businesses and restaurants. In the 1800’s it was a cluster of immigrants trying to survive. Unlike the European immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island, most of the Chinese arrived from the West Coast, fleeing from violence and discrimination there. The majority of those arriving in New York were males who took on jobs considered “women’s work” including laundry and restaurants still prevalent today.

    Worth a visit today to experience the amazing food, fresh fruit stands or shop in the wide variety of tiny stores.

    Chinatown
    Chinatown
    Chinatown

    Gramercy Park and Neighborhood

    Population 27,000

    Lower Manhattan about 172 acres.

    Some famous residents of Gramercy Park include Jimmy Fallon, Julia Roberts & Uma Thurman

    Recommendation – just take a stroll. Or if you can afford it, visit Gramercy Tavern. (I did not)

    In 1831 Samuel Ruggles purchased a swamp in farmland in lower Manhattan. He spent 180,000 to turn the land into a private park surrounded by 66 parcels of land. Residents of the 66 parcels still today are the private users of Gramercy Park, the neighborhood known as Gramercy.

    This is an upscale area with beautiful homes and even more beautiful people. Visitors are not allowed in the park but you can walk the sidewalk that surrounds it.

    Gramercy Park
    Gramercy Park
    Gramercy Park

    Greenwich Village

    Population – 28,000

    Lower Manhattan (nearly to Midtown) 0.3 square miles

    Famous people who live in the village are many including Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Radcliff, and Chris Noth.

    Recommendation – stroll, people watch, eat. In my opinion this is the most beautiful neighborhood in New York. Check out the Washington Square Park, art shops and music clubs.

    “The Village” is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York, dating to the 1600’s. Visitors will notice the narrower, tree lined streets (some with cobblestones). Greenwich was laid out prior to the grid system the rest of the city has. It is one of the things that give the neighborhood such a quaint village feel. Once the home to a Bohemian scene in the 1960’s and today it retains its individual vibe with a young and vibrant scene. The architecture has the look of Alexandria Virginia with a colonial feel.

    Greenwich Village
    Greenwich Village

    Little Italy

    Population – 5000

    Lower Manhattan – 3 blocks of Mulberry Street with some surrounding blocks included

    Famous People from Little Italy include Robert DeNiro

    Recommendation- Zia Maria Italian was delicious. Come in the evening to stroll.

    Originally Little Italy was a much larger part of immigrant Lower Manhattan. Home to tenements and working class people. Today, it is a shell of it’s original self, mostly catering to tourists, with few Italians still living in the area. It is however a wonderful place to find delicious authentic Italian food, on the three block Mulberry area designated at Little Italy.

    Little Italy has been the setting for many iconic movies and films including the three Godfather movies. It has also seen its own real life Mafia. For much of its history the Italian Mafia operated out of Little Italy, including John Gotti.

    Little Italy
    Little Italy
    Little Italy (Zia Maria)

    Midtown

    Population 105,000

    Middle Manhattan 3 square miles

    Recommendations – Museum of Modern Art, Broadway Shows, Carnegie Hall, Il Corso Italian Restaurant

    Midtown is a thriving business district and home to Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Crysler Building, the United Nations and much more. Bustling center of retail and commerce, Midtown is home to a wide array of fantastic dining. Times Square and the Broadway theater scene is part of the Midtown neighborhood reach.

    Hell’s Kitchen, a small neighborhood of Midtown, is home to hundreds of restaurants, many with ethnic flavors from Greek to Cuban, Italian to Spanish, Vegan and Indian. Everything you might desire.

    Fifth Avenue, famous for Saks, Rockefeller Square and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is a great place to stroll and window shop and people watch.

    Midtown
    Radio City Music Hall, Midtown
    St Patrick’s Cathedral, Midtown
    Rockefeller Center Midtown

    Upper West Side

    Population 215,000

    Upper West Manhattan bordering the entire west side of Central Park about 2 square miles with the Hudson River to the west.

    Many celebrities call the Upper West Side home including Antonio Banderas, Jerry Seinfeld and Randy Rainbow (see more)

    Affluent residential area that is also home to Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University and Lincoln Center. High rise apartments and upscale hotels surround restaurants and shopping. The area was not developed until the 1800’s, although there was shipping and industry along the Hudson River.

    The development of Central Park and an elevated railway helped boost the growth of the area and it is today one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the world.

    Recommendation – Central Park, American Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, Crave Fish Bar and many restaurants

    Upper West Side
    Upper West Side
    Upper West Side
    Upper West Side from Lower Manhattan

    Upper East Side

    Population – 125,000

    Upper Manhattan covering all of the east side of Central Park to the East River. 1.75 square miles

    Famous people born in the Upper East Side include Woody Allen, Elizabeth Arden and Herb Alpert. Today some of the celebrities who make their home there include Samuel Jackson, Drew Barrymore, Mariah Carey and Bill Murray.

    Early on the Upper East Side was a fashionable address, and was home to famous New Yorkers such as the Rockefellers. Developed earlier than the west side of the park and therefore it is home to many elegant post Civil War brownstones and apartments. The Upper East Side Historic District is a registered National Historic site.

    Today the quiet tree lined streets continue to house the cities elite and beautiful. The Museum Mile, 5th Avenue along the East side of Central Park, is home to several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.

    The Upper East Side has its own small neighborhoods such as Yorkville. Throughout the Upper East Side you will find designer shops as well as humble markets, five star restaurants as well as tiny diners and takeout.

    Recommendations – Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Central Park, Bloomingdales. Window shop and enjoy any of the amazing ethnic restaurants. For something fun, take the gondola over to Roosevelt Island.

    Upper East Side
    Guggenheim, Upper East Side
    Upper East Side
    Upper East Side, The Met

    Harlem

    Population 198,000

    North Manhattan Island 1.5 square miles

    Famous People from Harlem – Cicely Tyson, Sammy Davis Jr., Ed Sullivan, Lou Gehrig (more). Matt Damon is a current resident.

    Recommendation- Jazz Clubs, Apollo Theater and Sylvia’s Diner the Queen of Soul Food. Don’t miss the northern most part of Central Park also in Harlem, a less manicured, more forested section of Central Park.

    Founded by the Dutch in the 1600’s, the area was predominately Jewish and Irish in the 1800’s and until the Great Migration of Afro Americans began in the early 20th century. Harlem has experienced wide swings of boom or bust, depression and success. It is the home of the “Harlem Renaissance” in the 1920’s and 30’s as African Americans defined the music and art scene. Many legendary Jazz and R&B artists are from Harlem.

    Harlem has fought the “gentrification” of it’s name and neighborhood and all though it has changed, it holds onto its roots as a family and working class neighborhood.

    I wanted more time in Harlem, but I didn’t get it. I’ll see more on my next visit.

    Harlem
    Harlem
    Harlem

    The Bronx

    Population – 1.5 million

    Just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, The Bronx is the only borough on the mainland. 57 square miles

    Recommendations – Yankee Stadium, New York Botanical Gardens, The Bronx Zoo

    Famous people from The Bronx; Jennifer Lopez, Carl Reiner, Kerry Washington, Lauren Bacall, Billy Joel, Al Pacino (more)

    Once a violent and poor, gang-infused area of New York, today The Bronx is safer and more family oriented , although still home to one of the poorest congressional districts in the US. Just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, The Bronx is the home of the New York Yankees as well as the beautiful campus of Fordham University. As a visitor the New York Botanical Gardens are not to be missed or the famous Bronx Zoo.

    The name “The” Bronx (sometimes capitalized but not always) comes from Swedish born Jonas Bronck who is credited as the first settler and farmer of the area. One story goes Manhattanites headed to “The Broncks” as a weekend getaway.

    The Bronx history includes bootlegging center during prohibition and poverty and crime in the 1960’s. In the 1980’s the Bronx Expressway created even more poverty by destroying neighborhoods and housing. In the late 80’s and 90’s a revitalization plan by the city helped and today The Bronx continues to search for it’s place in this huge city and to deal with it’s social issues. That said, a visit to NYC should include a visit to The Bronx.

    The Bronx
    Yankee Stadium, The Bronx
    New York Botanical Gardens

    Brooklyn

    Population 2,800,000. If Brooklyn were it’s own city it would be the third largest in the nation

    West end of Long Island 71 square miles

    Famous People from Brooklyn – Barbra Streisand, Jerry Seinfeld, Anne Hathaway, Joan Rivers (more). Current residents John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, Daniel Craig and Spike Lee.

    Recommendation – Pizza, Bushwick Collective, Brooklyn Bridge

    Named after the Dutch village of Bruekelen, Brooklyn is a hub of New York life. One of my favorite neighborhoods for food and people watching, Brooklyn is connected to Manhattan by numerous bridges and tunnels including the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Once a working class area, Brooklyn has become “gentrified” with housing prices skyrocketing and entrepreneurs flocking to the community.

    The Dutch arrived in the 1680’s to find Native Americans (Nayak and Carnasee) growing corn and crops in the rich soil of the region. Over the next two centuries Brooklyn would attract immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Britain and after World War II Italians.

    I wanted more time in Brooklyn. It will definitely be a place I visit again.

    Brooklyn
    Brooklyn
    Brooklyn, Bushwich Collective
    Brooklyn Bridge

    Exploring the Neighborhoods of New York City

    Even if you lived in New York, you could never explore it all. It is one of the most unique, vast, interesting and most beautiful cities in the world. It is constantly in motion and always changing. I love it and I can’t wait to go back and see even more. I hope you will consider visiting and exploring the neighborhoods of New York City.

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    North America Travel

    My Favorite Things in New York City

    I recently spent twelve days visiting New York City. It was my sixth visit to the city – my first when I was in college in 1980. Since then my visits have all been three to four days…never enough time to really feel the heart of this amazing city. Visiting for twelve days was incredible. We did not visit the top tourist attractions this time like Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island or the Empire State Building. We had done all that on previous visits. Instead we explored deeper, wandered widely and ate with gusto. It was easy to put together my favorite things in New York City. Here is our story.

    Statue of Liberty from the Circle Line Boat Tour

    Planning

    Well I’m a planner, and so it’s not my style to wing it. And in New York City it helps to try to plan ahead. For example the day we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with our pre-purchased tickets we avoided an hour and a half wait. We walked right in. I told my husband he should be happy he married a planner…:) I think he is. Try to do some planning and you will enjoy NYC with much less stress and less waiting in line.

    Be sure in your planning to consider how far things are from each other. For instance group your activities in Lower Manhattan all together. Central Park and many of the Museums are also in the same area. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time running from one end of the city to the other.

    Where We Stayed

    There are so many options to stay in NYC but we chose a small Airbnb for its location as much as anything else. This studio was on the ground floor with tons of storage, comfortable bed, small bath and even smaller kitchen. But it was in the Upper East Side, only three blocks to Central Park and two blocks to the subway. And we could afford it!

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Art Museums and Tours

    New York has a plethora of museums and these listed here are some of my favorite things in New York City. There are many others too…I’ll tick those off on my next visit.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art – I can’t really rate all the museums but this was definitely one of my favorites. A beautiful display of timeless art and sculpture…I wish we had spent an entire day.

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum – Smaller museum with changing exhibits but worth a visit to enjoy the beautiful building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

    Museum of Modern Art

    Museum of Modern Art – large and sprawling museum home to everything from Monet to Warhol and everything in between.

    Brooklyn Street Art Tour, The Bushwick Collective – We took a tour of the Bushwick Collective with a guide, the Brooklyn street mural art that has turned this neighborhood into an art Mecca. I highly recommend it.

    The Bushwick Collective Street Art

    The Cloisters – at the far north end of Manhattan is a small Medieval Art Museum associated with The Met. A surprisingly vast collection of Medieval Art, but for me the best part is the beautiful building. Worth a trip.

    The Met Cloisters

    Other Museums

    American Museum of Natural History – You can never see all of this vast museum, so before you go choose a few topics of interest to you and enjoy. Great for families. Get tickets online ahead of time.

    American Museum of Natural History

    The Tenement Museum – fascinating museum in Lower Manhattan that has put together multiple ways to learn about the tenement experience in New York City through the lives and voices of those who lived it. This is a do not miss.

    The Tenement Museum

    The National September 11th Museum and Tour – Now one of the top tourist destinations in New York, the National September 11 Museum takes you down into the underground where the World Trade Centers used to stand. Here you explore a well thought-out and descriptive museum, all about that horrifying event. We chose to hire a guide for a two hour walk about the neighborhood before going into the museum. Our guide was able to show us many of the iconic spots where unforgettable things took place on September 11th 2001 and the days and weeks that followed. His insight as a New Yorker was so interesting. The tour was definitely worth the money.

    The National September 11th Museum

    Parks and Gardens

    Central Park – One of my favorite places in the world. It is truly an incredible space, so well cared for by both the Central Park Conservancy and the local public. Adored by New Yorkers and visitors alike. Spend as much time as you can exploring all the pieces of this 1.32 square mile iconic park. It might just top my list of my favorite things in New York City.

    Central Park

    The High Line – Stroll The Highline, a re-purposed elevated railroad track in lower Manhattan, turned into an elevated garden and walkway. Simply the best.

    The High Line

    Bowling Green Park – if you take a boat out to the Statue of Liberty of Ellis Island you might depart form Bowling Green Park. It’s a beautiful little green space right on the Hudson River looking across to Lady Liberty.

    New York Botanical Gardens – yes it’s all the way out in the Bronx but totally worth it. We really enjoyed our day here. The azaleas and lilacs were blooming and it was just incredibly beautiful, well planned and welcoming. A special orchid exhibit was on display in the Conservatory when we were there.

    New York Botanical Gardens

    911 Memorial – Gorgeous and somber, the 911 Memorial recognizes each individual who died from the attacks on September 11th. It is a public space, a free park and gathering place and an absolute must when in New York City. Even if you don’t visit the The National September 11th Museum, be sure to come to the 911 Memorial Park. It is definitely one of my favorite things in New York City.

    911 Memorial

    Icons

    Brooklyn Bridge – we were blessed with a nice sunny day when we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, something I have always wanted to do. There were ALOT of people, but most people just walk about a quarter of the way out. It’s a fun and iconic thing to do with lots of photo opportunities.

    The Brooklyn Bridge

    New York Subway – my hubs has taught me not to fear the underground! And in NYC it’s cheap and efficient. We did not use Uber or taxis during our entire visit except to the airport…and if it wasn’t for the luggage we could have done a subway there too. I love people watching on the subway! Just keep alert and you’ll be safe.

    Yankee Stadium – I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I do enjoy seeing different stadiums around the USA and I’ve been lucky to have been in some of the most iconic. The Yankee Stadium was rebuilt a decade or so ago, but it still reflects the historic old look of this iconic team. Yankees beat the Orioles 5-2.

    Yankee Stadium

    Broadway – There is nothing like a live show on Broadway, and although the Times Square vibe to me feels like a cheaper version of the Las Vegas Strip, I do love live theater. I wish we could have seen more shows, but we saw two remarkable productions; Hamilton and Aladdin. Both amazing.

    Hamilton on Broadway

    Rockefeller Center – I’ve always wanted to see the Christmas Tree and the Rockettes but I’ll have to do that in the future. But for this visit we made a quick visit to 30 Rock just to snap a few photos.

    Rockefeller Center

    Boat Tour around Manhattan Island and the Manhattan Skyline – we hadn’t planned to do this until our friends recommended it highly. And I am so glad we did. Although the weather wasn’t the best, this tour is a wonderful way to learn history and get a real feel for the lay of the land (or island if you will). Great photos opportunities too for the beautiful and iconic Manhattan skyline.

    Manhattan Skyline from the Circle Line tour

    Restaurants

    It’s impossible to eat at all the restaurants in this city. Just look for where the locals are! On this visit we chose some hidden gems instead of the more big name spots. Here is a short list we recommend;

    Spicy Village in Chinatown – hole in the wall noodle and dumplings are a must.

    Spicy Village handmade noodles

    Williamsburg Pizza in Brooklyn – much debate goes around about where to find the best pizza is in Brooklyn. Most people wait an hour at Grimaldi’s, Juliana’s or Lombardi’s. We dashed into this little spot and were very happy with our meal. I don’t think you can go wrong with pizza anywhere in NYC. As the saying goes, pizza was invented in Italy but perfected in New York.

    Pizza Sicilian Style, Williamsburg Pizzas

    Kashkaval Garden in Hells Kitchen – Mediterranean spot tucked into a warm and inviting small space in Hell’s Kitchen. The hummus was exceptional.

    Mediterranean at Kashkaval

    Il Corso in Midtown – I think this may have been my favorite meal in New York. I’m still dreaming about the burrata with fried artichokes.

    Everything was delicious at Il Corso

    Crave Fish Bar Upper West Side – our first meal the night we arrived in New York was this wonderful fresh and sustainable seafood restaurant. It was really good and the service was also great. Fun space. Check it out.

    Crave Fish Bar

    Boqueria in Upper East Side – I met my friend Heather here and this joint was busy! Reservations are needed in many NYC favorites. We did the tapas tasting meal…wow…I was rolling home.

    Tapas at Boqueria

    Black Star Bakery in Gramercy Park – this bright and cheery spot was a pick-me-up on a busy afternoon. I’d like to go back for something off the delicious-looking breakfast menu.

    Zia Maria in Little Italy – Very authentic Italian Restaurant in the fun and colorful neighborhood of Little Italy. There are dozens of restaurants and bars to chose from here…I’m sure most are great…but this one was where we ate lasagna and Lobster Ravioli

    Laqsagna at Zia Maria

    Ramen Ishida – the day we went to the Tenement Museum we were going to go to Katz’s Deli, even though we had been there once before. But the line was around the block! Although Katz’s is good, I’m not willing to stand in line for an hour and a half. So instead we stumbled upon this incredible little hole in the wall called Ramen Ishida. It was perfect for a cold windy day. Delicious and beautiful.

    Ramen Ishida

    My Favorite Things in New York City

    Well the twelve days of New York were hectic and fun and we were able to enjoy my favorite things in New York City. We saw a lot, but still didn’t see it all. We left a few things to explore on our next visit…in fact more than a few things. I realize most people can’t stay for twelve days. But hopefully this blog post My Favorite Things in New York City will help guide you to the things YOU find most interesting, in the city that never sleeps.

    John Lennon memorial

    Meanwhile, check back next Friday, because I’ve saved my favorite neighborhoods for an entire separate blog post….the neighborhoods and boroughs are a colorful and interesting thing about the Big Apple. So diverse, historic and delicious! Look for that blog next Friday.

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    And The Grand Adventure Continues

    Travel is Back for My Fab Fifties Life

    When we went to Iceland in June 2021 I thought travel was back. But then the Greek alphabet started to wreak havoc on our travel life. First Delta hit in the summer and then Omicron almost shut us down when we were in Mexico. That Pandamit refused to loose it’s grip. Now, more than two years since it started, we once again are cautiously dipping our toes into travel with a ten week tour. We are ready and The Grand Adventure Continues.

    And the Grand Adventure Continues (Canva)

    My word of the year for 2022 is caution. And although we always travel with caution, navigating a travel life today requires a great deal more preparation and caution than in the past. Changing rules for testing and entry requirements require constant monitoring. It requires patience. It requires time. And it also requires being a bit of a gambler.

    Off We Go

    So with all that in mind, we have spent the past several months planning, studying the CDC information and reading the US State Department guidelines. We have put hundreds of hours into our preparation to embark on this tour. The destinations listed below each are chosen for a specific reason – personal and cautionary…and the Grand Adventure continues.

    New York City

    New York City (Canva)

    Twice we have canceled a week long winter visit to NYC due to the Pandamit. When we decided to try again for a spring visit, it was because we were headed to Boston for a college reunion. But alas, the college reunion was canceled (sigh). So we added the days we were going to be in Boston to the days we had already booked for New York…giving us a nice long stay of eleven days.

    We have been to New York at least a half a dozen times, but each time has always been only 2-3 days. Having eleven days gives us time to slowly see the city and all it’s fabulous museums, restaurants, neighborhoods and history. We have a full itinerary and are really looking forward to it. April 21-May 2.

    Caribbean

    Caribean
    Antigua (Canva)

    When we first decided to head to the Caribbean after New York the other countries on our itinerary (see below) hadn’t totally opened up. So we decided to head to the turquoise waters of two islands we had never been to before. It’s been a long time since we spent time in the Caribbean and we are looking forward to ten days in Antigua (in an Airbnb with a car) and ten days in Turks & Caicos (a resort with no car). For us it’s incredibly rare that we stay in a resort, so this should be interesting. It’s not a super fancy all-inclusive, but it is nice and we expect it to be very relaxing and within our budget. May 2-May 21

    Morocco

    Morocco
    Morocco (Canva)

    From the Caribbean we fly to Washington DC for a one night stay, where we will also do a Covid test for entry into Morocco. This is also where we will rendezvous with our two adult sons, who are joining us for the Morocco portion of this itinerary. We are off to Morocco to attend a wedding reception of a friend of our family…a party that has been canceled three previous times since the Pandamit hit. Before the wedding in Fes, our family will spend a week touring Morocco. This is my second visit to Morocco and I am really looking forward to seeing this beautiful country again, sharing it with my two adult children and attending a traditional Moroccan wedding. It should be an incredible experience. May 23-May 31.

    Senegal

    Senegal
    Senegal (Canva)

    The West Africa nation of Senegal has been on my list for a long time due to it’s fascinating history, but we have never been able to squeeze it in. But it’s a short flight from Casablanca to Dakar so we will check Senegal off the bucket list. We have a brief visit (five days) and have hired a tour guide for two days to take us to some of the major sites. May 31 – June 5.

    Paris

    Paris France
    Paris (Canva)

    From Senegal we are headed to the island of Malta, but to get to Malta requires a flight and an overnight in Paris. Well Paris is always a good idea, right? Fingers crossed for good weather to spend one full day strolling around my favorite arrondissements of the city of lights and eating everything I can. June 5-6

    Malta

    Malta
    Malta (Canva)

    The next three stops on this tour are three places Covid shut us down in, and we have been counting the days until we could return. So we begin with Malta.

    We were supposed to spend three weeks on Malta in May of 2020…of course that didn’t happen. It’s a destination I have wanted to visit for years. Full of beauty and history and fascinating geography…if you don’t know much about Malta you would probably recognize it from the role it plays in many movies and TV shows including Game of Thrones. We are staying in the historic town of Valletta in an Airbnb and we will not have a car except for one day when we have a car to see the ancient city of M’dina. I’ve booked a food tour and a one day tour to the island of Gozo. The rest of the time we will explore on foot. June 6-15th

    Israel

    Israel
    Israel (Canva)

    In March of 2020 after only five days of our 17 day itinerary in Israel we fled the country to avoid being put into a two week quarantine. We fled to Cyprus (more on that below) and I cried in the car as we drove to the airport. We had seen some amazing sites in Israel, but no where near all, including Jerusalem and Masada. I had waited to visit Israel since I was a child and learned about it from a Girl Scout leader. My heart was broken.

    So let’s try it again. This time we will spend our entire 7 day visit in Jerusalem in an Airbnb. We have a Jerusalem tour one day, another tour to Bethlehem in Palestine one day, and we will rent a car and drive to Masada one day. We also have booked a Shabat dinner with a local family. These are all high on my wishlist. I love the food of this region too, and I can’t wait to eat all of it! June 15 – 22

    Cyprus

    Cyprus
    Cyprus (Canva)

    Dear sweet Cyprus. It holds such a special place in my heart, after we spent two months in lockdown on this gorgeous island. But during that two months we did not see any of the amazing historic sites, enjoy any of it’s stunning beaches or eat in any of it’s amazing restaurants. Covid had everything shut down. We have vowed to return and now we will.

    Unfortunately we only have seven days, but we know exactly what we want to see and do, and we can make it happen. Looking forward to staying in the same Airbnb we were trapped in for two months and we can’t wait to see our hosts who were so kind to us. We also hope to see our friend Leza who we met and spent a day with in a cooking class – the only thing we got to do before we went into lockdown.

    Cyprus is a fascinating tiny country with a disputed border, fantastic food, ancient history (supposedly the birthplace of Aphrodite), mountains and beaches and so much more. Dear sweet Cyprus. We are coming. June 23-30

    Ten Weeks and The Grand Adventure Continues

    This itinerary is busy…much busier than we usually pursue. But we are taking a deep breath and tackling it, because life is short and due to the Pandamit we have some catching up to do! We will arrive back in the USA June 30th for the summer months before we go again.

    We hope you will follow along on this blog and all of our social media sites (Facebook Group, Facebook Page, Twitter and Instagram) and of course here on the blog where I hope to have a post almost every Friday.

    Be brave and get out there! Travel is back! And the Grand Adventure continues. Away we go.

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    See last week’s post Travel Wardrobe for Multiple Climates.

    See this week’s top performing pin here My Favorite Things Ogunquit Maine

    All photos in this post by CANVA

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    Relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico

    Location: Puerto Escondido Oaxaca Mexico

    We really were looking for somewhere to relax and enjoy some quiet time, after a whirlwind week in Mexico City. I had heard good things about the state of Oaxaca but we had never visited. I didn’t want to go to another big city after being in Mexico City, so we settled on the small town of Puerto Escondido. Here is what we did during our 17 days relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico.

    Sunset Puerto Escondido
    The Beach near our Airbnb

    Where is Puerto Escondido

    Oaxaca
    The State of Oaxaca

    Located on the Pacific Coast in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, it’s 246km from the city of Oaxaca and you can drive it in about four hours. However, a new highway will open soon and will cut that time in half. We flew from Mexico City on Viva Aerobus. The flight was about 50 minutes.

    History of Puerto Escondido

    Though pre-hispanic peoples lived in this region from time to time, the area was not really settled permanently until the 1930’s due to lack of fresh water. The word Escondido means hidden, and refers to an ancient story of a captive Mexican woman escaping and hiding in the jungle from her pirate captors.

    Puerto Escondido
    Puerto Escondido shopping area

    Today it is one of the most popular beach and surfing destinations for both Mexicans and international travelers. But prior to tourism the mountains around the town were known for coffee growing and the port was used to ship coffee.

    Mexican coffee
    Coffee roasting in Puerto Escondido

    Surfer’s Paradise

    We found the area home to the surfer crowd, much younger than us. We had no interest in surfing or partying, but there is a lot of that going on. Since the crowd is young, there is plenty of inexpensive lodging and dining available too. Parts of the area are very rural…sometimes I felt like I was in Southeast Asia, and sometimes it even felt like third world Africa. But we always felt safe and finding our way on foot with Google maps always worked. There are plenty of taxis too.

    Zicatela Surfers
    Zicatela Beach

    We noticed a lot of construction of condos and mansions being built on rough dirt and nearly impassable roads. We learned Europeans are coming here in droves and buying or building second homes because it is so inexpensive. Like in so many places, this is displacing locals and causing them to move further from town.

    Zicatela
    Beautiful homes on horrible roads

    Villa Tortuga

    Villa Tortuga
    Villa Tortuga lap pool

    We found a beautiful villa through Airbnb called Villa Tortuga located several miles from the actual town of Puerto Escondido and 2 miles to the small surfing village of Zicatela. The villas were beautiful, comfortable and with a view. Our villa included daily housekeeping and our housekeeper Mary also did some shopping and cooking for us and did our laundry. However, we found on the weekend even Villa Tortuga attracted a younger (and noisier) crowd. Listening to other people’s loud music doesn’t fit into my fab fifties life. We really loved the lap pool and the larger pool at the beach about a five minute walk from our villa. The waves are really big so we didn’t swim in the ocean, but sitting ocean side by the pool was our favorite thing to do. Airbnb $150 USD before tax.

    Villa Tortuga
    Villa Tortuga

    A Couple Things To Do

    Since our goal was to just spend time relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico we really didn’t do much else. However we did take an informative and delicious Food Tour with Puerto Food Tours – cost $60 USD per person.

    Fresh Tortilla
    Food Tour

    Our favorite activity was a Mezcal Distillery tour we took with Puerta Mezcal Tours. Owner Antoine was excellent and shared his enthusiasm for Puerto Escondido and Mezcal with our group of six at Ruu Piiil Distillery in Zicatela. I learned so much and we tasted eleven different Mezcals! $59 USD per person.

    Puerto Mezcal Tours
    Ruu Piiil Mezcal

    We found it safe to run in the morning although most of the time we were on dusty roads. One time I had to wait while the goats (and a very small goat herder) took up the entire road.

    Goats in the road
    Goat Traffic Jam

    We also walked to lunch in Zicatela at Savanna one day (about 2 and half miles from our villa) and took a taxi to another popular restaurant called Agua Sala. We had great meals at each – neither have websites.

    Enmoledas
    Delicious Enmoleadas for Lunch at Savanna

    We walked to tiny shops and tortilla stand close to our villa to get simple supplies for cooking at home. We walked one day to the Zicatella Mercado about 2.5 miles. We picked up some produce and had a nice coffee and croissant with a view.

    Zicatela Mercado
    Croissant with a view

    Relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico

    There is more to do here if you are so inclined…hiking, shopping, lots of street food and restaurants. There are cooking classes and surfing lessons and snorkeling tours, as well as whale watching. A popular activity is releasing baby turtles into the wild that have been hatched in a turtle nursery.

    Pool
    At the pool

    It’s a sweet place with a quaint vibe and awesome weather. We paid more than we needed to for our Airbnb, but generally everything else is dirt cheap. I can see why the young people love it…and it’s not too bad for us oldies either. There are many options to stay busy or pursue our goal of relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico.

    Barro Beach

    Looking to chill? I recommend relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico. Muy Bien.

    See last week’s blog post about Eating My Way Through Mexico City.

    Check out our YouTube video about Eating Local Mexico City.

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    Please Note – No Travel Friday blog for the next two weeks. We wish you a pleasant and safe holiday wherever you are and however you celebrate. Hoping for a joyful and safe 2022 with less strife and fewer travel restrictions. Thank you for your continued support. Stay safe. All the best!

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    Eating My Way Through Mexico City

    Location: Mexico City Mexico

    A little more than two years ago we were in an Airbnb on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia. It’s unusual for us to watch television, but this Airbnb had a great variety of international programs, and I watched a series about Mexico City street food. Oh my god. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I needed to go experience Mexico City street food. And that is how I came to be eating my way through Mexico City.

    I Apologize Mexico

    First, an apology to Mexico. As we have traveled all over the world these past five years on the Grand Adventure, we never added Mexico to our itinerary. As Americans, Mexico seems so easy to get to…and I had visited a couple times. So we kept skipping it. I’m sorry Mexico…I was wrong. The touristy places I had visited (Mazatlan, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Zihuatinejo) did not show me the real Mexico. Until Mexico City.

    Grapefruit and Tequila

    The PanDamit gave us the opportunity to reconsider Mexico given the easy access from the USA. So I began a correspondence with a Mexico City food tour company called Eat Like a Local Mexico. Eat Like a Local Mexico offers multiple food tours, but does not usually work with clients looking for a multi-day eating tour. But owner Rocio was amazing and over a period of several months we corresponded and created four days of eating my way through Mexico City during our six day visit to Mexico City.

    Red Tree House Bed & Breakfast

    We landed at Benito Juarez International Airport on a Monday night in November. We took a cab to the Mexico City neighborhood of Roma Sur and the bed and breakfast that had been one of a few recommendations from Eat Like a Local. The Red Tree House Bed and Breakfast turned out to be one of the best inns I have ever stayed in. Again, my apologies Mexico…it was so much better than I was expecting. The service, staff, accommodations, location and breakfast were all five star.

    Breakfast at The Red Tree House
    The Red Tree House

    Eat Like A Local Mexico 101

    On our first full day we met Rocio and guide Astrid from Eat Like a Local Mexico at a lovely little coffee shop a block from our hotel. Our tour, which was supposed to be a group tour, ended up being a private tour because the other group had canceled at the last minute. So off we went with Astrid, a tiny, energetic local who intricately knows the traditional Mexico City food scene.

    Brisket Tacos
    Amazing Corn

    We spent the next six hours with Astrid showing us local street food as well as visiting two of the most famous markets, the Merced Mercado and the Jamaica Mercado. Such a colorful wonderland. We ate so much I can’t even tell you! But see the video below for more.

    Habanera

    That night we made our way without a guide to the Frida Kahlo Museum. I highly recommend this when in Mexico City. The museum is in her home, the same home she was born and died in. I learned so much about her remarkable life. Don’t miss it.

    Frida Kahlo

    Eat Like a Local Night Street Food

    Next day, we took a “free” historic walking tour starting in the historic center of Mexico City. We always try to take a free walking tour wherever we are. Such a great way to learn local history, learn about culture and politics and all from a local. Our tour was with Estacion Mexico.

    Tongue Tacos
    Pork Sandwich

    After a quick rest back at the hotel we met up with Astrid again at another coffee shop within walking distance of our hotel to start a Night Food Tour as I continued eating my way through Mexico City. We were joined by another American couple from our home state of Washington. Small world. Using Uber, the metrobus (clean and efficient and cheap) and walking, we crossed the city with Astrid to visit the hidden joints only the locals know about. It was incredible. We ate street tacos, mole,and flautas, drank pulque, and much much more.

    Gringas Quesidilla
    Pulque Agave Sap

    Eat Like a Hipster Local

    Day three we slept in a bit then Rocio picked us up at our hotel for a private tour she designed just for us. The food this day was unforgettable as we focused on more of the nouveau foods coming out of Mexico City. We had chocolate, cheese and craft beer. We tasted mezcal and had the freshest and most delicious hipster tacos. I am in love.

    Hipster Ahi Taco
    Hipster Chinese Taco
    Cactus Ceviche
    Mezcal

    Casa Jacaranda Cooking School

    Our final day of our foodie tour was spent with Casa Jacaranda Cooking School. Starting at 10am and going all the way to 6pm we explored the Medellin Mercado, then at the Casa Jacaranda kitchen we cooked mole, fresh tamales, corn tortillas, salsa and more. This was such a marvelous experience all around – I would not hesitate to do this cooking school again.

    The best tamale I have ever had
    Slow cooked Mole

    Tasty Tuesday YouTube Video

    Check out our Tasty Tuesday YouTube video here about eating my way through Mexico City.

    We Will Be Back

    There are several other excellent things to do in Mexico City, other than eating, so next time we will stay longer. And there will definitely be a next time. I fell in love with this clean and beautiful city, so much more than I expected. Eating my way through Mexico City opened my eyes to a culture and cuisine I had been missing.

    Muchos Gracias Mexico City. What a delight!

    See last week’s post Winter Hiking Road Trip Through Utah and Arizona

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