Shopping in the Bahamas

February 24, 2010

Conch jewelry

Yes, a whole post devoted to shopping. That’s how important shopping is! When we go on vacation, I always want to bring back items that will help me remember the true spirit of the place we visited. I long to buy items made by craftspeople and artisans who live in the place we visit and which are made with local products. Having these souvenirs keeps the trip alive for me and lets me take a piece of the place home. I have many treasured trip souvenirs: a sailor’s valentine from Cape Cod, English bone china from England, sheep from Scotland, a sea grass basket from Charleston, painted tiles with ocean scenes from Maine, a photo of the ocean and a sea turtle from

Conch carving

Hawaii, a lightship basket from Nantucket, as well as bookmarks and Christmas ornaments from many places. Because of this, a vacation is always judged by how good the shopping was!

People say there is good shopping in the Bahamas, but those who say that don’t understand the kind of shopping I crave. Yes, there are tons of t-shirt shops and straw items made in China, as well as jewelry and designer purses that are supposedly sold at good prices in Nassau. I wasn’t interested in any of that. Yes, we visited the Straw Market because you can’t go to Nassau without going there. The Straw Market is in temporary housing under a tent after a fire wiped it out years ago. It’s a tightly filled space with tons and tons of cheap junk for sale.  Interestingly, I have a straw purse my grandmother bought there when she went in the 60s and the items they sell today are identical. We didn’t buy a single thing.

Basket from The Plait LadyAfter walking up and down Bay Street in Nassau where all the shops are clustered, I started to worry. I couldn’t find anything to buy! Soon after I discovered a small shop, Uniquely Bahamas, in our hotel that sold items made in the Bahamas. It was the mother lode. They had jewelry made from conch shells. I bought a bracelet and pendant. Teen Martha got earrings and a bracelet there. I also bought a fish carved out of conch and a small print of the ocean.

When we visited Atlantis, we took a walk through the Marina Village, a shopping center placed in a marina. In between gawking at the giant yachts, IWire sculpture managed to find a nice shop called The Plait Lady. This shop sold authentic Bahamian-made straw baskets. They are incredibly heavy and are water tight. I bought one of those as well as a Christmas ornament carved from conch. I also picked up a magnet – I’ve decided to buy a small magnet each place we go and stick them on the file cabinet in my office.

One last shop that I stumbled upon was in the Wyndham hotel, next to our resort (don’t stay there though – it doesn’t compare to the Sheraton – see my previous post). They had some very interesting wire sculptures. I bought one that has a woman sitting on a piece of coral, with a straw basket at her feet, holding a blanket that has the names of the different islands on it.

When we visited Goodfellow Farms for lunch (again, see previous post), I picked up their cookbook, Living Off the Land and Sea. I haven’t had a chance to read it, but it looked very interesting, with lots of recipes for seafood and tropical fruits. I’m thinking I need to start buying cookbooks on trips too!

I was happy that I came home with a few authentic souvenirs, but was surprised they were so hard to find. It was a stark contrast to Hawaii, which was filled with many beautiful shops selling handcrafted, gorgeous items.

Where have you done your best vacation shopping?

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Bahamas Travelogue

February 23, 2010

If you were watching Martha’s show after New Year’s, you got to hear all about her trip to Thailand. She showed the things she bought and photos of places she visited. I thought I would give you a Martha-esque post about our trip to the Bahamas.

We stayed at the Sheraton Beach Resort on Cable Beach on New Providence Island (outside of Nassau). I highly recommend this resort. It was outside of the insanity of Atlantis and Nassau and had a beautiful beach and three pools. The on-site restaurants were actually pretty good and the room was comfortable.

Two great things about the Bahamas: American money is on par and accepted everywhere, so you don’t need to exchange money when you get there.  Secondly, when you come home, customs happens in the Bahamas airport, so you don’t have to go through the nonsense of retrieving your luggage, going through customs, and checking it again when you arrive in the U.S. This is a big plus!

Because it was cold, cloudy and windy, we didn’t spend a lot of time at the beach, unfortunately. We did spend a lot of time eating! One of the specialties of the Bahamas is conch (pronounced ‘conk’). Conch is often served as a tomato based chowder or “cracked”, which means it is pounded and then deep fried (which makes it very tender). It tastes very mild like a shrimp or scallop. We also ate lots and lots of fish. Grouper is served almost everywhere and is often fried. I also had some snapper, shrimp, lobster, and we had some crawfish, which was good, but a little tough. An island specialty is peas ‘n rice, essentially red beans and rice. The classic island dessert is guava duff, a roulade with guava inside it, served with a vanilla cream sauce. Fabulous!

On our last day, we hit upon the perfect lunch spot – Goodfellow Farms. This organic garden is run by a couple who quit their jobs, sailed off to the Bahamas and settled there. They serve lunch every day and all the produce is homegrown. It was amazing and I highly recommend it.  The Poop Deck at Sandyport was our best dinner. I had the Snapper Sandyport and Mr. MarthaAndMe had a trio of lobster – deep fried, broiled, and shredded with a BBQ sauce. The kids enjoyed coconut shrimp and calamari. Heaven! We also dined at Humidor Churrascaria, a Brazilian BBQ. We are always eat at churrascarias wherever we can find them. If you’ve never been to one, it’s an experience you must have! You start by enjoying a lavish salad bar, which is much more than just salad. Then waiters come around with spears of roasted meat and they cut pieces off at the table for you.

We visited Ardastra Gardens, a zoo with a crazy flamingo show. A man marches the flamingos into a show area and shouts commands at them and they (sometimes) listen. Dude Martha got to go stand with the flamingos.

The gardens also has a parrot feeding exhibit. You go into a large cage, hold out a piece of apple in your hand, and parrots land on you and eat it while you hold it. I admit I screamed when one landed on my arm and one landed on

Teen Martha feeding a parrot

my head! We all got used to it quickly and for the first time I have to say I could understand why people like birds. Their feet were surprisingly soft and they ate rather politely from our hands.

We did spend a few hours at Atlantis, the huge mega-resort on Paradise Island. The prices there are ridiculous. If you want to come and use their pools for the day, it costs $500 for a family of 4. We took a self-guided tour which cost us

Walking through the aquarium tunnel at Atlantis

$130. We got to see all the aquariums, pools, and lobbies of the buildings, as well as access the shops within the resort. It is interesting and I’m glad I got to see it, but it all felt so artificial – similar to Disney. It’s too man-made and fabricated feeling to me. The food prices there are astronomical. We poked our heads in a cheesy little pizza place – $7 a slice or $38 for a cheese pizza. Considering a pizza is about $12 at home, that was insane. All the restaurant costs in the Bahamas are astronomical, but this one really bothered me. We walked out and found cheaper food elsewhere.

We found some Bahamians to be very friendly – particularly if they were trying to sell you something. Others we found to be downright rude, including the concierge at our hotel, who found our questions amusing and answered with one word responses only.

Although all the books say you don’t need a car, we found it essential. There was no traffic and parking was surprisingly easy. Bahamians drive on the left side of the road, but often have American made cars. We rented cars in Great Britain last summer and this was a little easier since you are at least sitting on the correct side of the car, even if you’re driving on the wrong side! A car gives you the freedom of seeing the entire island. One of our favorite drives was to the eastern end of the island where we gawked at the many mansion, including the one owned by Daniel Craig, who plays James Bond. The name of his mansion? 007.

The island is beautiful, with sandy beaches and aquamarine waters that take your breath away.  Enjoy some of the scenery. Tomorrow I’ll share photos of what I bought and what shopping on the island is like.

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