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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Packing with Martha

February 20, 2009

The section in February Martha Stewart Living on packing is classic Martha. Four pages of how to pack a suitcase. Now, I must confess I am not so good at packing. Mr. MarthaandMe usually is the one who gets it all to fit nicely in the suitcase, but I am definitely involved in what we take and how it is packaged.

Martha says to pack outfits together on one hanger. When I travel, I don’t usually have complete outfits. I usually have several things that mix and match, so there is no need to put them on a hanger together.

The next tip is to fold sweaters with tissue paper. I just don’t understand how tissue paper is going to help the situation. When your luggage has 20 other bags piled on top of it, a piece of tissue paper isn’t going to do squat.

She also says to tuck shoes around the perimeter of the suitcase. That’s what we do and it works out well, although we do not have special little bags for our shoes like Martha does.

Martha says to pack accessories in little bags. My suitcase has some big zippered compartments that store lingerie, socks, etc. in. This works out well, particularly if we are moving from place to place. I can always find them easily.

charger-travelMartha says to pack chargers in ziploc bags. We have a cute little charger bag that comes with a power strip (since there are never enough outlets in a hotel room). We love this little thing and highly recommend it.

chrager-travel-21When we went to Hawaii last summer, instead of a purse, I used a big bag, which allowed me to then carry on a second item since that bag counted as my ‘purse’. Martha recommends a messenger bag instead of a purse- same concept and it’s a good tip and a great way to get around that one carry-on rule.

I always put bathroom toiletry items in double ziploc bags. We’ve had things leak with just one bag, so we always double bag them now.

jewelry-travel2I keep my jewelry in this cute jewelry organizer and I always put it in my carry-on. My carry-on also always contains the camera, cell phone, sunglasses, my glasses to wear when I take my contacts out, a contact lens case, prescription meds (because if they’re lost it takes a while to replace them), a small pack of wet hand wipes, Advil, Tylenol, Rolaids, gum, Kleenex, my own headset to use for the airplane tv, a small bottle of lotion because I do find the plane dehydrating, maps we need upon arrival, the GPS if we are bringing it, books and magazines, and some snacks. When my kids were smaller, I always carried paper toilet seat covers with me when we

The biggest problem we have with packing is the airline weight restrictions.  You can’t really fill a full-size suitcase and have it come in under the weight limit. We bought this cute little scale to use. Now we don’t have to try to get a suitcase on the bathroom scale or play the guessing game when we pack to come travel-scalehome. It was a great investment.

luggage-tagMy other packing tip is to buy the TSA approved locks. Martha suggests twine, but I like the TSA locks. Martha says to tie a bright ribbon your luggage. Mr. MarthaandMe put a big piece of blue painter’s tape on each of our suitcases and we also have bright pink name tags on them which makes them easy to spot.

When we went to Hawaii, I packed a neck pillow in each carry-on, as well as a lightweight blanket, and they were absolute godsends. On all trips, I always make sure to dress in layers, with some kind of warm zip up as the last layer since I am always cold on airplanes. We always wear comfortable clothes and sneakers and always, always wear socks to go through security with.

I always pack sandwiches to bring along. They taste better than the stuff you buy at airports and are cheaper too.

Plimoth Plantation

November 7, 2008

In the November issue of Living, there’s a piece about Plimoth Plantation, fitting in, of course, with the Thanksgiving theme of the issue. I don’t know if Martha herself has ever been there, but can’t you just picture her mulling around, picking up tips on how to thatch a roof or suggesting to an enacter that she add some thyme to her stew? (As a side note, didn’t you love the show about Mexico yesterday? I really enjoyed it, although I couldn’t help thinking it was a nice way for Martha to write off her vacation!)

We vacationed on Cape Cod the summer of ’07 and made a stop at Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth is where the Cape connects to the mainland). Whoo-hoo – something in this issue I have actual experience with other than cooking a turkey!

Large cow carrying a ship in the visitor's center. Why? Don't ask me.

PP welcomes you - MOO

So here’s my personal scoop on PP. Honestly, Williamsburg is much, much better. Obv (as my teenager would say), it’s not the same time period, but if you want living history, Williamsburg is just so much better.It feels more real and it’s much, much bigger. The enacters are much more into it and are doing really complicated trade work.

PP has a huge visitor’s center with films and dining halls. Check out this photo of the cow carrying the Mayflower. what’s the deal with that? This is what greets you. I didn’t get it at all. The actual village did not thrill us to death. The Wampanoag area was pretty sparse – not much there to see and not too many “residents” to talk with. Another thing to keep in mind – there is a very, very long walk in to the visitor’s center, then the Wampanoag village, and then the settler’s village. And it is seriously hot there in the summer. Bring water and wear sneakers.

The actual village itself is built on a hill. The houses are small (again – obv)

View of PP from above - doesn't the water look gorgeous?

PP on a Hill

which makes it hard to squeeze in with other visitors. We didn’t find the “residents” to be nearly as in character as those at Williamsburg and there weren’t as many crafts and trades to observe in action.

Thatched roof for real

Thatched roof for real

You do get to see real thatched roofs and what kinds of gardens were grown. There is some livestock around as well.

I think it’s worth a stop to understand what the settler’s village actually felt like and how they really lived. Dirt floors and open fireplaces are not a lot of fun. And it’s damn cold in the winter.

We’ve made a point in our travels to take our kids to places that will give

Chicken anyone? My son almost got one

Chicken anyone? My son almost got one

them a real perspective on history. The Jefferson Memorial might be grand, but walking through Thomas Jefferson’s house and the room where he wrote and where he died has a lot more meaning. Even though PP is only a reenactment (and not even on the actual location), it was still an important way to understand the beginning of this country.

Let me say this though – the gift shop was pretty darn good (Mr. MarthaandMe just about had a heart attack over all I bought – always a sign of good shopping). Overall – a good thing? Yup – two thumbs up!

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