DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Shopping in El Paso

Shopping, but in Juarez, not El Paso's Sears
Shopping, but in Juarez, not El Paso’s Sears

TRAVEL BUG TALES: DADDY MAKES EVERYTHING ALRIGHT

So, we’re in El Paso, but our hanging clothes are still in my closet in Dallas.  Mom insists the outfits in our luggage will not take us everywhere we need to go.  So it was time to go shopping.

Saved by the Sears

When it came to clothes shopping, my family was usually on the JC Penney’s team.  I’m not sure why we ended up at a Sears store in El Paso, but that’s what happened.  At the front door Dad disappeared to do something mysterious and Mom took us to the girl’s dress department.

I’m guessing Dad went to the credit department and explained our dilemma.  “Hi, I’m George Cave.  We’re here on vacation and need to pick up a few things, but I left my credit card at home.  Can you help?”  Knowing my father he told them a whole lot more and I bet before he left the office he knew everything about the people who he’d been talking to.  Dad was that guy.

Nowadays, all you have to do is give them your name and they can tell you anything and everything about yourself, re-fi your home and forecast your horoscope, but our shopping emergency happened in the days before computers ruled the world.  He probably had to give them his driver’s license and wait around the credit department while a phone call was made to some centralized billing location.  I’m imagining a huge room where someone had to go through a file cabinet or card file to find our account.

Meanwhile Mom was fluttering around with us among the dress racks.  Had I been on the store’s security detail, I would have been suspicious of my mother.  She was dancing around like a cat on a hot tin roof.  I guess she was nervous about whether Dad would succeed at his assignment.  My dad did everything my mom told him to do, but he didn’t always do it exactly the way Mom expected him to and that caused her a lot of anxiety.  Of course, we’re talking about Ruth and pretty much everything caused her a lot of anxiety.

A visit to the caverns
A visit to the caverns

The Red and Gold Culotte Dress

Over the the last week or so, as I worked on this series of posts, I’ve been going through all my photo albums trying to find a picture of me in the dress we bought that day.  I know there was at least one picture of me in it, but since it was a picture of a birthday party for my sister, she might have it somewhere.

I loved that dress.  It had a roll collar, short sleeves and a drop waist.  The color was tomato red with gold stripes – not metallic gold like it would be today, but the goldenrod color used for some copy paper.  The fact that it was culottes caused a dilemma for my parents.  School dress codes were strict in those days and culottes weren’t kosher.  Would I ever wear it again after the vacation?  Mother let me try it on, but warned me she had reservations about it.

Not sure who this guy is!
Not sure who this guy is!

I remember my dad showing up after his mysterious disappearance.  He was grinning ear to ear and mother’s relief was obvious.  “Daddy, daddy, look what I’ve found!  Isn’t it a great color?  And look it’s culottes!  I can’t wear them to school, but I can wear them to Duck Inn and choir and…”  I wanted to be the one to tell him about it, because I knew Mom would start with all the reasons it was impractical.   Duck Inn was our favorite place to get catfish and we went every couple of weeks, so I figured including it would give the idea that I’d be wearing it a lot.

There was some discussion of price and if I remember correctly, we’d found it on the clearance rack and my dad thought, for the price, if all I did was wear it on vacation I would get our money’s worth.  I wore the dickens out of that thing.  It was if I had to prove Dad was right to let me buy it.  I actually wore the dress to shredding, which was a weird thing.  I was growing fast and Mom was fastidious about the laundry, so most of my clothes looked brand new when I outgrew them.  This one started fraying where the skirt was connected to the bodice.

Susan at White Sands
Susan at White Sands

Vacation wise, I don’t remember what we saw in El Paso, but I do remember going over into Juarez.  We saw the bats erupt from Carlsbad Caverns and then went down inside the next day.  Somewhere along the way we visited White Sands National Park and the Palo Duro Canyons.  We went to Houston that year to, but for the life of me, I can’t remember whether it was on the same trip or on another one later in the year.

Come back next week and I’ll share a few tidbits from that trip to the Houston area.

 

 

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

From No Vacation to River Cruise – BAM!

Budapest here we come!
Budapest here we come!

AT HOME IN HEATH: JUST WHEN I LEAST EXPECTED IT, A RIVER CRUISE

We choose to live a frugal life.  Sometimes we run into a financial boundary I find inconvenient, but I get over it pretty quickly.  At the end of the day, I love laying my head on the pillow of financial security.

Travel is a Luxury Item

In late December I asked Bill if we’d have room in the budget for travel in 2016.  Family concerns and budgetary constraints have dominated our lives for a number of years.  We’ve enjoyed a few vacations, but there have been blinders on our imagination.  I had my parents’s health to consider, we’ve built a house and there have been other issues.  Bill was ready to put travel back in the budget, but with limitations.

His first suggestion was Myrtle Beach.  I grew up going to Myrtle Beach and loving it, but on my last trip I was dismayed by the number of miniature golf parks and beach towel emporiums.  My memories of Myrtle Beach involved a cozy beach shack and driving to Calabash for fried flounder.  A few years ago with my mom, I discovered that Myrtle Beach no longer exists and I wasn’t crazy about spending the money to confirm it again.

To me, Destin sounded like a better beach target.  I started researching Destin and proposed several road trip itineraries, but none of them floated Bill’s boat.  So, we discussed other items on my American short list.  At the top of that list is the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Belle Grove Plantation on the banks of the Rappahannock River in Virginia and perennial loves, like Sedona.  Bill still wasn’t buying into it.  Then I mentioned Washington State and reminded him of all the places we’d fallen in love with when we were researching the Pacific Northwest for other potential vacations.  I was given permission to start thinking toward a fall road trip in Washington, which would include a visit to Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC.

Then There Was the Travel Show

Even when we are not in the market for a home, my husband loves walking through model homes and open houses.  I’m the same way about travel shows.  Even though I’m not going to put down a deposit on a cruise or a tour, I love to go and acquaint myself with the possibilities.  I love sharing what I learn here on my blog and enjoy creating wonderful travel fantasies in my head.

So, I went to the CTC travel show and brought home tons of brochures and spread them around my den to enjoy.  To my surprise, Bill picked up one of those brochures and fell in love with a price point.  A clipper ship cruise has always sounded intriguing to me, even if it wasn’t at the top of my wish list, but if that’s what Bill wanted to do, then I was all for it.

I called the travel agent and she gave me additional information about the clipper ship cruise with the great price point, but she also invited us to a Viking Cruise wine tasting event scheduled for that evening.  From the minute the Viking presentation started, it was all over for the clipper ship.  For several days my email box and my phone were very busy.  The bottom line?  Sandra Rubio booked us for Viking’s Danube Waltz Cruise in mid-April and she did it for a price I would have never dreamed possible.  If you are even thinking of a cruise, then I suggest you give Sandra a shout.  Her email is Sandra@CruiseTourCenter.com, or you can call her at 214-206-4488 or 800-447-4435.

I’ll be exuding my joy over this trip in the days to come and then I’ll give you all the details when I come home, but for now, I just wanted you to know who to call if cruising was in your future.

 

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Beautiful Big Sur CA

Nepenthe, Big Sur CA
Sculpture at Nepenthe in Big Sur

BEAUTIFUL BIG SUR

You don’t need me to tell you that Big Sur is a beautiful place to visit.  There’s a reason it’s one of the top destinations in California.  However, I do need to tell you about a few of my favorite places along the way.

Nepenthe

Nepenthe is at the northern end of Big Sur, a little ways south of Carmel.  I have a hard time explaining this place to people. It’s mostly a restaurant, except that it’s not just a restaurant. The view is remarkable and the food is good, but it’s more than that.  When I pull off the road and into their parking lot I always feel like I’ve been granted entrance into another world. There are all sorts of legends attached to the place and at least one movie was filmed on site. You just have to go. That’s all that I can say.

Phoenix Gift shop, Nepenthe, Big Sur CA
From the Phoenix Gift shop

A part of the attraction, for me, is the Phoenix Gift Shop. It’s bigger than a mere gift shop or at least it seems that way and they don’t carry your average souvenirs. I’m sure you can buy t-shirts and ball caps with Big Sur splashed all over them, but that’s almost beside the point. They have handcrafted musical instruments, artisan jewelry, lots of books, unique wind chimes and the list goes on. Don’t neglect to go downstairs. That’s where they have the clothes.

I aspire to buy all my clothes at The Phoenix. Everything is handmade, unique, unusual and/or exotic, but none of it is weird. Does that make any sense? It’s the sort of thing that makes people want to ask where it came from, but not for the wrong reasons. It’s all out of my price range – not in the sense of couture pricing, but it costs more than it makes sense for me to spend, when I don’t have any room for anything else in my closet. It’s like if my house burned down, I’d go there with my insurance money to start all over, because most of what I’d buy doesn’t go with what I have.

However, I usually buy something.  This trip it was a t-shirt.  It had been marked down enough times for me to feel like I stole it.  Now that I’m home I love wearing my find.  People always comment on it and when I tell them where I bought it, they’re always jealous.

Ragged Point, Big Sur CA
The Cliff at Ragged Point from Highway One

Ragged Point

At the southern end of Big Sur is Ragged Point.  It’s sort of an inn/restaurant/gas station/snack shop/photo opportunity.  Call it what you will, I always stop.  I’m usually in need of a break and Ragged Point has an absolutely jaw-dropping view.

I have eaten at the restaurant, but I didn’t on this trip.  It’s been an uneven experience.  Great one time, horrid the next.  While we were there, someone said it had new ownership/management and was going through a sort of Renaissance, but don’t hold me to that.

There’s a nature trail that wanders down to the edge of a cliff – that’s where your jaw will become unhinged.  We sort of stroll down there and back. A nice little break.

San Simeon

Most people go to San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle and that’s a darned good reason to go, but I saw the sprawling estate frequently when I lived on the Central Coast, because everyone who came to town wanted to see it.  The tour takes a lot of time and the price of admission discourages casual visits.

Elephant Seals, San Simeon CA
Elephant Seals on the Beach at San Simeon

Just north of the Hearst Castle is a scenic overlook that looks over more than just sand and sea.  Elephant seals have chosen it as their home.  They aren’t very pretty and the smell is somewhat foul, but the sight of all the huge animals laying on the beach is pretty amazing.

The Day Draws to a Close

We woke up in San Francisco and at day’s end we were drawing close to Cambria, where we had reservations for the night.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about one of my favorite places in the world:  Moonstone Beach.

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Cannery Row on Monterey Bay CA

Shopping Cannery Row,Monterey Bay, Monterey CA
This almost came home with us from Monterey Bay

TRAVEL THERE: CANNERY ROW ON MONTEREY BAY 

Monterey Bay is one of my favorite destinations and Cannery Row is one of the reasons.  Whatever you like to do, you’ll find ways to entertain yourself.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you’ve never been to Cannery Row, then the Aquarium should be at the top of your list.  We’ve been many times, but on this visit to the area, we were short on time.  Still, you should go, because but kids of all ages (including Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation) will be fascinated by the amazing exhibits, including the one of a kind otter tank.

The John Steinbeck Factor

Had John Steinbeck never lived in Monterey, it would still be a beautiful place to visit.  However, his novel Cannery Row, added to the area’s mystique and helped make it the destination it is today.  To completely appreciate the Steinbeck factor, it’s well worth the drive over to Salinas for a visit to the National Steinbeck Center – especially since it’s not far away.  In fact, here’s an itinerary you might enjoy for a three-day Steinbeck Immersion  Weekend.

Shopping Cannery Row

Two words:  Outlet Mall.  I love them and Cannery Row has one.  It’s called American Tin Cannery and it’s across the street from the Aquarium.  But that’s only the beginning.  The whole area if rife with shopping opportunities.  Truth be told, a lot of these opportunities are just tourist traps filled with junk.

Two shops,  Turkish Fine Jewelry and Fine Art Turkish Grand Bazaar, were new to us and they were also exceptions to the tourist trap trend.  I know, the names of the shops are less than creative, but OMG what gorgeous things they have inside.  I’d give you a link, but they don’t have websites!  And I’ll tell you this too: Don’t judge the places by their exteriors.  Without Bill I wouldn’t have walked into either one and that would have been my loss.

We stepped into the jewelry store first.  The pieces in the window were out-of-this-world gorgeous.  GORGEOUS!  Not your usual stuff.  Exotic, but not so weird you wouldn’t wear it.  Frankly, I wanted one of everything I saw in the window, but I knew I couldn’t afford any of them.  I was glad Bill wanted to see more, even though we weren’t going to buy anything.  The decor of the store is pretty boring compared to what’s in the showcases.  What I’m saying is that this is not one of your premiere shopping experiences, but if you’re looking for beautiful jewelry, it’s the right place.

Along one wall they display hand-crafted mosaic chandeliers – jewelry for your home.  I’m sure the proprietor could tell we weren’t serious jewelry prospects, but he quickly picked up on the fact that we might buy a chandelier.  He and Bill chatted for a bit.  That’s how we found out about the Grand Bazaar across the street.  It’s owned by the same people.

Loved this too!
Loved this too!

As I said, the jewelry store was not exactly a premiere shopping destination, but the bazaar looked like a place I would avoid altogether.  The front of the store was crowded with cheap imported knick-knacks, but they did have dozens of the beautiful mosaic chandeliers, so in we went.  Ignore the chotckies!  This place is a treasure trove.  Stunning pottery, unique clothing, hand-embroidered boots!!  I loved it.  Bill got me in there and without his restraining influence I would have broken the bank.

In the end we left empty-handed.  Bill couldn’t negotiate the owner down far enough on the chandeliers to justify carrying them all the way back to Dallas and I really didn’t need another pair of boots.  But my-oh-my, did I ever want a pair, and about four of the outfits, and several of the plates, and some jewelry, and…well, you get the drift.

(Psssst!  Dallasites!  Since this trip Bill and I discovered Another Place & Time at The Shops at Legacy in Plano.  They don’t much of a website either, but they do have a facebook page and they do have the same kind of gorgeous stuff the Monterey store has, though they’re in no way related.  The store has been in the mall for a while now, but it didn’t used to have all this cool stuff.  They also just moved off Bishop, but I promise, it will be worth the effort to find them.)

Did Someone Say Lunch?

It’s amazing how long we lingered in the store admiring the chandeliers, but eventually hunger pangs overwhelmed our urge to buy.  I’ll tell you about that next week.

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Pinot Days in San Francisco CA

Pinot Days Brochure, San Francisco CA
Pinot Days Brochure

TRAVEL THERE: TASTING PINOT IN SAN FRAN

If you recall, this vacation went through a number of alterations before becoming a reality. In one of the original stages, a trip to Wine Country was penciled in, but by the time we went, Napa and Sonoma had been erased. Instead we enjoyed Pinot Days at City View At Metreon.

How We Got There

When you’re visiting your hip nephew in San Fran you do all kinds of cool things.  Take it from me, Uber is cool.  It’s like a taxi, but a lot more chic.

Since all I did was go along for the ride, I don’t claim to know all the details, but to quote Uber “request, ride, and pay via your mobile phone.”  That means you don’t call or hail a cab.  You request a ride at a certain time with the app and the car shows up.  If you wonder if you have time to go to the bathroom, the app tells you where the car is and how long before it will be to your pick-up point.  You don’t have to ride in a cab either.     A sleek black SUV picked us up and the driver was dressed very professionally.When we left the wine event my nephew punched a few buttons on the phone and by the time we got downstairs our car was waiting.

Uber’s website says they do have taxis, but that wasn’t our ride.  Nephew says it’s about the price of parking and since we were going to a wine tasting without a DD it was a lot cheaper than a DWI.  Dallas is an Uber city, but I haven’t Ubered here yet.  Let me know if you have.

Where It Was

Meteron is like nothing I know of in Dallas.  It’s like NorthPark‘s Food Court on steroids, but the anchor store is a Super Target and for kicks there’s an AMC Cinemark.  You got it?

Well, upstairs there’s something called City View which is a huge event space.  They do weddings, corporate events, whatever.  The “restaurant-centric mall with multiplex” is amid the Marscone Center and City View overlooks the Yerba Buena Gardens.  Yeah, it’s cool.

How It WaPinot Days, Meteron, San Francisco CA

I’m just going to be straight with you.  This wasn’t the most fun I ever had tasting wine.  I used to live on the Central Coast and spent Sunday afternoons at Castoro Cellars Tasting Room, Edna Valley Vineyard and other local wineries.  My first date with Bill was to a function called Art and Wine at the Dallas Museum of Art.  We’ve been to Dallas Opera Wine Tastings. We have also been to other wine festivals, like the Paso Robles Wine Festival.  We know from wine tastings.

The Metreon was cool and I loved looking out over Yerba Buena Park and San Francisco’s Financial District.  However, I got a little tired of Pinot and there was a crowd.

I love wine, but I’m no wine connoisseur.  Were I a wine connisseur, I’m sure the opportunity to compare so many Pinots in one afternoon of tasting was euphoric.  However, there were so many people crowding around the tables that there was really no way to have a decent conversation with the winemakers and that’s one of the things I like best about a tasting.

There was also nowhere to sit.  There were community baskets of crackers and cheese to give your palate a break, but no where to give your sore dogs a break.  Am I glad I did it?  Yes!  Would I do it again?  Probably not.

But come back next week, because we’re going to Golden Gate Park.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

The Pitfalls of Last Minute Packing

TRAVEL THERE: THE HEADACHES OF LAST MINUTE PACKING

My husband laughs at me, because I usually plan my vacation wardrobe weeks before a trip, but last minute packing can be dangerous to your travel.

The Primary Packer

My husband laughs at my packing procedures because he can pack minutes before we leave and do fine, but he’s a guy.  Guys can get by for days with nothing but jeans and a few shirts.  Add a nice pair of pants and a jacket, and they can travel the world.  It’s harder for us girls, but it’s more than mere wardrobe challenges.  At this house, I’m the primary packer.

The primary packer is the one who has to answer the “Why don’t we have…” questions throughout the duration of the trip – a tie for a swanky restaurant, a kite for a windy beach, even a gift for someone you didn’t know you’ll be seeing.  The primary packer has to weigh all these possibilities, as well as have clean underwear and a toothbrush.  If I wait until the last minute a million what-if’s assail me.

The Time Crunch

Truth be told, this is one trip I never thought we’d actually take.  Something always came up and I was reluctant to get too attached to the idea of going.  So I never actually thought about packing until a few days before we left and then I had so much going on that all I could do was think about it!  I didn’t even have time to go shopping for gifts until the night before we left – and if you’re visiting Egyptians the gifts are important.

The night before our departure, I ran out with my best friend in-tow and bought gifts for all the kids I’d be seeing.  I took my friend, because I’m clueless when it comes to kids and she’s had some.  After a power shopping trip that pleased my credit card company immensely, I drug my friend home with me and made her help me put together a bunch of possible outfits for the trip.  I pulled out all my favorite clothes, matched them together in a series of outfits and counted out the best eleven of the bunch – with a few extra in case I needed to dress for dinner.  Exhausted, I let my friend leave and promised myself I’d have time to pack the next day.

Less May Actually Be More

Less time planning what to pack, can turn into packing more – at least that’s what happened with me.  Or maybe I should say more planning time results in less stuff to pack.

For instance, the gifts I chose were great, but they took up almost half of one suitcase.  I thought about how much the gifts weighed, but didn’t think through their bulk.  If I’d planned better, I could have found things that would have been just as well received, but would have taken up less room in our bags.

Also, the more time I have to think about my clothes choices, the less of them I need.  I had at least three pairs of shoes that I never put on.  Two swimsuits and cover-ups, but no time for swimming.  I threw in a travel iron and travel blow-dryer, when all the hotels I booked provided them. My jewelry roll alone weighed two pounds.  (I know because I weighed it when I got home.)  If I’d really thought about my choices, I would have picked a single color to plan around and I’d have needed a lot less of everything.

Our $170 Hickey

So, as the time to leave neared and I couldn’t fit it all into two checked bags and the allotted carry-ons, I grabbed a tote-bag and filled it to the brim.  I figured the extra bag might rack up a $25 or $30 charge, but it was worth it to me to quit stressing.

NEWS FLASH!  

United Airlines charges EIGHT-FIVE DOLLARS for a second checked bag per person!!  Round trip that was ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY DOLLARS.  If I’d really known it would have cost $170 I would have planned things a lot better.  But then again, if I’d planned things a lot better, I would have already known that I needed to fit everything into the allotted baggage.

So, that’s one lesson I learned on this trip and I learned it before we got out of the Metroplex.  Come on back next week and see what other messes I can get myself into.

DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Local Flavor, Eureka Springs AR

Local Flavor Restaurant, Eureka Springs AR

TRAVEL THERE: LOCAL FLAVOR, SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

After the Eureka Springs trolley tour, we were finally hungry. That gooey apple pastry from breakfast kept hunger at bay for hours, but now it was time to eat.

The Innkeeper’s Suggestion

I’ve mentioned that our innkeepers were good at making suggestions for things to see, do and eat. Sometimes I’m as wary of these suggestions as I am of a hateful online rant, but once I’m sure the recommendations aren’t tied to some ulterior motive, I’m anxious to follow them.  One restaurant Zoie recommended several times was Local Flavor, so Deb and I decided to have our late lunch/early supper there.

I can’t say that Local Flavor was our absolute favorite thing on the trip, because we had too many wonderful experiences to pick out just one. Or even our favorite meal of the trip, because I’ve already told you about a couple of other amazing feasts.  However, it was easily the best meal we had in Eureka Springs.  Well, maybe the best meal besides breakfast, because that Strawberry Crepe was pretty remarkable.  Well, you get the idea, we thought it was pretty darned good!

Great Day & Better Restaurant

To begin with, we had a great table and it was a beautiful day.  That makes anything taste better.  Then we ordered a white sangria. OMG!! Nectar of the gods! It was made with peaches and tasted like heaven.  The sangria alone is worth making the trip to Eureka Springs.Baked Brie, Local Flavor, Eureka Springs AR

Then we shared an appetizer.  Oh yum!  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Just imagine the best baked brie you’ve ever had and turn up the volume.

For an entree, I had a vegetarian sandwich and Deb had a salad, but I forgot to take pictures of them.  I got tickled on this trip at the number of people who take pictures of their food when it is delivered.  All of them can’t be bloggers, so I’m not sure what’s up.

At the table next to us were three college-aged kids.  As soon as each course of their food was delivered, all three grabbed their cameras, bowed their heads and took pictures.  It appeared so ritualistic that I was reminded of people who take time to bow their heads and say grace formally.

2013-05-27 02.30.19
The Cathouse Lounge

I think we may even have found a dessert to share, but nothing beat the sangria and baked brie.  As I sat on the patio enjoying the last few hours of my vacation, I thought about where Eureka had been and where it might be going.

Checking Out the Surroundings

Right across from Local Flavor  was The Cathouse Lounge, another popular attraction, but take a look at the vehicles parked out front.  This was the primary difference I saw and heard between the Eureka Springs of today and the one my parents used to visit. I don’t recall hearing the throbbing beat of a Harley on my previous visits, but the purring of these hogs is now the soundtrack of Eureka Springs.

Eureka Springs was first a sacred healing site for Native Americans.  Then it became a boomtown for Victorian Americans who wanted to “take the waters.”  It made it through a series of fires and The Great Depression.  It’s been a wonderful little tourist town for a long time.  For years The Great Passion Play was the big draw, but I bet these days the Crescent Ghost Tour sells more tickets.  Though I didn’t see it on this trip, Trip Advisor says that Turpentine Ridge, a wildlife refuge, is now the number one tourist attraction.

Booze Bros Liquor, Eureka Springs AR
A sign of the future? Too funny not to share.

What’s does the future hold for a cute little town perched between Victorian Bed and Breakfast Inns and motorcycle gangs? I hope your future holds a visit to Eureka Springs and maybe even a visit to some of the other places Deb and I visited on our Lemonade Tour.

Contributing to the Local Economy

After our meal at Local Flavor, Deb and I did a little shopping.  It would have almost been criminal not to.  My favorite shop was Two Dumb Dames.  It’s a fudge factory, but the guy who waited on me was no dumb dame.  He was the husband of one of the original dumb dames’ granddaughters.   I guess those dames weren’t so dumb after all, if a third generation is making a living out of the shop.

Do I look tired? Maybe it’s because Bill drug me out to see our jasmine as soon as I got home.

Shopping done we relaxed at the B&B, repacking our bags, catching up on our reading and checking on our social media. Then it was time to head home.  Ah, home!  I did save the best for last.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Shop Local on Cruises

DSC_0654
Buy it whenever or wherever you find it. don’t be disappointed later.

TRAVEL THERE:  HAVE MORE FUN CRUISING WHEN YOU SHOP LOCAL

So I’ve told you all about our be-jeweled shopping experiences, but when you’re in the islands, don’t forget the local markets.  We didn’t shop in any jewelry stores in St. Maarten.  Perhaps if we did, my Diamonds International bracelet would have another charm.  In Marigot, St. Martin, on the French side, we enjoyed a local arts and crafts market.

Shopping Local in Marigot

You’re always at a disadvantage at your first port of call.  Though we weren’t in jewelry stores, there was some lovely jewelry in Marigot.  The difference was that it was all handmade from natural materials, like shells, wood and natural beads.  Had I really known then what I know now, I would have picked out a trinket for my mother there, but I wasn’t as well educated then.  The prices were great.  We got a cap for Bill that said, “Bad to the bone,” for $5.  Debbie bought the first part of my birthday present, a sundress for $20 dollars.  The jewelry that I liked ran from $40 up to a whole lot.  We saw some beautiful wood carving, but we weren’t in the market for it.  All in all a pleasant and affordable shopping experience.

We didn’t get a chance to shop with the locals in St. Thomas, because we were too busy getting free jewelry, but there was what appeared to be a very active market near the main shopping district in Charlotte Amalie.  If we’d had more time there, I think we would have enjoyed it.

Nassau’s Straw Market

If you’re looking for something made out of straw, though, I’d say Nassau’s Straw Market is the place to go. We passed through it on our way to find a taxi to take us to Atlantis and were overwhelmed by the experience. That’s not my favorite kind of shopping.  The first thing that assails you as you enter the market is the sheer number of items for sale. The aisles are narrow and there is no degree of separation between the booths. What’s more, the goods are stacked up almost to the high roof. This is not a place for the claustrophobic.

After Atlantis, I came back to the Straw Market, because I was desperate.   I remembered fondly the natural handmade jewelry in Marigot, but that’s not what they have at the Straw Market.  They have straw.

My mom is not the sort that you can just give the first thing you happen upon. She has very discerning taste, and it’s complicated by her arthritis, her un-pierced ears and her indifference to scarves and shawls. She doesn’t wear hats either and purses have to be of just the right size.

The Bahamian natives are not bashful. If you so much as glance their way, they start trying to bargain with you for whatever they think might have caught your eye. If you don’t glance their way, then they’re going to say or do whatever they need to do to get it. Well, anything is a bit of an exaggeration. I have been places where they are more aggressive No one grabbed my arm to stop me or cursed me out for not shopping with them.

Local Bargaining

Still, I was was happy when I saw an attractive straw clutch offered by someone who seemed more interested in their phone call than my American dollars. Deb and I considered the pros and cons of her offerings and she eventually got off the phone.

“Twenty dollars,” she said.

“American?” I was getting good at this.

For you, yes.” I considered her offer while Deb and I compared similar clutches at her booth. People nearby started waving handbags of all sorts at us. “Seventeen fifty,” the lady said.

“Fifteen,” I countered. It was well worth the twenty, but I wasn’t about to pay the first price. I had the feeling I could have gotten her down even further by playing the walk-away game, but I felt sorry for her stuck in the loud crowded market all day and pulled out my money.

Success!  I’d found something for Mom.  It wasn’t really enough, but I corrected that problem with some costume clip earring that I found a few door down from the Straw Market.

When it comes to shopping local, first be sure to know what currency you’re bargaining in.  Then be sure to bargain.  Some prices are set, but usually you can get a little off, even if it’s just to get Euro prices for American dollars.  If you see something you like, buy it when you find it.  That goes for local shopping and jewelry shopping.  The boat was not going back to St. Maarten, so I couldn’t get Mom one of the cool bracelets I saw there.

There’s not much of the cruise left, but come back next week and hear about dinner at La Cucina.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

Jewelry Shopping – St. Thomas vs. Nassau

Nassau Bahamas
Shopping in crowded Nassau. Faces of innocent bystanders hidden. Perhaps their husbands didn’t realize they were shopping!

TRAVEL THERE: IS JEWELRY SHOPPING BETTER ON ST THOMAS OR NASSAU

I’ve already told you what a good time we had shopping in St. Thomas. Our tour dropped us off right at Charlotte Amalie’s Main Street and we had about an hour of blissful shopping. There were few shoppers and most of the stores we entered were absolutely gorgeous.  With just enough exceptions to prove the rule, all the clerks and shopkeepers were marvelously polite and eager to please.  It was like being in shopping heaven.  Too bad we really didn’t appreciate how lucky we were.

The Shopping Seminar

Having enjoyed our shopping in St. Thomas so much, we were eager to attend the shopping seminar on our third at-sea day on the Norwegian Epic.  We hadn’t planned on shopping at all in Nassau, but we’d caught the island shopping bug.  The seminar was interesting, not grippingly so, but a pleasant way to spend the morning.  I was hoping for more in the way of drawings and give-aways, but the idea was to get us to spend our money, not to give us anything.  I learned a little about a new diamond cut and the new vein of tanzanite.  The new tanzanite returned to the lighter colors of the first discovery, rather than retaining the dark colors that have been available most recently.

Our favorite discovery was Del Sol.  Everything in their shop changes color in the sun, including the fingernail polish.  Deb loved it so much she added it to her shopping list.  The most important information was a reminder the shops  close at five, a couple of hours before our departure time. We needed to shop in the morning.  Over lunch  we informed our husband what they should expect.

We arrived in port at noon on the fourth day of the cruise.  After our shopping, we planned to head over to Atlantis Resort for a peek and it’s skyline loomed large on the horizon.  As soon as the boat docked we dragged our husbands towards Bay Street.

Shopping in Nassau

Shopping Nassau was a whole ‘nother thing and it wasn’t a better thing.  The first thing we noticed was how crowded it was.  Nassau serves a lot more ships than St. Thomas.  Many of the cruises are just three day jaunts out of Miami, devoted primarily to the art of shopping. We’d been told that this larger audience meant a larger stock of merchandise to enjoy.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I enjoyed the quieter streets of Charlotte Amalie.

There weren’t as many freebies in Nassau either.  We anxiously looked forward to getting our shopping packet when we got off the boat, but all we found was an offer from Diamonds International and another from Effy.  We’d gotten a coupon in the seminar to complement the Effy coupon in the shopping packet.  In St. Thomas we’d had to pay a minimal amount for the earrings to match our necklace, but in Nassau, because of the shopping seminar we got earrings for free.

Perhaps because of the larger crowds, the salespeople aren’t as happy to distribute their free goodies as they had been in St. Thomas.  There was the same begrudging hesitancy I’d remembered from Cozumel, one that led to my happy surprise at the alacrity of the St. Thomas jewelers.  The good news was that for each island the big stores offer a different freebie.  In St. Thomas we’d gotten garnets at Effy, but in Nassau it was amethysts.  I was particularly happy about that, because I had an amethyst ring begging for some companions.  Diamonds International offers you a charm bracelet at your first port and then other charms at your other stops.  The fun of it for frequent cruisers is that you’re not getting the same old thing all the time.  You could start a collection of sorts.

We hoped to do some additional shopping in Nassau, but were stymied.  We looked for a Milano Jewelers, because Deb was beginning to regret that she hadn’t clued into what a great deal the sterling silver necklaces were.  We found the Milano stores, but when we asked about the necklaces all we got was a look that suggested we were crazy and some mumbled assurance the cheap sliver necklaces weren’t available on this island.

We also searched out a Little Switzerland store, because I still hadn’t found a gift for my mom and the bracelets I’d seen on St. Thomas seemed like the best bet.  Lest you think I was unwilling to share all the free goodies I’d gotten so far, my mom’s ears are not pierced and her advanced arthritis prohibited her from operating the clasps on necklaces.  So I had lots of goodies to share with folks at home, they just weren’t going to work for my mom.  Unfortunately, the Little Switzerland store we found had a very limited selection in their very tiny Impulse department.  I didn’t see anything that looked like Mom.

We took a break from shopping to visit the Atlantis Resort, but I’ll tell you about that in a couple of weeks.  I also shopped at the Nassau Straw Market on the way back to the ship, but I’ll compare that to the locals market in Marigot, St. Martin next week.  Until then, happy shopping.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Climbing to Mountain Top with Sunny Liston

Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

TRAVEL THERE: MOUNTAIN TOP WITH SUNNY LISTON TOURS

As the bus pulled away, Sunny turned up his music and asked us to sing along, but Deb and I were still reeling from our shopping marathon. The bus started up a hill and almost before the engine could warm up, Sunny was pulling into an overlook.

Taking Off Up the Hill

Sunny talked a little about the view and recommended drinks from the bbq stand nearby.  The bbq stand didn’t look like the kind of place I bought drinks from, so I took a few pictures and climbed back aboard the bus.  I didn’t want Deb and I to be THOSE tourists again.

Mountain Top, St Thomas VI
Here’s a frozen concoction so good it could give Margarita a run for her money!

The bus headed further up the hill and this time I joined in the singing game Sunny was leading.  The scenery was lovely, but our destination was Mountain Top and when we got there, it looked like the sort of place I would buy drinks from.  First, Sunny directed us to the balcony where there were lovely vistas to photograph, but I have to tell you, Deb and I were more interested in the banana daquaris.

I know I’ve been raving for awhile about Sunny Liston and his tour.  He took us to some great shopping and we were enjoying his musical offerings, but parking his bus in front of Mountain Top and their banana daquaris was one of the best things anyone did for us on the whole cruise.  My only regret was that I didn’t get the larger version of the drink.  Of course, if I would have, we would have been incoherent.  These frozen concoctions were strong.

Now, beyond the view and the banana daquaris there’s a lot more to Mountaintop.  If I were to return to St. Thomas, I’d find out if Sunny would just drop me off there and pick me back up on a later tour.  As it was, once we got our daquaris, we barely had any time to shop in their store.  Now, when it comes to shopping, the merchandise is your typical souvenir, made in China.  It’s not the best shopping opportunity we had on the trip, but that didn’t keep us from loving Mountain Top.

St. Thomas VI
St. Thomas is certainly beautiful.

Leaving Mountaintop, Sunny put on his favorite song, (Every Day of the Week) which you’ll find on his website, and gave us some hysterical instructions to follow as the song played.  From today’s perspective, the instructions don’t seem quite as funny, but under the influence of the banana daquaris, they were downright funny and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Photo Opportunity, St. Thomas VI
Photo Opportunity, St. Thomas Style

The next stop was another overlook, but I think the main reason we stopped was to give this guy with the donkey a chance to make a buck or two.  I took this shot without paying anything, so don’t tell anyone.

Sterling Beach, Sunny Liston Tours, St Thomas VI
A Sterling beach denizen between Sunny and Deb

A Choice of Beaches

Sunny loaded everyone back on the bus and offered us a choice of beaches.  He seemed to favor Sterling Beach, which didn’t require a cover charge and we agreed he was probably right.  So off we went to the beach, still singing the “Every Day of the Week” song.  The beach may have been free, but you could still spend money there.  Beach chair rentals were seven dollars and there were other shopping opportunities, but Deb and I were shopped out.

Sterling Beach, St Thomas VI
Sterling Beach

Some of Sunny’s passengers opted to stay at the beach and Sunny arranged for them to be transported back to the port, but Deb and I were thinking of Senor Frogs, and establishment we’d seen not far from the ship.  We climbed back on the bus and Sunny treated us to a little of Bob Marley’s One Love.  We were certainly feeling all right just about then.

I started out these posts on Sunny Liston’s Tours by recommending that you should go on one if you ever went to St. Thomas.  Perhaps that’s not as strong a suggestion as I intended.  Go right now to your computer and book a cruise that goes to St. Thomas.  Then immediately click over to Sunny’s site and book one of his tours.  I’m telling you I hadn’t had that much fun in a long, long time.  It’s worth the entire cost of the cruise to spend a day with  Sunny.

But I said something about Senor Frogs didn’t I?  Come back next week for a taste of that.