Barbados Highlights

Here are our “Barbados Top 7”: Our favorite memories from our stay there and our top recommendations to anyone going there. We had an amazing time on this charming, beautiful, welcoming island, and we definitely see ourselves returning some day.

(1) Snorkeling with sea turtles and jet skiing

We snorkeled with sea turtles: Such an uber touristy thing to do in Barbados, but we really loved it! We took a ride in a glass bottomed boat, which sounds cooler than it is because the glass part is pretty small and you can’t actually see much through it, BUT the boat stopped twice to let us off to snorkel, once with a shipwreck and once with sea turtles. We had a blast and I got to check snorkeling off my 30 before 30 list. We also went jet skiing for the first time ever!

Protips: No advanced reservations necessary, just show up at Pebbles Beach and someone will find you within five minutes and ask you if you want to take a glass bottomed boat out to snorkel with sea turtles. The price they’ll suggest is negotiable: You can and should bargain it down! Snorkel gear is provided. Jet skis can be rented from the same people, for 15 minutes at a time.

 

 

(2) Swimming in the most beautiful turquoise water

Does it get any better than that? It was hot in July, and the water was so, so perfect. Accra Beach and Pebbles Beach were our favorites.

 

 

(3) Exploring Harrison’s Cave

I’d never seen a cave before, and it was somewhat different from what I expected. I don’t know why, but I expected stalactites shimmering in blues and purples and greens. There were stalactites alright, but they weren’t colorful. I guess my image of caves came from cartoons maybe? Anyway, I was thrilled to get to see my first cave, because I love doing things I’ve never done before.

Protips: You can get here from the south or west coast very cheap by public transportation, but it will take a while! We didn’t mind because we enjoyed getting to see some parts of the island other than the beaches. Some water will drip on you during the cave tour, so wear clothing you don’t mind getting a bit wet. But don’t expect a hard core adventure trek or anything: You’ll be riding through the cave in a small open train with a guide. It’s totally safe. You do get a few chances to step out of the train and walk around.

 

 

(4) Eating lots and lots of fish

From beachside “cutters” at Cuz’s fish shack to late-night fried marlin at Baxter’s Road, we ate a lot of delicious fish in Barbados. Foods we sampled for the first time ever included marlin, dolphin, and flying fish, as well as breadfruit, macaroni pie, salt bread, ackee, and coucou. More yummy Barbados food photos and recommendations right here.

 

 

(5) Strolling through St. Lawrence Gap

With its lovely views, fun hip vibes, and plenty of food and drink options, St. Lawrence Gap was the perfect place to spend a warm summer evening.

Protips: Don’t miss the two for one happy hour specials or the famous “gap burger,” and check out Scoopie’s for live music!

 

 

(6) Enjoying coffee and dessert with some friendly ducks at Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary

We stumbled into this lovely little nature sanctuary by accident when we got caught in a sudden rainstorm on our way to St. Lawrence Gap. We ended up spending at least an hour here. There’s a little cafe, indoor and outdoor seating, beautiful lush green scenery, and interesting wildlife, including ducks that waddled right up to us hoping we might share our food.

 

 

(7) Riding in ZR vans

We used ZR vans to get around the island, rather than taxis. We loved this means of transportation because it reminded us SO MUCH of Kenya’s matatus! The van arrives at a gallop, tooting its fun, goofy-sounding horn, windows open, reggae music blaring, and you climb in with ten or so other passengers. Such fun.

Protip: Just jump in a van going the direction you want to go (toward the East or West coast?) and tell the driver or a passenger where you’re going. They’ll let you know when to get off.

Barbados was our first visit to the Caribbean (another first!) and we absolutely loved it. We can’t wait to go back!

Dreaming of palm trees, sand, and sunsets…

 

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What to eat in Barbados?!

The hubs and I took a trip to Barbados this summer, thanks to an incredibly cheap ticket (shoutout, secretflying.com) and the fact that neither of us needed a visa to go there. More pictures coming soon, but for starters, I absolutely have to do a food post. We ate very well in Barbados, and managed to keep most of our meals in the $5-$10 per person range. Food can be surprisingly expensive in Barbados, so if you’re traveling on a budget, definitely check out these places! And let me know if you’re planning a trip there and looking for a place to stay, because I would 1000% recommend our airbnb host. The majority of these food recs came from him. Foods we tried for the first time on this trip included marlin, dolphin, flying fish, breadfruit, macaroni pie, ackee, and coucou.

Tender, savory ribs at a rum shop called Kermitt’s Bar, where everything is painted green, from the walls to the tables to the pickup truck:

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Ackee fruit from a roadside vendor:

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Fresh fried marlin and breadfruit near Bridgetown at Baxter’s Road, which used to be the hot fish fry spot before Oistins. The fish here was cheaper and in my opinion possibly even better than Oistins!

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For a mid-afternoon coffee and dessert pick-me-up, Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary has a cafe with lovely outdoor seating, boasting beautiful views and some overly friendly ducks.

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Cuz’s Fish Shack on Pebbles Beach is the place to go for delicious fish cutters (sandwiches). The perfect beach lunch! We went back for seconds!

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In St. Lawrence Gap, we found opportunities to take in gorgeous ocean views while sampling Barbados’ own Mount Gay rum in the form of drinks you can really only ever order at the beach.

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And around sunset in St. Lawrence Gap, grills and red umbrellas suddenly appear, and you can get an amazingly delicious “gap burger” for $5, grilled for you right there. We’ve since tried to recreate this burger on our own grill back home!

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While strolling around St. Lawrence Gap in the evening, we wandered into this jazz bar, Scoopie’s, drawn in by the sound of live music. We loved it! Definitely recommend.

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The fish shacks at Oistins are of course a must. We had dolphin at Mo’s. Sadly, we left on a Friday morning and missed the famous Friday night fish fry, when Oistins gets much more crowded and lively, so I hear. I guess we’ll just have to come back!

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Sharing the Bajan herb chicken, a salad, and macaroni pie at BBQ Barn in Rockley:

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We started our mornings with egg cutters on Bajan salt bread, followed by walks to The Coffee Bean, a coffee shop with this lovely view just outside:

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And finally, coucou and stew just before heading to the airport:

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We had flying fish cutters at the airport before boarding our flight. Not the best flying fish I’m sure, but they were yummy and we couldn’t leave Barbados without trying flying fish at least once, even if it was out of season!

Wandering Venice

The hubs and I spent a lovely weekend in Venice celebrating a friend’s wedding. Afterwards, we had some extra time to spend sightseeing. I originally had a whole itinerary planned, with every minute accounted for, but a last minute visa problem cut our trip shorter than we had planned. As I flipped through the guidebook trying to figure out a new itinerary, I suddenly remembered the way I used to travel: Show up and wander. Get lost. Take in all the sights and sounds and smells of the city. And so, aside from an obligatory Saint Mark’s Basilica visit, because you can’t really go to Venice for the first time and not do that, wander is what we did. We meandered though narrow streets and across bridges, no deadlines or specific destinations, just exploring Venice. And it was lovely. Here are a few snapshots. Venice is a destination we definitely plan to return to with more time to spend, but this weekend was a lovely introduction to a gorgeous city!

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So many beautiful bridges and canals everywhere!
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A gondola! No cars in Venice. Walking and boating are how you get around.

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Saint Mark’s Square: Eternally packed with tourists, but if you want an empty plaza for picture-taking, try going before eight or nine in the morning: it’ll be surprisingly calm and empty.

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Charming little courtyard where our hotel was located. Breakfast on the terrace was a lovely way to start the day.
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Canal-side dining on the Fondamenta della Misericordia. Spaghetti al nero di seppia, spaghetti with cuttlefish and a sauce made from cuttlefish ink, is a Venetian culinary specialty. Although it may sound strange, I promise you it’s delicious! Try it!
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Brightly colored glass dishes, jewelry, and decor, made on the Venetian island of Murano, are on display in countless shop windows in Venice. Glass earrings and coffee were the two souvenirs I chose to bring home. (Mmm… the coffee… don’t even get me started on the coffee.)

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Cooking and Booking II

Woohoo! I can check Goal #10 off my “30 before 30” list, and I’m two thirds of the way to Goal #9! Since making the list last summer, I’ve cooked 30 new recipes and read 20 books. For the first 10 recipes and books, see this post. And here are the latest!

Recipes #11-30

* = yuck, ** = meh, *** = okay but nothing special, **** = pretty good, will probably make again, ***** = yum, yum, delish, will definitely make again

11. Couscous with spiced zucchini, from Epicurious ****

12. Cheddar Chive Drop Biscuits, from The Pioneer Woman ****

13. Mussels in White Wine and Garlic Sauce, from food.com *****

14. Red Lentil Curry, from allrecipes ****

15. Tomato Herb Rice with White Beans and Spinach, from Budget Bytes *****

16. Classic Beef Stroganoff, from Betty Crocker ****

17. Chocolate Hazelnut Spirals, from my grandmother, similar to this recipe *****

18. Baked Brie in Puff Pastry, from food.com. I used apple butter instead of raspberry preserves. *****

19. Chicken Tikka Masala, from food.com. I reduced the pepper and used half and half instead of heavy cream. *****

20. Chana Masala, from Minimalist Baker. I used fewer peppers and replaced the coconut sugar with regular sugar. *****

21. Lobster Risotto, from NYT Cooking *****

22. Spicy Roasted Chicken Thighs, from NYT Cooking *****

23. Salmon Burgers, from NYT Cooking *** (Flavorful but fell apart)

24. Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Lemon Pasta, from Smitten Kitchen ***

25. Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child, from food.com *****

26. Picadillo, from NYT Cooking.*****

27. Falafel, from Epicurious ****

28. Hummus, from NYT Cooking *****

29. Mushroom Risotto with Peas, from NYT Cooking *****

30. Monterrey Chicken Skillet, from Budget Bytes ****

 

Books #11-20

11. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun. (Nigeria. Biafra War. Love affairs. Impossible to put down.)

12. Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages. (Really wise marriage advice.)

13. Haruki Murakami, What I Think About When I Think About Running. (Will inspire you to get out there and finish those distance runs.)

13. Mai Al-Nakib, The Hidden Light of Objects. (Kuwait. Short stories. Heart-wrenchingly beautiful.)

14. Pam Munoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising. (Kid lit. History. Mexico and California. Immigration story. Coming of age.)

15. Binyavanga Wainaina, One Day I Will Write About This Place. (Memoir. Kenya. Occasional stream of consciousness.)

16. Janet Wallach, Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell. (History. Herstory.  The Middle East.)

17. Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem. (Lebanese Civil War. Israeli-Palestinian conflict. History book meets journalist’s memoir.)

18. Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis. (Graphic novel. Autobiography. Young girl growing up in Iran in the 1980s.)

19. Atul Gawande, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. (Inside the mind of a surgical resident. Doctors as humans. Challenges and difficult decisions in medicine.)

20. John Grisham, The Whistler. (You think you’re too sophisticated for this one, but you secretly know you’re not.)

30 before 30: The most empowering thing you can do is the thing you think you can’t do

Intelligence is malleable. You do not have an innate, fixed level of intelligence. You can make yourself smarter. You’re not born good at math or good at writing or good at science. You can make yourself good at any of these things. You just have to work hard and believe in yourself.

As a young teacher, I was told to impress these ideas upon my students, and I understand why. Expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies, and for kids to be successful at school, it is crucial for them to believe that they can.

But do we, as teachers, live out these ideas in our own lives? I don’t think we do. And I think that’s problematic, because kids learn by example more than anything else.

See, we think we buy into the idea that anyone can be successful through hard work and persistence and believing in oneself, as we repeat that mantra over and over to our students. But we’re forgetting that many of us, as teachers, have always been more or less “good” at school. We’ve never really struggled to believe that academic success is attainable to anyone through effort, sticking with it, and never giving up. But when it comes to other things, outside of academics, we all absolutely do buy into the idea that there are certain things we just inherently can’t do.

For some of us, that’s art. I can’t draw. I can barely draw stick figures! I’m not artistic.

For others, it’s foreign languages. Never been my thing.

Or music. I sing in the shower, but that’s it, and just be glad you’re not around to hear that!

Or sports. I’m slow and clumsy.

We tell our students they can be successful in math class if they work hard enough and believe in themselves, then turn around and tell our adult friends that we can’t draw or swimming’s just not our thing or we just don’t have the such and such talent or we’re just not made for blah blah blah.

For me, that thing was running. For most of my life, I firmly believed I was incapable of running more than a mile without stopping. Shaking that mindset in my twenties and running my first 5k was one of the most exciting, freeing, and empowering things I’ve ever done, and a few weeks ago, I ran my first half marathon.

So here’s my challenge for my fellow teachers: Identify one of those things you always casually say you “can’t” do, and resolve to do it. Not only will you get a huge confidence boost when you soar past your own self-imposed limits, but you just might be able to inspire a few reluctant students.

30 before 30: Breaking out of Comfort Zones

For most of my life, I was very much a comfort zone sort of person. It all boiled down to wanting to feel in control over my life. I remember signing up for a very popular political philosophy class back in college. I opted to take the class pass-fail, because the content was totally outside my comfort zone and I didn’t feel confident that I knew how to write a successful philosophy paper. So I chose the safe route. Several times in college, I turned down opportunities to go on ski trips, paintball excursions, and other activities I’d never participated in before. I thought I’d fail and make a fool out of myself. So I stayed home. And stuck to whatever I already knew how to do well.

Studying abroad midway through college turned me into a more daring and confident person. There’s something about traveling and living abroad that just does this. During that semester in Paris, I took a giant leap outside my comfort zone one day when I saw a 25 euro plane ticket to Morocco. I bought it before I had time to convince myself not to, something the me of a few months earlier would never have done. That trip changed my life. It made me start to realize that stepping outside my comfort zone, despite all the uncertainty and lack of control that it brings, can be immensely thrilling and rewarding and ultimately make me a better person.

Shortly after college, a friend invited me on a ski trip. I had never been skiing before in my life. A younger me would have turned down the invitation and stayed home in my comfort zone, but I hesitantly agreed to go. I fell on my butt approximately seven thousand times on the bunny slope, then tried to tackle a “real” slope that I wasn’t ready for, panicked and fell getting off the ski lift, fell a lot more times, and finally took off my skis and hiked down the hill. I was cold and frustrated and sore. But you know what matters? I tried it. I said yes. I was scared, but I went out there and I did it.

When you step out of your comfort zone, sometimes you realize things like “Skiing really isn’t my jam and the cozy fire in the ski lodge is where it’s at.” Other times, you discover a new hobby or passion because you weren’t afraid to take that first leap and give it a try.

There’s still a small part of me that tries to push me back into my comfort zone and hold me there whenever new opportunities arise. Here’s how I fight it! My four tips for breaking out of the comfort zone, “daring greatly,” and living life to its fullest:

  1. Think of specific things outside your comfort zone that you wish you were brave enough to do. Write them in a list of goals and set a deadline. Something like a 25-before-25 or 30-before-30 list is perfect!
  2. Commit yourself before you have time to second guess. Buy that skydiving ticket. Register for that 10k. Sign up for that art class. Just do it. Now you’ve signed up and paid: You can’t back out now!
  3. Recruit friends to go with you! If your friends are also new to whatever new adventure you’re pursuing, you won’t feel so self-conscious if you’re terrible at it. If they’re not, they can give you suggestions and support. Plus, including other people means accountability. No backing out or quitting!
  4. Be kind to yourself. If you come in last in your first 5k or paint something hideous in your first art class, so what? You tried! You put yourself out there and did something outside your comfort zone. That’s so empowering. And you can always try again.

Personally, I have three comfort-zone-defying items on my 30 before 30 list that I am currently pursuing:

  1. “Run a half marathon.” I was a swimmer growing up and running was never my thing, but I got into it recently. Thirteen miles is far more than I’ve ever run, though! It’s scary! But I’ve signed up for a race this spring with my husband and family, so I guess this half marathon thing is actually going to happen.
  2. “Learn how to do yoga.” I am probably the most inflexible person in the world. I can’t even touch my toes!! And because of this embarrassing fact, I’ve turned down invitations from friends to join them in yoga classes in the past. But no longer! I tried a series of free sunset yoga classes by the river last summer and loved them. I’m now taking advantage of a “30 days for $30” deal at a yoga studio down the street. I’m slowly becoming more flexible, the instructors are very patient and wonderful, and it’s helping me a lot with stress reduction and self care. And it’s fun!
  3. “Learn to salsa dance.” Okay, I’m a klutz. I am not graceful at all. It takes me a LONG time to figure out and follow dance steps. But after some free community salsa classes in a park last summer, some lessons at the Havana Club this winter, and the company of my awesome hubby, I’m starting to actually get it! I’m realizing that dancing, like pretty much every skill, can be learned. You’re not born with it or without it.

Well, that’s my latest 30 before 30 update! Alright people, let’s go out there and break out of some comfort zones!

 

Twelve Grapes at Midnight

December 31, 2014, aboard an Emirates aircraft somewhere between Madrid and Dubai, I experienced my strangest and most unforgettable New Year’s Eve.

First of all, I was alone.

Well, not exactly.

I was smushed in an economy cabin with three hundred other people. Across the aisle to my left: a cute, wide-eyed, curly brown haired toddler. It must have been way past her bedtime. I tried to guess which language of babytalk she was happily babbling to her parents in. Was it Arabic? Seated next to me on my right: an elderly Chinese man who said one word- “Whiskey!” – to every flight attendant who passed by, until I started furtively gesturing at them to cut him off. In front of me: A row of twentysomethings, clearly friends, wearing giant glittering party hats and brandishing sparkling wands, chatting excitedly in Spanish and trying to see out the windows even though we were in the middle row.

But I wasn’t with family or friends, and that was odd. I felt like an observer, peeking into someone’s house, watching strangers’ New Year’s Eve festivities through a snow-frosted window.

Time zones were muddled in my mind as they always are on international flights. But I guessed the time in Madrid was approaching midnight, because the Spanish friends were adjusting their party hats and passing out plastic champagne flutes and noisemakers. How they managed to bring a bottle of bubbly on this plane I do not know. I guess they bought it at duty free.

The toddler giggled and bounced on her mother’s lap. The flight attendant and her cart glided slowly down the narrow aisle. The gentleman to my right called out, “Whiskey!” She told him her cart had only tea and coffee. He looked confused.

What time would it be in Dubai? Or in Morocco, my home of the moment? What about in Nairobi, where my fiance’s family was waiting for me? I thought for a brief instant, then gave up on the math. In the air, time is suspended. On a thirty hour trip spanning three continents- Tangier to Madrid to Dubai to Nairobi- it doesn’t matter what time it is. There’s nowhere I could possibly go other than this plane and where it’s headed, no appointments I could possibly make other than our projected landing time, and my only clock, my cell phone, is turned off anyway. Until the wheels touch the runway, there is no such thing as time.

Except on New Year’s Eve, when wherever you are, even cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet, you are pressed with a need to know what time it is, down to the very second, and so you latch on to the nearest time zone and find a way to count.

Diez… nueve… ocho…

The Spanish friends were standing on their seats, leaning on each other, touching the ceiling of the plane for balance, standing in the aisles. A blonde girl was passing out green grapes- to her friends, to strangers, to everyone who would take them.

Midnight struck. Not in Dubai, or Nairobi, or Boston, or Tangier, and probably not even in whatever place we were currently flying over, but in Madrid, it was midnight, it was January first, 2015. The Spanish friends were popping grapes into their mouths. Twelve green grapes, one for each stroke of midnight, twelve grapes for twelve months of good luck. Champagne glasses were clinking, people were hugging and kissing, a stranger hugged me, the elderly Chinese man was filming the Spanish revelers with one hand and waving one of his empty mini bottles with the other, a wide grin across his face, the baby was laughing, people were dancing on the seats of the airplane, cheering, laughing, dancing in the aisles. Flight attendants were telling everyone to sit down. No one was listening.

I wished my fiance was there so we could kiss on the stroke of midnight-in-Madrid and share this moment. I wished my friends and family were there so we could dance on the airplane seats and laugh together and tell each other happy new year thousands of feet above the ground. But I was also somehow strangely content. There was something peaceful about looking through the figurative windows at this moment of happy reveling, sparkling hats, green grapes, and joyous disregard for the concerned flight attendants urging everyone to sit down.

At last, the pilot’s stern voice over the intercom put an end to the reveling, at least the dancing on seats part of it.

This year, I celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends, on the firm ground, six hours later than Madrid. But as we huddled together under umbrellas in Copley Square, too excited and full of good food and drink to care about the light drizzle, watching the glowing clock projected onto Boston Public Library, I had a bag of green grapes in my hand. Twelve grapes for twelve strokes of midnight. Twelve grapes for twelve months of prosperity, or at least, for the non-superstitious, twelve grapes to bring people together- whether friends in Boston or strangers on a plane somewhere between Madrid and Dubai- in a moment of newness and anticipation and hope.

Welcome, 2017!