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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Story time! Strangest moments in airports around the world

We’re leaving for the airport early tomorrow morning. Home for the Holidays, here we come! Boston Logan is typically a relatively calm and uneventful airport, but around the holidays, traveling is like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. While I procrastinate on my packing and present-wrapping, here are my all-time best airport stories, a sequel to my weird stories on trains and buses. Moments in airports that just made me do a double take and think to myself, “Wait a minute, did that actually just happen?”

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Grading papers in a near-empty Zurich airport in the middle of the night. Ever wonder where in the world your homework has been?

Cairo International Airport, March 2015

With my cohort of fellow Fulbrighters, I boarded an EgyptAir flight from Casablanca to Cairo to Amman for a spring conference. Here are some highlights from our EgyptAir experience:

  • The plane food looked very questionable, so I did not eat it and was starving by the time we got to Amman. But that was okay because…
  • Everyone who did eat it got food poisoning.
  • The plane was dirty.
  • The pilot said a prayer over the intercom before we left, and I had very mixed feelings about this because on the one hand I entirely support praying for safe travels and often do so myself, but I also want some reassurance that the pilot has confidence in himself and the plane, you know?
  • We flew home in three separate groups (as some left directly after the conference while I and a few other stayed to wander around Jordan). The second legs of ALL THREE flights were canceled, no explanation given, and we all got stranded in Cairo overnight.

So there we were in the Cairo airport late at night, in need of visas to leave the airport and go to a hotel. We’d thought this through beforehand, as we’d heard about the cancellation before our flight left Amman. While we were waiting in the Amman airport, we had traded our leftover Jordanian dinar for Egyptian pounds rather than Moroccan dirhams. So we all had enough Egyptian cash on hand to purchase our visas.

An airport officer pointed to six currency exchange kiosks surrounding the baggage claim area and told us we could get our visas at any of them.

So we approached the closest kiosk.

“Hi, could I get a visa, please? Our flight was canceled. We’ll just be in Cairo till tomorrow morning.” (hands over passport and form)

“Certainly. That will be twenty-five dollars.”

“Actually, can I pay in Egyptian pounds?”

“No, just dollars or euros.”

“I don’t have dollars.”

“You’re American.”

“Yes, but I’ve been outside the U.S. for the past seven months. I don’t have any American money.”

“How about euros?”

“I don’t have euros. I only have Moroccan dirhams and Egyptian pounds- how much does the visa cost in Egyptian pounds?”

“I’m sorry, I can only accept dollars or euros. You can try one of the other kiosks.”

So we made our way from kiosk to kiosk, and this conversation repeated itself at every kiosk, and when we finally desperately tried the sixth and last kiosk, I lost it and yelled, loudly enough that everyone in the baggage claim area could hear me- “You’re telling me that I can’t purchase an EGYPTIAN visa with EGYPTIAN currency IN EGPYT?!???”

The man behind the kiosk looked around nervously, slid an Egyptian visa across the counter, and said in a hurried whisper, “Ok, ok, just this once, and just for you. You can pay in Egyptian pounds.”

So, PSA, if you’re going to Egypt, bring your dollars.

Mohammed V International Airport (Casablanca), March 2015

As I sat in the domestic terminal, waiting for my flight to Ouarzazate, a stray cat wandered calmly through the departure gate waiting areas. People reacted exactly how they should have: They glanced at the cat, shrugged- just a cat- and went back to their newspapers or cell phones or coffee cups. A totally normal response that felt excessively strange to me because, let’s be real here, in an American airport this cat would have caused a terminal-wide code red freak-out. It’s a terrorist cat. There’s a bomb inside it. It’s an improvised explosive cat. It’s a cat full of drugs. Where is its passport? Where is its owner?  It’s about to detonate! HELP! Run for your lives!

Marrakesh Menara Airport, April 2015

This is the story of how I learned a very valuable life lesson called you get what you pay for.

A friend invited myself and two other girls to go to Italy with her to spend Easter with her cousins. We all readily accepted. We found a $16 flight from Marrakesh to Rome on an airline called Vueling. A deal almost too good to be true. We snapped it up. We’d never flown Vueling before, but we knew Ryanair pretty well and we were cool with those super-cheap no-frills European airlines. We bought a second (and equally cheap) flight from Rome to Lamezia- our final destination in southern Italy- on Ryanair.

Marrakesh was a ten hour train trip away from where I lived, but trains in Morocco are inexpensive and comfortable and I had no problem making such a long trek if it meant that $16 flight and being able to travel with my friends. I took that ten hour ONCF journey, meeting up with one of the girls in Rabat along the way and traveling with her for the final four hours, and we all ended up in the Marrakesh airport by midnight to catch our 2:00 a.m. flight.

Yes, you heard that right. Our flight had a two a.m. departure time. Whatever, it was worth it for $16. And ours was the only flight departing from Marrakesh at anywhere near that time, making a delay less likely.

Oh, wait. Take that back. Two o’clock became two thirty, two forty-five, three… and we were still waiting at our departure gate. No explanation was given. Just as we were starting to get worried about missing our connecting flight in Rome, we were finally allowed to board.

So we boarded…

…and proceeded to sit on the runway for another hour.

Once again, no explanation was given for the delay.

We found a flight attendant and asked her what was going on. We told her we had a connecting flight on another airline that we were likely to miss at that point- would Vueling be able to do anything about that? Could she give us a ballpark estimate of when we might be taking off?

The flight attendant simply shrugged at us- “like a sassy diva,” my friend said, and I can vouch that that is a very realistic description and no exaggeration.

It was now past 4:00 a.m. and passengers were getting very antsy and starting to complain loudly.

A man in an orange vest came on the plane and told us, and I swear I am not making this up, that they would have to turn the plane off and turn it back on again. He quickly ducked out of the plane before anyone had a chance to ask questions.

Rebooting a plane apparently takes at least half an hour.

So we continued to wait.

Some passengers got out of their seats and loudly demanded to get off the flight. They argued back and forth with the flight attendants and the man in the vest who reappeared out of nowhere and another airline guy in a suit. The guy in the suit and the guy in the vest disappeared, then reappeared, and announced to everyone that the mechanical problem had been fixed and the plan was ready for takeoff, but since some passengers wanted to get off the plane there would be another forty minute delay while their baggage was retrieved from the hold.

And that was IT.

Pandemonium broke loose.

Passengers were screaming and yelling in Italian, Arabic, and English. Yelling at each other, yelling at the people getting off the plane, yelling at the man in the suit and the man in the vest and the flight attendants, who were of course all yelling back. Babies were crying. Some guys shoved each other. Someone punched the back of my seat. It was nuts.

So the pilot employed an age-old trick passed down from kindergarten teacher to kindergarten teacher for generations. He turned off the lights for five minutes until we all calmed down.

We missed our connecting flight in Rome and had to cough up sixty euros for a train ticket to Lamezia and then sit on a train for seven or eight hours.

At least we made it in time for Easter dinner!

You get what you pay for. And sometimes what you get is a good story.

Abed Amani Karume International Airport (Zanzibar), July 2015

My husband and I flew from Nairobi to Zanzibar for the second half of our honeymoon. As we stepped off the plane, we were immediately greeted by giant, bright yellow signs: All travelers must show proof of yellow fever immunization. I had my yellow WHO card with me, but my husband did not have his, though he’d been vaccinated about eight years before. We were given two options. “You can wait here for the next flight back to Nairobi, or we can vaccinate you here.” My husband chose the latter option. So the TSA officer- and, I repeat, not a nurse, the TSA officer- opened a mini fridge, took out a needle, showed my husband that it was sterile, and proceeded to jab him in the arm right there by the baggage claim.

I like to end this story with “annnddd now he’s autistic.”

PSA, get your yellow fever shot before you go to Tanzania and don’t lose your WHO card cause they don’t play.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston), August 2014

The man in line in front of me at Starbucks was wearing cowboy boots and a giant cowboy hat completely non-ironically. Maybe that’s normal in Texas, but I’m an urban New England girl. It was weird.

Philadelphia International Airport, May 2016

On my way home from a girls’ weekend away, I was strolling through the Philadelphia airport in the direction of my gate, casually looking around, when, as I passed an information desk, the woman at the desk called out to me, “Starbucks is over that way!”

Should I be amused or offended? Do I really give off that strong of a “basic white girl” vibe? Should I work on that? Siiiiigh.

(The worst part: I actually was looking for a Starbucks.)

(Cringe.)

 

There are some other good ones too, but that’s it for today!

 

 

 

The most interesting place I’ve ever been

I posted recently about one of the most peaceful and serenely beautiful places I’ve ever been. To continue the superlatives trend, here is the most interesting and seriously thought provoking place I have ever visited: the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the very heart of the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea. My grandmother told me recently to be sure to write down all my travel stories so I can always look back on them years later, and this is one I’ve never written down yet.

When we Americans think of North Korea, we think of a brainwashed people, a stream of brash nuclear threats, a dictator whose hawkish craziness is the stuff that memes are made of, a college student sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign from a hotel… It almost feels unreal, right? When we think of the Korean War, we think of monuments and old war movies and history books. But to South Koreans, the war never really ended. The threat is constant and extremely close to home, not something that can be laughed off in memes and left up to the politicians to figure out. And going to the JSA forces us foreigners to confront the realness of all of this.

Driving through the demilitarized zone feels like a scene from a postapocalyptic novel. Barbed wire, a tank here and there, and an eerie stillness accompanied by the feeling that everything is a little on edge. You can only go to the JSA with certain group tours, and you’ll have a military escort. You’ll need your passport and you will have to sign a waiver saying that you recognize that you are entering a hostile area and if anything happens to you no one will be held responsible but yourself. (But most likely nothing will happen to you. Just don’t steal any signs, ok?)

Below, the “Bridge of No Return” traverses the border between North and South Korea. Prisoner exchanges happened here at the end of the Korean War.

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At the JSA, two large, stately white buildings face each other, not far apart at all, guarded 24/7, always on alert. From the front steps of these buildings, North and South Korean soldiers watch each other through binoculars. Exactly between them, several small blue shelters serve as meeting spaces for the two sides of the border. As you walk into one of these shelters (and you usually can) and toward its back wall, you cross from South Korean territory into North Korea. Of course, a soldier will have his eye on you the whole time.

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Zooming in on a North Korean guard watching our group through binoculars:

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My “30 before 30” list

Because I’m the kind of person who needs to make herself lists like this so I don’t spend the next three years sitting on my couch sipping ginger tea and watching Friends for the fourth time through.

  1. Go to South America.
  2. Run a 10k.
  3. Run a half marathon.
  4. Learn to salsa dance.
  5. Go parasailing, hang gliding, or ziplining.
  6. Write and publish something, anywhere.
  7. Learn to speak Kiswahili. Improve my Spanish.
  8. See the Northern Lights.
  9. Read at least 30 new books.
  10. Cook at least 30 new recipes.
  11. Go to Iran or Cuba.
  12. Learn how to do yoga.
  13. Take a jewelry, pottery, or woodworking class.
  14. Participate in an open mic night.
  15. Road trip out west. See the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Portland, Seattle, LA. (I’ve seen pathetically little of my own country!)
  16. Learn some Kenyan and African history.
  17. Watch all my 2015-2016 ELL 9th graders GRADUATE!!!
  18. Learn how to code. (They say it’s the new literacy?)
  19. Go windsurfing, paddle boarding, or snorkeling.
  20. Keep a plant alive for more than a year.
  21. Have a baby.
  22. Learn the major guitar chords. Be able to play at least 3 songs decently well.
  23. Start seriously saving for a down payment, retirement, etc. Get an IRA. Get better at budgeting.
  24. Bench more than just the bar.
  25. Buy a good camera and learn how to use it.
  26. Learn to make at least five cocktails really well.
  27. Learn to make really good coffee.
  28. Really seriously master makeup, skin care, nails, and dressing myself. Invest in the perfect little black dress, the perfect pair of comfy and gorgeous leather boots that will last for years, and a timeless handbag.
  29. Keep a gratitude jar for a year.
  30. Do at least 30 random acts of kindness for complete strangers.