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Navigating Your Travel Treasure Hunt

The very first stamp, on my very first passport, was earned in 1994 as I passed through Customs in London’s Heathrow Airport. I had ventured beyond the U.S. alone, on a three week long business trip and felt compelled to find a small, yet meaningful memento to take home. Although I do confess to owning a Milton Glaser I LOVE NY t-shirt, I prefer to find something more lasting. Today, regardless of their monetary value, my travel treasures are among my favorite things.  What do I look for? And where do I search for cool stuff?

International thrift stores contain unusual things. I discovered a fabulous vintage vase at a charity shop in England, wrapped it in layers of clothing, and prayed it would make the trip home. It did. But I learned a valuable lesson about my travel treasure-hunt habits. Today, bubble pack is on my Top Ten Must-Pack List.

Locally produced goods are among my favorite finds. I’ve picked up small blown glass items in factories in Bermuda and in Mexico. These objets d’art transport me to the place and time where glassblowers created their work as we watched on.

A trip to the grocery store is a must. From unusual flavors of Tang, to salsas, sauces, herbs and oils, take the opportunity to come home and allow your vacation to linger in your home until you’ve shared your treats with others. Among my

all-time favorites were several pounds of Costa Rican coffee, and the treasured bottle of Garzón Olive Oil reminiscent of my trip to the Garzón winery/orchard.

 

 

 

 

 

Local wines and spirits are yours to discover. The local Costa Ricans introduced Li and I  to Guaro. They laughed. We later learned why. Guaro is, in fact, GRAIN alcohol! For fun, I still brought home a couple of small bottles. The local Ron Barceló rum and Mamajuana I carried home from the Dominican Republic are still favorites for sipping my way into daydreams of coconut-filled wagons, a quiet beach, and the fresh whole fish we ate at sunset, toes embedded in the silky sand.

Never understimate the value of FREE.  Wine corks are integrated into my décor. The Bouza cork in my plant pot is from a memorable dinner with my extended Uruguayan family.

Shells, coral, and sea glass pieces washed ashore have found their way into a display cabinet. Each glass container, filled with shells, and labeled by location, generates lasting tranquility in my home. I can almost HEAR the crashing waves!

Individual Ziplock bags contain a menagerie of tickets, receipts, menus, business cards and phone numbers from each trip. As I blog, it’s easy to track down names and dates, and match photos to exact places and times. These invaluable “pinch me” keepsakes serve as reminders to be grateful for my amazing travel experiences.

Bring home art! I find interesting work in small, local galleries, or at street fairs. I take the time to meet the artist and share my appreciation for their work.  I selected Carol Joy Shannon’s hand-painted guitar during a visit to Myrtle Beach, SC.  The golden-haired child hanging next to it is a find from Key West, FL. And the ballerina was acquired from a  gallery in Costa Rica. While all are paintings, I’ve chosen work of other mediums, like the pastel nude, the encaustic wax bottles of colour, and the watercolor/pen and ink drawing of New York City.  I have a backlog of framing to do – to showcase artwork collected in Uruguay and Argentina. And, each piece carries meaning, a story, and a flood of memories.

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
Cooperstown, NY
Union Square, New York, NY
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New York City Conquers the Well Heeled

The first time I visited New York City for a grad school city session, I mistakenly presumed I was entering an unfriendly urban playground.  I was intimidated by the streets, the cars, the people and the night. People who know me likely can’t picture me as the puppy dog dutifully following a master of the city; my roommate Andrea, a New Jersey girl. That first morning, as Andrea led me from our hostel-ish abode to embark on our 15-block walk to our classroom at the Type Director’s Club, we agreed to pump some coffee into our system.

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Coffee on every corner.

In a blink, that coffee experience changed my perspective of New York City. Picture this. It’s November. I’m masquerading as a stylish city girl, sporting cute spike-heeled boots and a leather coat. I have a small point-and-shoot Cannon in my pocket, so I can quickly pull it out and sneak quick photos of the interesting and amazing sights. Andrea speed-walks a couple of yards ahead of me. The aroma of liquid caffeine beckons Andrea, and I follow her into the door of a corner cafe. In what seems like a blink, we’re back out on the sidewalk.  I’m balancing hot coffee in one hand, my mini-camera in the other,  and I’m racing against the blinking orange Don’t Walk sign. Then it happens.

In a nano-second, my heel sinks deeply into the manhole cover grid, and boom – I’m face first in the street, with two hands in the air; one holding my hot coffee high and dry, and the other holding my unscathed camera. Andrea is frozen, initially mortified. Immediately I am surrounded by concerned New Yorkers. Men and women, young and old, pull me from the street crammed with cars wildly honking horns to the safety of the sidewalk of 6th Avenue. I taste blood.

cimg0161smI look at Andrea, and it’s clear that she and I are on the same “this is worth a REALLY good laugh” page. (As long as I still have teeth.) I smile, close my eyes, and shake my head. She sheepishly asks if it’s OK if she takes a photo of me holding coffee napkins to my bloodied face. Hearty laughter fills the air, and I realize there will clearly be no opportunity to keep this story from my new classmates. My chin and lower lip are as decimated as a third grader’s skinned knee from a bad fall off a bicycle.

Within 20 minutes, my first impression as I walk into class is certainly not the polished, well-heeled professional one I’d planned. I appeared to have been mugged and was in serious need of a first aid kit. Type Director’s Club executive Carol came to the rescue, and I was further on my way to appreciating the kindness of those who live or work in the Big Apple.  During that initial trip, I grew to feel energized by the hustle-bustle of New York City, yet tamed by the lesson the manhole cover had taught me.

In the first round of Cute Heels vs. New York, the city had won hands down. Or face down? The following day I invested in a pair of really great new boots. Flat boots.

 

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Cobble Hill is for Foodies

When you think Brooklyn, think food. Mixed throughout the residential neighborhoods are historic favorites, neighborhood hangouts, and new experiments. The Cobble Hill neighborhood and its conjoined sister Carrol Gardens house some of the best kept food secrets in Brooklyn.  Without the approval of the locals, I’m sharing a few of those  old-school secrets below:

PaisanosCobble Hill Coffee Shop (314 Court St)- classic diner done right. Unchanged since the 1960s, the limited retro eating space is spotlessly clean and food is well done. Straightforward (and not greasy!) breakfast options come with a small glass of fresh squeezed orange juice to finish it off right. Lunch and dinner include American, Italian, and Greek flavors with enough vegetarian options to make me a happy cabbage.

Paisanos Butcher Shop (162 Smith St) – old school institution.  The center piece is a long counter full of fresh cut meats, sausages, and deli side dishes while shelves opposite reach to the ceiling. Behind the counter are regular pantry staples that clerks can pull down with extended reach tools and at the far end of the shop is a variety of handmade pastas and ravioli (try the cheese and broccoli rabe).

img_3623D’amico Coffee Roaster (309Court St) – fresh roasted coffee beans. Keeping the borough caffeinated since 1948, their signature dark roast is not to be missed. The tin ceiling and antique metal bins keep it vintage while wifi and  cosy seating area in the back make it comfortable. Have a well crafted cappuccino in and take a pound home.

Mazzola Bakery (192 Union St) – fresh Italian bread for all. This neighborhood bakery supplies restaurants and offers its goods to all who are lured in the unassuming door by the intoxicating smells. The asiago loaf lasted seconds in my hands, their chocolate croissant reminded me of those I ate in Belgium, and their Italian lace cookies were like christmas came early.

Honorable mention is the Court Pastry Shop (298 Court St) for its sweet Sicilian anise bread. The soft biscotti like toasty cookie is perfect with a coffee or the coffee like “Manhattan Special”espresso soda.

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Sweet Brooklyn

I’ve been to New York a number of times now, but this was my first time exploring the mythical land of Brooklyn. There was something extraordinarily special about waking up in my AirBNB apartment, exiting onto the street of brownstones, and walking around the corner to the 1920s era bakery for my daily bread.  It was strange yet comfortable,  like I’ve lived there my whole life. Needless to say, Brooklyn really hit my sweet spots.

BrooklynFleaShopping Sweet SpotThe Brooklyn Flea. With two locations chances are you’re not far away from . Vendors set up with quirky vintage finds, new hipster crafts, quirky chochkies, and snacks from local restaurants (bing me, please!).  While I didn’t end up as part of a shoot for Lara Spencer’s “Flea Market Flip,” I did leave with a bag of wooden type sets and vintage political buttons.

Sight Seeing Sweet SpotIKEA Water Taxi. Ok, you’re confused. Don’t be! The Ikea in Red Hook offers a water taxi from the nearby dock to Manhattan. After a leisurely if windy cruise past the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island you’ll land within view of the Brooklyn Bridge  near Wall Street and the Southside Seaport. If you make an IKEA purchase, the taxi is free!

Museum Sweet SpotNew York Transit Museum.  Built into a disused subway stop, you’d walk right past this underground museum (literally) if you didn’t know it was there. The history of the city’s construction is shown though photos and artifacts, and scale train car models. The collection of different subway cars through the years complete with their period advertisements. The history timeline of working turnstiles had me going through each one like the 12yr old boy I am at heart.

Food Sweet SpotSmorgasburg. This food festival on steroids has everything your tastebuds could wish for. Vendors with various stalls of edible goodies, including some veggie friendly, if not vegan. In Williamsburg or Prospect Park Brooklyn you can be overwhelming, but giant mozzarella sticks! The smaller permanent location in the Southside seaport with a more low key vibe and foosball on the sidewalk.

Green Sweet SpotProspect Park. Sometimes in the city you just need trees. In Brooklyn, Prospect Park offers an oasis of greenery and peaceful walks. You’ll inevitably run into a soccer game and birthday parties, which make it all the more like home to me.

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For more Brooklyn, see Brooklyn in Two Pizzas

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Brooklyn in Two Pizzas

Pizza…mmmm. Dough plus tomato sauce plus cheese equals happiness.
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You might be saying “I’ve had pizza before. I know what it tastes like.” Wrong. Pizza in New York City has a history of laughter and tears, of friendships and feuds. It’s a ever changing canvas with infinite variety. It’s… New York itself. Every place has its own traditions and styles. In Brooklyn I had two slices that exemplify the far sides of the pizza spectrum: a classic and a new interpretation.BknSals1

Sal’s Pizzeria (305 Court St) is as classic a slice as it gets. Serving the neighborhood since the 50s, they offer whole pies or slices of either thick Sicilian or thin NY style. There’s a large oven along one wall, hand written signs, and an old photo of the sidewalk counter with a giant dog getting his margarita.  For me it was all about the classic crust, which was light and crispy.

Gristmill (289 5th Ave) should have the slogan “come for the garlic knots, stay for the pizza.” The owner/chef is a grain nerd and it shows in his unique ground-on-order blends and attention to detail for his crusts. The garlic knots come in everything or garlic parmesan style with olive oil. For a pizza, I totally recommend the Esquite (their take on Mexican street corn) and add a poached egg, if you’re feeling decadent.  All of the ingredients are locally sourced and vegan options arealso available.

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For more Brooklyn, see Sweet Brooklyn