Stumped For A Gift? Visit a Museum

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are one or two months away and if you are lucky enough to still have your mother and/or father around now is as good a time as any to think about what to get them. Rather than just picking up something at the last minute from the local drugstore you might want to try to find something a little more creative and relevant for your loved ones. I am reminded of this after visiting the Gift Shop at Leu Gardens last weekend.  The place is jammed packed (literally – it’s hard to move around too quickly in there) with all kinds of “gifty” things for your favorite gardener. From accessories to books the variety of items on offer was quite diverse and the store offers gift certificates if you can’t make a decision.

Of course, I bring this up because I love museum stores and I’ve recently visited a few interesting ones. Sometimes the merchandise can be pretty pricey but many have a wide range of items that are truly unique to the region or focused on a particular interest. I’ve purchased coasters from the Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, a decorative ceramic tile from the Museum of Fine Arts store in Boston and jewelry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In New Orleans, we visited the Museum Store at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and I was sorely tempted to buy a new scarf. I decided against it because I already have quite a collection of scarves. However, my friend did find some beautiful garden tags to label her herb garden. The brightly lit store has a significant children’s section with books, games and toys.

Many of these stores offer discounts to members which can be a reason to join if you love the merchandise enough to buy a significant amount of items over time. And, in some cases you don’t have to go into the Museum itself (either via the online store or via a separate entrance to the store on site) to visit the store, thus eliminating the admission to some places. 

So what follows is a list of some of my favorite museum stores.

The Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida. Huge store with Dali prints and Dali images reconstituted into all kinds of merchandise.

The Harry P. Leu Garden and Museum Store, Orlando, Florida. Small store crammed with decorative garden items and books.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Unique jewelry items. Art prints including limited editions, books, toys, clothing and accessories.

The Morse Museum, Winter Park, Florida. Tiffany Lamp reproductions and stained glass items. Stationery, apparel and accessories.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Beautiful prints and books. Unique jewelry items as well.

The Smithsonian, all the museums of this institution have a store but these, located in Washington DC stand out in my opinion.

World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Georgia. Okay this place is a living commercial for Coca-Cola products but I’m a Diet Coke fiend so if you love Coke memorabilia this is the place to go crazy.

Shanghai Museum of Art.  You won’t necessarily find any bargains here but what you find is genuine merchandise without the typical haggling and harassment you will find as a tourist in Shanghai.  A peaceful place to shop for quality items.

This is just a small sampling of what’s out there. Do you have a favorite Museum Store?

Priscilla Emery, one half of the Travel2some

The Other Orlando: Harry P. Leu Garden

Every now and then we like to highlight an area of the Orlando, Florida region that is not related to the amusements and attractions area, such as Disney and Universal. We have many friends that have been there and done that and are looking for a different vibe. The Harry P. Leu Gardens are a great place to not only look at foliage indigenous to the central Florida area but the Leu House provides a window into early Florida life. We finally visited this place yesterday after driving past it for the past 10 years and always saying, “we should visit this place one day.” With ideal spring weather we finally took the time to check this place out and we both agree that it is a gem.

The gardens are nicely laid out and provide a nice variety of focus areas for particular interests. I found the Vegetable Garden and Herb Garden to be particularly interesting since I’ve had some challenges with successfully growing anything edible in this hot Florida climate. I didn’t see tomatoes but I did see pole beans, cabbage, peppers and sugar cane. The herb garden had basil, culantro, cilantro, rosemary, lavender, and several varieties of mint. These weren’t farm size areas but the kind of size plot one would put together in a larger backyard. And if you are new to Florida and need a sense of what “works” and what doesn’t in this climate, this is a great place to get some ideas.

The Butterfly Garden wasn’t loaded with butterflies when we visited but was nicely laid out and was a nice place to sit while taking in the colorful early blooms of Spring. The White Garden seemed a little wilted in areas but the overall effect was nice. The Citrus Grove gave us a chance to see a variety of limes, lemons, grapefruits and oranges up close and it was good to see that the ripened fruit is donated to local food banks. If you like camellias this is the place to visit since it has the largest collection of camellias in the southeast. Leu Garden is also a popular location for weddings and we observed members of wedding parties wandering the park looking for the wedding party preparation area.

The present Leu House and Museum located on the grounds was built in 1888 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of the house are given every half hour and they end at 3:30pm (the gardens close at 5) and they get more crowded as the day progresses. The museum tour is included in the price of the $10 admission to the Garden. The house is generally staged to look like it did in the 1920s with some of the original furnishings and photos included in the mix. Overall it was a nice way to break up our walk through the Garden.

We ended with a walk to the Wyckoff Overlook , a deck overlooking Lake Rowena. It was nice to observe turtles chasing each other in the water. I suppose that at times there are alligators in the area but there weren’t any at this time. May is alligator mating season so they should be more visible at that time. I’m looking forward to our next visit at another time of the year when different flowers and roses will be in bloom but I think I’ll avoid the alligators.

Priscilla, one half of the Travel2some

20130331-185825.jpg

Butterfly Garden

20130331-185914.jpg

Leu House

20130331-185938.jpg

Vegetable Garden

Back on Track in New Orleans

It’s been quite a while since we’ve written up any of our travels. We’ve been traveling quite a bit lately but we’ve been time-challenged to put all our experiences in “print.” But, I’ve been verbally regaling my friends with some of our old and new travel stories and most have said they should be written up, so we are going to try to get back on track with this.

We kick off this year’s stories with our most recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. This is not our first trip (I think it’s our 5th) and it was instigated by my having to attend and present at a conference located not far from the Superdome. Art got the chance to visit some museums while I was working and we got together in the evening to eat dinner and exchange our stories for the day. We reserved two weekend days to go places together and by the end we realized that we pretty much ate our way through New Orleans (something we always do).

The good news is that we ate at some new places instead of our “favorites.” That’s mainly because we couldn’t get a reservation at Mr. B’s Bistro, where I salivate over the BBQ Shrimp. BBQ Shrimp in New Orleans is not like shrimp on the grill. It’s swimming in butter, spices and Worcestershire sauce. Messy but gooooood! So I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to sit down to, what I consider, a dream meal. We instead were treated to some new dreams.

St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square

St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square

Our first dinner was complements of an industry association that I belong to and was reserved for the Fellows of the association. We were celebrating 50 years of “Fellowdom” at Emeril’s Delmonico restaurant in the Warehouse District of town. Art and I are Emeril fans so we were stoked for a great meal and got it. Starters just kept being presented at our table before we ever made a commitment to ordering anything off the 4-course limited but inspired menu for the event. Jerk Chicken, Spicy Shrimp, Crab Balls, and more were constantly being replaced along with the wine. Spicy but not so spicy that your eyes would water. I picked the Delmonico Chicken Clemenceau entrée and it was deliciously accented with ham. I topped it off with a small creme brulee – not really remarkable but nice to end with. Overall, a wonderful dining experience and the chance to see old friends.

The next night Art ate at the hotel restaurant, Lüke. And even though he had a hamburger, I know he had a better meal than I did. I went to a conference event at Mardi Gras World. This place offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Mardi Gras floats when they are not on parade. The floats were beautiful and the place was huge but the food was less than stellar. Not bad but on par with what you can get at the Convention Center. However, Art’s hamburger was a thing of beauty and he was thoroughly satisfied with his meal.

NOMA Sculpture Garden Tableau

The final day of the conference we dined at GW Fins. The conference finally over, we made our plans for the weekend with a friend of mine who was also attending the event. We had heard good things about this restaurant and weren’t disappointed. This was not a cheap place and on par price wise with Emeril’s, but well worth it. Art, of course, ordered the most dramatically presented appetizer, Smoked Oysters. You can smell them as they are being brought to the table and smoke wafts throughout the dining room for at least 3 minutes. He loved them. I had the Wood-Grilled Gulf Shrimp. Less dramatic but just as tasty. We all had some form of snapper for dinner. Art had the Jolt Snapper, which was an evening special, while I had the Red Snapper with Shrimp Etoufee and Jasmine Rice. The Jasmine rice was a little too sticky for my taste but the rest of the dish was excellent. Of course, we had dessert – even though we really didn’t need it. I decided to go with the Coconut Sorbet – refreshing and creamy and Art went for something called the Salty Malty. The Salty Malty was a pie with a pretzel crust and malt-flavored cream filling. A sweet salty taste treat.

Reading this you would think that all we did was eat during this trip. Eating in New Orleans is definitely a memorable experience but we had a great time walking along Royal Street in the French Quarter and checking out the antiques stores. One standout was M.S. Rau Antiques. We were definitely just window shopping at this place. It’s like walking through a decorative arts museum except that all the items are for sale. Definitely worth stopping for.

On Saturday we did more walking and riding and less eating. We picked up a $3 unlimited-ride day-pass for the streetcars and buses at Walgreen and were set for the day. The three of us headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and Sculpture Garden via the Canal Street Streetcar. The Sculpture Garden is free to the public so we checked that out first. Serenity is the key word here with some visually striking art along the way.

This particular weekend the NOMA was not only filled with its regular artifacts and exhibits but beautiful flower arrangements were displayed in each of the exhibit areas and added liveliness to the place that enhanced the objects on display. (Bring your AAA card to save $2 off the adult admission or look for a coupon on one of the local tourist maps.) The rest of the afternoon was spent riding the different streetcars and buses through the Garden District, with its magnificent houses and parks. This area is a beautiful counterpoint to the rowdy French Quarter (especially on Bourbon Street). The parks are quiet and the atmosphere is far less frenzied. We ended our day at the Superior Seafood Restaurant where I was able to dine on some BBQ Shrimp – on par with Mr. B’s Bistro and costing about $5 less. Even though it’s not in the heart of the tourist district this place was still very busy (and a little loud) and had a great menu for seafood lovers. And, being located on St Charles Street, within an easy walk to a Streetcar stop, this place turned out to be very convenient. Our hotel was located on the same streetcar line and it was an easy trip back. A full day of traveling all over New Orleans for $3 a person – we were literally back on track (streetcar track – that is) to enjoying New Orleans just like in days gone by.

Priscilla, one half of the Travel2some

8 Days in Turks & Caicos: Lessons Learned

We vacationed in Turks & Caicos a couple of weeks ago and had a nice time. We loved being with the grandchildren and the beaches were clean and beautiful with some of the softest sand you can imagine. However, we tend to like to go to places with more historical interest or museums so TCI would not have necessarily been our first pick as a vacation spot.  In Providenciales, where we stayed, places to go of historical interest are slim and the tours to go to those places were very expensive for the amount of time that would be spent visiting the sites so we decided to forego those activities in favor of staying closer to our own surroundings (which can be relaxing but also a little boring).

So what did we learn? Well we already knew that it would be expensive. My son had already warned us about that and we discussed that a little bit in my previous post.  Again, this is an island where everything has to be imported – expensive comes with the territory. But we did learn some other things that may be useful to others who want to visit.

Image

After walking around for an hour in the new room

For most vacationers you will be staying in a condo owned by someone else. Because of that the consistency of quality when it comes to furnishings and general upkeep of a particular unit can be somewhat inconsistent. Our stay in our first room (a suite that costs about $200 a night) at the Ocean Club West was marred by a leaky roof, a stove that did not work, light bulbs not replaced in lamps and fixtures, and ants in the kitchen area. The roof only leaked one night so we ignored that but we called the hotel staff about each of the other problems. Each had to be called again after no resolution on the first calls. We didn’t even complain about the chest of drawers that was so old that the drawers would fall out when you opened it and the lack of closet space because a washer and dryer was installed in that area (suites don’t normally have a washer/dryer). We weren’t offered a different room until I tweeted my unhappiness. At that point we were offered an upgrade to a one bedroom suite. Of course, this was at the tail end of the vacation but we decided to make the move anyway. We ended up in a unit above the one my son and his family were staying in. Bigger with no ants it was nicely decorated and had a great view of the pool.  But, apparently, they don’t really prep rooms very well for incoming guests because the floors were filthy. And we found out that if we close the door to the bedroom the air flowing under the door from the air conditioner howled. We decided to leave the door open the next night. If you are looking for consistency of quality certain resort properties just don’t offer that.

News of problems does not travel fast. We only learned of a form of norovirus or sickness that had spread to the next door resort while listening to staff talk about it in passing. The outbreak literally shut down reservations at the very upscale Grace Bay resort located next door. We were lucky to not have gotten sick while on the trip.  We had planned to go to Grace Bay resort Infinity Bar one night during our stay but the place looked a little too isolated when we walked by. It was a couple of days later when we realized why the place was deserted. The outbreak also affected a couple of other resorts at that time.

But, theft, like on any tourist location, can be a problem. So rental car companies recommend you do not lock your vehicle so the windows do not get smashed in. Bottom line: don’t leave anything valuable in the car if you rent. We didn’t experience any problems with this but we’re from NYC – we NEVER leave anything in the car that can be ripped off.

Don’t believe anyone who says there are no mosquitos on TCI. Bring bug repellent especially for dining out (since most restaurants are al fresco).

Al fresco dining (especially at night) is highly overrated, especially when it’s windy and there isn’t enough lighting to see what you are eating.  This seemed to be the case at many establishments.

Image

Conch Shell vendor outside Da Conch Shack

Enjoy the local cuisine and local flavors. Our best dinners were at the local haunts such as the Tiki Hut and da Conch Shack. Da Conch Shack is right on the beach where you can dine on picnic tables outside or under a roof (everything is open air). There are vendors on site selling conch shells and most of the smaller souvenirs were reasonably priced.

If you are into water sports this is the place for you.  My son was able to enjoy a Hobie Cat while we were there and there are plently of opportunities for snorkeling, diving, swimming, paddleboarding, etc. I don’t swim so these are not enticements for me but for others this is what TCI is perfect for.

The people are the best thing about Turks and Caicos. Everywhere we went we felt welcome. They were all friendly and helpful.

 

Providenciales Dining: Savoring Conch in All its Forms

We’ve been back from Turks & Caicos for a few days now and I’ve been meaning to write down a few thoughts about our trip.  We spent 8 days in a suite at the Ocean Club West Resort  in Providenciales. My review of that place will follow separately but we could have had a better accommodation than we did.  Nevertheless, the objective was to relax and spend quality time with the grandchildren and my son and daughter-in-law and that we did.

The challenge with TCI (as the country is referred to) is that it is quite expensive to both stay and dine there. It’s a series of islands and islands typically have higher costs when it comes to food. We knew that going in so we did what we could to keep costs down.  My son actually travelled with a portable cooler that contained frozen steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs for his family’s consumption. He had no problem bringing the food into the country since it was frozen and was only meant for personal use.  The resort has a couple of very good grills on site so he was able to grill up some food for his family on a few occasions.  Steaks on the island typically cost in the area of $29-$36 so he saved considerable money there.

However, when I go on vacation I generally don’t want to cook and I do want to sample the local cuisine, so we did not go with the frozen food strategy. We do know that in most places breakfasts are over priced so we brought over breakfast snacks that we bought at Costco and went to the local supermarket near the resort and bought some items to make breakfast and lunch.  Food there was more expensive than we find in the supermarket at home but it was still cheaper than going to a restaurant for breakfast.  Since we had a kitchenette in the room we decided we could make french toast for a few meals and bought a small loaf of bread, a half-gallon of milk, a dozen eggs and some butter.  Those items totaled about  $18.00 – not cheap but cheaper than paying for one meal of French Toast at $10 a person.  We got 6 French Toast entrees out of that and Art made a couple of omelets with the balance of the eggs.  We also brought some flavored rum miniatures with us that we had purchased during our St Thomas vacation and I used portions of the Coconut Rum and Vanilla Rum to flavor the French Toast batter. Yummy.

And, even though dinners on the island aren’t cheap we found that many of the meals were high quality and delicious.  It also pays to eat what’s local or what is considered normal food for the area.  In TCI it’s conch in all its many forms.  We had conch fritters, conch fingers, conch ceviche and conch salad.  All were delicious, although the conch from Da Conch Shack was the best.  Listed in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die, the atmosphere was relaxed and fun.  The Conch Combo did not disappoint. It was accompanied by another island favorite – rice and peas.  I’m not a big fan of peas but these are pigeon peas.  If you are Puerto Rican (like myself) you know them as gandules.  So essentially rice and peas is Arroz con Gandules a dish I am very familiar with and love.  I was in heaven. Since this is considered the off-season the service was excellent.  I also had conch fritters at the Seaside Cafe at the resort and at the Tiki Hut Restaurant. 

Ribs and Fries from Seaside Cafe

The Tiki Hut deserves a shout out for some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.  Moist and sweet with sufficient meat on the bone to make them worth getting messy.  The entrée cost $18 and that seems to be the going rate for ribs across the island. Their drink specials were pretty good too.  Just make sure to apply your mosquito repellent before you go otherwise you’ll get eaten alive while you’re dining.

 

Conch Fritters from the Seaside Cafe

 

We also enjoyed Jimmy’s Dive Bar.  It is what it sounds like – a dive – but the half-priced piña coladas during Happy Hour were very good and the conch sampler was very tasty and well priced.  They serve breakfast all day – at high-end breakfast prices but are also known for a wide variety of hamburger platters.  As dives go, it was really quite civilized and the service was also very good.

The only restaurant we went to that we considered to be overhyped and with less than stellar service was Hemingway’s at the Sands Resort.  Our waitress did not take our order correctly and my entrée of crab cakes was ample but unremarkable. No one else was raving about their meal either so it was not the best experience.  It also didn’t help to be downwind from a cigar-smoker lazing after his dinner by the pool, which is adjacent to the restaurant. Cuban cigars are available in TCI so I understand why someone would want to savor the experience but not next to where I’m eating a meal.

Another place we enjoyed was Giggles, an ice cream shop located right near Jimmy’s Dive Bar.  Lots of selection in ice cream flavors and friendly service made this a fun stop.  But in the TCI heat you have to scarf down your ice cream pretty quick before it melts all over you.

Overall, our outlay for dinners wasn’t cheap ranging anywhere from $45 to $85 per night for two people, most of the time with some form of alcoholic beverage (the rum punches go down very smoothly) but we enjoyed our meals and the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurants and the friendliness of the service all across Providenciales.

 Priscilla (one half of the Travel2Some

Mani-Pedi: Prepping for Vacation

We are heading to Turks and Caicos soon and I decided I didn’t want to hit the beach with unpolished toenails and fingernails that had been beaten to a pulp during my recent trip to Trinidad. So I decided to go to Bahama Nails, a local nail salon that has a sort of tropical vibe and a mini-spa feel. I’d only been there once before but I liked the reasonable prices, the relaxed atmosphere and, most importantly, the cleanliness and professional service.

Decorated in tiki hut decor, this isn’t an upscale salon, but the service sure beats some of the more hoity-toity places I’ve been too. I was warmly greeted when I entered this storefront location and asked how I could be helped. Mid-afternoon on a week day wasn’t crowded but the place wasn’t empty either so I was happy that they could take me right away.

The pedicure came first. Seated on a raised massage chair I soaked my feet in fairly hot water – just the way I like it. I was offered a magazine to read while my feet were being not only prepped but massaged and pampered. I was also offered a complimentary soft drink. If I wanted a beer or mixed drink I could get that too for an extra charge. I was being lulled to sleep by the half leg massage and the tapping of the massage chair so I asked for a Diet Coke.

I do think the place would have more of a spa vibe or even a tropical feel if the music being piped in wasn’t that of a local radio station. Definitely not tropical nor relaxing. But the pedicure was top notch. The subsequent manicure was just as soothing and professional, complete with forearm and hand massage.

There is a separate area for clients to sit and allow their nails to dry and no one rushes you out. So how much did all this pampering cost? For the mani-pedi the total cost (with tip) was $46. A great deal for the quality of work done and the professionalism of the staff.

Now my fingers and toes are well appointed for vacation and I had a nice tropical prelude to my upcoming trip.

Priscilla