I Moved!


Happy Thursday everyone! I hope that you’re all doing well. It’s been several months since my last blog post and I’m here to update you on my life. I’m a college gal now!

I wanted to let you know that I am now a resident of the lovely city of Boston, Massachusetts, where I will be living, learning, studying, and exploring for the next four years. To celebrate the move, I decided to start an all-new WordPress blog, The Boston Belle. Sadly, it’s time to bid adieu to Danielle Loves New York, since I will only be in NYC for a small part of the year.

I hope you come along with me on my journey by following me at thebostonbelleblog.wordpress.com!

Ciao Bella!

-Danielle

Crystal Cruises – A Dream Vacation

Greetings to all my readers!

Next week, I will be leaving New York for a one-week trip to Nicaragua, and I am beyond excited. Provided that there is good wi-fi at my hotel, I will be sure to update my blog with photos and stories as much as possible. But in the meantime, I would like to tell you about a dream vacation of mine that I would like as my high school graduation present. As an avid sea traveler, I would be delighted to take a trip with a lovely line called Crystal Cruises. It’s known to be one of the poshest and most luxurious cruise line companies in the industry, so why not try it out for myself?

Crystal Cruises in Norway

 

 

A Stateroom

My Dream Itinerary

Crystal Cruises is one of the top-ranked cruise lines in the entire travel industry. In fact, it has consistently claimed the number-one spot in both Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler‘s “World’s Best Award” for premium cruise lines. Crystal Cruises is an all-inclusive line, meaning that everything is included in the online sticker price. The food, décor, service, and tours are guaranteed to be of impeccable quality.

The cruise I’m interested in going on voyages from Lisbon to London over the course of 21 days, and makes stops in the French ports of Bordeaux, St-Jean-de-Luz, St. Malo, and the picturesque Honfleur. The splendid voyage it titled “Vistas & Vintages.” The question is: who’s with me?

A Stopover in St-Jean-de-Luz

St-Jean-de-Luz: An Aerial View

The Ethereal Mont St. Michel

Le Beau Bordeaux

Charming Honfleur

Oporto, Portugal

This is only a sampling of the many beautiful places Crystal Cruises might take me on my European dream vacation. I love worldwide travel, and I am certain Crystal will leave me with an experience to remember.

Holiday Shopping in New York City

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Happy Holidays to all!

Are you looking for the best places to shop and stroll in New York City this holiday season? Well look no further! Manhattan is one of the best places to shop for fashion, jewelry, art, trinkets, and other gifts in all the land. In New York City, unique shopping opportunites abound at one-of-a-kind holiday markets, chic boutiques, and elegant department stores. The selection is endless, and outlined below are some of New York City’s finest places to buy and browse for you and your loves ones.

The Columbus Circle Holiday Market

At 59th Street, straddling between the border of the Upper West Side and Midtown Manhattan, is one of New York’s most unique places to spend. And no, it’s not the nearby mecca of “The Shops at Columbus Circle.” Instead, it’s the annual winter Columbus Circle Holiday Market, a place of commerce for artisans, craftspeople, and gourmet food vendors from all over the world. From early December to Christmas Eve, visitors can sample sweets from designer chocolatiers, purchase local, handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry, or simply grab a bite at one of New York’s delectable food trucks. The Market is a maze of fashion, freshness, and fun, and you wouldn’t want to miss out.

Some of my personal favorite vendors: Avidgail Adam, an Israeli jeweler selling headpieces, bracelets, and rings, Savon de Provence, a manufacturer of sweet-smelling handmade French soaps, and Spices and Teas, which sells gourmet infusions from around the world!

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Winter Village at Bryant Park

Bryant Park’s very own Winter Village follows the same concept as the Columbus Circle Holiday Market outlined above. However, there is one major difference: Bryant Market has an incredible ice-skating rink. And who doesn’t love ice-skating – a storied winter tradition! The Winter Village is open until January 4th, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy.

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Bergdorf Goodman

Chanel, Saint Laurent, Dior, Céline, Prada, Balenciaga – the list flows on and on. If you’re looking for designer merchandise for you and your loves ones, look no further than Bergdorf Goodman.

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Bergdorf Goodman is – unarguably – New York City’s ritziest, glitziest department store. It’s Manhattan’s very own version of the UK’s Harrod’s (also one of the most memorable shops that I have ever visited). Posh, classy, sexy, elegant – Bergdorf Goodman is everything. As soon as you walk in, you feel like a celebrity. A pampered princess. Well-dressed salesladies shower you with attention, and your visit is their delight.

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On the first floor, you’ll find handbags and all-too-precious bijoux. Chloé, Judith Leiber, Van Cleef & Arpels, Proenza Schouler – if it’s on the runway, if it has graced the pages of Elle and Vogue, it’s here. On the upper floors, you’ll find fashion-forward clothing and the magnificent shoe department, featuring the likes of Christian Louboutin, Charlotte Olympia, and Prada.  

Bergdorf’s deserves a visit, even just a window shop.

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Stay tuned! There’s more shops to come tomorrow!

All About Nicaragua!

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Greetings to all, and Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays!

Todays blog posting is dedicated to my future trip to Nicaragua.

I realize that I haven’t blogged about travel for a while – which was meant to be the primary focus of this site. You see, at the moment, I am inundated with work – college essays, AP Biology worksheets, creative writing prompts, et cetera. But come January, I will be free as a bird when my college applications have been submitted. No worries until late March, when my college decisions arrive.

Anyway, it is now Christmas break, and I would like to update all my loyal readers on my future trip. I will be remaining in New York for the entire winter holiday (I haven’t vacationed over Christmas break since 10th grade in the Caribbean). But come February, I will journey to Nicaragua in Central America – a country that I couldn’t be more excited to visit.

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Nicaragua

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Fun Facts about Nicaragua – Thanks to Factmoster.com 

  • Population – 6 million
  • Currency – Gold Cordoba
  • Language – Spanish
  • President – Daniel Ortega
  • Ethnic Makeup – Mestizo 69%, White 17%, Black 9%, Amerindian 5%
  • Literacy Rate – 68%
  • Major Industries – food processing, chemicals, machinery and metal products, textiles, clothing, petroleum refining and distribution, beverages, footwear, wood
  • Natural Resources – gold, silver, copper, tungsten, lead, zinc, timber, fish
  • Religions – Roman Catholic 73%, Evangelical 15%, Moravian 2%, None 9%
  • Exports – coffee, beef, shrimp and lobster, tobacco, sugar, gold, peanuts
  • Imports – consumer goods, machinery and equipment, raw materials, petroleum products
  • Capital City – Managua
  • Arable Land – 15%

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An Overview – From Infoplease.com

“The largest but most sparsely populated of the Central American nations, Nicaragua borders Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. It is slightly larger than New York State. Nicaragua is mountainous in the west, with fertile valleys. Two big lakes, Nicaragua and Managua, are connected by the Tipitapa River. The Pacific coast is volcanic and very fertile. The swampy Caribbean coast is aptly called the ‘Mosquito Coast.’

“Nicaragua, which derives its name from the chief of the area’s leading Indian tribe at the time of the Spanish Conquest, was first settled by the Spanish in 1522. The country won independence in 1838.”


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I traveled to Central America once in my lifetime – to Guatemala. And it was extraordinary. The country was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined, and I can’t wait to see more of what Central America has to offer. In February, along with my classmates, I will be traveling to Nicaragua for a volunteer mission trip. There, we will be constructing sinks for the residents of a local village. I am sure where in Nicaragua I will be visiting, but we are going to start off the journey in Managua, the capital and largest city. I am so excited to go! I love exploring new countries. It just gives you a different perspective on life.

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Lake Apoyo, Catarina, Nicaragua

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The volunteer coordinator also recommended that I get malaria shots before I go, as there is a strong risk of the disease. I was also told by past volunteers to Nicaragua that the food served would be largely unvaried. One girl I spoke said that all she ate was rice and beans, and some local snacks and fruit. But I have no problem with that. I want to know how the locals eat, to truly experience their daily life.

Each volunteer in my group must bring an empty suitcase of supplies to donate to the locals – toothbrushes, toothpaste, crayons, markers, toys, shoes, and the like. This trip is going to be hard work, and I am excited to contribute.

Managua – The Capital

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For fun, my group is going to hike up a volcano – something I wanted to do in Guatemala, but time did not permit – and do a beach visit. Which means I need a cute new bathing suit! 

Where will you travel next? Let me know in the comments below! I love hearing from my readers.

Day 10 – Goodbye Guatemala!

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Greetings from 20,000 feet in the air – or however high up we are!

My mother and I have just departed from Miami International Airport in Florida, and we’re on our way home from Guatemala City. Today, Day 10, just consisted of hanging out at aeropuertos and flying around. We woke up at about 6:30 a.m. so that we could arrive at the Guatemala City International Airport at 8:00. Apparently, in Guatemala City, airport officials try to set a rule that all passengers must arrive 3 hours before the departure time of the flight. Why, I do not know. I guess so that nobody arrives too late.

The airport in Guatemala City has no air conditioning, unfortunately. I believe that it was about 90 degrees in that airport. My mother and I were suffering beyond belief! But our tour guide did explain to us not to expect all of the amenities provided at an American airport here in Guatemala.

Nonetheless, the airport in Guatemala is a lot of fun. There are maybe 30 different souvenir shops (which all carry the exact same merchandise), and they all have very good prices on locally-made items (like fancy jade and beaded jewelry, colorful Mayan textiles, etc.). But still, prices are not as low as in the marketplaces, which are a much better place to get a bang for your buck. In the way of food, water is about $1.20 (and at the Miami airport, it was a whopping $3.50!).

Mostly American food chains are available at the Guatemalan airport, like Subway and Pizza Hut. Some Guatemalan chains located at the airport are Pollo Campero and Telepizza, but most of the food is American cuisine. And unlike US airports, Guatemala offers free wifi, which I think should be gratis at all airports worldwide. Throughout my visit, I’ve noticed that Guatemala is much more generous in amenities at hotels and in public spaces. This is one aspect of Guatemala that I love: the people are gracious and welcoming, and hospitality abounds.

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I am going to miss Guatemala very much! This country has to be one of the most memorable places that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The landscapes throughout the country are breathtaking, the work of the Maya people is intricate and impeccable, the food is flavorful, and visiting the country is extremely low in cost. By far, I am going to miss Lago de Atitlan, an unusual highlight of my vacation. Here, I stayed at the best hotel yet and experienced the action the markets had to offer.

Guatemala is such a great for a student or budget traveler to explore. Taking a tour here is relatively inexpensive, as I had stated before, and, most of the time, a full meal (which is always served in heaping portions) costs only $2 to $3. Things aren’t pricey because the Guatemalans don’t live as extravagantly as Americans prefer to. But of course, that doesn’t mean that the country isn’t bursting in culture and vibrancy.

Traveling in Guatemala has allowed me to become a more open-minded, adventurous person. In the future, I want to take more risks when I travel, and visit more developing countries. I don’t just want to see the first world. Guatemala has also caused me to rethink my ideas of poverty. Numerous times, our tour guide gave us his opinion that Guatemala is not impoverished. Rather, the people just lived simply and humbly. I mean, if a Guatemalan family does not finish its home, they don’t pay taxes! But Guatemalans still own plasma TVs, cellular phones, and computers. They just don’t feel the need to be flashy like Americans, and I wholly appreciate this way of life. We’re just too quick to judge.

My mother and I would never have gone to Guatemala if it wasn’t for two travelers that we had met in Peru. Over dinner one night in Lima, the Peruvian capital, this couple had informed us that Guatemala was an unforgettable destination, and that it reminded them a little bit of Peru. Guatemala was so cheap that we knew that we had to plan a trip. Before I went to Guatemala, I probably would have thought of it as a country with little in the way of tourism. But boy, was I way wrong!

Guatemala is a little hidden gem of a country, a destination for people who wish to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations. This is the first country that I have been to where there are not too many actual tourists. Most of the foreigners that I encountered were Christian missionary workers (almost all of them, actually) and also people adopting children. Outside of my tour group, I think I 20 people were there for fun. The entire country is unspoiled by tourism and souvenir shops. So many parts of the country have been untouched and undiscovered by visitors, that travelers will gain a real sense of what it means to be Guatemalan.

Day 9 – Panajachel and Santiago, Guatemala

I am still in Lago de Atitlan – once again. If any traveler decides to visit just one place in the entire country, it has to be the Lago. I’ve never seen such a magnificent sight.

In the way of villages, the main town around Lago de Atitlan is Santiago, quite a distance from the Hotel Atitlan. My mother and I enjoyed a one-hour boat ride to get to the village, which is pretty big and has splendid views of the Lake. Santiago is where many Mayan villagers live, and naturally, they speak a completely different language from most other people in Guatemala. Around Santiago, the indigenous women were outfitted in their traditional garb, going about their daily activities.

Debarking the boat was quite a frightening experience. The jetty to the land was feebly constructed, and at one point, it almost collapsed! But luckily, we survived. The backdrop to Santiago is the San Pedro volcano, which erupted the next day. But this was a very minor occurrence – just a dark gray cloud. A hike up the volcano takes 4 hours each way and is best done in the early morning. But of course, the hike is extremely rewarding; on an especially clear day, one is able to see all the way out to the Pacific Ocean.

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The main site of Santiago is a quirky cathedral at the top of a hill. The villagers will adorn religious figurines with anything that they deem of value. Yes, this includes a fake Bob Marley dreadlocks cap, Gucci and Hermes scarves, and other items. Guatemala is a highly religious society, and this little church exemplifies that fact.

There are two main markets in Santiago. One of them is actually a flee market for the locals. We’re talking a market selling Salvation Army donated clothing and an array of corn products. The other market is more geared toward tourists, again with beadwork, jewelry, and traditional Mayan attire for sale.

My day in Santiago was brief because the hotel was quite far, so it’s best to travel the morning and early afternoon. The rest of the day was spent leisurely at the Hotel Atitlan. I just ambled around the quiet, well-manicured grounds of the hotel, exploring the gardens and the animal sanctuary. The hotel houses parrots, birds, peacocks, and wild rabbits for visitors to check out.

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The other main town that I visited in Lake Atitlan is Panajachel, which was even more spectacular than Santiago. Panajachel is known for its museum and its indigenous market. The market in this area is much more professional and higher-end, if only a little. In Panajachel, visitors can find more established shops rather than various tents lining the streets. But the goods remain inexpensive, colorful, and diverse. I purchased handmade 5 bracelets at $2 each, while my mother purchased a $10 purse made of indigenous fabric.

Panajachel, as I previously stated, is also known for its archeological museum, which I did not a chance get to visit. Hundreds of feet underneath Lake Atitlan, there is another undiscovered ancient Mayan city. The Panajachel museum features a handful of the relics from what has been excavated from this largely unexplored city. If I had more time, I certainly would have given the museum a visit. Maybe next time….

I had the chance to visit a small school in the village. This was the first time that I got to visit an actual Guatemalan primary school, and it made me thankful for what I have here in the United States. In Guatemala, the population is so dense, and about 50% of the inhabitants are under 18. Because there are just too many school-age children, students must attend school in shifts throughout the day: from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., and then another one from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Traveling to developing countries like Guatemala, I realize the advantages of both our public and private education systems, and I cannot be more appreciative of the school that I attend.

After Panajachel, we left the Lago and headed on to Guatemala City to prepare for our next-day departure. I know that I will greatly miss this country! I’ll write more tomorrow.

-Danielle

Day 7 – Lago de Atitlàn, Guatemala

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Good evening fellow readers!

I have officially died and gone to heaven – or should I say Lake Atitlan!

Not really. I still have two more days (besides today) left in my Guatemalan adventure, and I am far from ready to return home.  Home means back to the daily grind of eating healthful organic food, exercising, and getting back to work as a cashier at the cinema (it’s my high school summer job). Vacations  provide a respite from life’s daily stresses, and I’m just not ready to return to the real world.

Along with our tour group, my mother and I took a two-and-a-half hour bus journey from Antigua to Lago de Atitlan, a majestic volcanic lake situated 9,000 feet above sea level in the highlands of  Guatemala. The landscape surrounding the lake is reminiscent of the one in Santorini, my personal favorite Greek isle. Or even Lake Como over in Italy, a dream destination of mine. Lago de Atitlan (the Spanish name sounds more sophisticated, am I right?) is also surrounded by three dormant volcanoes, of which the biggest is San Pedro.

I am currently staying at the Hotel Atitlan, another five-star resort. According to Conde Nast Traveler, it is one of the top five hotels in Central America (yes, just like the Porta Hotel in Antigua!). But this one is much more attractive, as a picturesque view of Lake Atitlan sits in front of the hotel. In case you were wondering, it is not safe to go swimming in Lake Atitlan, as it is contaminated with runoff from fertilizers, which, in turn, has caused dangerous algal blooms in the water. Lake Atitlan’s ecosystem has also been destroyed, following the introduction of Black Sea bass in the 1980s. This bass was introduced by a prominent figure in Guatemalan society to encourage fishing as a sport, but today, the fish has overpopulated the otherwise scenic lake. But one thing I did notice is that the lake, on the surface, appears calm, azure, peaceful, and pristine.

Hotel Atitlan is architecturally similar to the Porta Hotel, the only difference being that I have a gorgeous balcony, and the greenery is a little more manicured. The jacuzzi and pool provide jaw-dropping views of Lake Atitlan. Dinner was served buffet style, and let me tell you. This is probably some of the best food that I have ever tasted for the entire trip. The food at the hotel is high-end gourmet cuisine. Not Guatemalan, but still delectable and well-presented. In my opinion, the food was comparable to Cunard’s (an elegant cruise line), and I could tell the ingredients were obtained from only the finest of sources.

Without a shred of guilt, I indulged in Swiss crepes, artfully-presented pastries, clam & seafood linguine, fresh avocado & cucumber salad – I could go on forever about tonight! The food was colorful, while the service was impeccable. When I return home, I’ll return to my careful, health-conscious self. But I’m on a vacation at the moment.

Tomorrow, I am going to take a boat ride around Atitlan, and I also plan on stopping at Santiago, the main town on the lake. Until tomorrow’s festivities!

-Danielle

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Day 6 – Shopping and Strolling in Antigua, Guatemala

Although my cold, which feels more like a flu, is progressively getting worse, I am still very much enjoying my Guatemalan adventure. Today was my 2nd day in Antigua, Guatemala, which looks remarkably like Cusco in Peru. I guess I could describe Antigua as Cusco without the altitude sickness, if you want a clearer picture!

Anyway, today, my tour guide led us on a 3-hour morning walking tour of Antigua, Guatemala. Even though many f the streets look the same, I am still awestruck by the bright hues of the buildings and the dazzling Spanish colonial architecture. The city’s backdrop is a dormant volcano that periodically spews smoke into the air and makes sinister grumbling noises at night (hiking up here is also possible). Antigua is simply enchanting to anyone who visits.

There are over 48 cathedrals and churches in this picturesque city, that only add to its delightfulness and allure. The churches are so ornately designed and colorful, it’s simply unforgettable. Today, we visited a cathedral in the northern part of town that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1500s, but was restored in the 1700s. Both the interiors and exteriors of this cathedral were exquisitely designed.

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The main activity on my schedule today was, of course, shopping. I wasn’t sure what there was to buy in Guatemala, but when I saw the unending variety of objects in marketplace, I knew that the country had plenty to offer. If a tourist wants to shop, the best place to shop is Antigua. I think it is, arguably, the most tourist-friendly city in Guatemala. It has an upbeat vibe and is very, very safe.

Located throughout Antigua are many “mercados,” or markets. If you are looking for a dirt-cheap bargain, the mercados are the place to visit! Regular bargaining is accepted in the marketplaces, but not in the city’s main shops. In the market, visitors can find handwoven Mayan textiles, t-shirts galore, Mayan-influenced handbags, colorfully beaded bracelets and trinkets, and semi-precious jewelry.

Speaking of jewelry, Antigua is perhaps most known in the shopping world for its many “joyerias” and “platerias” (jewelry shops and silverias, respectively). The most famous “joyeria” in Antigua is the “Casa del Jade,” a high-end shop that specialises in creating dainty, exquisite pieces with semi-precious jade, a stone that is native to Central America. Jade was the main stone of choice for the ancient Mayans when it came to carving and sculpting. Prices here are not expensive, either. I think the cheapest item that I found was about $25, and it’s still great quality jewelry. In addition, the Casa del Jade has a small on-site museum, featuring authentic ancient jade relics from the Aztecs, Olmecs, Mayas, and Mokayas (the earliest Mesoamerican peoples). Watching the jewelers design their wares in their workshops is also an unusual opportunity for vistors in the Casa.

Other silverias that I encountered include the “Joyeria des Artes,” which is much more upmarket than the “Casa del Jade,” but even more unique. I caught my eye on a pair of 14 karat gold-and-diamond earrings for $900! Boy, do I have good taste. The Joyeria des Artes is housed in a bright blue building and is even recommended by Lonely Planet travel guides, so if you have a little extra money to spend, this is a good spot.

I adore jewelry because it is timeless. Jewelry is such a fantastic investment because you can wear it each and everyday, and can spice up a bland, boring outfit. Jewelry is a statement piece, and I love to see both men and women adorn their daily attire with a little “bijoux” (as the French would say!).

I purchased a heart-shaped jade pendant for $26 (198 Quetzales) from the Jades Imperio Maya, a large joyeria with great service and a nice presentation. The store also sold lavender jade, a rarer stone that was only discovered several years ago. I much preferred this over my green jade pendant, but it was well over $100. Well, guess what? You better shop around! I went into the massive Casa del Jade in a quieter part of town, and found a nice lavender jade necklace for only $37! I was not happy and I thoroughly regret my purchase.

I’m not sure the jewelry in the marketplace in authentic, but a surefire way to tell if jade is real is to clutch it in your hand. If the jade is cold, it’s real (thanks “Let’s Shop with Cheryl Gillespie”). So besides the joyerias, there are quaint little boutiques lining the streets throughout Antigua. My favorites were the Chocolat La La, a pastry and Guatemalan chocolate shop owned by an affable French expatriate, and also the “Shogga” boutique (I think that’s what it’s called). Shogga sells fashionable, in-style international clothing featuring vibrant fabrics and prints and unusual designs. It’s not so expensive either. I can’t wait to see what there is to buy in Lago de Atitlan tomorrow!

-Danielle