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

My Literary Paradise

A Favorite Quote

Greetings to all! The following post is my official college essay. It took months of perfection, and I hope you like it!

Common Application Topic: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

Within ten minutes walking distance of my home is a sanctuary – a place of solitude, abundance, bliss, wonder, and repose. It is brown-and-white brick and “read” all over. And throughout the years, I – regrettably, yet for good reason – have contributed no less than one hundred dollars in penalties. Housing over one thousand books and tomes, that spot is my local library – a literary safe haven of my very own.

Almost since the day I was born, I have cherished the written word. I found joy in my mother reading aloud to me – anything from the story of Heidi to Judy B. Jones. With the turn of a page, I have voyaged 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, stayed In Touch with the latest celebrity gossip, and savored the haute cuisine of Eataly.

At the library, I am surrounded, swimming in a sea full of literature from five-thousand BC to the twenty-fifth century. But not only is the library a figurative escape from my everyday life. The books contained are timeless, powerful tools of change. They have been my outlets to adventure and shock. They have been instruments of transformation within my personal beliefs. Thanks to its sheer diversity, the library has allowed me to discover worlds unstudied and unknown, to expose me to the harshest realities that I seek to change. I carry what I’ve read throughout this journey of life.

I’ll never forget one day walking through the stacks, and stumbling into a section of food-and-drink. I scanned the selection, making sure to pick up The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, and even Eat This, Not That. Little did I realize that this seemingly random assortment of books would impact the way I eat, shop, think, and reflect. I quickly unearthed a horrifying reality.

I traced the journey of a fast food meal from farm to plate. I uncovered the plight of agricultural laborers, the treatment of livestock, and so much more. I discovered the hidden underbelly of the American food industry, a reality that I wished to change with my lifestyle. I began to shop and eat with a conscience, implementing the knowledge gained at trips to the farmers-market and grocery store. And thankfully, this change can all be attributed to the diversity and adventure of my local library.

But not only have the joys of books served to change the way I eat; they’ve also aided in my connection with relatives and friends. Nicole Kraus’s The Nanny Diaries is a hilarious favorite. My cousin Linseigh saw me reading it, and ended up devouring the work herself. And then there’s Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, a novel about the art of French parenting. I shared it with my beloved French “professeur” Madame Zuclich – and we often bring up the title to enliven our class discussions about French culture. I bond over books, and the many works I’ve discovered at my literary paradise have only served as sources of friendship, inquiry, laughter, and joy.

Above all, my favorite part of the literary hideaway is the travel section. So far, at the library, I have journeyed to the almost all two hundred nations on the planet. Through my beloved travel guides – from Lonely Planet to Berlitz – I’ve voyaged from Greenland to Antarctica, India, the Cook Islands, and ever beyond. I have discovered my favorite New York City restaurants – Burmese “Mingala” and Ethiopian “Awash” – thanks to a dogeared copy of Zagat. And issues of Time Out New York have driven me to visit the city’s dazzling array of art galleries and museums. I love to globe-trot and explore, and the library – with its infinite range of books and periodicals – piques my constant curiosity and rouses my desire to sightsee and travel.

The books of the literary hideout are outlets for my adventurous soul. No matter what the season or where I go, the written word is my mainstay, my second home.

Butler Library at my dream school Columbia University

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 5 – Guatemalan Cuisine and Antigua

Once again, my tour group set out on a nine-hour journey from Peten, Guatemala on to Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’ve only been in Antigua for a little while, but it is already my favorite stop so far in Guatemala! The architecture is resplendent, richly detailed, and intensely colorful. The rooftops are constructed of brick red tiles and the streets are paved entirely with bumpy gray cobblestone. In order to protect the city’s grandeur and charm, the Antiguan governing body has restricted the use of motor coach buses throughout the city. Fancy coach buses are only permitted to drop of tourists and their accompanying luggage in the city, but then they are directed to leave. This idea is what the Guatemalans would call fantastico!

Our hotel in Antigua is a 5-star luxury resort called the Porta Hotel. Antigua was founded by the Spaniards in the 16th century, and our hotel is made up of familial compounds that were bought out and attached by the Porta in the last few centuries. After all, the Antiguan government forbids the construction of new buildings in the city, once again, in order to protect its magnificence. As soon as I walked into the Porta, I knew that I was prepared to have an exquisite stay.

The hotel has a charming green courtyard and several gorgeous fountains throughout the property. In fact, the Porta was voted one of the top 10 hotels in Central and South America by the renowned Conde Nast Traveler magazine! The hotels in that high-end publication are always expensive, so I am honored to be able to stay in one!

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Throughout our 9-hour drive to Antigua, I was able to observe the karsts throughout the Guatemalan terrain. Karsts are volcanic geological formations that look like giant mounds or hills. They are a really stunning, beautiful site to see. Throughout the drive, I was also able to observe traditional agrarian Guatemalan life. Many people do their laundry right in the rivers, and do the cooking for their meals right on the side of the road.

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In fact, our tour guide educated our group on the traditional agrarian Guatemalan diet. It is largely similar to the food of nearby Mexico. Food here is not expensive at all, and the rural diet is high in starches and carbohydrates.

For breakfasts, the Guatemalans typically nosh on eggs and fruits like papaya and watermelon. The diet for rural Guatemalans is pretty monotonous, but it is nonetheless appetizing, filling, and delicious.

For lunch and dinner, the food is pretty much the same. Fathers do agricultural work with their sons, while mothers and daughters participate in largely domestic tasks, like cooking for the family. Every day, the Guatemalan family prepares corn tortillas to go with every meal. It’s like their version of bread and butter rolls. Today, I had these thick tortillas called “Gorditas” and they were the best thing that I’ve eaten the entire trip! I love the doughy texture and flavor.

Rice, also inexpensive, is consumed with every meal. Many varieties of beans also exist here: black (most popular), pinto, fava, kidney, etc. I’ve had refried beans (mashed black beans boiled twice over) with almost every meal, as they are popular Guatemalan fare. Beans are fibrous, so it would make sense that the people in these rural areas eat them everyday. Beans are also prepared with onions to make an even more flavorful side dish. A typical meal is about $1.00 per plate. And Guatemalan families are usually made up of 8 people (as in Mexico and Italy, family members have close relationships), so you do the math.

Vegetables are also an important addition to the daily meal. Most popular are candy sweet local varieties of squash and pumpkin, along with piquant peppers and, of course, tomatoes. Tropical fruits serve as snacks, such as the world-famous avocado (high in fat and good cholesterol) and other fruits that were brought in from the Old World during the Columbian Exchange (i.e., watermelons). Fresh fruits and veggies are available on every corner.

Chicken and beef are also extraordinarily popular in Guatemala. And guess what? The meat is all grass-fed and organic! That’s right – you won’t really find any factory farms here. The meat isn’t fattened up like it is in America to be sold to the masses. In Guatemala, many families own their own animals, so they do not need to rely on massive factory farms for their nutrition. There is some usage of sustainable aquaculture in Guatemala as well, specifically with Tilapia fish. Tilapia is clean and easy to take care of, so they are great fish to raise in sustainable seafood farms.

Our tour guide told us that in the United States, tilapia is fed animal feces, corn, etc., all sorts of comestibles not native to their diet. I believe that meat should be eaten, but also that animals should be sustainably raised and humanely treated. It makes for healthier meat higher in many vitamins, nutrients, and minerals! And organic meat is free of dangerous growth hormones and antibiotics! I quite like this Guatemalan style of eating.

Unfortunately, Americanization is playing a big role in destroying the traditional Guatemalan diet. For example, food corporations like Nabisco and Kellogg’s now sell Ritz crackers and Lay’s chips at low prices to the natives. These food products are cheap to manufacture because they are made from totally ersatz ingredients not found in the natural world! Now, Guatemalans are suffering from diabetes more so than ever, and the country has to spend much greater amounts on healthcare than it’s ever had to! Issues like these inflame me very much, because I believe that everything boils down (pun intended) to the way that we eat. Americanization of traditional diets is a sad but true reality throughout the world.

Day 1 – Guatemala City

There’s nothing quite as relaxing, rejuvenating, and refreshing as a sojourn away from home. Whether it’s in Arizona or Zambia, a vacation can always be enjoyable, no matter where you go. This year, my mother and I decided to travel to Guatemala with a tour group (I’ll disclose it later), as it was relatively inexpensive compared to many other parts of the world. Since we would still be in the Americas (Central America to be exact), airfare would not be quite as expensive as flying to Europe or Asia. My family originally hoped to journey across China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, but those countries are just too hot during the summer months (though I wouldn’t mind it at all). Not to mention, airfare to Asia is especially high in the wildly popular summer season – maybe even a whopping $2,000 per person! And so the relatively inexpensive Latin American country of Guatemala loomed on the horizon.

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Guatemala, as I learned from my tour guide, is located between the end of North America and the beginning of South America. Unfortunately, the country is situated right on the plates between the two continents, which leads to frequent, sometimes intense earthquakes. The official language of the country is Castillian, but Spanish is most widely spoken by the locals. There are also over 22 languages and dialects spoken in Guatemala, each deriving from the original Maya language.

Guatemala is a country rich in history, as it was basically the epicenter of the Mayan Civilization, circa 2000 BCE – 500 AD maybe. The ruinous Mayan city of Tikal has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is incredibly well-preserved. It should be a highlight of everyone’s trip to Guatemala.

Guatemala is quite small; it’s only as big as the US states of Pennsylvania and Tennessee! It’s very hilly and mountainous, but not as dramatically as Peru and Ecuador. The population is about 9 million people, and 4 million people live in the capital of Guatemala City.

Though Guatemala is pretty small, it’s richly diverse in both culture and language. The indigenous Maya people comprise of around 40% of the population, and are mainly concentrated in rural villages. My guidebook states that the indigenous can be called “Indians,” but that is more of a derogatory term. 5% of people are directly descended from the Europeans, but most people are a mixture of Maya and European.

Anyway, Day 1 comprised of flying from New York to Dallas/Forth Worth Airport, and then on to Guatemala City from Texas. “Divergent” was shown on my flight from NYC to Dallas, but I did not pay attention, instead occupying my time by listening to indie music and reading “The Rough Guide to Guatemala.” Lucky for me, I actually left my guidebook to the country on the plane (that belongs to my library!), so what I have been learning about the country has been from my (very good) tour guide.

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We had a one hour layover in Dallas, so I purchased some overpriced healthy snacks from an airport shop and took advantage of the free wifi. Our plane from Dallas to Guatemala City was delayed for 1 hour because the pilot actually needed a seatbelt!

On the plane, I was hoping to get an aerial view of Mexico and Guatemala, but unfortunately, we ended up flying over the Caribbean Sea instead. We landed in Guatemala City at 8 p.m. and took a shuttle to our hotel, the Barcelo. My mother thinks that it could do with a renovation. It’s very basic and business-y, and I can tell by the food that it caters to international visitors. The Barcelo is pretty old, and our toilet constantly runs. The curtains do not close all the way, and loud merengue music was blaring from a nearby club. But our tour guide reminded us that Guatemala is a developing country, so we must not be surprised by these type of problems if we encounter them.

Although the hotel is old, it makes up for its flaws in amenities. The Barcelo is very generous, and supplied us with toothbrushes (which I forgot!), floss, toothpaste, shoeshine polish, q-tips, and all sorts of useful travel items. The pillows are even extra-fluffy! The buffet is pretty diverse too.

Anyway, tomorrow I’m off to tour Guatemala City!

-Danielle