My mom has always wanted for our family to take the Orient Express from China, through Russia, to Europe. I don't think we were ever very close to doing it, but she did get excited when I went through a phase of obsession with the Czech Republic and tasked me with planning a trip there (oh, homeschooling). Being a freshman in high school at the time, I had very little idea of how to do something like that, and soon got quite frustrated and nothing ever came of it. But as generally goes with parenting (as I'm coming to realize), that sounds like a great idea to me, 8 years later! Well, at least the part about planning a dream trip. [above image]
So far, Jonas and I haven't made it outside of the U.S. since being married, and even the one out of state trip we made to Nebraska was more difficult than expected, with Ishmael in tow. Until we have better means of traveling as a family, I'd like to plan several of the trips from my arm chair at home.
The first destination I've picked is the island of Curaçao. When we lived in China, there was a woman from Curaçao who ran a restaurant called The Vine, whose head chef was also from Curaçao. Eating out was almost always too pricey for my family (with 5 kids on missionary support), but my mom would occasionally take me to the Vine and my favorite thing was this brown rice dish that would come as a side to the meat. I went looking for a recipe for that rice (assuming it was a Curaçao standard) the other day, and though I found nothing like it, I was enchanted with Curaçao in its own right.
Curaçao, situated just north of the Venezuelan coast, is one of the less touristy islands in the Caribbean because it has a thriving economy and therefore does not depend on entertaining visitors (source). One of the coolest things about Curaçao is all the Dutch influence, dating back to the 1600s when the Dutch first occupied the island, though the presence of both the Dutch, Spaniards, and French was not limited to architecture, but sadly fostered a large market for slaves between West Africa and America. As a result, there are many old plantations on the island. The range of cultural influences over the years is pretty incredible, including Lebanese refugees and a large Jewish population from the Netherlands (source). It seems like the perfect blend of man-made architecture and beaches of paradise. (images: 1, 2)
What I'd bring: With my ever-practical (lolz) fashion sense, I'd take a bunch of flowy Stella Jean inspired maxi dresses, sandals and a bright nail polish (because I have a lot of chances to paint my nails with a toddler), definitely a sun hat and sunscreen, a pool torpedo for my boys (definitely check it in your luggage), and Rafael Sabatini's "Chronicles of Captain Blood" - Curaçao has history with both the Spanish and pirates! - for the beach (forget reading on the plane with a baby). [See image credits here]
Where we'd stay: I like to spend my money on food, shopping, and experiences rather than nice hotels (most of the time...), so Air B&B is great for us. I thought this little place was the prefect mix of cheap (but not too cheap!) and comfy. It looks like the common rooms (kitchen, dining, etc.) are shared with other B&B customers which can be fun when traveling - my family was always meeting strange and wonderful people because of set ups like that in our travels. I'm happy about the pool too, because both my kid and my big kid (husband) will really appreciate it at the end of the day or if we decide to stay in one day.
What we'd eat: I'm pretty excited about eating in Curaçao. We would definitely make a trip to the floating fruit market (image) and try something we'd never tried before, followed by the old market for lunch, perhaps of iguana soup. Although it may be just as cheap to eat out (I'm not sure), I usually like to cook a meal or two from scratch when traveling to keep costs down and just to relax at "home" for a bit (particularly breakfast before adventuring for the day!). I would love to try my hand at cooking some local fish. The other dish I am really excited to try is stuffed cheese, or "keshi yena" (image from link). Back in the days of slavery, the Dutch settlers would toss their leftover gouda and edam scraps, which the plantation cooks would salvage by rehydrating the cheese rinds and then stuffing them with whatever they had on hand. Sounds delicious, and I always respect creative and efficient recipes. And if I could find anyone who knew the chef from Urumqi, China, maybe I could even track down that rice recipe.
What to do/see: I would love to learn to scuba dive, but keeping the whole fam in mind, I think that a mini-sub dive would be amazing! Hopefully it doesn't cost an arm and a leg, but most likely it does, so we'd probably stick to snorkeling. Hiking trails and roaming around the more remote areas on a jeep safari doesn't sound like my ideal activity (although I would be interested to see an old plantation), but I can imagine the boys wanting to do that while I roam the town and buy stuff and take pictures. I wouldn't be a good mom if I didn't drag my kid to a museum on vacation, of which the Kura Hulanda museum looks the most interesting, I think, considering that it has exhibits on voodoo and burying people in cliffs. Experiencing Carnival would be pretty cool too - it's a huge mash up of cultural expression, costumes, dance, and parading. And food, I'll wager. [image]
In the mean time: So, what can we do to get a little taste of this amazing place until we get the chance to actually visit? Just a little Curaçao cocktail, of course. I've never tried Blue Curaçao before, but it sure looks yummy. This recipe for "lowcountry lemonade" calls for some, as wells as some peach schnapps and lemonade, of course. Another variation I saw on this cocktail called for some kiwi liqueur, which sounds tempting as well. If you happen to have that combination of ingredients, by all means, let me know...
Have you ever been to Curaçao? If so, I'd love to hear about it. Stay tuned for more Virtual Vacations to Iceland and Georgia (USA), to name only a few!