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About astrid

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    Northern Virginia
  1. Belize

    Though I just realized that I can solve my 2 caye related dilemmas with 1 solution. Stay on Caye Caulker in an Airbnb, then stay at the Phoenix for 2 nights, and rest of the time in San Ignacio. It looks like there are regular water taxis between Caulker and Ambergris, so I should visit both!
  2. Belize

    (What lucky children you have!) Thanks for recommendations and feedback on your trip! Our current, still evolving, plan is to fly into Belize City, spend the first 5 days on a caye doing snorkeling cruises and maybe beginner scuba if there's a suitable option. Then pick up a rental car at the airport and drive to San Ignacio for the remaining 5 days, seeing ATM, cave tubing, Tikal, and hopefully drive to 3-5 other major Mayan sites in Belize. Then return the car at the airport and fly out. For lodging, we're currently looking mostly at Airbnb options since they're cheaper and may be more suitable for a party of 4 adults. But we are also willing to consider lodges and hotels if they add value to the stay. Are there safety / environmental / convenience factors that made staying at a lodge / hotel a better option? Or is it mostly a matter of amenities and personal preference? We were trying to decide between San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Caye Caulker. Currently leaning towards Caye Caulker because it's somewhat cheaper, walkable, and appears to have better beach access. However, I've read that Caye Caulker doesn't have as many snorkel/dive excursion operators, so maybe staying on Ambergris would be a better choice. Was there any factors that made you decide on Ambergris Caye? The Phoenix is posting rates that are kinda on the extreme high end of our budget (currently mostly looking at well rated 2 bedrooms in the $100-200 per night range, the Phoenix has a 2-bedroom for $400 per night and appear to be really well reviewed), so I'm...intrigued. We're thinking about renting a car and driving to all the Mayan sites in Belize, and hire guides on site. The thinking goes that it's likely to be cheaper for 4 people, let's us set our own pace, and hopefully help to avoid large tour groups. Based on what you observed, do you think its reasonable to do independent traveling in Belize? For example, are the roads in pretty good condition and well signed? Do people drive like Italians or the Mainland Chinese? I think that we would do a San Ignacio based guided tour for Tikal for logistics and safety reasons, but what I read so far makes car based tourism in Belize sound straight forward. Again, thanks so much for your detailed feedback on Belize. Definitely will look into Belize Culture Tours and hopefully will be able to write my own trip report in about a month!
  3. Where Should I Travel? Vacation Ideas

    This is a tour that I would really love to take, but my current employer would likely really frown upon it. http://www.immersethrough.com/taste-of-persia-iran-tour/
  4. Belize

    Anyone been to Belize recently? If yes, any recommended your operators or activities or restaurants. We're going for 10 days in early to mid December, split between a Caye and St Ignacio. In particular, any experience with car rental and independently traveling to Tikal would be much appreciated.
  5. Pittsburgh, PA

    We did an overnight trip to Pittsburgh and were very happy with our restaurant choices. The two restaurants we ate at are arguably the best of their kind we've found anywhere (maybe some equivalent places in Philly and Portland, OR). Butcher and the Rye is still all around excellent, in my opinion much better than The Cure or Morcilla for everything including charcuterie. It's not cheap but you get a lot of very high quality food for the price. Did a deeper dive at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina and loved everything (picada, carne platter, shrimp, veggies, and dessert). Lines out the door throughout our visit but we were lucky to order and get seated in about 20 minutes. For their high volume of business, the quality is really consistent and everything was seasoned and cooked correctly.
  6. How very Pythonesque. Who cleaned up the aftermath
  7. American Cheese

    The US Government used to have non-commercial specs for just about everything. The specs ensured the quality of the products received. Cookies had diameter and number of chocolate chips per cookie (within certain tolerances) specified, to ensure that the manufacturer (typically the lowest bidder) didn't skimp on the ingredients. That's largely gone away for commercially available items such as cheese and cookies and laptops. But considering how manufacturers are now using packaging tricks to shave off quantity and cheapening their components for "durables", maybe we should go back to "government" cheese. --- I don't care what is traditional and authentic, especially when we are talking about foodstuff that goes back less than a century. Cheese whiz is gross and an American cheese sandwich is a lost opportunity.
  8. Chinese chile sauce

    Garlic, fermented beans, and preserved seafood are all pretty common ingredients to SE Asian hot sauces. Sometimes they also add spices such as Sichuan peppercorns.
  9. I am a little surprised that they were half full at peak time on a Saturday, so it might be an Opentable snafu. On our recent visits, it's been mostly to completely full. I really like Hazel overall.
  10. A friend and I met up for dinner at Le Thai recently. I'm overall quite pleased with the food and service I got. We shared 3 entrees and a dessert and ended up with plenty of leftovers. All the food were nicely prepared and well seasoned, the portions were big, and the prices were quite reasonable. I could see myself being a regular here if I lived nearby. My friend said that they recently changed owners and that it was her favorite Thai restaurant in the area.
  11. Amish Country, PA

    Knead in Broad Street Market is the best pizza we've sampled in central PA, by far. Still not at best of MoCo level, but I'm glad to have found our local pizza place. The Harrisburg branch of Mission BBQ is pretty good, possibly as good as Official BBQ and Burgers before the ownership switch. My ribs are still way better though.
  12. Australia and New Zealand

    We were there in 2010, so our food recs are probably out of date. I did really like Fleur's Place in Moeraki, Bay House in Westport, French Cafe in Auckland ( though the service was stuffy), and Boatshed in Nelson. Just checked and all still open and getting pretty good ratings. I love whites from Marlborough, so that was a delightful day trip for me. Coromandel peninsula has really wonderful oysters. If you're looking for something a bit challenging physically, 7 Hour Lost World is on the top of my list for most fun activity ever. We did both the Tongariro Crossing and Routeburn Trek (coordinated with a pick up and overnight sail in Milford Sound) and can highly recommend both. Also, go swim with the dolphins in Kaikoura!
  13. SUV Recommendations

    You could buy a pretty big refrigerator truck for $100K.
  14. Pittsburgh, PA

    Short trip to Pittsburgh and stopped in at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina in the Strip District. Really impressed by how good and inexpensive this place is. Well deserves it’s #1 position on Yelp. Also ate at Morcilla and Cure, they’re very good but pales compared to Gaucho. Also love the stores in the Strip District.
  15. This year my tomato hybrids were about 1.5X as productive as open pollinated tomatoes. The biggest difference was that the heirlooms had much more cracking and catfacing. That's a problem for commercial growers since those cosmetic defects mean the tomatoes can only be sold as seconds or not at all, but not a big problem for home growers. Part of my comparative success is that I moved from a community garden in a close-in DC suburb to suburban central PA. The daytime highs are often 5-10 degrees below DC and overnight lows are usually 10-20 degrees below DC. The lower temperatures meant that I'm still picking a lot of kale from a spring planting (stem rot and white flies are taking their toll, so they will be pulled soon), whereas they would have expired by early July at the latest in DC.