Tag Archives: Shopping

Panama – Day 4 – PM: Albrook Mall, the Executive Hotel, Dinner and Belly Dancing at Beirut Restaurant

The bus ride back from El Valle de Antón was unfortunately more hectic than the way there.  The driver sped while talking on his cell phone and I thought about complaining, but the idea of being left on the side of the Pan-American Highway was more frighting.  I was relieved when we finally arrived at Albrook Bus Terminal, on the outskirts of Panama City.  Albrook Bus Terminal is right next to the Albrook Mall, so I crossed the street to check out Central America’s largest mall.

Rhino Entrance

Albrook Mall was gigantic (200+ stores) and safari themed, with all of the wings named after different animals and large animal sculptures at the entrances. There were also guards in safari attire, in addition to guards in bullet proof vests.  As evidenced by the safari decor, the mall was family oriented and had lots of children’s rides and games throughout.  There was also a large fast food court with many American chains.

Carousel and zoo train

Bungee jumping for children

Uniformed guard and safari guard

A small Mac store

I walked the length of the mall to the Koala section where I was told the best stores were located.  The floors and walls of the Koala section were sparkling white and gleaming.  However, the stores were extremely disappointing.  Ninety-five percent of the shops were American and not particularly interesting American companies.  There was Tommy Hilfiger, Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic, the Gap, Converse, Crocs, etc. and while I like some of the aforementioned, I was hoping to see some upscale Panamanian stores or at least Argentinian or Spanish chains.  I had a coffee at Juan Valdez and then headed to Panama City to check into my new hotel.

the Koala section of the mall

Colorful jeans

Typical Panamanian shoes

Jeans!  Jeans! Jeans!

For my last two nights in Panama City, I choose to stay at the Executive Hotel because they had a weekend special and came NYTimes recommended.  The Times mentioned that the hotel was dated and while my room’s furnishings definitely needed upgrading, I found the old-fashion lobby charming.  It reminded me of a Graham Greene novel.  I also loved the balcony in my room!

How Graham Greenesque is that sign?!


My room

View from my balcony

View 2 (see the construction crane…typical P.C.)

View 3

The Executive Hotel was in El Congrejo, but several blocks away from my first hotel, the Toscana Inn.  I walked around the area and came across Beirut restaurant, which was mentioned in my guidebook and almost every Panamanian tourist site (the restaurant is so popular, it has an outpost in Albrook Mall).  I was initially disappointed when I saw the outside because it looked so cheesy.  I had read there is belly dancing on Saturday nights, so I asked the host if I could make a reservation for 9PM.  He said he didn’t know if they would have indoor seating for one, but maybe they could find a seat for me on the patio (in the 92 degree heat and humidity, I decided this was not an option).  I went back to my hotel room to change and googled the city’s other middle eastern restaurants with belly dancing (surprisingly, there are at least 3), but Beirut had the best reviews by far, so I decided to give it another try.

Beirut Restaurant

I returned around 9:15PM and the host found a seat for me inside, which turned out to be massive.  The belly dancing had already started and talented dancers rotated through the rooms.  I didn’t recognize a lot of the middle eastern dishes on the menu, so I asked the waitress to make a suggestion.  She recommended the Beirut platter, which she said was appropriate for one.  The platter consisted of many different little plates and was probably much more appropriate for two.

Beirut Platter and rose water

The decor was a little Disney-esque, but the food was delicious.  The only downside was that the music was extremely loud and there was a strong scent of hookah drifting from the neighboring tables (I think maybe the host was doing me a favor when he tried to get me to sit outside).  However, the fumes and blasting music were outweighed by the phenomenal people watching.  Although I ate at several other upscale Panamanian restaurants, this was the first one where the clientele looked almost exclusively Panamanian and the diners were dressed for clubbing.  The food, entertainment and fashionistas made this my most enjoyable meal in Panama City.

Belly dancer

Belly dancer and the chef (check out his pants)

Belly dancer in another room

Belly dancer in gold

Stay tuned for my final day in Panama City!

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Window Watching: NYC Fall 2012 Trends

I am interrupting my regularly scheduled Panama posts for a fall  fashion post.  As stated previously, I love trend-spotting and I wanted to share some styles I’ve noticed lately in NYC store windows:

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Polka dots – this classic print is featured in the windows of the more feminine and conservative stores (Kate Spade, Ann Taylor, etc…).

Autumn tones – forest green, camel, orange, deep red, burnt sienna, and brown are the oh, so seasonally appropriate colors for everything from shirts to pants.

Fur vests – I am m not in love with this look, but they are all over.

Leather, leather, leather – Leather EVERYTHING!  Leather jackets, particularly motorcycle jackets are super hot right now, as are leather pants, leather skirts, leather tops, etc….

Studding – studded shoes, studded bags, studded shirts, studs continue to be omnipresent!

Animal prints – not my taste, but still popular for shoes and bags.


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Window Watching: NYC Spring Trends

Sometimes I feel like I live in a mall…not that I’m complaining (though I did prefer it when there were more boutiques and less large chain stores around NYC).  One benefit to living in such an environment is that I’m constantly window-shopping and trend spotting.  Here are the most popular styles now:

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  • Espadrilles – the timeless summer shoe is back, year after year.
  • Bright colors, particularly neons – extremely popular, but I wouldn’t invest heavily unless you desire to look like a highlighter.
  • Coral dresses – this orange/red color is being shown for all dresses, from gowns to shifts.  I bought a coral day dress last year at Anne Taylor Loft and I find it funny that they are selling a dress of the same color and fabric this season, but in a slightly different cut.  It’s either still really popular or they bought too much fabric.
  • Navy and white-stripped dresses, shirts, etc. – not flattering on most, but very classic and very French!
  • Lace dresses – long and elegant or short and cute!

*This post may be followed up with a street style post at some point in the future.

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12 Days in Paris: Day 6

Paris Boutique. Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

Monday was Charles’ last day in Paris, so we had a decidedly un-cultural day, spent walking around and shopping for gifts for his friends and family.  Our first stop was Le Bon Marché, which is my favorite department store.  Contrary to its name (“the good deal”), the store is anything but cheap.  It reminds me a lot of Barneys, which also started out as a discount store and features similarly trendy items.  We perused the clothes and then visited the beautiful gourmet store across the street (Le Bon Marché’s Grand Épicerie).  It makes Whole Foods look dumpy!  We bought a variety of foods (cheese, bread, raw cut vegetables) and had a picnic in a nearby park.

Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marche's restaurant has a cool interior, but I remembered from my last trip that I liked the decor more than the food, so we didn't eat there.

After lunch, we stopped at A la Mère de Famille, which is the oldest candy store in Paris and has a charming old-fashioned interior.  We also visited the original Ladurée location, where Charles bought a box of macaroons for  his family (this was the week before Ladurée opened in NYC).

A la Mère de Famille

The oldest Ladurée in Paris has pretty frescoes. Not a high quality photo, but you get the idea.

We walked to Galeries Lafayette, which is the most famous department store in Paris and also my least favorite.  It is like a zoo!  The store is expensive and packed with people, which does not make for a pleasant shopping experience.  However, I thought Charles should see it because it is super famous and the large stained glass ceiling in the main building is beautiful.  I told Charles that the stained glass reminded me of a church and he remarked that it was like a church to capitalism.

Stained glass ceiling at Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette reminds me a little of an opera house.

The cosmetics floor at Galeries Lafayette

Cosmetics floor of GL

Our next stop was the Passage Jouffroy, which is one of my favorite sites in Paris.  The passages are 19th century shopping arcades, located throughout Paris (esp. near the Grand Boulevards), that were the forerunners to malls.  I am curious to know how the stores inside the passages manage to stay in business because they are not in the direct way of pedestrian traffic.  We visited a very cute doll house/minature store (my idea).  The Passage Jouffrey also houses the Musee Grevin, which is a historic wax museum that was one of my favorite places in Paris when I was a child.

Entrance to the Passage Jouffrey

Entering the passage is like stepping back in time! Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

Empty passage. Photo by Barbara J. Rosen

We headed back to the 10th arrondismont, continuing along the Grand Boulevards and then walking up the Rue du Faubourg St. Dennis, where we passed through an African neighborhood.  It was interesting to see how the neighborhood had changed and become more diverse since I was last there in ’05.  We also passed Passage Brady, which is a passage with all Indian restaurants that was around when I was in Paris.

Passage Brady (old photo, but I assure you it hasn't changed...my hair color on the other hand....)

For Charles’ last night we went with my friends to a Kosher Tunisian couscous restaurant in Belleville.  I didn’t take photos, but the food was great and it especially fun to try because there are no Kosher Tunisian restaurants in NYC…at least not that I know of.

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My New York – Lower East Side Tour


My first stop on the LES was Hello Sari, which sells colorful saris, tunics, scarfs, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories from Pakistan, India, and Egypt.  The owner is a belly dancing enthusiast, and she also sells belly dancing outfits.  Everything in the store is between $5-$100 so you can find a lot of unique and affordable items.  I have a tunic dress  from Hello Sari (pictured below), and I receive compliments every time I wear it!


My dress (around $85?  I'm not sure because it was a gift)

My Hello Sari dress

Down the block is 88 Orchard, which is a nice cafe with laid back atmosphere (and boardgames downstairs).

88 Orchard

88 Orchard

The Tenement Museum is a fun place to visit.  They offer different theme tours (an Italian family’s apt, a Jewish family’s apt, etc.), so you can have different experiences, but if you’ve ever been to a tenement building in NYC then you basically know what you’re going to see.  The tours are led by docents in character (it’s like the immigrant version of Colonial Williamsburg).  If you’re planning a visit during the holidays I suggest buying tickets ahead of time because they sell out.  I would also recommend going now because during the summer is it HOT HOT HOT, and they don’t use AC to give you the authenticate experience.

The Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum

I LOVE the gift shop, which has a great selection of books and NYC memorabilia that isn’t too hooky.


Next to the Tenement Museum is Il Laboratorio del Gelato, which has excellent gelato.  I considered getting some, but they don’t have a sit down area and it was snowing, so I opted for a sample instead.


I had actually never been to Economy Candy before (so it doesn’t belong on the favorites list), but it’s a well known store and the prices seem true to name.  It could be a good store for buying small gifts because they have candy with pretty packaging.


One of my favorite bars in NYC is Verlaine (the location of my b-day this past year), which is located next door to Economy Candy.  The bar has a French Vietnamese theme and has happy hour drink specials until 10 PM, 7 days a week (the famous lychee martinis and other drinks are $5., yuengling $3.).

Sorry, the snow killed the photo opt

Sorry, the snow killed the photo opt

Next door to Verlaine is Fat Baby, which is a lounge with good dance music.  I haven’t been there recently, but I used to go there a lot and it was always fun.  My only issue with Fat Baby is that it gets very crowded, so avoid it if you’re claustrophobic.

Fat Baby looks better inside

Fat Baby looks better inside

Unfortunately my camera battery died before I could complete the tour.  I was also planning on photographing the following:

The Sunshine Cinema – this is my favorite indie film theater.  It’s a historic building and they have a gourmet concession stand (although I would recommend buying snacks at the nicest Whole Foods in the city down the street instead).  I’ve enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen here, but I guess that’s a combo of chance and the management/someone in distribution having good taste.

Russ and Daughters – this is the BEST place in NYC for lox.  They catered my Bat Mitzvah, so clearly this is a quality shop for Jewish gourmet products…hehe.

There are a lot of other places that I like on the Lower East Side, but they are kind of random.  I love the Clinton Street Bakery (restaurant famous for brunch).  The Angel Orensanz Foundation is also one of my favorite buildings (it used to be a synagogue before it was bought and renovated by two artist brothers who turned it into an event space).

I hope the tour was informational and that I don’t sound like too much of a walking ad.  They are just places I like a lot and I guarantee I’m not getting any sort of kickback…haha.


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