City Living, Panama Style.

M&S knickers! I’ve watched all those relocation programmes about British people who miss family, T-Bags, Branston Pickle and being able to pop down to M&S to purchase their pants. While I’m not missing home (Thank you Skype!) I do miss having a wander through the shops on a Saturday with my girlfriends. It’s one of those typically British pastimes, always with a purchase in M&S. So on our recent trip to modern Panama City, we spent the return weekend as if we were home rather than being tourists.

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Panama City is one of the oddest places I’ve been to. It’s a hotchpotch city made up of very different areas that hasn’t quite defined itself yet. There is so much construction taking place, the city is rapidly expanding and its being called the new Miami or Shanghai.

Charming Casco Viejo, with its 400 year old history is the old part currently being remodeled and under renovation. Surrounding Casco is the part of the city tourists hardly visit. Tenement blocks are where the poorer unseen city workers live, it’s grim and best avoided unless of course it’s where you call home. For a few cents people hop on decorated banging party buses to move them around the city.

Beyond there are the Panama Canal areas, Balboa and Clayton with pleasant leafy neighbourhoods that were once occupied by the Americans and the military. America handed back the Panama Canal in 1999 but the American blueprints remain. Modern high-rise condo apartments line the Cinta Costera, neck bending stunning architectural office skyscrapers fill the downtown International banking and financial centre. Forget Grand Cayman this is where the money is now. Leading Hotels of the World have moved in to cater to the city visitors. Panama City is a young city and there is plenty of wealth, full of new 4×4 motors, fancy shopping malls and casino’s to fritter your dollars away in.

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Not forgetting though it’s in Central America, there are no other modern cities like it! The Pan-American highway ends once you get past Panama City where the Darien Gap forms a mighty barrier to South America. This large stretch of land has dense rainforest, swamps, indigenous people and tooled up Columbian rebels, a far cry from the Soho Mall with its luxury brand stores!

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Tourist activities were definitely off and regular weekend activities were on during our weekend in the City. We went to the Multiplaza for some American store retail therapy, no M&S to buy lacy knickers but instead we purchased middle-aged rain coats! Had delicious Chinese food at PF Changs and watched the new movie Jurassic World in English with Spanish subtitles.

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On Sunday mornings the Cinta Costera is closed to traffic, people cycle, families stroll, joggers run and we got very sweaty on our walk but cooled down with  flavoured shaved ices. At an Irish pub The Blarney Stone, we ate the most delicious Sunday roast, but in the casino that evening our numbers didn’t come up on the roulette table!

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Mr E liked Panama City, he said he could see himself living there in a waterside condo with satellite TV, tennis courts and all the incentives Panama has to offer expats. Me, I prefer beach side living as long as I can get my M&S knickers and Tetley T-bags shipped in of course..

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