Tag Archives: North America

Travel Guide: New Orleans, LA

Prior to leaving on this long weekend with my mum (the first time we’ve traveled somewhere together!), I had the following conversation with more than a few friends and colleagues:

Curious person: Oh cool, New Orleans! Are you going for Mardi Gras?
Me: No, that’s not until next week.
Curious person: Oh right, of course.

To all of you who asked such a good question, I owe you an apology. I was completely wrong and you seemed to believe what I said without question (likely because I go a lot of places and do a lot of things and usually sound pretty confident when I speak, the latter of which is largely smoke and mirrors anyway). Mea culpa. Lessons learned: Factually, trust no one (as aptly phrased by Kyle) and always, always research.

The Mardi Gras season, as the extremely friendly and hospitable New Orleanians (I may have made up that word) told me, runs from Epiphany in January to actual Mardi Gras day (Fat Tuesday). As the locals explained it, Mardi Gras is an excuse to do as much sinning as possible for 5+ weeks in order to have something to atone for over Lent.

So yes, I was in New Orleans for part of Mardi Gras. And it was amazing. There were parades everywhere at all times of the day and night. Most of these photos are from the Krewe of Cork parade in the French Quarter:

My mum and I thoroughly enjoyed collecting as many beads as we could and ogling in astonishment at the parades, costumes, and general debauchery, especially on Bourbon Street. There are no open container laws in New Orleans, which was a lot of fun and probably explains much of what we saw:

More importantly, we learned a lot about the rich history and culture of New Orleans, which has been Spanish, French, and American throughout its history, creating Creole and Cajun cultures that give the city a flavor and a pulse unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The food is darn good, too, and this is coming from a vegetarian. If I was impressed, omnivores will be even more so.

I have to admit, however, that I still don’t like doughnuts. It was a lot of fun to eat beignets and drink café au lait while walking down the street, but I just don’t like doughnuts. That said, I’d still recommend a visit to Café du Monde, if for no other reason than to say you did. We got there around 8:15am on Saturday morning and beat the lines by about a minute. And the café au lait was truly delicious.

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Mum and I really love wandering along streets and in and out of shops and galleries wherever we are, which is how we spent most of our time. We explored the French Quarter and French Market on our own and also took a French Quarter walking tour to actually learn a thing or two about how New Orleans came to be. We were amazed at the beauty of the streets and buildings, and delighted with the art and music that were everywhere:

Another really excellent walking tour took us through Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District. There were some incredible homes in the Garden District, with a remarkable diversity of architecture based on sheer whim of the wealthy homeowners.We learned about the burial laws of New Orleans (as long as you wait a year and a day, you can open a tomb and shove another body inside) and some of the history of the city’s wealth from trade. The first burial in Lafayette Cemetery took place in the 1840s and the cemetery is still active, which is really neat:

We also spent one evening on Frenchmen Street where there was jazz everywhere, as well as an art market. The hard part was picking a bar to visit (we chose The Spotted Cat based on several recommendations) and a place to eat afterwards! And then we were interrupted by the Krewe of Chewbacchus parade in Marginy, which was so much fun. Unfortunately, I’m a rather petite person and couldn’t get close enough to the police barrier to take any decent photos of the parade itself. But here’s Frenchmen Street:

On our last night in the city, we took a ghost tour to learn about the haunted history of New Orleans. I’m glad that we did the French Quarter tour first because the histories are obviously intertwined, but I don’t know that I’d seek out another ghost tour. I enjoyed hearing the stories and visiting a possibly haunted bar that doesn’t have electricity, but I got a lot more out of the daytime walking tours. That’s probably not surprising, considering the supernatural is questionable at best.

I’ve always admired the “doors of” posters of various cities that are often on the walls in waiting rooms, so I decided New Orleans was a good opportunity to work on my own collection of “doors of” photos. My favorites, including one set of mailboxes:

The most surprising aspect of New Orleans was the culture of the city and the genuinely open, receptive, and free spirits of all the people I encountered, from the man in the suit to the young couple in togas to the woman wearing only glitter. People playing music on the streets seemed genuinely excited to be doing it and artists hung their work anywhere they could and worked wherever they were standing. Palm and tarot readings were readily available and the voodoo shop we visited could not have been more welcoming; they even suggested a different shop when we couldn’t find what we wanted!

(Full disclosure here: Friends have read my tarot cards twice and palm once, and while I don’t know if I “believe” any of what they said, it sure was telling. And, in hindsight, frighteningly accurate.)

Maybe it was Mardi Gras or Southern hospitality, but there’s something truly wonderful about a place where what is normally considered “subculture” is just everyday being.

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Travel Guide: Southern California

For about three years, I’ve been saying that someday I’m going to fly to San Diego, rent a car, and drive up the California coast to San Francisco. For whatever reason, I always envisioned spending two or three weeks alone and contemplating life’s purpose along the way. Somewhat of an On the Road dream, I suppose.

This year, for the first time, I didn’t spend the holidays with my family. Instead, I flew to LAX, rented a car, drove to San Diego to visit a friend who I haven’t seen since June, and then drove up the California coast to Costa Mesa to visit another friend who I haven’t seen since September, venturing further north to Malibu from there. Over the course of the week I met a number of people who had me laughing more than I have laughed in months. I felt light, carefree, happy, and optimistic about what is possible. The second half of 2016 was really tough for me and I could not have been happier to feel like my old self again.

San Diego and Around
With the aid of a cute little red rental car and a San Diego native (with whom I traveled to Laos in June) as my tour guide, I saw quite a bit of San Diego County and ate the most delicious Mexican food item I have ever had – a chile relleno burrito! Some of our stops included:

Del Mar, my first California beach experience:

Mount Soledad, with beautiful views of San Diego:

PB (Pacific Beach), where I got a real kick out of  winter Christmas decoration with palm trees and the beach in the background:

Coronado, which was just stunning:

Julian, an absolute gem of a town that looks like time forgot about it:

The interior of that used bookstore looked like this:

And you know how I feel about books!

We took a beautiful drive back from Julian along Route 78 and I took a break from driving to gaze out the window at the stunning valley:

Sunshine, blue skies, mountains, oceans. It’s no wonder everyone was so friendly and welcoming and actually seemed to care about the answer to the generic, “Hi, how are you?” that I heard everywhere I went.

Costa Mesa and Around
After three nights in San Diego, it was time to drive north to Costa Mesa. I’d originally driven south from LAX in the dark so it was nice to see the same roads in daylight. The blue skies, beaches, and mountains adventure continued with a best friend from high school (also a travel partner in Hong Kong and Thailand) who moved to California three years ago. Our exploring included:

Top of the World hike at Laguna Beach, which was the warmest day of the week:

A drive to Long Beach to meet some more people, eat dinner, and have a night out:

Driving to Long Beach

Santa Monica, which we visited on a damp, chilly day that was still iconic and beautiful:

Los Angeles, where we took a quick nighttime walk around Staples Center before seeing a concert at the LA Convention Center:

Newport Beach, which was adorable and thoroughly enjoyable even though we got caught in the rain:

County Line Beach in Malibu to watch a stunning sunset on New Year’s Day:

This week was the perfect way to put a positive spin on the end of a strange year, as well as the perfect way to begin a new year – time with friends, full of laughter, exploring beautiful places.

I didn’t realize how much I needed this week and time with these people until I was fully immersed in it. As soon as I got in a taxi on the way to the airport in New York I felt a weight lift that I didn’t realize I was carrying. There was a physical lightness in my body for the week that I spent in California. The tension I normally carry in my back went away after a few days. Being around such good friends in such a beautiful place was physically and emotionally rejuvenating, which is all I can ask for.

Newport Beach

Hopefully in a summer or three I’ll fly again to LAX, rent a car, and drive up the California coast to San Francisco. I’m already excited for everything there is to see and experience. And something tells me I won’t be doing it alone.

Travel Guide: Philadelphia, PA

In all my travel blogging, this is only the second blog post about the US! I’ve been other places, really.

Last week my parents and I turned a wedding in New Jersey into a short vacation that included three days in the City of Brotherly Love. My dad has been there a number of times for conferences, but neither my mum nor I had ever visited. We loved the architecture we saw, the history we learned, and the food we ate.

Philadelphia looks like this:

Anyone who has ever studied American history knows that many discussions about the formation of the US took place here. We visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed . . .

. . . Congress Hall where the first US Congresses met, way back when Congress actually did anything . . .

. . . and the Liberty Bell, so named because it has been the symbol of liberty for various groups working for freedom and justice in this country. . . .

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We spent a while in the National Museum of American Jewish History, too. I particularly liked the section on Judaism in colonial America because that’s what I know the least about. My knowledge of modern Jewish history is much better. As a result, I wasn’t as captivated by the museum’s exhibits as someone new to the topic might be. The museum was really well done, and I’d recommend a visit.

For a dose of local life and fresh vegetables, we visited Reading Terminal Market on three separate occasions, which I absolutely loved:

Philadelphia is also home to Eastern State Penitentiary, which struck me as ironic considering the love infused in so much of Philadelphia’s portrayal of itself. There is a dark side to everything human, a side that reminds us that there is more than one story. Through audio testimony, we learned how prison design and the purpose of prison in the US has changed over time. The exhibits also asked visitors to consider important questions about the prison system today, like whether prison is rehabilitative, whether it is objective, and whether punishments truly fit crimes. That was the most important section for me because it put visitors in uncomfortable positions and asked them to think about humans rather than numbers.

We also spent a good deal of time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has multiple buildings with a wide variety of exhibits. Tickets are good for the day of purchase and the following day, so we took advantage of that. That’s where the Rocky statue and steps are, too. Yes, I ran up the steps and I’m pretty sure my mum took a video as proof.

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Everything I’ve heard about food in Philadelphia turned out to be true. We enjoyed the following:

Breakfast: Pearl’s Oyster Bar and Dutch Eating Place, both at Reading Terminal Market and both delicious
Lunch: Lucha Cartel and OCF Coffee House
Dinner: VedgeZahav, and Abe Fisher
Coffee: La Colombe Coffee Roasters

The DNC is taking over now and that’s pretty cool, too!

As an added bonus, I got to meet up with my friend Lauren from Singapore! That was the icing on the cake, really.

If you have a couple days, I’d recommend a visit. After all, what’s not to love about a city with a sense of humor?

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