Travel Guide: New Orleans

New Orleans is quite possibly my favorite vacation destination. I love the atmosphere (off Bourbon Street, that is), the architecture, the cocktails, the food—oh and one of my best friends has lived there since right after high school. So, inspired by my fifth visit a few weeks ago, here’s your guide!

Where to eat: I quite literally plan my days around meals in New Orleans, so this category comes first this time around! The absolute must for breakfast is of course Cafe du Monde. Go to the iconic location on Jackson Square—there will be a line on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s absolutely worth it for the best beignets and chicory coffee IN THE WORLD. Not exaggerating!

IMG_5054I would be content with beignets every morning, but if you need more variety in your breakfast fare, the Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters is absolutely incredible. You’d need two or three mornings to try everything, but if you’ve only got one, make sure to pick up as many crawfish and shrimp dishes as possible! Oh, and their biscuits are amazing. Ruby Slipper Cafe is another fantastic brunch spot—they don’t take reservations and there will be a wait, but it’s worth it! And their mimosas are great… and consist primarily of very tasty Champagne!

Lunch… mmm… lunch… There are so many options! Definitely make sure to get a po-boy at some point. This time around, I tried Mothers’ debris and gravy (that’s the meat that falls off the roast while it’s slowly cooking, along with a healthy helping of the flavorful juice) and it was awesome!

IMG_5057Regional specialties abound at the French Market—po-boys, crawfish, gumbo…. This time I tried Meals From the Heart Cafe’s crab cakes. Really crabby, really good, you can even get them gluten free if you’re in to that.

For a sit-down lunch or casual dinner, my number one choice is Gumbo Shop. I’m incredibly disappointed I didn’t get there this trip, I always get the Crawfish Combo Platter (with etouffee of course!) so I can get a little bit of everything! In years past, Cochon has also been a hit. If you end up venturing out of the French Quarter, try The Avenue Pub in the Garden District. They have a ridiculous number of beers on tap and their frites are uh-maz-ing!

The best part about knowing a local (besides knowing her, of course!) is getting out of the touristy areas and having and experience closer to real life in the city. For me, this of course means restaurants, and this trip that meant Capdeville. They specialize in whiskeys, I beleive, but the thing I remember most are the red beans and rice balls. They’re like Italian arancini, but made from the New Orleans staple. So tasty!

Honestly, there are too many amazing dinner places to name them all, but one of my favorite memories is K-Paul’s. Remember Chef Paul Prudhomme from the early days of food TV? He’s the big guy with the beard and beret, the “Magic” seasoning mixes, and a nearly 40-year-old standby restaurant. It’s heavy and southern and indulgent and absolutely delicious. He was even there when we went! This trip, we tried EAT New Orleans which was very good! And they were able to handle our 14-person party with no problem.

You really can’t go wrong. One of the best things about New Orleans is that they don’t let crappy (or good, for that matter!) chains open within the city limits. On top of that, the food scene is so vibrant, every restaurant has had to fight to survive—which means it’s really well done. Some of the best meals I’ve had were at restaurants I never even learned the names of—I couldn’t go back there if I tried… although I’m still dreaming of those corn and lobster beignets…

Where to drink: Again, you almost can’t go wrong (unless you order a blended drink on Bourbon Street. Then you’re just asking for trouble… and gut rot). I really appreciated the skill of NOLA bartenders this trip, as that’s a bit hard to come by in Bermuda. I had some delicious Old Fashioneds of course, but I also made a point to ask for a cocktail menu—something they don’t look down on here—and try something unique.

A don’t-miss spot for me is the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone. First of all, the main bar is topped with an actual carousel roof and it moves. The entire bar, the stools, wells and bartenders all rotate slowly—if you glance at it, you might not notice, but if you’re standing outside the bar stools, you’ll have to take a step every few minutes to catch up. Even more importantly, the space is elegant and beautiful, far enough to the edge of the Quarter that it’s usually not too crazy, and they make amazing craft cocktails. My favorite is the Ginger Royal, a mix of bourbon, Champagne and who knows what else.

This trip we also hit up Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, which despite being on Bourbon Street, is actually pretty cool.

DSCF4240What to do: Walk around! This last trip we were lucky to stay in the Marigny/Bywater area, which is a bit east of the Quarter. We were nestled in a residential neighborhood, so we got to see a lot of the beautiful architecture: Shotgun houses mixed in with Creole cottages and grand mansions, brick sidewalks and ferns hanging from every porch.

DSCF4204Since you’ll be starting your day at Cafe du Monde in Jackson Square anyway, start there. Explore the blocks between Decatur and Bourbon or all the way up to Burgundy—get some pralines, explore the shops, have a beer, maybe pick up some sidewalk art. There are carriages lined up at the square and I’d highly recommend a ride, although perhaps wait until the evening.

One end of Decatur (which it splits into St. Peter’s) in the Quarter ends with chain shops and Harrah’s Casino, but at the other end, you’ll find the French Market, the oldest public market in the country. I’ve touched on the food offerings already, but you’ll also find jewelry and accessories, art and gifts here.

Once you’re French Quarter-ed out (or just tired of walking), hop on a streetcar to the Garden District. You must have exact change ($1.25 at the moment), and it moves slooowwww, but that’s good—you’ll get a chance to look at all the amazing houses in this neighborhood. And really, the streetcar is an adventure by itself.

Yes, there are museums and tours you can take, but I think the best thing about vacationing in New Orleans is just being there, settling in and letting whatever adventures come your way happen. Enjoy!

Travel Guide: Bermuda

This week has been one for writing. One of the pieces I worked on was a guest post for Dutch beauty and travel blog, The Beauty Suitcase. It was of course a Bermuda travel guide! I thought you guys would be interested in the highlight reel as well, although I’ve condensed it so as not to repeat things I’ve already said here, but if you’re interested in the full version (or haven’t been following along on my Bermuda adventures), click here!


The moment you step off the plane in Bermuda (onto a stair car, they don’t have jet bridges here), the first thing you’ll notice is the humidity: pleasantly warm but thick, wet air. Depending on the time of the year, it can be wonderfully refreshing—not to mention great for your skin—or almost overwhelming (and if you have curly hair, forget about taming it until you go home!).

There are plenty of taxis waiting at the airport—with just a handful of flights per day, they know when to arrive—so you won’t have any trouble getting a ride, however very few of them take cards, so make sure you have cash. The Bermudian dollar is tied to the U.S. dollar, so everyone uses both interchangeably. It’s very convenient for us Americans, but sort of confusing once you remember you’re actually in a British territory (and no, they don’t accept pounds!).

I remember some of my first impressions of the island: First, the water is far and away the brightest, bluest water I’ve ever seen in my life. It seems to be lit from below with a turquoise light—absolutely stunning. Foliage reminds me of South Carolina—a mix of deciduous and palm trees—which is less tropical-feeling than I expected. And there was something about the infrastructure (roads and public buildings anyway) that reminded me of the Caribbean or Central America.

As tourism is a big business here, there are plenty of hotels and I really haven’t heard many bad reviews about any of them. Keep in mind that “town” here means one thing: Hamilton. If you’re looking to be where the action is without spending a lot of money on transportation, I’d recommend staying at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, which is within walking distance of everything. The Princess’ sister hotel, Fairmont Southampton, is perfect if you’re more in the mood for a beach vacation, and they offer a ferry back and forth between hotels.

 

Highlights

Where to go: The main drag of Hamilton is Front Street, which—you guessed it—is right on the waterfront. Much of the shopping here is tailored to cruise ship arrivals, so there are several high-end stores and gift shops. If you go one block back from the water to Reid Street, you’ll get a better picture of everyday life for Bermudians. Spend some time walking around town, getting a sense of the place. Europeans may not find it as exciting, but there is history here that most of America just can’t match. Even the post office feels like you’ve stepped back in time a few centuries. There is a national portrait museum and aquarium of course, but for touristy activities, I’d recommend getting out of town.

Lest you think Bermuda is just beaches and palm trees... This is Front Street, the main drag of the city of Hamilton
Front Street, the main drag of the city of Hamilton

What to do: You can hop on the ferry for just a few dollars and sail directly to Dockyard, which is where the cruise ships usually dock. It’s an old Navy yard, and very cool to spend some time walking through the lawns between the old walls. There are a number of bars and restaurants—including one on a boat decked out to look like a pirate ship—and what I’d wager is the best mini golf in the world! I know it sounds silly, but Fun Golf’s nearly 360-degree ocean views can’t be matched.

If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a scooter instead of taking the ferry so you can take in the views along Middle and South roads on the way back. There are really only three roads that run the length of the island, so you can’t get lost, but driving can be a little bit crazy. Take a break by pulling in to any of the lay-bys along the way so you can see the stunning parks and beaches that dot the south coast.

PortRoyalBermuda is a golfer’s paradise—there are seven high quality courses to choose from within the island’s twenty square miles. Port Royal recently hosted the PGA Grand Slam (that’s Rory McIlroy in the pic!), and Tucker’s Point (back toward the airport) is also very nice. Tucker’s has a fabulous spa, hotel and restaurant as well, so you could make a day or two of it! It’s near the airport, so I’d recommend staying here at the very beginning or very end of your trip.

The view from the pool at Tucker's Point
The view from the pool at Tucker’s Point

Also in that area is Grotto Bay, a resort that has ocean rentals in a protected bay. Rent a boat or paddleboard and head over to Castle Island beach—only accessible by water (except for the people who own the private land adjacent to it) and very shallow, it’s a great place to drop anchor and hang out for the day!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend heading out to St. George’s, the first permanent English settlement on the island, and arguably North America. Settled in 1612, the town is an UNESCO World Heritage site and totally worth the visit, with reenactments, tours and, most exciting for me, a printing museum!

Where to eat: Dining here is a bit hit or miss, but you usually can’t go wrong with seafood! I’m not a huge fan of cooked fish, but I love sushi. Two of my favorites are Pearl and Beluga Bar. The latter is actually located in a mall, but don’t let that sway you: it might just be the better of the two.

photo 4My favorite restaurant on the island is Bolero Brasserie, which looks out over Front Street, so if you decide to sit on the second-story patio, you’ll get to watch the goings-on. However, I really like the dining room here, so I’d recommend sitting indoors, and grabbing a drink on the patio at Red Steakhouse afterward.

Speaking of cocktails, drinking might be Bermuda’s unofficial national past time. Harry’s is one of my favorite haunts—plus Jason is the only bartender on the island I’ve found so far who can make a decent brandy old fashioned! Their dinner menu is really fantastic as well, although I have to admit we’ve always eaten in the bar. Muse, also on Front Street near the ferry terminal, offers several interesting cocktails and three floors of eating and drinking space. They also have a menu of truly decadent French fare that is really, really tasty. If you’re a wine drinker, try the Wine Bar next to Little Venice on Bermudiana Road, just one block up from Front Street.

Off the beaten path a bit is Art Mel’s, which has been named the best fish sandwich on the island. There are several really good Indian restaurants as well, my favorite is House of India.

 

Enjoy and let me know when you visit the island!

Mr. Mucca

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Design Madison event featuring Matteo Bologna of Mucca Design. I actually had the opportunity to see Matteo speak several years ago when he was a visiting artist for NOWhere at UWSP, but didn’t go. I almost always seem to find a reason to skip speaker events, but when I do make myself attend, I leave inspired and refreshed. Note to self: Force self to get self’s butt off the computer chair and out into the world!

Mucca is a very professional, diverse, award-winning design studio, and yet Matteo is surprisingly approachable and authentic. The studio’s work is beautiful and inspiring, but Matteo’s thoughts on design are what really stuck with me. For instance—when’s the last time you heard a designer say “I don’t beleive in logos?” Instead he believes in creating an environment of sorts—take design a step further than slapping a logo here and there by employing secondary and tertiary design elements on all surfaces to design an experience.

I did get a little jealous when Matteo spoke about his relationships with his clients. Of course they’re never perfect, but it was pretty amazing to hear about the value his clients place on design, that they understand design is good for business, not just something they have to do because it’s just what you do. He also got to be one of ten featured designers to create an anniversary cover of Italian GQ—another thing to be jealous of: all-typographic covers!