Take out your list. What is your number one for must-see destinations? Most people wait until they retire to even start marking things off. Me? No husband. No kids. I’m ready to start now! I have crossed #2 and maybe #165 (it’s a long list, sue me!) off there. But…my mind can’t escape that elusive “Number Freakin’ One”. And, for me, that is “The Land of the Rising Sun”. That gorgeous country whose beautiful culture has enraptured me my imagination since childhood. Ask any kid who grew up with Miyazaki films (for me it was Totoro)! They most likely feel the same way. (And, yes, I was part of the Sailor Moon/Pokemon generation.
I am ELATED to say that the dream is becoming a reality. I already have plans (and approved time off, thanks job!) for a 2 and 1/2 week vacation to my dream destination. Yes…*breathe a little*…it is within my grasp now.
So, I write this entry in the hopes that any Japan-natives, Japan-lovers, or Japan-constant-travelers will help a sista out! Please read the questions below! I would appreciate, in addition, any sort of advice you can give me.
OCTOBER 2016 – NOVEMBER 2016
Based off a suggested itinerary from japan-guide.com, I have created a “rough draft” version for my trip.
***UPDATE*** I have changed my itinerary almost entirely. Instead of flying in and out of Tokyo (which allows for back-tracking), I will be flying into Osaka and out of Tokyo. See the updated itinerary below, with detailed options for my day. -tbh 08/18/16
QUESTIONS FOR THE EXPERTS:
Does this seems realistic?
*** I AM SO INTIMIDATED BY THE TRAIN SYSTEM – Is there anyone who could help me?! I plan to get a JR pass too. ****
Would a 14 day JR Pass work for me or should I splurge on 21 day pass?
Should I rent pocket wifi? I will definitely be utilizing Hyperdia, Google Maps, etc.
Since I will be going in end of October, I heard the fall colors will be in full effect? Out of the cities I have listed, do you have recommendations to see the autumn colors? Take pictures?
What are your experiences with AirBnb or hostels? I do not think I can afford to stay in nice hotels, so I am willing to go this route. Any recommendations?
I would like to visit a ryokan. But I heard that it is harder to book as a solo female traveler. How true is this? Any ryokan recommendations?
I want to experience rural Japan (which is why Takayama is on my list). I think I would like to rent a bicycle and travel through the fields, etc. Is this safe? Would you recommend a bike tour?
Experiences I would like to try:
Maid cafe / Themed cafe
Mount Koya (ok for solo female traveler?)
I am sure there are more questions that I need to ask… but this is what is on the top of my head. As I said, I am very open to ANY suggestions and recommendations. Thank you for reading.
Ever wondered what someone could do with an iPhone 5s and an old Canon camera? Click the link below and find out! Follow me on my adventures in California – touching base in the city of my birth and a city I’ve always wanted to visit (Los Angeles & San Francisco).
Who doesn’t love Cali? West Side is the best side!
Considering the enervating walk of the previous day, after breakfast, we decided to explore closer to home. “Closer to home” meant limiting ourselves to the Lincoln Park area. Yet somehow we ended up on a 40 minute walk to Wrigley Field, passing through Boys Town. Boys Town was where we were planning to spend our night – and we may or may not have visited some naughty shops and some vintage shops along the way too. Tsk tsk, readers.
Anyone remember the movie Rookie of the Year? Oh my gosh, that was my shit back in the day. I remember in 5th grade we were allowed to watch movies during recess and everyone’s first choice was ROTY. Come on, you remember, it’s that movie about this pre-teen boy who injured his arm and subsequently gained some kind of awesome reflex (which sounded like a stretching rubber band when he was winding up) that made him the best pitcher in the state. So good that he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs! Since then, Wrigley Stadium had been some kind of “go-to” location for me. The setting for a favorite childhood film.
So passing by it was kind of cool. Even cooler was that there was a Cubs game actually going on! Walking through the neighborhoods, you’d see a sea of blue and red jerseys herding towards the stadium. Ironically I don’t enjoy the game of baseball too much (and neither do my friends), so it makes sense why we didn’t attend the game. It was so exciting to see the stadium packed and fans eager to watch their beloved Cubs. Even if we weren’t among them.
What was for lunch, you ask? More deep dish? No. More cupcakes? Thankfully, no. Even better! Delicious … grilled … frickin’ …. cheese from a joint called – wait for it – Cheesie’s. In Jacksonville, we have this popular food truck with specialty grilled cheese. It’s called “The Happy Grilled Cheese” and they post over social media where there truck will be visiting next. Specialty grilled cheese means that they’re adding bbq, mac & cheese, various meats, shoot, anything you can think of.
It’s expensive, but you feel happy afterward. That could have been the beer though.
We chilled out the rest of the day by watching Bob’s Burgers and prepared mix drinks that we would divulge in before going out on the town. Boys Town, to be exact. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to before getting to Chicago. The only bars I have been to are filled with either sloppy frat boys or brooding hipsters, nothing too indelible. But a gay bar? No, I have never stepped foot in one before. And frankly, I was super excited! Jacksonville has openly gay individuals, of course. But, nowhere near as open as in Boys Town!
I wore a blood-orange-maxi-dress (NOT with heels, but my gladiator sandals, because my feet were killing me mind you. And, remember, that Boys Town was nearly a 30 minute walk away) and my hair in a twisty-bun-thing. Elena said I looked like a Grecian goddess, which I will totally take. I was excited to go out and dance! (*cue Dane Cook* “I JUSS WANNA DUNCE!”) We spent a lot of time at a bar called Roscoe’s Tavern – we danced on stage and the music was bumping the whole time. Oh, it was so much fun! So much better than any other bar experience I have had – no weird, nasty guys creeping on you. Rather, it was cute gay guys telling you that your outfit was on point or that they love your hair! Like, what?! The night started slipping away after we had our second pink pitcher of alcohol. Let’s just say that the walk home was a memorable (or can we say that?) one! Such a fun time with my friends who I have never gone out with before. If this picture below doesn’t summarize the whole night, I don’t know what will.
I have a story to tell. It was my most favorite, most memorable part of the night. In the center of the bar, there was this beautiful asian girl donning a tight, red dress with the highest pair of stiletto heels I had ever seen. It was after she waved to a group of onlookers, that I looked back and saw those same heels heading into the boys bathroom. We all looked at each other like, “Yeah, girl!”. Girl was a boy in drag! Don’t you hate it when they look prettier than you?! Haha. Anyway, later that night, I go into the girls bathroom to break the seal, and LO AND BEHOLD, it is the SAME girl from earlier. I sidled next to her as we both washed our hands in silence. She turned over to me, touches my shoulder and says, “You are so pretty! I absolutely LOVE your dress.” It was when I responded with, “Thanks, girl, you too!” that she wiped her hands, made her way to me again, and blew me a kiss. Like, I could feel her breath in face. I cornily pretend caught it and smiled as I watched her sassy-walk right out of the bathroom. I will tell this story whenever I get the chance.
Danny told us the normally 30 minute walk home took us about an hour. My Grecian goddess look turned into a wet-mess. And we went to sleep in the living room.
What are your favorite going-out memories? Ever gotten a little crazy in a city that wasn’t home? Let me know all about them!
I had prepared myself to walk. It is a big city, that’s what they do there. But I was not prepared for the journey I would take on this day. When we first arrived in Chicago, Danny texted Elena saying, “Tell Tiffany it’s really easy to get around on bikes! We can take trails…we can take them downtown…we can…”… At that point I blacked out. Ride bikes?! No one told me we had to ride bikes! Panic set in.
For those that know me, it’s common knowledge that “Tiffany can’t ride a bike.” It’d go something like this: “Hey, want to take our beach cruisers out on 4th of July….oh, wait, that’s right, you can’t!”. It goes from “Oh, I am so sorry for you!” to “LMFAO, WHAT A N00B!”. Haha, it’s okay, I take it all in good fashion. 20+ years of jokes kind of get old and my feelings don’t get hurt that easily anyway. Perks of having a family that jokes around all the time; you don’t take anyone too seriously.
Even though they probably both held secret grudges (not so secret on Danny’s part, he jokingly let me have it with snide remarks about my two-wheel fears), we walked. We walked everywhere. Because I do not live an active lifestyle, I have no clue how I did it! Apparently iPhones have a Fitness app that counts how far you have walked and how many steps you have taken. My phone was in my purse, so I don’t think it was totally accurate, but it counted 25,000+ steps in 10+ miles. Regardless, I felt really bad that I had to be the bitch that kept everyone on foot.
What We Saw in Downtown Chicago
I will have to say that Chicago’s skyline is pretty incomparable. If you didn’t know, I have a thing for skylines. Some people may argue that they all look the same,but they absolutely don’t! Yes, they are just a bunch of buildings lined up together. But can’t you see the difference in height? In color hues? In the way the sunsets peek through? Take a look at LA’s skyline or New Orleans’: totally different! Plus, Chicago has those two spikey thingys poking out from on top of the John Hancock building. That’s freaking hilarious. They look like antennas! Anyway, this was my view as we were walking down the long ass trail to downtown. We passed by this large body of water with artificial waves and sand attached to it, or as they like to call it a “beach”. I am from Florida, so I have to be a little partial to the real salt air and seashell-ridden sands. But, hey! I will give it to Illinois. They make do with what they got. There were girls in their bikinis attempting to tan and boys playing frisbee. Closest thing to the real thing that you can get, I suppose!
Downtown Chicago was how I imagined it. Bustling crowds attempting to make their way through the maze of skyscrapers. There were a lot of department stores and a lot of people coming out of their doors with more bags than they could carry. As I watched everyone scramble across the city and cross eachother’s paths so quickly, I found that it was difficult to tell between who were real Chicago inhabitants and who were the tourists. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
I will say I give props to every pedestrian crossing the busy streets. I second guessed myself every time I had to cross. Danny was so good at predicting when lights would change, he always bravely put his foot forward and trekked across that road as if he owned it. I never gained that confidence, so I always just blindly followed him. Probably not a good thing because there came a point when I wouldn’t look right or left and just trailed after him like a baby following mother duck. Death for the followers.
The Famous Bean or Cloudgate
Opera House in Millenium Park
Outside the Taste of Chicago – Festivals Galore!
Boats on boats
On the 9th Floor of the Main Library
My $16 Mojito
Selfie Stick as we Sit
Where We Ate in Downtown Chicago
When you think of a signature Chicago food, what comes to mind? Yep, deep dish. We went to Pizanos on Madison Street for my first taste of Chicago pizza. Back home in Florida, on Thursdays I have a group of friends that always goes to a pizza place called Al’s for dollar slices and beers. I sent them a picture of my meal, not entirely sorry I was missing out on our usual dinner together. “Having a slice for you here in Chicago”, I texted.
However, I am not going to lie I was not super impressed. It’s funny because we actually originally ordered a thin-crust pizza but, because the waiter was new and confused, we got a deep dish instead. So we take what we are given! If you don’t know what deep-dish pizza entails, it is actually exactly what it sounds like. Chicago-style pizza is known to have high edges and a thicker tomato sauce. To most, that sounds like a party! But to me, a lover of hand-tossed or thin-crust with light tomato sauce, it wasn’t that enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong though! I like pizza as much as the next person! Imma nom-nom-nom that up faster than you can say “Yo, get away from my plate”. But I didn’t like how doughy it was. Just not a great aftertaste. Tell me if anyone out there agrees with me. If not, I am okay standing alone.
For dinner we had the very-healthy Sprinkles Cupcakes. I don’t remember why we didn’t have a real meal. But I think it had something to do with the fact that our feet hurt SO bad, we had to sit down and soak our feet for a good portion of the night. I remember getting home and being like “What is walking? Why do we do this?”. We probably were like “Getting up is required to get food? Naaaaaaaah.”
Do you have any experiences like this? Let me know in the comments.
If a friendship lasts longer than 7 years, it will last a lifetime.
I woke up this morning not remembering where I was. Oh, and with my leg splayed over my friend who doesn’t like to cuddle. Over dinner the night before, we all discussed what our strange sleeping habits are. I assured her that my only weirdness is somehow ending up diagonal in the night. But, much to her chagrin, I was wrong. I apparantly also inadvertently trespass on other people’s space! When we woke up, I asked her how her sleep was and she responded coyly with “Danny’s bed is super comfortable…..oh, and, you lied, you ARE a cuddler.” The smile on her face had meant she was taking it graciously though. I gave her permission to kick me next time. That usually works.
Our home for the next 4 days would be on the bottom level of a 3 story apartment in Chicago. Even though my phone displayed that it was 7am, the room remained pitch black. I pondered on how this was possible for a while, but upon looking around the room, I realized there were no windows. So weird! I did sleep well though, having recovered from the night before. Danny’s boyfriend Chris had cooked us an amazing meal for dinner (ending with some rum-soaked peaches topped with homemade whipped cream for dessert. Only I didn’t taste any peaches, if you know what I mean). The only home cooked meal I have had for a long time.
Flashback to when we first arrived at Midway International Airport: it actually was not a struggle at all. From Jacksonville, it was an easy 2 and 1/2 hour direct flight! What I was most worried about was using the trains. Or, as tourists from smaller cities know them, dreaded public transportation! I was already preparing myself to get lost in the subway. I tried my hardest not to look like a tourist. But it is hard not to when you are constantly looking around and jumping at the sound of every stop made. All I kept thinking was “Well, at least I have a change of clothes! Ugh, this luggage is heavy. No! Not more stairs! I wonder if they have any restaurants in the trains for the tourists who get lost on their journeys?”. Obviously I was confident. Per Danny’s directions, we took the Orange Line to the Brown Line. If you know what I am talking about, good for you. I am glad I had Elena with me because what I was imagining was a kid drawing literal orange lines and brown lines on the sidewalk. I don’t know what to do with that!
When we finally made it to Danny’s street, I was in awe of how cute it was! If you don’t count the constant clattering of the train tracks (which eventually turned into white noise), it is an incredibly quiet area. If Danny’s blinds weren’t open, I wouldn’t have had any clue that other people choose it as a route to their destinations. I couldn’t wait to make our home in a real Chicago abode.
I had expected to eat well in this city. If I had a shitty time or didn’t enjoy any of the architecture, I could live with that. But if the food was subpar? Take me back home. My first taste of Chicago was at a taco joint called…”Taco Joint” on North Halstead Street. And…it…was…GOOD. Ever had a salmon taco? Me either. But I had a delicious ceviche taco! We paired it with a beer-mixed drink called “Traditional Red”. We were disappointed because there was no wine it in, having thought we ordered a SANGRIA. But, when I read the menu again, I realized it said SANGRITA. So it all makes sense now.
My dad would be proud of my Modelo. It was a spicy wake-up call!
One thing I will say about Chicago is there is FREE STUFF EVERYWHERE. Literally, the minute we walked into the FREE zoo, there were girls handing out FREE cans of Red Bull. It just so happens that all of this was taking place in a FREE country! Kidding. But I could not believe that the zoo was free: there were no gates, no entrance fees, and no one to check your tickets. It wasn’t a small, janky zoo with sad looking animals either! They had rhinos, penguins, polar bears, meerkats, and a lot of other exhibitions that the Jacksonville Zoo does not have. And I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to enjoy a zoo without sweating your face off in 90+ degree weather!
Located on North Clark Street. They are open most days from 10am – 5pm.
When the night winded in, we headed over to Chris’ house. Two words: Bachelor Pad. To the max. He had a chalkboard wall adorned with business plans and a list of “Places to Go”. In the bathroom, there was a makeshift lamp made out of an old wine bottle. It was so revealing of his lifestyle. More importantly, the man can cook. We were entertained with a cute ass cheese plate for an appetizer, sausage and brussell sprouts, and a salad that we had all made with love. Fresh from the herb garden on his rooftop. We spent a lot of our time out there – shucking corn, cutting tomatoes, and trying to differentiate between this green leaf and the other. “This one is rosemary … or sage….or….kale? I don’t know put that in the salad.” Despite our uncertainty, the salad was scrumptious. Didn’t even need the drizzling of a balsamic vinegar dressing like I usually like.
My first night in Chicago can be summarized into one, simple statement: there is more to explore. The aching in my feet from that initial day would not compare to what would play through into the rest of my trip. I say I wanted to explore, huh? Well, I got my wish…
I had to get to work at 4 am yesterday. I know, I know, the thought of hearing *AAHH AAHH AAHH* (my best alarm clock impression) in the wee hours of the morning ensues torturous feelings inside you. How do you think I feel? I do it once a month! Twice a month, if you count my weekend shifts. The funny thing is that after the initial thought of “Ugh, I would rather walk through fire than hear that incessant beeping again”, once I am up, I magically gain 1000 pp of energy. I am awake and alert. Ready to face the day. So ready that, instead of jumping into bed after work for a well-deserved 100 hour nap, I decided to make the 35 minute drive to my one of my favorite sides of town.
I just moved into a new place this month, so I am on the hunt for a coffee table. I have not had any luck on craigslist or SwipSwap, so I decided that the antique shops in Riverside might be a cool place to check out. Besides, I was in the mood to play a little “I Spy” in the disarray that antique shops are bound to hold. Who doesn’t like looking at random shit?! A pair of old binoculars, weathered bell bottoms, a haunted rocking chair… You never know what you are going to find!
When I got off at noon, I texted my Dad to join me for lunch. At dinner the night before, he had mentioned that he had a craving for sushi. As fate would have it, we ended up eating Mexican instead. Much to his disappointment. But tomorrow is a new day! And since I knew of a great sushi place in the area I thought he’d enjoy, I invited him. So we met up to eat some raw fish at the small joint called “Sumo Sushi” on Park Street.
Let me tell you, I am a HUGE sushi fan. There is something special about that bit of sticky rice blanketed by seaweed. Give it to me regular, raw, or fried – any shape or form makes my taste buds quiver! (Can your taste buds quiver? My anatomy classes say no. But my sushi-eating says otherwise.) Sumo Sushi has an awesome lunch special too. Choose from a list of sushi rolls and get 2 rolls + soup/salad for $8.95. What a steal! It came to us fresh and served on a bamboo slab that was dressed with a green leaf that my Dad and I could not decide was real or not. It was a nice touch, regardless. Try the Jaguar Roll: a fried (so healthy!) roll with eel and cucumber. My heart!
With our stomachs full, we headed over to the first antique shop of the day. If you’re looking for shops of this kind, Riverside is the place to be! On Park Street, there is a literally a whole strip of them. And right down the road, in 5 Points, there are some more to peruse. You can fill your whole day at each shop and they all had something different to offer. I personally base my level of enjoyment by how organized the place is. Are there so many booths that they have to be assigned numbers? Is there random stuff slewed all over the place? Do you have to hold your purse close to your side to avoid knocking over a big pile of something-something? If the answer is “yes” to any or all questions, then I LOVE it. The messier and more packed-to-the-brim it is, the better!
While I was looking for my coffee table, my dad was curious about skeleton keys. He never told me exactly why, but I can see why he was so interested. I love keys. Especially the old, rusty ones that you can imagine unlocks only secret passageways or boxes filled with treasure. Have you ever seen the movie The Secret Garden? There is a scene where Mary Lennox finds an old music box. Inside the tiny drawer was a skeleton key that, of course, she finds unlocks the secret garden. That scene always resonated with me because of how antiquated the key looked; the movie revolved around that and the secrets it unlocked.
Sadly, I didn’t find the coffee table I was looking for. But I wasn’t sweating it because of the fun time I had with my Dad. I had intended to make it a solo adventure out to Riverside, but I am glad I had a partner to enjoy it with. When he left, I decided to drive down the road and continue checking out 5 Points. What is 5 Points? Well, it is what it sounds like: 5 roads meet up in one intersection! We all have to yield to each other, which does get kind of annoying and scary, but we all make it to the destination one way or the other. 5 Points is filled with trendy restaurants, fancy boutiques, and “artsy fartsy” stuff to boot. I live closer to the beach and the crowd is way different here. Ignorant people would describe it as the “home of the hipsters”. Those same people would describe my part of town as the “frat boys” or “beach bums”. I hate generalizations! Every area is different, yes. Different people. Different surroundings. Different experiences. I like my side of town because I love the beach, the laid-back attitude, the convenience. But I like Riverside because of it’s eclectic charm, good eats, and animated habitants. I highly recommend people step out of their borders and enjoy the other side of the fence. You won’t regret it!
How did I end my day, you might ask? With a delicious ice cream cone (chocolate with strawberries mixed in – not my favorite, but who can deny ice cream on a scorching Florida day?) from Marble Slab Creamery. Heads up: on Mondays, they give double-stamps on the reward cards. I am not going to lie, it was difficult taking this selfie without looking like a chump. I will admit I own a selfie-stick, but I am very afraid to use it in public. I am not one to care what other people think, but it does bother me when people stare while I take selfies. So, to be slick, I always set my camera on auto timer, run over to another area at a good distance, casually look coy as the flash goes off, run back, and pretend like nothing ever happened. What? What was that light? No, not a flash! No, I didn’t take a picture of myself! Mind your own beeswax! (See an example of that in the first picture of this blog). Skillz.
Tell me about your favorite parts of your town! How do you sneakily take selfies? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.
A homemade burlap wreath for my new place. It was a shame when I realized I didn’t match it to my welcome mat. Plus, I still don’t have a hanger for my door. So on my closet it rests for now. Have you ever made one? What kind of crafts do you enjoy?
We have all heard of “The Crescent City”. It’s “The Big Easy”. The land of bayous, gumbo, and jazz. Simply said, it’s New Orleans, Louisiana. This is a city surrounded in mystery, culture, and grandeur. I have physically walked those cobblestone streets only once, but in my imagination I have been there far more times. I, too, have enjoyed the sensual sounds of Dixieland on a late night stroll. I, too, have ventured among the crowded halls of Cafe du Monde and devoured a powdery beignet . I, too, have braved Bourbon Street and “earned” myself some beads (it is as easy as screaming, “Hey! Over here!” surprisingly).
Are you considering making a trip? Do you have questions about where to eat? What sites to see? I cannot give you the “Official-Certified-5 Star-NOLA-Resident Tour/Expert Guide” summary, but I can tell you what I have personally seen and experienced on my short stay there. I can tell you exactly where I stayed, ate, ventured.
Keep on reading until the end and you’ll see my Top 5 Favorite Things About New Orleans.
→ WHERE DID WE STAY?
Feast your eyes on “The Gentry House“. How about you shut down the idea that you need to stay in a fancy hotel on Royal Street? Why don’t you rest your head on a pillow at this quaint bed and breakfast instead? Nestled between Rampart St. and Burgandy St., The Gentry House is a sight!
My favorite part? The courtyard! The only time I saw one of the owners was when he was tending to his garden. And what a great job he does! The fountain and wrought iron furnishings really add to the antiquated feel of the place. The house is 150+ years old with, I’m sure, lots of history. Makes me wonder who else had chosen to make their stay there within the last century.
True to their statement of “Come stay with us and live like a local!”, The Gentry House is a home away from home. It was like having our own apartment in New Orleans: it had a living room, bedroom, and kitchen with a fridge stocked with fruits, drink, and various breakfast options. My most favorite option were fresh, warm croissants – delivered daily and left on our door. We read about these in the reviews and were very excited to try them. They did not disappoint! I was surprised to find that there were different options: regular, chocolate-filled, and eclairs. I had the regular croissant and I was overwhelmed with it’s buttery goodness. On our last day, the group was ready to leave before we ran into Mr. Brian donning a bag of those delicious croissants. He insisted we prolong checking out and enjoy the baked goods before heading off. We HAD to stay and have a bite before turning in the keys, of course! It was worth it too.
Overall, it was a comfortable stay. It wasn’t a 5 Star hotel, you mostly pick up after yourself, but it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. It has great reviews on tripadvisor, as well. I would definitely book with them again.
Warning: From the moment we got there, we were told to stay away from Rampart St. come night time. Don’t park your car there and do not stumble upon those streets alone. But don’t worry, be courteous, mind yourself, and keep your wits about you always. Never be afraid of travelling. There is danger just stepping outside your own house everyday. Remember to have streets smarts.
→WHERE DID WE EAT?
Eat New Orleans
In my personal opinion, the most important part of a trip (besides a roof over your head) is how you fill your belly. What does the area have to offer when it comes to cuisine? As you can probably tell, I am not looking for anything fancy. I am always willing to try ‘hole-the-wall’/’mom-and-pop’ type restaurants and have been happier for it.
The first place we tried for dinner was “Eat New Orleans” located right on the corner of Dumaine St. Sliding into the little door with my cohorts wasn’t an easy task because we were all fighting each other to get a seat by the window (I like to people watch). From the outside, looking in, the restaurant gives off an air of humble trendiness. It beckons outsiders to try their cooking. Their name says it all we were there to EAT, NOLA style.
It seemed like a lot of the patrons were regulars, as the waiter seemed to be extremely all-knowing about their orders. The crowd was a little older, which is probably why we got eyeballed when we came in with our “grenades” and valor having survived Bourbon St. I try not to reek “tourist”, but I don’t think we fooled anyone that night.
I couldn’t decide between the “Crawfish Boil Stew” and the “Chicken and Dumplings” for dinner. The temperature that night in January was probably in the 50s, so it was on the chilly side. When I revealed my uncertainty with a food choice, the waiter pronounced that it was a “chicken and dumplings kind of night”. So I got chicken and dumplings. I don’t think I need to say more.
Cafe du Monde
Have you ever seen Disney’s Princess and the Frog (2009)? Do you remember her “man-catching beignets”? Even though it was only a cartoon, this delicacy just looked way too tempting to not have in real life! I wanted to try some immediately! And what better place to have your first, powdery beignet than the famous Cafe du Monde ?
There are two locations in New Orleans, but we visited the original one near Jackson Square. Beware! This place is INCREDIBLY popular! Pretty much anytime of the day – being open 24 hours. So much so that the line was around the block! Surprisingly, it was only a 15-20 minute wait. My friend Manat was kind enough to wrestle some older ladies for a spot in line… She was very territorial about our table! (kidding)
The set-up was like a big parish hall. An open space with dozens and dozens of small, round tables. It’s pretty cramped in there, but the smell of coffee and baked goods were a sumptuous distraction. Tip: If you go around back, past where the to-go lines are, you can see the employees cutting and deep frying the dough! They have it down to a science. The guy I saw didn’t even have to turn around – he just tossed those buggers right in. Watch out for splashing oil!
If you’re looking for good southern cooking, look no further than Willie Mae’s Scotch House down St. Ann Street. If you didn’t know where or what this place was, you could easily drive right past it! The only way you would know it’s purpose is by seeing the sign outside and trying to push past the growing crowd lining up. It’s located in the middle of a (truthfully) grungy neighborhood and, just like the name entails, is inside of a tiny little house! It adds to the charm of “home cooked” meals and feels like you’re eating with the owner’s huge (and widely diverse) family of tourists. According to an article on nola.com, the original location is left in shambles from the destructive Hurricane Katrina. But don’t expect to come here for dinner because they close their doors at…wait for it…5 pm. It was the boys’ idea to eat here and I am glad they made this decision! I come from a land, though also in the south, whose best example of fried chicken is KFC. So…you can tell that anything could beat that! Take a gander at these:
I have never had fried-anything melt in my mouth the way these did! I don’t know what the batter was made out of, but I do know that it came from heaven. I paired them with some green beans, but there are so many other options to get. Do butter beans, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, sweet potatoes, or beans catch your attention? It should because they are great matches for the “America’s Best Fried Chicken”.
I will warn you that the wait was pretty long. It is not a huge facility, so there aren’t that many tables to work with. The service took a bit longer than we would have liked too, but it was around 3 pm, so I am sure they were preparing to close up. Regardless of these things, the food was marvelous! Best fried chicken I have ever had (don’t tell my Dad). I would recommend Willie Mae’s to anyone in the mood for some great southern, home-cooked meals.
→WHAT SITES WOULD WE RECOMMEND?
Drive along Lake Pontchartrain
No, this isn’t Lake “Pocahontas” (if you’re like me, that’s what you thought it said too). It is actually pronounced “pawn-sha-trun” (fancy, I know) and is known as the body of water that hosts the world’s longest bridge of its kind. Ready to ditch the typical “I spy” road trip gaming options of “tree, tree, stick, green highway sign”? How about imagining you are driving through water? Obviously the bridge is not sitting tire-deep! But, if you use your imagination as often as I do, it may totally seem that way. You are driving parallel to opposite traffic and the bridge seems like it is never going to end! That might sound terrible (and a bit scary – Twilight Zone: The Never Ending Bridge!?), but it is actually quite exciting. The Causeway Bridge was approximately 40 miles of anticipation for me. Once you reach the ending point, you can see the skyline of New Orleans getting more and more prominent. It was honestly breathtaking!
Go to Google Maps and use the street view. You won’t regret it.
Warning: Don’t drive on it during a storm. The water levels get extremely high and rocky – it’s not worth the terror, in my opinion!
Finding Marie Laveau’s Tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1
R.I.P. Rest in peace to these old souls who are “buried” in this alluring New Orleans cemetery. Take the term “buried” lightly because they are actually above ground. The walk to the cemetery was what you would think: it was musty, dark, and smelled a bit like the waste from the buggies that pass by. Rows and rows of tombs encompass your eye frame. Entering the iron-gate protected property was like voluntarily entering into a maze. Would you have the courage to venture into it independently? I suggest you and your friends do what we did. Have you ever heard of the famous Marie Laveau? If you haven’t, you absolutely have to look up her history (she is even introduced as a featured character on the popular TV show American Horror Story). Being dubbed the “Voodoo Queen”, you can imagine what she was known for! St. Louis Cemetery #1
Here is what I wrote about finding her tomb in a letter of mine to a pen pal:
Before we left on Sunday, we visited the old cemetery. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but because of the water levels in New Orleans, they had to “bury” their dead above ground. So there are these huge tombs and mausoleums (spelling) that house people’s loved ones. It’s supposed that the famous voodoo queen Marie Laveau was buried there, so Hayley, Manat, and I split up to see if we could find it. The old cemetery was a big maze! I got lost amidst all the tombs, but I was the one to actually find her grave. You tell because it has a bunch of red X’s all over it and tons of “offerings” (which looked more like junk – old gum wrappers, bus passes, some lady even left her license from New Jersey). The story goes, you can go to her grave and ask for a favor, marking 3 x’s. If she grants your request, then you have to go back to the grave, circle your x, and leave an offering of thanks. Frankly, I think those are lies told by tourist guides … but, whatever, people still do it. I still payed my respects.” -Letter from March 9, 2015
Supposed tomb of Marie Laveau
Bourbon Street…I guess
I feel it is unfortunate to say that when a good number of people think of New Orleans, they immediately picture Mardi Gras, boobs, and drunkenness. This is true on many counts on the rambunctious streets of Bourbon. How can it not be with a name like that? My friends and I ventured out both of our nights there. If it were up to me, I would’ve skipped the party and taken a different turn down a jazzier street. But we all went for the experience. I guess I can say I left there “having partied on Bourbon Street”. I don’t know if that is something to be proud of, to be honest.
It’s funny how the atmosphere changes once night life emerges. The street that was once filled with families and street performers turned into a totally different world. Guys holding signs pronouncing their bars have BIG ASS BEERS. Drag queens luring you in to see their burlesque show (we did see a non-drag queen version that night though). A tour group of old people dressed in devil costumes double-fisting grenades. Grenades are the drink to get there. They are in long cps, filled to the brim with alcohol. Once you get to the bottom, you find a little plastic grenade. I got the frozen kind and it was pretty strong. I like partying as much as the next person, but I don’t ever go out to get ridiculously drunk to the point of belligerence. A lot of people did that out there.
As you can read from my letter, I was not a big fan of the whole thing. I am all for having fun, drinking alcohol, dancing, etc – we did all that. But there is a LIMIT. I do not care if you are on vacation, there is no excuse for belligerent behavior. I was honestly over the scene after the first hour. I had been bumped into, hit on, offered drinks one too many times. One guy came up to me and said he “wanted the d”. Uh, what? Okay, dude.
I say, by all means, venture out on Bourbon Street at night. It was, indeed, an experience. But I can’t tell you that I enjoyed it all too much.
Check out my fun run-in in the bathroom:
The Sounds of the Streets
Every turn you made, there was an artist sharing their skills. I highly suggest taking time out of your day to search for streets musicians. Just follow the musical notes…
→WHAT I WISH I HAD DONE
Popped more tags: I wish I had gone into more thrift stores. We only visited two, including one that had a studio setting that carried vintage clothing and jewelry all the way from the 20’s. I want to find more treasures! I spent too much time in the touristy shops 😦
Visited more artsy places: Jackson Square is filled with artists displaying their canvases (and psychic skills) in the morning. But I wish I had looked up museums or some local art galleries! I am sure they were bustling with creativity I missed out on.
Seen the plantations: Even though they have dark histories, I would love to see the statuesque yards and old houses. They make for the best settings for pictures and I regret not making time to go out there. A good option would be Oak Alley Plantation!
Gone on an American Horror Story hunt: Our first stop was actually at the Buckner Mansion, where the fictional “Miss Robicheaux’s Academy” was set in American Horror Story: Coven. It was surprisingly not busy at all! There were maybe 3 other people outside the gates snapping fan pictures. Plus, the neighborhood it is in is beautiful!
I just wish I had gone to other places where they filmed. If you look it up online, you can see all of them!
That’s all for now! Did you enjoy my suggestions? Do you have dreams to visit Louisiana as well? Feel free to ask me anything in the comments.
It is hard to put things into words sometimes, huh? Have you ever experienced something so significant, to the point of awe-inspiring, that you take it upon yourself to share it others… but it just can’t be expressed the way you want it to? I think that is why a lot of blogs fail. They cannot eloquently put into words why they are choosing to write about this topic. I used to read my entries over and wonder, “Why should I post this? Why would anyone else care about this?”. It would boggle my mind why more people weren’t escalating with excitement or asking me more questions. I want to help people understand why I am so happy about this thing so badly.
But I have learned that some things are just a (as the annoying expression goes) “you had to be there” moment. I would rather have a person truly share in my elation than blankly nod their head in a blatant misunderstanding.
I have learned that some instances are meant to resonate with you, and you alone. And that is okay.
I sent a letter to one of my favorite pen pals, Mari, about a trip I took to New Orleans earlier this year. I wrote about every aspect of my visit with a diligent hand. I knew she shared the same curiosity about this famous city that I had once had, so I chose to share all my experiences with her. I included a short copy of a couple pages here, I hope you enjoy:
“Wandering the streets by myself and at my own pace was surreal. I took in everything and appreciated the opportunity to even be in such a cool place. I had an attraction to the stoops in NOLA. For some reason they beckoned me saying, “Tiffany! Come sit down on me!”. So I obliged. There was this one building – I don’t know if it was a restaurant or hotel, but it was so big and had tiers of balconies on it. There were a lot of plants and garden statues to veer at. I decided to sit down on a stoop across the street and enjoy the view. As I sat down, I noticed how quickly people were walking by. But, amidst the crowd, they’d be others in a restaurant uniform or a man carrying a saxophone case that had a bit of a slower pace to their walk. That’s when I noticed that the people rushing by were the tourists. I got odd looks from them as they walked past me. But I didn’t care, I was too busy enjoying the building in my gaze. Next to the garden statue of a fat cherub shooting an arrow, a bubble machine started spewing out tiny bubbles. How fun! As I enjoyed the floating, there was a loud slam from a door on the 2nd balcony. It was 4 guys, clearly drunk, and they stumbled over to the side of the balcony and started yelling at passerbys. They used beads as way to grab peoples attention, as if their incessant yelling wasn’t enough. I took that as my cue to leave. My favorite moment ruined by some drunk guys. Go figure.”
The question people ask me when they first find out I pen pal is “…wait, so how do you meet these people?” I joke around and say through a prison pen pal match up site (which, I am sure, is a real thing). After the look of shock and worry strain their faces for a minimum of ten seconds, I break the news that it is a simpler, more boring answer.
It involves hashtags and Instagram.
Can you get more 21st century than that?!
Jokes aside, it works. It is as easy as looking up hashtags, scouring all the results, and “creeping” on their Instagram seeing whether they’d be a good match. I find myself attracted to those who showcase each letter they write individually. The creativity some of these ladies (and few men) display is so inspiring! They can take a plain, white envelope and turn it into a masterpiece. You would be surprised to see that there is a whole community out there! This community is filled with sweet, like-hearted souls who just want to reach out and learn more about other people and parts of the world. They even have their resident “popular” crowd! Women who have made their Instagram into almost an art museum. They showcase each and every one of their letters, both incoming and outcoming, for the world to enjoy.
When I first started, to get some traffic and interest going, I even went as far as making an advertisement for myself and tagging the picture with some hotspot tags. Here is my first one. Laugh all you want, but it got some good responses.
topshelfmischief penpal advertisement
It says this was posted about 42 weeks ago. What a journey it has been since then! I have made 15+ new friends and exchanged probably over 50 letters. Each one differently decorated; adorned with various return addresses and styles of creativity. My favorites are the ones that have a slew of international stamps stuck to the top right corner. Other countries have such beautiful, original stamps! I feel a little disappointed sending off some of my international letters; it’s either a round stamp with the global sea temperatures on it, or simply a boring white sticker with the price of postage. What a disgrace! How boring!
SOME TIPS FOR YOUR PENPAL ADVERTISEMENT:
Bring back the early 2000’s with a/s/l (age, sex, location)
State who you’d like to write with: just females? What age range? (There are kids as young as 12 starting!) Do you want international pen pals? Or do you want to stay within your own territory?
Make sure your Instagram is not on private. These people are going to want to check out your page and see what you’re up to! Do you have any #outgoing letters? What is your style like? If you are like me, you probably don’t want randoms looking at your personal Instagram/photos. That is exactly why I made a totally separate one just for my pen pal business!
WHAT HASHTAGS SHOULD YOU USE?:
Comment below with your pen pal instagrams! I would love to see your endeavors. Also, post any questions you might have about the pen pal-ing process. I would be happy to answer any!