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It’s been a while readers. But I come bearing a few great tips for your next trip to NOLA or New Orleans. I’m no native of New Orleans, but thanks to the insider tips supplied by my friend Caroline, a recent bachelorette trip to New Orleans was pretty awesome. New Orleans is really one of those cities that stays in your mind and heart for a long time after you leave.

Whether its the food, music, or general joyful feeling of the city and its people, I am a huge fan of you NOLA. For those seeking a respite from gloomy NYC, New Orleans really is the perfect weekend getaway. So here a few of my favorites, (props to Caroline:)

  • Wake up – head down to the Cathedral area of New Orleans along the Mississippi.  Watch the street performers and random bands. Definitely stand in line and get beignets at Cafe Du Monde (the historical cafe in the center of town), as well as the iced chickory coffee.
  • Wander over to Royal street for antique shopping and vintage clothes. If you’re in the mood head over to Bourbon on Sat afternoon before the crowds get out of control when the music is blaring and the crowd is just plain fun.
  • Get a reservation at Cochon before you go. It is quite possibly one of the best meals I’ve had in a while and it’s not yuppie or expensive, it’s just damn good New Orleans food. Vegetarians – try the sides and let the chef know you’re vegetarian. The chef will prepare whatever comes to mind for the vegetarians at the table.  On the day I went – it was vegetarian croquettes filled with spinach and cheese. On the day my husband went – it was unbelievable pappardelle with cauliflower and broccoli. Anyways dont take our word for it – Sam Sifton from the NYTIMES rated it as one of the best meals of 2010.
  • After a night of debauchery, head to Mothers for breakfast. No reservations, join the line for great pancakes, biscuits, blood marys and the works.
  • On your last night out on the town – head to Frenchmen’s Street for incredible jazz music. I’ve never been to a city that compares to NOLA in the variety of live music venues …and the best part is there is no cover. I can only imagine what the city is like during jazz fest..
  • Check out Vaughan’s Lounge – for awesome live jazz in a dive bar in the middle of a random neighborhood.

ENJOY!!

Hello Readers, it’s been a while! In this post I wanted to share some of the highlights of my Paris/Burgundy trip with you all.  My husband and I recently returned from Paris and a side trip to wine country in Burgundy (to be posted soon). September is an awesome time to visit Paris – the Parisians have returned from their summer vacations, the city is gorgeous, and the weather is crisp.

There are plenty of guidebooks and blogs with Parisian tips and itinerary planning. So I won’t go into detail about what you should do on your trip, but I will offer a few insider tips that I received courtesey of a work colleague who used to live in Paris.

  1. Buy a Museum Pass as soon as you get to Paris. There are Kiosks everywhere, we bought ours at the Notre Dame. It’s worth the value to get the 2 day pass and hit up the Louvre, Orsay and Versailles. You’ll definetly end up saving 20 bucks.
  2. Visit the Louvre. But don’t go in through the Pyramid with all the Tourists, use the “secret entrance” instead at theat the Porte des Lions, on the lower arm of the Museum as it reaches around the Tuileries. There is rarely a line there. This door is open every day except Friday. That entrance also takes you very quickly to the Mona Lisa (“La Jaconde”) without having to go through the whole museum. I love the Grande Galerie because it has Raphael, Leonardo, and Caravaggio.  Afterward sit outside on the lawn with all the cool other Parisians enjoying the day.
  3. Hit up Angelina’s for fortitude before or after the Louvre. It’s on the Rue de Rivoli, just opposite the Tuileries metro station and a block and a half to the west. Make sure you order the “chocolat chaud.” It’s world-famous and utterly divine. The pain au chocolat is to do die for…..
  4. Paris is one of the world’s easiest cities to bike in, there are bike lanes everywhere. Rent a bike or a Velib (the drop off – drop on bike system) and go for jaunt. We rode our bikes all the way up to Sacre-Coeur, which is a gorgeous cathedral known for its stain glass windows on top of a hill overlooking all of Paris. Renting a bike on certain days of a week can be tricky so plan ahead if you’re not using the Velib. The Velib can be hard to use for American tourists because it doesnt seem to accept US credit cards.
  5. Buy the Paris Metro Passes in 10 packs, it’ll save you a bundle.
  6. And lastly if you have time do go to the Opera. We bought our tickets last minute in the stand by lane for 10 euros each. It is an experience you won’t forget. If you are seating in the upper echelons, you will have your own chambers..

Readers, I’m really excited to post the following itinerary from a trip that my friends recently took to Sri Lanka. I seriously want to pack my bags and leave stat.  Their itinerary highlights the local people, culture and most importantly the food! Coming soon…I’ll be blogging about my trip to Paris and Burgundy, from a vegetarian’s point of view:)

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Sri Lanka (July, 2010)

Sri Lanka was a place for all of our senses – it is the most untouched country we have visited – not yet hit by tourism and all of the changes that come from being fully globalized, but yet devastated from the 2005 Tsunami and parts of the country only recently being opened up after the civil war involving Tamil rebel groups. As a result, there were a lack of tourist resources (cars, hotels, buses, trains, etc) that made our trip really special, but a little more expensive than anticipated.

In checking around for ticket prices, it ended up being cheaper for us to fly into India first and then nest in a trip to Sri Lanka (although we did get held up with some additional paperwork at Indian immigration on the return because of the new law which bars tourist re-entry within two months). We landed in Colombo and began our search for where we were headed, how we would get there, and where we would stay. The most common method of travel for tourists who want to see the whole country, and not waste a lot of time, is by private car (other methods of transport are infrequent and/or non-existent), which we negotiated at the airport – but this comes with a heavy price. We spent half of our entire trip budget on a car, but in the end it was worth it because we were able to see parts of the country very seldom traveled.

Our first stop was the famous beach town, Hikkaduwa, along the southwest coast of the country – the area is known for incredible scuba diving and a really great beaches. Unfortunately, however, we came during the wrong season for scuba diving – during this time of year, the coast experiences the most incredible, awesome, angry sounding 10-foot waves. We picked a random (keyword: Available) spot right over the water, kept our windows open, and slept with the breeze and thes sound of the waves surrounding us. Our first meal was at a no-name spot right across the popular Moon Beam hotel/restaurant. Sri Lanka is known for their rice and curry, and this meal was the most fantastic, tasty dish we could have imagined having. I seriously stuffed myself beyond belief and only regret not eating more. After a few days, we headed north to the beautiful and massive tea/hill station, Nuwara Eliya, stopping along the road in Kalutara to pick up and devour my favorite fruit – mangosteen. The beautiful rolling hills of tea leaves that stretch for miles are a must see – I have never seen a green quite like this. We also stayed at the first available spot we could find – fortunately it was on top of the hills and we had an incredible view of our surroundings (The Rising Lion). Our only memorable meal (although not quite as good as the rice and curry our first night) was fresh idli and string hoppers at the “Vegetarian Restaurant” adjacent to the De Silva Food Centre.

Next stop was Sigiriya, to climb the humongous rock/castle. We stayed at the only available spot we could find, The Grand Tourist Holiday Resort, which turned out to be a great deal – it felt like we had been transported to the middle of a campsite and awoke to find all kinds of furry critters amongst us. Only complaint was that you’re so far away from any restaurants or shopping that your meals are at the restaurant – it was nothing to write home about. The climb up Sigirya rock was the most memorable – I’m not sure if it was the structure of the rock, the time of day, or the month of year – but we experienced the most powerful wind that cooled us on the climb up and were so strong that you just had to stand and enjoy it blowing around you.

We quickly moved on to Trincomalee, in the northeast region of the country, and an area that was only recently opened up for visitors. There were small military bases every 100 feet or so – we didn’t get stopped but we also made it a point to drive only when it was light out.  We spent the next few days on the untouched beaches just north of Trincomalee, Uppuveli and Niraveli, scuba diving, snorkeling, walking along the coast, and reading. Absolute bliss. Scuba diving is far less expensive in Sri Lanka than other countries we have traveled – although there is not a lot of technical diving in this part of the country, we did see some incredible marine life (reef shark, humongous turtle, lion fish) and soaked up the heat of the Sri Lankan sun. Hotels were hard to come by and very expensive due to the lack of resources – our food options were limited to what the hotels served, which was a big disappointment, because most hotels prefer to serve a tourist version of Sri Lankan food rather which is tasteless and uninspiring.

It was hard to move away from Trincomalee, but we made our last stop at Anuradhapura to get a glimpse of the country’s rich history. The only saving grace was that we stayed at the Boa Vista guest house, and met Shani (shanidacunha@live.com), a really cool Sri Lankan woman who runs the guest house and was kind enough to entertain our insistence on having a real Sri Lankan dinner, even though we arrived at the guest house after the kitchen was basically closed. Well, the wait was so worth it – we had an incredible feast of 5 different vegetables, dhal, rice, curry and were finally sated. It was also a perfect ending to our trip because Shani represented all that we had experienced from Sri Lankans during our trip – they were the most gentle and humble people and made our trip (the food helped, too).

 

Many of my postings on this blog are about the beautiful Hudson Valley. Although I’m a Jersey girl at heart, during my senior year of college my parents moved up to the Catskills. My new adopted hometown is one of the most gorgeous areas in the Northeast, seriously. Instead of the beach, head up to Sleepy Hollow NY to visit Kykuit, the grand mansion or “house” built by John D. Rockefeller.

Highlights of the Property:

  • Guided tour with a knowledgeable guide. Your ticket, albeit expensive, includes the tour.
  • Gorgeous property and gardens- reminscent of The Great Gatsby and an era gone-by
  • The “playhouse” – aka where the Rockefellers still vacation is ridiculous
  • Tons of modern art scattered throughtout the property and in the gallery of the house – including Picassos.
  • The stable carriage featuring fancy carriages and the classic cars they drove, including the Model T

Views of the Hudson from the Estate

How to get here?

Take the MetroNorth train from Grand Central to Tarrytown or Sleepy Hollow. Cab to the visitor center. Purchase your ticket to the estate at the info center or if you’re going on a weekend, purchase ahead online because it does sell out.

Modern art on the estate

Modern art on the property

Today’s post comes from two of my awesome friends (Arpan and Jill) who recently returned from Istanbul in Turkey.

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Saturday
We didn’t manage to make it to the Asian side or make it to any clubs on our 4 day trip.  We were able to stay where you could eat breakfast on a rooftop terrace, hear the prayer calls, wander cobbled stone streets, walk to street side cafes, easily reach historical sites, and ride the tram to the more distant parts.  And if you still needed more, the staff of the Agora Guesthouse and Hostel would surely help you find what you’re looking for.
Reaching on a Saturday early evening, we walked through the old city and ate at Doy Doy. If you walk up five floors, you will be rewarded with a view of the Blue Mosque and really great kepaps and Turkish coffee.
Sunday
Our favorite site was the Basilica Cistern, or Yerebetan Sarayi, which is a nondescript and misleading structure at ground level a few hundred meters from the Aya Sofya.  Water was brought from more than 15 km away to this underground palace filled with columns for storage and distribution.
It’s no surprise that people sing their praises of the Aya Sofya, which was begun as a church, then became a mosque and is finally now a museum.  The Aya Sofya is truly stunning and well worth the visit. There aren’t many signs or information to read inside so best to bring a book with some history or hire a good guide. The Aya Sofya is closed on Monday.
An evening tram to  Beyoglu for some exploration by foot in a nice side trip. We wandered up and down the main drag, ate at Konak and ended the night with a drink at 360.  Amazing views, absurd prices, difficult to find.
Monday
Topkapi Palace. It’s a place for the detail oriented. While the palace buildings are beautiful and the views are fantastic, the best part are the relics and artifacts within the palace walls. One area contains some of the most sacred relics of the Muslim world including the cloak of prophet Muhammad along with his bow and two swords. In addition, you can see jewel encrusted daggers, and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.  Do take the audio tour.
Despite it being a tourist trap, Hamdi is worth a trip for lunch or dinner.  Around the corner, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are fun and easy.  Where else could you buy Turkish soccer club team jerseys, from an Albanian, who speaks Spanish?

Spices at the market

As the sun fell, we headed to Eminonu and took a 90-minute tourist ferry around the Bosphorus.  We ate right by the water afterwards.  A fish sandwich, desert and drink, all for a few liras.

The combination of soccer (my childhood sport of choice and the only sport besides cricket that my dad likes) + South Africa = Awesome. So in anticipation of the World Cup festivities, I plan on blogging for the next few weeks about this lovely country and its people.

About nine years ago, I studied abroad in Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. I’ll talk more about Pietermaritzburg one day, but for now I want to start off with one of my all time favorite places to visit in South Africa, the Drakensberg Mountains. The Drakensberg Mountains are dramatic and majestic mountains that are about four hours away from Johannesburg. It has been recognized as a World Heritage site and reportedly is the place that inspired J.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings.

Nowadays I’m sure you can find a pricey tour guide to lead you up there and another operator to put you on some fancy cable swing, but when I went out there with my fellow study abroad friends, we drove up to the mountains with a local student who led us on an amazing hike through the mountains. We ended up camping outside under a ledge high up in the mountains and waking up to the sounds of monkeys playing in the morning. The next morning we hiked down and stopped along the way to stare at the Bushmen carvings in the rocks.

To this day I have never forgotten what the sky looked like when the stars emerged and the Milky Way shone. (cheesy but true). I had never seen the Milky Way before traveling to South Africa and I actually thought it was a myth, but apparently the Southern Hemisphere is the one of the best places to view the Milky Way. Combine that with the lack of pollution or light pollution = spectacular star gazing.

So in planning your trip to South Africa, hit up the natural spots like Cape Town and Kruger, but be sure to also include a day of hiking at the Drakensberg Mountains.

For more info:

http://www.tribes.co.uk/regions/mountains/drakensberg_mountains

Have you ever wondered what all the fuss about Turks & Caicos is? Well see below….This post comes from my newly married friend Elizabeth who just returned from her relaxing honeymoon in Turks & Caicos….Thanks Elizabeth!

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We flew out of Laguardia Sunday morning and arrived in Turks & Caicos about three hours later.

We picked up a rental car at Hertz, paying in USD for a British-wheeled car.  (TCI is a British territory, so the road rules are British, but the American dollar is its currency).  We drove without a hitch to our hotel, the Windsong, in Provo (maybe 15 minutes from the airport).  The resort is smaller than the TCI mainstays (Gansevoort, Club Med, Beaches) but has wonderful grounds and pool and direct beach access.  The restaurant, JoJo’s Cafe, is nothing to write home about, but it does make the drinks that are brought to you pool- or ocean-side.

The first room we booked into was part of a set of two rooms that shared a common locked entrance that could be adapted for a family with children.  Unfortunately, that meant the bed we got was not a king mattress but instead two smaller mattresses put together.  The crack in the middle was not ideal for the first night of nuptial bliss, so we’d recommend specifically requesting a king mattress before you arrive.  We requested a move, and after a couple of follow-ups were moved to a room with a solid mattress, where we stayed happily the remainder of the week.

The rooms have mini-kitchens with a microwave and a refrigerator, so we went grocery shopping on the first day to stock up.

We spent the rest of the week reading on the beach and by the pool and trying the various restaurants around.  The staff set up the beach chairs and umbrellas every morning and remove them in the evening, so all we had to do was roll out of bed and walk a few steps and lie back down.  *Bliss*.  White sands, turquoise and clear waters, coral reefs to scuba right in front of the hotel (although they are still recovering and serious scuba enthusiasts will prefer a boat trip out to more healthy reefs).  Our hotel was happily rather sleepy, with a few young couples, a couple of older couples and a couple of families.  We brought some dressier clothes just in case but didn’t need them, even for the nicest dinners.

The Somewhere Cafe next door was a favorite, as was Horseye Jack’s (which requires a car).  [Hole in the Wall was also good; the pizza place was fine but outdoors and buggy.  The Saltmills Cafe & Diner was pleasant.]  The French bakery was good but a little disappointing (selling a key lime tart that tasted more like lemon merengue), despite the obvious French-ness of its baker.  Despite being surrounded by water, it seemed that the only local fish in Provo was grouper and (during the season which starts late summer) lobster.  The Gansevoort (a ten minute walk up the beach from Windsong) served good breakfast and the late night scene felt like the Meatpacking District transported to the beach.

We took a day trip to Middle and North Caicos – walked around one of the old abandoned sugar plantations, took a look at the artisan’s coop and attached cafe, and were impressed by the contrast of the rural feel compared to Provo, but were overall somewhat disappointed with the excursion.  The ferry ride may have been the best part.  Perhaps it would have been better had we hired a guide?

All in all, wholeheartedly recommended as a place to lie by the beach or pool with a book for a long weekend, up to a week.  Beautiful and peaceful.  Do bring your suntan lotion and your bug spray if you are going during bug season.

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editor’s note

for some more info check out http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/pf/0703/gallery.honeymoon_hotspots.moneymag/2.html