Sunday, November 18, 2018

What to Do in New Orleans: A Travel Guide

Earlier this month, James and I spent a long weekend in New Orleans, James’ favorite city in the U.S. We ate delicious food every day, slept in, explored the different neighborhoods and—of course—partied (aka having two drinks for me, haha). A friend who used to live in New Orleans said she loved the city because "the people see everything as an excuse to have a party." And it was so true! Everyone, even parents with little kids, is down to have a good time late into the night. Being able to walk around town with boozy drinks amidst historic buildings, festive balconies, sweeping front porches and giant hanging ferns around every corner makes the city feel like an adult Disneyland. (It's easy to see, too, how New Orleans inspired Walt Disney so.)

Heading there soon? Here’s a list of what to do in New Orleans.

Where to Eat in New Orleans 


Seaworthy


A hip seafood restaurant, Seaworthy has just the right amount of nautical kitsch and a half-off-oysters happy hour from 4-6 on weekdays to make it a great date spot. We sat in one of their green leather booths and ate a dozen gulf oysters, which are said to be more buttery and less briny than their east coast counterparts. And even though we got a variety of different kinds, they all tasted the same to me: slurpy, salty and delicious. For our main, we shared the shrimp and crab roll served on a perfectly toasted bun. They also have a beautiful outdoor patio, which would be good for groups.

Mahony’s

Mahony's was the first place we ate at after getting off the plane, selected mostly for its convenient location on Magazine Street around the corner from where we were staying, and we’re glad we did. The shrimp and grits came with a tomato/onion jam-thing (amazing) and the shrimp in the po’ boy was plentiful and wonderfully spiced. Mahony’s is comfort food at its best with a casual, homey atmosphere to match.

Cafe Du Monde

The best beignets in the city are a hot debate. People seem equally divided between Morning Call and the infamous Cafe Du Monde. Even though Morning Call has better beignets (yes, I said it, ha!), you have to go to Cafe Du Monde at least once. It’s a beignet institution. Compared to Morning Call, Cafe Du Monde’s beignets have a fluffier, yet somehow denser texture and the batter is a bit bland. However, Cafe Du Monde wins for fast, speedy service and a calm outdoor patio. I also liked that they powder your donuts for you, whereas Morning Call serves their beignets naked so you can sprinkle on as much or as little powdered sugar as you want.

Morning Call 


After trying both places, James and I prefer Morning Call beignets for their texture (thinner and with a crunchier exterior) and taste (lightly sweetened batter). Morning Call’s location in the park, full of moss-covered trees, also can’t be beat. Tip: Word has it that Cafe Du Monde plans to eventually take over the Morning Call lease when it’s up, so eat them while you can!

Mr. B’s Bistro



I was in New Orleans for all of three hours before learning all about Mr. B’s BBQ shrimp. A woman I met at dinner told me it’s her signature dish to make to impress her friends. She even gave me the recipe (with the modifications, of course, to halve the pepper and consider using large shrimp vs. jumbo). Since we were in the French Quarter, we dropped by Mr. B's Bistro for lunch, and I got the infamous shrimp. Not quite what it sounds like, the dish comes with shell-on shrimp served in a bowl of rich, velvety sauce. The bib comes in handy :)

Commander’s Palace



Home of the three-martini lunch, Commander’s Palace has a ladies-who-lunch kind of vibe with a unique edge. Because while there's an enforced dress code and they change your water glass out halfway through your meal, they also serve $0.25 martinis to keep it real. You can have up to three per person! James got the grilled fish of the day (perfectly cooked) and I got the BBQ shrimp (my new favorite dish) over a bed of grits.

Tailgate party


If the Saints are playing, go to a tailgate party downtown. If you aren’t invited to one, be brave and try to befriend some nice people because tailgating in New Orleans is an experience. The city turns into one big party, where the food is just as important as the booze. Our friend showed up at 7 a.m. to set up a spit so he could roast an entire goat! It took 6-7 hours to roast and when it was done he chopped up the meat and made tacos with all the fixings for everyone. Unreal. And to think that I usually just bring bean dip.

What to Do in New Orleans


Ride the Algiers Ferry ⛴ 


From the French Quarter, hop on the Algiers Ferry for a short ride across The Mississippi to Algiers Point, New Orleans second oldest neighborhood. The ride’s worth it just to say you’ve been on The Mississippi, but sleepy Algiers Point has a couple of bars, shops and restaurants, too. Congregation is a cute coffee shop if you’re in need of a refreshment (or bathroom). Tip: the ferry is $2 each way; cash only; exact fare. There’s a change machine by the vending machines if you need it.

Look up at the trees







































It’s a bird, it’s a plane... it’s beads everywhere. Along parade routes like Saint Charles Avenue, the tops of trees are still decorated with beads from past festivities. It’s a fun way to experience the spirit of the infamous parades even when it’s not Mardi Gras. (Saint Charles is also a great place to jump on the old-school streetcar for a fun ride.)

Go to a house party


The main reason we were in New Orleans was for a friend's wedding. “I just wanted to have a big house party,” the groom told me. The bride walked in accompanied by a live brass band, the couple said their vows on their front steps, and all the neighbors came. Afterwards, we ate gumbo and meatballs under twinkle lights and danced in their backyard.

Check out a cemetery


It's a thing. We went to one near where we were staying called Lafayette Cemetery, but they’re all over the city. They’re beautiful and old and make for an interesting afternoon.

Stroll the Garden District


Known for its beautiful homes, the Garden District is a pretty place to walk around and admire New Orleans architecture. I loved seeing all the porches with rocking chairs (and was surprised to see people actually enjoying them).

Listen to live music on Frenchmen Street


Frenchmen Street is like Bourbon Street but without the strip clubs and drinks named after military-grade weapons (hand grenades) and natural disasters (hurricanes) and with more live music. There's also Palace Market, a cute night market where you can shop for handmade gifts.

Visit Pat O'Brien's on Bourbon Street


Most bars on Bourbon, peddling Hand Grenades and scantily clad dancers, seem kinda seedy, but Pat O'Brien's has its own charm. Their big outdoor patio with purple up-lit trees make you feel like you’re in the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. And they have a dueling piano bar and Hurricane concoctions because that's what you do in New Orleans.

Bar hop on Magazine Street


More relaxed than the Bourbon or Frenchmen Street scene, Magazine is where the locals go to drink. And if you're over here, you can also grab a bite at Mahony's.

Relax at the Ace


Grab a latte at the adjacent Stumptown or get a drink at the bar, find a spot to sit in the well-appointed lobby and chill out. If you want to people watch, don’t forget to grab a bag of freshly made pop corn from the machine in the front.

Shop at Freda


A beautifully curated women’s boutique with clothes, jewelry, cards and knick knacks from brands like Ace & Jig, Caron Callahan and Samantha Pleet. Tip: For dudes, check out the equally beautiful (and equally expensive) shop a few doors down called Friend.

Want more travel inspiration?
Check out all my travel guides, including things to do in Mexico City and an inside look into living in Mexico City.


(Second image via Mahony's Instagram, third image via neworleansonline.com, fourth image via Food Network, all others taken by me)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

My "Where-Did-You-Get-Those-Pants?" Pants


The other day, I was walking down the street, when someone started following me. The footsteps got closer and closer, the sound of them getting faster and faster until they matched my own. As I tightened the grip on my bag, I braced myself. I would swing my bag at their head. I would kick them. I would run away. The possibilities flew through my head. And then, before I could do any of these things, they were right there in front of me. A little lady in her late sixties. "Excuse me, but I've been following behind you, and I just had to ask, where did you get your pants?" she asked, pulling a pen and pad of paper out from her purse.

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. They were, after all, the pants. The pants that everybody asks about when I wear them to work or to get a cup of coffee. (The little lady on the street was my favorite inquirer :)

High-waisted, wide-legged and cropped, they're the perfect Jesse Kamm knock-offsand at a fifth of the price. And now these high-waist, wide-leg pants are on sale for $40!


Styling suggestions:
  • Pair with a white-tee tucked in or knotted at the front
  • Top with a leather jacket
  • Complete with mule flats or white sneakers
(Top image via Jesse Kamm, bottom image via ShopBop/Amazon)


Monday, October 15, 2018

3 Dainty Necklaces

For a long time, my jewelry of choice were tiny little rings. Then one day over the summer, while waiting for a table at Duck and Waffle, I noticed the hostess wearing two layered necklaces. So delicate, you almost missed them. I liked that. Just a little something for yourself, something pretty to catch sight of when you look in the mirror or to run between your fingers when you're deep in thought. Here are my three current favorites.

1. The Dashed Collar 


My desk mate Steph shared the brand Automic Gold with me. Their tagline "Yes, wear it in a pool. Yes, wear it to sleep" answers every question I ever had about buying gold jewelry off the internet. Plus, I love the alternating beads and dashes. Like repeating morse code.

2. A Beaded Satellite Chain


I never thought about wearing chains on their own, but lately I've been wearing this beaded satellite necklace everywhere. I have it in the rose gold and love that it never gets in the way and I never have to take it off. 


3. A Mini Healing Quartz Pouch


My co-worker Kat came back from her trip to Greece with this VK Lillie necklace (except hers is tan leather), and every time she wears it, I can't help but stare. This last time she wore it, I stared so much, she opened it up to show me the mini quartz stone it held inside. How magical! 

Which is your favorite? Do you have any other jewelry brands I need in my life? 



(Second image by Gldn; third image by Pamono)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Living in Mexico City: A Travel Guide


One of the best things about our recent trip to the CDMX was seeing my cousin Melany, who gave us an inside peek into living in Mexico City. With her red locks and fair skin and my black hair and year-round tan, we look nothing alike. She's a quarter Cambodian (her mom and my mom are cousins), three-quarters French, and fluent in French, Quebecois, Spanish and English. Driving around in Melany's dusty red Volkswagen (she'd just returned from a monthlong trip exploring the jungles of Costa Rica) and hanging out with her Mexican friends, we got the real local experience. Here are some of the things I learned, including the one thing you must bring to a dinner party (surprisingly, not flowers!).


On moving to Mexico City: Melany came to Mexico City for six months to learn the language. She arrived with nothing – no job, no work visa, no apartment and no friends but fell in love with the people and ended up staying. That was 10 years ago. She says it takes time to make your way, just like it would anyone starting in a new country, but if you work hard, you can have a really nice lifestyle.



On what to bring to a dinner party: Melany took us to her friend's birthday party, where I was surprised to see jello (also in the shape of a cake) sitting next to the birthday cake. At birthday parties, you always have both. And if you're invited to a dinner party, it's better to bring jello than flowers!

On being tardy: Speaking of the birthday party, James and I had late lunch plans, so I wasn't sure if we'd be able to make it. We didn't arrive until two hours after the party had started, which, I learned, was totally okay, because, as Melany put it, "It's Mexico." Talk about my spirit-city.

On PDA: One night, we sat in a crowded cafe, drinking hot chocolate and eating churros. We sat across from a couple who were so zoned in to each other, I had to look away. Not because they were doing anything inappropriate, but because it felt like I was intruding on something so intimate. Couples like that were hanging out all over the city!


On candy: Candy is everywhere and everyone eats it. Melany says she'll be in meetings with multiple co-workers sucking on lollipops.



On driving: Melany says you can't drive slow or else you might cause an accident. But traffic can also be really bad (it was bumper-to-bumper when we landed at 5:30 a.m.) so people either drive really fast or really slow. Left turns were funny: a single left-turn lane might spontaneously turn into three. But the best part of driving in Mexico City is everyone's calm and collected demeanors. Sometimes, Melany would just stop in the middle of the road, throw on her hazards, and show us a historical monument or point out a cool building. The faces of the drivers passing us would be like "la di da, just another day in the neighborhood."


On Sundays: Over 20 million people live in the city, so there's always someone around or something going on at all hours. But the city really comes alive on Sundays. Families, couples and vendors (see street hustle) hang out in the city's many parks and public spaces. Huge parts of the city feel like one big party.



What $1500/month (USD) gets you for living in Mexico City:
  • An apartment - Average rent is $700
  • A well-stocked kitchen - Food costs about $200 per month
  • A cleaning person 1x per week
  • Dinner at nice restaurants 1-2x per week
  • A weekend getaway once a month
  • A gym membership
(Side note: If you want to buy a place, a 3 bed/2 bath condo with a pool, gym and outdoor space starts at $120,000 USD, just 20 minutes from the upscale Polanco neighborhood.)


On street hustle: Melany says that if anyone goes hungry in Mexico City, it's because they want to. Street hustle is everywhere! Here are some of the hustles we saw:
  • Shoe shining – No shoe-shine stand? No cleaning cloths? Non-leather shoes? No problem! A man walking by offered to clean James' sneakers even though he didn't have any supplies with him. He just pointed at James' feet, asked politely but directly, and then went on his way. 
  • Selling everything – People sell fresh-cut fruit, lollipops, balloons – even masks! – in the park, outside popular brunch spots or in stopped traffic.
  • Parking guardians – I just made that name up for the people who charge you a small fee for "guarding" your parked car on the street in a popular neighborhood. The hustle is real. 


Income by profession: Just in case you're curious (I always am!), here's how much different professions typically make each month (USD).

Construction worker
$90
Restaurant server
$150 + tips
Entry-level associate
$500
Manager at a multi-national co.
$3500






Thanks for showing us what it's like living in Mexico City, Melany!

Planning a trip? Check out all my travel guides, including things to do in Mexico City.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Things To Do in Mexico City: A Travel Guide


This past Christmas, my boyfriend James surprised me with a trip to Mexico City (aka Ciudad de Mexico, or CDMX for short), a vibrant, intoxicating and romantic place. We spent 3.5 days there last week, and I came back home buzzing with energy. With a population of over 20 million, it's no wonder the city is so lively. My absolute favorite thing to do in any new place is to walk around and explore, but here's a specific list of fun things to do in Mexico City.

Teotihuacan - Pyramids in Mexico


Just 30 miles from Mexico City (and a 45-minute bus ride away), this ancient Mayan city is home to breathtaking pyramids and ruins. Even to this day, the origins of Teotihuacan remain a mystery. It didn't cost very much to get in (the equivalent of a couple U.S. dollars per person), and was definitely a trip highlight. While you could spend an entire day exploring, four hours is a good chunk of time to see all the main parts. 


The first thing we noticed when we got to the base of the pyramids was just how huge they are. Seriously, huge!


At the top of the Temple of the Sun (the one pyramid you can climb all the way up) people were taking in the views, cuddling (which was cute), sunbathing and even sitting cross-legged meditating.


There were rubber rope railings you could hold onto, which was handy for coming back down the steepest bits.


Next we climbed the Temple of the Moon. Even though you're only allowed to go halfway up, the views from this pyramid were even better!

La Gruta



We left the site (save your ticket and you can come back in later) and headed to lunch at La Gruta, a nearby restaurant in a cave (!) (Tip: To find the restaurant, exit via Puerta 5 and head left, then take a quick right where you’ll see signs pointing you down the long driveway to the restaurant.) The food was just okay, but the tamarind margarita and cave were definitely worth the visit.


Shopping



Utilitario Mexicano: Bon Appetit called this housewares shop the "Muji of Mexico" and our hip hotel concierge described it as "everyday Mexican things, but cool." Everything – from the store design to the blankets, baskets and ceramics  is beautifully minimal. James bought a wool blanket and peltre, the white enamel mugs and bowls with blue rims that were used in our hotel. 


Barrio Alameda: We happened upon this set of shops when we were looking for the now-closed-Centro-location of Utilitario Mexicano. The space is fun and design-y with tons of plants, bars, restaurants and quirky boutiques. 


Expendio Durango: Although it's a small space primarily serving coffee/sandwiches/pastries, Expendio Durango also has cute home and kitchen goods for sale, like salts, honey and pretty wooden vessels. Worth popping in if you're having lunch next door at Contramar. 

Public parks



Even though Mexico City is a bustling metropolitan area, there are lush green parks everywhere. On Sundays, the whole city hangs out in them. It's really fun to just hang out, walk around, drink a coffee and people watch. Chapultepec is the main park, rivaling the likes of Central Park, complete with a castle, a zoo and a few museums. Above is one of the parks in Polanquito, a three-by-three-block area with cute cafes and restaurants, and a Polanquito street. 

Farmers markets




Farmers markets in Mexico City are fun because you can walk by all the food stalls and see what's cooking and buy handmade treats and souvenirs. We went to the Mercado Parque Lincoln, which happens every Saturday in Polanquito.



Local's tip: Pick busy food stalls with lots of customers coming and going for the freshest food. 

Museums



Frida Kahlo Museum: We didn't get a chance to go to the Blue House, but would love to check it out on another trip. Lines are long, so buy your tickets in advance! 


Casa Luis Barragan: I wanted to see the home of Luis Barragan, an influential Mexican architect who's known for his use of bright colors in modern architecture, but we didn't make it. Next time! Note: Reservations are required for admission. 

There are so many things to do in Mexico City that my cousin who lives there tells people they need at least two weeks to see everything. But even if you just have a couple of days like we did, I hope you enjoy it!

Planning a trip soon? Check out my Mexico City travel guides for more tips on where to stay and eat. Plus, get an inside peek into what it's like living in Mexico City from my cousin Melany who's lived there for the past 10 years.

(Expendio Durango photo via their Twitter; Frida Kahlo Museum picture via CDMXtravel.com; Casa Luis Barragan picture via casaluisbarragan.org; all other photos by me or James) 
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