Posts in Travel Guide
DNO journal- Moonlight on the Manchac Swamp

My first entry for DNO's journal had to be something close to home and to heart. Check out my paddle experience with Canoe and Trail and some pretty neat photos taken with my Holga on 120mm film over on the DNO site.

Below are some more pics from that evening...

A Perfect Sunday in New Orleans

Well I must admit that weather plays a huge role in how perfect a day can be in this swampy part of the world and yesterday could not have been more perfect! A high in the mid 60s with full sunshine and a mild breeze. I usually start my Sundays off with a romp in the park with my dog, Edie and my husband. After first stopping for gelato at the famous Angelo Brocato's in mid-city (I'm partial to pistachio nut) we opted for the disc golf course at City Park. This is a great place to walk around and explore a more remote part of the park. There are some great graffiti artists that have transformed abandoned peristyles and park shelters into works of art that are hidden amongst the backdrop of oaks covered in moss and tropical palms trees.

After watching Edie jump over logs and swim with the ducks and pelicans we decided to hit up Magazine St. to do some shopping. Thankfully a few of my favorite shops in New Orleans are clustered together on lower Magazine, one of which I just discovered yesterday.

Sunday Shop

Sunday Shop

We stopped at Sunday Shop first and were greeted by some budding floral designers who were in the final stages of their workshop, making the whole store smell of flowers in bloom. After being offered a glass of rosé we wandered towards the back taking in all the smells and the beautiful selection of vintage furniture and hand-woven textiles. The very back room of the the store is a perfume lover's dream, stocking great scents, candles, lotions and soaps by Coqui Coqui, Aesop and Byredo to name a few. I was also very intrigued by the yummy chocolate bars near the front of the shop from Compartés, who can turn down flavors like The Drive In which is caramelized popcorn and milk chocolate or The Nightcap with dark chocolate and whiskey?

From there we walked a couple blocks down to Saint Claude Social Club which is also a sensory delight. The focus here is definitely on the unique, worldly accessories and jewelry as well as the vintage clothing but don't overlook their collection of candles and palo santo incense. The line of Lola James Harper candles evoke wonderful scent memories with names like The Vinyl Store on Rue des Dames or The TV Basement of Jonet. 

Our final stop on Sunday afternoon was at a city-wide favorite, Defend New Orleans. DNO has been around as a company since before Katrina but opened their first store about 6 years ago. There are two locations now but my favorite is still the original one on Magazine St. in the lower garden district. In addition to their New Orleans centric shirts and tanks they have a cool book collection, some locally designed lapel pins and even locally roasted coffee to bring back to your home town. 

All in all, this is a pretty awesome way to spend the day whether it is a Sunday or a Wednesday. Make sure to check out the New Orleans guide page for more of my shopping and doing suggestions!

Airbnb- the good, the bad, the ugly

As a long time user of airbnb I want to feel like I can support this company and the homeowners who choose to participate but the more I travel the world and see the effects it is having on other major cities as well as my hometown the less comfortable I am with using its services.  While I enjoy the feeling of being in a city and making it home for a brief moment I am becoming increasingly aware that my footprint isn't the only one that has or will be in that place. Not every neighborhood or neighbor wants a constant flow of tourists on their street or in their building. One could argue that with globalization on the rise this will just be a continuing issue we have to deal with, especially if we live in a place that relies heavily on tourism spending. I am not quite sure what the best solution is and honestly that is not the main reason I am writing this. I travel quite a bit to Barcelona and have taken many opportunities to stay in both hotels and airbnb properties. When I was in BCN last May I started to notice a growing movement AGAINST illegal short-term rentals and even tourism in general. I thought what an unfortunate situation, this city has so many amazing people living in it and they are starting to feel overrun by tourists and the mark they are making on this town, I don't want to be that burden, but I also want to continue to come here and feel welcomed. I came home feeling torn and decided to research what their tourist numbers looked like. The city of Barcelona has a population of nearly 1.6 million residents and saw over 8 million tourists last year. I wanted to compare it to my hometown of New Orleans with a permanent resident population of just over 375,000. To my surprise, my tiny city (by comparison) saw over 9 million tourists last year. We are a quarter of the size and saw approximately 1 million more tourists than Barcelona. Where did they all stay?!?! My guess is after hotels, illegal short-term rentals. I started to wonder how many of my friends and family members were affected by these crowds. After asking around, it seemed to be a split group, depending on what part of the city you are living in you either dealt with a bachelor party every weekend or barely a peep the whole year. Upon my return to Barcelona this past month the movement seemed to have grown stronger and more organized with almost every building posting official signs that basically say, you rent this apartment illegally and I have no place to live. The long story short is that this system isn't working for a lot of residents in cities around the globe. And my point is from here on out, I will choose to do extensive research before traveling and renting an illegal apartment again because while I consider myself to be a fairly respectful and conscientious traveler it does not mean that every one else is nor does it mean that I, along with other renters, am not making it harder and harder for locals to find affordable places to rent. I urge everyone to strongly consider the impact tourism has on major cities and be respectful of its residents, streets, artwork, historic buildings and culture. If we want to be able to continue to travel freely we must respect the concerns of the people in the cities we love so much.

La Vinyeta

Spending a few action packed days in BCN felt like it warranted a weekend excursion up to Costa Brava. The plan was to bounce around from town to town, eating, drinking, swimming, hiking.... well you get it. We chose to start at the most northerly point we would be at and then work our way down the coast. After doing some research on the Empordá wine region I found what appeared to be an awesome small-production winery run by a younger generation of people who were doing things a little differently. 

La Vinyeta is located in the town of Mollet de Peralada, just under an hour to the closest border with France. Upon arriving we walked into a small building that houses pretty much everything. It smelled oddly like tomatoes and we were later told that was because they have a garden and use their tomatoes to make conserves. Downstairs holds the fermentation tanks and bottling machine and just off to the side of that was a separate barrel room. This VERY small winery has 10 people working year round as well as the owners, Josep and Marta. It is clearly a very passionate and driven group of people who work around the clock to get everything done. 

On our tour of the vineyard our host, Alizee told us all about the winery's beginnings (just over 10 years ago) and how the couple met and came to own this property and winery. When they acquired the land there were no vines on it yet so they did all the planting themselves. They did did discover, however, an olive tree grove that had been nicknamed the "dark forest" by the local teenagers. This "dark forest" was apparently a place to make out back in the day before Josep and Marta made it their vineyard. So besides wines and tomato conserves, they also make olive oil! From the vineyard we made it over to the chicken coop which houses over 1000 hens. Apparently the couple wasn't satisfied with the idea of wasting all of the grape refuse post-production so they started using it like a compost between the rows of vines and discovered that birds loved eating it. So why not chickens? They can eliminate waste more easily and now they have eggs to eat and provide to local restaurants.

The tasting the day we went was held outside on the patio overlooking the vineyard and we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. All the wines we tasted were incredible and each label had a very personal story. My favorite had to be the Heus line of wines. Heus meaning "once" in Catalan, the label was designed to look like the first page of an old book, it was their way of signifying that this line of wines was young and meant to be drunk early. As the wines progressed, each label had some significance to the owners. If I didn't have to travel so far I would have taken them all home with me. I was so impressed with how dedicated and intimate this project seems. Everyone was so friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be there. It was a great way to start our mini tour of northern Cataluñya.

CAL PEP- ROUND 2

The first time we went to Cal Pep was when we were in BCN last May. I had heard first hand from friends how great it was and had read numerous reviews touting the same. I looked up the opening time for dinner and made sure to be there 30 minutes early since I had heard the line builds quickly. After a much anticipation we filed in to grab our seat at the long bar facing the chefs and our servers for the evening. I will preface the next part with this- you are not given a menu and we weren't sure if you got to choose any of your meal, whether you spoke Catalan and/or Spanish or not but we decided to go with the flow and just let our server bring us what he thought we would like. The only guidance we gave him was, we eat anything and we want vino blanco. The meal was off to an ok start with padron peppers and a fried mix of seafood. Next came croquettes and then tortilla española. The meal continued along in that fashion, it definitely felt like we had been pegged for a typical tourist. Not to say it wasn't good but looking around at the Spanish and Catalan speaking patrons who were getting razor clams and tuna tartar and steak, we felt a little stereotyped. All in all, the meal was a bit of a let down. The service was excellent, but we obviously hadn't conveyed that we weren't your average Americanos. 

Bringing you to the present, last night we were hoping to make it into El Xampanyet for a late (for us) dinner and to no surprise, it was packed at 9:30pm. So we thought "should we give Cal Pep another go? They will probably be swamped too, but maybe it's worth not writing off just yet." So we head over and it looks like we got lucky, only 9 people were ahead of us in line! Side note- no one in Barcelona is ever in a hurry to turn over seats so 9 people ahead of us meant an hour of waiting. While in line though we made sure to note all the amazing food things that we would insist we wanted. We finally sat around 10:15, the last seating of the night. Our server came up and asked "do you eat everything? may I order you the mix of tapas?" Part of me always wants to say "YES! I love when the server orders for me!" but I knew better here. We had to be more assertive. So we said "we were here a year ago and had a decent meal, but we want something different." We were delighted when he asked us what we actually wanted. We picked out botifarra with beans as well as padron peppers and left the rest to him. What came next was hands down one of our favorite meals in Barcelona. We had confit octopus with potatoes, berberechos in a briney, garlic broth, creamy tortilla española, sauteed spinach and squid and crema catalana. WE ATE IT ALL. We had a fantastic rapport with our waiter, he guided us to all the right places with our meal. At the end, he treated us to shots of an herbal Galician liqueur and cervezas as well as toast with chocolate and sea salt. He tried to keep us longer with offers of more shots and beer and chocolate, but we didn't want to ruin the fantastic feeling of that great meal with a hangover the next morning. 

Needless to say, we couldn't have been more excited and surprised by trying Cal Pep again, it was totally worth the wait!

 

Staycation at The Ace Hotel in NOLA

What better way to spend the hottest, stickiest, sweatiest part of the year waiting for your next big adventure than to treat yourself to a staycation in your hometown at a hotel with a pool? That's just what we did this weekend in New Orleans. The newly opened Ace Hotel is super stylish and will definitely make you feel like you have left New Orleans once you step foot inside. The lobby is furnished with antique rugs and sofas, great pieces of art, and a cocktail bar- it has a "come in and stay awhile" vibe that reminds me of being in my grandparent's living room. The first floor of the hotel also holds a hugely popular Stumptown Coffee and the very tasty Josephine Estelle restaurant. 

We opted for a medium room and it is a pretty decent size. I loved the special touch of leaving music on in the rooms, it made me instantly feel at home. Our room was on the 3rd floor but faced the front of the hotel so we still had a good view from our windows. The rooms are a mix between sleek and modern and hip and vintage. There was a retro style avocado green refrigerator stocked with goodies and a guitar (tuned, might I add) ready for you to start composing. 

We spent most of day dodging rain drops by ducking into Willa Jean for lunch and a glass of their signature frosé. Once the rain let up we made our way up to the rooftop pool. I've been to quite a few hotel pools in New Orleans and I must say this one is the nicest. They have a great pool bar with an interesting selection of wines and house made frozen daiquiris as well as a grill in case all that swimming makes you hungry. It was unseasonably cool for August 14 and the pool itself was nice and crisp so we mostly lounged and dipped our toes in. 

After sunbathing we went downstairs to the freshly opened Seaworthy for happy hour oysters and txakolina. The gulf oysters were a perfect compliment to the refreshing Basque wine. I am looking forward to checking out the rest of the menu soon! We finally wrapped up the evening with a spectacular dealer's choice meal at Josephine Estelle. The snapper crudo and JE salad are to die for! We also tried EVERY pasta on the menu and to be honest, I couldn't tell you which one was my favorite, they were all amazing. We finished our meal with the ribeye and the soft shell crab and while they were pretty good, the pastas and small plates stole the show for us.

In short, our staycation was pretty baller. We didn't really have to leave the hotel which made it feel even more like we were in a different city altogether. Even though we weren't playing tourist at home, we definitely felt like we were on vacation, if even for 24 hours.

Santiago- Peumayen

On our last night in Santiago we decided we just wanted to relax and grab a bottle wine and maybe a hunk of cheese and relax on our balcony at The Aubrey. So we headed over to Vinomio to browse and started a great conversation about Chilean wines and how the US, the south specifically, gets very few quality Chilean wines even though there are so many amazing ones being made. They told us that every bottle in their shop was small production and local (obviously) and that most were made using biodynamic methods. After tasting an awesome Pipeño Nouveau with them and picking out 6 bottles to bring home we asked for a recommendation on where we could pick up something simple to bring back to our room. They enthusiastically insisted that we eat down the street at Peumayen, a wonderful restaurant specializing in Chile's ancestral food. They even walked us over and finagled a reservation for us on a packed Saturday night. They were not wrong about this place, the food was incredible as well as the wine list and pisco list. If only we had discovered this place before tonight! This restaurant is not for the picky or the squeamish, we had horse tartare and llama stew as well as razor clams and seaweed salad. They represented every part of Chile, from coast to mountains and from desert to glaciers. This was an unforgettable meal, and dare I say, more interesting and passionate than Borago. 

San Pedro de Atacama- El Tatio geyser field

On our last morning in the desert we head up to El Tatio geyser field. Admittedly, geysers don't seem to impress me that much, but these were pretty awesome. Maybe it was the sun rising over the mountains on our hour long drive up, or maybe it's the fact that we were in the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere or that it is  highest elevation geyser field in the world, 4,320 meters ASL!!! We reached the field right after sunrise and saw a great show of steam and boiling water shooting into the atmosphere. It was a beautiful way to spend our final morning in this weird and wonderful place. I can't wait to return!

San Pedro de Atacama- Lagunas Miscanti y Miñiques

This morning was our full day excursion out to Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques. The story is that they were once one body of water and Volcano Miñiques erupted with lava flow coming down and separating the two lagoons. The drive is about an hour from San Pedro de Atacama but you will pass over the salt flat and through the desert town of Tocanao and then the mountain town of Socaire. Once past Socaire you will head up to the altiplano and then still higher reaching past 14,000 ft. In this area you will see vicunas and flamingos and this beautiful wheat colored grass called paja brava that only grows at high altitudes. This was definitely the most picturesque scenery I have ever seen with my own eyes. The Chileans do such an amazing job of preserving the natural beauty this country has. 

On our way back to town we stopped at Laguna Chaxa which is part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve in the Atacama which covers about 180,000 acres. There you can observe both Chilean and Andean flamingos feeding and their nesting sites. 

 

Laguna Miscanti

Laguna Miscanti

Laguna Chaxa

Laguna Chaxa