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On my first night in Johannesburg, I had dinner with my boyfriend and his co-worker, who lives in the US but travels to a different country almost weekly.  We were enthralled by his stories of world travel, and curiously we asked him what was his all-time favorite place.  With no hesitation he answered, “Barcelona.”  Spain.  Boom.  I could not agree more.  Although my view of the world is comparitavely limited, it’s my favorite as well, and since this conversation I’ve been reminiscing about my trip there in 2006. 

The photo above is the best way to describe my visit.  Pure joy.  I love Barca for the culture, food, people, location (beaches!), architecture, history…

There are so many beautiful and inspiring things to see.  Park Guell was my favorite, a failed early-1900s attempt at a Dr.-Seuss-like housing development with sweeping views of the city, designed by the infamous architect Antoni Gaudi. 

Another note-worthy monument designed by Gaudi- the Sagrada Familia.  Construction on this Roman Catholic church began in the early 1880s and is yet to be completed, although the target date is now 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s passing. 

I can’t mention Barelona and leave out the food.  Tapas, sangria, paella, seafood, and cordials for dessert, all while dining al fresco.  It’s the perfect place to indulge.

Hasta luego, Barcelona!  Until we meet again!

Greetings from Johannesburg, South Africa!  It took almost two days, but I’m finally here and enjoying their winter weather in August.  On the way, I had a long layover in Frankfurt.  I’ve never been to Germany before, so I was excited to explore!  (Travel tip: If you’re traveling with carry-on bags and you don’t want to haul them around during a layover, some airports- like Frankfurt- offer bag drop service for a nominal fee.)

Frankfurt has an excellent public transportation system which I would have used if I was staying longer.  You can get on the S-Bahn at the airport and it will take you to the city center in minutes.  I hailed a taxi at the airport because I didn’t want to waste time potentailly getting lost.  My driver was very helpful and told me about the best ways to get around and what to see. 

 

My first stop was Romerberg square, one of the oldest sections of Frankfurt.  The plaza is lined with Roman bath ruins and gabled, gothic row houses. This historic square is home to the Frankfurt City Hall complex referred to as the Romer, which has historically been the site of the coronation of Holy Roman Emperors.

I continued my walking tour of Frankfurt through a couple of public parks, past the Alte Oper (the historic opera house), and down the street Ziel, however it was Sunday and almost all of the shops were closed.  I grabbed a quick bite and crossed the river Main to a neighborhood called Sachsenhausen, which is famous for its museums and old cider bars.

Most museums ask for a donation for entry.  I visited the the Museum fur Kommunikation and the Schirn Kunsthalle, the main art museum.  Afterwards I relaxed on the bank at the river Main, which was filled with people enjoying the lovely weather.

Before I knew it, I had to return to the airport.  I heartily enjoyed my day trip to Frankfurt!  Hopefully I’ll return with more than a few hours to spend!

“The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland.” -Jack Maguire, historian 

Bluebonnets are the Stetson hats of the flower world.  They are distinctly Texan.  The arrival of bluebonnets announces the coming of spring here, which came a little early this year.  Fine by me!

Yesterday I dragged my bf to the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival.   It’s a short drive (about 45 miles) outside of Dallas.  Ennis has been deemed the “Official Bluebonnet City of Texas” and boasts over 40 miles of mapped bluebonnet trails surrounding the city.  These trails are the oldest in the state and attract tens of thousands of visitors each year.

It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed spending a little time out of the city.  Like the other tourists, we pulled over on the side of the road on the Bluebonnet Trails several times to take pictures.  Alas, they are an unjust representation of the full sensory experience.  Looking around, you feel engulfed in a sea of blue.  The sweet smell of bluebonnets infiltrates the wind.  I imagined myself in the lavender fields of Provence rather than in Central Texas.  That sounds nice, doesn’t it?

We were told by locals that we missed the peak of the bluebonnets.  I can only imagine what the “peak” was like!  I’ll be back next year to check it out, albeit with a girlfriend or two.  My bf has done his time. ;)

Spring arrived early here in Texas, so I’m anticipating the heat to follow soon.  Last summer was the hottest I’ve ever experienced.  Fortunately, I got a little respite from the sweltering Texas heat last August when I visited my brother in International Falls, Minnesota.  It’s the northern-most town in the United States. Canada is literally in its backyard.

Lake view

I-Falls (as the locals call it) is not easy to get to.  You have to have determination and a pioneer spirit.  And a car.  Definitely rent a car.  I was traveling with my parents and my boyfriend.  We flew into Minneapolis Saint Paul Internationa Airport, picked up a rental car, and drove about five hours due North.  Minnesota is gorgeous, so the time flew by.  The clear blue lakes and towerring pine trees were a welcome change of scenery from our part of the country that had turned brown from being scorched by the heat. 

Sha Sha Bar and Grill. Image via turbofan on Flickr.

We stayed in a little cabin on Rainy Lake at a resort area called Sha Sha.  The location was perfect, as our cabin was steps away from Sha Sha Bar and Grill, which was the epicenter of the area’s night life happenings (and one of the few places to find decent grub).

Enjoying sunset on the dock.

The purpose of our trip was to visit my brother who was working at Camp Kooch-i-Ching, a wilderness adventure camp for boys.  He spent the summer overseeing a cabin full of teenagers, taking kids on canoe trips, and doing various manly outdoorsy things.  It was so much fun to see him in his element.  The camp is on an island and can only be accessed by boat.  It’s an incredible place for a young man to spend a summer.

Camp Kooch-i-Ching teaches campers about Native American traditions.

I-Falls is a great place to visit if you want to escape summer heat or fast-paced city life.  We had a peaceful, relaxing stay.  This summer my brother will be working at an art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I’m sure he’ll expect another visit from us, so I’m already planning a trip to the mountains. :)

Chicago  is a special place to me.  The first time I ever purchased my own plane ticket, it was for a trip to the Windy City to visit my bestie who went to the University of Chicago.  (Smarty pants.)  When I started my stint in the travel industry five years ago, I took advantage of my stand-by airline benefits to visit her often.  She has since moved to London, but now work brings me back a couple of times a year, and it’s always a treat!

July is the perfect time if year for Texans to visit Chicago.  While it’s 114 degrees here, it’s 85 degrees there.  Heaven.  My team’s summer meeting was casual, and we shared business updates on my co-worker’s roof.  Tanning and working at the same time is efficiency at its best!

On this particular trip, we did something I’ve always wanted to do.  We took an architectural tour on the river!  The design nerd in me was beyond excited as we cruised down the Chicago River, marveling at the skyscrapers that almost hid the sky.

Between meetings the next day, I was able to wander around and enjoy the energy of the city.  Tourists, business people, and students intermingled freely.  The weather seemed to elevate everyone’s moods.

Meetings are a lot more enjoyable when this is your view!

A visit to Chicago is not complete without a visit to Millennium Park, at least in this tourist’s opinion.

I always have to get a close-up shot of the giant jelly bean.  Every time.

A free concert in the park?  Don’t mind if I do!

After my much needed respite from the brutal Texas heat, I reluctantly boarded the L and made my way to Midway Airport.  I think I’ll be back this August…

My last post about New Orleans got me thinking.  Louisiana has so much to offer!  The Big Easy is probably the most popular tourist destination in the state, but there are other areas to explore that offer visitors a glimpse into a distinct regional culture.  A few summers ago, a friend and I took a weekend road trip off the beaten path through Cajun Country to check out the southern central part of the state.  It’s a fun little weekend getaway and pretty easy to cover in a couple of days, especially if you live in a bordering state.

On a Friday night we left from Dallas and spent the night in Shreveport.  If you live in the Southern part of the country and are passing through, it’s a fun little town to stop and place some bets, but I don’t recommend it as a destination.  Go to Vegas.  Just do it.

After winning a little and loosing more, we got up early the next morning and set out for our primary attraction of the weekend: the Tabasco bottling plant on Avery Island.  In my opinion, it was a scenic four hour drive almost due south from Shreveport, so if you enjoy swamps, bayous, and cute little historic towns, you’ll agree!

On our way we stopped for lunch at Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf in Henderson, which has been serving Cajun cuisine since 1948.  It’s still operated and owned by the Huval family and is a popular stop in the Atchafalaya Basin.  We sat on the screened-in patio on a bayou and enjoyed some cold beer and crawfish!  Yum!

After lunch we continued on to Avery Island.  The further south we drove, the more our surroundings started to look surprisingly tropical.  There’s a wide variety of flora in this part of the country.  Everything from pine trees to palm trees grows well in the fertile soil and humid air.

We took a tour of the Tabasco bottling plant and learned that most of their peppers are grown in Central America and the Caribbean, but all Tabasco is bottled here and shipped to nearly every country in the world.  After the tour we cooled off in the Country Store and tried some jalapeno ice cream!  Avery Island has 170 acres of jungle gardens that we toured next.

Watch out for gators!  There are signs that recommend not picnicking near the water.  Avery Island is   lush and very well maintained.  It’s the perfect spot to relax and take in the swampy beauty of south Louisiana.

The next day we set out to explore the historic town of New Iberia, also known as The City of Live Oaks for the huge, mossy live oak trees that line its streets.  We toured a couple of plantation homes there, and then drove to Jefferson Island to see the Rip Van Winkle gardens.

One of my friends should get married down here!  ;)  Or just throw party!

If you’re ever in the area, Avery Island is worth a visit!  Or make it a destination!  Happy road tripping!

Summer trip no. 1…  New Orleans.  Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The first trip my guy and I took together was to New Orleans in the summer of 2010.  I had been a handful of times but he was a Big Easy virgin (haha).  One of my favorite things to do is play “tour guide,” and I loved showing him some of my favorite places in the city.  We had such a great time we decided to make it an (at least) annual trip.

When we landed in New Orleans in July for annual trip no. 2, we grabbed a taxi and headed to our hotel in the Vieux Carre.  (Insider tip: This taxi ride is usually about $60 each way, so if you go for a day trip as I’ve done a couple of times, you’ll come out ahead if you rent a car.  If you’re staying in the French Quarter for a night or two, you can easily walk to where you want to go or take a streetcar for $1.25 per ride.  Plus, parking at a hotel might cost you $20 per night, so I think a taxi makes things easier.)

Front gate at the Cornstalk Hotel

We spent two nights in the Crescent City at the Cornstalk Hotel, which was formerly a mansion and is supposedly haunted.  (At night you can sit outside on front the balcony and watch ghost tours stop in front of the building!)  Our concierge was extremely welcoming and helpful with recommendations, and the location was perfect- not too close to the commotion of the French Quarter, but only a quick walk away.

Jazz band at The Three Muses

Once we checked in, we ventured to Frenchman Street.  It was Friday night and the neighborhood was filled with hoodlums, punky kids, musicians, and regular folks looking for some good music.  It’s a little off the beaten path, so there didn’t appear to be many tourists.  We stumbled upon an intimate jazz gastropub called The Three Muses and went in for dinner, drinks, and entertainment. 

Enjoying some vino at The Three Muses

It was a true New Orleans experience and the perfect place for anyone who appreciates live music.  The jazz combo kept our fingers snappin’ and our toes tappin’!  The best part of the night was when an elderly man carrying a battered trumpet case walked in and sat down at a table in front of the stage.  He nonchalantly took out his trumpet and played along with the band.  Our waitress told us he pops in from time to time to jam.  It was so natural and organic, like art coming to life. 

Breaux Bridge Benedict at Stanley

On Saturday morning we started with a big breakfast at Stanley Restaurant, located in Jackson Square.  There is always a wait here, but it’s worth it!  The food is heavy, but who comes to New Orleans to worry about their diet?  This city is all about indulging!  After breakfast we walked around Jackson Square and admired the work of the street artists who line the parimeter of the square’s iron fence and paint. 

Image from neworleanscitybusiness.com

We strolled through the open air French Market, then caught a streetcar to the garden district.  I enjoy this neighborhood for its history and architecture.  I’d love to go on a home tour here someday!  From the residential area, we emerged onto Magazine Street and wandered through some of the boutiques.  When my man couldn’t take the shops any more, we decided it was time for a siesta and headed back to the Cornstalk.

Neon outside of Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House

Oysters at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House

After a nice nap, we headed to the French Quarter for dinner.  Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House was recommended to us by our concierge.  There was a wait, but we grabbed a spot at the bar and enjoy some fresh oysters until our table was ready.  The food and the waitstaff were excellent.  I can’t wait to go back!

Fancy hat purchased at Goorin Bros hat shop!

Post dinner, we hit up Bourbon Street for some entertainment!  People watching here is priceless, and there is such a variety! Young and old, fancy and casual, everyone is here to let go and go wild!  We walked the streets of the French Quarter and enjoyed a few drinks until it was time to get some sleep so we could catch an early morning flight home.

Bourbon Street litterred with Mardi Gras beads

New Orleans is the perfect combination of history, culture, and indulgence and my absolute favorite city in the South.  See you soon mon amie!

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