Frenchman Street vs Bourbon Street (NOLA)

I was in New Orleans for two nights – which meant two nights to immerse myself in the nightlife – which is obviously huge in NOLA. During my research on what to do while in the city, I couldn’t find what so much as where. They listed a few areas, French Quarter, Jackson Square, etc, and on this list I put down Frenchmen Street. Originally, we’d passed it in the day and couldn’t figure out why it was more special than any other street. Luckily, as we were in a Lyft coming away from dinner, we mentioned it and our driver said Frenchmen Street was something to do at night.

So we canceled our first night “easygoing” Bourbon plans, and headed to Frenchmen, not sure what to expect. Just driving in, I could see it was much smaller, but also more of my vibe (coming from someone who’d only briefly walked Bourbon, i.e. not an expert). We found parking on the street after only a little bit of effort, so that should tell you that it really wasn’t too crowded. String lights had caught our eye on the drive in, so we beelined to that big open area.

It was a little crafter and artist’s market! The string lights arched across an entrance on the street into a open pavilion of probably thirty booths set up. There was a sign at the back that said “Palace Market” in cool graffiti, so I guess that’s what we had stumbled upon. There were a lot of really cool prints (I bought two different ones) and a lot of handmade jewelry. I must’ve looked at every ring in the place twice, because I liked it all and the prices were really good.

By the time we finished looking at every booth and found ourselves back out on the street, a live jazz band was trailing from one end to the other. I kid you not! Then we realized there was live jazz in every bar on the street! This area was definitely for the starving artists, hipsters (I hate to say it), and people looking for some of the original culture of NOLA. It was so cool! Even though it was all jazz, every band was different, made up of unique instruments and singers. Male and female, lots of brass, more piano – they had whatever flavor you were looking for just next door!

But obviously, in New Orleans, you can’t really experience this city unless you hit up Bourbon Street. Saturday night, we made plans to do Bourbon right. Jenna had come into town to join my brother and Gabby and me, and with a bottle of rum and a stop at the Winn Dixie for sour mix, we were ready to pregame. Oh, and we also took a party nap just to fully prepare ourselves.

My brother had put together a “pub crawl” for us that started at one end and ended close to our Airbnb. He showed us Carousel Bar, which actually rotated and then stopped by the 21st Amendment, which was the classy part of Bourbon. They were known for their sauzerac (it was okay) and a live quartet was setting up just as we nabbed a front row table. Next was an absinthe bar, which was rough, I’ll be honest. You think you want fire and green drinks, but even very buzzed I could not finish it.

So buzzed though, that I was easily talked into the bull ride across the street. This bar was not on the tour, but we saw the bull and decided we were done being “classy” on Bourbon. Did I ride the bull? Yes, of course. From there we quickly moved through one (possibly two) “shot bars” which had fruity concoctions in test tubes and really cool lighting. My brother and I danced while making Gabby and Jenna take the shots from the trounced up women passing them out. We were sticking with a one drink per bar policy, sharing it if we needed help to finish it. This was our plan to make it through the crawl, but starting pretty drunk was not our brightest move.

We passed through Pat O’Brien’s, a cute bar with an outdoor space where we’d gotten a hurricane the night before. The Swamp was an alright bar, made better by the fact that it’s the only free balcony on Bourbon. We got up there and stared down at the people below, which normally would’ve been amazing – but we quickly got jealous of everyone down there seemingly having a better time than us. I know this is a lot of alcohol talk – but this is how you do Bourbon Street, at least from what I’ve heard.

We skipped ahead one bar, because I spotted “the original hand grenade” under the Tropical Isle Bourbon sign, the drink which I’d been calling the “green drink” and knowing it was a must. Here all four of us got one. I am honestly not sure why because not one of needed another drink – but being newbies Jenna and I were obligated. Side note: I threw my little toy grenade into a basket near the ceiling and gave myself a round of applause. Gabby had given me three chances, I’d cheated by taking four, so I bought us shots anyway. Seriously, we just kept drinking. Which was perfect, because the Cats Meow, famous for karaoke, was our next stop.

I was ready for some singing and attention from a crowd, y’all. I’m outgoing but a little shy at first, but the drinks had given me the right to flaunt my ego. My brother signed me up, and somewhere around the time for my name to be called, Jenna was joining, we’d picked ABBA’s Dancing Queen, and the four of us had had two rounds of jello shots. The rest is a bit of a blur – mostly me trying to figure out if my voice sounded good, if I was dancing too much, and if the audience was having a good time. Does this mean I’m allowed to cross “Become a pop star” off my bucket list?

The final stop, Blacksmith’s, was skipped. (Luckily, on my previous visit to NOLA which consisted of less than three hours I’d actually had a drink from there.) I don’t know how this decision was made, but I know Gabby was ready for bed and left the remaining three of us to find our way to Cafe Du Monde. Everyone has to have those world famous beignets whenever you’re in town. Everyone should also make sure they have cash, otherwise you will scramble last minute, make friends with the table next to you and Venmo them for a ten-dollar bill. Still, worth it.

So, the original question: Frenchmen Street or Bourbon Street? Both! They are just so different and have so many different experiences to offer. I’m not much for the nightlife anymore, but as you can tell from this long, long blogpost, I really went for it! New Orleans is one of those places that is about the bars, the drinks, experiencing the people and the night.

Architecture, Alcohol, and Adventures in Voodoo

Besides having some National Park sites in the area, New Orleans has been on my travel wish list for two reasons: I’ve been in the city twice for only a couple of hours (so all I’ve done is Cafe Du Monde) and it’s where my brother’s fiance, Gabby, is from! I’ve wanted my brother and her to show me around town for some time, and finally we put it on the books. They’re some of NOLA’s biggest fans, so I knew they’d be perfect travel companions.

My brother was set on leaving Dallas around 3AM and getting into New Orleans by noon, his so-called perfect travel time, so that’s what we did. I was able to take a bit of a nap after work so I was prepared for the early, early morning start. By the time the sun came up, I took over driving, and was enjoying Louisiana. The beautiful trees always surprise me for some reason.

We got in a bit before noon, and found our Airbnb was just shy of Esplanade Avenue, meaning our first drive to check out the colorful houses was perfect. Along this neighborhood drive, we also spotted Edgar Degas’s house! The famous painter once lived as neighbors to our current Airbnb. I was glad we’d picked such a cool area, especially after checking out our temporary home’s decor. They were clearly emphasizing the New Orleans wild and fun time.

Speaking of, the first item of the itinerary was at a craft rum distillery, Old New Orleans. None of the three of us had been to a craft distillery tour before, so we were excited. They had two cocktails available when we got there as they took us on the tour. It was so tasty and we were worried we wouldn’t get our money’s worth, so we asked for refills (even though no one else did). Luckily, they kept filling us up as we learned more about how rum is made. It was pretty cool! This distillery in particular is also the oldest rum distillery in all of the US.

At the end of the tour, we were surprised to find they had shots of all their rums lined up for us. Uh oh. I don’t know why we didn’t realize they’d have samples of all their flavored rums at the end. We were pretty tipsy already, but we weren’t going to turn down delicious finely crafted rum. I’d say we definitely got our money’s worth! We even grabbed a bottle of their Cajun Spice Rum for our pregame planned for the following night.

Now that we were nice and buzzed, it was time to head off to explore some of New Orleans. We stopped by the famous “Umbrella Girl” on our way to the French Quarter. This graffiti is one from Banksy’s famous New Orleans series, originally twelve all around the city to make a statement on Hurricane Katrina. It was really cool, and preserved with a plastic shield so no one would try and destroy (or “add” to) it. Then we walked through town, to enjoy more architecture.

The French style of all the old historic houses was so awesome. Lots of trellises and working shutters and colors an balconies and columns. It was almost like being in a completely different country at some points. I love when every house is different and unique – and New Orleans is most certainly that! It was after enjoying all the beauty that we found ourselves on the hunt for voodoo. I originally knew I’d want to look for “something voodoo” because it was such a big part of the culture but I had no idea exactly how many voodoo stops we would find.

There were several shops all over! Anything that had voodoo, witch, or occult in the title, we stepped into to explore. I discovered potions, and prick dolls, and satanic idols. Sachets of herbs for good luck or “get out of jail” luck. It was so fun to just inspect all the wild stuff they had in their shops. I’m not sure if they were over the top for tourists or if they were pretty typical for a voodoo shop, but there was a lot of crazy and interesting stuff. Honestly some of it a little scary (haha).

As we were making our way from the French Quarter to the Bourbon Street area, we stopped to watch a street performance in Jackson Square that was pretty entertaining. That particular area reminded me a lot of something similar to New York City. More walking got us to dinner for the night, a fancy place called Pêche. So fancy in fact that when we ordered a few side plates to try things and when we asked for big plates so we could share, we definitely got a look. We were still feeling great from the day’s activities so we didn’t give a fuck; we also stuck to all waters. It was all really good! Recommending this “family style” tip for all broke people going to fancy restaurants if you can stand the judgement from your waiter.

Collegiate Nostalgia; My Favorites at OU

It took me a couple of years to stop wishing I was still in college – ah, what a “carefree” time before adulthood. I went to college at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK. (Side note: one of the major reasons I picked it was for how beautiful the campus is.) My time there was spent learning how to discuss literature, discovering the wonder of instant streaming, figuring out how to tolerate all types of alcohol, and meeting some best friends who I’m still close to today.

Lucky for me, I have two reasons that take me back yearly to Norman for visits – my friend Amanda still lives in the area and my mom is an Oklahoma football season pass holder! My mom always is generous enough to let me tag along for a game or two and we have such a blast.

Football is definitely a big deal as an Oklahoma Sooner. Partly because the state has no official NFL team and partly because our team takes home a lot of trophies. Besides national championships and Heisman trophies, we just overall win a lot – which obviously makes it fun to watch and root for the team. Football on Saturdays is something you plan your weekend around when it’s a Home Game. Where to tailgate, what to wear, and who you’re trash-talking (for that week). It’s packed with school spirit even if you’re not super into sports.

Besides that, some of my favorite food is only in Norman. Ted’s is a great Tex-Mex place where you can get freshly made tortillas, queso, salsa, and chips as a part of the standard table setup. Pizza Shuttle has the best cheesy bread I’ve ever had, and I’m kind of an expert.  And T.E.A. Cafe, ah, that Asian restaurant is responsible for a couple of missed classes (sorry mom) and still holds my favorite vegetarian fried rice anywhere. Plus special mention to the cheap and delicious Caesar wraps at O’Connell’s, which is a bar but definitely does not serve bar-quality food. Seriously, I cannot explain why all the food is so good.

Also, if we’re talking about food, we have to talk about The Mont, which has become my favorite place to visit when I head to Norman. They have the most amazing cheese fries (but as I get older I’m finding it harder and harder to finish them without a tummy ache- haha). But they also have delicious swirls! Swirls are frozen sangria-slash-margaritas and these ones are the best. I graduated college before I turned 21 – I actually had a swirl at The Mont as my first official of-age drink – but me and my college best friends, Cassie and Amanda, love seeing how many swirls we can tackle the older we get.

As I get older, I also find I can afford more of the stuff at the shops on Campus Corner. They have a ton of great OU stuff, so you can always find cute college sweatshirts and tees. But they also have a lot of great fashion boutiques that have a lot of really cute clothes. My favorite store, Antique Garden, always has such great gifts too! I’ve probably bought at least five gifts from there over the years. I love shopping around Campus Corner Friday afternoons before the weekend – it’s like having “adult” OU fun. Because I’m not as broke as when I was a student!

Third Time’s a Charm, Falling in Love with Albuquerque

I’ll be honest all I really knew about the city of Albuquerque was a Weird Al Yankovich song. What’s funny about falling in love with Albuquerque, New Mexico is that originally the first time we were just passing through. Being a major city, it makes for a great pit stop on a road trip.

The first time, on a northern New Mexico road trip (Timing is Everything), my friend Jenna and I had stopped for dinner and then I looked up an ice cream shop. That ice cream shop led us to Green Jeans Farmery – an outdoor eating area perfect for when we had the dog with us and fine in any weather with its big outdoor fire pit. It helped that the ice cream was amazing!

There’s also an amazingly zesty Caesar salad! So of course, now that we had the perfect food pit stop, the next road trip (on our way to Utah) brought us not only back to Albuquerque for Green Jeans, but also to explore around town a bit more. While buying the infamous Breaking Bad “meth” candy from the little shop The Candy Lady, we stumbled upon Old Town.

Old Town is a small outdoor area with lots of cute shops and a big pavilion area where special events are held. They sell lots of local arts and crafts as well as Mexican-inspired goods, like sugar skulls and Mexican blankets. There were even tea lights along the street and a mariachi band outside of one store. Everything was so charming!

Now that we had our meth candy, it was time to see the Breaking Bad house. The actual house used as the front (and the notorious pizza scene) was located in Albuquerque, so we drove to see it. I’d seen a few seasons and still mean to finish it eventually, but the overall experience was fun even though I’m not a super fan.

Now on my third time to Albuquerque, I was finally here for the National Park site, but I had one more big bucket list item for this awesome city. The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta! I’d seen the billboard almost ten months before on my second trip, and wrote down the dates to make sure I saw it.

This Fiesta was our first stop for our remaining New Mexico National Park sites. We drove through the night to get to Fiesta Park at sunrise, just in time to see them take off. We got inside as there were about twenty in the skies and more and more taking off. It was so cool! It was definitely amazing to see so many in the sky, but seeing them up close as they inflated and lifted off was also incredible!

The area is set up kind of like a festival, with food and drink booths and stands for merchandise and local crafts. So after grabbing a local coffee and some tiny Tom Thumb donuts (yum), we walked around to enjoy the balloons taking off. It’s definitely a worthwhile experience to see hundreds of hot air balloons, especially with the wide open space and mountains in the distance.

Until next time, Albuquerque!

Seeking that “Number One Tourist Trap” in Tulum

After a night of just drinking and exploring the souvenir shops, it was time to get up early and hit the tourist spots. The main attraction in Tulum is the Tulum ruins, which is the site of old Mayan temples and buildings. As you may know, I’m not super into ruins, but these ranked number one on almost every Tulum tourism list.

Originally, I had dreams of biking here, but it was hot and Tracy and I were definitely a bit hungover, so driving it would be. We got there early to try and beat the heat (it only helped a little) and got in without a tour guide. I’d been told we’d want a tour guide for this excursion, but getting in and speed walking around on our own was so much better. The buildings were still very in tact, so I could see the appeal, but mostly they were cool because of the nature landscape around them. These ruins were right up next to the ocean!

From there, it was time to chase my dream Tulum experience. After doing so much research through other travel bloggers there were two things I wanted. The first was breakfast at Nomade, where I could get pancakes made in front of me on a private stovetop. I’d seen a picture of this and was so excited for the experience of an individual hot plate with great looking decor.

We found Nomade and got in, but it turned out the breakfast looked to be for guests only. So after walking the eating area awkwardly, we led ourselves right back out the way we came. Tracy and I were so hungry at this point anything sounded good, so we went to a nearby restaurant called Canopia. We each ordered a delicious, brightly colored smoothie and awaited our meals. Tracy wasn’t super into her meal, but I was about to have the best breakfast ever. Sure, it wasn’t pancakes cooked in front of me, but little goat cheese toasts with a fried egg satisfied me way more.

The second “dream” of Tulum was having a drink on a rope walkway overlooking the “jungle” of Tulum. After our breakfast, I was excited knowing this was number one on my own list and essentially was what I came to Tulum for. We found the hotel Azulik, which housed this spectacular bar, only to find it wouldn’t open for another five hours! Complete fail. I was pretty disappointed of course. After so many travel fails in the previous year due to when a place opens and closes, this was the one that cemented the lesson for me. Places all over have weird business hours – look them up, Alicia!

However, I didn’t want this to get me down. I started processing the logistics and to make this bar work, we’d would’ve had to have gone the night before. Which would mean giving up the amazing night we had. And that would’ve been a gamble I don’t think I’d make, even if it meant getting to lay on suspended ropes over the jungle drinking a margarita. Because exploring our own little piece of Tulum was so much better! Walking the couple of blocks within our Airbnb and discovering hidden gems on our own was such a blast! You don’t always win by following someone else’s travel plan, doing the typical tourist thing, and sticking to what others recommend. You never know what will end up being our own personal “number one” on a trip.

Let me also say that the tourist tips do get a thing right now and again; at the top of several lists was the Grand Cenote. A cenote (because yes, I also had to google the word) is a pit or sinkhole that exposes the natural water underneath. Basically, these holes lead to long underground tunnels of freshwater that is perfect for swimming and exploring. In my research, I didn’t realize how fun it would be! This would be our last stop in Tulum and I’m glad we went for it.

Neither Tracy nor me had it high on the must-see list, but after checking it out, I wish we’d had time to go to the other ones! It was the perfect treat to get out of the heat. Also, being able to swim with little fishes, near turtles, and under bats in the cave above was incredible! After our swim, we dried off in a relaxing hammock. It was the perfect goodbye to the juxtaposition of excitement and relaxation Tulum had been for us.

Tequila + Tulum = No Worries

Since last minute getting my passport last year, I made it my goal to travel outside of the US at least once a year. I started getting nervous because I didn’t have an international trip planned and I think this realization spurred my sudden obsession with going to Tulum. I’d read a blog about some great places in Tulum and the more research I did, the more I saw how affordable a weekend getaway to Mexico would be!

I started asking a couple of my best friends who’d be interested in randomly heading to Mexico. Tracy, who like me usually prefers a structured plan, was down! So one Friday on a bit of a whim, we booked our round trip flight. It was the first time I’d booked flights without a real plan – it was so exciting! And then pretty much immediately terrifying. I decided this kind of trip was just what I needed. Something a little scary, a little unstructured, and a lot of fun!

By the time we were thousands of feet in the air with drinks in our hand (we had to splurge a little), we pretty much had a rental car, two nifty Airbnbs booked, and a lackadaisical list of stuff we’d like to try. For me, this weekend was all about the somewhat scary excitement for international travel but also having an easy good time.

We landed, picked up our rental car, and then it was time to drive down a Mexican highway to Tulum. After my obsessive look into different aspects of Tulum, it was hard to believe I was finally doing it! The whole time Tracy and I couldn’t believe we’d booked this random trip for a quick weekend getaway in the middle of our regularly scheduled lives.

After reaching Tulum with no hiccups, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some tequila. We searched for a long time looking for salsa (of all things to be hard to find) and then were ready for drinks and snacks back at our home for the night. Our next task would be to find it.

There’s no real addresses in Mexico, so our Airbnb gave us a nearby intersection and one picture of the outside door. Not going to lie, it took a lot of circling around on one-way streets until finally we found it. Once there though, it was awesome! A little hidden bungalow loft in the middle of downtown Tulum nightlife.

After a drink (maybe two) we headed out to explore. We grabbed dinner and made a furry friend. Stray dogs were pretty common and very low key, just coming up and plopping nearby to where people sat. We had one sit near us while ordering drinks and having quesadillas. (In Mexico, these were actually just a small flour tortilla with some melted cheese – haha!)

We spent some time walking around, ordering more drinks, shopping the souvenir stores along the main strip, and ended up finding another restaurant with actual swings along the bar! It was so relaxing. Not having a real plan, we went back to our Airbnb, cooled down and made ourselves another drink. After hanging for a bit, wondering if we should settle in for the night we realized we could see some of the bars from our balcony and decided – heck, why not? – and headed back out for more drinks.

It was so easy-going! It was such a fun time to just walk around, try new things, listen to the live music, and chat. We ended up at a pretty cool dance bar, hoping the drinks would be enough to give us some liquid courage, but by that point we were too hot and tired. If it sounds like all we did that first night was walk around and drink – you’re exactly right.

Our first night was the perfect start to a stress-free weekend getaway!

Surfing in the Middle of Texas

As I’m sure is true of most kids from Texas, I have never surfed. I grew up with the fake ocean at the water park, Hurricane Harbor. My first beach was going to Port Aransas on a high school trip. The water was murky and full of lifeless jelly fish. (It was still incredible.) But believe it or not, I recently learned to surf in the middle of Texas, at a “surf resort” in Waco.

My dad is big into surfing on wave riders, like the one he originally  learned on at Hurricane Harbor. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to learn to surf on a real surfboard, he was interested in joining me. Just when I thought there’d be no time in my schedule for an impromptu trip to a real beach, my dad mentioned the BSR cable park that had only recently opened their surf section.

After a lazy Sunday morning, I met up with my dad to head down to Waco. I’d been bummed that I couldn’t make it to Colorado again this summer (to retry our kayaking adventure), so planning on spending the day together was nice.

We got there early to check out the place. It was cool checking out the wake boarders using the cable pull system to ride the lake. They also had a little lazy river where people floated and big slides that sent people launching into the air. We headed over to the “beach” area to check out some surfing. The current session was a beginners’ crowd, but a lot of people looked like they were pretty good.

Eventually it was time to grab our own boards because our hour time slot had approached. A helpful guy told us to grab the longest boards possible because it would be easier. (I would find out later this was bad advice.)

No one really monitored to us after we got our boards, so my dad and I kind of just swam out to where ten or so other surfers headed. The wave was produced every five minutes or so evenly across the water, and immediately people started going for it. My dad and I had definitely expected an instructor, but we started by just watching everyone around us and mimicking what they did.

Luckily for me, the beach manager started coming around and saw me struggling so took me under his wing. He told me where to lay on the board, where to put my arms and legs, and taught me the timing of the wave and when to swim hard. Finally things were happening! Every time I paddled back I’d shout the information over to my dad.

After four waves the manager told me since I’d gotten good at timing and form, to just get on my knees to ride the wave. And then he left to help another girl nearby. The hardest part was definitely timing. Looking back and learning when to start swimming hard and cresting the pull of the curl started to feel rhythmic.

For my last couple of waves I rode it on my knees all the way to the shore. Just as I was getting ready to try getting up (or at least on one knee) our hour was up. It had gone by so fast! The sport mentality had taken over and I really got submersed in learning new things, but overall it had been so fun! It was surprising how little I was able to talk to my dad though – it really felt like a singular sport.

The manager met up with us again to take our boards and said we had done great for our first time so that was nice. He said it took a lot more hours to be ready for the advanced group, but that we could definitely do it if we practiced. Watching the advanced group, who had now taken the waves, was awesome. They made it look so effortless!

I will for sure be surfing again some day! But I might stick to the man-made waves for now. Much less swimming means much less getting tired out means much more practice! Now don’t get me wrong, I was still sore as heck the next day.