my jaunts: india

the market side of the taj mahal – stunning colors.

over a year has officially passed since my last post, and unsurprisingly it has been a full 19 months!  my son is now 22 months old, and i’m back in the swing of things at work.  i’ve also traveled a fair amount since February 2016 and it saddens me to think that I haven’t had a chance to write down my memories.  one trip in particular was a completely unique and unforgettable experience: india.

the stunning taj mahal!

i’ve always been intrigued by india.  a country full of intensity in color, sound, smell, flavor, people, and spirituality has always enticed me.  thanks to alanis morrissette and liz gilbert, i just knew i would arrive in india and find the clarity for which i’ve searched all these years.  so when an invitation at work to teach training in india popped up in my inbox, i pushed aside thoughts of the logistical nightmare of a two-week trip (that required me to leave my 10-month old behind – i mean, honestly), and eagerly replied yes to the opportunity.

visitors at the taj mahal in ALL OF THE COLORS!

enough time has passed where i can say with much confidence that i would return, and i would return with excitement.  but the trip at the time was a tough one, despite the comforts of business travel that allowed me to fly and stay in significantly more comfort than a personal trip would have allowed.

welcome to india! lush landscapes, wonderful people, rickshaws, colonial architecture: i fell in love with this country.

there are many reasons not to go to india.  first, i had to obtain a business visa, the process of which is confusing and non-sensical, even with my exceptional organizational skills (not-so-humble brag).  it took me almost a week to properly fill out the forms, obtain the proper approvals, drive to the visa location in houston, and ensure my passport with said visa would arrive back in time to book my flight.  also, india is generally not safe for foreign women to travel alone.  i was required to travel with a firm-appointed driver, and not allowed to walk alone to a restaurant down the street from my five-star hotel (which had a gate manned by a guard who checked under the car and in the trunk).  additionally, depending on the destination, india is very hot (turns out bangalore was not, but more on that later), and women must dress more conservatively (not necessarily a “con” but certainly an adjustment for this texas girl who is used to shorts in 90+ degree weather).  and I would be remiss if i did not mention the driving, which involves no lanes, more cars than you’ve ever seen (unless, of course, you’ve been to india), and a complete disregard for traffic laws (though i did witness nine lanes of highway traffic come to a complete halt for a pedestrian pulling a large wooden tea wagon).

a typical traffic jam in delhi, full of bumper-to-bumper cars, trucks, buses, rickshaws, and hand-pulled wagons.

in general, india is just tough if you’re used to the united states.  it’s a developing country and many of the things we take for granted (e.g. continuous electricity, drinkable water, electronic documents) just aren’t always around.  there was definitely a point in the middle of the second week when i was weary from travel, which was an unfamiliar feeling for me during a trip abroad (travel is literally my favorite thing to do).

i adored all of the hand-painted trucks in india! i saw this one in agra.

all that being said, the pros to visiting india definitely outweigh the cons.  india is an experience more so than simply a destination.  its people, who i learned from my students, are warm, inviting, empathic, helpful, and extremely interested in making friends.  my students’ families cooked dinner for me and my students would sing songs for me to share their culture.  the food was fantastic (kebabs! banta!), the colors were as intensely bright as i had hoped, and the country was lush in vegetation and natural beauty.

an upscale (and adult) twist on the popular children’s fruit drink, banta. so delicious! india knows flavors.

i started in bangalore, located in southern india on the deccan plateau, and enjoyed a drive around town in the wildly southern california-esque weather.  my driver, raj, was a treasure trove of information and drove me to an outdoor market where locals shopped for food while cows lounged all around (when we pulled up to the market and a cow was outside my door, raj encouraged me to get out.  “but are they dangerous?” i asked.  “sometimes!” was his reply.).

a woman and a cow outside of a neighborhood market in bangalore. cows are everywhere!

from bangalore i traveled to agra, the home of the taj mahal.  it is difficult to describe how painstakingly detailed the construction of the mausoleum is, and the intricacies of the marble work reminded me of the carvings of the al hambra in grenada, spain.  the town of agra was worth seeing in its own right, as our van passed a flurry of activity of markets, people, cows, bright orange buildings with shaded openings, families stacked on mopeds, musicians, more people, shops, homes, monkeys scurrying atop buildings, more cows, more people, bicycles.  it seemed like the true india that i was missing from my five-star gated hotels.

a closer look at the intricate inlaid gems (there are rubies!) in the marble of the taj mahal.

after agra, we drove to delhi, where my husband (oh yes, did i mention my unbelievable husband traveled for two full days to join me for four days over a long weekend?) convinced me to take a bike ride through old delhi.  old delhi is literally the oldest part of delhi, a part of town full of markets each specific to meat, spices, marigolds, and fruit.  i was skeptical when we arrived at the crack of dawn in a seemingly unsafe area, and was even more skeptical after we signed waivers and pedaled down the butcher street past a minivan open to display inside a mystery carcass for sale.  and the skepticism peaked when we turned down a narrow alley, i lost my footing, and fell into a giant heap of trash (cutting my leg in the process).  i believe i cried, swore, and yelled at my husband all in one breath.  the tour guide motioned me to the front of the group so she could keep an eye on me (i was easily the worst cyclist of the group), and we continued on.

an early morning street scene in old delhi – so much going on here, including a potential electrical hazard.

from there, i am not exaggerating when i write that the bike tour of old delhi was one of the most incredible things i have done in my entire life.  my entire life!  it was a scene that i have only seen on television and have never experienced.  the smells and the colors and the bustle of people was unbelievable.  we passed markets and vendors and mosques and temples and soup kitchens and luxury hotels.  we stopped at a road-side cart selling chai tea to passersby, and against my better judgment i drank it (i was assured it was boiled and would therefore be fine, and it was!) and it was delicious.  it is with great regret that i did not have the foresight to purchase a go pro camera for my helmet, as my clinging to the handlebars did not allow for many photos.  we climbed to the top of a haveli to overlook the city and later ended our tour in the center of town eating delicious meats at karim’s.  it was marvelous.

living quarters above the spice market in old delhi. the spices were so potent that we had to cover our mouths to keep from choking as we climbed the stairs!

the words here don’t do it justice, but if you remember anything, remember that despite all the difficulties, just go.  it’s worth it.  i hope i see you there.

to read: in light of india by octavio paz, along the ganges by ilija trojanow

to watch: idiot abroad in india, slumdog millionaire, any bollywood movie

to visit next time: jaipur, goa

driving into agra from delhi.

my jaunts: paris

parisians line the canal st. martin during the summer months; one of my favorite places to visit

parisians line the canal st. martin during the summer months; one of my favorite places to visit

even with valentine’s day behind us, i continue to think back to one of my favorite and most romantic trips: paris.  yes, it’s a cliché and yes, everyone loves paris, but there is a reason it steals the hearts of so many; in my mind, it is simply perfect. and my most favorite parts were not the touristy parts that make paris so famous, but rather a few neighborhoods in the northeast part of the city that felt so removed from visitors (could it be true?) that i found myself returning again and again during our week in town.  i struggled with how to write about paris, so i went back to my trip journal so you can see it through my eyes.  i’ve chosen the parts that detail our time spent in my favorite arrondissements (aka neighborhoods in paris): the 10th, 19th, and 20th.  stay tuned for more posts about other areas, but these below were my very favorites.

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8.4.15
we are in paris!  i love this city more than i would have thought.  we arrived on sunday afternoon after taking the train from stuttgart, and headed north to our hotel in the pigalle.  this was formerly a seedy area known for sex shops and crime, but is quite nice now and does not have many tourists (bonus).  our hotel – the astotel hotel joyce – is fantastic.  whimsically decorated with lots of light and pops of color, it is perfect for our stay.  the rooms are small by american standards, but i believe quite roomy by parisian standards (and free breakfast!).

our cheery room at the hotel joyce

our cheery room at the hotel joyce

after unpacking and settling in, we took the metro to the 10th arrondissement, which surrounds the canal st. martin.  i adore this area as it is filled with people (everywhere locals surround the canal with picnics and wine – people of all ages – no tourists).  lots of young people, as well.  somewhat of a hipster neighborhood, cafes and bars line the canal, along with boutique shops (most closed either due to being a sunday night or the august holiday when the town leaves on vacation).  one cafe that looked v. pleasing was the cafe du nord, based on the movie of the same name.

dining along the canal st. martin on a sunday evening.

dining along the canal st. martin on a sunday evening.

we bought a pizza at the pink flamingo, where they give you a bright pink balloon upon ordering take-out.  you can then go sit along the canal with your balloon and they will bring your pizza to you.  so charming.  parker ordered a beer and i asked the waiter if it was ok to drink along the canal.  he laughed and said “of course – everyone does!”  loving paris already.

waiting for our pizza from pink flamingo while enjoying the warm summer parisian nights.

waiting for our pizza from pink flamingo while enjoying the warm summer parisian nights.

i can’t reiterate enough how much i loved this area – locals are everywhere, sitting along the canals, strolling across the bridges, crowding the cafés, as if it’s required for people to come here on a sunday evening.  we walked around for a bit enjoying the scene before popping into le comptoir général, part bar, part vintage store, part experience, all hipster. the theme changes every few months and this month was 80s US movies (think: cocktail, the goonies, gremlins, breakfast club, etc.).  the bar is located in a giant building at the end of an unmarked alley.  it is separated into rooms with different themes and decorated with memorabilia from each movie.  most parisians, however, crowded outside in the small leafy courtyard to smoke.

waiting for a drink in a (then) 80s-themed le comptoir général

waiting for a drink in a (then) 80s-themed le comptoir général

we crossed the canal and settled in at chez prune, which seemed quite popular.  parker ordered red wine and i had strawberry juice [pregnant at the time] and we sat and watched the locals as it grew dark.  still no tourists – how can this be?  that evening, when we headed back to the metro, which is on a large square called the place de la république, we found a movie being screened and hundreds of parisians sitting in the square to watch.

a public movie screening at the place de la république.

a public movie screening at the place de la république.

8.7.15
today we spent our time back in the 10th arrondissement, which i just adore.  we first went to the père lachaise cemetary and saw the graves/tombs of chopin, jim morrison, gertrude stein, oscar wilde, edith piaf, and sarah bernhardt.  spectacular atmosphere, much like the cemetary in buenos aires, but hilly and lush.  v. green.  really enjoyed it.

sarah bernhardt's grave inside the père lachaise cemetary.

sarah bernhardt’s grave inside the père lachaise cemetary.

we  rode the metro back to the canal st. martin and had a perfect lunch at hotel du nord.  i had a cream of leek soup with a fresh salmon salad with watermelon and pineapple.  p. had a cucumber/ricotta starter with the lamb for an entree.  très bien.  the service was excellent.  no one spoke english – was a delight.  it seemed like the quintessential parisian experience.

delightful meals and friendly service at the hotel du nord café.

delightful meals and friendly service at the hotel du nord café.

we walked up the canal, stopping in a few cute stores along the way (loved the bookstore, artazart), until we reached the joeurs station.  in the summer, paris has a program called “paris plage,” where the city transforms certain areas of the river/canals into beaches.  we stopped at this one – la villette – for a look.  parisians reading in loungers in their swimsuits, children playing in the sand, a gelato stand from which we eagerly partook, games, boats to rent by the hour to explore the canal, etc.  v. lively and fun scene – also diverse.

the artazart bookshop was a true delight!

the artazart bookshop was a true delight!

8.8.15
well, as it turns out, i have a horrible habit of never writing down what happens on my last day of a vacation (i’m usually writing a day in arrears, and i’m too sad on the flight home to recount that last day).  so alas, i’m writing this part from memory.  on our last evening in paris, we headed to the parc des buttes-chaumont, in the 19th arrondissement.  it. was. perfect.  this park should be a stop for every person visiting paris!

parisians picnic in the park while overlooking northeast paris

parisians picnic in the park while overlooking northeast paris

it is stunning.  it was built in 1867 by jean-charles alphand, and is full of steep green hills that take your breath away (literally, climbing the hills really took it out of my 6-month pregnant body). there are tall trees, footpaths, a waterfall, a stream, a temple atop a plunging cliff (the path to the temple was closed when we were there, but we witnessed a few daring teens in the temple anyway).  people are picnicking, running, walking their dogs, visiting with friends, reading.

stunning cliff views with the temple atop the parc des buttes chaumont

stunning cliff views with the temple atop the parc des buttes chaumont

my very favorite part of the park, however, was rosa bonheur, a seemingly parisian take on the german beer garden, and what the parisians call ginguettes.  cheap wine, cheese, sandwiches, meats, and ice cream, while loud 20- and 30-something parisians eat, drink, laugh, debate, and smoke.  it seemed like the perfect place for happy hour, and an even more perfect place to rest our feet while gazing out at the lush landscapes and enjoying a nice bottle of rosé (ok, i ordered water, but the two women in front of me in line split a bottle of rosé and a tub of cheese – perfection?).  get there before 7pm or risk standing in line for longer than you’ll want.

waiting for our snacks inside rosa bonheur, a ganguette inside the parc des buttes-chaumont

waiting for our snacks inside rosa bonheur, a ganguette inside the parc des buttes-chaumont

**enjoy!**

my jaunts: mississippi

with only 18,000 residents, clarksdale, mississippi is the blues capital of the world

with only 18,000 residents, clarksdale, mississippi is the blues capital of the world

mississippi was one of the most memorable places we visited during our road trip of the deep south.  i wasn’t expecting this, as mississippi had never held a particular interest to me. yet here we were, snaking our way south along the mississippi river from memphis to vicksburg, through oxford first, then south through the mighty delta, with stops in clarksdale and yazoo city, before stoping in vicksburg for the night.  each stop was different from the last, but they all had one thing in common: you can only find these places in mississippi.  they are like nowhere else; a visit will surprise you.

downtown yazoo city

downtown yazoo city

oxford

oxford is one of those places that you can’t make up.  home of ole miss and southern gentility, it is also the literary home of the south.  we arrived mid-morning after an hour and a half drive from memphis and immediately drove to big bad breakfast for some classic diner eats.  this restaurant is run by the same people who opened city grocery (among others), an oxford staple housed on the town square.  the coffee was excellent and the spicy bacon was even better.  i highly recommend.

big bad breakfast in oxford, mississippi

big bad breakfast in oxford, mississippi

next we drove to the town square, where we visited three book stores: square books, off square books, and square books, jr.  square books is the grandfather of all bookstores in town and sits on a street corner that allows its second-floor porch to wrap leisurely around the building.  inside, the store is crowded with shelves, with books tucked in every possible square inch of space (my favorite kind of book store).  the second floor has a section devoted to local writers, with an entire aisle devoted to faulkner, who modeled his fictional town of yoknapatawpha county on oxford (faulkner’s home, rowan oak, is just south of town and open to the public).  i picked up an american insurrection, a book about james meredith and his fight to be the first black student at ole miss; the book was written by william doyle and was described by the employee as the single most important book written about oxford (bold claim?).  i’ll keep you posted.  we also stopped off at square book’s lifestyle book store, off square books, and their children’s book store, square books, jr., where i purchased the first two books for my son (who was still only the size of a small orange inside of me).

square books in oxford, mississippi

square books in oxford, mississippi – a true literary delight

before heading out of town, we drove through ole miss, seeing the famous grove where chandeliers are hung for football tailgates and fans dress more like they are attending easter church rather than an SEC conference game.  we saw the statue of james meredith, which made me even more eager to read the book i puchased at square books.  the inscription reads “courage,” “perseverance,” “oppportunity,” and “knowledge.”  with that, we waved goodbye, and headed southwest to the delta.

the statue of james meredith walking onto the campus of ole miss

the statue of james meredith walking onto the campus of ole miss

the delta

there is a saying i’ve often heard, to “thank god for mississippi,” because it means there is always a state lower than yours (unless, of course, you live in mississippi) in any type of positive measurement (test scores, graduation rates, health care, etc.).  not a great reflection of this southern state, and surely one that has tarnished its reputation over the years.  as we drove south through the delta, i saw a surprising number of sturdy, nice looking houses, small yet pleasant and all similar looking.  it took me about a hundred miles before i realized they all looked similar due to being government housing.  the people of the delta live and die by the state of the river; one bad year and there’s no money for anyone.  knowing that, and the  frustrating history of its slave-owning plantations, i understood how the blues were created deep in the heart of this fertile ground.

driving south through the mississippi delta

driving south through the mississippi delta

i had read that the drive down route 61 through the delta was one of the most beautiful in the US.  it is selected as a “best of the road” drive in my atlas, and kate spade’s “places to go, people to see” noted it as one of the top 15 scenic routes. however, our drive from a scenic standpoint was slightly disappointing (perhaps overhyped?).  while the open road and low crops lining the road were pleasant, it was not the beautiful horizon i had hoped for; perhaps may was the wrong time of year to drive through and another month with larger crops would be more beautiful.  the draw is definitely the people and towns along the way.

clarksdale

i had read about clarksdale in 36 hours, so we decided to make a stop.  this is the most bizarre town i’ve ever visited – seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with no thriving commerce to speak of, but clarksdale still thrives; not on industry, but on blues.  it is here that blues guitarist robert johnson is rumored to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the gift of blues.  a drive into the small town of just under 18,000 reveals a cobblestoned downtown that boasts the delta blues museum, several great restaurants, antiques stores, and cat head, a store filled with local artwork and hundreds of blues albums.  upon entering cat head, we were greeted by the sound of the longing blues, only to turn around and see that the shopkeeper was strumming his own guitar behind the counter – he later turned out, like most people in the south, to be a gifted storyteller, having a colorful story for every  album and photograph inside the store.

cat head delta blues and folk art in downtown clarksdale, mississippi

cat head delta blues and folk art in downtown clarksdale, mississippi

while most people (myself included) know that bbq rules the south’s stomach, i did not know about the importance of hot tamales.  and yes, i live in texas and eat my fair share of this husked delight, but i had no idea that tamales were such a part of the deep south (read more about hot tamales in the south here).  we stopped at hick’s, which was closed for dine-in, but the employee that day insisted we come in, as he directed us away from the drive-thru lane and unlocked the dining room.  if you’re ever passing through, do not pass up the mississippi hot tamale – they are smaller than the texas variety, so order several, and prepare yourself for some heat – these are no joke.

the back alleys of clarksdale, mississippi

the back alleys of clarksdale, mississippi

yazoo city and beyond

we briefly stopped in yazoo city as it is the hometown of my husband’s favorite writer, willie morris.  in his book, “north toward home” he tells his story of growing up in yazoo city and then leaving to become a writer in new york city.  what a change.  we didn’t get out of the car, but yazoo had a colorful and quaint downtown and seemingly a lot of churches (#biblebelt). we headed south again to vicksburg, a civil war town nestled on the banks of the mississippi, but at this point we were too tired to explore either the battle sites or the river.  should you find yourself in southern mississippi, another potential stop is biloxi, a town on the gulf with a shady strip of casinos, and the site of a husband and wife murder that is detailed in the book, mississippi mud, which i picked up at a book store in memphis.  what drama – it reads like fiction and tells the story of the true murders that killed vince sherry (a high-powered judge) and his wife, margaret, who was about to run for mayor.  without giving too much away, the story takes you through the biloxi goverment, hit men hired for murder, and multiple con men serving time in angola prison in louisiana; extremely difficult (and frightening) that this is non-fiction.

scenes from yazoo city

scenes from yazoo city

who should go: lovers of books, blues, and americana
what to read: the golden apples by eudora welty, an american insurrection by william doyle, north toward home by willie morris, mississippi mud by edward humes, practically anything by faulkner
what to listen to: muddy waters, sam cooke, ike turner

the famous grove at ole miss - this time, with no tailgaters

the famous grove at ole miss – this time, with no tailgaters

a southern jaunt: a road trip through the southern united states

southern-jaunt-2015

last spring, my husband and i traveled through the southern united states on a road trip.  4000 miles, nine states, and 17 cities later, we had seen a part of the country that we had never seen before.  the trip deserves multiple posts, but an overview is also in order.  starting in dallas we headed west to hot springs, arkansas, detoured in little rock for a quick trip to the clinton library, then headed north to memphis for several days.  in memphis, we visited the civil rights museum, which would unknowingly create a lens through which we viewed every city visited henceforth.  truly, truly a gem.  after learning about the roots of rock-n-roll and starting what would be a long study into southern bbq, we headed south into mississippi.

the civil rights museum in memphis, tennessee, at the site where mlk jr. was shot

the civil rights museum in memphis, tennessee, at the site where mlk jr. was shot

in one day, we paused briefly in oxford to visit the south’s literary capital and buy a few books at the fabulous square books store on the square, then headed southwest to clarksdale, the (probably official?) blues capital of the world. a brief description of this unbelievable town will not do it justice, so i will reserve my words for a later post.  snaking further south through the delta, we arrived in yazoo city, home of my husband’s favorite author, willie morris, before heading further south to vicksburg to stay the night.  if you have not previously visited mississippi, and also not visited the delta, it is a must.  if you don’t believe me, anthony bourdain has an episode on the delta that may just change your mind; it is very much like no where else.  it is here where i started reading eudora welty’s, the golden apples, a novel from 1949 about a fictional town in mississippi.  after visiting the civil rights museum in memphis, the book (and our travels) took on a new meaning: the south’s past is troubled and its future is somewhat complicated.  i went ahead and purchased a book about james meredith, ole miss’s first black student who risked his life for equal education, and wondered how that happened only 53 years ago.  who can tell what the next 50 years will hold?

a view of the square in oxford, mississippi as seen from the balcony of square books store

a view of the square in oxford, mississippi as seen from the balcony of square books store

venturing east the next morning, we stopped in tuscaloosa for (more) bbq before a brief stop for croissants and a visit to the oldest baseball stadium in america in birmingham, alabama.  we ended the day with family in atlanta, where the heaviness of the south was refreshingly lifted in the urban city and things seemed to return to normal for a couple of days.  driving into atlanta, we explored inman park (spoiler alert: loved), and lounged in the botanical gardens while reading more welty.

a quick jaunt to the inman park neighborhood of atlanta - very walkable and full of unique shops and restaurants

a quick jaunt to the inman park neighborhood of atlanta – very walkable and full of unique shops and restaurants

following several days of relaxation with family, we headed northeast to charleston, where the south reigned again.  charleston is a lovely city that almost seems fake (similar to the feeling i had when visiting georgetown, dc); it is filled with gorgeous colonial houses, cobblestone streets, and preppy boys donning sea green chino shorts with embroidered lobsters.  the food was amazing, as expected (bourdain’s been here, too), and we had an excellent tour guide in my husband’s lovely aunt.  the sea views were also quite refreshing – there is just nothing like the smell of salt water and the sound of crashing waves.

the picturesque college of charleston

the picturesque college of charleston

at this point, we were about halfway through our jaunt, so decided to head back.  turning westward, we also looked north and several hours later arrived in chapel hill, north carolina.  i do not even know where to begin with north carolina.  it is divine, and by far my favorite state of the trip.  lush, green, hilly, and clean (so clean!), still firmly rooted in the south, but with a bit of yankee sense.  we explored chapel hill, raleigh, and durham with the help of old friends, and then further explored winston-salem with even more friends.  what a fabulous place.  heading west from winston-salem, we entered the much-anticipated blue ridge parkway, the highway that snakes through the appalachian mountains.  this is an absolute must-visit for anyone who lives in the US (no excuses), and i do hope i can return some day for the fall foliage.  we ended our north carolina jaunt with a night in asheville, which is basically the next denver or austin (just wait) and also happened to feature the most amazing restaurant at which i’ve eaten in quite some time: curaté.  if you love spanish tapas, this place is the real deal.  much more on this gem later.

a quick break along the blue ridge parkway to take in the breathtaking views

a quick break along the blue ridge parkway to take in the breathtaking views

it is around this time that we began to tire of our nomadic life (shocker!). while i like to fancy myself an expert traveler, there really is no place like home.  we headed west through the gorgeous appalachians to nashville, where we spent several days exploring all of the hipster locales (i can’t wait to write about our adventures here) and ordering in food at night to rest our weary minds.  one last stop in fayetville and rogers, arkansas to see the absolutely stunning crystal bridges museum before we headed home.  this stop was a last minute decision and we almost nixed it due to our desire to head home,  but it was so close and i had heard such great things about the museum (founded by the walmart heiress, alice walton, from her personal collection), that we ultimately decided to add the extra night.  best decision of the trip.  this is a world class collection in a stunning building in the most unlikely place.  it is also free.  and did i mention stunning?  seriously, so very thrilled this level of art has been brought to middle america; everyone deserves access to the arts and this truly does not disappoint.  go!

inside the stunning crystal bridges museum in bentonville, arkansas

inside the stunning crystal bridges museum in bentonville, arkansas

after 15 days on the road, we headed back to dallas to our happy home.  what did i learn through my time in the south?  it’s complicated.  many places seem to still hold on to their storybook (for some) past, though those places are starting to see the futility of this choice.  while many places have since taken down the confederate flag, it still flies high in others.  the more urban areas have changed dramatically and offer truly exciting experiences with a diverse demographic.  nashville is no longer just for country lovers, and atlanta is much more than a cement-laden sprawling suburbia.  people are returning from the north to take advantage of more affordable costs of living and bringing with them new ideas and commerce that is changing the southern stereotypes.  i have a lot of hope for the south, and can’t wait to see what mississippi and north carolina are going to turn out in the next ten years.  but if you haven’t ever visited, do yourself a favor and plan some time soaking in the southern experience; it will definitely surprise you.

where are some of your favorite places in the south?

the gallery wall at the hatch show print shop, a local nashville institution

the gallery wall at the hatch show print shop, a local nashville institution

back in business

a parisian jaunt

a parisian jaunt

whoa boy.  not sure how this happened, but it has been seven months since my last jaunt post.  seven months!  i’ve missed writing so much, and after renewing my website for the next three years (we’re somewhat committed now), i felt like i may as well get my money’s worth out of it and write a few more posts.  let’s be honest, it’s my happy place.

as it turns out, some big things have been going on behind the scenes.  for starters, i’m expecting a baby boy in one month.  one month!  big news and the prep for said baby has taken up a significant amount of my free time (turns out you have to be prepared for another human to enter your life).  this is our first, so if any of you out there have any tips, they are all welcome.

quick shot in leuven, belgium after climbing the stairs to the library's bell tower.

quick shot in leuven, belgium after climbing the stairs to the library’s bell tower.

you’d think that would mean our travels would come to halt, but au contraire, mes amies.  in the time since i last wrote in march, my husband and i took a road trip across the american south, including arkansas, mississippi, alabama, georgia, south carolina, north carolina, and tennessee.  it was fantastic and i can’t wait to share my favorite spots with you.

one of many stops for the breath-taking views along the blue ridge parkway.

one of many stops for the breath-taking views along the blue ridge parkway.

then in july, we boarded a flight and headed to europe for one of the best vacations i’ve ever taken!  we visited friends in belgium, braved the unbelievably cold (and wet!) weather of amsterdam (one of my favorite cities now), partied at an amazing german wedding in stuttgart, and had an incredibly perfect week in paris.  i was not ready to come home to reality, but alas it happened.  such an unforgettable trip with so many new sites – much, much more to come on that.

the most delightful bar at the hotel du nord brasserie in paris.

the most delightful bar at the hotel du nord brasserie in paris.

finally, i’ve been traveling a lot for both work and family events – short trips to houston, san antonio, phoenix, tulsa, washington dc, and glen rose have made the summer a true delight.  fact: being pregnant does not mean travel ends (in fact, you actually get to skip a lot of lines during peak tourist season).  i’m finished with travel for the next few months, but excited to see what this new adventure in the form of an alien-like newborn has in store for me.  stay tuned for posts from the past seven months and hopefully some posts of the adventures of getting out and exploring with baby.

a piece of the berlin wall at the newseum in washington, dc.

a piece of the berlin wall at the newseum in washington, dc.

cheers!

my jaunts: 22 hours in new orleans

beats and jazz at maison on frenchman street

beats and jazz at maison on frenchman street

last week, i found myself in new orleans for exactly 22 hours.  per my flight itinerary, it was 23 hours, but that sneaky daylight savings time robbed me of an hour sometime during my two hours of “sleep” before i had to head to the airport.  i was in town for my sister-in-law’s bachelorette party, and fell in love all over again with the crazy city (city? does that even adequately describe the crazy hodgepodge that new orleans is?).  it has that vibe that i tried to explain a couple of months ago, that slaps you in the face the moment you leave the airport.  it’s poor but vibrant, seemingly down and up at the same time.

jazz, tourists, poverty. #neworleans

jazz, tourists, poverty. #neworleans

the 22 hours included a mix of typical new orleans events that may not be so normal elsewhere.  al fresco jazz brunch with morning bloodies and crawfish étouffée.  a second line wedding parade through the french quarter.  palm readings.

a second line wedding parade through the french quarter

a second line wedding parade through the french quarter

time for brunch and bloodies

time for brunch and bloodies

meeting adrian, an artist in the midst of his self-proclaimed mid-life crisis, with his enterprising dog who encourages his customers to “buy more art.”  watching hipsters practice a strange yet hypnotizing mix of yoga and acrobatics in jackson square.  enterprising break dancing and eclectic locals.

buy more art, people. specifically, from this guy.

buy more art, people. specifically, from this guy.

mesmerized by these guys at jackson square

mesmerized by these guys at jackson square

fried alligator and fried shrimp po’boys and abita beer.  creole mansions on esplanade avenue.  jazz on frenchman street, but most importantly the hybrid jazz/r&b/hip-hop that i fell in love with last summer at maison.  beads and cobblestones and lights and laughter.  but mainly, all that jazz.

the slick skillet serenaders

the slick skillet serenaders

french quarter still life

french quarter still life

twenty-two hours isn’t much, but it was enough to get under my skin a bit before returning to the real world.

bright day in the quarter

bright day in the quarter

the daily french quarter clean-up

the daily french quarter clean-up

london on a layover

elizabeth tower (aka big ben) at the houses of parliament. hello, london!

elizabeth tower (aka big ben) at the houses of parliament. hello, london!

last summer, en route to south africa from dallas, i stopped in london for a 12 hour layover.  twelve hours!  i had never been to london before, so i was thrilled to speed into the city and look around for a few hours.  should you ever find yourself in the same situation, i’ve created a guide to the perfect speed-tour of london (the map below may only show up on non-mobile devices. if that’s the case, click here).

first tip: be rested from your flight over from the states.  pack some ear plugs, tylenol pm, an eye mask, and an aspirin (no blood clots for you!) to make sure you are well-rested and ready to explore once you touch down in the UK.  i flew into heathrow airport, which has a place, excess baggage company, to drop off bags for a fee. (pre-reserved storage plans are coming soon, which could save you time and money).  from heathrow, take the piccadilly line on the underground to hammersmith; exit the train, walk across the platform, and board the district line to westminster.  the trip into the city can take 45 minutes to an hour.  if you are willing to spend about $50 per person each way, you can take the heathrow express to paddington station, but you will then need to also take a cab once at paddington station.  i prefer the longer route in, and then the quicker route back.  second tip: mind the gap is for real.  there is a huge gap between the metro and the platform – be careful!

a quick walk across the westminster bridge gives you views of the london eye, the river thames, and the london aquarium.

a quick walk across the westminster bridge gives you views of the london eye, the river thames, and the london aquarium.

once at westminster, ascend the stairs from the metro, and hark!  the first stop on our speed-tour of london: big ben.  it is quite large and stately – very impressive after the ride in from the bland airport.  snap some photos and then walk east across the westminster bridge over the river thames (stop 2!) for a view of the london eye.  check out the people, snap a selfie, and head back towards big ben on the west side of the river for stop number three: houses of parliament.

the scene in westminster: tourists, cabbies, big ben, and the london eye keeping watch in the background

the scene in westminster: tourists, cabbies, big ben, and the london eye keeping watch in the background

ok, so this is kind of cheating because big ben is one of the three towers of the houses of parliament, but work with me here.  you will also need to take a deep breath at this point because you are in the midst of tourist mania.  school tours, asian tours, and a sea of selfie sticks will surround you as you try to catch a glimpse of the impressive buildings.  walk in front of the houses of parliament on margaret street, then head west on sanctuary street to check out westminster abbey (stop 4!), where will and kate exchanged their vows (i know you watched it).  there are a lot of tourist kiosks here, so buy yourself a couple of postcards; they’ll come in handy in a bit.

beware of the kicking/biting horses on horseguards avenue!

beware of the kicking/biting horses on horseguards avenue!

if you’re like me, you’re starving at this point, so to the pub we go!  walk north on parliament street, stopping briefly at the barricades on downing street to try to catch a glimpse of the prime minister (i had grand visions of hugh grant waving from the door of 10 downing street in “love, actually,” but alas i just saw a lot of police officers).  one block north, on horseguards avenue, i watched a horseguard (exactly as it sounds) change shifts…i am sure there was more to it, but i was pretty sleepy and completely overwhelmed by the british accents around me, so we moved on.

drinking outside at the harp. also, parker trying to look cool and british.

drinking outside at the harp. also, parker trying to look cool and british.

this is where things get a little tricky, so look alive here.  you’re going to pass a busy intersection (london cabbies!  big red buses!) and then duck right behind an impressive building (no idea what it is!) to find yourself at the harp pub on chandos place.  this place is extremely legit, so if you get lost, you must ask directions to get there (or check out the map here to put yourself back on track).  you may be the only tourist here (which is not the case at all pubs).  locals crowd around the bar and small tables.  order yourself a sausage sandwich, smother it with hp sauce, and enjoy an ale.  delightful.

the harp pub in london. one of my favorites of the day.

the harp pub in london. one of my favorites of the day.

lunch at the harp pub in london. extremely legit.

lunch at the harp pub in london. extremely legit.

once you’ve satisfied yourself on english fare, head north from chandos to new row street, boasting the most delightful row of shoppes (see what i did there?) and restaurants and coffee houses you ever did see.  pop into new row coffee and order yourself a flat white.  take some time to write a postcard or two and enjoy the people watching out front.

the adorable new row street in london

the adorable new row street in london

after your nice drink, head west to piccadilly circus, which appears to be the times square of london and only received one word in my travel diary: “disaster.”  i’m sure it has many wonderful qualities, but i missed them on that day.  there is a cheesy store dedicated to british wares; do not make the same mistake as i did and go inside.  avoid at all costs.

stop for a flat white at new row coffee in london - delightful!

stop for a flat white at new row coffee in london – delightful!

from piccadilly, head south (yes, you’re backtracking a bit; it’s worth it) to the mall. this street, which is closed to traffic on sundays and is bordered by st. james’s park on the south, leads directly to buckingham palace.  buckingham palace!  so, what are you waiting for?  walk forth!  take a detour into st. james’s park if you’d like, enjoy the larger-than-life flora, sit in a green and white striped lounger, and take in the (hopefully, but probably not) beautiful day.  walk around buckingham palace, snap a selfie with a guard, and then head west on constitution hill, bordered by green park to the north and buckingham palace gardens on the east.

the famous green and white striped loungers in st. james's park

the famous green and white striped loungers in st. james’s park

the larger-than-life flora in st. james's park in london

the larger-than-life flora in st. james’s park in london

buckingham palace and gardens

buckingham palace and gardens

ok, i’m not going to lie: at this point, i became extremely exhausted and maybe a little crabby.  this is a long walk.  we’d covered a lot of ground.  i hadn’t slept soundly in a while. i’d been wearing the same clothes for many hours.  this is where you need to give yoruself a pep talk and fight through it.  because just a few blocks away, further to the west, lies harrods.

welcome to harrods. pass the people and head inside for the unbelievable food markets!

welcome to harrods. pass the people and head inside for the unbelievable food markets!

what is harrods, you ask? oh, harrods.  the ultimate department store with seven floors, food markets with oysters, caviar, macarons, tea, etc. a l’aduree downstairs and a cute restaurant lining the meat market where we enjoyed a glass of wine.  just go.

a quick class of wine at galvin demoiselle in harrods (next to the meat market)

a quick class of wine at galvin demoiselle in harrods (next to the meat market)

find the floor that interests you, and for sure stop for a completely and almost sickingly expensive glass of wine/beer.  if shopping isn’t your thing, instead head into  hyde park (the central park of london) and enjoy an hour or so of rest and relaxation among the bustling city.

the sea market at harrods - fish, caviar, and an oyster bar in the back.

the sea market at harrods – fish, caviar, and an oyster bar in the back.

at this point, you should probably be concerned about your flight, so hop in a classic london black cab and treat yourself to a ride to paddington station, where you can catch the express train (approximately $50 per person at the station, or $40 if purchased in advance) back to the airport.  this trip is a mere 15 minutes.  on our cab ride, we listened to the usa/germany world cup match (yes!) and the cabbie cheered with us as the US scored.

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

scenes of london while speeding by in a taxi

our london taxi that drove us to paddington station while listening to the usa/germany world cup match. USA!

our london taxi that drove us to paddington station while listening to the usa/germany world cup match. USA!

catching the heathrow express back to the airport from paddington station - cheerio, london!

catching the heathrow express back to the airport from paddington station – cheerio, london!

 

christmas with jaunt!

it is officially the christmas and holiday season, and i couldn’t be more excited!  the tree is up, some presents are wrapped, and my allergies are flaring up at my pine-scented candle.  ’tis the season.

such great memories from our group trip to new orleans this past summer!

such great memories from our group trip to new orleans this past summer!

a couple of years ago i started a tradition of purchasing ornaments from each place i travel.  unpacking the ornaments was so much fun this year after finally building up a little collection!  each ornament has a story, even if it’s just the story of trying to hunt one down (apparently christmas tree ornaments aren’t a big deal in africa – duh – so i had to fashion a key chain into an makeshift ornament).

this was originally a key chain that has now been transformed into some holiday cheer. cheers to south africa and safaris!

this was originally a key chain that has now been transformed into some holiday cheer. cheers to south africa and safaris!

my favorite is probably the clay creation we found in carmel, california during our first anniversary road trip up the central california coast (spoiler alert: central california is the most beautiful part of the country; not sure why i haven’t written about it yet!).  the store personalized it for us by writing each city we visited during our trip on the stockings – so fun!

i love this ornament! it includes all (ok, most) of the places we visited on our first anniversary road trip: san luis obispo (SLO), cayucos, paso robles, big sur, carmel, and half moon bay.

i love this ornament! it includes all (ok, most) of the places we visited on our first anniversary road trip: san luis obispo (SLO), cayucos, paso robles, big sur, carmel, and half moon bay.

see below for more photos of my favorites.  do you have any souvenirs you seek out while traveling?

ok, the truth is that my grandma gave me this ornament. but it's one of my favorites because new york is one of my favorites, so it makes the post.

ok, the truth is that my grandma gave me this ornament. but it’s one of my favorites because new york is one of my favorites, so it makes the post.

i bought this in sedona sometime between hiking giant red rocks and hugging trees while learning of the vortex. check it out.

i bought this in sedona, arizona sometime between hiking giant red rocks and hugging trees while learning of the vortex. check it out.

this is the alamo from san antonio. #neverforget my husband and i went there on our second wedding anniversary (to san antonio, not the alamo specifically). san antonio is awesome - do go!

this is the alamo from san antonio. #neverforget my husband and i went there on our second wedding anniversary (to san antonio, not the alamo specifically). san antonio is awesome – do go!

the newest addition to my collection: a mickey mouse hat! i went to orlando last week for training, and picked this cute guy up in epcot.

the newest addition to my collection: a mickey mouse hat! i went to orlando last week for training, and picked this cute guy up in epcot.

my jaunts: new orleans jazz

new orleans was always intriguing to me.  so close to where i grew up in oklahoma, but seemingly miles away in every other sense:  the food, the jazz, the slight sense of grit and corruption that lies just beneath the surface of its varied architecture.  i’ve known people who have moved to new orleans for school and then never left.  they say it gets in you and you can’t leave, even if you try.  so i was excited to (finally) explore the town and understand this spirit of new orleans.

jazz and beats at maison on frenchmen street

jazz and beats at maison on frenchmen street

we traveled with friends and found the most amazingly quintessential new orleans house on airbnb in the heart of frenchmen street, just across the street from washington square park.  note: do not stay in the french quarter.  rather, stay here, on frenchmen, amongst the jazz bars and the outdoor art market, and only a short walk away from the quarter (if you must, if only for cafe du monde beignets).

ok, cafe du monde is worth it. skip the line and go sit down: first come, first serve.

ok, cafe du monde is worth it. skip the line and go sit down: first come, first serve.

the jazz bars on frenchmen were my favorite part of new orleans.  walking up frenchmen, loud and urgent jazz rushes from inside the clubs and greets you, demanding you step in for a while.  should you accept, you’ll most likely find packed spaces, locals sipping abita beer, and potentially a bachelorette party or two.  step into the spotted cat music club, a small bar recommended by new york times’ 36 hours, where i spent the good part of an hour enthralled by the couples who charged in and started swing dancing with such purpose that it was both thrilling and catatonic.

dancers and jazz at the spotted club music club

dancers and jazz at the spotted club music club

some bars require reservations for seats (such as snug harbor jazz bistro), while others pull you in spontaneously as you walk by.  one night, we walked past maison when we heard a mix of hip hop and jazz coming from inside.  it was different and immediately piqued my interest, and i couldn’t help but dance along.  we walked in to find a group of around eight guys, all young, that switched between rapping and raucous playing of their instruments (think: kanye’s “all of the lights,” though younger and more raw).  at one point, one member left the club to go outside for a smoke break.  he couldn’t resist the music, though, and started playing his trombone from the street in the middle of pedestrians walking by.  the music has a way of taking hold of you like that and not letting go.

maison jazz club

he couldn’t resist – a musician plays from the sidewalk during his smoke break

if the music at a particular place wasn’t doing it for us, we’d move on; there are too many bars offering different types of music that you should never settle for mediocrity.  our favorite spot one night would be boring the next.  keep walking, and you’ll find what you’re after.  some of my favorite spots (all within walking distance) were dba, spotted cat, and maison.  i also heard that blue nile was fantastic, though we never stepped inside.

live jazz at d.b.a. - lots of dancing here

live jazz at d.b.a. – lots of dancing here

each night, we’d walk up frenchmen, listen to jazz, dance along, drink, and cheer for more.  between sets we’d switch locations or stroll through the outdoor art market just next door (check out brett henderson’s booth for some really cool photos overlaid with maps of new orleans).

the art market on frenchmen street

the art market on frenchmen street

walking back to the house post-jazz, we’d buy pizza at the pop-up pizza pirate (it’s literally in the shape of a pirate ship) and sit on our balcony overlooking washington square park listening to the lingering jazz and conversations of late-night walkers pass by. this was new orleans by night, the time to see the city for what it is.  now that i’ve seen its spirit, i’m a believer.

the best of frenchmen street

the best of frenchmen street

my jaunts: the texas state fair

the ou/tx red river showdown in the cotton bowl. boomer!

the ou/tx red river showdown in the cotton bowl. boomer!

as cooler weather rolls in, summer is starting to wave good-bye, and what a great summer she was!  favorites included grilling out on warm evenings in our backyard (so nice to be back to the land of warm nights!), patio trips to boulevardier, brunch at the grape, trying to find the best pizza in town (cane rosso is currently winning that challenge, but you can expect this challenge to definitely extend into fall!), and picnic-ing across town with the lovely dallas picnic society.

lakeside park with the dallas picnic society

lakeside park with the dallas picnic society

but fall is here, and that means a lot of things: boots, apple cider, fire pits, college football, and of course, the texas state fair.  i haven’t been in several years, but this year my husband bought me tickets to the famous red river showdown football rivalry between oklahoma and texas, which takes place at the cotton bowl, which is situated right smack dab in the middle of the fair.  the temperatures had dropped significantly the night before, so we bundled up and took the train down to fair park to check it out.

the cotton bowl

the cotton bowl – scene of the famous oklahoma/texas red river showdown each october, in the middle of the texas state fair

it’s difficult to explain the texas state fair if you haven’t been before, so allow me to describe with a few photos.  the fair sits in the middle of the art deco fair park complex, which also houses the women’s museum, the texas discovery gardens, and an outdoor music venue, among many others.  in other words, it’s giant.  big tex greets you in his famous texas drawl as you walk down the main promenade.  this is the new big tex after the original from 1952 splendidly caught on fire in 2012 (funny/not funny – it was also the year big tex turned 60, was given an AARP card, and had shades of grey added to his hair – #godblesstexas).

the new and improved big tex

the new and improved big tex – howwwwwdy, folllllks

the fair has a livestock section with goat competitions, pig and ostrich races, cattle, and horses.  it has an automobile building that showcases new cars and a creative arts section with prize-winning quilts  and cooking challenges by chefs. there is a building filled with inventors hawking their latest gadgets and a relaxation tent filled with new hot tubs, massage chairs, mattresses, and more.  weirded out yet?

goats at texas state fair

these are goats. competing. with a giant ceiling fan.

because then there is the food, the glorious fried food that booths compete over each year, trying to outdo each other with the most outlandish fried goodness.  there have been fried oreos, fried s’mores, fried coke, even fried butter!  this year i tried the fried sriracha balls (ok, delicious) and the fried pb&j sandwich with bananas.  but the classic is fletcher’s corny dog, freshly dipped upon your order and just absolutely amazing.

fletcher's corny dog

the famous freshly-dipped fletcher’s corny dog – a state fair must-eat.

beyond the food booths are the crazy carnival rides and games, which range from individual booths where you can shoot balloons to win a giant stuffed life-size gorilla to the texas star, a 212-foot ferris wheel that gives you views of all of dallas.

carnival games

carnival games at the texas state fair

and finally, the game.  oklahoma vs. texas, played at the exact half-way point between the two schools.  students descend in droves from norman and austin, and girls don teeny flowy dresses in school colors with the mandatory cowboy boots.  the players, the bands, the mascots – everything is a competition and the game itself never disappoints, especially when oklahoma somehow manages to win with a completely terrible offense.

ou/texas style

boots and legs and dresses and hats – boomer.

cool temperatures, corny dogs, and the red river showdown…fall is officially here.  cheers!

what are some of your favorite things to do in fall?