There’s More to New Orleans than Mardi Gras

Literally… Mardi Gras is the synonym of New Orleans! Every year, tons of thousands of people from around the world come visit “The Big Easy” (one of several nicknames given to NOLA) to celebrate “Fat Tuesday”, and pack Bourbon St. while catching beads, drinking hurricanes, and collecting doubloons (the Mardi Gras coins). I am 100% positive you’ve heard of this big festivity!

No doubt, NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) is definitely another city you must add to your “bucket” list! However, please beware that visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras can get a LITTLE  (notice my sarcasm?) overcrowded and a BIT (notice it again?) crazy. Sooo… if you’re like me, and you don’t like squirming through the masses like a sardine, this is NOT the time for you to visit this charming city.

My boyfriend and I recently drove to New Orleans for a friend’s wedding and managed to fit in some time to explore the area. Despite the fact it was an ordinary weekend (no special holidays or events going on), we still (somehow) ran into a lot of traffic before getting to the French Quarter -where our hotel was located. Fortunately enough once we checked in and valeted the truck, the fun begun!

As I have previously shared with you, I don’t have too many vacay days therefore my trips are typically limited to weekends, which means I need to maximize each trip to its fullest capacity by doing the most in the least amount of time. If you’re in desperate need of more vacation days but have to suffice with what you got, I think you will find my advice a little (I hope for very!) helpful.

We were able to cover a lot of ground during our short stay; so if you are planning to visit the folkloric city of New Orleans, allocate your time as wisely as possible! Be sure to set aside enough time for the following places:

1. French Quarter. Thankfully the Omni Royal Orleans hotel (a block away from Bourbon St.) was located in this area and everything was walking distance -we truly didn’t need a car to get anywhere! The only transportation I recommend taking (if you have time) is a horse/mule driven carriage -it’s the most authentic way to tour the French Quarter! (Tickets can be bought on the spot, make sure you shop for the best deal by asking around before you buy).

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2. Bourbon St. The whole purpose about going to NOLA is to walk through this street! If you do not accomplish this, you completely missed the point of your trip.  Bourbon St. is full of live entertainment; there’s music, dancing, food, booze (bourbon included -duh!), fun and plenty of good vibes all around! As you can imagine, there is also an overwhelming number of restaurants and bars which makes it more difficult to decide where you should spend your time, and what’s worth your while. Let me help you slim down your choices:

  • The Old Absinthe House. The oldest speakeasy in the French Quarter, dating back to the early 1800s offers a unique, mystique experience at Bourbon rue. Their menu obviously consists of a variety of “Green Fairy” drinks -remember to drink within your limits. (I’d never had absinthe in my life so I asked the bartender for her recommendation; she advised me to try the Butterfly drink).
  • Erin Rose. A few steps off of Bourbon St. you will drink the BEST Frozen Irish Coffee you have ever had!
  • Pat O’Briens. You cannot leave this street without ordering one of NOLA’s  signature drinks -the Hurricane!
  • Fat Cats. This bar has a live band, playing your biggest hits of the 80s -it’s the perfect spot to drink and sing-along with the frenzzz!
  • Big Easy Daiquiris. If you are searching for quick and tasty food, this place is legit! Their pepperoni pizza was beyond AMAZING -so good it does not compete with Costco Pizza! Plus, they have a frozen bar and you can order whatever flavor you want! This place was our savior!

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3. Jackson Square. Make sure you take a walk through the historic landmark of the city; this area is really cool because there are many artists trying to capture the essence of The Big Easy on canvas and sell it for a living. One of the artists we spoke to had very neat paintings that my boyfriend liked and bought for his house; the frames were made of wood the painter found in dumpsters! (Isn’t that so cool?!)

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4. Saint Louis Cathedral. Hopefully you’re timing will be better than ours; we didn’t get to see the cathedral on the inside. (A little secret about myself -when I travel I love to check out churches and make a wish for every new church I visit).

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5. Other Places. Some other places you want to make sure you get to see even if it’s just walking by are:

~Amelie Café. This is a neat spot to have a long brunch. Unfortunately for us, it was only drinks at the bar. If you want to eat here, I highly recommend calling in to make a reservation; walk-ins are accepted but are limited -so don’t risk it and call in.

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~French Market. I hope you’re in financial shape to walk through six blocks of non-stop shopping! Here you will find anything from cajun food, local art & art crafts, used books, unique apparel, handmade jewelry and much more! Have your credit cards available and ready for a fun shopping spree!

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~Hot Sauce House. If you get sick of waiting in line to be seated at Café du Monde, walk across the street to check out this store -they have a wide selection of hot sauces to sample; hopefully you have a high tolerance for  “picante” -some of their sauces are very spicy!

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~Fiorella’s Bistro & Wine Bar. After passing up restaurants with long waiting lists, we discovered Fiorella’s, a bistro that served excellent raw oysters marinated in champagne-wine (not on the menu), and very moist, charbroiled oysters. I really liked this place to grab a quick bite and keep moving forward.

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I hope you get to checkout all the places I’ve listed and you get to see way more than I did! Make sure you share any other pieces of advice you pick up during your trip here.

AIRFARE

Not needed when your only a drive away! If you are further away than just a few hours, search for your best flight deals on Expedia.com, Priceline.com, or visit directly the airline websites such as United.com and/or Southwest.com.

HOTEL

As always, my boyfriend and I do our due diligence searching for a place to stay with the main criteria listed below:

  1. Location. Making sure your hotel is in a safe area is always important (safety first!). Additionally, when you are visiting a loud city, it is nice to find a place where you can find peace and quiet to get a good night’s rest.
  2. Comfort and Quality of Service. Comfy beds with clean, fresh sheets, at a high end hotel calls for good night’s rest. The hotel staff was very welcoming and friendly which always makes a difference during your stay!
  3. Proximity. Being able to walk to all the hot spots around town is a major convenience when you’re out traveling! We wanted a hotel that would allow us to spend most of our time exploring new sites, such as the ones I’ve listed.

The Omni Royal Orleans was the hotel of our choice based on this criteria. Located on Saint Louis St. (a few steps away from the busy Bourbon St.), the Omni Royal Orleans offers a friendly, relaxed, and luxurious atmosphere -perfect for a fun getaway weekend!

Overall the staff provided great customer service. Check-in and -out were quick and easy; which we all know can sometimes be a nightmare and delay the beginning of your fun or your journey.

Based on the experience of our stay, I rate the Omni Royal Orleans with a full five yellow stars. You should TOTALLY check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!

TRANSPORTATION

Like I said, everything is walking distance within the French Quarter. If you really need a ride to get somewhere you should truly take a carriage tour around town.

DON’T MISS OUT!

Wherever the streets of New Orleans take you, please do not leave the French Quarter without visiting these places!

~Bourbon House. Take this as my best recommendation! This restaurant/bar has an amazing showcase of all types and kinds of bourbon -I think your drink for the night is quite self-explanatory. This restaurant’s ambiance is graced with elegance, and their food is served very rich in flavor. Please, please don’t walk away from Bourbon House without trying their charbroiled oysters -they are exquisite! By the way… they prepare a delicious vanilla, whiskey shake you must order -remember, don’t be counting calories! (No room for diets when you’re on vacation LOL).

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~Café Beignet. Everybody that visits New Orleans has their mind set on visiting Café du Monde ( in Jackson Square) to order a café au lait -coffee with milk- and an order of beignets -Google it if you don’t know what they are. However, people typically don’t know about the 2+ hour line you need to go through to be seated! (So soo crazy!). If you have all the time in the Monde (get it? LOL), then by all means be patient and wait to be seated. But, if you are on the “go” and want to have just as good of an experience, definitely visit Café Beignet!

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~Hotel Monteleone. One of the fanciest hotels you’ll find in the French Quarter is famously known for its Carousel Bar & Lounge -which by the way, does spin around! (FYI: You don’t need to be a guest at this hotel to sit at their bar and order a drink! Oh yeahhh… no reservations required either!!). For drinks, I suggest ordering “The Corpse,” a cocktail off the menu that another person sitting next to me at the bar recommended; a Sazerac -which is a variation of cognac and whiskey- if you like strong drinks; or a French 75, a very refreshing type of mimosa -made with gin and lemon juice instead of the usual orange/grapefruit juice.

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I ranked these three locations as the main highlights of our trip; be sure you check them out and share your thoughts -remember to take it easy on the drinks (LOL)!  If you have any questions on other topics, please feel free to message me; I wish you the best experience ever at “The Big Easy.” Look forward to hearing all about your visit!

Safe Travels,

~Steph

 

Why Mexico City Should be Your Next Adventure Destination

Most of the time when I ask people if they’ve been to Mexico, their answer is “Yes!” However, once I ask them where in Mexico they’ve been, they typically respond: Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, or Cabo. (Are you included in this bunch? It’s OK, no worries!).

I personally have only been to the first two that I mentioned, and I think they are GREAT for fun, vacation and relaxation! Nevertheless, you might agree with me and concur that these beaches even though very fabulous, they are a bit Americanized -which only means they’ve lost some of their Mexican flair and therefore don’t give you a real taste of Mexico!

This might sound a little biased (partly because I am half Mexican), but… Mexico has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world -crystal clear waters and white-dusty sand make Mexican beaches a hot (literally!) destination for many national and foreign tourists every year. So, if your mission is to lay back, relax and catch some Vitamin Sea, Mexican beaches are a perfect fit for that purpose!

BUUUT, if you are interested in experiencing the “true Mexico,” I highly recommend you visit Mexico City! As you may remember in my “About” page I shared with you that my dad is Mexican, and part of my roots are deeply tied to the culture, customs and traditions of mi querido (my dear) Mexico.

Ranking amongst the top 10 largest cities in the world, Mexico City offers a pool of different activities, including sight-seeing (of course!), that would take up to two weeks at least to do them all! As I previously shared with you, I have a real office job where I get limited vacation days for the entire year, so I narrowed my visit to a long weekend. My main focus was to visit as many historical landmarks such as:

  • The Palace of Bellas Artes
  • Hemicycle of Benito Juarez
  • The Tile House (Casa de los Azulejos)
  • El Zocalo Historical Downtown (the Cathedral, the National Palace, and the Tenochtitlan Temple)
  • Angel de la Independencia
  • Chapultepec Castle
  • Pyramids of Teotihuacan
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Palace of Bellas Artes
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Benito Juarez Hemicycle
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Pyramid of the Sun
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Tile House

AIRFARE

To be honest, flying into Mexico City can be really inexpensive given it is Mexico’s and Latin America’s busiest and biggest airport -so you should be able to find great deals as low as $255 a round trip with airlines like United Airlines or Southwest (that’s been the lowest I’ve found; if you can get a better deal that’s awesome!).

Search for your best flight deals on Expedia.com, Priceline.com, or visit directly the airline websites of United.com and/or Southwest.com. Don’t be afraid to mix and match airlines either -I’ve done it in the past to reduce airfare costs, but if your a points person, stick to your preferred airline.

HOTEL

My boyfriend and I did our due diligence searching for a place to stay during our visit. Here are the criteria we looked at to decide on a hotel:

  1. Location. Making sure your hotel is in a safe area is highly important. (Safety first!)
  2. Comfort and Quality of Service. Comfy beds with clean, fresh sheets, and some  AC make it a suitable environment for decent sleep. Note: depending on the time of year it can get hot -VERY hot and not all hotels have AC!
  3. Proximity. It’s nice to be able to walk to most places when your traveling to not miss out on any sight-seeing! We wanted a hotel that was walking distance from the downtown area where we would spend most of our time exploring the sites I listed.

Based on these three components we chose Hilton Mexico City Reforma which indeed is located on Paseo de la Reforma Avenue. Originally, our room was on floor 12, but at check-in we asked if there were other rooms available with a better view, and guess what?! We got moved to the 22nd floor with an amazing view of Alameda Central park (it was gorgeous!).

Overall the staff was very friendly, spoke fluent English, and provided great customer service. We loved our bar-tender, too, he took care of us every evening after being exhausted from touring all day long. He recommended trying the “banderita” shots -a  Mexican Flag shooter of lime juice, tequila, and sangrita (a traditional Mexican tomato juice served as a chaser to high-end tequilas).

We (I know my boyfriend would agree with me), highly recommend this hotel if you intend to explore the historical downtown of Mexico City!

TRANSPORTATION

If you stay nearby the downtown area, the only time you will need ground transportation is to get to and from the airport. Always request taxi’s through the hotel or at the airport terminal (right after you walk out from customs on the right you will see  taxi booths). Those are registered taxi drivers that are safe to take.

MONEY

Unlike the US where everybody carries plastic to pay for everything, you will want to bring cash so you can change your money into Mexican (MXN) pesos at the airport. There are many exchange currency booths once you exit through customs, make sure you look around before you get suckered into one of the booths that doesn’t give you the most pesos for every dollar/euro (or whatever currency you are carrying).

You will need MXN pesos to pay your taxi driver, tip the hotel staff, and meals at small or street restaurants. Also, if you are into bohemian fashion and love artisan clothes, purses, shoes, and jewelry, definitely bring more cash -you will need it!

Credit cards are accepted in many places, like your hotel, established restaurants, and some shops, but just make sure you carry cash at all times.

DON’T MISS OUT!

Whatever you do, please make sure you don’t leave Mexico City without doing these three things:

~ Visit La Terraza at the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. This hotel (which by the way… you can stay here too!) has a rooftop restaurant and bar with the most SPECTACULAR views of El Zocalo. Make sure you go online to place a reservation or get there early to secure a spot! (You will have to go for a meal, they don’t let you order only a bottle of wine -this method was already tested by my boyfriend and I, and it did not get us in… LOL).

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Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

~ Walk across from the Hilton hotel over to the Alameda Central park at night to shop for handmade clothes, or try some of the authentic Mexican street food -you will love it!

~ If you are a coffee fanatic #coffeeaddict, I dare you to try an “Horchata” iced coffee from Cielito -this coffeeshop is  like the Mexican version of Starbucks. I hope you like it a latte!!! :b

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

A lot of people have this idea of Mexico being very dangerous; my “Gringo” boyfriend was under a similar impression. But to be honest, Mexico City is a pretty safe city -we walked everywhere to and from our hotel and stayed out till midnight without feeling endangered. However, I do have some precaution measures I recommend when traveling (no matter where you are going):

  1. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, or your purse in front of you. Ladies keep your purse at sight at all times.
  2. Don’t carry all your cash with you when going out for walks and avoid wandering into lonely, sketchy areas.
  3. Leave your passport locked up in your hotel room’s safe.

Like in any big metropolitan city, be aware of your surroundings and use your good judgement; stay away from areas that don’t look so touristy. Other than that, go out and explore this beautiful historical city!

Hopefully this post wasn’t too long; I really tried to keep it short and straight to the point, but I wanted to make sure to not miss any important pointers to ensure you can make the most out of this wonderful trip!

If you have any questions on other topics, please feel free to message me! I really want you to have a great experience in Mexico! Let me know how your trip goes and what you liked most about your visit.

Safe Travels!

~Steph