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Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween

While I probably have some fun pics to share today, I thought you all might have missed a few posts in my 31 Days of Halloween series this month, so I've rounded them up for you to check out the ones you didn't see. You can look forward to costume pics tomorrow!

31 days of halloween posts

Day 31: Sometimes Snapchat's face swap produces a terrifying thing (even if it's still hilarious).
Day 30: Black cats, ladders and broken mirrors have nothing on these superstitions from around the world.
Day 29: If haunted houses are too tame for you, maybe this horrifying virtual reality experience will do it for you. {Looks like this has been shut down due to complaints from mental health advocates.}
Day 28: Is there anything scarier than doing something that would land you in a foreign jail? I think not! {Looks like my husband would be less than welcome in Sri Lanka.}
Day 27: With its history, hauntings, and notorious hell raisers, the South knows how to celebrate Halloween. Do it right!
Day 26: Some museums are just plain weird. Which ones would you go to? {My answer to that question is the Museum of Bad Art, the International UFO Museum and the Mutter Museum <not listed>}
Day 25: Do you have the guts to stay in any of the world's most haunted hotels? Have you stayed at any yet?
Day 24: Visiting Niagara Falls? Try not to die. For real.
Day 23: Does no cell phone reception sound terrifying to you? This bar blocks your signal so you can enjoy your drinks and company.
Day 22: Flight crew give away some of the airline industries deepest, darkest secrets. Don't drink the water!
Day 21: What is the most dangerous selfie you've ever taken? This lady took it to a whole new level. (At least she didn't fall off a cliff and die though.)

Day 20: Do you need outside help with not murdering your partner on vacation? Now there's a hotline for you.
Day 19: You can spend the night in a real ghost town, and it's super cheap!
Day 18: Who likes creepy stories? These from lost and abandoned civilizations will give you the chills!
Day 17: Got a solo vacation planned to one of these 5 destinations? Better think again, because you may not make it back.
Day 16: Thoughts on haunted places? Have you ever seen a ghost? Maybe you will here.
Day 15: Nothing says Halloween like pumpkins. Here are the best pumpkin farms in America. Are you super jealous that I could go to Roloff Farms? {And disappointed that I've never been?}
Day 14: Did you know there was a hide-and-seek championship? Or an Italian ghost town? {note, I totally want to do this.}
Day 13: Flight delays. The horror! These are the worst airports for them.
Day 12: Goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite. Gross! How to spot the tell-tale signs of these nasties.
Day 11: Do you use astrology to live your life? The stars have aligned for your sign's perfect fall trip.

Day 10: Leaf peeping is upon us! Get some inspiration here.
Day 9: Ack! Check out these shocking confessions from travel pros that make you think about the way you travel.
Day 8: Find out the seven tech travel dangers you should know about and how to protect yourself. 
Day 7: You  know what's scary? Making these 10 rookie mistakes and missing out on a flight deal.
Day 6:  Halloween calls for magic, and these forests from around the world will make you believe in it.
Day 5: Terrorists ruined this lady's shopping trip. How inconsiderate! You can hate her too, now.
Day 4: Eeek! 11 Worst travel nightmares and how to make them go away. See the fixes on Budget Travel.

Day 3:  This haunted B&B is said to sit on a portal to hell. Would you stay there?

Day 2: What are your favorite easy, but creative costumes for Halloween? See Part 2 here.

Day 1: Packable costumes are a thing. Save room in your carry-on for necessities instead. See part 1 here.

I hope you all are having a great night and enjoying all the fun Halloween has to offer. And candy! Don't forget the candy.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

New Orleans Food in Pictures (part 2)

On Wednesday, I started in on our dining experiences in New Orleans. I had so many middle of the road experiences, that I'm not sure I could say there was much to rave about food-wise on our trip. This is sad to me, because I love food and I often remember trips through dining experiences. 

Sushi Brothers in the Garden District: Great service and really fresh (and large) portions

As I said before, we chose our food based on many different factors, so I don't feel like I have only myself to blame. Usually, my research and use of reviews to pick places to eat serves me better than it did this trip.

Sucre Salon in the French Quarter: I indulged in afternoon tea, while Eric chose from the lunch menu

Tea was good, though had way too many sweet options. Eric had the muffaletta and would have eaten it every day

Revolution Kitchen in French Quarter: We picked this because Groupon. Service was horrible.

Eric ordered the etouffee, which he said was decent. I got the fried catfish. The potatoes were the best part.

Hard Rock Cafe on Bourbon: One of the better meals we had, but I know what I'm getting when I go there

Waffles on Maple in Garden District: This was a bit far out, but it was a fun ride on the
Streetcar. We both got this waffle with mushrooms, eggs and cheese, called the Heart Attack
for some reason. It was good. I also ordered an ice coffee, which gave me a weird allergic
reaction, so I didn't get to drink it. On the bright side, Starbucks was two doors down.
Avenue Cafe in Garden District: This breakfast was THE BEST thing I ate all week. 

Prices were good, service was awesome and foods are natural and organic where available. Ordered Orleans ice
coffee, breakfast croissant and the bagel and lox. It's right on St. Charles Street.

Oceana in French Quarter: THIS is the place to go for seafood. The crab cake was the best one I've ever had

If  you've been to New Orleans, I'd love to know where you ate that you thought was worth another visit.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Travelon's Urban N/S Tablet Messenger Bag

I know I'm not the only one who travels with a bag full of entertainment and snacks. Yes, I have a designated bag. One that easily fits under the plane seat and has different compartments that will hold my electronics, games, snacks and reading material. Travelon has been designing innovative bags for over 30 years and their new Urban line is nothing less than stellar. They are gorgeous, unisex, anti-theft, very user friendly and comfortable to carry for everyone. 

When we travel, I have a large personal size carry-on and my small purse and Eric is in charge of the bag with the snacks and games and the regular size carry-on (mostly because he's taller and stronger than me and it's easier for him to put it in the overhead quickly). When I saw the Anti-Theft Urban N/S Tablet Messenger Bag, I knew this would be just as good for travel and commuting, if not better, than the Urban Tour Bag we have. The adjustable strap is wide and padded, so it's uber comfy and can also we carried over the shoulder or as a crossbody. It was equally comfortable for me to carry as it was for Eric.

Now, you know that I'm not a large person. I'm 5' tall, so it can be difficult to get bags that work for me, but can also work for my husband who is much taller. 

This messenger bag isn't huge, but it still has the handle pass-through on the back, so you don't have to carry it while you're slogging your way through the airport. I adore that. Sometimes you just need a break from carrying stuff. And sometimes there's no room for you to sit, much less put your bags, so being able to consolidate without juggling anything is an added bonus. Also, it has two mesh expandable pockets for water bottles or your umbrella. This is a must-have for when you're out all day and need to hydrate or for moms who end up carrying everything for the family and have to have more than one bottle or other beverage. 

The new security zippers on Travelon's bag are awesome. They are unassuming and very classic looking. They clip and unclip easily to small d-rings, but aren't noticeable to the casual observer. 

The top (main) compartment locks, as does the small zipper compartmentand the large zipper pocket in the front. This allows you to go into crowded spaces (i.e. the bus, subway, museums, theme parks) without worries of sticky fingers getting into your bag and stealing your money and whatever else you keep in there. 

The zippers are very ergonomic. The wide surface is really important to me, because it is easy to grab and they feel solid in your hand. 

The large compartment is actually really roomy. It's large enough to fit a full-size tablet, so my iPad Mini has a lot of elbow room in the padded slot for it. As you can see, we also had a few magazines in there. If you know how big ESPN: the magazine is, then you can really judge how much room you have inside. 

Not only that, but we were able to stash both of our 3-1-1 liquids bags in it, too. I only show one, so you can actually see inside. This bag is deep

The padded handle on this bag is an improved version of the previous ones, as it has a neoprene padding on it, giving it extra strength. And as you can see, the back of the bag has a nice slot zipper pocket (which doesn't lock, because it's against your body or your carry-on bag's handle) and is padded with mesh, so it's not uncomfortable when the bag hits your side as you're running to make a connection. 

We stashed some antibacterial wipes and a few other necessities in the back, but to show you how much room there is, I put the first Harry Potter in paperback in there (Everyone has a copy of that, right? It will just zip without crushing the cover.

The front zipper pocket is not as large and meant for smaller things you'd like to have close at hand. We threw our headphones in there, but you can also use this for your travel papers, your phone, change, or whatever. 

Here's my box of Zombie Fluxx in the same pocket, which is probably the same size at two standard packs of playing cards.

This front locking pocket is really an organizer's dream. Not only does it have pockets and slots for everything, but it also has a light, a key clip, pen slot and is RFID-blocking, so no one can steal all your credit card and passport information, because that would suck pretty hard.

I love these mesh pockets. They allow you to see what's inside, while keeping everything in its place.

The Urban N/S Tablet Messenger Bag has a slash-proof body and strap, making it one of the safest bags to have everywhere with you. It's a fantastic day bag, commuter bag or even a regular handbag. It's sleek and perfect for a man or a woman and makes you look professional when needed. The fabric and zippers are water-resistant, so you don't have to worry about being caught in a rainstorm, because all your belongings will be protected. I'm loving all the extras on and in this bag. I think it makes a great multi-purpose bag, because it can be used for commuting and for travel. That means you're getting more bang for your buck. 

With the holidays coming up, this just might be the perfect gift (either for you or a loved one).

More details:
Where to buy it: Travelon website or Amazon | check local travel retailers
How much it costs: $64-80
Colors it comes in: Grey (shown) | Black
Other specs: Size: 11.25” x 12.5” x 4”, Strap Drop Length: 12” – 21”, 900 D Polyester

Interact with Travelon online and share the love: 

Disclaimer: I  received the anti-theft Urban N/S Tablet Messenger Bag from Travelon for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Good, The Bad And The Downright Unedible

You all know by now I visited New Orleans earlier this month One of the things I was most excited about was the food, as I am when I travel anywhere. In my eyes, food can make or break a vacation. 

I don't really like jambalaya, gumbo or etouffe, which might be a mistake to get psyched up over other foods. I really was looking forward to the seafood on its own, but I really didn't feel like it held up to expectations. There was almost no singular dining experience that stood out to me on this trip and, while it didn't ruin it, it didn't add value to my trip in any way. 

District Donuts in the Garden District: Worth it, but not the carrot cake doughnut

Aside from the staple dishes that were heaped with flavor, I felt that everything else was lacking. Why aren't there more seasonings? I don't get it. I also don't get the rave reviews I've heard from people I know that have gone before me. 

Cafe Beignet on Bourbon: Beignets and coffee are good, sandwiches are meh. There's free live jazz though!

Maybe it's just my personal preferences, or maybe drinking helps the food be more enjoyable. I'm certainly not trying to offend anyone who loves New Orleans foods. Perhaps I just had much higher expectations, considering the Southern brunch spot here at home has much better dishes than almost anything I ate during the week I was gone.

La Davina Cafe: Affogato (gelato with espresso over it) is a-maz-ing

Restaurant at Oak Alley Plantation: Breakfast was delicious

We aren't drinkers and I barely had any booze while I was in the Big Easy. Obviously, that puts me in the minority, but it is what it is.

Voodoo BBQ: This was recommended by our Uber driver, but it's a quick service restaurant. My po'boy was yummy.

Court of the Five Sisters: Brunch buffet. Lots of options and the courtyard is beautiful, but probably not worth the price.

Some of my venue choices were influenced by other travelers, some by Groupon, one by people we met, a few from my own research and a couple on-the-fly, so we had a good range of dining experiences to choose from and we couldn't necessarily blame any one person for not being satisfied, since it was such a mix.

Chartres House Cafe: Chosen on-the-fly for the balcony seating. The fried alligator was awesome. 
The hushpuppies were good, but the shrimp tasted like it was rinsed in dirty dishwater. Pass.
It's been a while since we have had such a meh experience with foods at a destination. In fact, we may not have been that disappointed since the first time we visited Paris and didn't research our options at all. That was in 2006.
Have you ever been disappointed by your dining experiences on vacation? Stay tuned for part 2 on Saturday.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Exploring Louisiana's Oak Alley Plantation

Whenever I travel, I look for historical sites to visit. There's nothing more "Louisiana" than plantations. I mean, I know that the French Quarter in New Orleans is basically a whole city of history, but I wanted to explore a plantation. I went online and searched for one of the most popular and everyone agreed that if you only view one, it should be Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, about an hour's drive west of Nola.

Louisiana Plantation

I know there is a lot of controversy regarding plantations, but there's no denying their cultural and historical significance in the South. I was hoping to learn more about the roles of the slaves in the household and on the property and I was both disappointed and saddened. Obviously, slavery sucked hard, but it was definitely interesting to learn more about the different roles and hierarchy among the slaves in a household, plus their creativity and perseverance. Did you know they raised chickens and gardened to help put a reasonable amount of food on their table? Or that they sold things they grew, like corn, to their owners? 

Louisiana Plantation
Let's talk about how fantastic the learning experience was: There were two large outbuildings at Oak Alley that housed slaves. These two buildings were basically separated into three two-room cabins, which was home to six families of slaves, each. Now, first of all, these buildings are recreations, so I have no idea if they are as accurate as they could be or if they were even as close to the house when they were actually on the property. Second, the size is horrifying, especially when you saw the different levels of comfort. Could you imagine your whole family living in what may amount to 100 square feet? Some of the rooms had beds and other (sparse) furniture, which would have been cast-offs from the plantation, and others only had a straw-stuffed mattress on the bare floor.

Louisiana Plantation

There was a lot of reading, which is great, but I honestly could have done that at home. The tour did not include these outbuildings, only the main house. This was disappointing. The grounds also included a Civil War Confederate Commanding Officer's tent, which you can see below. It was not all that exciting, which I assume is the point, but it's kind of an afterthought in my opinion. I could have done without it. Again, this is not part of the tour. Instead, there was a touchscreen near it to watch a video. I watched part of it, took a few pics and then wandered back up to the house.

Louisiana Plantation

We arrived early at Oak Alley (soon after they opened) and took the opportunity to have breakfast at the restaurant, which was actually very good and I hoped it set the tone for the rest of our experience. It may have been the highlight, actually. We had a nice chat with our waitress, who was surprised that we weren't staying at the bed and breakfast, because most people don't show up that early. It's located in one of the original buildings, which is one main house, but divided into four room around a central fireplace. This allowed for them to only build one chimney for the whole house, because it would heat all four rooms. The breakfast menu is limited, but we had the special, which includes two eggs, grits, bacon, Community coffee and toast, biscuit or beignet. It was very good.

Louisiana Plantation

The main house tours start every half hour, supposedly, but we were delayed for almost 15 minutes, standing outside, awkwardly taking more pictures or playing on our phones. The centuries-old oak trees that lined the front of the walk leading to the Mississippi were enormous and gorgeous, but there's really only so much you can look at trees. 

Louisiana Plantation

Once inside, we learned at almost nothing in the home was original. There were four pieces of all three floors that were salvaged. At one point, the home was sold and no one moved in, except for a herd of cattle that made the main house their barn for over a decade. We were told about the original family that lived there, nothing about the slaves that served them, and were herded around to look at probably 6 rooms altogether. The parlour and the dining room downstairs, then the sitting room and a few bedrooms on the second floor. I'd estimate that at least half the house (and the third floor attic) was closed to the public, much having been turned into offices or storage. I found this quite depressing. 

Louisiana Plantation

Though the rooms we were allowed to see were beautiful, every one of them besides the parlour and the dining, we had to look at from the ropes in front of the door. That's fine, except hard to really look when you're in a group of 30 people and everyone's trying to look at once. 

Louisiana Plantation

It's also difficult to learn about what you're seeing when everyone is milling around and looking at three rooms at once and the tour guide continues talking. It felt a bit disorganized on the second floor. When a new tour is coming in, you are ushered out onto the wraparound balcony to see the view and hear a little more about the trees and the grounds. You're then walked around the back of the house and ushered back in and down the stairs while the next group is learning about the parlour and the dining room.

Louisiana Plantation

While I liked listening to the stories of the family who built and lived in Oak Alley Plantation, I was still put off by the fact that I hadn't actually learned anything about the slaves that served them while they were there (that I hadn't read on my own), and that everything in the house was basically brought in to look like it may have looked.

Louisiana Plantation

Louisiana Plantation

I've been on other tours of historical buildings, the most recent being the amazing Conrad Mansion in Kalispell (of which I was not allowed to take any inside pictures, because of the fragile decor and furnishings), and almost all of them have been very informative and very thorough. You learned about particular pieces that were used in the home, but also very much about those that worked and lived there.

Louisiana Plantation

Oak Alley is beautiful, but for the price of admission, I felt kind of cheated.
Louisiana Plantation

I really wish there was more to learn from the docents (called hoop skirts), smaller tour groups and more rooms open in the main house. The gift shop (because there's always a gift shop) seemed more thought out and extensive. 

Louisiana Plantation

If I were to return, I'd definitely do my research before visiting a different plantation. There are at least four others within the same area. I'm also very glad that I didn't sign up and pay the exorbitant price of a tour from New Orleans, because I didn't even think the price we paid to go on our own was that fair for what we got. Luckily, we also spent the day at the Tabasco Factory and Jungle Gardens in Avery Island, so we didn't waste our rental car on a disappointing day trip. Oak Alley was definitely not worth the splurge.

Have you ever visited a plantation or been highly disappointed in something you really wanted to see/do on vacation?
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