New Orleans Travel Photography

My New Orleans Travel Guide

New Orleans continues to be my favorite city in the world. It’s vibrant unique culture and diverse tolerant population of characters continues to draw me back, again and again.  It’s impossible not to fall in love with the people, the food, and the music of this incredible city.  After a few years away, I returned to New Orleans this time for Jazz Fest, which I hadn’t been to since before Katrina. Although some of my New Orleans Travel Guide remains the same, there’s a few new haunts I fell in love with listed below the photos.

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STAY:  Every neighborhood in New Orleans has it’s own unique feel and vibe, but I always encourage you to think outside the French Quarter when staying in this city so that you really get a feel for the varied cultures and differing architecture of the city.  While hotels and bed and breakfast’s abound, there’s also a great selection of rooms and entire homes on Airbnb and VRBO to choose from when visiting my favorite city in the world.

  • The Garden District: up river from the French Quarter, St Charles winds it’s way along the river bank into a neighborhood filled with colossal columned porches, lush overgrown green gardens, and wrought iron gates.  Magazine Street offers hip new restaurants, small independently owned boutiques and now, a trendy but delicious donut store.  Stay here if you want to really embrace that southern gentility and envision yourself drinking champs on a porch while the streetcar rolls by.
  • The Marigny used to be a secret, but it’s proximity to Frenchman Street and it’s laundry list of amazing nooks and crannies to explore has made it more popular.  The Marigny’s eclectic mix of late-Georgian, one-story Creole cottages and shotguns that are vibrantly colored make you want to wander down a different street every day on your way through town.  Stay here if you want to be close to the nightlife, but just out of the way of the French Quarter drunkards.
  • Mid-City is perfect if you’re coming to New Orleans for a festival.  It’s proximity to the fairgrounds means that you can walk to the fest while you’re feeling sparky during the day, but taxi and LYFT around to the nightlife at night when your feet are feeling the pressure.  From grand mansions, to shotgun doubles, to Victorian style homes, you’ll see a varied mix of architecture here, but none lacking in charm.  Make sure you head to the Parkway Tavern on your way home from the fest one day.  It’s one of the best po-boys in the city.

EAT: this list gets longer every time I return to New Orleans.  It’s been over a decade since Katrina and the restaurant scene here has really flourished in recent years.  There are a few of my stand-out favorites on this list, and some new ones that I discovered this trip around.

  • Elizabeth’s in the Bywater (don’t skip the Praline bacon), Slim Goodies Diner in the Garden District, and The Ruby Slipper Cafe are breakfast standouts.  The Ruby Slipper now has locations all over the city.  Cake Cafe and Bakery in the Marigny is also a great breakfast stop-off, where breakfast is served six days a week all day.
  • Jacques-Imo’s is still one of my favorite restaurants in the city.  It’s raucous atmosphere, incredible menu and alternative vibe have me returning again and again.  Expect a bit of a wait, but you can always head next door to the Maple Leaf for a drink.  For a real experience, come here on Tuesday night for dinner and then head on over to the Maple Leaf to see Rebirth Brass Band play their weekly show.
  • The list of restaurants on this page with James Beard awards is astounding and La Petite Grocery is part of that club for good reason.  The turtle bolognese was incredible and it didn’t hurt that I made new friends while dining at the bar.
  • Our meal at Shaya was a stand-out: modern Isreali cuisine prepared fresh, prepared fresh with a huge side of warm, brick fired pita.  You must order the hummus!
  • There are certain dishes that I spend my life dreaming and replaying over and over and over again in my head and Cochon‘s wood fired oysters are now on that list.  I’ve always maintained that I’d want my last meal on earth to be the mushroom strogonoff that I once had at South Congress Cafe in Austin, TX, but these oysters may be claiming that top spot.

DRINK:

  • Enjoying a Pimm’s Cup at the historic Napoleon House is a must-do.
  • If you can get in, Bacchanal is a wonderful way to while away the evening.  Part retail wine store, part patio, this Bywater haunt has become incredibly popular in the past few years and there is now usually a line around the corner to get in.  Skip it on the weekend and on festival weeks but if you are around in the off season, you might be able to score a seat on their deck and listen to music mid-week.
  • If you can’t score a seat at Bacchanal, the Tasting Room offers an eclectic dining menu and boutique wines from around the world.  It’s dark, cozy and just what you want a wine bar to be.  It’s perfect for lounging on the couch, reading a book and sipping wine in the event of poor weather.
  • Sitting on the deck of the Columns Hotel in the Garden district and whiling away the afternoon with a bottle of champagne will never lose it’s charm with me.

EXPLORE

  • Get lost on foot: the New Orleans Tours at Your Feet walking app offers guided tours of the French Quarter, the Garden District, Haunted Homes, and Cemeteries in the area.
  • If it’s your first trip to New Orleans, the World War II Museum is a must-visit.  It’s grown considerably in the past few years, but it remains informative and the exhibits are related to local history and people.
  • The Presbytere in the French Quarter houses a New Orleans cultural exhibit on mardi gras and it’s customs, along with an exceptional exhibit about Katrina and it’s aftermath.
  • Fest it up: the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Voodoo Festival and Mardi Gras continue to be huge draws to this city.  They are all amazing, but there’s also something to be said for just going for the shrimp and grits no reason at all.
Tahoe Engagement Photography

Tahoe Engagement Photography | Kiva Beach | Rosa + Justin

I’m so thrilled to be connected with these two!  Justin is brother to one of my clients, Julie.  Julie, Michael and I had an incredible day romping around San Francisco once for their engagement session.  Since then, I photographed their wedding and they had a child!

I love staying connected to clients and their families afterwards and this is one family that is so fantastic to be part of.  Rosa and Justin are getting married at the Landing Resort this summer and I can’t wait!  I envision gorgeous blue skies and an awesome holiday weekend in their future.  I expect it will look very different from their super snowy winter engagement session at Kiva Beach!

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Margareten Vienna

Exploring Vienna, Austria

Last year at the Fearless Conference in Europe, I met a number of wonderful people who I shared many meals and glasses of wine over while sharing travel stories, inspiration and laughter.  One of them, Christian Cardona, convinced me that I absolutely had to go to Colombia, because it was the “gem of South America.”  It is.  The others, Marie and Michael, convinced me that I had to come to Vienna, because it was charming and one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe.  I wasted no time adding both recommendations to my list and crossing them both off within a year.  When Fearless Photographers announced that their annual European conference was to be held in Budapest, it only made sense to tack on Vienna for a few extra days of exploration.  It’s an easy, comfortable, and inexpensive train ride from Budapest and the my friends and I would have some built in tour guides in Marie and Michael.

Vienna itself is a beautiful, albeit strange mix, of Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-Classical architecture.  Some of the buildings are grand, palatial and sweeping, while others are squeezed into smaller spaces and tight turning pedestrian only streets.  After World War II, Vienna spent a significant amount of money and funds restoring their buildings to their pre-war grandeur.  The result is something that feels drastically and dramatically different than the rest of Europe: a strange mix of new modern that feels like it has one foot in the past and one far in the future.

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STAY: We stayed in Margareten, otherwise known as the Fifth District, which offers typical Viennese architecture and a bohemian vibe.  We also considered Mariahilf, but after wandering for a brief moment down the busy tourist uninspiring high street of Mariahilfastrasse, I have to say that I was quite happy with our choice and would make the same one again.

EAT: 

  • It isn’t a trip to Vienna without consuming wiener schnitzel, a very thin, breaded and pan fried cutlet made from veal.  Known as one of the national dishes of Austria, it’s incredibly delicious.  After wandering around Vienna and viewing St. Stephen’s Cathedral, take a break in the famous rooms of Figlmüller, which has been helmed by the Figlmüller family for four generations now.  The schnitzel is crispy and surprising: although one is enough to share between two people, you can be assured that it will get devoured in no time!
  • The Vienna Naschmarkt is perfect for exploring, dining and drinking.  The bustling mile long market offers food stalls and small outdoor cafes to explore and while away the afternoon in.
  • Start one of your days off with a traditional brunch at Burg.Ring 1 before heading off to explore.  The interior is an eclectic mix of bric-a-brac and vintage furniture and you can elect to add quite the buffet spread of fruits, yogurts, vegetables, cheese and a gorgeous selection of Viennese pastries, treats, and breads to any weekend breakfast entree.
  • We spent hours over tapas and wine at Lola, a Spanish Tapas bar where you can get your menu in German, English or Spanish.  The staff also spoke all three languages.
  • The coffee house culture of Vienna is so integral to the city’s social fabric that it was declared an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO.  After wandering the city center, relax and enjoy live music, a “sweet treat” from their in house patisserie, coffee and conversation at the infamous Cafe Central.  The cafe claims to be Vienna’s most famous cafe, but can truthfully and honestly boast that it served the likes of Trotsky, Freud, and writers and poets on a daily basis.

DRINK:

  • Motto in Margareten was a hidden gem of jazz and darkness.  Don’t skip a visit to the bathrooms, which are uniquely and perhaps confusingly different than the restaurant and bar space themselves.  The cocktail and wine list is outstanding.
  • I totally goofed and didn’t plan ahead, but if I’d been on it, I would have booked us on the Vienna Wine Walk, a guided walking wine tour with a master sommelier who takes you on a tour that introduces you to both the wines of Austria and to some of their favorite neighborhood drinking holes.

EXPLORE

  • Take a walking tour of historic Vienna on the Ringstrasse: after having a traditional Viennese brunch at Burg.Ring 1, walk down to start your exploration in the Museum Quarter, where you’ll find the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) and the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer), both overlooking the Maria-Theresien-Platz.   Alternatively, hop on the RingTram, which departs on a lap of the Ringstrasse every 30 minutes from the Schwedenplatz.  The interior of the historic city center, surrounded by the Ringstrasse,
  • Go to the opera!  Vienna was Mozart’s hometown and the opera is an important part of their culture.  While some performances sell out in advance (we secured tickets to Faust ahead of time), you can also sometimes purchase tickets from the Mozart-costumed representatives on the street outside Vienna’s famous and ornate State Opera House.
  • Take the metro and head a bit outside the city center to explore the Schönbrunn Palace and the accompanying gardens and grounds.  The Palace, originally commissioned to be a hunting lodge, eventually grew into a palatial imperial residence over the course of the eighteenth century.
  • Seek out street art: Vienna has a thriving street art culture, though discovering it isn’t quite as easy as in Paris or Bogota.  Start on the Donaukanal, a former arm of the river Danube, but now a regulated water channel through the city.  The walls and banks of the Donaukanal are filled with all types of graffiti and art on one massive long urban ever changing canvas.  Wandering the streets though the Mariahilf neighborhood to the Naschmarkt will offer produce some excellent art if you know where to look.  I missed the permanent Invader installation in the Museum Quarter, but you won’t thanks to this guy’s handy dandy map.
Budapest Hungary

Exploring Budapest

Each year, Fearless Photographers, a world wide professional photography organization that I’m a member of, hosts an annual conference in Europe dedicated to furthering education, inspiration and networking.  Always the prolific traveler that I am, I decided after last year’s successful and memorable conference in Porto, Portugal, that I wouldn’t ever miss a year.  I was overjoyed when Huy announced that this year’s conference was going to be in Budapest, which has been on my travel list for quite some time.  I fell in love with this charming Eastern European city and to be honest, I didn’t plan enough days there, which just means that I’ll have to return.  It’s mind blowingly beautiful, the food is amazing, the people are incredibly generous and it has a hip, vibrant and creative culture.  I feel pretty lucky to have been able to spend a few days exploring Budapest, meeting other Fearless Photographers from around the world, with my good friends Nicky and Ilana.

Here’s a few of my favorite images from the trip, taken by myself mixed in with a selection of our images thanks to Rokolya Photography for Flytographer.

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STAY: Until 1873, Budapest was actually two different cities, Buda on the western bank of the Danube river and Pest on the eastern.  Buda has sweeping vistas, offered from the rolling slopes and tiered streets surrounding the the old Citadella fortress.  We chose to stay in Pest, because of the proximity to our work conference, but didn’t regret it: the busy, bustling streets of the trendy neighborhoods across the river offered an abundance of people watching, gourmet restaurants and underground “ruin” bars to explore.

EAT: have at least one traditional Hungarian dinner, but make sure to explore Budapest’s extensive and varied restaurants as well.

  • Mak Bistro was one of our favorite dinners during our entire trip.  The menu is creative, laden with interesting twists on Hungarian dishes, and the wine list is exceptional.
  • We ended up at Pozsonyi Kisvendeglo for a traditional Hungarian meal on the first night.  It seemed to be mostly frequented by locals, the menu was only in Hungarian, the portions were massive and the goulash was delicious.
  • I would have never expected to find the best bagel of my life in Budapest but I did and we ate there every morning we could.  Inez Bagel Shop, conveniently located across the street from our Airbnb, also had the best coffee I’ve had in a long time!
  • Our meal at Mazi was a stand-out.  Traditional Greek food prepared fresh, in an adorable setting with fantastic service.  The squid ink pasta sent us to the moon.
  • Underneath our Airbnb was an Italian restaurant, Caffe GianMario, that was open from dawn to far past dusk.  It was always packed.  Every day the incredible smells of a garlic red sauce would waft up through the courtyard.  It would overwhelm you as you walked to or from the apartment door.  We knew that eating there at least one night was an absolute must and I’m so glad we did.  The minute you stepped into the restaraunt, you were transported to what I can only imagine Italy is like: an intimate cafe that was loud, boisterous and joyful.  An unexpected surprise in a lobster pasta, a perfect pizza pie and interesting conversation with a Russian sitting next to us really made this night a memorable one.

DRINK:

  • Szimpla Kert might be Budapest’s most famous ruin bar, but with good reason.  It was the first and paved the way to change what folks saw in buildings that would have otherwise been demolished.  What started as an idea for a community art space is now one of Pest’s busiest bars.  The eclectic collection of thrift store finds and bizarre inclusions feels like it would be right at home in Austin, TX and the walls are graced with community art and plants.
  • The Faust Wine Cellar is hard to find but worth the effort: the result is a lesson in Hungarian wine, from a knowledgeable local expert in an underground cellar beneath the Buda Castle.  They guide you through 6 tastings (five different ones and then one repeat).  We loved the experience (and the wine) so much that we ended up taking a few bottles home to the apartment with us.

EXPLORE

  • Get lost in Castle Hill: on the Buda side of the river, the castle and old citadel, a Unesco World Heritage Site, offer unparalleled views of the city and hours of exploration.
  • Shop local: find selections of books, clothes, jewelry, art and other knickknacks from local artisans at Rododendron Art and Design and in the stalls at Paloma, which offers a hidden interior courtyard with a multitude of small quaint stalls hosting anywhere from 1-10 artists and craftsmen in each one.  From leather bags, to shoes, to art, to jewelry, we walked out of there having spent a wonderful afternoon chatting with the designers and artists themselves and with our pocketbooks significantly lighter.  Paloma is cash only so hit up the ATM before you go!
  • Budapest is world reknown for it’s thermal baths and parks and those are two things that I wish I’d had extra days here to explore.  Don’t make the same mistake we did!
  • Hire Flytographer Roky.  It’s no secret that I love to hire professional photographer’s for myself as a souvenir when I travel.  This was Nicky’s first international travel experience as an adult and she was really excited to have it captured professionally as well.  Roky was amazing and we had the best afternoon exploring the quaint steep brick streets and architecture of Buda with him.  He made us feel like a million bucks!
Winter Trip in Paris

Winter Trip to Paris | Travel Guide

Paris, je t’aime.

When I had to make a trip to London this past January, I decided that I wanted to tack on at least one other major European city to explore.  With a couple of girlfriends on board, we decided that Paris was the perfect location for a winter girls’ trip.  Wine, cheese, croissants, art, and scarves – what’s not to love about winter in Paris?  Oh, and there’s no tourists to be seen save us. 

24 hours into our trip and I had already fallen in love.  Meals are three hour affairs involving multiple courses shared languidly over intimate conversations with wine.  Everyone is impeccably dressed, there is a cheese shop on every corner, directly next to the bakery, and you can’t find a bad glass of wine if you tried.

We spent over a week in this historic and entrancing city and I can’t wait to return.  

Here’s a few of my favorite images from the trip, along with some that we hired Flytographer to take for us, along with recommendations for your winter trip to Paris.

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STAY: Montmarte was our favorite neighborhood, but you also can’t go wrong with the Marais.

EAT: I dare you to find a bad bottle of wine in this city.  I double dog dare you to find bad cheese.  Doesn’t fucking exist.

  • Anne and I had been anxious to try out EatWith ever since we’d heard about the concept: EatWith’s goal is to bring strangers and travelers together at tables around the world in local’s homes.  You sign up to eat with others and learn about new cultures and food traditions and Paris seemed like the perfect place to try it out.  We absolutely adored our meal with Claudine more than any other meal we had the entire trip.  It was incredibly memorable from start to finish – so much so that we ended up inviting her to join us for dinner later that week.  I’m feeling thankful to have had such a unique experience and to make a new friend!
  • Restaurant Jeanne B in Montmarte feels a bit like stepping into a charming farm-style delicatessen, if that is a thing.  Spiraling sausages hang from the ceiling and the daily changing menu is presented on chalkboards at your table.  We enjoyed the experience and the variety so much, it became the only spot we returned to twice on our trip.
  • The cathedral like ceiling and mirrored accents make the sparsely decorated Daroco feel extra chic but also warm  and cozy somehow.  They offer wood fired pizzas and homemade pasta for those looking for a bit of comfort in an incredibly stylish setting.
  • Do not confuse Les 110 de Taillevent with it’s 3 star Michelin rated big brother around the corner.  Although, if you do, they are used to it and will simply direct you to where you are supposed to go.  Despite showing up late, they will graciously seat you amongst the 110 options for wines by the glass and feed you stunningly prepared food.
  • Our favorite meal in Marais was at Le Dôme du Marais, which feels remarkably like eating in your own private garden.  The building was originally utilized as an auction house to fight against poverty thanks to Louis XVI.  It’s absolutely stunning inside and the food is exquisite to match.

DRINK:

  • We were told by no less than 10 people that a drink at Les Philosophers was a must.
  • We spent an extraordinary amount of time at Le Gisou, partially because it was literally across the street from our flat, but also because it was charming, cozy, had a great staff and an even better bathroom.
  • The Bar Hemingway is a must visit, but only for one drink, because that’s all you can afford.
  • The Bistrologist is perfect for late night cocktails.  Their drinks are inventive, the decor dimly lit and intimate, and it feels a bit like a speakeasy.  The kitchen also stays open really late if you find yourself wandering the streets and starving at midnight.

EXPLORE

  • After doing the graffiti street tour in Bogota, Colombia, Anne and I have been inspired to find more walking tours, whether street art related or not.  Paris actually offers it’s own street art walking tour hosted by Street Art Paris.  They offer tours in Montmarte, the Left Bank, and the one we chose, Belleville.  Since we were staying in Montmarte, we thought it would be nice to explore a neighborhood we weren’t already wandering on our own.
  • The cooking classes at La Cuisine Paris are worth the expense!  We participated in the market class, which starts off in a nearby outdoor market.  You collectively pick a plan for your meal, shop for ingredients, and then return to the La Cuisine kitchens to prep, cook and share your meal together.  It was a wonderful experience and I was even able to come back home and recreate most of the aspects of the meal on my own from memory!
  • If you’re a wino like me, a wine tasting is a must-do.  The classes at O Chateau will walk you through the French vineyards and regions.  We walked away with a much greater appreciation of French varietals and their appellation system.
  • Gonçalo Silva was Flytographer’s first ever photographer hire and I was pretty excited to meet him and have him do a Paris portrait session for us.  We ended up having a blast wandering the charming streets of Montmarte with him and another Flytographer photographer, James.   We all loved each other’s company so much that two bars and a meal later, we finally concluded our evening together!

  • Fondation Louis Vuitton is an incredible display of design, color and architecture designed by Frank Gehry.  While we were visiting, they were hosting a traveling exhibit of 130 artworks collected by Sergei Shchukin, on display for the first time outside of Russia.  It was a really incredible collection, featuring tons from Matisse and Gauguin, not to mention the building itself.
Bogota Colombia

Explore Bogotá, Colombia

Although I recently traveled to Colombia and posted about our days in Cartagena and Medellìn, I’d been holding off posting about Bogotá for one very important reason.  The first thing any tourist does in Bogota is to head directly to the famous and historic Candelaria district.  Home to the Plaza Bolívar, the Museo del Oro (the gold museum), and some of the most vibrant street art in the world, the district is bold, colorful and always filled with people.  Although it’s a popular place to stay for backpackers and hostelers, it’s lacking in nicer accommodations.  This doesn’t prevent the tourists from flocking here and the streets are always filled with strolling people at any hour of the day.  Anne and I had read about an off-the-beaten path hair salon-cum-bar-cum-boutique where no one is formally trained and you can’t specify what you want done with your style.  Of course it piqued our interest.  After taking an uber down to the neighborhood, it was one of the first places we happened upon randomly.  Anne had just settled into the chair to get her haircut when Nancy Trejos walked in and struck up a conversation with us.  Nancy, a travel writer for USA Today, was doing a story on Bogotá for the paper and interviewed us about why we were there.  This past week, my photos (and a quote from me) were featured in her story for the newspaper.  You can see the full article via this link.  

Here’s some of my favorite images from our stay and my recommendations on what to do with a day or two in this vibrant South American city.

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STAY: There are airbnb’s all over Bogota and you can’t really go wrong.  For the foodies, you’ll want to be in Chapinero.  In addition to an airbnb, we also found ourselves at the Hotel Rosales Plaza, which was quite delightful, reasonably priced, had a huge bathroom (bonus for us after weeks in airbnb apartments) and wonderfully located in the Rosales sector.

EAT: Bogotá is going through a culinary gourmet explosion and the city is filled with incredible options around every corner.

  • Abasto was one of our favorite brunches during our entire Colombian trip.  The menu is creative, laden with egg dishes, and the coffee is exceptional.
  • Our tasting menu meal at Matiz was the first of our trip and one of the most memorable.  It was a veritable bargain compared to similar meals in the states and we both left incredibly full.  The chef came out afterwards and thanked us for coming, in addition to asking for our feedback.  From start to finish, this was a stand out experience and is not to be missed.
  • Salvo Patria is a perfect stop for lunch or dinner.  The inventive menu offers a rotating list of changing specials based on local ingredients creating a hip spot the locals frequent to linger over long lunches.
  • Our meal at Rafael Osterling was one of our other stand out favorites in Colombia.  The setting itself is incredible.  Be sure to make reservations ahead of time and if you’re lucky, you can get seated on the outdoor patio.  The Tiradito (a Peruvian way of preparing fish) is outstanding and the burrata and ravioles are not to be missed.
  • By the end of our trip, we were desperate for some comfort food and both of us always gravitate towards Italian for this.  Our meal at Julia Pizzeria was exceptional.  Seated at the bar, we met an awesome young man from Los Angeles who had recently moved to Bogota for work.  We shared salads, pasta and pizza over a lingering wine filled meal with him.

DRINK:

  • The Bogota Beer Company is a well known favorite here with locations in 12 different Bogota neighborhoods.  You are certainly never far from one of their outposts, no matter where you are.
  • The Irish Pub in Candelaria may seem like a strange place to make a stop while you’re in Colombia, but the patio is incredibly inviting and always filled with locals after they get off work.

EXPLORE

  • Bogota has become world renown for it’s street art thanks to the decriminalization of the art.  When graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed in 2011 by a police officer, the current mayor took charge and helped turn the culture of the art around by offering up public walls and creating safe spaces.  Today, businesses and artists work together to create vibrant murals on the outside of businesses.  The Bogota Graffiti Tour was started by local graffiti artist CRISP as a way to help tourists and locals alike understand and appreciate the growing art.  The tour itself is free but the docents work off tips, so make sure to bring some cash.
  • Feeling brave?  Let one of the self-described “hair assassins” at La Peluqueria bring out your essence.
  • Every Sunday, the majority of major thoroughfares are shut down to become bikeways for the locals to get out and spend the day with their families.  You’ll see walkers, cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers parade past for most of the day!  Referred to as Ciclovia, you can learn more about where it takes place and how to participate here.
  • If you are feeling energetic, you can hike up the 1.5 km steep steps to Monserrate, which overlooks the city from 10,000 feet up.  If you’re feeling lazy, catch the cable car out of the Candelaria.

 

Medellin

3 Days in Medellìn: A Travel Guide

 Medellìn is a beacon of culture and officially one of my most favorite cities ever: the people are generous, enthusiastic and welcoming, the mountains are captivating, the food and coffee is incredible, and the city is incredibly clean and proud.  This city, once famed for it’s violent and storied past, has transformed itself into a star-attraction in a country that has everything going for it.

Medellìn was named the 2013 “City of the Year” by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute for it’s transformation and quick turn-around.  Utilizing revitalized civic spaces, green parks, libraries, art galleries and the creation of a world-class metro system and infastructure that connects the city’s poorest neighborhoods with its center through innovative solutions such as giant escalators and cable cars, Medellìn is now a world-class travel destination thanks to its dedication to the inclusion of all it’s inhabitants.  For those of you who think it’s dangerous: Medellìn isn’t even to be found on the list of the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world anymore, though you will find New Orleans, Baltimore and Detroit on there.

Medellìn is called the “city of eternal spring” by it’s people for it’s permanently pleasant weather.  The people are called Paisas and they are a proud, hopeful culture that loves to talk.  They will serenade you with stories about their city, their past, and their future.  Their pace is a bit slower and they aren’t in a rush.  They are beautiful: everyone in this city is attractive and they dress well.  They have inquisitive natures and they want to talk to you: although we found that Colombians, overall, were incredibly welcoming and generous, this was even more apparent in Medellìn where every person we encountered wanted to know where we were from and why we decided to visit their city. 

Here’s some of my favorite images from our stay and my recommendations on what to do with 3 days in Medellìn.

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STAY: The areas surrounding El Poblado are the most popular with tourists.  This includes the neighborhoods of Manila, which is where we stayed, and Parque Lleras.  The streets are safe to walk at all hours of the day and filled with hip and stylish restaurants and coffee shops.  You can get an entire apartment to yourself for $45-60/nt on Airbnb.  We stayed in a charming apartment in Manila and Al Alma Cafe and Hija Mia both within walking distance.

If Airbnb isn’t your thing, there’s a wealth of mid-range hotels and budget hostels in the area.  If I’d had to pick one, you probably would have found me at the Art Hotel.  If your budget is higher, I’d head to The Charlee Lifestyle Hotel.

EAT:  Medellìn is filled with heavier and more traditional (read: arepas and empanadas) dining options than Cartagena and after a week of travel and eating out, we were ready for some variety and comfort food.

  • Cafe Zorba was our standout favorite in this city. It could have been that two weeks of travel and seafood left us craving fresh salads and something different, or it could just be that it’s exceptional in both it’s food and it’s atmosphere.  Although the cafe is large, it feels warm and cozy thanks to it’s open air upstairs patio filled with small lamps, comfortable pillow topped benches and modest tables that encourage whispered jokes and intimate laughter.  Make sure you order at least one pizza – their brick oven thin crust pies come out crispy and is certainly where they excel.
  • Although we went looking for a vegetarian restaurant that no longer existed, we ended up at the endlessly charming Peruvian fusion restaurant Tal Qual.  Themed around art, the walls are filled with color.  The restaurant is split into a number of small alcoves and rooms that makes it feel both bustling and intimate simultaneously.  Don’t skip the meat skewers or one of their pasta dishes.
  • We should have also eaten at El Cielo, but we didn’t have another three hour dinner experience in us and after a week of eating out already and the incredible eating experiences we had in Cartagena, we weren’t clamoring for food.  El Cielo has made press for it’s gastronomic creativity and is featured on most Best Of lists for both Latin and South America.  If you’re jealous of that time I went to Alinea, this is the budget option.

DRINK:

  • Drinks with a view: head up to the top of the Envy Rooftop Bar to where bartenders fun and tropical cocktails like watermelon basil margaritas while DJ’s spin tunes to accompany one of the best views in Medellìn.
  • Bonhomia is a great place to park yourself for a late afternoon snack and a drink.  The huge patio of outdoor seating and bright lights is attractive and offers great street views while you feast on platters of house-made charcuterie.  There’s a large wine list that also offers half bottles.
  • Viva Italia! had the best wine list we found in the area and although you are welcome to stash yourself on their 2nd story patio and watch the locals cruise by in their fancy shoes, they also offer all their bottles for sale in this hybrid Italian Restaraunt meets wine bar.
  • Established in 2008, 3 Cordilleras offers five craft brews in a happy hour like setting every day after 5 PM.  For about $5, you get 5 beers (beers, not tastings) and an explanation in rapidly spoken spanish about the history of the brewery and the brewing process.  We opted to skip the tour and just stick with the beers.
  • Downtown’s historic Salon Malaga is like stepping back into a time machine.  The walls are covered in memorabilia and old jukeboxes litter the floor.  The tables are filled with locals during the day who stop in to chat and drink tinto.  If you’re lucky, they have a selection of 3 Cordilleras craft brews on hand, but they stock up on Thursdays for the weekend crowds and were mostly sold out the day we were there.

EXPLORE

  • Real City Walking Tour’s free tour of the downtown area of Medellìn is a must do for every traveler.  I’d reccomend doing it on your first day in the city as their expansive four hour tour provides you with scope on the area, it’s troubled history and the Paisa culture.  The tour occurs twice a day and reservations are required.
  • Wander the lush pathways of the Botanical Garden, which feature, in addition to other things, 40 acres of exotic orchids. The entry is free.  When you’re ready for a break, stop for lunch at In Situ, where contemporary dishes are served up while you gaze out through wide open doors that leave you feeling as if you’re in the garden itself.
  • Head to the Plaza Minorista to sample Colombia’s wide range of tropical fruits.  Although you can do this by joining any number of organized tours, there’s really no reason why you can’t go on your own, as we did.  The Colombian people are incredibly kind, generous and inquisitive and they are more than ecstatic to see tourists, and gringos especially, wandering their stalls.  They were eager to chat with us, asking where we were from and why we were there and each vendor we purchased from explained the fruit and cut it open for us to sample.  Our favorite was the pitahaya, similar to an Asian dragon fruit.
  • Ride the cable car.  Medellìn’s people are incredibly proud of their metro system and in fact, it was the cleanest metro system I’ve ever seen in the world.  There wasn’t a speck of trash to be found, people never ate or drank on the subway and the cars themselves were in pristine condition.  As part of a social and economic development strategy to help revitalize the poorer areas of the city, Medellìn installed cable cars to provide connectivity to it’s massive hills.  The views are tremendous and you can get off at various stops and explore the barrios all for less than $2.

WHAT NOT TO DO

  • A Pablo Escobar Tour.  Paisas do not like this man and they do not want him immortalized or paid tribute to.  In fact, during our walking tour of the downtown area, he was the man-who-was-not-named and in discussion, we used code names to reference him as to not incite anger from nearby locals who cannot speak English and may have misinterpreted our discussion as praising him.  Escobar brought years of pain, violence and fear to this city and the memories are both recent and tragic.
Cartagena

Cartagena Travel Guide

Be still my heart.

Colombia was just named Lonely Planet’s 2nd best travel destination for 2017 and with good reason: the sheer variety of landscapes, cultures and welcoming people make it a dream travel destination.  When I met my Colombian friend Christian Cardona in Portugal this past year, he convinced me that travelling to Colombia had to be next on my list because it was the “gem of South America.”

He was not wrong.  I have fallen in love with this country again, and again, and again as I explored it the last two weeks.  Around every corner is a surprise waiting to delight you and in Cartagena this is especially true.

 Cartagena is incredibly special: it’s a place of vibrant color, late nights of dancing, romance and seafood.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination and it is clearly the backbone of Colombia’s tourist economy.  Cartagena is unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  We easily spent five days in this city and never tired of wandering it’s streets.  

The humidity is off the charts in Cartagena so be prepared to drink lots of limeade and wonder why you even took a shower.  Be prepared to be wet, sweaty and hot the entire week: dance close to someone and embrace it.

Here’s some of my favorite images from our travels there and my personal mini Cartagena travel guide for navigating this beautiful city.

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STAY: You will want to stay within the city walls for it’s charming historical winding streets.  Pops of bright color, inventive door knockers and churches around every corner are steeped in old world colonialism.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible seafood.  We ate octopus every single day.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $80-160 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Luis and Monica’s Old Town apartment.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

If you aren’t interested in the straight tourist experience, then stay in the nearby barrio of Getsemani, the burgeoning, borderline hip neighborhood that’s an equal mix of locals and ex-pats.  While the richest originally lived in the northwest corner of the walled city, this is smaller and poorer section of the original city, which now features more modest architecture but an electrifying atmosphere.  Most of the best bars and dance clubs can be found in this hood and it’s starting to fill up with hostels, airbnb options and boutique hotels such as Casa Lola.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Cartagena were intimate and featured long lists of seafood every way.  Restaurants in Cartagena open late (expect to eat after 7 PM every night), or confusingly, sometimes not at all, and reservations are usually needed, especially with large groups.

  • El Boliche chefs Oscar Colmenares and Viviana Díaz dish out incredible ceviche that honours and partners with the local fishermen.  Each meal starts with a bowl of homemade soup, a tradition in Colombia.  This place is incredibly intimate and only seats 25 – swing by and make a reservation in order to make sure you get a table.
  • La Perla is dim, stylish and comfortable.  Beat the humidity of the streets of Cartagena by stepping into this cool oasis that serves up Peruvian style ceviche and is best known for their tiraditos, thin strips of fresh tuna or sea bass.  The staff is incredibly gracious and attentive and willing to pass around the pisco sours and their wine list was one of the better ones we encountered and was filled with dry whites, reds and roses to accompany any meal.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Carmen.  Although this restaraunt seats many in multiple different rooms or with the option of al fresco on the patio, the experience feels intimate because everyone is split up.  Our waiter did an excellent job of choosing wines and helping recommend dishes for the night.  The highlight of our meal was certainly the pez negro, a thick strip of barracuda seared in black olive oil and accompanied by raviolis filled with seafood and ricotta.  Reservations recommended.
  • Restaurante Donjuan is collected and cool.  Dishing out Basque style delights in an exquisite setting, the menu boasts a dizzying array of starters and shareable plates.  If you can’t get a table here, try it’s sister restaurant next door, Maria.

DRINK:

  • Alquimico is a new addition to Cartagena but clearly a welcome one.  Reasembling a Manhatten speakeasy, the swanky cocktail focused joint is in a two story dimly lit building and features custom cocktails prepared with local Colombian fruits.
  • Demente is a trendy, hip new staple to the Getsemani barrio and features Colombian craft beers from Bogota Beer Company and 3 Cordilleras, brilliant cocktails and a cool outdoor patio with long communal picnic tables perfect for the large group that failed to make reservations for dinner inside the walled city.  It’s clearly the place for ex-pats and tourists to be seen.
  • Cafe Havana is the local Cuban hotspot packed to the brim for those looking to salsa almost every night after 11 pM.
  • Alma Restaurante is located in the Casa San Augustin, now a boutique hotel that retains the beauty of Cartagena’s colonial architecture with it’s original frescoes and centuries-old wood-beamed ceilings.  The outdoor patio is shaded and perfect for an afternoon snack and a glass of wine.  Their list is extensive and features a fantastic selection of Spanish, Portuguese and South American vineyards.

EXPLORE:

  • Get lost over and over and over again in the streets of the walled city and Getsemani.  The vibrant colors, cascading flowers, overhanging balconies, street performers and artisanal shops supply days of endless entertainment.
  • Get your extra tourist on: Volcàn de Lodo el Totumo” is a strange 15m high volcano mound about a half hour outside of town.  Legend says that the volcano once was active but a local priest, seeing it as the work of the devil, sprinkled it with holy water and the lava miraculously turned to mud.  The mud is silky, at moments gritty, and so dense that you float effortlessly and confusingly on top.  For a mere few dollars you can pay one person to let you climb up into the mud bath, then you can pay another person to give you a questionable “massage,” and then another to carry your shoes around, and then some women to aggressively strip you down in the river afterwards and make sure your orifices are clean.  It’s preposterous and worth the $10 you spent laughing.  Don’t book a tour to do so – simply hire a car for the day to drive you out here and for double the fun, have him take you to the mangroves afterwards where you can arrange for a 30 minute kayak tour through the narrow water channels of the mangroves.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer offers two options for photographers in Cartagena.  I love hiring my own personal photographer while on vacation – photos make exceptional souvenirs and I can’t imagine a more romantic or colorful place than Cartagena to be photographed.  I am one of Flytographer’s Lake Tahoe photographers and have utilized their services for my own personal shoots in both Bangkok, Thailand and Porto, Portugal.
  • If you visit during early November, chances are you’ll be here for Cartagena’s Independence Day celebrations when a lively atmosphere takes over the city.  Carnaval de Cartagena starts on Friday with a three hour parade started on one side of the walled city that snakes it’s way through the town.  Bands of teenagers roam the streets with disposable canisters of foam, ready and willing to offload it’s contents into the hair, heads and backs of any likely suspect.  No one is spared.  The weekend’s festivities also include Colombia’s Beauty Pageant where they elect Miss Colombia for the year.
Botanical Garden Engagement

Botanical Garden Engagement | Berkeley, CA | Jane + Robbie

Jane and Robbie showed up to their botanical garden engagement session in a clown car.  Not literally, but certainly figuratively.  Jane had found these giant air beach balls that say “LOVE” on them and wanted to use them for the session.  They had blown them up ahead of time and they filled the entire back of the car.  But then, they couldn’t get them out of the car.  And then, we decided maybe it would take too long to re-inflate them.  So, in the end, the smallest of them was used and we saved the bigger ones for their wedding.  Although you can find them on the internet as the Big Love Ball, I would not recommend simply googling “love balls.”

Jane and Robbie found me on Thumbtack and I am incredibly happy we were connected.  They are totally my people: smart, engaging, social craft beer lovers.  We had a great afternoon tromping around in the Berkeley Botanical Gardens for their engagement session and then beers at one of their favorite area bars.  Their wedding was just a few weeks ago in Maryland and I’ll eventually be sharing that as well.  It was 110% representative of their personalities: laid back and relaxed with a dash of goofy fun (big love balls, anyone?).

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Porto Portugal

A Week in Portugal: Porto Travel Guide

This past March I took advantage of a great excuse to explore Europe: Fearless Photographers offers a yearly photography conference in different European cities and this year’s conference was in Porto, Portugal.  I was excited to attend what turned out to be an incredibly inspiring and enriching experience.  I met some incredibly loving and adventurous people who I look forward to a future adventures with, drank on the streets until 4 AM with them one night, wandered the iconic city for hours on end every day taking photos of vibrantly colored buildings and it’s beautiful traditional azulejo, the ceramic blue tiles that adorn many of it’s historical buildings, discovered a love of expensive port and ate like a king.  Porto’s people are unvaryingly calm and collected: they have soothing voices with evenly paced pronunciation that makes you feel incredibly tranquil in their presence.

Here’s a few of my favorite images from my trip, interspersed with images taken of my friend and kick ass travel companion Shaunte, of Shaunte Dittmar Photography, and myself by Momento Cativo for Flytographer.

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Porto won me over in every way from head to toe.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination: unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  I could easily spend weeks in this city and never tire of wandering it’s streets.  Here’s a mini Porto travel guide of navigating this beautiful city.

STAY: You want to stay in the Ribeira district: it’s charming historical winding streets and churches around every corner give it the old world European feel.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible food.  The riverside offers unbeatable vantage points of Porto, especially if you cross over the bridge into Gaia for an evening.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $40-70 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Hugo’s TocToc Studio.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Porto were tiny and intimate.  Most had five tables or less.  Most had three people working, or less.  Restaurants in Porto open late (expect to eat after 8 PM every night) and reservations are usually needed.  We were there during Easter week, which is a big holiday for most of Europe, and in some cases it was hard to get reservations for places.  At dinner most nights, we started just asking them to bring us whatever they wanted to serve us or whatever they thought they did best, and the results were always inspiring.  Of all the places I’ve traveled, Porto will remain in my heart as one of the greatest culinary experiences I’ve ever had.

  • A Sandeira for lunch: score a bowl of homemade soup and a sandwich for 5 euros.  Like most wonderful Porto restaurants, this place is incredibly intimate and has very few tables so go early if you don’t want to hang outside waiting for a spot to open up.  It’s worth the wait!
  • Our meal at La Piada was one of the most memorable of our trip.  The staff is incredibly gracious.  The restaurant itself is wide open, with tall ceilings, a tree in the middle of one of the tables and local art on the walls.  The couple who owns the restaurant is Italian and Portuguese and they offer piadinas: a small italian flatbread filled with Portuguese staples.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Porta4.  There were three tables in the entire restaurant and two brothers taking turns cooking and serving us.
  • Amarelo Torrada for breakfast: if you are dying for something bigger than an espresso, this gal never minded serving me up a large americano.  I was craving eggs and actual breakfast for most of my trip, but these guys had some wonderful breakfast like toasted bread combos like cream cheese and lox that were a good stand in.

DRINK:

  • I found Livraria da Baixa on my first day and I returned every day thereafter.  The staff is warm, welcoming, and remembered me and my drink.  They mix a great cocktail and if it’s a nice day, you can sit out on the patio and people watch.  If it’s a rainy day, you can while away the evening in the incredibly cozy upstairs lounge.  Just push the bell on the bookshelf when you are ready to order another round!
  • Graham’s is one of the oldest and most renown of the Port makers in the area.  Tour their famous lodge overlooking Gaia and Porto and then partake in a tasting in the tasting room.  Be forewarned: the vintage tawny tasting is worth the expense but may ruin you in regards to port forever.  I have come to the new self realization that it is not that I don’t like port – it’s that I don’t like cheap port.

EXPLORE:

  • Take a boat trip on the Duoro River.  This is one of the few things that I wasn’t able to do and wish I had.  You can view the architecture of Porto from a new vantage point, or take a boat all the way up the river into the wine growing region and go wine tasting.
  • Go on a church tour: Igreja dos Carmelitas has an incredibly picturesque traditional tile wall on the outside.  Clerigos Church offers a 75 meter tall tower that offers unprecedented views of the city from the top of it.  Expect a wait to climb the 240 stairs if you are there at a busy time.  The Church of Sao Francisco is filled with gilded Baroque decor.
  • Get your tourist on: Lello & Irmão Bookstore is apparently the third most famous library in the world, most likely because it supposedly inspired many aspects of Harry Potter for JK Rowling.  The architecture inside is supposedly incredibly stunning.  I didn’t have the patience to stand in line for four hours to go inside, so I’ll have to go back.  If you really want to see the inside, you might go first thing in the morning before it opens to avoid the crowds, or right at closing.  Cafe Majestic opened in 1921 and used to be the meeting point for the area’s elite and creatives.  I was told it’s incredibly beautiful but has “tourist pricing.”  JK Rowling also apparently spent many a day in this cafe on the first book in the series.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer’s photographers for Porto are Ivo and Vanessa.  This dynamic duo of a photographic team are married and totally in love with their home.  They were incredibly fun to wander the city with for an afternoon, exploring the tight winding streets for the best kind of souvenir: photos of ourselves playing in a city we came to love.
  • Visit the Oporto Craft Market: it’s filled with small stalls of homemade art, foodstuffs, and other creations by local artisans.

Flytographer in Porto Portugal