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.

3 days in medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in medellin3 days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin3 Days in Medellin

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.
One Wilshire, Los Angeles, Visit LA, Travel Photography, Reno Tahoe Photographer

LA Rendezvous

Every few years, my best mate Haley and I start missing each other and plan a little weekend get away to travel together and catch up.  We call them our “Rendezvous'”.  It just so happens that this year, Haley is marrying a wonderful man and she asked me to travel down to LA for a little rendezvous to celebrate her birthday and take engagement photos of them.

I hadn’t been to LA in years and had a blast drinking “rosé all day” with Haley, her fiance, and Anne, whose been staying in So Cal these past few weeks.  We had our toes done, drank wine while watching the sun go down at a gorgeous house in Palos Verdes, caught up with other old friends, and did a lot of daytime drinking, my favorite vacation activity.

My photos of Haley and Dave’s engagement session are still to come, but in the meantime, you can check out their sneak peak.  You can check out all the photos from my weekend in LA via this link.

Standard Hotel, Daytime drinking, Los Angeles Activities, Travel Photography

Dancing on the rooftop at the Standard Hotel.

If you want to visit Los Angeles, here are my recommendations.  In general, I like to stay away from LA and Hollywood and hide out in the coastal towns of Venice and Santa Monica, where you can totally do without a car. 

STAY:  This studio rental on Airbnb for two exudes beachy-ness from it’s pores: clean, comforting, and colorful!  Better yet, the stay includes the use of two cruisers, perfect for avoiding the LA traffic and cruising around Venice, Santa Monica, and the Malibu boardwalk.

EAT:

  • Gjelina is the type of place I could eat at three times in one day and not be tired of spending time there.  It’s overwhelmingly comfortable, yet sophisticated and the food is amazing.  The pizzas all sound so delicious it’s hard to choose and the salads are inventive.  It’s best to go as a group and order plates to share.  Word of warning: trust the chef because there is a very strict no substitutions or changes policy and they mean it, even if you’re a celebrity.
Gjelina, Venice Beach Restaraunts, Food Photoraphy, Travel Photoraphy, Visit Los Angeles, Visit LA

Gjelina’s food is to die for. Just don’t ask to be treated special because you aren’t.

  • Intelligentsia may take their coffee a bit too seriously: the employees are pretentious and over-the-top hipsters but damn, that is a serious latte.  Don’t tell them I said that though, it might go to their heads.

DRINK:

  • It’s a shame that The Tasting Kitchen seems unable to bring the wow factor to their dishes in the same way that their atmosphere and bar does.  Reviews on Yelp for their food are hit and miss, which is exactly how my friends described their menu.  Regardless, skip the overpriced food fare and cozy up to the bar for some killer cocktails or our favorite, a bottle of rosé.
Engagement Sessions, Reno Tahoe Engagement Photographer, Tahoe Portrait Photographer, Tasting Kitchen, Venice Beach,

The Tasting Kitchen’s ambiance is personal, rich in texture, with clean lines with an interesting twist that brings outside, inside.

  • Oscar’s in Venice has a killer happy hour and amazing food and apps to boot.  Sit outside on the deck to take in the SoCal sunshine.
  • Act like you’re richer and cooler than you are and take the rail line to downtown LA and drink on the rooftop by the pool at The Standard Hotel.  There are often DJ’s on the decks on weekends.  With panaramic views of Los Angeles and the mountains beyond, there’s no better way to spend a sunny afternoon than here.  Also, don’t forget your swimsuit: the pool is heated.
Standard Hotel, Travel Blogs, Los Angeles, Things to do in Los Angeles, Travel Photography, Reno Tahoe Photographers

Champagne on the rooftop of The Standard, downtown LA.

  • Areal may not have the most amazing food around but it does have a gorgeous outdoor patio and more importantly, bottomless mimosas with the purchase of a brunch entree on weekends.  Don’t get me wrong: our food was solid and tasty, just not overwhelmingly memorable.  The experience however, was.
bottomless mimosas, brunch at Areal, Areal Restarant, Areal Venice, Los Angeles Travel, Reno Tahoe Photographer

The over-the-top Belgian Waffles at Areal in Venice.

PLAY:

  • The beach and boardwalk shouldn’t even have to be mentioned!
  • Get a glimpse of Hollywood without having to deal with Hollywood and tour Sony Studios in Culver City.  Afterwards, head over to downtown to wander and eat.  Culver City is so quaint and adorable it almost feels like you’re not in Los Angeles.

GET CULTURED:

  • Bergamot Station in Santa Monica was originally a trolley stop, built in 1875 for the Red Line Trolley, which ran from LA to the Santa Monica Pier.  Today, it features art galleries, museums and cafes.

New Orleans: City of Dreams

New Olreans, Street Car, Garden District, St. Charles St

The St. Charles Streetcar

It was our last full day in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the Maple Leaf had given boyfriend the wrong credit card back. It was about a 45 minute bike ride from the Treme. We decided to take advantage of the need to return to that side of town by taking a ride on the iconic St. Charles Streetcar Line.

Bywater, New Orleans, Breakfast, Praline Bacon

Elizabeth’s in the Bywater: breakfast all day.

That being said, we couldn’t be running around town without the most important meal of the day in our bellies so we started with an unbelievable breakfast in the Bywater at Elizabeth’s, where everything is made from scratch and the bloody mary’s are huge and spicy. Elizabeth’s is known for something a little quirky: praline bacon. I was nervous to order it at first, being that I don’t care for sweet things, but the numerous rave reviews on yelp convinced me that I should. It’s a very strange but unbelievably addicting fusion of smoky crispy bacon and cane syrup, brown sugar and pecans. It was perfectly balanced for my discerning taste buds: not too sweet and just salty, peppery and smoky enough to balance it out.

Elizabeths, Bywater, praline bacon, New orleans

The bloody mary at Elizabeth’s in the Bywater – worth the trip!

After venturing all the way back to Oak St, I lamented that we should stop into Snake and Jake’s, a dive bar so divey that it’s Christmas year round and holds residence in a garage, but didn’t. Instead, we choose to participate in another New Orleans tradition: happy hour at the Columns. I dare you to sit on the porch of the Columns sipping wine or Abita and not imagine sitting on that very porch at the turn of the century.

Garden District, New Orleans, Happy Hour, bed and breakfast

The Columns Hotel.

After a quick cheap dinner at Killer Po’Boys, which offers unusual twists on the standard New Orleans fare from their tiny kitchen tucked in the back of the Erin Rose Bar, we hit up Frenchman St for a brief hour to watch the Halloween chaos ensue. It was only 9 pm but the street was already so packed you could hardly walk and there was a street party duel happening between a DJ with a grocery cart and the Red Bull Truck.

New orleans, street party, Halloween, Frenchman Street

Frenchman Street Party on Halloween

We returned to our little house in the Treme early. We’d been in New Orleans one week: we ate, drank, partied, and danced every night. We were tired and filled with fried food and praline bacon and beer and remoulade to the brim. It was one of the most fun weeks of vacation I’ve had in my life and I’ve traveled extensively. Everyone needs to visit New Orleans. It’s my favorite city in the world. It’s a special place where people are happy despite the odds, where life moves at a slower pace, where the fried chicken is crispy and the music goes on all hours of the day. Visit New Orleans and fall in love with the spirit of the city.

You can see all the photos from our trip here.

New Orleans, Marigny, Bywater

Let’s fly down,
or drive down,
to New Orleans.
That city,
‘so pretty,
it’s so extreme.
I’ll take you,
I’ll parade you,
down Bourbon Street.
You’ll see all the hot spots,
you’ll meet all those big shots,
down on New Orleans.

If you want to visit New Orleans, here are my recommendations.

STAY: Rick and Liz in the Treme will make you feel like a local. Their house is wonderful, full of character and conveniently located for all your adventures. They have two private rooms they offer that include cruiser bikes to explore on. I can’t recommend Airbnb enough. A hotel cannot match the charm, comfort, and character of staying in someone’s home, especially in a city like New Orleans.
Choose from the private room we stayed in or the other private room they offer in the same home.

EAT BREAKFAST:

EAT DINNER:

DRINK:

SEE MUSIC:

EXPLORE:

BEST TIMES TO GO

CAN’T GET THERE? WATCH FOR THESE BANDS TO COME THROUGH YOUR TOWN

New Orleans, Marigny, Bywater, Jackson Square, French Quarter

I Feel like Funkin’ it Up

New Orleans, Music, Street Bands, French Quarter, Jackson Square

I feel like funkin’ it up feel like funkin’ it up
I feel like funkin’ it up feel like funkin’ it up
I feel like funkin’ it up feel like funkin’ it up
I feel like funkin’ it up feel like funkin’ it up

We had two days left to explore New Orleans and wanted to make the most of it. Thankfully, it was Tuesday and Tuesday in New Orleans means one thing and one thing only: Rebirth Brass Band plays at the Maple Leaf. The Maple Leaf is just north west of the Garden District on Oak Street. It’s dark, long and narrow. It’s hot and sweaty. And when Rebirth gets the party started up in there, people push to the front, dance on top of each other and climb up on the benches with their hands in the air.

In college, when we used to drive to New Orleans frequently to party, I spent many a Tuesday night at the Maple Leaf. I was thrilled to take Buddy there and give him a taste of a New Orleans tradition.

Rebirth was on tour this week so we were treated to their stand in, the New Birth Brass Band, which features members of the now defunct Olympia Brass Band and includes Tuba player Kerwin James, the younger brother of Philip and Keith Frazier, who are part of Rebirth Brass Band.

New Orleans, Creole Food, Oak St

We started our night on Oak St with dinner at Jacques-Imos, where you walk through the kitchen to get seated in a tiny shotgun house and may get the chance to peek at Samuel L Jackson, a frequenter of the joint. He was there the night we were, wearing a track suit, arriving on foot. Buddy and I, learning from our previous nights dinner where we ordered WAY too much food, split a rabbit appetizer and the smothered chicken entree. All the meals start out with some of the best cornbread I’ve eaten (parsley and garlic in it!) and the restaurant is lively and vivacious. We arrived just before the evening crowd, but if you happen to get there late, you can go drink in the Maple Leaf Bar and they will come find you when your table is ready.

Earlier that day, we also visited the Presbytere, part of the Louisiana State Museum. Admission is a whopping $5 and there is an exhibit on Hurricane Katrina and the history of Mardis Gras. After you visit, grab a muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery, where the secret is in the olive salad and the charm is that you order either a half sandwich or a whole. The whole is big enough for four, the half for two. It’s ridiculously over sized, much like all plates of Southern grub. If you have extra time, eat your sandwich while you walk through the French Quarter Farmer’s Market, aptly called the French Market. It was the only place all week we found frog legs on a stick to eat and were entertained by not a brass band, but a jug band.

French Market, Street Music, French Quarter, Jackson Square, New Orleans

Jug band performs for folks in the New Orleans French Market.

French Market, Farmers Market, French Quarter, Jackson Square, New Orleans, Street Music

They got music
It’s always playin’
Start in the day time, go all through the night

When you hear that music playin’
Hear what I’m saying, it make you feel alright

Grab somebody, come on down
Bring your paintbrush, we’re paintin’ the town
There’s some sweetness goin’ ’round
Catch it down in New Orleans

Exploring Frenchman Street

Marigny, New Orleans, Frenchman, Brass Bands

Frenchman St in the Marigny

Want to know what Creole-Italian is? Head to Adolpho’s. Dining there is an experience best imagined as a marriage between your Italian Grandmother’s kitchen and a dive bar. Find it by climbing rickety stairs through a bar on Frenchman St to the upstairs room with less than 15 tables. Be adventurous and start off with fried alligator which tastes like a chewy, albeit delicious, chicken. If you’re a pescatarian, any of the fish of the day dishes topped with Ocean Sauce is the way to go. Cash only!

Adolphos, Frenchamn St, New Orleans, Creole-Italian Cuisine

Fried Alligator in Remoulade

Follow it up with a stop into the Spotted Cat Music Club to listen to the sounds of jazz, where there is never a cover and the Abita Amber is cold and cheap.

Frenchman St, Brass Bands, New Orleans, Street Music

Young Fellaz Brass Band gigs for Frenchman St passer-bys.

On your way down the street, you might get derailed by the sounds of the Young Fellaz Brass Band who can often be found gigging on the street corner. Don’t be fooled by the name: the band’s enthusiasm and talent far exceed it. Order their last album here or find them on facebook here.

New Orleans, Street Music, Frenchman, Brass Bands

New Orleans, Street Music, Brass Bands, Frenchman St

New Orleans, Street Music, Brass Bands, Frenchman St

It’s hard to tear yourself away from amazing music, especially when you find it on the street corner, but another act and more Abita is vying for your attention over at d.b.a. where the Stooges Brass Band (or via facebook) is setting up.

d.b.a., Frenchman, new orleans

The Stooges were incredible! They tour nationally so keep an eye on their events page and don’t miss the chance to boogie with one of the most hardworking and talented brass bands in the nation. I am so thrilled we stumbled upon them!

New Orleans, Frenchman St, Marigny, d.b.a., brass bands

These are a few of my favorite photos from the Stooges set at d.b.a., but you can see all of them here.

Stooges Brass Band, New Orleans, Frenchman Street, d.b.a.


I’m gonna show you how to do it
I’m gonna show you how to do it
I’m gonna show you how to do it
You got to wind it up
Like Michael Buck

Brass, New Orleans, Frenchman St, d.b.a., trombone, tuba

Museums and Cocktails

Magazine Street, New Orleans

Although we’d been in New Orleans through the weekend, our days had been consumed by Voodoo Music Fest and we really hadn’t had any time to explore the city. We awoke on Monday ready to attack the day.

My favorite meal of the day is breakfast and I really don’t care what time of day it is: breakfast is an all the time food. We were waking up in New Orleans late late late so one of our daily requirements was an all day (or at least most of the day) breakfast joint. We ate at some really fantastic breakfast restaurants, one of them being the Ruby Slipper Cafe, where they buy locally and serve breakfast literally all day. I was tempted to order the migas, which are one of my most favorite breakfast all-the-time-foods, but stuck to my quest to eat only New Orleans soul food while in the city and ordered an The Louisianan: an omelet with boiled gulf shrimp and cheddar cheese, accented with fresh thyme.

New Orleans, Breakfast, Cafe, Ruby Slipper Cafe

The Ruby Slipper Cafe was conveniently located on our ride to the National World War II Museum, located off Magazine St at Andrew Higgins Dr. The museum was founded by historian and author Stephen Ambrose and tells the story of the American Experience in World War II. It is located in New Orleans due to the importance of Andrew Higgins, a New Orleans native who according to Dwight Eisenhower, is “the man who won [World War II] for us.” Higgins and his New Orleans boat company invented and manufactured reliable landing crafts to transport troops from ship to shore and played a crucial part in our success in the war.

The museum campus is creatively designed and stunning to visit. It is a required visit for anyone traveling to New Orleans. Exhibits are open seven days a week from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. They recommend that you allow at least 3 hours to view exhibits.

After the museum, we headed back down to Jackson Square for the essential stop at Cafe Du Monde, which needs little introduction, though I will say that when the waitress mistakenly brought us two orders of beignets, we did not correct her and savored every one.

From Cafe du Monde, it was on to the Napoleon House, famed for it’s Pimm’s Cup. Their recipe claims to be “made to James Pimm’s original recipe, a closely guarded secret known only to six people.” It’s an addicting concoction of a cocktail with lemonade and cucumber that tastes crisp, clean and not to sweet.

Napoleon House, New Orleans, French Quarter

Make your own Pimm’s Cup with

  • 1 1/4 ounces Pimm’s #1
  • 3 ounces homemade lemonade
  • 7-Up
  • Thin slice cucumber

Apparently the secret is in the lemonade, a house recipe that the Napoleon house closely guards.

While the cocktail may be glittering, clean and bright, the Napoleon House is anything but. The building is fabled to have been built to house Napoleon Bonaparte after his exile but the attempt to bring him to New Orleans ended with news of his death. They play classical music upon customer request, but only classical music. It’s a must visit joint: explore a little bit of quirky New Orleans history, the dark ambiance of the bar or the bright sunshine of the courtyard, and have a classic cocktail (or four).

New Orleans, French Quarter, Pimm's Cup

We decided to go on a cocktail tour of the French Quarter and our next stop was the Bombay Club, where it feels like you are sipping martinis in someone’s living room.

Bombay Club, New Orleans, Bourban St, French Quarter, Martinis

They often have live jazz playing, offer a full menu, and are known so well for their historical menu filled with martinis that it often gets stolen and the menus are equipped with locators to prevent theft!

Sazerac, Rob Roy Martini, Bombay Club, New Orleans, Classic Cocktails, Bourban Street, Martinis, French Quarter

I decided to venture out of my comfort zone a bit and ordered a classic New Orleans drink: a Sazerac, the oldest American cocktail and the official drink of New Orleans. It’s made with a rye whiskey, absinthe or Herbsaint, and Peychaud’s Bitters. I’m not normally a fan of whiskey, but it fit the mood of the bar and kept me from slamming it back to quickly: it is a sipping drink.

Bombay Club, New Orleans, Bourban Street, French Quarter

We were starting to get hungry so we staved off dinner with an order of fried quail, which was delicately fried with an exceptionally crispy breading. It was enough to quench our hunger for the bike ride across the French Quarter to our destination for the evening: Frenchman Street in the Marigny. It was time for some more New Orleans music!

Voodoo Nap Fest

On Sunday I was tired.

We had one last day of Voodoo Fest and my favorite musician, Jack White was headlining. I was hoping is all boy band was going to play because we’d recently seen him in Red Rocks, CO with his all girl band.

We started our day off at the local cafe, Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe. I’d read that it had the “best fried chicken in New Orleans” and all boyfriend cares about is bacon so we were excited. This place was a trip.

Li’l Dizzy’s is a family run cafe, owned by Wayne Baquet. When Baquet lost his original restaurant to looting during Katrina, he moved the operation over to Esplanade in the Treme. On a Sunday morning during brunch it is absolute chaos in the joint! Waitresses are yelling at each other, yelling at customers, you ask for ice tea five times before you get it, but no matter, the fried chicken was the best I’ve ever had. They serve buffet style but you can also order off the menu, but when you do, they look at you like “you be crazy.” And if you only go to the buffet once, as I did, they throw their hand on their hip and say with some sass, “What! Girl! Shit, that ain’t no buffet! That it?”

Our last day at Voodoo fest was filled with me spending a lot of time laying on the ground and napping. In between laying on the ground and napping I huddled in a jacket and scarf because it was freezing and sometimes wiggled my hips with very little energy. I spent the whole day wondering why I was so damn tired and then I realized it was from the half marathon. D’uh.

Standouts from the afternoon included the Tangiers Blues Band, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who I think came on stage for a guest appearance with every single band that played on the Preservation Hall Stage that day, and of course, Jack White, who did, in fact play with his rough and tumble all boy band.

Voodoo Music Fest, New Orleans, Music Festivals, Jack White

From top left: 1. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 2. Lost Bayou Ramblers, 3. Tangiers Blues Band, 4. Jack White

I only had my iphone with me all weekend to take photos, which was both a blessing and a curse. I saw plenty of people with DSLRs that they’d managed to get through security, though the info for Voodoo said no pro cameras allowed. I wasn’t willing to risk bringing all my stuff all the way to City Park and getting denied entrance since it was a 20 minute bike ride. While this prevented me from running around and getting great concert photos, which is a particular passion of mine, it allowed me to really sit back over the course of the weekend and just enjoy the music instead of thinking like a photographer the whole time. It was actually quite nice.

Running Half Marathons while Dancing

When I originally planned my trip to New Orleans, it was to run the Jazz Half Marathon. Once upon a time I came up with this ridiculous idea to run a half marathon in every state, among other things. While some of the things on the list I’m no longer interested in (my goals are in a constant state of re-evaluation), this is one that’s stuck around. It appeals to my innate thirst for things that both physically and mentally challenge me.

So far, I’ve ticked CA, UT, OR, and TX off the list, where I had the worst race of my life and they rubbed it in by listing me as a male even though I’m not and I missed out on a 2nd place age group award. I really wanted to get three states in this year, but I’ll take the two.

I digress.

So, I plan a trip to run a half marathon, discover that Voodoo Music Fest was the same weekend and decided that it was totally in the realm of possibility to run a half marathon AND go to a three day music fest on the same weekend.

No. Big. Deal.

We got up at 6 AM to ride bikes down to Lafayette Square in the downtown business district where the race was set to start. I hadn’t run in three weeks because of a nagging injury from the Bizz Johnson marathon so I was more than a bit nervous. My leg still wasn’t at 100% and I gave myself a caveat: I could bail at the 5k turn around if I wasn’t feeling up to it. While I had been running fairly steadily before the Bizz Johnson, by the time I hit mile 8 my quads were feeling quite thrashed, enough so that the miles from 10 to 13 were pretty damn rough. I will say that the “whiskey shot” rest stop at mile 12 did make me giggle. In the end, my efforts were enough for a 28th place finish in my age group and a time of 1:52:55. Not too shabby for more than 2,000 runners.

After the race, we had an amazing southern brunch at Rae’s grandparents’ house and headed over to Voodoo Fest for day 2. Highlights from the day included: Treme Brass Band, K’nann (where the hell have I been? This guy is awesome!), Soul Rebels, and my favorite new find, Zeale, a kid from Austin with insane energy, a heart of gold, and mad verbal skills. I LOVED him.

I also checked out Justice, who I used to adore but apparently has been touring with the same exact show for more than three years and Metallica which was overwhelming times gazillions.

Voodoo Music Experience, Voodoo Fest, New Orleans

Clockwise from top: Voodoo Music Carnival, Zeale, Gary Clark JR, Big Chief Bo Dollis and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux with the 101 Runners.

Thanks to running a swift 13.1 miles that morning, I ended up quite saucy by the end of the day. Running + dancing = success.

Voodoo Music Experience

Our original plan had been to visit New Orleans for simply a weekend, heading to Voodoo Music Festival and showing off a bit of the city to Buddy. When I realized a good friend was getting married in Austin the following weekend, we decided to stay in LA the entire week: it simply made no sense to burn multiple days of vacation flying back and forth from CA. After missing my favorite fest, ACL Fest to move, I was jonesing for some great and new music.

We arrived in New Orleans on Thursday and after partying until the wee hours of the morning at Vaughan’s, woke up feeling not so sparky. Desperate for breakfast despite the late hour of noon, we hit up Restaurant Stanley on a tip from another cafe. This is what I ate:

Stanley, New Orleans, Creole Food, Cajun Food, Eggs Rockefeller, Jackson Square, French Quarter

That’s right. It was like THAT. Eggs Stanley: Cornmeal-Crusted Oysters, Poached Eggs, Canadian Bacon and Creole Hollandaise on a Toasted English Muffin. Serious breakfast, ALL DAY LONG. Like breakfast SHOULD be: an ALL the time food.

Voodoo Fest takes place in New Orleans’ massive “City Park,” a 1,300 acre park in the center of the city. It is the 6th-largest and 7th-most-visited urban public park in the United States! It’s also famous for holding the world’s largest collection of ancient live oak trees, some more than 600 years old. The city hosts multiple festivals a year there, including Jazz Fest.

We arrived pretty late, thanks to our headaches and need for bacon, but had plenty of time during the day to catch some standout acts. My favorites from Friday included CC Adcock and the Lafayette Marquis, The 101 Runners and their tribute to Big Chief Bo Dollis featuring Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and members of various local brass bands, Gary Clark JR, and, oddly enough, The Avett Brothers. The Avett Brothers are this band that everyone just LOVES and you’re supposed to LOVE them to and I have the albums and I just didn’t LOVE them. Until I saw the show. What is subdued, underplayed and downright boring and mellow on their album is taken to a whole new level of power and persuasiveness in their live show. I don’t know that I’ll listen to the albums still, but I would definitely go out of my way to see them tour again.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse were playing but after hearing lackluster reviews from everyone about their live show, I decided to be responsible and skip it since I had to get up at 6 AM to go run a half marathon. It was a good idea. Day 1 of Voodoo fest was in the bag and we were happy, filled with music, and worked!

Introduction to the Big Easy

We arrived on a Thursday and settled into our adorable shotgun house in the Tremé. A shotgun house is a narrow long rectangular home, usually more more than 12 feet wide. Our hosts have purchased one that used to be a duplex and are busy converting it into one big long house, which makes it considerably more comfortable. In most single shotgun homes, you have to walk through one room to get to another, meaning that your bedroom is often also the hallway. Shotgun homes are prevalent in the south and particularly in New Orleans.

As an Airbnb host myself, it is now my preferred way to travel. I would much rather stay in a local’s home than in a hotel. The beds may not be as new, the comforters as fluffy, but they undoubtedly always have more character and charm than any Best Western.

Our home was conveniently located in Tremé, which is also known as the 6th Ward, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans. Early in the city’s history, the Treme was the main neighborhood for free people of color. Some of my favorite New Orleans musicians grew up in the Treme, including Kermit Ruffins and Joe’s Cozy Corner in Tremé is often considered the birthplace of my favorite band, the Rebirth Brass Band.

Our hosts have four bikes for their guests to use and they were going to be our primary mode of transportation. Their house was conveniently located centrally in between City Park, home to New Orleans’ various music festivals, and the bustling French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in the city.

Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans

Since Buddy had never been to the city, the first thing we did was cruise our bikes around Jackson Square for a bit. At any given moment in Jackson Square, the plaza is bustling with street musicians, artists, performers, pan handlers and hustlers. Be wary of the hustlers: they are aggressive, angry, demanding and not worth your dollar.

Jakcson Square, Brass Bands, Street Music, New Orleans, French Quarter

After a cruise around the Square, we headed to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, generally considered the oldest bar in the US. According to legend it was used by the Pirate Jean Lafitte as a home base for his operations. Just around the corner from Lafitte’s is Eat, where they serve up Louisiana fare using locally farmed produce and ingredients. It’s BYOB and there is no corkage fee for the first six pack or bottle of wine. We started with crawfish boullettes (similar to hushpuppies but made of crawfish) and stuffed artichoke and leek gratin, both of which I would recommend. I followed it up with crawfish pie (a casserole form of etouffee) and it was far more food than I could eat!

Vaughan's, Kermit Ruffins, New Orleans, Brass Bands, By-Water, Dive Bars

It was Thursday, which meant that Kermit Ruffins at Vaughan’s in the By-Water was a must-see. Kermit and his band covered everything from New Orleans brass band staples to Louis Armstrong followed back to back by the Black Eyed Peas. I’m not even joking. Dance with the lcoals, don’t smoke while Kermit’s playing and make sure you have some red beans and rice.

Kermit Ruffins, Vaughan's, By-Water, New Orleans