Now that 2012 has properly digested, I feel like writing about it, or the most memorable aspects of it which happen to be my travels. In all, I took five solo trips and enjoyed every single minute of each of the 49 days I spent on the road. So here’s a rundown of my journeys, discoveries, memorable moments and the tools that helped me to hold it all together.
Big Magic in Houston (7 days)
I had my sights set on New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for several years and was intent on going in May however I did not get the time off. The travel bug had already bitten so I was intent on making a trip the moment I could so I went on musicfestivaljunkies.com to find another concert. Free Press Summer Fest was what I decided on. I made a great choice.
Summer Fest itself was outrageous (in a good way), perfect because I tend to prefer outdoor concerts with several stages as there is always something to groove to. Major Lazer, Willie Nelson, Afrojack, Snoop Dogg and Z-Ro and a hundred other acts did not disappoint. I was also impressed by the platform the festival offered to not only big time companies and food and craft vendors but to the various causes that were allowed a place to express themselves, like The Center for the Healing of Racism and the Rehumanize campaign.
Houston itself does not have a distinctive character, in my opinion, but the arts scene and the various attractions are worth it. CityPass allowed me to see five of them for only $39. It is a good investment for longer trips with less demanding agendas; I forewent the aquarium because it seemed to have been more of a restaurant than something I would find breath-taking. The museums were all impressive with very well curated collections. At the Museum of Fine Arts I saw Renoirs, Rembrandts, Van Goghs and Picassos but what moved me (almost to tears) was a mural, Odyssey, made with gunpowder by Cai Guo-Qiang. Uncut stones and fine jewellery at the Museum of Natural Science’s gem gallery were a sight to behold, an experience brilliantly enhanced by a jazz backdrop. The butterfly display was also pretty amazing.
Houston Ballet’s Made in America and Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes was an enthralling, mesmerising journey1. The moment I stepped outside the hall, I was greeted by fireworks generated by the Astros’ victory. One beautiful night. One unforgettable seven-day weekend.
Green, Friendly New Hampshire (7 days)
The main purpose of this trip was to visit my sister who had recently done breast cancer surgery. I was very happy to see her and heartened by the wonderful people she was lucky enough to have around. New England is lovely in summer- green, green everywhere and oh so clean; I enjoyed the relative quiet.
I was invited to a bring-your-own-meat party2; it was a new concept to me but I had a lot of fun with my sister and her friends who were all very hospitable and friendly. I had a head-clearing berry picking session at Brookdale Farm in Hollis, wonderful sushi at Mikata in Merrimack, a gigantic soft-serve ice-cream at King Kone, cheesecake and hearty pilsner at Martha’s Exchange brewery and more good beer at Old Amsterdam Bar and Nathaniel’s Family Eatery, both in Nashua. I re-read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in Greely Park and lived on Panera Bread. I recommend Castro’s Back Room for cigar lovers, League of NH Craftsmen for souvenirs and Cooking Matters for a quick repast and spice shopping.
Power Food Trip to Washington, DC (18 days)
Volunteering at the AIDS 2012 conference was, undoubtedly, one of the most memorable experiences of my life so far. Experiencing such a powerful and savvy city for the first time was tremendous. All the big talkers, celebrities and other inspiring figures at the conference itself, all the monuments, museums, memorials, all the political activism and social hipness was refreshing. I met a fellow blogger, @CucumberJuice, who was also a volunteer at the conference and a Thai food connoisseur.
DC has all the developed beauty and cultural diversity of a well-planned capital city. I enjoyed myself bar hopping in Adams Morgan; this was my first time staying out past 2am on a Friday night and apart from the shocking bottle service menus, I had a good time. Of course, I had a good walk around the National Mall to see the museums and monuments. I must implore you not to take the bike taxis as they are quite expensive and move no faster than a brisk walker. Yes, I made the mistake. The best part of this was delicious brunch at a lovely restaurant called Old Ebbitt Grill- the dexterity of the waiters there should be a tourist attraction, seriously.
I stayed at a hotel in DuPont circle for a while. There was nothing much going on at nights in DuPont and I was led to discover sushi bar nightclub hybrid called Sushi Taro; this is the place for you if you enjoy fresh rolls with cocktails and karaoke. I also spent a lot of time at Pentagon Row in Arlington; there is a Simon Mall with all the major shops and a lovely Food Court with several eateries including a not-so-great Italian Ristorante Murali and the amazing Nando’s Peri-Peri. There are also some good restaurants in the Clarendon, VA neighbourhood including a Cheesecake Factory franchise. I shamelessly declare that I would return to DC, if only for the varied dining options.
Third Edition of North Sea Jazz in Curacao (6 days)
I have been attending the Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival since its first staging in 2010 and it is always a great joy and pleasure. Three Stages, two nights, one magical experience. This year was magnificent- the new beach stage was truly a treat. Imagine this night scene- sitting beneath a thatch cabana with the voice of Jill Scott or India Arie permeating the salty air; it was to die for. The top performers were Santana, Alicia Keys, Randy Crawford, Maná and The Bright Mississippi.
It was my first time staying at Blue Bay, which is an old plantation on which have been constructed lovely villas and fully-equipped apartments. It is a very beautiful, expansive property with courteous staff and a well-cared beach. There was paid Wi-Fi throughout the property and free Wi-Fi on the beach.
I hereby send a major shout-out to Mookie Job, owner/operator of Tik Tak in Punda who always finds tickets for me each year, even when they are sold out. I owe to him the beautiful experience I had of seeing Stevie Wonder live in 2011 and he also made it possible for me to see Santana in 2012. The owner of Café Vienna in Punda was a friendly waiter- he served me a chilled, refreshing glass of rose; the best I ever had. It was also good to finally meet fellow blogger @sablikatriumph.
Abundant Life in New Orleans, then South Beach (11 days)
I welcomed 2013 in The Big Easy and got my official induction into the Who Dat Nation. It was beautiful to be walking into a football stadium with brass bands all around. We lost against the Panthers but the vibe inside the Superdome was very happy and the party still went on at Champions Square and I enjoyed the alligator sausage po’ boy, jambalaya with Andouille and root beer.
Walking around the French Quarter was fun, the street performers and artists in Jackson Square were mostly seriously talented people. The art galleries on Chartres Street displayed some strong contemporary pieces and a few had antiques on display. I got the mandatory coffee and beignets at Café du Monde and compared them to those at Morning Call, both very delicious except that at Morning Call you get to shake your own sugar. I cannot begin to relate to you the amount of food I had in New Orleans, the number of dishes was only surpassed by the number of cocktails. The Doc Brinker’s Special at Camellia Grill, the Pimm’s Cup and Hot Muffuletta at Napoleon House and hush puppies at Adam’s Catfish were some of the more impressive gastronomic treats.
Riding a streetcar up and down St. Charles, drooling over the gorgeous homes in the Garden District, City Park, the Museum of Art and Sculpture Park, the Riverwalk, the majestic cemeteries and the beautiful Mississippi river were the top daytime attractions. The annual Celebration in the Oaks which featured pretty lights and everything you expect at a fair and more appealed to the child in me. I highly recommend it as an evening activity for families.
I appreciated my time on Bourbon Street but Basin and Frenchmen Street had a more local feel and much more live jazz. I took advantage of the liberal open container laws of Orleans Parish, always had a drink or two in hand, night and day. The hand grenades on Bourbon Street were refreshing- a little weak for me but the Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s lived up to its reputation.
The beauty of New Orleans was not in the tasty food, drinks, or unique buildings. I met so many warm-hearted people who became instant friends. I had a lovely walk around Louis Armstrong Park and Faubourg Tremé which was celebrating its bicentennial – 200 years, and is the oldest African-American neighbourhood in the United States. Across the road from Armstrong Park I wandered into a bar called Michael’s3. The bartender picked up on my Jamaican accent and became an instant friend, telling me of his voyages to Negril and recommending places to go and things to see around NOLA.
I spent a few days in South Beach on my way back home. I did a little of the requisite clubbing but I spent most of my time on property at Freehand Miami, ordering GrubHub and relaxing. Enjoying a film on the grass, outdoors, with a few hundred other people and some pets- SoundScape Miami was my most memorable South Beach experience.
Tools of the Trade
So here are the products and services that kept me through almost 50 days on the road.
- Google Maps (iPhone) – I am indebted to this app for a lot of navigation assistance, including public transit routes and schedule. I also used Maps to find good places to eat and shop.
- Tripit Pro – Kept me organized on the road and aware of my flight status. Tripit sends useful and timely reminders via text and push notification.
- MeetUp – Helped me find like-minded people and events that suit my interests.
- CouchSurfing – I used CouchSurfing to meet up with amazing people- locals and fellow travellers.
- TravBuddy – I met one local in Houston through TravBuddy. She has become a close friend.
- Red Pocket – Kept me connected with a reliable, prepaid voice and data plan.
- My iSound Portable Power – Kept me charged and in charge.
- GrubHub – Brought the food to me when I was not feeling up to the walk.
- Super Shuttle – Provided reliable airport transportation in Houston and Miami.
- AirBnB – I used this amazing resource to rent two very lovely, very different apartments that both felt like home. The most unique accommodation options may be found here, you can literally rent a plane, train, or automobile (modified for livability, of course)! You rent from owners and landlords, most properties are private apartments but the bed and breakfast operators have been catching on. The options are a) entire home/apartment b) private room and c) shared room. AirBnB is usually less expensive than a hotel and provides much more flexibility.
- Starbucks – Hangover recovery and pastry provider. The best one, in my humble opinion is at Clear Lake in Houston
Here’s to 2013 and the journeys therein.
- I spent only $15 on this for a seat worth $180 with their Under 25 Fridays program. It did not matter that I was a foreigner. [↩]
- I brought pork chops and the snob in me insisted on preparing my own jerk sauce. [↩]
- Unbeknownst to me, Michael’s was a gay bar but I am still happy I went and I will return next year for an eggnogatini. [↩]