Hurricane Season

I was going to post more New Orleans stuff. Then Labor Day weekend happened, and next thing I know I was preparing for Hurricane Irma. We fared well in my area, however, as you all know, other parts of the world did not. Shortly after, Hurricane Maria barreled through the same islands that Hurricane Irma impacted. Therefore for my post today, I want to share an online fundraiser I am doing for Waves for Water.

Waves for Water’s Caribbean Hurricane Relief Initiative strives to provide immediate access to clean water for impacted families, as well as develop long-term filtration systems for the entire communities. 100% of donations will go directly to this initiative. In addition, they have the Clean Water Corps headed entirely by our U.S. veterans to continue their service through humanitarian initiatives. No amount is too little, and if you can’t donate now, you can donate later for this initiative or their other global projects. Please share and pass it on!  Here is the link: http://www.wavesforwater.org/fundraiser/clean-water-for-our-fellow-citizens-and-communities

 

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NOLA Eats

After Ireland, I told myself that I would stay put within Florida until my annual Christmas trip home to Chicago. Well, my father told me that he’s attending a seminar for work in New Orleans, and airfare from Tampa were within reason, so I booked a plane ticket too. My brother was tagging along with my dad too, so I thought it’d be nice to see them. No plans, no itinerary, all I know was that I’ve never been there and always wanted to check it out. But I did know one thing…my main objective in NOLA: Eat!

Every one I’ve talked to who have been to New Orleans said the food was good. And they weren’t lying. New Orleans sure knows how to cook and make this girl happy. I welcome weight gain when it involves delicious food. Here are the restaurants I indulged in while I was there:

Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar

We ate here our first night, as recommended by my Airport Shuttle driver. My dad and brother wanted to try new things, particularly my dad as he’s never really been exposed to Southern cuisine. We tried turtle soup…which I was very hesitant at first because, turtle. It was actually good, but I did not care to eat anymore. I’ve only had fried oysters before, so this is where I tried raw oysters for the first time. I was not disappointed! I ordered a soft shell crab platter, another wonderful thing my father has not experienced. My brother and I had to explain to him the natural process of crabs molting their old exoskeleton, hence why we are able to eat the shell. This was a delicious platter, it came with fries, cole slaw, and the best hush puppies I’ve ever had. My dad and brother also ordered gumbo and jambalaya, which both were excellent!

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Of note: Some reviews did not like the ambiance as sometimes, people equate “popular” with “nice ambiance.” To me, Felix’s looks like a large mom and pop restaurant. That is usually an indication of good eats for me!

The Ruby Slipper Cafe

One of my friends recommended this for brunch. I’m from the Midwest so I’m not a grits girl, at all. In fact, I don’t think I still understand what it is and what’s in it. But when I tasted the grits here, it was the first time I said “mmm.” It had this buttery, salty taste that I think other grits I’ve tried are missing. I had their Southern breakfast, which in addition to grits consists of a giant biscuit, fried green tomatoes, two eggs and bacon. I opted to have their pig candy bacon instead, and I have no regrets. Perfect amount of sweetness without compromising the texture and taste of bacon that most of us love!

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Cafe du Monde

Ohhh the oh-so-famous beignet is everything that is cracked up to be. I tried to not have such high expectations prior to going here, as some reviews stated that customers would get bad batches of these fried sugary goodness (i.e. flat beignets). Our beignets were perfect pillows of dough, hot and fresh. I think I would have preferred them with hot coffee, but we ordered iced coffees because NOLA in August mirrors Tampa Bay in August as far as the weather is concerned. I loved that our iced coffees were not sweet, it perfectly complimented our fluffy treats.

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Oceana Grill

“Is this the Oceana Grill that Gordon Ramsey visited?” my brother asked our waiter. She confirmed yes. My brother has been obsessed with visiting this restaurant since we got there because of their appearance on Kitchen Nightmares. We only ordered oysters – my brother ordered half a dozen on the half shell and I ordered a dozen of the Rockefeller. I must say, I think I prefer the charbroiled flavor of the oysters rather than raw. I also ordered a Hurricane…double. I could smell the liquor as soon as my drink hit the table.

Willie’s Chicken Shack

If you need to fuel up with food before or after downing some hand grenades from Tropical Isle, I’d say this is the place to do it. Small menu, but big flavors. It’s probably up there with my list of favorite chicken restaurants. The batter was not overly done, spiced just right, and perfectly juicy. Fries and honey biscuits were good too!

Steamboat Natchez

Clearly not a restaurant, this two-hour steamboat tour near Jackson Square has the option for you to do a brunch, lunch, sunset, or dinner buffet, accompanied with lovely jazz music. I’m mentioning this because buffets usually get a bad rap, particularly those that involve massive amounts of tourists. My family and I did the lunch cruise, and their menu includes chicken, fried catfish, rice, red beans, candied yams, apple pie, and bread pudding. Seems like a limited selection right? But I was surprised by how much flavor each item had, particularly the red beans and fried catfish. I will write about the rest of my experience at the steamboat on my next entry!

Carousel Bar & Lounge

My family and I received coupons for free drinks here. And yes, the carousel does move, but oh-so-very slowly.  I didn’t get dizzy, but for those with more alcohol in their system, that might be a different story. I ordered a drink called Chilcano, which you can find out what it’s made of by clicking the heading of this paragraph. My brother and I also ordered from their bar bites menu. I had a beef brisket sandwich which had some really good barbecue sauce!

Cafe Beignet – Royal Street

This is where we had our breakfast for our last day in New Orleans. It was also recommended by one of my friends, and it was only about a block and a half from our hotel (Monteleone). We got there about 11am (my dad and brother are not naturally early risers like me), and the line was already long. You order your food and then seat yourself. If you’re smart, you’ll leave one person to save a table and order their food for them. In addition to their regular beignet, breakfast, and Southern classics menu, they have an array of pastries available of the counter such as tarts, croissants, eclairs etc. I ordered a breakfast sandwich on a croissant and OF COURSE an order of beignets. My dad ordered a Southern breakfast and my brother ordered Cajun hash browns. I did not taste the hash browns but I did taste the grits – it tasted like rice to me. The breakfast sandwich was good, in a sense that it was just good, nothing different. Their beignet has the texture of a cake doughnut as opposed to the fluffy, pillow dough texture that Cafe du Monde has. Overall, it’s not a bad place to eat, but definitely a good convenience cafe to eat at if you’re near it.

Erin Rose

The cup picture above contains frozen Irish coffee. Yup. While waiting for our breakfast at Cafe Beignet, I made a quick dash to this bar located on the corner of Conti and Bourbon Streets. Erin Rose was not on my radar until I saw the owner of Engine No. 9 (St. Petersburg, FL) post about it on his Facebook. So I checked out Erin Rose online and was excited to see that they have this specialty drink, along with something strange called Jameson grilled cheese. Unfortunately since I already ordered breakfast, I did not order the grilled cheese as I’m not sure I can stomach anymore dough at this point. The frozen Irish coffee was actually very pleasant and well-balanced, especially in the heat! Apparently this is also a bar where locals go to, and according to reviews they have awesome po boys. I didn’t get to take pictures inside but it’s a bar I would’ve loved to linger some more after a tiring day!

In the French Market:

Unfortunately, my family and I did not come across the French Market until our last night in New Orleans, right after we got off Steamboat Natchez. A storm was also coming our way and we were just tired in general, so we didn’t linger in the market too long. Below was a particular place I was after though, and I was excited to have come across it!

Loretta’s Authentic Pralines

When I’m traveling, I like to search beyond what’s famous and popular. Coming to New Orleans, I knew I obviously wanted to get my hands on Cafe du Monde’s beignets. But I know there are probably other businesses selling them, and a quick Google search revealed this gem. What’s different about it? Praline beignets. Hot, doughy goodness with melted praline dolloped on the middle, adding that sweet buttery flavor that I love about pralines. Here, just look at the picture and let it speak for itself!

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Gator on a Stick

Not sure if there was a business name associated with it, but it’s located right by the entrance of the French Market. When I saw these at other stores and vendors, I was highly skeptical. My first gator experience in Florida was in a nugget form. It didn’t taste bad, but I wasn’t crazy about it either. What I didn’t know was that here in New Orleans, gator on a stick means gator SAUSAGE on a stick. My brother ordered it and I was so confused why it looked like a sausage, because I pictured it as gator nuggets on stick. I tasted the sausage and it was pretty darn good – you wouldn’t really know you’re eating anything different. The spices in it were great too!

 

My family and I definitely enjoyed the food up there and would go back just for the food. But New Orleans also has a vibe that I surprisingly liked, so I doubt I would just eat whenever I visit again. My next entry will be about some of the tourist sites we visited!

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Cliffs of Moher

About 187 kilometers north of Killarney is the Cliffs of Moher, where you can go to the very edge to view the gigantic waves of the Atlantic Ocean. This was the destination I was really, really worried that I couldn’t arrive to because (in my opinion), Bus Eireann’s website and app weren’t user-friendly to me. Not to mention, the paper, app, and website timetables all showed different arrival and departure times. Luckily, the staff at Killarney International Hostel  were super sweet and arranged a cab for me to get to the bus station on time. The journey took a few hours, as the bus stopped at Ennis and then straight to the Cliffs of Moher.

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The Cliffs of Moher is what is absolutely cracked up to be. Again, my only complaint was the weather – cold, foggy, and windy. I can just imagine how much nicer it is during brighter days!

They have a visitor center there where you can buy your admission ticket, view history of the Cliffs, and of course a gift shop. I got there may be an hour and a half before closing. If you need to, you can leave your backpacks or belongings at the gift shop. They will attach a number to your bag and then give you that same number – they’ll keep them in a back room. Sounds sketchy right? The gift shop was so busy I doubt employees would have time to go through visitors’ backpacks, plus I had a lock on mine.

Right next to the visitor center outside is a safer path, if you will, to view the Cliffs. These are some of the views:

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These pictures are very telling about what the weather was like. It was only around 4pm I think! The further along you go on the path, you’ll eventually come across this sign:

 

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Of course, many of us ignored this sign. There are barbed wires too along the sides (not the side of the Cliffs). Actually, it might’ve been electrical too. Taking this risk lets you see the Cliffs up close and personal, and zoom in enough from your cameras.

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And this is where you can also participate, or just view, in the shenanigans.

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Perhaps the picture below is my favorite picture. No Photoshop (I don’t have one), just a very accurate depiction of Ireland’s weather. Sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny, and sometimes both, with the crisp air gently blowing on your hair…or just straight smacking you right in the face.

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About a mile from the Cliffs is the Atlantic View Bed and Breakfast owned by a lovely woman named Mary White. She is another one of the very kind people who made sure I got to the bus on time back to Dublin (my second biggest worry of the trip).  This was probably one of the most comfortable accommodations I booked, not to mention cozy and very home-like. Breakfast is included in your stay, but you can “order” some simple sandwiches at night, tacking on an additional 2-3 euros to your tab. I met Mary’s husband and their high school son, and we had a lovely conversation (well, rant) about school and the atrocious amount of testing we have to go through. They were just super nice people overall and made sure their guests were comfortable. I would definitely stay here again whenever I visit this area of Ireland again!

My final thoughts about Ireland? I definitely want to go back, perhaps fly straight to the west coast (Shannon airport) instead of Dublin, and go through the Ring of Kerry and go hiking. Not once in my trip did I feel unsafe, but with any trips whether near home or abroad, safety precautions are always recommended. My stomach did not revolt against any food I consumed there. Everyone I met were very welcoming and accommodating, and just want visitors to enjoy everything Ireland has to offer. I would definitely visit during the times where they consider it summer time – even after living in the Midwest for many years, I still can’t stand the cold weather. For now, it’s back to the grind before my next adventure!

❤ D

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Killarney, Ireland

Perhaps I should use distances instead of time to measure point A to point B. Supposedly, that is a Midwestern thing to do though.

Killarney is about 90 kilometers north west of Kinsale. It is one of the starting points of the scenic drive of the Ring of Kerry that takes you through the coastal landscapes and seaside villages. Unfortunately, time constraints did not allow me to go through the Ring of Kerry, but all the more reason to go back to Ireland!

Killarney had a different vibe from the other towns I visited. Nothing bad, but something I can’t quite explain. Actually, now that I’m thinking back, the vibe wasn’t very touristy, which I loved.  Again, I did not do much here – my hostel was not walking distance from the main streets so I did not linger too long. My legs were very tired and I was really cold and longing for a big comfortable bed at this point in my trip.

What I did do though, was say yes to a horse carriage tour. I was walking around town, not really sure what I wanted to do. So when an Irish lad asked if I wanted to go on a horse carriage tour of Killarney National Park, I said sure, why not.

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My tour guide let me navigate for a few minutes. Not gonna lie, it was scary when Molly (the horse) started speeding up!

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Killarney National Park has beautiful, beautiful views. Like many parts of Ireland, it has a rich history, particularly with monasteries.

In the park is Ross Castle, a 15th century structure that has been owned by multiple families throughout the centuries and wars. It’s not a castle where you can go in and look at rooms – at least, there were none to my knowledge and the information center was closed. Visitors are able to explore the grounds though, and even climb up the side stairs outside of the castle.

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I don’t remember how many acres is the park, but in the warmer months, I could see myself walking there or even running. My tour guide said there are also a lot of wildlife that graze there as well, such as the red deer.

My night ended at Killarney International Hostel. This 18th century mansion turned hostel is probably one of the most beautiful and SPACIOUS hostels I stayed at. Apparently I booked a private room, which really means you’re in a room with empty bunk beds all by yourself.

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The view of the hostel upon driving up to it. As for the side…

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When I posted this one Snapchat, a few friends and family automatically thought of the movie Hostel. But it is far from scary!

This particular hostel is a youth hostel, but you do not have to be a youth to stay there. This hostel is part of the Irish Youth Hostel Association, which offer comfortable accommodations at affordable prices. They are targeted for group travel, as these hostels offer outdoor activities such as hiking, archery, ropes course, etc – they weren’t open when I stayed there. Plus, Killarney Youth Hostel in particular offered discount to tour the Dingle Peninsula, but I didn’t arrive there on time to go on it. The hostel also offers breakfast for low cost (2 or 3 euros I think) and you can get toast, cereal, fruits, tea, and coffee. There is also a pub within walking distance with foods like pizza!

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This is a small trail within the hostel grounds, and they set it up as if you’re traveling through the galaxy – there were information posts about the planets along the trail.

The inside of the hostel was beautiful as well. I thought I took pictures of it, but I guess I didn’t. The dining area was huge, and so was the area where you can lounge around to read or play board games.

Of another note that Killarney is known for is their Aran sweaters. The official store was closed (which confused me because there were people inside but they gracefully kicked me out), but other smaller shops sold them. They were beautiful and soft, but I had no serious need for them because I live in hot and humid Florida.

Next post, a place where many movies have been filmed – the Cliffs of Moher!

❤ D

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Kinsale, Ireland

About two hours south of Kilkenny lies a small coastal town of Kinsale. Overlooking the River Bandon, you can get to this town by from Kilkenny to Cork, then Cork to Kinsale. And when I say Kinsale is small, I pretty much saved my Irish phone data because I didn’t bother with Google Maps.

Like Kilkenny, there are two main streets full of restaurants and pubs overlooking the marina. This means fresh fish and chips; I went to Dinos Family Restaurant. The portion was huge that I had leftovers for dinner! The view is also nice.

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On the other side of the above pictured are more stores, housing, and hostels. I stayed at the Dempseys Hostel, which sits on higher ground so even though it was not far from the main areas, it was quite a trek.

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My day in Kinsale ended up being a rest day. I wanted to visit Charles Fort, but for some reason, there were not very many cabs registered with MyTaxi (side note: it’s like the Uber of Ireland, but they’re actually registered taxis, and I highly suggest getting an Ireland phone number in order to maximize the use of this app). I tried and tried to hail a cab through the app, and finally accepted defeat and just walked around to see what was open and just ate some tea and pastries.

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Well unfortunately, this thing picture above was closed, so I just took pictures of it. It’s the Desmond Castle and Wine Museum; it did not open until later in the year.

It’s safe to say my time in Kinsale was uneventful, but was definitely not a waste of time. It’s a cute town, which I keep describing all these small towns I visit. The temperature during the day time here was a beautiful 65 degrees Fahrenheit, cooling down in the night time.

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For the next post, we will head west to Killarney, part of the Ring of Kerry. It was there where I realized that  I should have started my trip to the west right away instead of Dublin. This is my plan for the next time I visit. 😉

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Kilkenny, Ireland

Since returning from Ireland, I started a second job, which made it difficult to publish something weekly post-Ireland like I planned. I saved a draft on Kilkenny and scheduled a date to publish it. It got published, but it was clearly unfinished. Oops.

Now on to business.

About an hour south west of Dublin heading to Cork is a small town called Kilkenny. It is easily accessible by Bus Eireann or the Irish Rail (Iarnrod Eireann). I chose the Irish Rail to get to Kilkenny. Now, I have not been on too many trains in my lifetime, but this one was pretty cool. You can book your seat in advance, and to find your seat, your name will be displayed on this super small digital screen. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of it. The train has tables and comfortable seats, as well as a trolley service for some snacks and drinks, which I very much geeked out about because Harry Potter.

Kilkenny is significantly smaller than Dublin, but I still got lost trying to find my hostel. The hostel I stayed at is called MacGabhainns Backpackers Hostel. I set up my journey in a way so I can arrive to my destinations in daylight as opposed to past sundown. I arrived too early there so I left my backpack (which had a lock) with the lovely staff. On to get more lost I go.

There were only really two main streets as far as dining and attractions are concerned, so I really had no reason to get lost. But as small as Kilkenny is, it definitely has its charm with its beautiful abbeys and cathedrals. And because I was there for St. Patrick’s Day week, the streets were decorated and looked very lively.

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Not very far from my hostel was the Black Abbey, and not too far from that is St. Mary’s Cathedral. The structure and details of each buildings were very impressive.

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Black Abbey

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St. Mary’s Cathedral

After this, I eventually came across their shopping center. I eventually found a place to eat lunch, and lo and behold, I found Kilkenny Castle.

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To say that Kilkenny Castle is huge is an understatement. It probably deserves a separate blog post for its lengthy history (it was built in the 12th century), as well as other pictures I took inside the castle. I want to say I was in there for about two hours. As I strolled along the hallways of the castle and thought I would be done with the whole thing, I would come to another corner that would lead me to another room or floor.

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I’m afraid I’m not the very best when it comes to sharing information about history, though I certainly love reading about them.

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My night in Kilkenny ended at a restaurant called Charcoal Steak House near my hostel and a gas station (which surprisingly sold yummy pastries and that’s why I’m mentioning it). I didn’t take pictures as the lights were very low. The restaurant was small and cozy. The general manager was friendly and was able to tell me where their food came from! Their bread with butter basket was amazing.

I did not go out at night, as I was traveling alone and my suite mate was resting. Kilkenny has many small pubs with live music, and of course they are very big on soccer. One day is probably enough depending on what you want to do, but I personally would not have minded two or three days!

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Next post will be on another small town, the southern coastal town of Kinsale, overlooking River Bandon!

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Dublin, Ireland

I realize that it’s been 9+ months since I’ve been here. No unique excuses, to be honest, and quite frankly, I’m not sure that we should even be providing excuses for our absences from the inter webs. So without further ado, let’s talk about my recent trip!

I visited Ireland from March 10-19 of this year. Ireland was never really in my “I-HAVE-to-go” list of places to visit, but my younger sister is studying abroad for the semester, so why not. Plus, about three days before Black Friday, tickets were insanely cheap at $397 round-trip from Tampa to Dublin!

I arrived in Dublin around 10am on March 11. As our cab drove through the city, I was instantly charmed by the architecture. Not that I’m an architecture guru or anything, I’m just fascinated by buildings that don’t look like American buildings.

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My first day in Dublin was really just spent on napping, walking, eating, and more walking. Dublin is as touristy as it gets, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

I think the temperature there was about 50 degrees Farenheit. Some of the tourist sites were either closed or had tickets sold out like the Jameson Distillery. But we were still able to explore the bar area.

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I was in different towns almost every night until I returned to Dublin on the 16th. Day 2 in Ireland was in Kilkenny, which I will post about next time. Upon returning to Dublin, I visited the number 1 tourist site in Ireland, the Guinness Storehouse.

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The 10,000 year lease on the Guinness Building

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We were blessed by a rainbow at the Gravity Bar on top of the Guinness Storehouse on St. Patrick’s eve!

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Pour your own pint at the Guinness Academy at no extra charge.

St. Patrick’s Day was a blast. The parade was made up of Irish marching bands from schools, firefighters, and performers. There were even marching bands from American high schools and universities, like Washington State and Illinois State Universities. Unfortunately, it rained and I did not take a lot of pictures. I have a few videos, which unfortunately are not of quality. Dublin St. Patrick’s Day is as St. Patrick’s celebration as you can get…crowded bars that smell like smoke and body odor. Luckily, there were plenty of chill spots to go to when you’re tired of that scene.

If you’re more into nature, about 20-30 minutes outside of Dublin is Wicklow Mountains and Howth. We went on a tour bus to Wicklow Mountains where it was extremely windy. Near Wicklow Mountains is Glendalough, where we ended up walking for a bit. Wicklow Mountains houses the water that is supposedly used at the Guinness Storehouse, which unfortunately I could not take pictures of due to the clouds.

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These pictures and even this post really will not be enough to describe Dublin. From my point of view, I think it’s a pretty diverse city with plenty to do, see, and eat – there is something for everyone. This was my first time being in a European country. I was staying at an Airbnb, and the small bathrooms were an adjustment for me. Would I do it all over again? Definitely. My next posts will feature the other towns I visited – namely Kilkenny, Kinsale, Killarney, and then the oh-so-famous Cliffs of Moher.

❤ D

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