NAWLIN’S – My first Hostel Experience

I’ve been meaning to write about this trip for a LOOOONG TIME. New orleans is by far one of the best places I’ve ever been to. So here we go.

My mom dropped me off at O’hare. I got through security quickly, and make a beeline to the charging stations. Then my phone charger, which admittedly had some wires peaking through at this point in it’s long life (bad sign I know), decides to stop working. FANTASTIC.

So I board and two hours later I am in NOLA. I find an overpriced charger at the airport (but it’s pink so I guess it’s fine …Ha!) I take one of the airport cabs to my hostel, Auberge NOLA. As we got closer to Auberge, I panicked a little internally because we were passing through some sketchy areas. Literally the hostel was next door to an abandoned house (probably due to Katrina) which was taken over by stray cats. Fortunately, the hostel itself ended up being nice. It’s directly parallel to St. Charles street which is where you can catch the streetcar to either go towards city center or go in the opposite direction to explore the beautiful mansions and/or Tulane University.

I got settled in and took a cab to my first tour , “Dr. Gumbo’s Food & Cocktail Tour.” I am the first to arrive. As more people start to show up I realize that they are ALL couples. I am comforted by the fact that soon we will all have cocktails which should make being a 7th wheel less awkward 🙂 .

The first stop on our tour was a really fancy restaurant called Soubou. We had prawn with aioli sauce and chimichurri, sweet potato beignet filled with sausage and duck, followed by an assortment of very classic cocktails which are all basically bourbon and whiskey.

Our guide talked about the origins of New Orleans Cuisine and I learned that it is a mix of French, West African, German, and Spanish Culture. I learned that by definition, a cocktail is a combination of bitters, spirits, and sugar.  I learned that NOLA is called “The Big Easy” because when the FBI was trying to infiltrate speak easys during the prohibition era, NOLA’s was the easisiest to crack. J. Edgar Hoover was offered alchohol almost the moment he got off the train,  and he proclaimed that New Orleans was ” just a big speak easy.”

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From there we got to sample some bacon praline pecan pralines and took a tour of Antoine’s. We learned about Mardis Gras Krewes Rex, Bacos, Orpheus, Zulu, Muses, and the old social clubs of the south.

We then headed over to a little hole in the wall for po’ boy sandwiches and then a muffelata shop. I got a purple cocktail that I just cannot pronounce and then a grasshopper which is like  very boozy melted  mint chocolate ice cream. While enjoying my grasshopper I chatted with an Australian couple on the tour. They told me that I was brave for travelling alone which made me feel pretty good about myself :).

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We ended the tour at another fancy restauraunt with bacon-wrapped oysters and a champaign cocktail called “French-75.” By the end of the tour we were all full, very tipsy, and basically best friends.

I caught a cap back to the hostel and found people sitting in the kitchen drinking rum, and I joined them! There was a very edgey looking Parisian girl, a guy from Toronto, a guy from Poland, a girl from Tenessee, and a guy who worked at the hostel from Manchester, England. We talked about traveling, then the conversation took a turn to politics, race, and religion. You know… all of the forbidden subjects. Refreshingly, there were no arguments, debates, or hurt feelings.

They then asked me if I wanted to go out later. Sure! I said. Let me just go take a “nap”. It’s 9 pm at this point mind you. Needless to say. I did not awake until the next morning.

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Montreal Mother Daughter Trip Part 4- Conclusion

The last full day of our trip to Montreal,
we gave ourselves a self-guided tour of the old part of the city, and also tried to squeeze in as much delicious food that we could into
our last day. Spoiler alert; This post is basically going to be all of the restaurants that we went to this day.

We looked at a few of the shops downtown then stopped for an early lunch at Olive & Gourmando. This place was packed and recommended on almost every travel guide that I looked at and for good reason. I had a panini with a really yummy dipping sauce. My mother and I enjoyed our lunch at the bar by the window where we were able to people watch.



After that we caught a tour of Notre Dame Basilica, one of the beautiful churches in Montreal. I was not raised Catholic, so I have always been amazed by the grandiosity and the beauty of their churches. Even if you’re not particularly religious, this is a must see landmark while in Montreal.


We then wandered around for a while longer and my low iPhone battery brought us into a tucked away coffee shop or I had one of the most delicious chocolate mochas that I’ve ever had. My mother and I sat there for about an hour chatting with the baristo and the other patrons read for a while in silence. Sometimes it’s good to just relax and then activity filled vacation like the one were having.

The last stop of the day was another one of Joe Beefs restaurants called Vin de Papillion.  This restaurant is like Joe beef’s less pretentious little sister. We had outdoor seating where we could see the chefs grilling food. We sat at a picnic style tables under twinkle lights next to the restaurant’s garden. While my mother and I were enjoying our dinner, we saw the actor that played  Haymitch Abernathy and hunger games. I could see that he was surrounded by an entourage and a very large man who I presumed to be his bodyguard so I knew if I wanted to take a picture , I had to be stealthy about it.


So, since he was sitting directly behind me I pretended to take a selfie with my phone really trying to get him in the shot. The security guard was not buying it. He came over and asked me repeatedly if I had just taken a picture of the table behind me with my phone. “No!”I replied innocently.” Why?! Is there anyone behind me that I should be taking a picture of?” He kind of just smirked at me and finally decided to let it go. When we left I said, “Have  a nice day Mr. security guard.”In the end, he just laughed in defeat.


We caught the train back to our bed-and-breakfast, and I briefly nothing out of my bed and breakfast to catch a bit of a jazz festival that was going on just down the street. Even when I travel with friends or family I still like to take a little time to myself in new places.


I would 100% recommend taking a vacation with your mother or any member of your family. As you get older you don’t have as much time to spend with them, so you have to be intentional about it.


Until next time,

-Christa

Mother Daughter Trip to Montreal: Part 3

The next day of our trip, we were our own guides. We ate a quick “pre-breakfast” at our bed & breakfast, then took the metro to the Jean-Talon market. We were able to sample beautiful brightly colored fruit and baked goods. One of my favorite things there were the mini Nutella covered Belgian waffles. We ate our way through Jean Talon Market , picked up some homemade soaps for my sisters, and tried to figure out what we wanted to do next!

Our next stop would be the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood to try the Welinske’s Deli featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. If you’ve watched the Montreal Episode, you know that Welinske’s deli is a very old establishment that is reminiscent of an old-fashioned soda shop. They are known for a simple Bologna  sandwich with mustard and egg-cremes. I ordered a Bologna sandwich and a chocolate egg creme. The sandwich was pretty good, the chocolate egg creme is not as good as it sounds and I do not recommend it! You’ll thank me later. Across the street I noticed a huge advertisement for a canoli. It may not have been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s parts unknown but this thing was freaking delicious.

 

Now that we were nice and full we headed over to Dieu du Ciel brewpub. This bar opened at 1 pm and there was already a pretty good sized line to get in. My mom wasn’t as enthusiastic about the bar as I was as she hates beer. I tried to order her a sweet beer but I just ended up drinking it for her.

I couldn’t leave this neighborhood without trying St. Viater’s bagels. Homemade bagels so delicious that I would return 2 more times before we left Montreal. St Viater’s was conveniently on the way to Atlier Boutique Boreale. I still had a bit of a buzz from the bar so I splurged on one of their trendy sweaters because hey, the American dollar is strong in Canada, right?!

After shopping, we headed over to a restaurant owned by the same people that owns the Burgundy Lion Pub we went to our first day in Montreal. We shared some small plates and got cocktails.

We took the metro back to the B&B and got a glimpse of the Jazz Festival going on super close to where we were staying! We would have went but we were pooped. I then went to sleep only to get violently sick in the middle of the night because I bit off more of Montreal than I could chew. Drinking my moms extra large beer probably didn’t help much either. Luckily my mother slept through it all…She loves me so much 🙂 . Ha!

Until Next Time!

Mother Daughter Trip to Montreal Day 2

The next morning my mom and I had our complementary breakfast at  Alacoque B&B Revolution. We were served eggs, croissants, and coffee. My mother and I talked American politics with some of the other house guests from elsewhere in Canada. “Why do Americans like Donald Trump?”, they asked with disbelief. “They don’t.” I replied. Or so I thought. That’s a different story for a different blog :).

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After we finished breakfast we went to the Old Montreal Food Tour. We got there a little early so we stopped at Cafe Crew Collective. This coffee shop is an old bank transformed into a coffee shop.

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Our first stop on the food tour was Brit Fish& Chips. Delicious. So delicious in fact that I burnt my hand due to my impatience and had a low grade burn for the rest of the tour. Worth it. We also went to a small corner shop called Depannes. We had delicious strawberry ice cream. The last place we went was called Soup Soup where we had maple syrup bread pudding …because Canada.  We went to 8 restaurants in total during the tour. I would definitely recommend  the Old Montreal Food tour to those traveling to Montreal for foodie reasons.

After the tour was over. My mom and I went over to the Place D’Armes Hotel for some drinks. We did this at the suggestion of the nice bartender we met while waiting to eat at Joe Beef the night before. The views were beautiful but the pitcher was a tad too big for my mom and I to drink on our own. Thus, we headed back to our B&B for a long nap.

We woke up and took a scenic walk to La Banquis for their famous poutine. To be honest the squeaky cheese, the gravy, the salty meat, all over fries was too much for me. It might have been the least favorite thing I ate while in Montreal. Canada loves their poutine, but what can I say. It’s not for everyone!

Stay tuned for part 3!

Best,

Christa

Mother Daughter Trip to Montreal Day 1

It’s been a while since I posted! To catch you up, I finished my second year of medical school, spent the summer studying for a horrendous test called STEP I, and decided to go to Montreal to celebrate! Originally I was going to go to Montreal on my own but my mom asked if she could tag along so I said sure!

 

Montreal

Photo Credit: Trip Advisor 🙂

We booked a flight through a small Canadian airline called Porter airlines. We flew out of Midway airport in Chicago, connected through Billy Bishop in Toronto City to Trudeau airport in Montreal. I was a little skeptical to fly through an airline I’ve never heard of but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. There was a free capuccino machine at the airport and free soda and snacks! Also there was complimentary wine and beer on the airline! Being a broke med student I am a fan of free things :).

We arrived at Alocoque B&B revolution at around 3 o’clock. This B&B had some mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but I’m glad I ignored the few bad reviews! It ended up being walking distance from the metro station and a lot of main attractions. Also we were steps from the Jazz festival which was going on at the same time. The place is a bit funky/eclectic but it ended up being perfect for us! Once we arrived we took nap and then headed to Joe Beef for dinner.

 

Honestly, Montreal was nowhere on my radar until I saw the Montreal episode on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”. Apparently Montreal is foodie heaven. Apparently it’s really difficult to get reservations at Joe beef so I made sure to call two weeks before my trip to book a reservation and they were able to squeeze us in. We took the metro to Joe beef and got there about 30 minutes before the restaurant opened so we went across the street to Burgundy Lion Pub and had a beer before dinner. We told the bartender that we were from out of town and she was nice enough to write down of list of places we had to eat and places that we had to visit during our trip. We finally were able to sit down for dinner at Joe Beef. My mom and I met a really nice couple from Maine and we spent hours drinking good wine, eating good food, and having good conversation.

 

Stay tuned for Part II of Mother Daughter Trip to Montreal!

XO

Christa Harlin

 

Staycation: Christkindle Chicago

Merry day after Christmas!

I went a little (long) while without writing a blog post, so I decided to write a bonus Christmas themed post about the Christkindle festival in Chicago, IL. Last Christmas, my travel fantasy was to travel to Germany and visit the Christmas markets in Cologne and Hamburg. However, I had just traveled to Costa Rica the month before and could not afford to take another vacation so soon. While researching Christkindle, I discovered that they held the festival in Chicago as well. While it may not be the exact same as Christkindle in Germany, Chicago is pretty awesome during Christmas time and just a 40 minute drive from my home town.

My sister was visiting from LA , so I decided to take her along! At first she whined about being outside in the cold for too long (because she had lived in LA for too long and was no longer impervious to the cold), but after we bought her some gloves and got some mulled wine in her system, we ended up having a great time! We sampled bratwursts with German mustard; latkes (potato pancakes) with sour cream smoked salmon, and German donuts! Sometimes it’s nice to be a tourist in your own city. When money is tight and you’re still craving new experiences, do some research and discover your city!

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Serendipity Part 4: A Costa Rican Tale

Wednesday November 28th, 2014:

Alex is leaving for Panama today. Sad! After eating breakfast at the hotel, we went to the Tree of Life animal rescue which is in walking distance. The Tree of Life animal rescue is like a beautiful zoo/ arboretum/ botanical garden with no one in it. It was really nice! There were monkeys, peacocks,butterflies, plants that closed up when you touch them, cinnamon, and other edible plants.

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Tree of Life
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Pepper
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Turkey

We walked back to the hotel to grab Alex’s luggage before he headed on to his next destination. While we were there, I checked my exam score for my Cardiac Renal Respiratory unit which I had been obsessing about since I took it. Passed!  While we were grabbing his luggage he told me that he thought I was cute and he “quite liked me” (very British). I kind of just stared at him like this O_O …lol. He just laughed it off because he is a good sport and we just pretended the awkwardness never happened 🙂 . After that Alex and I took a cab to the bus station. He was getting a bus to Panama, and I was getting a bus to the nearby beach town of Puerto Viejo. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

 

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A sloth I came across on my way to the beach!

 

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Playa Chiquita at Punta Uva

I bought a delicious Costa Rican coke from the gas station convenient store and took the bus to Puerto Viejo and the taxi to Playa Chiquita at Punta Uva. This beach was way prettier than the ones in Cahuita. The waves were really strong. I bought a coconut, pineapple juice from the beach restaurant and attempted to lay in the hammock, but it was surrounded by BULLET ANTS. They look how they sound, and they bite. So, I abandoned ship and found a little patch of sand and read Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist for a little while. I had a little stroll along the beach, and ate a late lunch at the restaurant. I had casado pescado (fish) with french fries and sweet Caribbean ketchup.

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Before the ants attacked
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Stroll along the beach

I caught my bus back to Cahuita, grabbed a cappucino and started to walk back to my hotel. This was really my first time navigating Cahuita alone. I don’t know if I took a different way, or the walk just seems a lot longer by yourself but I wasn’t completely sure that I was actually walking in the right direction and started to panic a little. Luckily, I ended up at my hotel.

I dipped my leg in the pool, but it was too cold and not the cleanest, so I laid on the hammock and read for a little while. I showered, packed , and had my favorite dinner of the whole trip at the hotel. It was Italian style spaghetti with red wine. Basically, spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes. The hotel owner teased me about my “boyfriend” leaving. lol

At the end of the night I dropped some lavender essential oil on my pillow and got a good night’s sleep. Now I’m waiting for breakfast and will be getting a cab back to San Jose to catch my plane back to O’hare.

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Spaghetti et Oglio…I think. 🙂
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Casa Isabella- Where I spent the night in San Jose to catch an early flight

That concludes my Costa Rican Tale! As a bonus, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from an email Alex wrote the day after he left:

“Serendipity: a clumsy definition – a happy outcome resulting from a series of unconnected and unexpected events.  Me being borderline alcoholic and as a result missing my bus, designated seating, a shared language and both travelling solo.  Any woman travelling solo is a winner for me.  And it couldn’t have worked out better for me (well, maybe a teeny tiny bit..) and I really hope you think the same.  I’m very glad to have met you and to have had a cool companion the last few days and I hope we stay in touch.  Maybe I’ll even download Instagram to check out your food photos.  Maybe not. *Winking smiley face*”

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Adios Costa Rica!

❤ Christa