Portland, the perfect city?

What’s to say about Portland, Oregon? It might just be my perfect city. A city that’s not too big, not too small. A city that’s filled with insanely quirky and interesting people. A city filled with endless moments that are indescribable, like where else can you see an annual naked bike ride that attracts thousands of participants? Or perhaps a mini Marilyn Manson act? Only in the PDX baby.

Portland stealing it's twin sister city's Austin's motto

Portland stealing it’s twin sister city’s Austin’s motto

Architecture in Old Town

Architecture in Old Town

Old Town Portland

Old Town Portland near Skidmore Fountain

Portland was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been enchanted. The weather is unlike the northeastern USA with harsh, and cold winters. This winter in Portland it didn’t even snow once! The Pacific Northwest gets temperate winters, with just an abundant amount of rainfall (which contributes to Portland’s amazing greenery in close proximity to the city center). Sure, it may snow in the mountains of Washington and Oregon, but I’ll take a Portland winter over a New York City one any day. One of my favorite spots on my visit was the Pittock Mansion on the inner outskirts of Portland. The drive is beautiful, swerving through steep roads up a mountain, with which you are rewarded with a gorgeous hilltop mansion where you’re able to picnic (we had a delicious vegan picnic with groceries from New Seasons Market) with some views of Portland’s greenery.

Vegan picnic at Pittock Mansion

Vegan picnic at Pittock Mansion

Not to mention there is an incredible variety of food trucks all around the city (dangerous for someone like me). I mean come on…. I had the privilege of trying MAURITIAN food. Who would’ve ever seen that coming? Its cuisine is a mix of Creole, French, Indian, and Chinese. Can you say yum? Be sure to check it out when you come, it’s called Chez Dodo. Portland also has an intimidating amount of organic, farm to table, and vegan/vegetarian foods (of insanely creative varieties). Don’t even get me started on Voodoo Donut! It completely lives up to the hype, luckily I was able to go twice without any insane line. But this place literally has everything, I tried the maple glazed donut, the oreo donut, and the classic voodoo donut which is a voodoo doll complete with a little pretzel which you press into the donut and it bleeds with jelly. They’re also famous for the cock and balls donut, popularized by bachelorette parties in Portland. The aesthetic of the store and the friendly staff, along with the incredible product make this place a classic and just unbeatable. You definitely won’t go hungry in Portland.

Chez Dodo - Mauritian food truck!

Chez Dodo – Mauritian food truck!

Menu at Chez Dodo

Menu at Chez Dodo

Poori on the top, Pulao on the bottom, Delicious all around

Voodoo Donuts!!!!

Voodoo Donuts!!!!

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Voodoo’s interior decor

Creative menu

Creative menu

The selection

The selection

OREO DONUT!!

OREO DONUT!!

Other spots to check out are the N Mississippi Ave and NE Alberta Ave districts, which are filled with quirky shops, tantalizing food carts, outdoor seating restaurants, and much more Portland vibes. Downtown Portland also has Pioneer Square, which is worth a view. Additionally, there’s the Portlandia statue, which is hidden on top of a roof of a building behind some trees, but worth seeking out because it’s much bigger than you’d imagine. It’s also the second largest cast-iron statue in the country after the Statue of Liberty. There’s something almost threatening or menacing about this iron beauty, adding to the charm of Portland.

N Mississippi Avenue

N Mississippi Avenue

N Mississippi Ave

N Mississippi Ave

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Portlandia Statue

Portlandia Statue

Transport in Portland is very easy to navigate with buses, light rail, and ample amount of Car2Go. This was my first experience driving a Car2Go and it was 3 of us, so it was quite humorous all of us squeezing into a smartcar –  felt more like a clown car.

Portland may be in one of the newer states, but it doesn’t mean it’s without its interesting history. Portland was once a den of all types of illegal activity, I learned a lot on a walking tour explaining about underground business and lifestyles in Portland. What’s funny to me is that it seems rather unexpected since the contemporary culture of Portland is very socially conscious, aware, relaxed, and almost wholesome. To see that it was born from a place with a rather sinister history makes it that much cooler to me. The tour was just under 2 hours, you learn a lot about the racist policies that governed Portland and affected its early Chinese, Japanese, and African-American communities. Additionally you learn about the somewhat legal practice of Shanghaiing and how ship captains got away with it, and made profits from it.

One of Portland's many bridges over the Willamette River

One of Portland’s many bridges over the Willamette River

Portland is a prime example of why I’ve been drawn to the culture and the attitudes of the western states. Their ancestors were the opportunists of the time. They rolled with the punches and made their own way in the Wild West. Their laid-back vibe just screams freedom, a healthy antidote to the overworked and sarcastic northeastern culture. I can’t wait to explore the area more.

Have you ever been to Portland? What were your impressions? Recommendations for my next visit?

Portland, Oregon day trips

Portland, Oregon is situated among great hiking and nature options that don’t fail to impress. The Columbia River Gorge is only about 30 minutes away from the city center and the seaside is about 90 minutes. I was able to accomplish both in one very-long-but-so-worth-it kind of day.

First up was the Gorge. After you pass Troutdale, the road goes almost right along the Columbia River which affords great views of the gorge to your right, and Washington State to your left. There are many state parks and recreation areas abutting the landscape. There was one that I didn’t visit but found particularly unexpected was Rooster Rock State Park. At this park there are clothing optional beaches and even a gay cruising area, not something I would’ve imagined along a river in Oregon with the Lewis & Clark insignia; but that’s the best part of the Pacific Northwest – it’s full of surprises.

View of Multnomah Falls from the road. the greenery!

View of Multnomah Falls from the road. the greenery!

As for the rest of the Lewis & Clark State Park areas, it’s filled with gorgeous scenic viewpoints, waterfalls, creeks, and trails. Thanks to the abundant rainfall in this part of the country, these are the greenest greens that I’ve ever seen in the USA. I’m sure every Oregon teenager is sick to death of hearing about Lewis & Clark thanks to school field trips, but I thought it was interesting having history meet with nature. Be sure to check out Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in the gorge (this area is also the wettest part of the gorge, bring a jacket!). The gorge also has a lot of fun hikes for all experience levels and a great viewpoint at the Vista House.

Lower part of the falls

Lower part of the falls

Hiking by a creek

Hiking by a creek

Majestic waterfalls everywhere

Majestic waterfalls everywhere

The hubby, my friend Emily who hosted us, and myself

The hubby, my friend Emily who hosted us, and myself

Being silly at the Vista Point

Being silly at the Vista Point

Columbia River Gorge from above

Columbia River Gorge from above

The Oregon coast is a quick 90 minute drive from Portland, and it’s the scenic route. Shortly after leaving Beaverton the highway becomes a two lane road through some gorgeous farmland leading up to the ocean. The best part is that you can’t tell the ocean is coming until you’re practically on top of it. We chose to visit Cannon Beach and Astoria, which are both famous movie locations! The Goonies was shot at both, and Kindergarten Cop was shot in Astoria. This was probably wasted on me seeing as I haven’t seen either! However, Cannon Beach was just about the most adorable beach town I’ve ever seen. We visited during low tide, and there was what seemed like a massive jellyfish genocide on the beach. The walk was really long from the landing to the water, and the whole beach was strewn with dead jellyfish. The water was absolutely freezing; it almost reminded me of Maine. The coastline isn’t craggy though, and it almost appears to go on forever. The scenery of Haystack Rock alongside the misty air and clear sand made it a very pretty sight. In town we went to a kitschy 50s style candy store called The Picnic Basket. Their selection is overwhelming but some of the highlights were the Tabasco-flavored chocolate, flavored crickets, and the softest fudge I’ve ever had in my life (my favorite being the cookie dough fudge). The staff was really humorous and put up with us trying a sample of about 9 different fudges, definitely worth a visit.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach at low tide

Seaside homes in Cannon Beach

Seaside homes in Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock, made famous by the Goonies

Haystack Rock, made famous by the Goonies

The Picnic Basket, Cannon Beach

The Picnic Basket, Cannon Beach

Being silly in the Picnic Basket

Being silly in the Picnic Basket

Next we drove up to Astoria for some dinner while it was approaching dusk. Astoria is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go because of the way it looks on a map, and since Astoria is one of my favorite areas in Queens. All you need is a little curiosity to find something special. Astoria has some pretty buildings and a small downtown area. We decided on having a meal at Buoy Beer Company on the water. It is situated on a wooden dock, and below the dock there were some pieces of wood connecting the beams, and this huge pack of these sea lions were relaxing and barking in clear sight from the dock. Inside the restaurant there was a section of floor made of glass where the sea lions were also chilling underneath. Isn’t that just exactly what you would picture out of a Pacific Northwest coastal experience? To just add to the preconceived notion, our waitress was this very soft spoken Alaskan lady whose soothing voice could sell you bath products blind. The food was absolutely delectable, the vibe was super relaxed and enjoyable, and the beers delicious and local. I had the habanero oyster deviled eggs which were flavorful, and the local specialty: the baked salmon and SALMON JERKY. Not only was it the freshest salmon I’ve ever eaten, but what a quirky and unexpected choice (this was also my first time having jerky).

Baked salmon and salmon jerky!

Baked salmon and salmon jerky!

Astoria architecture

Astoria architecture

Art can be found anywhere, especially the streets. Thank you Astoria

Art can be found anywhere, especially the streets. Thank you Astoria

She <3's Ms. Pacman!

She <3’s Ms. Pacman!

Sea lions resting under the pier (sorry for the glare from the glass)

Sea lions resting under the pier (sorry for the glare from the glass)

Have you been to the Oregon coast or the Columbia River gorge? What were some of your favorite experiences?

St. Louis Part 2

The friendliness of the locals I met in St. Louis was nearly unprecedented. I couchsurfed with a couple in Lafayette Square and I really got to experience what the locals do there. STL has tons of really cute local spots. In the Benton Park area I got to see some of the houses and the park, and this one bar called Venice Café. It was reminiscent of the ruin pubs in Budapest in the sense that there are a lot of found items creating an assault-on-the-senses vibe filled with colorful and wacky installations. It’s a huge quirk-fest. There’s a great outdoor space and live music there as well, a truly remarkable local establishment.

One of our couchsurfing hosts Megan being silly with a concrete

One of our couchsurfing hosts Megan being silly with a concrete

Outside Venice Cafe

Outside Venice Cafe

All seeing eye at Venice Cafe

All seeing eye at Venice Cafe

Have a slice of brain birthday cake

Have a slice of brain birthday cake

Street art at Venice Cafe

Street art at Venice Cafe

We ended up having a bit of an all-nighter with our hosts which resulted in their friend opening his sporadically in-use speakeasy for our visit. Their friend Dick has a legit speakeasy in his basement that was used during prohibition; it was a piece of history. Everyone was really friendly and open about sharing what it meant to be from St. Louis. Dick even showed us his classic TV from the 1960s which he held onto for the speakeasy (unfortunately pictures cannot do this experience any justice).

The variety of food is also very impressive in St. Louis. Areas to check out for this are the Grove and Cherokee St. You can find anything in this city! I passed through Afghani, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Nepali, Peruvian, Italian, German, Japanese, you name it! I can attest that you can get an authentic Mexican meal for a good price at La Vallesana on Cherokee St. Good prices and ample outdoor area, alongside the oozing delicious and authentic Mexican cuisine makes this place a winner, even to high New Yorker standards. For a taste of some awesome deep dish pizza check out Black Thorn Pub where you can get behemoth and spicy deep dishes and play shuffleboard while the pizza is cooking. Who could forget some St. Louis specialties? Ted Drewes’ cannot be missed for its frozen custard. It is lovingly referred to as concretes because if you stick the spoon in it and put it upside your spoon won’t fall out! It draws a lot of Route 66 fans since it’s along the route. Nearby, there’s Gooey Louie which is famous for their extra buttery mini-cakes, which you could probably only handle one per sitting; you be the judge.

Gooey butter cake

Gooey butter cake

Horchata and other beverage at La Vallesana

Horchata and other beverage at La Vallesana

Amazing shrimp burrito at La Vallesana

Amazing shrimp burrito at La Vallesana

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Waiting in line to get some concretes at Ted Drewes

Ted Drewes' right off Route66

Ted Drewes’ right off Route66

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Concretes!!

Other famous things to come out of St. Louis include: 7Up, Nelly, Maya Angelou, Sheryl Crow, Chuck Berry, Yogi Berra, Andy Cohen, Panera (which is locally known as St. Louis Bread Company or “Bread Co.”), Miles Davis, Jon Hamm, TS Eliot, and Tennessee Williams, among many others.

St. Louis Bread Co!! It exists

St. Louis Bread Co!! It exists

I found St. Louis to be filled to the brim with surprises and charming treasures. It’s a city dying to be explored. Have you been to St. Louis? What are some of your favorite places or experiences?

Another lovely surprise – St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri is an interesting city at the crossroads of a few regions. Is it Midwestern? Southern? Great Plains? The general consensus is that it’s a Midwestern city, and you know what that means….good food and good beer! Tons of beers come from St. Louis (some good others maybe not so much). Anheuster-Busch, the largest brewing company in the country, is responsible for the births of Budweiser, Busch, Natural Ice, Natural Light, and Michelob. Other microbrews that were delicious were Schlafly and Urban Chestnut; but there are many others. Urban Chestnut Brewery is right in the Grove area with a very ample space to drink and unwind, some of it outdoors.

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch

Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis

Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. Where the infamous Dred Scott decision occurred, being one of the causes of the American Civil War.

St. Louis also has wonderful architecture, including the plethora of Victorian style homes in the Lafayette Square area, the are in which I stayed. The streets are lined with gorgeous colorful houses, a series of gardens, and a square as its centerpiece (which happens to be the first city park in the country west of the Mississippi River). The houses built during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair in Forest Park are extravagant and beautiful also.

Lafayette Square architecture

Lafayette Square architecture

Cute house in Lafayette Square

Cute house in Lafayette Square

Forest Park World's Fair house

Forest Park World’s Fair house

Forest Park World's Fair house

Forest Park World’s Fair house

In the downtown area, the Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse cannot be missed. However, an attraction you might not know of is the City Museum. It may have an ordinary name, but it’s an extraordinary experience. It isn’t really easy to describe in words, but it almost seems nostalgic to a time of childlike exploration. It’s an attraction that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. This place has mazes, tunnels, ball pits, slides, a funhouse among much more. It’s all made of found items and it’s in a reclaimed space of a former shoe factory. This place could easily keep you busy for 3-4 hours. They also conveniently have restaurants on-site for when you work up an appetite.  It’s a true marvel to the city and a phenomenal example of a local business.

Exit from one of the tunnels in the City Museum

Exit from one of the tunnels in the City Museum

Outdoor obstacle course

Outdoor obstacle course

Largest pair of underwear in the world on display at the City Museum

Largest pair of underwear in the world on display at the City Museum

Our host on one of the many slides

Our host on one of the many slides

Finally, there is a marvelous amount of street art in the Grove area. This is probably some of the best graffiti that I’ve ever seen outside of San Francisco, NYC, and Berlin. The Grove is the gayborhood of St. Louis; it’s got a lot of restaurants and bars down the strip, many with their own personal business street art.

Welcome to the Grove

Welcome to the Grove

Street art in the Grove

Street art in the Grove

Famous graffiti artist in STL - his signature is the one eyed face, it's all over the city.

Famous graffiti artist in STL – his signature is the one eyed face, it’s all over the city.

Street art in the Grove

Street art in the Grove

More street art in the Grove

More street art in the Grove

Even more street art in the Grove

Even more street art in the Grove

Have you been to St. Louis? How was your experience there?

My other passport

What’s an unpleasant but necessary last minute thing when planning certain international trips? Your vaccinations. Last year I went to the travel vaccination center in preparation for my trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I got the Typhoid vaccine which is good for 3 years. I also got the Hepatitis A shot, which, if you get a booster shot after 6 months up until a year, I am now covered for life (I got mine yesterday). Now for any and all upcoming trips to Latin America, Asia, and Africa, I am one step closer to being prepared.

Passport & vaccine passport

Passport & vaccine passport

When traveling into the developing world, sometimes you need proof of certain vaccines even to get into the country. This can all be tracked by your very own vaccination passport. Getting shots is no one’s idea of a good time, but being prepared traveling into the developing world is very necessary for your health. Mosquitoes are the bane of the existence of many when it comes to nasty airborne disease. The other main concern of course is clean drinking water. To protect against these things be sure to research thoroughly which vaccines you need before entering a country. Also, make sure to do your research before you visit your physician to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

After a month in the island of Hispaniola, I was extremely grateful and humbled by the positive attitudes of many of the people who deal with hardship daily. You’ll never realize how much of a privilege clean drinking water is until you’re denied the option. More to come on this trip in a future post.

Have you gotten all your shots? Planning on a trip which requires one? Would love to hear from you!

My second home: Puerto Rico

I have the good fortune of visiting Puerto Rico very often and having a lot of connections there, after living there for a year. I’ll probably be posting about it a lot so that you can have the best trip on the island as possible (I’ve already hosted a bunch of friends while living there and helped others plan their trips there since). Here’s some myth-busting and an introduction about what you can expect in my second home, Puerto Rico.

I had the opportunity to live and work in Puerto Rico for a year, and it’s a place that is very special to me. I want people to enjoy Puerto Rico’s splendors, but I also think it’s important to bring awareness to the complex situation of this U.S. commonwealth.

A photography of Old San Juan.

The marvelous Old San Juan

Most people do not realize a few things about Puerto Rico:

  1. Puerto Ricans are US citizens.
  2. Its cosmopolitan capital, San Juan, is home to a mixture of Americans, Latinos, Europeans, Caribbean Islanders, and Asians.
  3. It is not a third world country, by any means.
  4. Puerto Ricans invented Spanglish.
  5. It has political parties with conflicting visions for the commonwealth’s future: some Puerto Ricans advocate for U.S. Statehood, some for independence from the U.S., and some would like Puerto Rico to remain exactly as it is.
A photograph of Cueva Ventana

Cueva Ventana

Puerto Rico is a true adventurer’s paradise, and a great first trip for people who want to explore more outside the continental U.S.A. It’s convenient, too! You don’t need a passport, the currency is the U.S. dollar, and Puerto Ricans typically speak a good mix of familiar English as well as Spanish. The people are beyond friendly, the weather is consistently great, and goods and services are inexpensive.

Puerto Rico is big enough to explore, but small enough that you can see it all in one visit. I’d recommend renting a car and driving through the countryside, where the real treasures await. Puerto Rico offers a diverse landscape, including: mountains, beaches, caves, rainforest, and desert. You can go zip-lining, check out some beautiful architecture, and sample the delectable foods and exciting nightlife.

Playa Flamenco, Culebra

I met so many people with different personalities, and from different walks of life. It’s a lot of diversity set in one small island. And everyone seems to live in relative harmony, it really feels like to be Puerto Rican is to have true brethren. Also, even though my Spanish was limited when I first arrived (and Puerto Rican Spanish isn’t the easiest to learn), I always felt welcome. Once I started making friends and my conversational Spanish improved, I really felt I had found my second home.

3El Yunque

El Yunque rainforest

San Juan gets many visitors from all over the world, and since it’s a small city, you always end up meeting a lot of new people. I’ve made great connections there with islanders and non-islanders alike. I also think that spending time in Puerto Rico provides a valuable lesson for a U.S. citizen, because it helps you to realize more fully how diverse your own country’s borders can be. The attitude change can especially be valuable for a New Yorker, since living in Puerto Rico forces you to learn how to slow down, relax, and appreciate what you have in the present. Aka acclimating and embracing island time, whether you like it or not (but how can you not like it?). Living there for only a year has profoundly affected how I view my life, now.

Here are some recommendations for your visit to Puerto Rico:

To eat:

  • Fefo’s or El Jibarito in Old San Juan for Puerto Rican food – try the mofongo/trifongo.
  • Tayzan in Condado for sushi and other Asian food – try the sweet plaintain sushi.
  • Café la Princesa in Old San Juan, for a nice date ambiance and a little bit of everything – try the seafood paella.
  • Piñones (in the beach area close to Isla Verde) for Puerto Rican food – my favorites are seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas, among many others
  • Luquillo kiosks (in the beach area close to El Yunque) for Puerto Rican food – for even more seafood alcapurrias and pizza empanadillas (and many others)!

To drink:

  • Medalla – a brand of Puerto Rican beer (not the best, but classic to the island)
  • Chichaito – sweet shots of many flavors, which you can split with a group (available at 3 Cuernos bar in Old San Juan)
  • Acerola – a sweet cherry juice, special to Puerto Rico

Nightlife:

  • Club Brava in Isla Verde – for a night out on the club
  • La Taberna Lupulo – a bar with many microbrews and good mix of locals and tourists, in Old San Juan
  • Small Bar – the name says it all, in Condado
  • Circo – a gay club in Santurce

Sightseeing:

  • Cueva Ventana & Cueva del Indio – 2 caves to go hiking in, in Arecibo; beautiful and simple ways to enjoy nature, and just a quick 45 minute drive from San Juan
  • Bioluminescent Bay – I think the one in Vieques Island is much better, but the one in Fajardo is more accessible
  • Beaches – El Escambron in San Juan, La Montserrate in Luquillo, Crashboat in Aguadilla, Cerro Gordo in Vega Alta, Playa Sucia in Cabo Rojo, Playa Flamenco in Culebra, Sun Bay in Vieques, and Playa Escondida in Vieques
One of the many intimate natural escapes.

Waterfall in Maricao, Puerto Rico

Basically, a trip to Puerto Rico cannot disappoint. It’s a hospitable environment, with great weather, and with such a wide range of activities and adventures, there’s sure to be something for everyone. How could you go wrong?

Washington, D.C.: Capital paradise

In the last few months I returned to one of my favorite cities in the entire world, Washington, D.C. after 3 years of not visiting.

Washington, D.C. is so much more than politics and business. Sure, they bring an interesting and unique dynamic to the city, but that’s not all there is. My best friend lived there for 5 years, so I had the pleasure of visiting a bunch of times. It’s the type of city that every time you visit, you love it more. It’s a myriad of cultures mixed together. Outdoorsy like the Pacific Northwest, somewhat Southern, extremely European elegance, residents from multiple states, and nationalities from all over the globe. It really is a fair representation of the USA, since it has a little bit of everything.

The preferred mode of transport for many DC residents is bike. Cycling is an easy means of commuting, and a favorite activity for the many outdoor enthusiasts. Everywhere you go you see people cycling and jogging, it’s a city filled with fitness. Nearby hiking trails in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland are favorites to the city residents.

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Biking in Georgetown

My husband and I were visiting a friend of ours in DC, and we braved out the rain and decided to bike through Georgetown and the National Mall to see the monuments. It’s much bigger than people imagine, so walking it can possibly take more than half of a day. So we decided biking was more convenient, especially when wanting to cross the winding Tidal Basin to get to the Jefferson Memorial.

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Drizzly day at the Washington Monument

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Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial

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On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking at the Washington Memorial

What’s also nice about DC is that you can meet people from any state there. I’ve met people from Arkansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Alaska just to name a few. Some being the only people I’ve met from those  states. You really get a sense that it is the capital of the country. At the same time you get glimpses of southernness, even though it doesn’t look or feel southern (other than its crazy summer heat). But then you notice the slower pace, friendly locals, Chesapeake seafood, humid weather, jazz, southern BBQ and many residents from the southern states and you start to think otherwise… And of course, it’s got immigrants from all over. Most notable are the residents from El Salvador, Korea, India, Mexico, and Vietnam, which constitute the 5 largest. For a curveball, there’s an increasing amount of immigrants from the UK arriving, and there’s a good amount of Ethiopians as well.

In fact, DC is supposed to have some of the best Ethiopian food in the country, and I believe it. Little Ethiopia is concentrated on 9th street between U & T street. My favorite spot is Zenebech Injera for no-frills hearty and authentic Ethiopian cuisine. My favorite being the vegetarian combo which contains tomatoes, red lentils, collard greens, chickpea stew, cabbage, yellow split peas with the unique injera bread. For those who haven’t had Ethiopian food before, you eat everything with your hands. You wrap up the rest of the food by scooping it into the injera bread. It’s very flavorful, blending spices and tastes from East Africa and India.

Ethiopian food

My favorite part about DC is just how lovely and stroll worthy it is. It’s one of the best cities to just take a relaxing walk through, especially in the summer in the evening.

Have you been to Washington DC? What’s your favorite part about it?

Happy wanderings,

Wanderlust Guru

Myth-busting Mississippi

Mississippi may not be very high on most traveler’s itineraries, but all you need for a trip is a little curiosity. And I certainly am a curious person. I have the good fortune of having a friend from New York who lives down in Vicksburg, Mississippi who I spent a long weekend with recently.

Mississippi is a land of perseverance if there ever was any. The weather was beautiful in the winter when I visited but it’s oppressively hot and mosquito ridden the rest of the year. The threat of the mighty Mississippi River is a real one since the Mississippi Delta received the USA’s most damaging recorded flood in the past century back in 2011. Not only that, but Mississippi is also where hurricane territory meets tornado territory. Mississippi suffered significant damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Evening light on the Mississippi River

Mississippi is both a shocking and surprisingly marvelous state. It’s very informative to visit and experience first hand. Since many parts of Mississippi are impoverished, many buildings are re-purposed or used in duality. In many cities in the northern USA you’ll just see them completely abandoned, even if they appear usable. In Mississippi, you’ll find a hospital that has a 5 star restaurant in it, a country style restaurant doubling as a knickknack store, a gas station that became a restaurant, and a school that became an area for shopping. Nothing goes to waste there. People hold on to possessions for life “just in case they ever need it”. People fix things, instead of throwing it away. Mississippians adjust to their circumstances.

Mississippi is also filled with surprises. I had the pleasure of visiting Natchez, which in the 1850s had the most millionaires than in any other city in the country, and Mississippi being one of the 10 richest states at the time. Thanks to this, Natchez and the state of Mississippi have impressive architecture. It is also worth noting how colorful many of the buildings are also. Natchez has beautiful antebellum mansions in every corner of the town and many have become museums that are open for visitors. It is a town located on a bluff over the Mississippi River giving it amazing scenic views looking at Louisiana on the other side.

Monmouth Plantation

Monmouth Plantation gardens

Finally, you’ll be surprised by how great the food is. You get a mix of southern food and Creole food that comes up the river from southern Louisiana. In Vicksburg, there’sT’Beaux’s Restaurant for delicious shrimp étouffée, gumbo, red beans, and pretty much everything else Creole. And on the road from Vicksburg to Natchez there’s the Old Country Store in Lorman that serves up the best fried chicken and southern food you can imagine in a very hospitable environment. Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s been featured on the Food Network. In Jackson you can even get delicious French pastries and other baked good in the cute Fondren District. La Brioche has great gelato and macaroons.

Mississippi may have many factors that proceed to give it a bad reputation, but when you have low expectations most of the time that just leaves more room for you to be impressed. There are no absolutes when it comes to good and bad destinations to explore. Happy wandering.

Pretty architecture in downtown Jackson

Time to go!

Dear followers,

I’m leaving today for a 3-week jaunt to the Midwest! Starting off in Chicago to stay with my best friend, then going to see a friend in the Milwaukee area, then we are taking a week-long road trip up to northern Minnesota and then the twin cities Minneapolis and St. Paul. And then on the way back, pass through the mysterious state of Iowa. And once back in Chicago we will head over and experience all that is Detroit. If time permits, maybe even see a friend in Cleveland. The Midwest is not the most commonly traveled area of the country, but it’s a shame because there’s some beautiful scenery around the Great Lakes. But that’s fine, more adventure for those who seek it 🙂

Where are you going in the near future? Share your travel plans and ideas in this post or any post on my blog. Are you from the Midwest? Have any suggestions for some must-see place for me to go to?

 

Happy travels and get lost!

-The Wanderlust Guru

 

PS – I have now connected my Instagram with my WordPress, so feel free to follow me on Instagram @wanderlustguru so you can keep track of the pictures of my Midwest jaunt and all my future travels.

Long Island Gold Coast Part 2

Sticking to the Gold Coast theme, I also had the pleasure of visiting Oheka Castle about a month ago in Huntington, NY. It is the second largest private residency in the United States at an impressive 115,000 square footage. It is no longer a residency, and is now converted into an upscale hotel and as a site to host special events such as weddings (Kevin Jonas and Joey Fatone both had their weddings here). Scandalously enough, I learned after my visit that the owner of the castle, Gary Melius, was shot 3 times in the parking lot a mere 3 days before my visit.

I have lived on Long Island for the majority of my life, and have been around the area of these 2 estates several times, but never made it. Now I’m glad that I was able to put aside some time to explore my area more, which enriches my understanding of the history of Long Island and how it forms such a unique culture. Long Island is in the shadow of New York City, yet life remains very suburban and simple despite its proximity to the city. The island is massively overcrowded and traffic is an accepted reality of everyday life. The population is steadily on the rise, and in a place so starved for space it’s interesting to see the wide open acreage of estates such as this.