Category Archives: Travel Recommendations

All Hail the Mighty State

Given that today is Texas Independence Day, it seems appropriate to share my trip back home to the great state last weekend. The weekend was really the perfect build up to Independence Day, and the fact that I landed on Go Texan Day and National Margarita Day certainly didn’t hurt.

Love me a trail ride...

Love me a trail ride…

Go Texan Day kicks off the rodeo. Since 1952 trail riders have made their way into town with their horses and chuck wagons. What started with four men now has over 3,000 participants each year. The trail ride actually runs down the feeder roads of major Houston freeways juxtaposing 21st century life with our history. Joni and I saw them this year on our way in from the airport.

You can't have just one.

You can’t have just one.

I celebrated Go Texan Day and National Margarita Day with the Tatas and one of Houston’s best locations for margs – Lupe Tortilla. We had a side of fajitas with our strawberry margaritas and the flour tortillas made me homesick. I really do try to give TexMex outside Texas a shot, but the flour tortillas (and everything else) just don’t measure up. Fresh and hand-made are the only way to have ’em.

Mr. + Mrs.

Mr. + Mrs.

I was in town over the weekend because my brilliant, beautiful cousin Taylor was marrying the fabulous Justin Price. The reception was at what I can only describe as one of Houston’s finest restaurants – Brennan’s. Brennan’s was almost lost to fire during Hurricane Ike, but it is now back better than ever. The turtle soup and pecan crusted mahi-mahi are not to be missed.

Bungalows of Brunch

Bungalows of Brunch

The weekend wrapped at a family brunch the next morning at Baba Yega. (Almost everyone made it, some had a case of the wine flu…) Located in one of Houston’s most eclectic neighborhoods, Montrose, the connected houses create a breakfast buffet wonderland. Really, the whole weekend was a Houston wonderland spent at the places and with the people I love most. Until next time, H-town… until next time.

 

 

Photo credits: The delicious margarita image is courtesy of  Marmalade Chainsaw.

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¡Viva NashVegas!

What do you call a weekend filled with snow, speakeasys, girlfriends and frozen strawberry salad? I call it Nashville. The relaxed class of this city makes it easy to want to return time and time again. And I swear my unhealthy obsession with ABC’s hit show Nashville had nothing to do with my excitement for this trip. Nothing.

Waking up to Winter

Waking up to Winter

The Bluebird Café is prominently featured in the show, but I fell in love with the Bluebird when I first moved to Atlanta. At midnight on CMT they would show previously recorded performances – it showcases  songwriters better than any other venue I’ve experienced. The best part… it is in a nondescript strip mall. Only in Nashville.

You could drive right by and miss it.

You could drive right by and miss it.

I headed to Nashville to visit one of my very first friends in Atlanta, Erica, who has since moved with her family there. Erica has an almost three-year old and a three-month old and STILL knows all the cool places to go. Moms are hip y’all. She made reservations at Midtown Café. (The trout was insane.) From there went to a secret bar – the Patterson House. I have quite the crush on this place. No sign outside, just a velvet rope to let you know there is something behind the doors worth waiting for.

Rocket Fuel with an Orange Twist

Rocket Fuel with an Orange Twist

After nearly drowning in bow ties and tweed jackets, we made it behind the curtain. What awaited us was hand crafted cocktails, mixologists in speak easy apparel, and walls lined with book shelves – my nerdiest fantasies were coming true. And the second drink I ordered was possibly straight rocket fuel. This place doesn’t fool around. And neither does Nashville, you really should visit.

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2013 is Happening

In spite of the Mayan prediction and yet another Christmas with the fam,  Danimal and I survived and will be ringing in 2013 tonight with friends. But, we really threw down the weekend of December 15, just in case that was the last weekend on earth.

Spend time here. Check.

Spend time here. Check.

We went to where all the end of the world rumors began, Tulum, Mexico, for the nuptials of our wonderful friends, Kristen and David. Having grown up in Texas, I have vacationed quite a bit in Mexico. And, I can say with confidence that Tulum is the best destination I’ve been to in the country. Perhaps it is the lack of all-inclusive resorts and the plethora of boutique hotels, but this place has authentic charm.

I'm moving to Playa Azul.

I’m moving to Playa Azul.

We stayed at Playa Azul, which also happened to be the location of the welcome party. Every room is different and there are a mix of beach and jungle view rooms. The food and service was personal and kind. (Note: This doesn’t mean fast… remember you’re in Mexico.)

Also, apparently pinatas are for adults now. Awesome.

Also, apparently pinatas are for adults now. Awesome.

Kristen and David are my travel idols. One of their favorite travel activities is scuba diving. That is how they initially discovered Tulum and they wanted their guests to have this experience as well. While we weren’t certified to scuba, they arranged for the wedding party and our loves to have a guided snorkeling tour of the Cenotes.

Cenotes Dos Ojos: "To the Baticueva!"

Cenotes Dos Ojos: “To the Baticueva!”

This is one of the cooler travel experiences I have had. It ranks up there with baby lions. And, I should preface this by saying that I don’t particularly enjoy snorkeling. The cenotes were formed when limestone bedrock collapsed exposing groundwater underneath. You aren’t there to look for marine life, but the underground stalactites and stalagmites are like nothing else I’ve seen.

The #1 thing my mouth tasted.

The #1 thing my mouth tasted.

I don’t want to forget the food on this trip. We could have done nothing but eat and that would have satisfied me. From the brick oven pizza at La Siesta to the steak and fish at Casa Banana, it would have been impossible to starve. But the hands down award winning bite of the trip, was the ceviche at Ak’iin.

No money. No problems.

No money. No problems.

I want to say a huge thank you to Kristen and David for allowing their wedding to be an adventure that included all of us.  And, when I say included all of us, I mean everyone. These cats wondered down the beach in between the ceremony and reception. I tend to think they are less stressed out than I am.

The Danimal and I lovin' us some Tulum.

The Danimal and I lovin’ us some Tulum.

The best thing about the world not ending on December 21 is that you can visit Tulum. Perhaps it can be one of your resolutions for 2013.

Photo credit: I don’t have a fancy underwater camera so the picture of the cenotes are from a cool website called BlooSee: Take the Ocean Further.

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Grown Up Christmas List

I love giving gifts which is one of the many reasons I enjoy the holiday season. I know there are some of you who haven’t purchased gifts yet – Dad, it is time to start. If you still need some ideas, here are a few inspired by the incredible places I was able to experience in 2012 – some for the first time.

For the Home

While I crave NOLA for the food, this year I discovered a fantastic local artisan that creates beautiful pottery. Pots-a-lot Pottery is located on a quintessential New Orleans street – Magazine, but you can also order online. It should be just fine as long as you don’t bake it above 4,000 degrees.

It is almost too pretty to use

It is almost too pretty to use

For the Taste Buds

Gourmet tasting baskets make great personal gifts. This year in particular we were able to experience so many good eats, I almost have a hard time knowing where to start.

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

It probably won’t make it in time for Christmas, but you can always start the trend of New Year’s gifts. The cheese from Reypenaer’s, in every variety, was some of the most flavorful I have ever had.

CHEESE!

CHEESE!

Some Drink

We visited De Halve Maan Brewery in Belgium and you can find some of their tasty brews in the states – in particular, Straffe Hendrick. (If you live in Atlanta, you can get this at Green’s.)

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

For the Experience Lovers

Vino

Few things relax me like good wine. Head up to the North Georgia mountains, for a tasting at Blackstone.

Good view + good wine

Good view + good wine

Shoot the Hooch

I grew up floating the Guadalupe River in Texas, but in Georgia they call it shootin’ the hooch. Head up to Helen for a relaxing ride.

Tube Time

Tube Time

For the Person Who Has Everything

American Red Cross

Y’all know how badly I want to live in New York.  The City and Jersey Shore are American treasures and landmarks that still need our help after Hurricane Sandy hit this October. Make a donation to aid the relief efforts in these states so they can come back better than ever.

bryant park

I Heart New York

Wounded Warrior

On a recent trip to Alabama, I got to see firsthand the meticulous detail that goes into the combat vehicles that protect our troops. However, many who return home have made incredible sacrifices and their lives have been forever altered due to injuries (seen and unseen) on the front lines. Support our troops this holiday season with a gift to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Heroes!

Heroes!

Happy shopping and Merry Christmas!

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The One About Beer

My word – it feels like forever ago that I promised this post. I am choosing to blame the real world for my delinquency. When I returned to the real world last week it had all of this ‘stuff’ waiting for me. Isn’t that the worst part of returning from vacation? It is for me… especially this vacation because it means I’m required to do more than drink beer and eat chocolate (and read Game of Thrones).

Tasting Flight @ Cambrinus

Those that know me know I am NOT a beer girl. I never have been and I never thought I would be. Then I went to Belgium and had a lambic. If I had only known that lambics were the candy of beer (and pink!), I would have started consuming them years ago.  And the best part of Belgium is that they have lambics on every menu (along with other beers of course).

I’m in love with a lambic and I don’t care who knows it.

The first place we went for beers in Brugge was a fabulous pub (recommended by the Scotts) – Cambrinus. The menu had 49 lambic options and the lambic section was the smallest. If you have never had a lambic, it has heavy fruit undertones and cherry seems to be the most popular fruit. Danimal was in beer heaven here – over 400 options – not to mention that it has the infamous Westvleteren 12 (aka the ‘Westy 12’). Apparently Westy 12 is widely regarded as the “best beer in the world”.  It is pricey, but worth it because of the taste and the fact that it is nearly impossible to find.

Andrew atop the brewery

Located just south of Market Square, Danimal and I made a visit to De Halve Maan Brewery. This brewery has been in the family for four generations and in the same location. We have never been on a vacation where we didn’t visit at least one winery or brewery, and this one was definitely worth it. Andrew was a phenomenal tour guide and after the hour-long tour you are rewarded with a beer. Danimal deemed the winning beers from this brewery their Tripel and the Straffe Hendrick Quad. (ATL folks… you can find the quad at Green’s.)

Lord Danimal of Winterfell

Our final night in Brugge we headed over to the ‘oldest pub in Brugge’ – Herberg Vlissinghe. It may have been because I was immersed in Game of Thrones during this trip, but I felt like I walked into a pub in Winterfell. It is more removed location-wise than other places we had been and felt like we were in on a little secret. It isn’t big so make sure you go early to get a seat or just be fine waiting for a moment.

Proof that I drank beer – and enjoyed it.

I would like to say I have had a beer since I’ve been back, but I haven’t. It is only a matter of time though, my Aggies are playing LSU this weekend and I feel like it will be needed.

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Art + Money = Medieval Church

Since Brugge is a fantastic specimen of medieval architecture, this also means incredible churches and artwork. My fascination with the relationship between the church, art and the middle ages began when I lived in Italy. I had an incredible Italian Art History professor that made it come alive. Because patrons of the church were church officials and/or from the most prominent families, a large number of paintings from this period are found in churches as large frescoes and sculptures. (This also means you have portraits of prominent families being oddly featured as part of religious scenes.) So without further delay, some of the most fascinating churches in Brugge…

Church of Our Lady

View from the Chancel

This church has one of the only Michaelangelo sculptures to have left Italy during his lifetime. The sculpture is the big draw, but my favorite part was the above ground tombs in the chancel. Also, talk about medieval folks thinking that money bought holiness- the neighbor of this church had a bridge built over the church with a private chapel overlooking the altar so his family didn’t have to mix with the commoners. So fabulously medieval (and ridiculous)…

Basilica of the Holy Blood

The blood is inside.

This chapel contains a phial that reputedly contains Christ’s blood brought back from the Crusades.You can’t take pictures inside this church, so you will have to settle for outside shots only. But, when we were inside we got to see the blood phial placed atop a bright red pillow by the priest inside a gilded box.

St. Savior’s Cathedral

My Favorite

This one is the oldest parish church in Brugge and was my favorite (perhaps because it was the first one we went in). I loved that you could see the painstaking restoration that was very much in progress. Did I miss my calling? Maybe I was meant to sit on scaffolding for years recreating one painted halo.

Neon Church

Neon + Old School

Because I couldn’t read the signs, I could never figure out the name of this church. But when Danimal and I walked in we were shocked to see this incredibly modern neon art display alongside the traditional art and architecture of the church. I think it captured so much of what the church struggles with today as it tries to share its message in a changing society.

Jerusalem Church

But how do you get inside!!!

I wish I had more pictures of this church. It is rumored to be very different and based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This church is also attached to the Lace Museum. Unfortunately, we easily found our way to the Lace Museum, but never found the way into the church. Unless you are over the moon obsessed with lace, I think you will probably agree that this is the worst museum in the history of museums. I don’t remember the last time I was that bored.

Yes, I realize I just did an entire post about old churches and art… my nerd flag is waving proudly right now. Poor Danimal finally requested that we not go in anymore old churches unless they were really cool.  I plan to redeem myself tomorrow with a post about beer.

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Positively Medieval

After much debate, I am honored to present Brugge with the prestigious award  of “Cutest Town in the World”.  Myself, Danimal, our travel agent, Paul Henry, and the Scotts made up this elite judging panel. I know you don’t know all of them, but you can trust them – most of the time. The town has the majority of its medieval architecture still intact and that is what draws you in the moment you arrive.

Market Square

Brugge radiates from two large squares – the Market and Brug. From an urban design perspective, I love the activity around the squares. Unfortunately, these are also the most touristy parts of the City. Once you go and experience the squares, be sure to move along to other side streets and canals to find the better restaurants and better prices.

View from the top of De Halve Moon Brewery

Other parts of the town are touristy as well, but when touristy translates to chocolate shop after chocolate shop and pub after pub… I’m more than okay with that. We tried many of the chocolate shops throughout Brugge and we both agree that Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc is the best. The chocolate was the smoothest, had the best fillings and the most variety.

A rare moment not eating chocolate.

If you are able to tear yourself away from beer and chocolate long enough, there are incredible museums worth a visit. My personal favorite was the Picasso Expo and not just because I love art. More than any Picasso exhibit I’ve seen before, this one focused on the relationship he had with other artists, such as Miro and Matisse, and how they influenced each other.

Enjoying Picasso

If I begin to talk about the beer and churches now, this post would go on forever. So I will stop myself her because I may or may not need another beer.

The White Queen… on location

[Author’s Note: PLEASE let The White Queen on BBC be the next Downton Abbey – if for no other reason than we can say it was filming in Brugge while we were here.]

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