#MyBestFriendsWedding Chapter 7 Meets #TravelTuesdays – Nola Bach Weekend Activities

You guys know by now that I can write for days on end, but this entry will be three Harry Potter books-long if I don’t reel myself in. So I’m diving right into the day-by-day itinerary of the bachelorette I planned for my biff Michelle. Buckle up!

*If you want a version of the plain hourly itinerary without my schpeal, here you go!*

Thursday, March 1st: Arrivals, Set-up, Welcome! 

I flew out early on Thursday morning to set up the apartment. Vanessa (Michelle’s future SIL) and her friend Stephanie were also flying in early for a meeting with a client, and Ashtine (bridal party) would land in the afternoon. The bride and the rest of the crew would arrive at night.  I headed to our HomeAway rental (Michelle wanted us all together, so a hotel was not really an option) as soon as I landed – this place was kind of a miracle find after endless searches on AirBnB, VRBO, etc. because 1. It’s a newly built condo (in an old building), 2. The location is PERFECT, near Bourbon and Frenchmen but not in the midst of the party craze and 3. The price was about half of what all other rentals in the area. MIRACLE I tell you! Stephanie put together the welcome boxes for the girls before heading out to her meeting, and I had a light lunch at Cafe Envie right across the street while I waited for Ashtine to arrive. Once she landed, she came with me to the nearest Walmart (the one on Tchoupitulas, which has a full Liquor Store inside) to stock up on supplies for the apartment. I’ll link you to my shopping list, which includes some things I forgot (since I’m not a coffee drinker, I forgot about the cream and sugar, but there was some in the apartment thankfully). I ordered Uber Eats from Louisiana Pizza Kitchen to have at the apartment waiting while we got the girls at the airport. Caro had this awesome idea to get picked up at the airport in a party bus, so we booked with Luxe Limousine, and our driver Darrow was AWESOME! He was there early, and even accommodated our request to stop for a drink right before dropping us off. Thanks Darrow! Once we got to the apartment, we quickly changed, ate, and headed out to party on Bourbon! The best stop of the night was undoubtedly Cats Meow, which is always a great time with nostalgia-driven karaoke, and consistently great MCs running the show! We even got on stage for a rendition of single ladies 😉

 

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Friday, March 2nd: NON-STOP Activities! 

We started off our morning with light breakfast in the apartment from our shopping spree the day before, and we had planned to do the Panty Line Poem (an activity where all in attendance get a pair of underwear that celebrates a specific milestone for the bride/couple, and goes with a poem) for Michelle at this time. We caught her totally off guard and she absolutely loved it! Then, we headed to what would probably be the most memorable meal of the whole trip (and I knew it would be) – Atchafalaya. I came here during my first trip to Nola back in 2014, and it was my first meal priority for the bach. Their largest table accommodates 12 and we were 13 so they split us in side by side tables, but it was totally fine and WORTH IT. Try the grits. Just trust me. Then, we headed to the Gray Line Original Walking Cocktail Tour, which was a very informative and fun walk around hidden gems of the French Quarter with so much history and great boozy drinks! The group got to try Absinthe, Sazeracs, Sidecars (my personal favorite), Hurricanes (the good kind, stay away from the Pat O’Brien’s blend!), and more! After the tour we headed back to the apartment to get ready for the nighttime activity: Drag Show! Now I have to say, on the website, they advertised a Diva Royale “Real Housewives of New Orleans” show which I thought would be so much fun for the group, but they called us earlier in the day to let us know that they were merging the show with the guys from Hunk-O-Mania… aka male strippers. Basically, we were REALLY going to have a bachelorette now! Ha! One of the things Michelle was VERY clear about from the beginning was: no strippers. I knew it and I was 100% down to comply, but it just so happened that things took a turn (for our benefit) and so we just rolled with it. When we got to Mags 940 (the bar where the show is hosted), I was approached by the owner of the drag show to ask if we wanted to put Michelle in the hot seat. I said it was fine as long as Michelle was only in a drag segment and not with a male stripper. They totally respected our wishes and Michelle had an awesome experience on stage with a gorgeous, funny and great queen. The rest of the brides in attendance got the full Hunk-O-Mania treatment and we had A LOT of fun watching it, but Michelle (or her fiance) definitely would not have been ok with that lol! The show ran late and we were INCREDIBLY late for our dinner reservation at Three Muses, but they were SUPER accommodating and texted us through the show and accepted our rescheduling needs and OMG the food was BEYOND delicious. This was the one place I had not tried, and it was so so good. They also don’t take parties bigger than eight, so we had to split into two tables again, but it was fine/worth it. Michelle and a few other girls kept the party going down Frenchmen Street and that was that for Friday!

 

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Saturday, March 3rd: Sisters, Beignets & Aphrodisiacs! 

During my first trip to Nola in 2014, I had Sunday brunch at the Court of Two Sisters. I remember it being delicious and a great overall experience, so when it came time to do the bachelorette itinerary, it was a no-brainer for me to host a brunch here (and I really wanted it to be a full-on floral brunch outside in the courtyard, with the live jazz band! The whole nine…) but upon doing my research this time around, it seemed the service and the food quality and variety had dramatically worsened since that visit. They were receiving really harsh reviews and it seemed their best days were behind them. I battled between doing Commander’s Palace, Brennans, Cafe Amelie, and many other brunch spots but for some reason (floral courtyard jazz!) my heart was set on the Court. Fortunately, I kept checking reviews and they seemed to be improving closer to the trip, so I pulled the trigger and made the reservation. The said they couldn’t guarantee courtyard seating but they made it happen and it was GORGEOUS. We couldn’t have asked for better weather that entire weekend, and the brunch was simply whimsically beautiful AND delicious. Everyone loved the food and gave rave reviews to everything, except the gumbo, not that it was bad but they simply had a MUCH better version at Three Muses the night before. That’s still a 99% overall, so I’ll take it! After the court, I set up the itinerary to give us time to walk around, try Cafe Du Monde/Cafe Beignet, visit the French Market, and have a lax afternoon until our 4:00pm Aphrodisiac Tour from Witches Brew Tours. Now, I can’t remember where I found this and they’ve remodeled their website since I first found the info, but this tour was awesome. Our tour guide Marillyn was just a delight, so funny and knowledgeable and she had a blast with our group. She gave us background stories on aphrodisiacs and then took us to experience them first-hand – chocolates from Sucré, hot sauces from the Pepper Palace, a quick look at toys and other fun items at Mr. Binky’s Boutique, oyster shooters from honestly I can’t remember where, and if you’re up for it, you can also fit in a quick visit to a Voodoo shop just as a learning experience. Again, can’t say enough good things about Marillyn, totally made our last afternoon in Nola a memorable fun one! And finally, for our last Nawlins supper, I booked us dinner at Criollo, inside the Monteleone hotel, so we could fit in a quick visit to the Carousel Bar. I told the girls from before the trip not to get excited about the bar as it’s IMPOSSIBLE to get a seat on it, no matter the time of the day, so they knew it was more of a picture opp than anything else. To our huge surprise/delight/amazement, because of our party size, the Criollo staff welcomed us in one of their private rooms. We felt like the Real Housewives of all the cities rolled into one, getting such VIP treatment! It really was the perfect closing to the trip. We actually sang happy birthday to Michelle here because her birthday was coming up that following week, so we took advantage to get the festivities started. After this awesome dinner, we headed out to enjoy our last night experiencing all that Bourbon had to offer, and then we made our way back to the apartment for a few hours of sleep, and back home we all went!

 

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I hope you enjoyed my endless recount of this weekend that I will forever cherish as I hope Michelle and the rest of the girls do. New Orleans is a very fun city, not for everyone, but it’s definitely a top choice destination for bachelor/bachelorette parties because of their chill party scene, yummy food (seriously, you have to make an effort to find bad food in Nola), and cheap drinks!

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#TravelTuesdays – A Birthday Weekend in Cartagena!

For those who do not know, my mom is Colombian and my Colombian heritage is very strong and kept alive by constant visits to this beautiful land I’m blessed to call one of my homes. I was born in Venezuela, but I’ve spent a good chunk of my life and gone through some important milestones while on trips in Colombia. The only thing is that since 99% of my family is from and lives in Santa Marta (the oldest city in Colombia, a coastal town next to Barranquilla), that’s pretty much the only place I go to and truly know. So when my friend Iselle told me she wanted to celebrate her birthday in Cartagena, I was very excited for the opportunity to finally expand my horizons and see another part of this homeland of mine!

Trip logistics, really quickly for your amusement:

My friend Ashtine was having her engagement party in Miami on Friday, December 23rd. I booked my flight to leave on December 24th at 2:00 am, meaning I went straight from Ashtine’s party to the airport. Landed in Santa Marta on the 24th around 11:00am, minus my carry-on which they made me check at the door and they lost in Bogota, but it thankfully arrived in the afternoon! Stayed in Santa Marta until Friday, January 13th, when I went to Cartagena by car (it’s about a three-hour ride), and after spending the weekend there, flew from that airport back to Miami. So when I booked my flight, it was:

MIA-BOG-SMR — //– CTG-MIA  –> Thank you multi-city booking function!

Now, on to the action: Hola Cartagena! When I agreed to the trip, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard a lot about Cartagena’s “ciudad amurallada” or walled city, which is where the historic downtown festive area is, surrounded by a wall (hence the name), and because I’m so used to Santa Marta, I expected a similar vibe. The first thing that I will tell you I assumed and was DEAD wrong about was that Cartagena would have beautiful beaches. NOPE NOPE NOPE. Santa Marta has dozens of beautiful beach locations, reachable by car/boats/hikes, in every direction. Cartagena is surrounded by water, but the tide is very high and the wind makes tons of little sandstorms, and there really isn’t much “beach” space per se. You have to sail off to find a semi-decent beach, and even then, it’s just not good. More on this later. Let’s go day by day –

Friday, January 13th: 

Iselle, Ian and I were the three amigos embarking on this trip. Ian and Iselle were flying in separately, and I was driving in. They both arrived at the hotel before me, and went off to wander around. Iselle found a deal for us to stay at Casa Cordoba Roman (or Casa Roman, it has a few different names), a house type of place. Our room had a nice balcony, two stories, and space for about 4 people to sleep comfortably in a king bed, and two twin-size mattresses. Iselle and Ian found a bar and some wifi and texted me so I went to meet them there. We had some drinks at Plaza Santa Teresa and kicked off the weekend festivities. Went off for some yummy dinner at Juan del Mar, went back to the room to drop our leftovers and then went to check out the bars and nightlife. The place that stood out the most to me was Alquimico. Perfect libations spot for some new and exciting drinks! Went to a bunch of random bars all within the walled city, and since I was still not tired when we got back, we went up to the rooftop of Casa Roman to take a night/morning swim before bed. Just what the doctor ordered!

Saturday, January 14th: 

We woke up “early” (8ish) with the goal of checking out Islas del Rosario (Rosary Islands), which I’d heard very little about, other than you got there by boat, which I was very used to doing in Santa Marta. When we got to the information spot, it was like 9:30, by which time the boats are gone. It’s also a 45 minute-1 hour boat ride, so it was not what I was used to or expecting at all. But now with our newfound information, we knew to come prepared tomorrow. We ended up meeting up with one of Ian’s friends who is a local in Cartagena, and he took us on a walk outside of the Walled City for us to see more of the Cartagena every day life. We decided to go to the Castillo San Felipe – one of the oldest structures in Barranquilla, built to defend the city from a siege – and then ended up at the Boca Grande mall for some yummy desserts. Went back to the hotel to change, and then did a Chiva Loca tour at night (“crazy goat” party bus, no actual goats involved) which was super fun. I’d always wanted to do one in Santa Marta, but it never panned out, so this was my first Chiva experience, and it was a great introduction. We went out in Getsemani, which is the neighborhood across from the Walled City, where college students and locals typically go out the most. It’s less of a tourist trap than inside the Walled City. We hit up a few bars and after we had our fill, we went back to the hotel, ready to get up early (really early this time) for our Islas del Rosario adventure.

Sunday, January 15th: 

As I mentioned earlier, I have lots of experience riding boats to beaches in Santa Marta from before I could even speak. It’s normal, chill and totally not scary, even though the boats are super dingy and old, I know the drill. Those are my people. Cartagena though, is a whole other animal. Santa Marta’s 5-10 minute coastal boat rides have nothing on this open water hour-long business. First, you have to outsmart the people trying to hustle money out of tourists around and outside of the Walled City. Being from Colombia and having our local friend there was huge in not letting these people screw us over (they still kinda did, but it would’ve been so much worse if we weren’t aware of their tactics). So, the trip works like this: you leave at 9:00 am on a speedboat that takes you outside of Cartagena’s water limits, into the open water of the Mar Caribe. The ride to the first stop is about 45 minutes. My friend Iselle and I were not big fans of this speedboat, as you can tell the drivers are a little reckless and just wanna get to the islands fast. We were holding on to the poles for dear life, and the waves were very high so the boat bumps were no fun. Ian, on the other hand, loved it and felt he was being rocked to sleep… different strokes! When you’re sold on the tour, you’re told you’re going to make 2-3 stops. Playa Blanca (white beach), the Aquarium, and another beach on the way back. As soon as we boarded the boat, they told us we wouldn’t be able to go to Playa Blanca because of the tide, so we’d go to the Aquarium instead, and if we didn’t want to go in there, we could swim elsewhere. Once we made it alive to the islands, the story changed and they wanted to charge us to do the aquarium or another snorkeling activity. Jesus (our local friend) and I fought these guys and did not let them screw us over, until they took us to a nearby spot where we could swim as we were promised. After that, we started heading back towards Cartagena for our second stop, when the boat died mid-ride, in the middle of the open sea, with a lottttttt of waves. Thank God I’m not one to get seasick, because that was enough rocking to make anyone throw up. The crew managed to get the boat running just enough to get us to the next stop, which wasn’t the pretty beach we were promised, but rather a murky shallow stop in a small town. Kids are coming up to you constantly begging for coins, it’s honestly so sad. We had lunch there, which was included in the price of our boat ticket, and after an hour or so, we headed back and I’ve NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY to be done with a tour, and ALIVE! I legitimately feared for my life, and it wasn’t just paranoia. A couple of weeks before we were there, a boat tipped over and at least one passenger died. It’s not uncommon for those accidents to happen, as those boat drivers seem like they’re actively auditioning for Fast & Furious, Cartagena Drift… Anyway, after this adventure, we went back to the hotel to shower and change, and then headed to a restaurant that was recommended to Iselle by her coworkers called La Vitrola. So, so good. We were almost turned away because the place gets packed and requires reservations, but we managed to make it in. The food was delicious and the service stellar, couldn’t have asked for a better last night in Cartagena. Afterwards, we went out to hit up all the random bars we hadn’t visited during the first two nights, and went back to pack and get ready for our return home. Ian would be flying out at 5 am, I was flying out at 7, and Iselle at 11.

Thanks for the memories, Cartagena!

#TravelTuesdays – A Flytastic Weekend in Napa

Since my San Fran blog post was getting out of hand long, and because Napa is a completely different experience than San Francisco, I decided to give it its own post. Buckle up winos!

Saturday, April 11th

We left for Napa at about 7:00 am on Saturday. It was my little Ana’s birthday, and we had booked a biking tour through Napa wineries, and we had to be there by 9:30 am. The drive from San Francisco to Napa is about an hour and a half, and we needed to fit in a breakfast for the drinking ahead. We stopped at a random breakfast spot that was pretty bad, and I found hair in my food, so that was that… No biggie, on to an awesome day of wine tasting! We had booked our biking experience with Napa Valley Bike Tours, because Ana had been “dreaming” about biking around vineyards. I wasn’t too fond of the idea to begin with, because I figured being on a party bus would be a more fun experience, and I was right. We had already biked a long trek the day before, and when you’re not used to the biking seats, your butt hurts A LOT. Putting it on another bike the very next day does not help. The ONLY reason I agreed to do this was because I had read the reviews and they said that if for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable with the biking experience, they’d send a van to drive you around instead. I knew in my heart I’d end up in that van, and I made my peace with it. The biking from the Napa Valley Bike Tours to the first winery – Foley Johnson – was about 7 miles I believe. I BARELY made it. I was in so much pain, it took everything in me not to stop in the middle of the road and call the van. As soon as we arrived and parked our bikes, I let our tour guide Stephanie know that I’d be needing the van for the rest of the trek. She said no problem and called it over. We had our first tasting, which was great, and as the group headed out on the bike, I climbed on the van and quickly made friends with the driver, a darling lady named Carol. I witnessed people falling off their bikes and instantly rejoiced in my decision. The next winery was Rutherford, which I LOVED, and that’s where the Bike Tour company served us a nice picnic style lunch. Afterwards, we went to a third winery called ZD Wines. Nothing too memorable from there other than the beautiful variety of flowers. By the end of the tour, another 5 people had joined Carol and I on the van, usually after a fall. Once the tour ended, we headed to our hotel to shower and change, as we had dinner reservations to honor the birthday girl. Per Trip Advisor recommendations, I booked our dinner at Celadon, in downtown Napa. We drove over and had a great dinner. We tried to keep the party going for Ana, but we were all exhausted, her most of all, so we just called it a night and went back to the hotel, especially because we had another extremely early morning coming on Sunday.

 

Sunday, April 12th – 

4:30am wake-up call. Why? Well, a month before the trip, Ana called me to convince me to go with her on a hot air balloon. You see, I have a pretty bad fear of heights and a moderate case of vertigo, but I usually like to challenge both by flying/going to tall buildings/riding roller coasters, etc. The one thing that never made it on my bucket list was a hot air balloon. I really didn’t find the experience appealing and I thought I’d just be freaking out the entire time. But… I also thought ‘if I’m going all this way to have this great trip, I want to really experience it all.’ So I said yes, and we booked the balloon with Balloons Above the Valley. A few of the people on the bike tour with us had done them that morning and highly recommended them. That appeased my anxiety just a bit. Anyway, back to 4:30 am. We’re up and getting dressed because we had to be at the meet-up hotel no later than 6:00 am. They had coffee and pastries for our pre-flight fill. We were assigned groups and climbed on some vans to head out to the fields where the balloons were being inflated as we were arriving. It’s a crazy experience to see the baskets and the indescribably large balloon “sacks” as they’re expanding and shooting upwards with the short bursts of fire. We were on the last balloon to go up. It was 6:30ish when we were about to board, so I FaceTimed my mom (who was 3 hours ahead on Eastern Time) in case I died. Spoiler alert: I did not. Our flight captain was a veteran in the trade with 25+ years of experience flying hot air balloons. Cool. We climbed into the baskets (quite hard to do) and they don’t tell you how crammed it feels in there when the whole group is in. You have very little space, and the basket is divided in sections that fit 2-4 people. The “magic” of the lift-off is unreal. I was scared, but I felt my fear fading into awe as we rose practically with the sun and saw the most magical sight of sunrise + fog + wineries and beautiful homes as far as the eye could see. The ride was no longer than 30 minutes long, and once I was up there I was enjoying the view, taking pictures, and basking in the moment. Our ride was very fun and calm, and then came the moment to coordinate the landing. You see, you can’t really predict where you will land because it depends on the wind, but these seasoned captains have some idea of a radius where they will make landfall. The captain warned us all to squat a little bit as we were approaching ground so that the hit wouldn’t hurt our knees, and next thing we knew, a eucalyptus field was upon us (or were we upon it? I don’t know). The smell was great, but the morning moisture in that climate was definitely not welcome, brrr. Anyway, good landing as far as I can tell in my limited 1/1 experience. We survived! YAY! After the flight, the vans took us back to the meet-up hotel where they offered a brunch for an additional fee, but we had other plans so we left – but not before being suckers and falling for the $20 pictures they offered. I ALWAYS want the damn pictures. We had decided to go to four more wineries on Sunday before heading back to SF: Domain Chandon, Chappellet and whatever else was around. Domain was fine, I’m not big on champagne (or sparkling wine). Chappellet was the one we had to make a reservation for and Oh. My. Lord. What an amazing experience, from beginning to end. First, the drive. Chappellet is located on a hill in Saint Helena, and the journey up is straight out of a movie. The mountains in the distance, the fields, the vineyards in our view… it was magical. We were playing fun California-related tracks, singing along, taking it all in. We made it to the winery right on time for our reservation, and the place is ridiculously gorgeous/awesome. You’re surrounded by barrels at all times and it just feels like the most Napa place ever. The wines were so good, we all subscribed to their wine club and bought a crate to get shipped back home. We were sat with two ladies from Napa who really know their wines, and they recommended we go to lunch at Tra Vigne to have their mozzarella appetizer, and then make our way to Turnbull and Mumm wineries. So we did! Tra Vigne was DELICIOUS, Turnbull was a stunning picture location with great wines, and Mumm had some refreshing and yummy options. I wasn’t drinking too much because I was the designated driver, but that was ok. I really enjoy driving, and I left this trip discovering my dream job was Uber driver in Napa. As Mumm was getting ready to close, it was time for us to head back to San Fran, which we were so not ready to do. Napa was an incredible experience, took us out of our comfort zone and provided us wine 9-5 every day. What’s not to love?! But the drive back to SF was beautiful too, and getting to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge has no match. Thanks for everything Napa!