It is done!

It is done!

I have graduated!  I graduated with my Associate of Arts Degree, with honors, on May 19th.  The last semester kicked my butt with algebra, but that turned out to be the only B I got during all semesters…otherwise I got A’s.  A lot of weekends of doing nothing but homework and studying, but it was worth it.  Now, however, since school is over FOR GOOD we are going to hopefully get back to doing our small trips.

We did a few “stay-cation” type things around St. Louis the week following graduation.

I made beads at the Third Degree Glass Factory.  I’d never done that before.  It was so fun!  I have a genetic hand-tremor, which was a significant hindrance in getting the beads made, but as usual I learned to work with it.  The instructor was Max.  He was not only knowledgeable about glasswork and a great teacher, but also very interesting to just sit and talk to while making the beads.DSCF5527

Stopped in the pick up some art supplies at Dick Blick’s after bead making (ran into my photo art teacher!) and then grabbed a quick bite and drinks at Three Kings Public House on Delmar.

We also hit the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, as well as the St. Louis Art Museum and it’s special exhibit Sunken Cities exhibit.  The art museum’s special exhibits are free on Fridays, so be sure to check out their webpage to get tickets (it does cost a $3 service/handling charge).

School’s out for my grand-kiddos, too, so we headed over to the St. Louis Zoo with them on the hottest day of the year so far, I think!  It was still a great day!  The grizzly and polar bears were very active and playing, and we got to feed the stingrays as much as they would eat.  For the four of us, joining the St. Louis Zoo was a money saver, as we’ll definitely be back there again this summer.


One of my favorite things to do is hit the African American Art Festival on Memorial Day weekend.  The culture, the art, the colorful clothing, interesting décor, entertainment, and the FOOD!  What a wonderful day that was.  It was beautiful and peaceful and very family-oriented.

One thing I should mention is I was honored (AND FLOORED) to be chosen as the First Place winner in Photographer’s Forum’s Annual High School, College, and University student photography competition.  I won a new Fuji (mirrorless) camera and lens system from this worldwide competition.  I won with my image, See Me.  I am so hooked on this camera!  I basically have put my poor Nikon in the camera bag in the corner and the Fuji has been my partner for several weeks now.  It takes amazingly crisp photos…the stabilization system is wonderful.  The lenses are such great lenses…and since it’s mirrorless it is smaller and weighs a lot less than my Nikon camera and myriad of Nikon lenses.

Heading off to another adventure by train today!  Story to follow later, so stay tuned.

Canadian Vacation

I know, I know…the title of the blog is SMALL trips with Tim and Chris…and we do do those, I promise!  In the meantime, vacation in Toronto, Canada!

Whew!  It’s hard to condense 10 days of a trip in a wonderful city into something that’s not too long to read.

Night View
View from our 22nd floor condo

Although we left in the morning 45 minutes behind schedule to start our trip, we made good time and traveled straight, uncongested roads until we got just outside of Chicago.  Between highway construction, holiday weekend traffic, and rush hour, the highway was at a stand-still.  I think we were in traffic for about three hours…that added SO MUCH TIME to our trip!  We were supposed to be able to make it to the hotel right across the border in about 9 hours.  We left at 9:45 a.m. And didn’t get to the hotel until around midnight.  There also was a long line at the border toll booth itself, as well as a long line at the customs booth.

Getting through customs was no big deal.  We had to show our passports and ID’s.  I got the health certificates for the dogs, along with their shot records, but the guy didn’t need them.  I had imagined the Canadian customs guy to be just friendly and open like what you read Canadians to be like.  He wasn’t UNfriendly, but I got the distinct impression he wouldn’t hesitate to stick somebody in customs jail if they acted stupid…definitely no joking around.

Since we weren’t driving straight through, the first night we stayed at Fauld’s Motel in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.  The hotel room was super cute!  The bathroom, in particular, was nice.  It had a marble-type counter/vanity and shower enclosure.  The shower curtain was a pretty rose color instead of standard white, the fixtures looked new and were sparkling clean, as was the rest of the bathroom.  It looked like the room itself had been recently freshened…new paint, new window AC unit, and they even had a little vase of artificial flowers and a doily on the desk.  They also had a screen/storm door.  The wi-fi was a little spotty.

Our home for the next 10+ days was a condo in the Liberty Village neighborhood of Toronto.  We had a great view from our 22nd floor balcony, looking one direction we saw the city, and the other direction we saw Lake Ontario.  We arrived on Canada Day, so that night we watched fireworks.

Since the grocery stores were closed, we started things off right by having dinner and drinks at the bar of a pub across the street, The Brazen Head, where we met and chatted all evening with a lady who works at a company that does post production for movies, like the Marvel Comics movies.  I had a great Caesar salad and Tim had Fish and Chips and he said it was wonderful.

We spent most of our days in Toronto, which has so much to see and do and also has a wonderful public transit system.  The first day out, we hadn’t downloaded any app and also didn’t have a system map, AND the city was still celebrating Canada’s 150th, so basically we just picked a streetcar that looked like it would be going our direction.  We did that several times and finally made it back “home”.

After the first day, getting around using the various buses, streetcars, and subways was a piece of cake.  There basically is no parking anywhere so it made a lot of sense.  We each got a week pass that covered all methods of travel except for the Bike Share.  We did the Bike Share on Wednesday.  I got a text via the app that Bike Share was free that day so we figured, what the heck, let’s ride somewhere.  We rode down to the harbor and around the park.  It was very nice and there were so many families and couples either biking or just walking with the dogs.  EVERYONE around here seems to have dogs!


We also made it down to the beach of Lake Ontario once, but it was cold that day and we didn’t get in the water.  We took Lupi, Bella stayed behind at the condo.  There was a nice boardwalk that ran the length between the beach and the park area.

Some of the groceries were more expensive than in the states, and some surprisingly were not.  Bacon, for instance, was a lot cheaper than in the states.  The food choices are healthier, and there are a lot of produce markets and fresh meat, dairy, and seafood places.

I won’t go into all of the places we visited, but here are some highlights.

Kensington Market was seedy and crowded and pretty cool and is where you want to go to really experience all the different cultures that make up Toronto.  It’s got a Bohemian feel, and there are all sorts of shops and also fresh produce stands.   It’s borders are roughly College St., Spadina Ave., Dundas St. W., and Bathurst St.  The street riot scenes of Police Academy were filmed here!


St. Lawrence Market is HUGE!  If you don’t find it here, you don’t need it.  There are two floors and it includes everything from bakeries to cheese places to seafood to butcher shops to produce stands.

On Saturday there is a large farmer’s market and Sunday an antique market (we didn’t go to the antique market).

Church-Wellesley Village is an area that is “the historic home of Toronto’s LGBTQ communities”.  It’s bounded by Gerrard, Yonge, Charles, and Jarvis Streets.  Their main areas have all sorts of shops and also many cool restaurants.  We got off the main streets and walked along and it was very peaceful and the dogs’ presence, of course, caused us to have many nice conversations with people, as they usually do.  The Artful Dodger, mentioned later, is in this neighborhood and it’s the only place we went to twice.


Little India was an area on Gerrard Street.  There were so many shops with BEAUTIFUL clothes!  There also were a lot of book stores, gift stores, kitchen stores, and restaurants.  We didn’t notice a lot of the more formal sit-down restaurants…mostly it was a lot of Mom N Pop type places, which we prefer.  We did this neighborhood early on our trip and it was very interesting to walk through.

The city is also brimming with restaurants and eateries, and the choices of types of food is endless.  There are so many cultures in Toronto that you can find anything you might be in the mood for.  It’s not the type of place that seemed famous for anything regional, like you’d find in the south, or New Orleans, or a coastal town, for instance, but they did have one dish, Poutine.  Poutine is French fries and cheese curds smothered in brown gravy.  There are variations, but basically that’s it.

We ate or just had a drink at several places during the week, such as

Via Mercanti in Kensington, where Lora was our server.  Their sign of a $5 pint drew us in.  We sat on the patio and people watched.  The weather Toronto was great, so we were outside as much as possible.

My view as we sipped libations at Via Mercanti

Famous Indian Cuisine in Little India had a small but tasty buffet.  Our server, Yashwanth, was very attentive and nice and also very helpful when telling me what we were actually eating.  It has a pretty small dining area, but the sign said they had a room for bigger groups.  If I wrote it down correctly, I had Matar Paneer (peas and cheese), Curried chicken, Eggplant & Potato, Lamb Curry, Tandoori chicken, butter chicken, Pakora (appetizer), and chickpeas with potatoes (Chana Aloo??)


Sugar Beach is an area by the lake where people congregate, sunbathe, and people watch.  There’s a very shady park next to it (part of it?) where you can sit if you’re not into the sun.  However, there is no access to the lake.  We had drinks at Against the Grain which is at Sugar Beach and is an upscale place.  We sat at the bar, as we usually do, and didn’t order anything to eat so I can’t vouch for their food, but our bartender, Hannah, was especially nice.

(You can tell I got to play with my Mother’s Day present…a fisheye lens LOL)

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Against the Grain

Although Crabby Joe’s Tap and Grill is a chain, it had nice ambiance, good food, and our server, Marylou, was attentive, as well.  It took a while to get drinks, but after that everything arrived pretty quickly.  We stuck with “American” standards.  Tim had a wrap and I had chicken/prosciutto sandwich minus the sandwich (bread) part, and a Caesar side salad.

We ate dinner and had drinks at Taps on Queen after our visit to Niagara Falls.  It was a REALLY nice pub/microbrewery.  Tim got a flight of the four in house beers they offered, and I got wine.  That girl KNEW how to pour wine!  Chelsea filled that glass UP!!  This is where we tried poutine for the first time ever, and it was very good.  I had a Caesar salad and Tim had a wrap.  The ambiance was really cool.  The bar wraps around the tanks, and there is a whole wall of windows to let in a lot of light.

We stopped at Firkin on King one day for drinks and a shared appetizer before walking around the city. I fixed a big breakfast every day so we didn’t start out our wanderings hungry.  We had Bombay chicken tacos.  While they were a little spicy for me,  Tim thought they were fantastic so we’ll go with what he says LOL.  They were nicely presented, though, and our server, Mikey, was great.  We had taken the dogs with us and he brought them water right away.  He was attentive and chatted with us a little bit about Toronto and what there is to see and do…I think he, Hannah (Against the Grain), and Chelsea (at Taps) were the most friendly we had the entire trip.

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The same afternoon as Firkin on King, I just had to have us stop at Belfast Love.  Its sign touted “authentic pub”…or something like that.  Keep in mind, we took the dogs with us a lot so we would sit out on the patio to eat and drink and people watch so I don’t often have indoor experiences to share.  However, I would usually go in to use the “washroom” (that’s what they call it up there) and I’d try to remember to take my phone for indoor pix on the way.  Anyway, just here for drinks so I can’t comment on the food but, again, a very nice server.  We didn’t get any rude or inattentive people while we were in Canadian restaurants/bars.

In the Wellesley/Church neighborhood, we stopped at O’Grady’s and initially were just going to have a drink but Tim got hungry so we got calamari, too.  It was divine!  It was flavorful and also had such a crispy and light breading.  It was perfect.  Our server’s name was Joe, and he, too was very friendly.  Only had Lupi with us, and she enjoyed the attention on the other side of the fence…

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We left there, walked around a bit, and stopped at The Artful Dodger.  We actually went to The Artful Dodger twice, once just for drinks and the second time on our last night in Toronto, we went there for steak dinner, and Jason was our server.  The steak was very, very good.  The steak was cooked perfectly, and served with salad and new potatoes for $18.00 CAD which was $14.00 to us.  The first time we went, for drinks, we only had Lupi with us since Bella had reached her people limit.  Lupi had to stay on the outside of the fence and she was a really good girl.  Dogs are never allowed on the patios, unlike places in the States, so you just tie them up on the other side of the railing from you and the server will usually bring them a bowl of water.

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Another pub type place we stopped at one day was Fox and Fiddle in Greektown.  Since we had a big breakfast every day we usually weren’t hungry and just had drinks when we’d go to these places.  It was just nice to sit on a patio in the beautiful weather and watch the world go by.  It was very relaxing, and Taylor, our server, was friendly and we chatted about Toronto, Canada, college…all sorts of things.

While in Greektown, we did decide we’d have dinner, so we ate at a Greek restaurant, Astoria Shish-Kebob House.  They have a nice stucco-type low wall around their patio area, and lots of flowers.  It had a very nice ambiance and Nikos was our server.  I like wine, but am not a wine connoisseur.  I usually just stick with standards like Pinot Grigio, which most places have.  Tim, however, likes beer and it’s common for restaurants to have multiple choices, especially local craft beers, so Tim gets to sample a lot of different beers.

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One of our absolute FAVORITE places was Mill Street Brewery in the Distillery District.  We found a place with a name close to one of our local favorites, Main and Mill Brewery, so of course we weren’t going to pass up a chance at this place.  We sat at the bar, which is what we typically do if we can, and ordered up a flight for Tim and a wine for me.  Our first bartender was Taneesha and she was great!  She was very, very friendly.  When Taneesha went off to another station, she was replaced by Billy, who was also very friendly.  At Billy’s recommendation, we ordered the flat bread pizza and it was divine!  One thing Tim had been having trouble with in Canada was that absolutely no place had brewed ice tea, it was all out of a can (Brisk), which he doesn’t like.  At a friend’s suggestion the night before, Tim asked Billy for a pot of hot tea and a glass of ice.  Billy delivered and, voila!  Tea!!  Too bad we didn’t think of this and it wasn’t recommended earlier in the trip…this was our last day!  So, just a tip if you’re a tea drinker…you’re going to have to ask for hot tea and a glass of ice.

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Finally, we couldn’t NOT go to Steam Whistle Brewery while in Toronto.  Popped in for a quick sample for Tim.  Very large, very crowded, and pretty cool.


We did a couple out-of-the-city trips while in Canada, the first being to the Owen Sound area near Lake Huron for waterfalls, and the second being to Niagara Falls.

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Inglis Falls

There’s not much that I can write about Niagara Falls that hasn’t already been written, but even so, when you see them, you’re going to be wowed.  The power of the falls is indescribable.  I don’t know why the size of the crowd shocked me, but it did.  I think I thought it would be more of a “natural” area…or maybe like a park with people watching the falls.  It is a completely chaotic tourist area.  You have to wait to get a turn up by the railing to get a good view of the falls, but people are polite and you’ll get your turn.

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A trip to the falls is not complete without taking the shuttle bus to The White Water Walk.  Be warned in case you don’t like crowded elevators, you have to wait in line for several minutes when you get off the shuttle bus and the line ends at, yes, an elevator…and it’s gonna be crowded.  When you get off the elevator in the bowel of the cliff, you have to walk through a tunnel to get out to the actual walkway.  It’s very beautiful!

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Well…I think I covered most of what we did.  Toronto is awesome and Canada is beautiful.  You should go to there.

Skye Stapor – 12 year old powerhouse

This is Skye Stapor.  She’s 12.  She’s amazing.  Listen to her here.


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Savannah, Georgia

This really isn’t a small trip, but not a full-blown vacation either.  This is my birthday trip.  I was still in school for my actual birthday so we had to wait until after finals.  I came to Savannah for a visit with my mom back in 2012, and fell in love with the place.  So…the Mister and I are here in 2017.


We got to town and checked into our hotel early afternoon on Wednesday.   After unpacking, we headed to downtown Savannah.  We walked around, took pix where Forrest Gump sat on his bench (the bench is no longer there), walked down to Forsyth Park to take pix, went down River Street, and early evening we finally landed at Moon River Brewing.

They have a beer garden and are pet-friendly.  Man!  I am sure there were AT LEAST a dozen well-behaved dogs sitting around with their owners while the owners had a drink and a bite to eat.

The service was non-existent at the bar when Tim went to get us a drink for our wait for our table, but our table server, Jordan, was very friendly and pretty attentive.   The place was full.

On our way home we stopped at a liquor store and scored some of our favorite…MUSCADINE WINE!

Thursday we headed out to Tybee Island.  On the way we stopped by Old Fort Jackson  first.

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After Fort Jackson, we went to the Oatland Wildlife Center.  It was surprisingly cool as we walked the shady paths from one animal exhibit to another.  In addition to the cougar exhibit, they had a wolf exhibit, and the only way to watch them was behind a glass wall of a peaceful, darkened cabin, while sitting on a bench.  They were constantly on the move (until they weren’t…when they hid over in the grass to lie down), so didn’t get a great pic of them.



At first the wolves were just sleeping, but then the gray wolf got up and started pestering the black wolves so they all started roaming around and ALMOST playing…but they were hot.   So after a few minutes they found some more shade to lay in and went back to sleep.

We went to the Tybee Lighthouse first, but we didn’t go up inside.  We have gone in SO MANY lighthouses by now, that we decided to just walk through the gift shop and I took some pix of the lighthouse itself which is really all I wanted.


After the lighthouse, we stopped by Fannie’s On the Beach, to have appetizers and a drink.  The food was SO GOOD and the view was great from their upstairs deck.  The servers (downstairs bar – Blaire; upstairs deck – Thomas) were very friendly and fast.

We went for an after-dinner walk on the beach.  I collected shells and we also walked to the end of the pier.  We got there on time to watch a guy pull in a small shark.  I think someone said it was a sand shark.  He let me touch it, and then he threw it back into the ocean.


Friday we took the girls and walked around Bonaventure Cemetery.  It’s still early in the season so some of the grounds were still very dry and sparse looking, but the older “historic” part was pretty cool.


After Bonaventure, we parked the car and walked around Savannah.

The girls were EXHAUSTED after running around town in the steamy heat all day.

After sightseeing, we went back to the hotel, got cleaned up, and then met our group at Johnson Square for the Haunted Pub Crawl!

Our host, C.J. Smith, showed us a great time!  We heard some entertaining stories and hit four bars.  After the last bar, we went next door to Bay Street Blues to sing karaoke.  We finally got back to the hotel around 3a.m.  Whew!

OK.  Saturday. Last day here.  We planned and executed a wonderful day of lazy walking around town.  Stopped for coffee THREE times because coffee is awesome…and I got a couple drinks to go because Drinks to Go are awesome 🙂

I met James Pringle in the park.  James makes roses and flowers from palm fronds and they are beautiful.  He also sings like an angel and has a speaking voice like James Earl Jones.  If I lived in Savannah, I would pack a lunch and a book and sit next to him on the park bench all day 🙂


I wanted to redo my Forsyth Park pix, so the Mister dropped me off at the park and then he circled to find a parking spot.  I did my pic, and on my way to the car I met Eimir Bobonis, a trumpeter who hails from Puerto Rico.


The park is awesome in the evening.  There are people walking around, musicians playing, and … apparently people learning to box LOL.

Forsyth Park

Our last evening meal, I found a locals’ place called Southside Shellfish…what a great fresh seafood dive!  We both got the Low Country Boil, added blue crab, and it was AMAZING!  So tasty and SO MUCH FOOD!

Until next time, Savannah…I can’t wait to come back!


Millstream Gardens, Fredericktown, MO

We did a day trip on the motorcycle to Millstream Gardens Conservation Area  just outside of Fredericktown, Missouri, today.

We rode down to Caledonia first and stopped at the Old Country Mercantile for a frappe, and then up the street to the Caledonia Wine Cottage  for a drink and I got a sandwich (the Italian).  It didn’t have meat, which I don’t usually go for, but it was really good!  It had tomato, pesto, mozzarella…I can’t remember what all.  It was served with creamy (and delicious) cucumber salad.  I think it was only about $6.00.  They didn’t have a big selection of wines left because apparently there was a murder-mystery or something and a lot of people were drinking wine.  I had some peach wine, brand unknown to me, and it was decent.

Getting to Millstream Gardens was a little sketchy since it was down a LONG gravel road (probably not nearly as long as it seemed on the bike).  But it was worth it.

Here are a couple of the best pix I took of the kayaking we saw.



New Orleans…real quick

We went to New Orleans back when our kids were small (hated it).  I then went back with my mom in 2012 (loved it).  So, the week after Christmas everyone had a break and the Mister surprised me with a short trip to New Orleans, Baby!!  I was SO EXCITED when he told me we were going.  This wasn’t going to be a bike ride, we packed light, packed the girls, and took his little yellow car, Lucia.

We stayed at a great Laquinta in Slidell, Louisiana, which is about a half hour from New Orleans.  We had some friends that were going at the same time.  While we weren’t going WITH them, we definitely planned to meet up a couple times for dinner and such.

Here’s the view from our balcony the evening we arrived (Yes, the pool was open), as well as a photo of our room.

We didn’t partake of the hotel’s free continental breakfast in the mornings, mostly because we like to lounge around late, in our PJ’s, drinking coffee…so we just got something quick at the McDonald’s close by.

The first day we headed to Vacherie to go to Oak Alley Plantation.  Oak Alley is famous for its iconic view up the “alley of the oaks” toward the plantation house.  It was terribly crowded…much more so than when my mom and I went on a cold, rainy November day a couple years prior.

The wait to tour the house was looooooong…and you couldn’t get on the grounds without purchasing a tour of the house.  However, you can get a great Mint Julep while waiting to get in.

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I had found a great local deli on the previous trip, so I insisted that we eat lunch at B & C Seafood Restaurant and Deli in Vacherie.  What a cool place!

If you want to go to a cemetery in while in New Orleans, actually I would suggest one right outside of town, the Metairie Cemetery, at 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd. New Orleans.  It is open from 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

I’ve never gone to one of the cemeteries right in New Orleans, but my understanding is you need to book a tour.  However, when we went to the Metairie Cemetery, it was free and we didn’t need a tour at all.

There are SO many places to get good Cajun and Creole food around New Orleans, obviously, and the choice for fine dining also offers many, many choices.  However, after checking out reviews on Yelp, we narrowed it down to three restaurants for dinner our second night, and decided on Muriel’s on Jackson Square.  I had roasted duck for the first time ever, and the accompanying smoked carrot puree was divine!!


Once we finished dinner, we took a stroll around Jackson Square.  Fortune tellers and card readers replaced the day merchants who sold their own art or trinkets  It was interesting, for sure, and I loved the eerie, bizarre vibe of the whole environment.

Back to New Orleans the next morning for our last full day in NOLA gave us more great food, music, and a peek into voodoo culture with a visit to the Voodoo Museum.

We also wandered through the French Market, as it was the first place we came to since we parked in the public parking near there.

From the French Market we COULD have taken the trolley, but we opted to walk up to Jackson Square instead.  You should take the trolley somewhere if you visit New Orleans, if nothing else just to have done it because it’s pretty cool.

  • Just a tip here…they have the great big Mardi Gras jester masks for sale at the market AND a lot of places all over The Quarter.  If you think you want it, just go ahead and get it.  I spent time looking to see if there were better prices anywhere, and only found a difference of about $2.50.  Then, I completely forgot to go back to buy the mask and ended up paying twice as much to order one online when I got home.

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The French Market is also a great place to get your first cocktail to walk around the streets drinking because yes, you can do that there!  Shopping while day drinking is more fun, in my opinion.

Rum Runner in hand!

From there, Cafe Dumond is right up the street at 800 Decatur Street.  I didn’t find the beignets or the cafe au laits the best thing on the planet, but they were really good and no tourist should skip Cafe Dumond.

  • There are usually signs by the door saying “Seat Yourself” so just do it.  The servers are busy, busy so if you need to sit at a dirty table just do it and the server will be around ASAP to clean off the table and take your order.
  • Don’t wear black…the powdered sugar will get all over you.
  • Be ready to order when the server comes by…they are busy and if you are going to need to take time to make up your mind you might not see him or her again for a while.  It’s pretty simple…coffee and beignets…so just order!

At any given point, on any given street, you’ll probably be treated to a pop-up jazz performance, a cajun group,  or possibly a solo serenade.

  • Tip the performers!  Especially if you take a photo, because they appreciate it and they’re working for it.

Again, there are a lot of places to get New Orleans cuisine, so for lunch on our second day I wanted to go to Channing Tatum’s Saints and Sinners.  It had an interesting look, but not as much as the website indicated.  The food was GREAT but the service was not.  The servers were friendly, they just never came around…and we were there at a very slow time when only about four or five tables were filled.  So, don’t go there if you’re in a hurry, but the food is good.

  • While in New Orleans, we ALWAYS kept aware of our surroundings, but never felt unsafe.  It’s got a reputation, so don’t push it by being stupid and getting off the beaten paths or not paying attention.

You never know what you’re going to see or who you’re going to meet, but just stay safe, look around, enjoy all the food, music, and culture of this great city and have a wonderful time!!


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