Road Tripping through the South

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Road trips are awesome! They are so spontaneous and it is so nice to not have a plan for once. I must confess, I am a planner. I LOVE to plan! Before going on vacation, I have a long list of places to see, what to eat, where to eat and so on. This was the first time I left home without a plan and I was pleasantly surprised.  All I knew was that we were flying into New Orleans and flying out of Charleston, SC. With minimal planning, a car booking confirmation and a GPS, we left home.

So after a lovely few days in New Orleans, we decided to drive out East towards the Emerald coast in Florida. We quickly drove by Mississippi on the I-10 East and made a quick stop at Mobile, Alabama for lunch. However, being Christmas day, the entire city was shut and there wasn’t a soul in sight. It felt like driving through a movie set! I would definitely love to visit the charming old city again some day. We continued our drive towards Pensacola from where we decided to take the scenic Florida State Road 399 towards Panama City, FL. This state road is on this sliver of land with the most gorgeous white sand beaches on the Gulf Coast! I definitely recommend taking this slightly longer route towards Panama City. The views are breathtaking and the beaches are magnificent. We were so blown away by the emerald green water, that we decided to stop at Panama City for the night. Luck was definitely on our side as we managed to get a room right on the beach! It felt really special waking up to that view. emerald-coastRejuvenated after that stay, we left Panama City and decided to head further East across Florida to Jacksonville on the East Coast. This was probably the longest stretch of driving we did on this trip. Tired and hungry, we arrived at Jacksonville downtown late in the evening and decided to stay overnight. The next morning we made a quick stop at Anheuser-Busch Brewery, which is just on the outskirts of the city. They conduct tours of the brewery everyday so we decided to go see it. It is quite a large set up and our guide was pretty thorough, she answered a lot of questions and gave us very detailed information. The tour ended with some free beer! After that slight detour, we continued North on the I-95, vaguely heading towards Savannah, GA. We stopped for lunch at Brunswick, GA and ate at the most adorable place called The Indigo Coastal Shanty! The food was probably the best we had on the entire trip and the hospitality, very impressive! (What would I do without yelp!)

With stuffed tummies, we headed out North on the US Route 17 that passes through all the small towns along the coast of Georgia. Just off of highway 17, we came across The Smallest Church in America in South Newport! The church is very neat and looks really pretty with all the Spanish moss hanging from the trees around it. It was quite exciting to just stumble upon it :)! That’s what makes road trips so much more special. You end up seeing a lot more than you ‘plan’ to! After another quick stop and a 50-mile drive later, we arrived at Savannah, where we decided to stay for 2 nights. Getting a hotel room last minute was not easy since it was a long weekend and Savannah is a very popular tourist destination in the area. Do plan ahead and make hotel reservations if you are planning to spend some time in Savannah! We had the option of just skipping the town but the husband and I was so drawn by the quaintness of the city that we just had to stay.Savannah-1Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and is a city with so much character and history! I am always fascinated by old cities so Savannah quite a treat for me. The historic downtown area consists of 22 park-like squares. Most of these squares are named in honor or in memory of a person or historical event. We walked through about 12-15 of these squares and each had a different story to tell. One of these squares was the famous Chippewa Square made popular by the bench scene from Forrest Gump. A visit to The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is definitely recommended, as is a stroll down Jones Street. Southern Living Magazine declared the street the prettiest street in America! It was a fun day of sightseeing, great food and very interesting martinis at Jen’s and Friends.

The next morning, we headed out to the Bonaventure Cemetery and the Wormsloe Plantation. The cemetery has featured in several movies and is eerily beautiful! Large oak trees draped with Spanish moss, arches and stunning statues make it so picturesque.  We spent some time walking around and then decided to leave for Wormsloe. The Wormsloe Historic Site is a real visual treat. No photographs can do justice to the beauty of the oak lined avenue towards the museum and tabby ruins. Noble Jones, one of the founders of Georgia, established the plantation. It is quite well maintained and the museum is quite interesting. A visit to Savannah is incomplete without visiting Wormsloe Plantation. It is definitely a MUST DO!Savannah-2With that picture in our minds, we set out for Charleston, our final destination. Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and again like Savannah, it has some magnificent old buildings. We spent the first afternoon walking around the busy downtown area on Kings Street just to get acquainted with the city. It reminded me so much of streets in England, with narrow cobbled streets and gorgeous buildings dating back to the early 1800’s.

The next morning, we decided to walk around the old parts of the city and the Battery for a clear view of Fort Sumter. This is the location of the official start to the Civil War. Having worked closely on a book on the American Civil War, I was terribly excited to see Fort Sumter! The Battery Park is also home to some of the most gorgeous Southern Mansions, as well as American Revolution History. Just a short walk away from here is the famous Rainbow Row, a series of 13 colorful historic homes in Charleston. They looked so cheery and bright, I couldn’t take my eyes off them! 🙂 We spent the rest of the evening on the busy Bay Street visiting some local bars and restaurants.Historic-CharlestonThe following day, we returned home feeling relaxed and invigorated. In 9 short days, we experienced different cultures, pace of life, scenery and food. It was quite an unforgettable vacation and although we were a little sad to be back, we found comfort in the fact that we have so many more places to explore and so many more road trips to look forward to! 🙂

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To do and see in New Orleans

New Orleans is definitely one of the most unique places I have visited in the USA. You would expect a sort of chaos given that the city’s multi cultural and multi lingual heritage. Yet, all you see is the perfect marriage of different food, architectural styles and traditions. As you walk around, you can just be blown away by the cultural history that is so pronounced in the streets of New Orleans!

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1. Walking tour of the French Quarter – To start your trip right, you must get acquainted with the history of the lovely city. Most tours are about 2 hours long and so very informative! Free tours by foot offers free tours of the city almost everyday. However, these get booked pretty fast so make you you reserve a place online. The tour generally starts around Jackson Square, takes you around Royal Street and parts of Bourbon and finally ends back at Jackson, where the festivities for the day would have begun if you do the early morning tour.

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2. Visit Beignet heaven – No trip to NOLA is complete without making at least one trip to the famous Cafe Du Monde. I agree it is very touristy but the beignets are utterly divine! The freshly fried dough covered in powdered sugar just melts in your mouth! I polished off an entire bag full in under ten minutes. Grab a quick coffee au lait and warm fresh beignets before you start your walking tour.

3. Get yourself a PO’ BOY! – The famous submarine sandwich from New Orleans! The traditional version is usually stuffed with yummy fried shrimp, oysters, catfish or crab along with lettuce, mayonnaise, tomato and pickles. Order in some from Killer Poboys while you sit and sip a drink at Erin Rose. Also worth mentioning are the Po’ Boys from Nola Po-Boys. We got some to go and they were just perfect!

4. Take in the sounds and sights on Bourbon Street – The liveliest street in New Orleans! It is quite narrow and a no traffic zone at night so you can wander the streets, go bar hopping or just admire all the lights and signs. The street is lined with bars on either side and you get the opportunity to listen to SO many Jazz bands live! Do try and catch a performance at the famous Preservation Hall and The Musical Legends Park to soak in some of that lovely spirit of the city.

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5. Try an Alligator on a stick – Alligator meat is a very common item on the menu in NOLA. I suggest you be adventurous and give it a try. If time permits, go on one of the swamp tours too. These tours generally include a meal too.

6. Walk around the French Market – Bright and colorful, this market consists of vendors selling keychains, T-shirts, souvenirs, masks and magnets. There are a lot of food carts too. I personally recommend trying the crawfish mac and cheese. It was most comforting on the cold rainy day. I got stopped by so many people to ask me what I was eating! 🙂

Hop onto one of the stools and enjoy a hot pot of Gumbo or some warm jacket potatoes with cajun seasoning!

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7. Ride a street car – There are four major street car lines in NOLA and a ticket one way costs only $1.25. Immortalized by Tennessee Williams in  “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the street cars are a fun, inexpensive way to explore the city. The canal street and Riverfront lines provide convenient access from the foot of Canal Street to City Park Avenue and along the Mississippi.

8. Sip your ‘sazzie’ (Sazerac) while going around a carousel! – The famous carousel bar at Hotel Monteleone is quite an attraction! The bar is overlooking Royal Street and many renowned authors have sat here and sipped cocktails. The carousel actually moves around every 15 minutes or so, but so slowly that you can hardly tell. We sampled the Sazerac and the Hurricane here and both were really delicious cocktails! Another drink worth mentioning is the hot buttered rum. Dark rum with hints of caramel and butter – it the best thing on a cold rainy night!

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9. Visit the oldest continually running bar in the USA! – Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop was such an interesting find. It looks like an old shop from the outside and is quite warm and inviting. Built between 1722 and 1732, it is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. Sipped a lovely Ramoz Gin Fizz as we warmed up  in the candlelit bar!

10. St. Louis Cemetery #1 – This is one of the most popular cemeteries in New Orleans and home to a number of famous tombs. The tombs are all different shapes and sizes, and each quite interesting to look at. The tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau definitely stands out as it is marked and has a lot of offerings scattered around. Very cool! Very historic!

NOLA, I hope to visit you again very soon! Maybe for mardi gras 🙂

Furniture makeover DIY!

Finally getting down to writing my first post! I worked on a series of DIY projects in 2013. Perhaps it is time to document a few.

Why DIY? It gives new meaning to something old, it gives you the thrill of having created something on your own, gives your home a quick makeover and it teaches you so many new skills along the way!

We had this really drab looking set of chairs and a table on our patio. I couldn’t wait to replace it or rid myself of that view somehow. Honestly, it was quite an eyesore!

Take a look for yourself…

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Bland and boring right? It was like a blank slate with a LOT of potential. Hence began the project. 🙂 But since this was one of my first makeover projects, I decided to keep it simple and not get over ambitious.

Not having much experience in painting furniture, I turned to a million and one blogs for help and advise. Most bloggers recommended using spray paint and so that’s what I ended up doing.

I decided to go with RUST-OLEUM Ultra Cover Spray Paint in Satin Lagoon. The color was bright and happy and I knew it would complement the trees in the background.

This is what the finished patio set looks like.

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I am thrilled with the results and since then, the husband and I have spent many a happy mornings out on the patio! I might change the cushions eventually and opt for a bright print instead of the black. For now, this works perfectly for the two of us.

Here are a few tips if you are new to spray painting wooden surfaces:

1. Make sure you read the instructions on the can. They may vary from brand to brand.

2. Lay newspapers or old bed sheets on the floor or work surface to avoid over-spraying onto these surfaces. Use masking tape to tightly seal any areas not to be painted.

3. Definitely wear goggles and a breathing mask to avoid the paint from getting in your eyes or nose! (We learnt this after firing a couple of rounds!)

4. Lightly sand the surface to even out any rough edges. This also ensures a smooth, even finish. I used a 100-grit sandpaper on this particular project.

5. Make sure the surface is clean and doesn’t have any dust on it before you start spraying. Dust can keep the paint from sticking to the surface.

5. Shake the can vigorously each time you spray and hold it about 6 inches away from the surface. Spay paint dries pretty quickly so you can very easily do two coats in one day depending on the size of the furniture. I used about 4 cans of paint for the table and 2 chairs.

The entire project took all of one weekend to complete.

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Happy transforming! 🙂