Traveling is a lot of fun, but it can also be really annoying. For me personally, I hate the packing part of it and having to go through security and worrying whether my luggage is gonna go through just fine or whether it’s gonna get flagged. I tend to overpack and I just can’t help it, LOL. Most of the time, I have problems trying to close my luggage right after packing because of too much stuff, and because of that, I’ve contemplated several times as to how I could make my travels, especially the “packing” a lot easier. I know for sure that I tend to pack too many toiletries, apart from packing too much makeup, clothes, and shoes. The thing is, I haven’t been able to find the product that will help lighten up my luggage, and I’ve been wishing for one. Most of us, like yours truly, still carry travel-size shampoos, conditioners, and lotions, or even moisturizers and sunscreens that take up much space. Fortunately, I’ve recently discovered Squeeze Pods– these are single-use premium toiletries or pods that are about the size and weight of a quarter. They’re TSA- compliant, easy to pack, compact, and super lightweight. Also, they’re leak-proof and are very convenient to use, you just have to literally snap, squeeze and go. Each pod delivers just the right amount of product you need for every use, and the ingredients are all natural. There are no sulfates, parabens, phthalates, phosphates, and most of all, they’re cruelty-free. In other words, these mini single-use pods will make your traveling easy and will revolutionize the way people travel.
These pods are so ideal for camping, short trips, sleepovers, or even long-term trips since you can buy them in kits or in bulk, depending on the product you want, and they’re not that expensive. For example, you can buy 10 or 30 single-use premium shampoo pods for $12.99 or $16.99 (6% off) and these pods don’t leak and they’re easy to pack, so they don’t really take up much space, which eliminates the necessity for heavy or bulky toiletries. On top of that, they’re just so easy to use, just snap the narrow tip with the perforated crease and squeeze. They’re so cute that you have to be careful and make sure that the kids don’t play with them because they can be a choking hazard. I also toss a few of these in my purse, especially the Sunscreen, and also I kept some inside my gym bag so I could use them right after working out. To me, these are just so convenient.
No more lugging around those bulky toiletries, I like these because they’re just so practical to use and I love the natural ingredients, which works really well for my skin and my hair, and that means a lot to me because I’m one that’s really picky with the skin and hair products I use. Overall, I really like these pods and I love its whole concept. I think they’re ideal if you’re into packing light and saving space in your luggage or any travel bags.
Hello. Last April I took a short trip to New Orleans Louisiana to chill a little bit and to get away from my busy life. It’s my first time in the The Big Easy and I was so excited. Ever since I was young, I’ve always wanted to visit NOLA and my interest in visiting the city grew even further after watching The Skeleton Key, The Last Exorcism, and The Originals. There’s just something mysterious and magical about New Ohlenz. This old city is not only known for its lively mardi gras with enchanting masquerade masks and colorful beads, it’s also known for its voodoo and black magic, along with Creole and Cajun cooking. Also, this city is the birthplace of Jazz music and not too recently, it also experienced the devastation of hurricane Katrina. Since then, it looked to me that the city had pretty much recovered, and it seems to be back in its usual splendor. There is a lot going on in this beautiful place and you can definitely see the fusion of African and European culture which makes this place even more mesmerizing as you walk along its vintage streets and structures.
I came here in the early days of Spring, the weather was pretty warm and it was very sunny. I did have a light jacket on just in case the temps start to fluctuate. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn New Orleans Convention Center (across the NOLA Convention Center) since I didn’t want to stay close to the French Quarter. Looking back, that was a wrong choice because I didn’t really like the hotel where I stayed, it’s dated and it wasn’t well managed. The service was terrible and my room looked creepy, but it did give me that “haunted hotel vibe” which prepared me for the perfect New Orleans ghost hunting adventure later on, LOL. The hotel is about 50 minutes walk to the French Quarter so for the most of my trips, I either took a cab or an Uber and it’s pretty much inexpensive. Anyway, I’m sure you’re all curious as to what I saw and where I went in The Big Easy. In this mini travel diary, I’m taking you to a couple of food trips, a haunted excursion to the French Quarter, a trip to the beautiful Garden District, a swamp boat adventure, and a few plantation tours, along with some view of the streets of New Orleans. Excited much? Read on.
DAY 1: Food & Ghost Hunting Tour
The morning was gloomy when I woke up but I was excited because I had booked a group food tour at Destination Kitchen (link HERE). This food tour has really great reviews at Tripadvisor.com and it’s not just a food tour, it’s also a walking tour talking about the history of New Orleans. The meeting place is at Roux Royal at the French Quarter. I took a cab there from my hotel and it took about probably 15 minutes to get there. The rain was pouring when I arrived but I had an umbrella because I was once a Girl Scout, and Girl Scouts are always prepared, LOL. Anyhow, I got there and met our friendly tour guide together with the rest of the tourists in the group. From there, we were given some “Pralines in a Cookie” which is really one of the best sweets I’ve ever tasted. Then we walked from one restaurant to the other. In one restaurant which I don’t remember, we were being served a cup of Gumbo which is a popular stew in Louisiana filled with rice, okra, meat, and seafood. It was good, however, for what I paid, I expected to be in the kitchen of every restaurant we visited and see the Creole/Cajun cooking in action, along with some food tasting as well. Instead, most of the foods we got from this walking trip are just a bunch of little snacks and samples that are mostly sweets. So, in my opinion, I didn’t think the food trip was worth it, yet somehow I’m glad they were a bit of New Orleans history incorporated with the trip, which made me learn quite a bit given the short amount of time we spent with the tour.
In the afternoon, I spent some time strolling along the streets of the French Quarter, which is the oldest section of New Orleans and a historical landmark filled with Spanish architectures, since the French colonial structures were destroyed by the Great New Orleans Fire in the 1700s. Today, the French Quarter looks like a typical Spanish street complete with cobblestones, narrow walkways, and elaborate ironwork balconies. To me, it’s very nostalgic and I didn’t expect New Orleans especially the French Quarter to look like the way it is. I pretty much felt like I was in Spain and it made me think as to why do I need to visit Spain when I can just visit New Orleans? LOL. This is such an exciting vintage city and from the looks and smell of it, I felt like I was in Europe for real even though I’m in America. Ha! As I kept strolling, I noticed the lively jazz music from a lot of musicians in every corner, there were also artists along the street of the Saint Louis Cathedral, and then there’s Bourbon Street where you see some drunk tourists and intoxicated youngsters carrying their hurricane cocktails while screaming at people who pass by. For the most part, the drunkards were harmless and they looked like they’re just having the time of their lives. NOLA is definitely one of those favorite party places in the US and I was able to see that with my own eyes. You can feel the energy radiating from this city and from the tourists, everyone seems happy here.
I tried to go to Café Du Monde to get a taste of their famous Beignets (fried dough with sugar), but it was packed! There was a very long line that didn’t seem to improve. In fact, this place always looks crowded and busy all throughout my stroll in the French Quarter.
I spotted a Sephora at the French Quarter and it’s pretty huge. I love their selection of makeups and other beauty products, although they seem to lack some haircare stuff. I did see that they have a nice array of Nest Fragrances and Atelier Colognes which I had fun testing with.
After that, I headed back to my hotel and had a late lunch at Two Chicks Cafe near the Convention Center, and they had some really refreshing juices and smoothies. This was such a great place for brunch or a nice light lunch and I had their Crab Cake Benedict with Strawberry Banana Smoothie. I loved it! Their food is really healthy and satisfying. I then took a quick nap in order to get myself ready for the evening activity.
I went back to the French Quarter again to have an early evening dinner at Trinity Restaurant which is a fancy-schmancy place but I forgot to snap a photo of what I ate since I was so in a hurry to leave that I had my entrée wrapped to go. I needed to go to the American Sports Saloon across the street to meet the group for the Haunted Excursion Tour. Anyway, the food at Trinity Restaurant was really good, and the service was good as well, so I highly recommend it. Now, for the exciting part, I booked a French Quarter Haunted Excursion Ghost Tour by Nawlins Theatrical Tours (link HERE) and I freaking loved it! It was spooky, it was haunting, it was eerie, and it was fun! The tour guide was very knowledgeable, friendly, funny, and was full of crazy haunting unbelievable-yet-possibly-true ghost stories about some of the houses and buildings in the French Quarter. As far as I can remember, there was a story about the LaLaurie Mansion, one of the most popular Haunted Houses in New Orleans, and one that inspired a season of the American Horror Story. The infamous house was owned by Madame Delphine Lalaurie who tortured and mutilated her slaves to the point that one of them jumped out of the window and fell on the walkways. From then on, the house had several owners and occupants (including Nicolas Cage) and was known to exhibit paranormal activities. Scary much! there were other stories as well, like haunted hotels, morgues, and even haunted restaurants. Some were funny, some were really scary, and some did or didn’t seem to be true. Whichever is the truth, all I know is that New Orleans is one mysterious spooky city. The tour continued with a stop at Bourbon Street that gets really lit up at night. It can be loud and it can be full of drunkards and party people. There are bars, clubs, lights, alcohol, and music everywhere. After that, the tour concludes at the Saint Louis Cathedral. I definitely recommend the French Quarter Haunted Excursion Tour (book HERE) as you will learn a lot, not just about NOLA and the French Quarter’s history, but also it’s haunted history as well. This tour was a lot of fun.
DAY 2: Garden District & Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
On the second day of my trip, I kinda overslept in the morning and was kind of dilly-dallying after having breakfast at the hotel, I guess I felt tired after the ghost walking tour the night before. I did have a plan in the afternoon though, which was to walk from the hotel to the Garden District – a historic neighborhood full of Victorian and Greek Revival mansions. The McMansions here are really grand and their designs are so elaborate that it will leave you in awe. One of the houses here inspired the “Interview with the Vampire” movie and was also a location for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” film.
Within the Garden District is the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 where you can see how New Orleans bury their dead – seven feet over, yes, they bury their dead European style.
My feet had hurt a bit from walking a lot, so I chilled at the Rink Shopping Center’s Cafe nearby before visiting the Lafayette Cemetery. The problem is I chilled too long that the cemetery was already closed by the time I got there. Apparently, it closes at 4 pm during the weekends and 3 pm during the weekdays. So I was a little too late, but I did manage to take some snaps from the outside with my camera’s lens peeking in. There were people sneaking inside the cemetery though by jumping over the fence, but I don’t recommend that. Anyway, just across the cemetery, you’ll find the Commander’s Palace Restaurant, known for its award-winning Creole cooking. I didn’t dine there because I already made a reservation back to the French Quarter at Café Sbisa, a Cajun/Creole Restaurant which makes really good Southern seafood. I had their special of the day, the Soft-Shell Breaded Crab and it was delicioso! I also ordered their New Orleans BBQ Shrimp and Courtbouillon. I made a huge mess on my plate while peeling the shrimps, but I had a really good time.
DAY 3: Swamp & Plantation Tour
Third day and my last day at The Big Easy. During this day, I booked at Tours by Isabelle (link HERE). It’s a swamp and plantation tour where the tour guide with a van picks you up from your hotel together with the rest of the group and will drive you first to the swamps. The tour guide was a friendly woman who was very knowledgeable about New Orleans history, including the Cajuns and the Acadians in Louisiana. The first stop was at Torres Cajun Swamp Tour where we boarded a swamp boat to see the swamps and the bayous, and of course the alligators. We were given some windbreakers and jackets because it was so cold! even more so as the boat started moving. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any gators at all during this trip, someone said there was one out with the nose showing up but I didn’t see it. Obviously, it’s wrong to go gators-watching on a cold April Spring at the swamps. The Gators were definitely hiding. Might as well get your swamp tour around the Summer.
After the swamp tour, we were taken to the Oak Alley Plantation – a national historic landmark famous for its breathtaking imagery and landscape. Here you will see the rows of big old oak trees creating a path leading to and from the big plantation house. The entire view looks magical and dreamy. It was once a sugarcane plantation that housed several slaves. Now it’s turned into a museum with some overnight accommodations nearby. There is also a restaurant inside the big mansion and they serve very good food. Our group was taken to a small dining area where we had lunch before we began our tour inside the house. The lunch and the tour tickets were already paid as part of the tour when I booked it. There wasn’t much to see inside the big mansion of the Oak Alley Plantation, the best view is definitely on the outside where you can see its beautiful grounds. You will be amazed by its Southern grandeur and beauty, but it did come with a price – at the hands of the slaves who built it and went through hell to make the place what is now. At the Oak Alley, you will be amazed and be sad at the same time. You will feel yourself traveling back in time to see how life in the South was, comparing the lives of the haves and the have-nots. You will see how life in the plantation was as a slave and where they live (slave cabins) and how they managed to survive.
As we were about to depart to go to another plantation, I managed to catch a glimpse of the Felicity Plantation which was located not far away from Oak Alley. The Felicity Plantation was the location for the movie The Skeleton Key, but my tour guide said that it’s not open for public viewing. However, she also mentioned that the owners are considering opening the plantation for tours.
Our final tour is at the Laura Plantation. When we were at the Oak Alley, we were told that the real plantation story is definitely at Laura. The Laura Plantation was once called the Duparc Plantation, after Laura’s great-grandfather Monsieur Gillaume Duparc. Years later, Laura Locoul Gore inherited the plantation and it was also meant for sugar farming along with several slaves. Here you’d know about real slave and owner stories in detail, especially as to how their relationships produced several illegitimate children that were never freed from slavery even though they have their owner’s blood. If Oak Alley’s grandiose plantation will make you feel amazed and sad at the same time, the Laura Plantation will definitely touch your heart especially when you hear stories of what the slaves went through and how they continued to live their lives as slaves even until the late 1960’s and 70’s. This plantation may seem simple compared to the Oak Alley, but the stories here are real and deeply sad.
I definitely recommend this swamp and plantation tour (link HERE). The tour was pricey but it includes the tickets to the swamp and two plantations, plus a hearty lunch at the Oak Alley. You will be taken back to your hotel once the tour is done, so it’s super convenient.
Back at my hotel, I changed clothes and went back to the French Quarter to dine at Nola Restaurant. It is one of Emeril Lagasse’s eatery that does a fusion of Southern, Creole and Acadian cooking. Here I ordered the Wild Boar Sausage Pizza and the Ora King Salmon. The food here was just ok in my opinion, and the service wasn’t spectacular. I think this place seemed hyped, I bet there were better places nearby. After dining at Nola, I tried passing by at Cafe Du Monde again for what seemed like a hundred times. This was on a Monday night and I noticed that the line was short, everyone’s being seated fast, so I got in line and I was seated in less than 5 minutes. It’s cash only (thank goodness I had some) and I ordered a set of 3 Beignets and a Hot Chocolate. It was cheap and the Beignets arrived fast. It was warm and it smelled good, I was like “finally I could taste this popular deep-fried Louisiana pastry”. Each of them was quite large so I couldn’t eat them all. I just decided to take the rest back to my hotel. But now, the million dollar question is “Was it worth waiting in line for?” OMG! I really didn’t think so, to be honest. It’s definitely hyped in my opinion, and the lines were pretty much filled with tourists who have never been to Café Du Monde before and had heard about their very famous “tasty” Beignets. To me, it was just fried dough laced with a ton of powdered sugar.
I really love my stay in NOLA and I wish I should’ve stayed a few more days. There was a lot to see and the city just mesmerized me. Knowing what I know now, there were things I could have done differently and things that I recommend to you guys whenever you visit New Orleans. I definitely recommend that you use Uber instead of using the city’s taxis. I honestly find most taxi drivers around the French Quarter to be weird, rude, and obnoxious. I didn’t feel comfortable inside their cabs. Also, the next time I visit this place, I will most probably and do recommend that you stay close to the French Quarter. It’s where the action is, and it’s an easy access to a lot of restaurants and shops in the area. The noise does lessen at night, although I’m not sure during Mardi Gras, perhaps the streets will be even more crowded and a lot noisier then. Also, I really need to visit The Shops at Canal Place which I missed out on this trip, and finally, I need to go back to the swamps and see the Gators for real. I feel like in my past life I was once a Gator Girl, now I feel like a swamp girl lost in the trappings of a city. LOL.
Overall this was a very good trip. I went home with pralines, beautiful masks, mardi gras beads, and Voodoo Dolls. I love every bit of this trip and as I enjoyed my last Cafe Du Monde Beignet, trying not to inhale its fine dust of sugary goodness, I contemplated on how nice it would be to live here, Oh how I wish. I left my heart in The Big Easy.
To book a Ghost Excursion Tour to the French Quarter, click HERE
To book a Swamp Boat and Plantation Tour, please click HERE
A couple of months ago, I did an amazing trip to Volant, PA, a borough well-known for its Amish community. You can read about that trip HERE. The same day of that trip, I didn’t only decide to see Volant, I also went to Lake Erie for the first time. I’ve heard amazing things about this place and I wanted to see and experience it for myself.
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake in North America and is situated between Ontario Canada and some of the East Coast States, namely: Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan. It’s about an hour and thirteen minutes away from Volant by car, and if you’re coming from Philly, it’ll take about six hours and thirty minutes drive to get there. If you’re from Pittsburgh, then it’s closer, which will take about one hour and fifty minutes drive, give or take. Before I reached Lake Erie, I stopped at the Grove City Outlets, which is about 17 minutes from Volant, in order to get some snacks, stretch my legs, and also to check out some good deals. I probably stayed there for about an hour or so, and then I continued towards Erie. The drive there was pretty smooth on a temperate afternoon. As I was approaching Lake Erie, I was amazed by how familiar it looked even if I actually had never been there. It had that sort of Santa Monica California vibe. There were small shacks and rows of seafood restaurants lining down the street, and you could see some rental canoe stores and stuff you’ll need to do a complete water adventure. You could some parts of the lake peeking through as you approach the Presque Isle State Park, which was my main destination. In those tiny entrance corners of the lake, there were families with kids splashing around and playing around. There were also some people with swimming gears on. As I continued towards the entrance of Presque Isle Park, which is a peninsula that overhangs out of Lake Erie, I saw that it’s actually gated and it looked very much like a peaceful sandy park surrounded by this vast body of clear water. There weren’t a lot of people in the park, but there were a few that drove around or had their cars parked along the road to enjoy the view of the lake. I went through a narrow windy road where you could see some boats close to the shore as the view of the lake unfolds.
I was looking for a nice view where I could stop by and take some photos. I continued driving towards the long windy road where I saw a sign that warned me to be careful with wild animals crossing, and that’s when I almost ran over a group of wild turkeys slowly making their way across the road. Oh, my heart leaped out of my chest. Thank God, I managed to stop the car on time and all was fine. The turkeys took their time to cross while I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I almost had an early Thanksgiving. LOL.
As I continued, I saw a really nice view of the lake where it almost looked like I was on the beach; complete with all the sands, the waves, and the sun. There were people strolling there, some barefoot, and some were just trying to fly their kites. I decided to park around there and took a nice long stroll. I pretty much like the area, it was nice to hear the waves roaring again as it reaches the shore. I have not seen the beach nor the sea in a very long time, so a nice large lake like this would certainly do for me. I love the peacefulness and the serenity of it all and photographing the sandy lake never disappoints.
It got pretty chilly later on and I realized it was almost very late in the afternoon. So, as soon as I finished my stroll, I decided to keep driving around the lake until I reach the way to turn back. Before I reached the exit, I stopped again looking for a restroom and decided to take one last stroll within the park. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite like the restrooms in the place; they weren’t very sanitary, especially the portable ones. I suggest you use the designated restrooms close to the very exit whenever you visit this place, as it’s a lot cleaner even though you may have to bring your own toilet paper. Apart from that, the grounds of the park looks really clean, and the lake is well-preserved as well. It’s a quaint and magical place to be. The park seems peaceful and quite romantic. There were a lot of birds to see and I think you could probably do some fishing (with license) as well.
I didn’t feel like leaving the place so soon, I was really enchanted by its unique beauty, but as I looked at the time, I decided I’d better get back since I had a long drive ahead of me. I decided to have a quick dinner before driving back and had looked for a restaurant to dine at. I found this Japanese restaurant just right in front of Presque Isle Park entrance, called Samurai Kitchen + Sushi. Its got really good reviews on Yelp, so I decided to go there and I got seated immediately. Oh well, much to my dismay, the food took too long to arrive and the taste was just ok, given how much they cost. So I don’t really recommend it. I suggest you find someplace else to dine around there, and if you’re from the area, please shoot me an email as to which restaurants around are great. I do plan on coming back pretty soon.
Driving back was funny and scary because I noticed a gazillion of these weird bugs reflecting my headlights and smashing down on my windshield to the point that I had to turn my wipers on because they were staining the glass and obstructing my view. I thought they were freaking mosquitoes. I honestly had no idea what they were and thank God I did arrive home safe very late that night. Days later, I found out that they were called lovebugs. Such weird bugs, eh?
Overall, I really love my visit to Volant and this trip to Lake Erie just sweetened the deal. I highly suggest that you visit this place especially if you’ve never been here before. It’s such a beautiful, serene, and magical beauty of nature. I could imagine myself strolling or running along the lake, or taking photos and being able to enjoy the calmness of it all or listen to those birds. Oh, if only Lake Erie is nearby.
To read more about Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park, click HERE