New York

Apparently lacking an empire state of mind, I've grappled with a love-hate affair with the Big Apple. A self-proclaimed cynic, any place romanticised by movies, songs, books and pretty much every one who's ever seen Gossip Girl, I've been slow to warm to the city. 

Big, unfamiliar places stress me out, so taking New York at my own pace is very important in my attempt to actually enjoy my time there. With so much to see and do, there is a certain pressure to wake up at six in the morning and run about all day and party all night - because that's how they do it in New York, right? 

Already familiar with the main tourist attractions, in the last few years I've got to really enjoy New York at a more laid back pace. Living in Boston enabled me to take short weekend trips to the city, visiting friends and family. Every time I've gone I've made sure to relax, take it easy, and sleep in, (walk slower!) and I've had some really enjoyable trips! I'm beginning to see the appeal of the place. 

I recently made it back for the first time since moving to the UK and I've realised that in my short trips I've become a fan of the place. Finding my own space in New York, places that inspire and intrigue me, time and time again has made the city enjoyable for me. I still always seem to find myself in Times Square - I think the lights are to me what silver is to a magpie, it's a nightmareish hell-hole. I've grown to appreciate the more creative side of Manhattan, and it's slowly wandering Soho and Chelsea and people watching that I finally get it. New York, you're alright. 

There are too many New York travel guides out there that throwing my two cents in is probably not too helpful if you're visiting for the first time. However, if you're a seasoned traveller and looking for something new I've got some suggestions. 

THE EARTH ROOM

Soho's streets of pricey boutiques and their stylish patrons may be the best for all your retail therapy needs, but take a break from the commercialism and literally breathe in the air at Walter De Maria's Earth Room. A New York loft, turned installation, the Dia Art Foundation host this white-walled sanctuary, filled with soil. The cynics among you may laugh, but you will be shocked by the fresh scent and the room's meditative nature. 


GALLOW GREEN at THE MCKITTRICK

Gems like Gallow Green can only be discovered in New York if brought by locals. A family friend took me along to the small rooftop bar at The McKittrick hotel. If the bunk-beds and intimate train-carriage like setting doesn't do it for you, the original drink menu and lack of your usual New York crowd should make this bar your new favourite in the city. A surprising highlight of the trip for me, and the perfect stop off before checking out interactive theatre show Sleep No More. 

THE WHITNEY

If you've already had your fill of The MET or MoMA, head to The Whitney Museum of American Art. Not only is their collection a fantastic example of the country's finest artists, but the new building is stunning, and the views of Manhattan are almost more spectacular than the works that fill the space! 

OAK AND FORT

There are too many good shopping experiences to be had in New York to narrow them down, but I had to give an honorable mention to Oak and Fort. The Canadian brand has only a few stores in the USA, and it's Soho pop up was the most perfect retail therapy. Friendly (but not too friendly) employees left me to browse the sales rack and their simple, well-made pieces were all so beautiful that I had to restrain myself from buying everything! 

RUBY'S

Nothing says 'treat yourself' quite like a weekday brunch. Jack's Wife Frieda was a close second best holiday meal, right after a dinner at Ruby's in Soho. I had a dreamy burger that I swear cured my jetlag but I want to go back for one of their salads. 

CHELSEA GALLERIES

Spend at least half a day wandering around the Chelsea galleries, the independent spaces hold much more interesting contemporary art, with less crowds, and usually for free. My favourite of the bunch is David Zwirner, with a special shoutout to the Bortolami Gallery, where I got the chance to check out the most beautiful Ann Veronica Janssens installation last year. 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

If you do one thing, walk The High Line - city planning at it's finest.
Brunch at Egg Shop before treatin' oneself shopping in SoHo. 
Explore the vintage treasure trove under the iconic bridge at Brooklyn Flea
The Standard Hotel's Grill - a dreamy lunch space. 
Head to Sweet Chick in Brooklyn for the best Fried Chicken and Waffles up North. 
Refuel with coffee at Happy Bones.
Taking time to meander around Chelsea Market, pretending to be more hip than you really are. 

 

MISSED, BUT MAYBE NEXT TIME...

The MET Breuer
Speakeasies... any of them!
Glossier
McNally Jackson Bookshop
Homecoming
Freeman's brunch

New Orleans for Jazz Fest

My mother’s infectious love for live music is one of my favorite things about her. As her child, I am easily embarrassed by her bold inhibition and tendency to be the first one on the dance floor. Nashville is her musical mecca, and New Orleans, the shiny, new retreat. This year my sister and I joined her at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, just to see what the fuss was about.

Before reuniting with my family, the first person I spoke to was on the airport shuttle, flying in from Minnesota, this purple-haired older lady didn’t give me her name, but did tell me stories of the past 23 years in attendance at Jazz Fest. Back then, every group had their own flag, so missing persons could find them if they wandered too far. Her description of a sea of brightly covered, homemade flags was cut short as she hopped off the bus telling me to look out for her friends, “we have the pink triangle flag this year!”  

Our hotel was right on Bourbon street, and punters stood nightly between the neon signs, beckoning us in for shots, or grenades, tall neon cocktail glasses. During the day, the street nursed hangovers and the only remnants of the night before were Mardi Gras plastic beads, lining the footpaths. 

Jazz Fest was an unexpected treat and a beautiful representative of the best kind of crowd. A weird mix of genres hit the stage, I discovered Brandi Carlile, a wonderful guitar playing hippie, with a voice that could thaw the coldest of hearts. Greats I had never even heard of like Irma Thomas and Dr. John and the Night Trippers, surprised me and drew out the most enthusiastic reactions from everyone around me. Paul Simon was incredible, and the most professional musician I have ever seen, directing his band, controlling the audience and clearly enjoying himself. Don’t tell anyone, but I was also extremely impressed by Flo Rida, who had more hits than I thought, and seemed to have limitless fun doing what he did! Music snobs, I'm sorry, but he was genuinely one of the best. Jazz Fest also offered me some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten, and so much rain I forgot what it was like to feel dry!

With more live music outside the festival, at night we hit up a couple of bars with local musicians, soulful saxaphone’s and classic rock covers quickly became the soundtrack to our strolls about the French Quarter. With Jazz Fest in town, the streets were busier than ever, and I'm sure avoiding Mardi Gras and festival season guarantees a more relaxed ambiance. I'm not promising anything quiet though, I can't imagine this lively, colourful city be anything less than vibrant! 

 

THE RUBY SLIPPER

Is there anything that feels longer than queuing for brunch? I have a strong suspicion that hanger (yes, hanger) is at it’s greatest in the morning. Waiting in line for The Ruby Slipper for a table for three felt like the longest hour, but we finally got a spot outside! I was extremely satisfied by their eggs - the Benedict there listed as one of America’s best! But it was their french toast batons really blew me away. UNREAL.

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OAK ALLEY PLANTATION

The stunning Oak Alley Plantation is worth the trip out of the city. With a fascinating and tragic history, a tour here is a reminder of the South's troubled past. As well as getting educated on a very important part of our past, Oak Alley was featured in several films and TV shows and a Beyonce music video so you KNOW the plantation grounds house are picture-perfect. Those famous Oak trees are over 300 years old! 

 

DOMENICA

When in New Orleans, don’t eat pizza. If you need to eat pizza - as we all do - go to Domenica. This stone baked, thin crust, delight surpassed all my expectations. Forget seafood for one night and treat yourself to the best Italian food this side of the Mississippi. Just pop in for a drink if you don’t want to miss out on even one night of crawfish, their cocktails are a delight!

FRENCH MARKET

Who doesn't love a good market? An great apres -Beignet stroll through the French Market will make your day! From some hilarious tacky souvenirs to beautiful locally made jewelry, there truly is so much to see. Get lost among the stalls, and make sure to talk to the vendors!

LAFITTE

Allegedly one of the oldest bars in America, Lafitte is easily missed, sitting at the darker end of Bourbon Street. A large piano seems right at home, naturally taking up most of the space at the back of the pub. Happening upon a singalong there one night, my sister and I really felt like we had gone back in time for a second, until our walk home through the throngs of Stag and Hen do's brought us to 2016 again with a bang. 

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CAFE DU MONDE

Topping every New Orleans ‘to-do’ list are Cafe du Monde’s infamous Beignets and they DO NOT disappoint. As outrageous as the queue seems, it's not that long a wait, these guys are efficient!  It's truly a beautiful spot sit back and enjoy the buzz that only NOLA provides. Some tourist traps are just so for a reason, you know. 

 

 

 

WILLA JEAN

Still avoiding heavy, southern food we ate our last meal together at this beautiful coffee shop. With great natural light - something I don't think food bloggers write about enough to be honest - and fantastic Avocado toast, Willa Jean was a great end to our trip!

ROYAL STREET

Running parallel to the alcohol-fueled Bourbon Street, Royal Street offered a change of pace with cute boutiques and Aladdin's cave-esque antique stores. Save your bank account the stress and treat them like Museums, or make mental notes for your future post-lottery-win home. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Bourbon Street for a few drinks and the most hilarious drunk-people watching. 
You can enjoy live music everywhere in New Orleans, but The Spotted Cat is a particularly good joint to hit up. 
Take a break from all that southern food and try the excellent Italian dishes at Adolfo's.
We stayed at the Royal Sonesta, an extremely fancy hotel, with an adjoining jazz club that Stevie Wonder played at! 
The delightful addition to the Contemporary Arts Center, The Stacks Magazine store stocks beautiful art books and all the dreamy, hipster publications you need. 
Quaint and quirky Jimmy J's do a very good, classic breakfast menu. 
 

MISSED, BUT MAYBE NEXT TIME... 

Mardi Gras Season
The World War II Museum
More Beignets. All the Beignets. 

Houston City Break

Blown away by the friendly nature of its people, and the sheer size of the city, the four days I spent in Houston both confirmed stereotypes as well as contradicting my preconceptions. With blocks of skyscrapers and smaller, eccentric suburbs framed by huge motorways, I found it hard to get my bearings of this southern metropolis. What I did find was incredible food, extremely good natured residents and a subtle cowboy influence creating it's own authentic American modernity. 

Compared to what I've grown accustomed to visiting East Coast cities and towns, Texas was an entirely different experience. Freeways lined with fast food restaurants I had never heard of, bill boards advertising medicines and radio stations dedicated to playing christian country music shaped my first impressions of the state. I quickly learned that Houston boasted many more exciting happenings than unlimited sides of grits and Pitbull headlining the Rodeo. 

With some advice from a friendly Instagram follower, the trusty Foursquare app, and my friend Gareth bravely driving on the (wrong) side of the road, we squeezed in just enough attractions to keep us satisfied, while also scheduling some much needed pool time at the hotel. In Houston, I rediscovered the delight in manners and being greeted by strangers on the street and I finally found appreciation for the chicken and waffles breakfast combo.

Despite our country-music lovin' setting, Gareth and I found we shared a particular affection for DNCE's 'Cake by the Ocean', which was our soundtrack for the weekend, blasting on repeat from Charlie's speakers. Charlie was our beloved ZipCar - a necessary addition to trip - as Houston requires a car to get ANYWHERE. And although I'm known for them, that's not an exaggeration. 

The following is a list of my highlights and tips, but is not the definitive 'Eleanor's Houston Itinerary'... for that you'll have to pay me the big bucks.

THE MENIL COLLECTION

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The Menil Collection is situated in a leafy suburban-esque area of Houston, a surprising setting for this incredible space. The main corridor of the building is lit by streaming, natural light, and the collection hosts artists like Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, and Pablo Picasso. We enjoyed an insightful Surrealism exhibit and admired this superbly curated modern collection, juxtaposed with ancient artifacts and medieval work. Best of all, entry is free! 

 

 

 

TOP TIP: DRIVE

... Or, if you, like me, have failed in acquiring the skills to operate a motor vehicle go traveling with someone who will drive for you. I know I'm repeating myself here but honestly, public transportation in Houston seem's pretty poor, only serving central downtown areas! Be warned: there are not many areas in the city where you can walk easily, so do make the most of places like  Montrose and wander the pedestrian friendly streets. 

NASA SPACE CENTRE

My inner nerd was inappropriately excited for our visit to Nasa'a Space Centre. With just enough interaction to keep even the most angsty children happy, this is so much more than a Space Museum. I almost teared up at a video montage of all Nasa's explorations in a celebration of astronauts' work. (I said, almost, OK?) As terrifying as Space is to me, learning about man's interaction with everything out-of-this-world was truly awe inspiring. 
 

 

 

GOODE COMPANY BARBECUE

In our search for the perfect Texas Barbecue we got distracted by Mexican joints, all-day breakfasts and the most amazing melt-in-your-mouth New York style Pizza (at Brother's Pizzeria, FYI). On our last day we realised our mistake and before heading to the airport we stopped off at Goode Company Barbecue, for ribs, jambalaya and an amazing smoked chicken sandwich. Sitting outside on wooden tables with truck drivers and men wearing Stetson's unironically, I felt like I was in a twenty-first century western. With really, really, good food. 

RETROPOLIS

An avid fan of vintage stores - the more topsy-turvy the better - I'm often hard to please. Research led us to The Heights' 19th street, where the art deco theatre, antique and vintage stores and modern diner style restaurants made me feel like our Zip Car was actually Marty McFly's DeLorean. Retropolis' expansive two floors were full of well-priced vintage clothes, and also served as home to a shop cat, including a sign on the door telling patrons not to let him out. I could have happily tried on clothes here for hours, if the pull of the surrounding stores hadn't been just as strong. 

THE BREAKFAST KLUB

Since arriving in the U.S., I have been dubious of the sweet and savoury combo that is Chicken and Waffles. After queuing for table at The Breakfast Klub, I decided to give it a go and I must admit, I came away wholly and completely won over. Not only was the chicken probably the best fried food I've had since arriving in America, the perfect pairing was complimented by the fun and casual atmosphere of what is apparently one of the best breakfast spots in the nation. If you're in Houston, do not miss out on this. Seriously. 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS 

The Rothko Chapel for it's tranquility and design. 
Fat Cat Creamery and their guilt-free(ish) treats. 
Manready Mercantile with superb southern merchandising creating a retail dream. 
Lucille's for the croissant french toast and wings, a fancier take on a brunch classic. 
Taking in the WaterWall beside the Galleria after a hard day's shopping. 

MISSED, BUT MAYBE NEXT TIME... 

Gatlin's Barbeque
Cy Twombly Gallery
The Rodeo (yes, really.)
Byzantine Fresco Chapel