About Megan McDonough

Megan McDonough

Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.


Latest Posts by Megan McDonough

The STAY, EAT & DO Guide for New Orleans

February 7, 2015 by  

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New Orleans was every bit as magnificent as I hoped. While I’m sure it would be pretty memorable to explore NOLA during Mardi Gras, I’m actually really happy that my first visit was during a relatively quiet week in early December. I still got to experience the chaos that is Bourbon Street but I also got to ride (literally) in style.

What brought me to New Orleans was a very special Hilton Hotels & Resorts event. Not only is the hotel located in the heart of the city and just a few blocks from the iconic French Quarter, but the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue hotel was recently inducted into the exclusive group of Historic Hotels of America, which is no easy feat.

As soon as I walked through the doors and into the lobby, I completely forgot that I was even at a hotel. The space pays homage to its historical roots (it’s from the 1920s) while incorporating modern decor and amenities that appeal to today’s savvy and stylish traveler. Even though I was there as a guest of Hilton, I spent plenty of time taking in the sights and sounds of this fabulous city. Here are my top recommendations for a first time traveler to NOLA.

Luxury Travel Guide to New Orleans(c) 2015 Hilton Hotels & Resorts

Start the day with a classic jazz brunch

The Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters on “Governor’s Row,” is one of the best, if not the best, in town. It’s located on a street with a storied political history that was once home to a future U.S. President. We arrived on the early side, or at least early for New York brunch standards, and for awhile we had the entire back room to ourselves. The brunch works as a buffet and if you want specific items like pancakes or Eggs Benedict, just mention it to your server and he or she will bring those dishes directly to your table.

About thirty minutes after arriving, the jazz band arrived. I was impressed by the collection of tunes they performed and their noise control. They played soft enough that our group could converse without screaming but loud enough that the notes echoed through the space. After playing a set inside, they headed to the outdoor courtyard where other patrons were eating their brunch.

How to Tour New Orleans in Style

Hit the streets

Speaking of jazz, it’s everywhere. Many of them congregate in the French Quarter but you’ll hear and see musicians just about everywhere. The other great thing about the music scene in NOLA is that you don’t have to play your day around listening to a set. I heard music every time I strolled through the French Quarter and pretty much everywhere else I went. If you’re intent on sticking solely to Bourbon Street, there are a few great options including Preservation Hall, Fritzel’s and Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse.

Snug Harbor is a popular spot along Frenchmen Street, a local alternative to Bourbon Street. It’s much more manageable than Bourbon Street and just as eclectic. There is a local artisan markets most evenings and that is a perfect one-stop-shop for buying souvenirs for friends back home. Almost all of the bars have a stage so there’s a very high likelihood you’ll get to hear a few up-and-comers.

live jazz venues

Tour the famous cemeteries

Cemeteries aren’t for everyone but I’m definitely a fan. During a tour of the French Quarter, our guide took us through the St. Louis Cemetery #1. If you’re already in the downtown area, this is well worth a visit because it’s just a few blocks from the heart of all the action. There’s a lot of history just within the cemetery walls and quite a few famous people are buried here too. Marie Laveau, also known as the “voodoo queen” is among them. Due to flooding and normal wear and tear, some of the gravestones look a bit worn but the appeal is still there.

French Quarter cemetery

Ride a traditional steamboat

I remember almost signing up for a steamboat ride last year in Nashville and I’m so happy I held off until New Orleans. Steamboat Natchez is as authentic as they come and I spent the majority of the two hour boat ride outside taking photographs. Also worth noting is that lunch is included in the ticket fare so come hungry! Alcohol is extra but worth the splurge. In true NOLA fashion, there was a live jazz band performing on the main level and for those outside on the deck, an audio tour guide plays as the boat passes monuments and notable sights. Our tour was during the day but there’s also an evening jazz cruise that I’d imagine to be quite romantic.

New Orleans steamboat tours

Tour the town in a Rolls Royce

As part of the Historical Hilton #TBT Event at Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue, my fellow first time NOLA visitor Connie and I got the chance of a lifetime. After taking a ridiculous amount of photos in front of our ride, we spent the next two hours riding around in style. Our driver was born and raised in the city and shared tidbits about the neighborhoods as we passed mega mansions on Charles Avenue. The sun was setting at this point and because it was just a few weeks before Christmas, many of the homes were lit up with colored lights and holiday decorations.

Once we arrived back at the hotel and entered the event, the entertainment kept going. The hotel pulled out all the stops: live 1940s jazz music, classic cocktails with a modern twist and an interactive look at the past 95+ years of Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ history of innovation. Best of all, the people I met were super friendly and that made all the difference.

If you want to take the same route and don’t have access to a 1965 Rolls Royce (after all, who does?) then I suggest hopping on the St. Charles streetcar.

What city have your toured in style lately? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Hilton Hotels & Resorts in conjunction with Ketchum. All opinions are my own.

 

The Guide to All Things New Orleans

February 4, 2015 by  

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New Orleans continues to be a hub for artists, designers, and musicians. Perhaps best known for its annual Mardi Gras celebration, the city has plenty to offer in terms of culture and entertainment any time of year. From flavorful Creole cuisine and inventive cocktails to live jazz performances and local artisan markets, here’s a boho guide to NOLA for any savvy and stylish traveler.

New Orleans Warehouse District

Go Beyond Bourbon Street

Sure, Bourbon Street is certainly lively but don’t make sure to explore other side streets in the French Quarter. Due to how popular the area is, there’s a lot of foot traffic throughout the day and especially at night. That being said, some of the quirkiest shops, restaurants and bars aren’t actually on Bourbon Street. Channel your inner child with a carousel-themed bar that actually rotates just like the real thing. For a great view, head to Tableau for evening cocktails or dinner. The restaurant overlooks Jackson Square and is a great spot to listen to local jazz bands perform below. The Court of Two Sisters is a great spot for a boozy brunch and live jazz band.

Art Guide to New Orleans

Get Inspired

New Orleans has a slew of great art museums like the Odgen Museum of Southern Art, The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). There’s also some really inspirational public art projects. Head to Burgundy Street at Elysian Fields Avenue to see the “Before I die” installation. Started in 2011 Candy Chang, the wall is now completely covered with fill-in-the-blank answers from people around the world. It’s hard not to pass by the wall and not ponder for a moment about one’s own goals in life. The answers range from funny to sad and are written in different colored chalk.

Boho Guide to New Orleans

Visit the Warehouse District

The Warehouse District is easily one of New Orleans’ most innovative neighborhoods. Like many revamped neighborhoods, this rags-to-riches part of the city is where many independent designers and artists have opened up shop. Julia Street is where you’ll find contemporary art galleries and specialty stores, most of which are located between South Peters Street to St. Charles Avenue. If your visit falls on the first Saturday of the month, make sure to stop by the galleries in the evening to see the latest exhibits in low-key party environment. The Louisiana Children’s Museum is a must for families and the Lafayette Square is a perfect example of a traditional plaza. For fresh fruit and veggies, the Crescent City Farmers Market is tough to top.

Shop for Local Wares

Also in the Central Business District (CBD) and Warehouse District are a number of independent designers whose wares are made from eco-friendly materials. For example, one designer makes purses and backpacks from recycled South American coffee bags. The same creativity is also present in the Garden District on the other side of St. Charles Avenue. It’s refreshing to see how designers are turning one person’s trash into another person’s treasure. Serious shoppers might want to stroll along Magazine Street where there are many vintage shops and one-of-a-kind stores. The street stretches for about six miles so unless you have several hours to spare, narrow down your list to a few blocks.

best shops in New Orleans

Shop for souvenirs at Frenchmen Art Market

If you ask the locals where to grab a beer and listen to a jazz set, they’ll almost certainly point you in the direction of Frenchmen Street. A less chaotic alternative to Bourbon Street, Frenchman Street is a cluster of bars, restaurants, music venues and their nightly artisan market. Most venues don’t charge a cover fee but patrons are encouraged to tip the bands generously. The art market is particularly interesting because it’s the only nighttime market of its kind. Come here to shop for original artwork, handcrafts, jewelry made from repurposed materials like guitar strings and other handmade decor items.

What is the coolest art market you’ve ever been to? Tell me in the comments below!

 

Curaçao Exudes All Color and Culture

January 27, 2015 by  

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If you’re wondering how I came up with the title of this post, the answer is quite simply: Taylor Swift. Sure, on a surace level she has nothing to do with Curacao but I really identify with her “Out of the Woods” lyric: The rest of the world was black and white but we were in screaming color. Looking back on my trip to Curacao now, I can’t think of a better way to describe this small Dutch Caribbean island packed with personality.

Curacao is in screaming color, especially in the capital city of Willemstad. Not only is the historical city a UNESCO World Heritage site, but there are also modern influences that tie it all together. The first thing that struck me was just how colorful the buildings and homes are in Curacao. Unlike some other destinations I’ve visited, the paint looked fresh and the structures, well maintained. Yet, the buildings are much older than they appear. Take the Penha Building (pictured below) that dates back to 1708.

Travel Guide to Willemstad Curacao

One of my favorite things to do in Willemstad is shop at the floating market. Every morning, one can buy fresh tropical fruits and vegetables from a series of boats and stalls that float partially on the water. When it comes to snagging the freshest fruit, the early bird definitely gets the worm. Locals recumbent buying at 6:30am if possible. Otherwise, just stop by in the afternoon. Also nearby is the Old Market (Marche Bieuw) where local cooks prepare traditional dishes packed with exotic flavors of the island. Some of the local Curacao specialities include fun chi (polenta), fried fish, okra and goat stew.

Curacao in Screaming Color

In my humble opinion, there’s no better example of Curacao’s colorful culture than the art of Nena Sanchez. There’s a shop in Willemstad and the outdoor decor is just as colorful as the art pieces inside. Inspired by tropical flowers, palm trees, bananas, cactuses and cottages, Nena Sanchez incorporates all these themes into her work.Oddly enough, the dress I wore the day I visited the shop matched the outdoor decor. Keep an eye out for the famous ChiChi dolls. Serena Israel is the creative brain behind the operation and she works with unskilled women who paint the delicate figurines, as part of a charity initiative.

Nena Sanchez is seen throughout Willemstad, even in between streets. This 3D mural depicts sunflowers, birds and butterflies brightens up an otherwise dreary and dark alleyway near Gomezplein (Gomez Plaza) in the heart of the city. Based on this mural and many of Sanchez’s other famous artwork, she is inspired by nature, having grown up with bright blue skies and deep blue waters. She also draws inspiration from folklore and works on several different mediums. Even though the mural is in an alleyway, it’s pretty hard to miss the vibrant colors and 3D figures.

Nena Sanchez mural

Last but certainly not least are Curacao’s stately bridges. The Queen Emma Bridge connects the  Punda and Otrobanda quarters of the city and the Queen Juliana Bridge which was built in 1967 and rebuilt again in 1974. There’s also the Queen Wilhelmina Bridge. The Queen Emma Bridge serves as a footbridge but there are also hinges that allow it to raise for boats and larger vessels to pass. Dating back to 1888, the bridge was renovated again in 1939. Willemstad is a very manageable city and it’s easy to explore on either side of the bridges.

city guide to Willemstad

This trip was hosted by Curacao Tourism and Diamond PR. I stayed at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort and Floris Suite Hotel during my stay. All opinions are my own.

Taking in the Adventurous Side of Curacao

January 19, 2015 by  

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In December, I jetted off to sunny Curacao and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Not only did I get to experience JetBlue’s inaugural flight there, which included blue-themed cocktails, tons of prizes and even a jazz band at eight in the morning, but I got to escape the chilly New York City weather.

Shete Boka National Park

I first learned about this charming Caribbean Island last year while attending the Women’s Travel Fest and am thrilled I had the opportunity to visit in person. Since then, I’ve had Curacao on my mind. For those unfamiliar with the island, Curacao is part of the Dutch Caribbean and is located close to the Venezuelan coast. As a result, the culture is a colorful mix of nationalities and traditions.

One of the coolest things I discovered about Curacao is that there is so much to do beyond the beach and that’s definitely saying something because the beaches are gorgeous. Here are a few of my favorite off-beat adventures to take in Curacao if and when you’re ready to take a break from the waves.

Nature Travel Guide to Curacao

Visit the largest Ostrich farm outside of Africa

The Curacao Ostrich Farm is not only one of the biggest farms in the Caribbean, but it’s also the largest of its kind outside Africa. If that seems a bit random, join the club. Regardless, I’ve never been to Africa (not counting Egypt) so for me, this was a pretty exotic experience. After checking in, our group hopped in a safari-like vehicle and drove through the different areas of the farm, making Ostrich friends as we went.

I didn’t really know much about the behavioral habits of ostriches but throughout the drive, we witnessed both a mating dance and a “get away from me” dance. Near the end of the guided tour, we had the chance to stand on an ostrich egg and watch it not break. It’s pretty amazing that the shells are thick and strong enough to withstand the weight of one’s entire body.

If you’re not quite ready to leave the farm at the end of the tour, there’s a shop that sells African art and souvenirs as well as a restaurant that serves African dishes and house specialties made of the ostrich meat.

5 Off-Beat Adventures to Take in Curacao

The health benefits of Aloe

After our trip to the Ostrich Farm, we drove a short distance to CurAloe Plantation. More than  100,000 Aloe plants are cultivated on the plantation in the most sustainable way possible and there’s also a store called CurAloe on-site. The plantation is interesting in its own right but we didn’t wander through the fields. Rather, our guide sliced open a plant and told us which parts we should eat and for what purpose. I’ve never actually eaten Aloe before but apparently you can and it’s beyond healthy for your body.

If you’re really into plants then I recommend going here but otherwise, this is a nice stop to shop for locally made and eco-friendly products like face creams, lotions and soaps to bring back home. If you’re not in the area, there’s also a CurAloe shop centrally located in Willemstad. Plus, many hotels, like the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort where we stayed, stocks the bathrooms with CurAloe shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.

Aloe plantation Curacao

Tour an Herb Garden

One of my biggest highlights from Curacao was touring through the Den Paradera Garden Herb Garden with Dinah Veeris. “Den Paradera” means “the place where you feel at home” and I really did feel at home here. Dinah knows everything about medicinal plants and it’s obvious that she is passionate about her craft. The garden was once the biggest healing herb garden on the east side of the island and it’s packed with plants and trees.

In a world where over-the-counter and prescription drugs are encouraged, it was refreshing to learn how many natural remedies can be planted in our own backyard. If I ever make it back to Curacao, I’d love to spend more time here and maybe even help out for a few days…of course, if there’s a need. In the mean time, I’m eager to start a garden of my own.

herb garden in Curacao

Snorkel inside the “Blue Room”

Our trip started and ended with JetBlue but the blue-theme was fairly consistent throughout the week. During our snorkel trip with Go West Diving, we got a glimpse of Curaçao’s friendly waters and world-class reefs. Our first stop was what is called the “blue room.” Basically, there’s a cave with a very small entrance to get in and out of it. Inside the cave is dark but if you turn around and look back at the entrance where you came in, the sun shining outside the cave illuminates the water in vibrant blue hues.

Having just read a young adult novel inspired by The Little Mermaid, I couldn’t help but feel like I was Ariel. It also allowed me to conquer my fear of small spaces. While snorkeling is not exactly off-beat, swimming in the Blue Room was unlike any snorkel trip I’ve taken and because of that, it really stands out as a top activity on the island.

snorkel spots in Curacao

Explore Shete Boka National Park

After our snorkeling adventure, we visited Shete Boka National Park. Although a bit off-the-beaten-path, I found the park to be a perfect combination of scenic (think crashing waves and complex rock formations) and rugged terrain. Located on the rocky north coast of Curacao, the park has 10 pocket beaches and if you come during the right season, you might see sea turtles laying there eggs. Boka Tabla is the most well-known of the inlets. Here, you’ll see waves crashing against the rocks and if you walk a little deeper, you’ll see waves seeping into the dark caverns.

This is one of those excursions where you can spend as little as fifteen minutes snapping photographs of you can take a long stroll along the path. Either way, it’s easy to pair this activity with one of the others in this post if you’re pressed for time.

Top photo is of Shete Boka National Park.

This trip was hosted by Curacao Tourism and Diamond PR. I stayed at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort and Floris Suite Hotel during my stay. All opinions are my own.

Diving Into Toronto’s Cool & Hip Neighborhoods

December 29, 2014 by  

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Before heading to Toronto early last month, I had already heard about the city’s coolest neighborhood, West Queen West, and was eager to explore it firsthand. For those unfamiliar with what Vogue deems the world’s second hippest neighborhood, it’s basically a one-stop-shop for everything trendy.

I toured the area on a rainy afternoon and even with overcast skies, I found myself returning the next day to search for more hidden gems. Here you’ll find a slew of independent shops, cafes that double as boutiques, themed bars and farm-to-table restaurants. There’s also a very strong artistic presence here, as seen through the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) and various artist studios and galleries.

Exploring Toronto's Hippest Neighborhood

I was lucky enough to have a pretty fantastic tour guide, Betty Ann Jordan, Founder of Art InSite, who lives and breathes the neighborhood. She knew exactly where to go and even gave me cheat-sheets to remember all the places we visited. Before starting our trek through West Queen West, she walked me through the MOCCA and gave me some background into the neighborhood’s art community.

First off, the West Queen West Art + Design District was historically a working-class area and while gentrification is taking place, it still feels authentic and has managed to keep its bohemian appeal. The district takes up about 15 short blocks on Queen St. West between Bathurst St. and Gladstone Avenue and is mainly comprised of art galleries, indie fashion and design boutiques, resto-bars, music shops and everything in between.

Fashion Guide to Toronto

One of our first stops was the BYOB Cocktail Emporium pictured below. I could have easily spend an hour inside the shop but I just did a quick walkthrough. I was so smitten with this store not only because it sold all different kinds of cocktail glasses, syrups and bitters but because I can’t think of another place like it. It also gave me some serious inspiration to throw an elaborate cocktail party in New York and show off my non-existent bartending skills. Whether you’re a bitters fan or not, I suggest sniffing a few at the counter to imagine what it might taste like. They also have great wineglass chandeliers.

Similar to the Kensington Market neighborhood, West Queen West has a slew of vintage stores. I Miss You Vintage (63 Ossington Avenue) sells high-end, collectible women’s vintage, including couture and really cool accessories. Head to Cabaret Vintage (672 Queen Street West) for garb from the 1940s-70s including bridal and cocktail dresses. If you’re a fan of leather, go to Doc’s Leathers (726 Queen Street West) for both new and old motorcycle clothes and accessories. It’s housed in 2-floor museum of motorcycling memorabilia.

vintage shops in Toronto

We then popped into Citizenry, one of the newer boutiques in the area and hidden behind a cafe. From the outdoor facade, it looked like a cozy cafe to have a cup of coffee but once inside, the space opened up into a full-on boutique, complete with an outdoor courtyard in the back. The decor is just as memorable as the clothing: gold drapes, slightly worn-down wooden tables in the front and plus couches.

The owners, Paula Seiça and Basilio Fernando Ferreira, sell labels that are based in Portugal. I didn’t buy anything but I loved how decadent the space is and how vintage some of the pieces look when set against the interior decor. They also sold a pair of headphones where the two ends were seashells instead of speakers. I’m assuming that is for fashion and not function.

shopping in West Queen West

For those who simply want to wander and get lost, West Queen West is the perfect neighborhood to do so. I ended up venturing back to the area on my last day in town to snap a few more pictures and stumbled upon the Street Art Alley, otherwise known as Brookfield Street and parallel to Ossington. The alley launched in 2012 all thanks to Steve Ferrara, a local arts impresario behind Well and Good community arts collective, who recruited the street artists who glittered the walls with art. Even if you don’t walk through the alley, many of the storefronts like the one pictured below are colored in vibrant graffiti.

West Queen West street art

What’s your favorite part of touring a new neighborhood? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Tourism Toronto. I stayed at the Hilton Hotel during my stay. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Toronto’s Murals, Art Scene & Hip Neighborhoods

December 12, 2014 by  

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I had always heard great things about Toronto and there have been numerous reasons I was eager to visit Toronto but above all, I was eager to explore everything the city has to offer: the tall skyscrapers that rival the ones in New York, the quirky shops with personality to space and of course, the revamped neighborhoods that are trendy beyond compare.

While the weather wasn’t exactly ideal during my trip, it didn’t matter because Toronto is colorful rain or shine. This quickly became apparent when wandering through the eclectic Kensington Market neighborhood.

 

Street art guide to Toronto

Located on the edge of Chinatown, another fascinating neighborhood with a ton of history, Kensington Market is a one-stop shop for graffiti, artisanal goods, vintage clothes and accessories and lively bars. It’s not a huge area but it’s packed with personality. Back in the 1920s, the neighborhood was known as the Jewish Market and even today, there’s a mix of different cultures represented – Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean to name a few.

Whether in search of fresh food or souvenirs, there’s something for everyone at Kensington Market. The narrow streets and alleys are always bustling with tourists and locals alike, especially on the weekends and in the late morning / early afternoon hours. Unlike other markets I’ve visited, however, the past and present coexist seamlessly. The Victorian houses serve as a stark contrast to the gritty graffiti covering most of the building walls.

The Best Street Art and Storefronts in Toronto

History

As mentioned above, Kensington Market is a mix of cultures and traditions. Everything started with the Irish and Scottish workers who came here in the 1880s, followed by Jewish immigrants about twenty years later. As time went on, other immigrants populated the area including the Portuguese, Latin Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners and Caribbean islanders. This is also where you’d find one of the last Jewish synagogues still in operation.

My tour guide for the day not only grew up just next door in Chinatown, but he knew everyone in and around Kensington Market. It was refreshing to learn how supportive the community is and how determined the residents are to keep the neighborhood’s authentic appeal. There are no chain stores or restaurants here; only independent shops. I was also surprised to learn that the park just on the other side of the market’s edge is one of the city’s most dangerous spots and yet no crime every seeps into the neighborhood.

Kensington Market in Toronto

Sample Exotic Foods

While the neighborhood is small, there are plenty of places to eat and drink. It all depends on what mood you’re in and what taste buds you want to awaken. Fika (28 Kensington Ave.) is a Swedish-inspired café and feels slightly more upscale than other shops in the area. They also have great ice-cream sandwiches.

I also recommend dipping into Casa Acoreana (235 Augusta Ave). The former grocery store-turned cafe serves direct trade coffee that comes from Reunion Island. Cold Tea Bar (60 Kensington Ave.) is a not-so-secret bar anymore but it’s a fun place to grab a beer and stay for awhile. Sanagan’s Meat Locker (176 Baldwin) is a good lunch-spot and their sandwiches really hit he spot.

neighborhoods in Toronto

Spot Local Street Art

I didn’t take a street art tour through the neighborhood but Toronto Urban Adventures offers a Kensington Market & Chinatown tour every day but Monday at 10am. I do know that much of the graffiti is by request of the building owners, as art is very much a part of the neighborhood. There’s a mix of gritty wall paintings and large murals not to mention the “the garden car,” which was formerly a working 2001 Ford Taurus. Now, it’s covered in street art and live grass and serves as a piece of public art. The styles vary but the bright colors remain constant.

The best graffiti in Toronto

Shop for Vintage Wares

It’s no surprise that I love shopping for vintage wares and Kensington Market has a few stores to choose from including Ego Vintage (9 Kensington Ave.), Exile Vintage (20 Kensington Ave.) and Flashback Vintage (33 Kensington Ave.) Luckily, the neighborhood is only a few blocks and many of the shops are located on the same street so you can browse a few stores before deciding on which items to buy. I also popped into Courage My Love (14 Kensington Avenue) featured below and chatted with the owner for a few minutes. My first impression that the store is a sensory overload. Hats, buttons, jewelry and other knick-knacks cover every inch of available wall space and yet, it feels cohesive and inviting.

coolest storefronts in Toronto

When to Go

If you happen to be visiting in the summer months, Sundays are pedestrian-only days but in all honesty, I passed through twice during my trip (a Monday and Tuesday I believe) and I didn’t notice many cars anyway. The streets are somewhat narrow but easy to get around without too much trouble. Most of the shops open at 9am and are super crowded by 11am so aim to get there early if you’re hoping for a quiet stroll.

hip neighborhoods in Toronto

How to Get There

Unless you’re within walking distance, just hop on the Subway to the Queen’s Park Station and then head west. The neighborhood is between Dundas and College, west of Spadina Avenue.

where to see street art in Toronto

What’s the coolest neighborhood you’ve ever visited? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Tourism Toronto. I stayed at the Hilton Hotel during my stay. All opinions are my own.

Going Beyond the Guidebook in Macau

December 11, 2014 by  

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I decided to write a post about the myths and preconceptions that surround Macau because before visiting there last month, I believed most of them. Not only did I learn some pretty fascinating facts about Macau’s culture and history, but I left feeling rejuvenated, empowered and most of all, inspired. As a writer and creator, inspiration is like my morning cup of coffee. Without it, I feel sleepy and unmotivated and I’m very grateful that it was Macau that ultimately gave me a double shot of inspiration.

Just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t underestimate destinations based on what it’s known for. Macau might be better well-known for its casinos and high-end designer stores, but that’s just scratching the surface. The Macao I discovered was one full of color and interlaces with traditions, customs and a blend of old and new architectural influences. Here are 5 myths about Macau that I busted during my trip.

1) Macau is not JUST for gamblers

Sure, Macau is a popular destination for gamblers and yes, there are casinos in nearly every hotel. However, during my five day visit I spent about 5 minutes in one. My extent of gambling includes only the slot machines in Las Vegas so I found it interesting to see people making bets throughout the floor. I’m not sure I’ll ever be big into gambling but it was actually fun to watch people playing their chips in the center or on numbers. If you like casinos, then Macau will certainly give you your fix but there are tons of other alternative activities. For example, inside the Sheraton Macao, there is a DreamWorks-themed parade and breakfast (more on that later!), a slew of high-end designer boutiques and a spa that caters each treatment to the 5 Elements of Fung Shui…and that’s JUST within the hotel. Outside, the possibilities are endless.

Top Reasons to Visit Macau Now

2) Macau is actually very family-friendly

Again, this was another myth I took as fact before traveling to Macau. What I found is that Macau is not only family-friendly, it’s kid-centric! The Sheraton Macao hosts a daily parade of the DreamWorks crew—I’m talking Shrek, Puss in Boots, Alex and Julien from Madagascar and all of their friends. It reminded me a little of Disney World and that just brought back so many wonderful memories. I’m an advocate for acting like a kid when appropriate and it was so nice to let my inner child run wild.

3) Culture is literally at your doorstep in Macau

Where do I even begin with this one? Macau used to be a Portuguese colony so there’s a lot of history to brush up on while there. To break things down simply, there’s an old part of town and a newer one. One of my favorite attractions was the Mandarin’s House, which is a short walk away from the A Ma Temple (another must-see).

The Mandarin’s House is in the Historic Center of Macao and was built in 1869. In total, there are 60 rooms plus an outdoor courtyard and quiet garden. Also worth visiting are the Ruins of St. Paul, originally built in the 17th century and later destroyed by a fire in 1835. Only the facades of the church and St. Paul’s college remain but it’s still quite a sight to behold. I also recommend passing through Tai Pa Village, which is walkable from the Cotai Strip, although separated from Macau Peninsular by the Pearl River.

Tai Pa Village

4) Macau will test your limits

Before landing in Macau I planned on spending the next few days relaxing by the pool, wandering through town and maybe even splurging on a new bag. With the exception of touring downtown Macau, I didn’t do any of these things. I was too busy visiting hidden villages and museums to think about laying around the pool.

On our last day in town our group headed to the infamous Macau Tower where we participated in the Skywalk. Two members of our group opted for the bungee jump, which happens to be the highest bungee jump in the world. Props to them. The rest of us spent about 30 minutes walking the perimeter of the tower. We were harnessed but it was still scary to look down. I’m afraid of heights yet up there I felt so free.

Skywalk Macau Tower

5) Macau will leave you wanting more

I assumed Macau was one of those places I could check off my bucket list without wanting to return. Wrong again! I really liked Macau, surprising even myself, and I’d love to return. If and when I do, I’ll probably add Hong Kong to my trip because it is literally a ferry ride away and I’d also like to see some of mainland China.

I figure that if I’ve already flown half-way across the world, I better make it an unforgettable trip. The other thing that I cannot stop thinking about is The House of Dancing Water. We watched this performance on our last night and it was hands down the coolest performance I’ve ever seen. As you might have guessed from my recent post about the Shine Spa, I’m slightly obsessed with the elements and to see almost all of them—especially water—represented in such an engaging and interactive way has left me desperate for more.

The House of Dancing Water

What destination has surprised you for the better? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Sheraton Macao and Glodow Nead. All opinions are my own.

 

Our Top 10 List for Culture & Architecture Junkies in Budapest

December 3, 2014 by  

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Hungary in Eastern Europe is truly a treasure and Budapest is the world’s melting pot of Architectural styles. From Roman amphitheaters and Gothic-styled cathedrals to traditional Turkish baths, Budapest has it all. Since the city is fairly large and diverse, we’ve put together a list of our favorite culture and architectural treasures to see in Budapest. Let’s begin the tour..

1) The Culurally Rich Art Nouveuo at the Gallert Baths

From the mosaic floors and walls to the stained glass windows, it’s no wonder Gallert Baths are the most photographed baths in Budapest. A large blue spa is surrounded by cream colored pillars and dainty balconies.

Art Nouveuo at the Gallert Baths

2) Visit the infamous Parliament Building

Visit Hungary’s Parliament Building to appreciate the Neo Gothic architecture glistening in the sunlight and to gaze over the Hungarian Crown Jewels. The Parliament building is the largest building in Hungary, and the tallest in Budapest. When entering the building (EU citizens get in free), visitors can walk up the decorative stairs and view the intricate ceiling murals.

3) Go Slow Across the Chain Bridge

After leaving the Parliament building, continue onto the Classicist style Chain Bridge, the first bridge to connect Buda and Pest and a symbol of national awakening. From here you can also grab great views of the Parliament Building and the Danube.

4) Hike up to Historic Castle Hill

You can tell that Castle Hill has had quite a past by viewing all of the different building structures, from Gothic arches to 18th Century Baroque houses and cobblestone streets. Castle hill has many must-see attractions and is recognized as a World Heritage Site. From here, you can enjoy striking panoramic views of Budapest and of course see the Buda Castle itself. Several festivals and events are held at Buda Castle during the year, including a beer festival, folk art festival and an international wine festival.

Architecture Guide to Budapest

Image: Wikipedia Commons/Alex Proimos

5) Check out Neo-Renaissance Style at St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephens is the largest church in Budapest and offers free entrance. The dome is 96 meters high, and the inside is adorned by famous artists of the era. Don’t forget to take the 364 steps (or the elevators) to the dome’s observation deck.

The Ultimate Architecture Guide to Budapest

6) Relax Among the Turkish Architecture at Rudas Baths

Many mosques and baths were built in Buda throughout the Turkish occupation. Budapest is actually one of the only places in the world with working original bathhouses dating back to the 16th century. The baths in Budapest are well known for their “healing powers” and are fed from natural thermal springs.

7) See Baroque-style at its finest

Head to the most popular bathhouse in Budapest, the Szechenyi baths, to catch a glance of Baroque-style architecture. For a more interesting experience, visit during one of their legendary bath parties, hosted every Saturday night.

Baroque architecture in Budapest

Image: Wikipedia Commons/Peter Vilgus

8) Be Swooned by the Great Synagogue on Dohány Street

The Great Synagogue in Budapest is the largest Synagogue in Europe (and one of the largest in the world). The Synagogue is Moorish Revival, but also features a mixture of Romantic, Byzantine and Gothic elements. The interior is richly decorated, featuring colored golden geometric shapes that cover the walls and ceiling.

9) Enjoy a stroll through City Park to see the Vajdahunyad Castle

The Vajdahunyad Castle is an architectural medley with Romanesque, Gothic, Rennaissance and Baroque parts. Vajdahunyad is an imitation of a Transylvanian castle and was built to demonstrate the countless architectural styles found in Hungary. The castle also hosts an outdoor market with food and live music that occurs daily.

10) Visit one of Budapest’s ruin pubs, which I like to call New Wave architecture

Ruin pubs are becoming one of the hottest spots to drink in Budapest and are centered in formerly abandoned buildings. You will usually find live music, interesting retro décor and a unique atmosphere.  If you’re an architecture junkie, you may also want to check out Budapest 100, an annual celebration of 100-year old buildings in the city.

Contributed by Marteen of Lust for the World.  

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