About Megan McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough runs Bohemian Trails, an online travel magazine focusing on global art, culture and off-the-beaten path destinations. A wanderer by nature with a love of all things fashion, music and street art, Megan encourages readers to ditch their rigid guidebooks and discover a city by purposely getting lost. Her personal travels have taken her through Europe, South America, Mexico and Egypt.
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
Tourists in New York are pretty easy to spot. They tend to do annoying things like stop in the middle of a sidewalk to take a picture or worse, they make it nearly impossible to skirt around them because they all walk next to each other.
I certainly don’t mean to sound judgmental because after all, I’m a tourist whenever I travel to a new city and I do realize that not everyone is as clueless as the type I’ve just described. That being said, I’ve come up with five easy (and fun!) ways to feel local in New York while still hitting up all the popular attractions and historic monuments.
1) Avoid Times Square
Maybe I’m jaded but I just don’t see the allure of Times Square most of the time. That being said, as a tourist you should visit this area to catch a Broadway show or just for a few photos but spending all of your time here would be a mistake. As a child, I used to tag along with my father on his business trips and Times Square was all I knew.
I remember getting scared by how loud and dirty everything was and don’t even get me started on the homeless people on the street. I was horrified to see this and constantly begged my Dad to give them some money. It wasn’t until my senior year of college when I took a solo trip to New York for Fashion Week that I discovered that there were more neighborhoods than Times Square. It was during this trip that I fell in love with New York.
2) Go to a Boozy Brunch
I’m not saying that you should get wasted but boozy brunches are a great way to meet people and it does feel very “New York”. Meatpacking district has a slew of these brunches – Dos Caminos, Paradou and Bagatelle to name a few. Most of these places have a good unlimited brunch deal but diners can always order a la carte to save money.
Expect delicious food, bottomless mimosas and music. If you are on a time crunch just stop by for a light brunch and maybe one cocktail because it would be a shame to be too drunk to do any sightseeing.
3) Think Cheap
New York tourists and locals have one very important thing in common: budget is key! If you think visiting New York is expensive, just imagine how it is for those of us who actually live here. I’ll be the first to admit that moving to New York has completely given me a warped sense of space. Apartments are so small and expensive here that I’m overwhelmed whenever I visit friends in other cities. I’ve stopped asking what they pay in rent because it just makes me upset.
Anyway, back to budget. Go on YELP to find happy hours in your area or simply walk down any street at about 5pm and see what bars have the best deals. The same goes for restaurants. Groupon and other deal sites are always offering some sort of discount on a variety of restaurants, salons and excursions. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who are doing the same.
4) Enjoy the Great Outdoors
You may think locals are too cool to do normal things like bike in Central Park or ice-skate at Bryant Park but that couldn’t be further from the truth. One of my favorite memories two years ago was ice-skating during the Christmas season followed by market shopping. For those of us who live here, sometimes we need to have a brief love affair with the city to remind ourselves why we moved here in the first place.
I personally love going to summer concerts and walking down 5th Avenue every once and again. There’s something about doing these things that just makes me feel happy and hey, who doesn’t want to be happy?!
5) Ask and You Shall Receive
New Yorkers have a terrible reputation for being mean and grumpy all day long but I think that’s a misconception. Sure, people are busy and preoccupied with their own problems but that’s the case in a lot of places. Maybe I’ve just been lucky or perhaps I’m putting a positive spin on things but I don’t find New Yorkers to be mean. Angry? Sometimes. Crazy? More often than not. But rude? not so much.
If you really want to experience local New York, just ask a local. Maybe avoid rush hour but even then, there will always be someone willing to help. When I first moved to the city I got lost nearly daily and it took a lot of courage to ask people for directions but I soon learned that giving directions and recommendations is what New Yorkers do best. I get stopped by tourists regularly and I’m always eager to help and I know I’m not the only one.
It can be hard work trudging the fashionista streets of Madrid in search of that latest bargain, while trying to squeeze in a few sightseeing visits such as the Prado art gallery, perhaps even a tour of Real’s Santiago Bernabeu football stadium into a long weekend break.
Cities can tire, and even in the central park of the Retiro you can’t fully escape the hum of the surrounding traffic. That’s where the not to be confused with the gallery – El Pardo – steps in. Barely a five mile bus ride north west from the Moncloa transport interchange in the city centre, you are whisked right out in the sticks.
Within minutes of leaving the last ring road behind you start to get the feel for what this tiny town is going to be all about. Lots of local people get off at stops along the road, to walk rolling hills through evergreen oak and pine forests, or take a picnic down to the banks of the river Manzanares.
All this set against a backcloth of the 8,000 feet plus peaks of the Guadarrama mountains, the summits of which often remain snow-covered until late spring.
Unless you are unlucky enough to hit a rare cloudy day there’s likely to be a striking palette of green leading up through sparkling white to deep blue sky. Velasquez and Goya, in their paintings back in the Prado, were not faking the colours.
There are prettier towns in Spain, but none that provide such an abrupt change of scene from city to country – that ‘now for something completely different’ feeling.
Get out in the plane tree-shaded main square, with its bandstand in the middle, and you’ll straight away see several terrace bars and restaurants.
But to make sure your appetite is well-whetted, first take a walk. Just off to the right are the formal gardens of the former royal palace, the last home of Spain’s last dictator, General Franco. If you’ve time, go inside and have a look at some of its famous tapestries.
For those who feel more energetic, head left down to the sole bridge in town. Here, there are more paths along the river bank. Best is the one across the bridge and hard to the right. It’s a bit up and down and packed earth most of the way, so don’t forget some sensible shoes, especially if you want to change banks for the return walk by stone-stepping across a shallow ford.
But even non-bird enthusiasts are sure to be impressed, especially if you spot a cormorant or a kingfisher, or a vulture gliding overhead.
When the river bends near enough 90 degrees to the left, it’s time to start keeping an equal watch on the other side, through the open mesh fence of a game reserve. You could almost imagine a lion, giraffe or wildebeest emerging from the savannah-like scene of evergreen trees scattered against the grassy slopes. But let’s keep real, this is Europe. What you may well see are herds of deer, perhaps even one of the wild boar that scour the forest floor, tearing up the sod with their tusks in search of roots and plant bulbs.
Return to the start of the walk and turn right up the hill road out of town, in less than a mile you’ll come to another stretch of the reserve’s perimeter fence and a restaurant on the left. Peek behind the fence, especially around human meal times when the animals are fed bread by diners from across the lane – and you are virtually guaranteed to see at least one of the two beasts. Now to mention another good reason for visiting El Pardo: to eat either one or both of them.
If you don’t make it up the hill, in fact if you skip the walk altogether, there are several restaurants back in and around the main square where you can get a hearty dishful for around €13, ready to be washed down with a few glasses of full-bloodied Ribera del Duero wine.
You are likely to forget all about Bambi films, once you get tucked in. But even if you are not a big meat-eater, there are always plenty of other tasty tapas to be tried.
Guest Post By: Katie-Belle of Delightsome.
Up until college I attended Catholic school, yet, it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I was lucky enough to have a teacher who encouraged us to question our faith. He explained to us that instead of having the blind faith that our parents and grandparents were taught to have, we should question everything. He taught from a philosophical background and by the end of the year, I felt more solid in my beliefs than ever before.
Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, traveling opens our eyes to all religions. I’ve always believed that one cannot truly understand his own faith unless he studies the faith of others. One of my favorite things about traveling to other countries is experiencing their local traditions. In my opinion, there are way more similarities among faiths than there are differences but so many people fail to view it that way.
Religion is something that becomes an integral part of one’s identity and when that identity is challenged and there’s no way to prove something one way or another, trouble often ensues.
Anyway, as I went to take my seat at Easter Sunday mass, I couldn’t help but stare at the large painting that served as the backdrop to the alter. The painting wasn’t too different than ones I’d seen in other chuches; it was the same Crucifixion scene that I had seen countless times growing up.
But there was something different about seeing it now because I had actually been to this very spot this past May. After growing up with a Catholic education for years, Jerusalem and Bethlehem always seemed so far away. They were distant lands that I dreamed of one day visiting. During my trip to Israel and Palestine this past Spring, I visited Jesus’ birthplace at Church of the Nativity, walked the stations of the cross (Via Dolorosa) and floated in the Dead Sea.
Yet at the time I remember feeling rather unmoved by many of these religious sites. I think a large part of it had to do with how crowded they were with tourists. When I did have moments of reflection, I was always distracted by bright camera flashes or loud talking and it was hard to truly appreciate the ground where I stood.
So as I sat there during Easter Sunday mass gazing the painting I had seen in countless churches, I felt closer to what it represented. No matter how spiritual or religious one is, I’ll always treasure my time in Israel and Palestine.
San Antonio is an easy city to love, and I say that having not fallen in love with every bohemian city out there. My main reason for visiting was to experience their annual Luminaria celebration and I left with a huge appreciation for the local art scene. As I normally do with my Boho Guides, here are a few tips and tricks on how to make San Antonio feel like your home away from home.
Sample Mexican Food at Market Square
It only took one meal to discover that San Antonio is a foodie’s dream destination. When I visited the city’s beloved Market Square, I saw a good mix of locals and tourists and I’m guessing that has a little to do with the authentic and cheap Mexican food served by several of the vendors. It’s a great way to experience Mexican food while shopping and listening to live bands perform. As I lazily walked from vendor to vendor, there were moments when I actually forgot that I was in Texas and not Mexico. The mix of cultures here is refreshing and part of San Antonio’s overall charm.
Gallery Hop in La Villita
Conveniently located within walking distance of The Alamo and other downtown attractions, La Villita is the first village in San Antonio and quietly sits along the river bank. As soon as you reach La Villita, it’s apparent that there is history attached to the area. The pedestrian streets connect a series of more than 20 artisans, galleries and shops with items ranging from high-end artwork to quirky souvenirs. Many artists also use the area as their outdoor work space, which adds an element of excitement to the quiet neighborhood.
Bid on Art in Southtown
As an appreciator of anything avant-garde, I naturally gravitated toward Southtown, a neighborhood dominated by art museums and a younger demographic. Definitely worth a visit are Blue Start Contemporary Art Center, the San Angel Folk Art and Say Si, an art school where you can bid on original work from the school’s most talented students. After looking at the current displays and seeing just how affordable many of the pieces were, I almost bid on a few items myself. Artwork can be expensive, but clearly it doesn’t have to be. Say Si showed me that you can still get quality artwork that speaks to your creative tastes for a reasonable price.
I came to San Antonio thinking that Luminaria was going to be major highlight of my trip, and while it truly was spectacular, I was surprised by how many other events were also taking place that weekend including the Paella Challenge I attended. I even stumbled upon a festival of sorts in La Villita where I managed to score a free slice of apple pie. I later learned that free live entertainment is a core part of local San Antonio culture. On Fridays in July in August for example, the Balcones Heights Jazz Festival draws a large crowd. When you visit, stay up to day with what’s going on that weekend because chances are pretty high that there is something cultural taking place right under your nose.
Friendly up to the Locals
Budget bohemians will be glad to know that it is possible to wine and dine in San Antonio without splurging. Located in Southtown near the galleries and the King William Historic District, is the appropriately named ‘The Friendly Spot‘. In fact, this employee was so friendly that he offered to pose in my picture before I even thought to ask him. Attracting families and 20-somethings alike, the joint serves up burgers, quesadillas, nachos and other simple but satisfying foods. For other cheap eats, order a quick meal from one of the city’s many food trucks.
Growing up, I always hated Daylight Savings time each spring. It meant that I lost an hour of sleep and had to wake up for school more tired than usual. Oh how times have changed! Thanks to San Antonio’s Luminaria Art Festival which coincides with the time change, I gladly welcomed one hour less of sleep because it meant seeing countless creative art displays boldly illuminated in the night sky.
San Antonio’s one-night art extravaganza brings locals together to celebrate art in its many forms. Categories include Visual, Music, Theatre and Performance, Literary, Media, and Dance with installations ranging from haunting to captivating. Live concerts are thrown into mix to wake up those participants who might be getting drowsy, as the fun doesn’t stop until midnight. The celebration is completely free to the public and continues to draw a larger crowd than the year before. This past weekend marked its 6th anniversary.
I’ve compiled a few of my favorite exhibits and installations from the night to give you a glimpse into San Antonio’s lively art scene. This structure marked the center of HemisFair Park, the main hub of the festivities.
One of the best things about the artists who showcased their work at Luminaria was their understanding of how the simplest of items can still create something innovative. Using one of the park’s houses as a backdrop, the artists took a bunch of otherwise ordinary lamps and arranged them in a way that really caught the attention of people walking along the path.
Held inside a small tent with an audience section on one side and little peep holes on the other, this created an alluring factor to the traditional dance. This particular dance showcase incorporated traditional elements into the performance.
Similar to the lamp display, another art exhibit also used a house as the prop for their skit. The Greek letters alerted passerby that something along the lines of a college fraternity lay inside. However, once you walked up closer you could see comical looking skeleton cutouts partying inside, beer in hand. There was also a slowed down male cover version of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ playing in the background which was sort of awesome in its own right.
Eerily reminding me of a scary movie, this exhibit created the illusion that there was a child inside. From the outside I could see the image of a small child making designs on the window after a winter storm but of course there was nobody inside, which added to the mystery.
I almost skipped this exhibit and I’m so glad I didn’t because it was easily my favorite. Before walking in the three story display, I put on my 3D glasses for a very trippy wander through space. Color was everywhere and while this picture isn’t in 3D, hopefully you can imagine that items were popping out here and there. There was also this vortex effect on the first floor that gave off the perception that one is flying through space.
This trip was hosted by Visit San Antonio with accommodations provided by JW Marriot San Antonio. All opinions are my own.
San Antonio was a long time coming. After meeting with the CVB last year at a Texas Tourism event, I was intrigued by the city’s early Luminaria Festival. At that point, the festival had already taken place for that year but I remained hopeful that I’d be able to make it in 2013 – and voila! I did.
Proving me right, San Antonio was everything I hoped for and more. This Texas city is truly a unique blend of American and Mexican heritage and a laid-back, welcoming culture that made me feel right at home. Here are a few highlights from my trip.
It only took five minutes in to regret eating breakfast that morning. My weekend in San Antonio just kept getting better and better, especially when I learned that Paella would be involved. celebrating it’s fourth year, the Paella Challenge brought in local and international chefs to cook their best recipes for the hungry crowd that eagerly awaited filling their plates. Despite having no appetite whatsoever, I sampled a few dishes because I knew I would regret skipping it altogether. In between the Paella booths were bars serving fresh sangria, margaritas and an assortment of wines and beers. As the booze started kicking in, people got up to dance as live bands entertained the crowd.
Whenever possible, I like to go beyond the city for a glimpse into rural life and as luck would have it, I hit the jackpot in San Antonio. The JW Marriot San Antonio graciously hosted me during my trip and boy, was it hard to go back to my apartment in the city. My bed alone was huge not to mention the other four rooms completing my suite. The view from my balcony overlooked a manmade lazy river and beyond that I could see the Texas fields stretching for miles in every direction. I received the ultimate in luxury – from the delicious cuisine at one of their restaurants to the resort’s signature Organic Restorative Massage at the Lantana Spa, I could quickly get used to this.
My main reason for visiting San Antonio was to attend their annual Luminaria festival – where ‘Arts Come to Light’. The bulk of the festivities take place in and around HemisFair Park while other artists showcased their work along the River Walk near the Convention Center. To say that I was impressed was an understatement. There was obviously a lot of buzz going on within the local community but having never attended myself, I wasn’t sure what to expect. From live band concerts and dance performances to a three-story 3-D installation, Luminaria does demonstrate San Antonio’s appreciation for arts. What I liked best was how many of the artists took what was already in place (i.e. houses, statues, trees) and made it into illuminated art.
River Walk Wanderlust
Having traveled through cities in Europe known for their scenic rivers, I hadn’t experienced a river system quite like the one in San Antonio. The river pretty much circles the downtown district, with a few trails leading in other directions. River tours drive tourism to the area, including myself, who opted for a tour on water rather than on land. In the most downtown part of the river walk, both sides of the path are lined with trendy bars, Mexican restaurants and everything in between. After walking through some of the downtown streets, I quickly realized that this could be a quicker way to get places by avoiding road traffic. There are several pedestrian bridges that make it easy to cross to the other side.
Strolling through Time
As much as I enjoyed touring San Antonio’s downtown area, there were a few other neighborhoods I made sure to visit. One of my favorites was the King William Historic District. A stark change from the busy streets near The Alamo, this charming pocket of the city has a quiet elegance to it. The area dates back to the late 1800s, when rich German merchants began settling here. As I walked through the 25-block neighborhood, I felt as though I was literally walking through time. Just a short walk from here is an artsy part of Southtown where several of the galleries were celebrating Contemporary Art Month. A bohemian traveler can’t go wrong with a neighborhood rich in both history and modern art.
This trip was hosted by Visit San Antonio with accommodations provided by JW Marriot San Antonio. All opinions are my own.
While this title may confuse San Francisco readers, compared to New York, the California weather felt refreshingly warm. My last trip to the Bay Area was just last August when I explored scenic San Mateo County and Silicon Valley but I haven’t been to the downtown San Francisco in almost three years.
My favorite thing about re-visiting a city is that I don’t feel the pressure to see and do everything because, well, I have already done it the first time around.
Picnic by the Bridge
On our first night in town, we went to a local deli, grabbed the picnic essentials and hopped on a bus headed to the Golden Gate Bridge. Taking advantage of the last rays of sunshine, we found a picnic bench and toasted to the sunset. My favorite part of the evening was watching the local surfers catch waves by the shore.
Cable Car to Fisherman’s Wharf
For a great night view of the city, we rode the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf for his birthday dinner. In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to tour the city and as much as I love walking, it’s a pretty hilly trek to make on foot. I couldn’t help feeling a little like Belle from Disney’s Beauty & the Beast when she so effortlessly catches a ride through town on a passerby cart. (photo above)
Ferry to Sausalito
On my way to Embarcadero to catch the ferry to Sausalito, I ran into one of about five people I know in San Francisco. It was perfect timing and I eagerly chatted away to my college friend who was my first tour guide to San Fran a few years ago.
After catching up, I power walked to the ferry terminal and made it onto the boat with less than a minute to spare. The ride there was windy but wonderful. Despite few places being open in Sausalito, I enjoyed walking along the path and gazing toward the bay. It was so quiet there and as the sun descended I could see the hint of stars surfacing for their night watch.
If there was one thing I remember pondering during my very first New York Fashion Week it was “wow, I wonder what it feels like to sit front row”. Well, fast-forward just a few years and here I am, sitting in the front row end of runway eagerly waiting for the Ivana Helsinki runway show to begin.
Actually, in all honesty this wasn’t my first time sitting front row at fashion week but it was my first time actually being at fashion week in over a year and it seems that the absence has indeed made my love for fashion grow fonder. When I first moved to the city I covered countless shows each time fashion week came to town. This was back when I was working full-time at a record label and as soon as the clock struck 6pm I was off to the tents, swapping my comfortable sheepskin boots for a pair of black pumps. This was when fashion week was still held at the Bryant Park tents – Lincoln Center may be a more appropriate venue size-wise but Bryant Park felt magical and the newer location just doesn’t do it for me.
Anyway, so even though I don’t cover fashion much these days, I’m still on a lot of press lists so instead of passing my invites along to friends when I’m out of town, I took advantage of being in New York to attend a few shows.
Truth be told, Ivana Helsinki was my very first show where I was actually assigned a front row seat – that was two years ago and I never forgot it. There’s something so powerful about sitting so close to the stage. For me it’s not so much about the actual garments themselves but about the entire production. The music, the make-up, the fierce attitude of the models strutting down an otherwise bare runway. It’s the same feeling I get when I see a Broadway show. It’s this feeling of truly feeling alive. This time around, after having visited her hometown of Helsinki, it was obvious just how big a role her Finnish heritage plays in her design process. I got to speak to her post-show and she was super sweet and refreshingly humble.
This was my first time ever hearing about Nina Skarra but once I learned that she hails from Tromsø (sometimes called the Paris of the north) and is based in Oslo, I was officially intrigued. It’s no secret that Norway is my Neverland so I could not wait to see how Skarra incorporated traditional Norwegian fabrics into her modern, ready-to-wear collection. This particular show took place at Lincoln Center’s “The Box”, which is designed like a showroom rather than a long runway. Surprisingly I was given a +1 to this show so I gladly invited along a pal. Another major perk? free champagne and mimosas! It was not even 11am but I didn’t hesitate to grab one of the sparkling flutes.
Clearly, I was not in the front row of Custo‘s show. They overbook every year and while I could have sat in one of the last few rows, I know from experience that I have a better chance of actually seeing the clothes if I stand up in the back. This was my fourth or fifth time at his show but my first time seeing a collection after having visited Barcelona. I loved how he took inspiration from his Barcelona beach roots and incorporated a variety of fabrics into his garments. As always, he never fails to go over-the-top with some of his styling but it works none-the-less. I appreciate that he sends many of his models down the runway in flats because that is something I can definitely relate to while traveling.