Route 66 – Overview

Traveling “The Main Street of America”

Kitschy and crumbling, luminous and darkened, the “Mother Road” is equal parts very much alive, as it is in decay. Spanning eight states, it presents a true slice of small town America, both past and present, connected and intersected by a long ribbon of road. Motor courts, gas stations, drive-ins, and restaurants, most emblazoned with neon signs, materialize along the highway and would have been a welcome site to travelers during this route’s hay day. The drive on Route 66 is slow, laid back and reminiscent of a simpler time and way of life. Absent of the rush of freeway traffic, it winds it’s way through both ghost towns and cities that are studded with Route 66 memorabilia. Hamlets where only rusted signs and sagging buildings remain, and cities with glowing lights and motels and restaurants still serving up home town hospitality. The life and death and rebirth of one of the most important roads in American history is slowly revealed with each passing mile.

Born in Springfield, Missouri, on April 30, 1926, Route 66 was officially established on November 11, 1926. The modern road system opened portions of the United States that had not previously been accessible. In doing so, it provided a pathway to those looking for a fresh start, as well as allowing for the relocation of America’s population during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years. Pieced together from primitive, unnamed and unpaved roads, rapidly evolving into a 2,400 plus miles, it turned into one of the largest public works projects in history. In 1938, US 66 became the first completely paved numbered highway in the U.S., running from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean. Enduring for generations, thousands upon thousands of travelers have followed the Chicago to Los Angeles pathway since it’s inception some 92 years ago, even after it was officially decommissioned in 1985.

Traveling Route 66 had been on my bucket list for quite some time, and during the month of April, I completed the trip along with my co-navigator and travel companion. My Mom and I truly “got our kicks” with each passing day and mile and had an amazing experience. Our 12 day and 4,900 mile long journey, including a few side trips, would not have been complete without the many u-turns, missed turns, super windy days, laughs and lots and lots of donuts.

As there are many aspects of this journey that I want to share, especially our exact route, including a few side trips, recommendations and resources we used to make this road trip a success, the Route 66 post will be completed in a series of entries. To begin, I’d like to offer a glimpse of what Route 66 is all about by sharing a collection of photographs taken along the way.

Illinois – 300 miles (Chicago is where is all begins)

Missouri – 300 miles (Springfield is the birthplace of Route 66)

Kansas – 13 miles (Shortest Route 66 alignment and 2nd state to pave Route 66)

Oklahoma – 380 miles (Tulsa native, Cyrus Avery, coined the term “Main Street of America” and founded the US 66 Highway Assoc.)

Texas – 150 miles (2nd shortest Route 66 alignment)

New Mexico – 399 miles (First state to completely pave Route 66)

Arizona – 401 miles (159 miles of which are unbroken, the longest stretch remaining on Route 66)

California – 315 miles (From dry and desolate to sun-soaked beaches)

I hope that you enjoy these pictures and I look forward to sharing further photos, details and advice from my trip in future posts. If you have already driven Route 66 or want to drive it and have questions, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line at tasteetravels@yahoo.com or leave a comment below. Safe travels!

Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway

Imagine 444 miles of traffic-free bliss while driving on a gently curving road through the pine and hardwood forests, past cypress swamps, diverse waterways and prairies filled with wildflowers. A journey that can, for long stretches of time, pass without seeing another vehicle and may instead provide you with a glimpse of a wild turkey, deer or bald eagle. Traversing through three states without traffic lights or stop signs, all at a leisurely pace of 50 mph, you can afford to let your mind wander as you gaze at the dynamic landscape surrounding you. Although it may sound too good to be true, this road does exist. Welcome to the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Birdsong Hollow Double Arch Bridge, Tennessee

Once called the Old Natchez Trace, this national parkway has been designated an All-American Road and preserves sections of the primitive trace used by countless numbers of people and animals for thousands of years. The original route followed the early passage of American bison and other game as they migrated between the salt and mineral deposits in the Cumberland Plateau and the grazing pastures in Mississippi. Native Americans who followed the “traces” of bison, made further improvements to this route, and by the time of European settlement and exploration it was well established.

Beginning in the late 18th century, the Trace was used as a return route for the pilots of flatboats. These flatboats were used by farmers and others to transport agriculture goods and livestock south, on a one-way journey to the port in New Orleans. Once they arrived and their goods were traded, the flatboats were disassembled, the lumber salvaged and sold, providing them with a small allowance to return home. Prior to the invention of the steamboat, a return home upriver against the strong current of the Mississippi River was unthinkable, so many from the Ohio River valley region traveled along the Trace as they made their way home.

The Natchez Trace Parkway was begun in 1939 as one of the projects by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. It was not officially finished until some 66 years later, when at long last, the final two sections were completed in May 2005.

Running from Fairview, Tennessee to the southern terminus of Natchez, Mississippi, there are 50 access points in the states of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. The parkway is open every day, year-round and best of all, it’s free. Commercial traffic is prohibited along the entire length and you won’t find a single gas station, restaurant or hotel either. Don’t fear – there are many communities that run parallel to the parkway and offer plenty of lodging, fuel and refreshment options, most of which are all found within a short drive of each exit, indicated by mile marker signs. This lack of development on the Trace enhances the stress-free travel, granting a panorama unobstructed by billboards and clear of transport trucks and other distractions associated with travel on major highways and interstates. As with any travel plan, it is always a good idea to check conditions before heading out. Visit the NPS website for alerts such as road or trail closures, construction or other problems.

Only the hauntingly beautiful columns and ironwork remain of this mansion built in 1861. Visit Windsor Ruins, the site of the largest antebellum Greek Revival mansion ever built in Mississippi. It’s worth the short drive off of the parkway.

More than just a scenic drive, you can also take advantage of the many recreational opportunities along the more than four hundred miles. For a break from driving and to stretch your legs, stop at one of numerous points of interest, picnic areas or take a short walk to a waterfall. If you have more time, there are also hikes several miles in length, some of which allow for a more in depth exploration of the original Trace route. For those interested in spending the night, there are three campgrounds, open year-round, on or near the parkway. Need some help in planning? You will find four visitors centers along the road where you can pick up a free map, see various exhibits and speak with rangers or volunteers for assistance. Days and hours are varied, so please check the NPS site for further details.

This is no ordinary hill. Emerald Mound covers 8 acres and is the second largest temple mound in the United States. Built to support temples, ceremonial structures and burials, it was used between 1300 and 1600 AD.

During the past sixteen years, I’ve had the opportunity to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway several times, although not always in it’s entirety. I’ve traveled in both spring and fall, each season offering something varied and unique to enhance the already pleasant drive. Having also driven on the Trace after dark, I would highly recommend against it. This is not to suggest that the parkway is unsafe once the sun sets, however, you would miss the beauty of the drive. More importantly, by not driving at night, you can avoid the numerous nocturnal animals that consider the road fair territory in the dark. Believe me when I say that creeping along at 20 mph or less, in the pitch black, with dozens of glowing eyes along the shoulder or on the road is not very fun, nor very safe. There are plenty of sleeping options just off the Trace, so when dusk arrives, find an exit that suites your needs and leave the driving for daylight hours.

A short walk at Cypress Swamp might reward you with a view of an alligator or two.

The next time you are headed out on the road, see if you can take advantage of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Take a break from the busy expressways and interstates, follow a more leisurely path and enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Safe travels!

Where to eat:

No journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway is complete without the possibility of enjoying some delicious food along the way. If you are starting or ending the drive in Tennessee, do not miss the opportunity to eat at the Loveless Cafe. This Nashville landmark, open since 1951, is located near the northern terminus of the parkway. The cafe makes everything from scratch and serves up some of the best food, including all-day breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner. A true southern gem, expect to be received with hospitality that you will not soon forget. Don’t even thinking of leaving without having a biscuit or two – they are out of this world!

For fantastic food choices at the southern terminus in Natchez, visit my blog post here.

Vacation for your health

In the fresh air and sun, rock climbing doesn’t feel like exercise

“Travel is good medicine.”

It should come as no surprise that the benefits reaped by travel extend beyond the obvious enjoyment of taking a vacation. Yet we easily become stuck in the rut of our day to day lives, and procrastinate on making plans to take our next trip. With full-time jobs and busy lives, we forget how refreshing and rejuvenating time away can be. As well, worries about spending our sometimes limited funds on an activity such as travel can seem frivolous or selfish, and those thoughts can be hard to banish.

During a recent conversation with my sister, I was reminded of my good fortune to have been given the gift of time and the ability to take a trip with no restriction in length. Knowing me as well as she does, she was quite taken aback that I was just sitting around the house and not taking advantage of my hiatus from the working world. After this wake up call, I made travel plans within the next 24 hours. Almost instantly, my mood improved and the dark cloud that had been hanging over me for the past couple of months lifted. I had a renewed purpose and a project to work on. For a self-professed travel junkie there is nothing more satisfying to me than setting the course of action for my next adventure.

Hike to a waterfall and enjoy the cooling mist

Even if you’ve not made travel plans on impulse, you’ve probably felt that surge of excitement course through your veins as you press Complete Purchase when making a plane reservation or booking a trip. It should come as no surprise that studies have found just the act of planning a vacation can spike happiness, providing benefits long before you even leave your home. Beyond that initial buzz of energy and enthusiasm, there are numerous other health benefits to be gained from travel.

“Travel is good medicine”, says Dr. Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D. “Because it challenges the brain with new and different experiences and environments, it is an important behavior that promotes brain health and builds brain resilience across the lifespan.” Additional studies, such as The Framingham Heart Study, have concluded that women who traveled at least twice a year, were less likely to develop heart or coronary problems when compared to women who only traveled once every six years. Also, women who did not travel were twice as likely to suffer from depression. For men, there were benefits too. Men who took an annual vacation were shown to have a lower risk of death as well as a lower risk of heart disease causing death. Even when taking into consideration pre-existing poor health, researchers confirmed that there are restorative behaviors involved in vacationing and that regular participation in social or leisure activities associated with travel can help promote mental health.
Probably the most obvious and potentially important facet of taking a vacation is the reduction of stress. Everyday stressors are damaging to our immune systems, increase our chances for various health ailments, and the production of cortisol caused by stress can actually speed up the aging process.

Get out and find your own view of the mountains

With that in mind, there’s no time like the present to start booking your next trip. If you’re of the mindset that you’ll just wait to do all your traveling when you retire, you may want to reconsider. After all, there are no guarantees in life, and you may not make it to retirement age or arrive there in good health. Futhermore, the mindset previously followed by past generations of living our lives in the traditional method of school, work, and then personal time is quickly becoming obsolete. Instead, the new thinking incorporates our educational, personal and occupational time in a more intertwined convention. This means a lifetime of learning and dedicating more time for ourselves, including taking more vacations during our working years. Studies have concluded that travel is part of aging well, but also point out that you can’t wait until retirement age to start. If you want to live a long, healthy life, activities that contribute to health aging, like a good diet, exercise and travel need to be started before your 50’s or 60’s. It’s important to make health decisions across the course of a lifetime to reap the benefits.

For us travel lovers, it’s not a revelation to hear that there are many positive benefits to traveling, yet those lingering doubts or nagging thoughts still crop up. When this happens to me, I just remind myself of two things: #1 – I’ve never come back from a trip with any regrets (other than missing something cool along the way) and #2 – I can always make more money.

Climb to the highest point for the best vistas


“Jobs fill your pocket, but adventures fill your soul.”

Jamie Lyn Beatty

Here are some other great benefits of travel to ponder:

  • Exercise is more fun. When you’re out in the world, hiking, biking or rock climbing doesn’t feel like your average workout. Soaking up the sites while walking for miles in an unexplored city is enjoyable and fun, instead of a chore.
  • Travel makes you smarter. Navigating in an unfamiliar territory, reading a map, making quick decisions and doing other activities that take you out of your comfort zone or regular routine will fire up your synapses.
  • Allows time to reflect. If you’ve spent time watching the landscape go by while riding in a car, or have stared out at the endless horizon over the ocean, you may have noticed some profound thoughts pass through your mind. Travel makes an ideal environment for introspection and reflection. Away from distractions, you are free to see yourself from a distance and consider the life you’ve built for yourself.
  • Helps build relationships. Have you noticed how much easier it is to make friends and bond with people when you are on vacation? Sometimes it’s the alcohol or party atmosphere, but even without that, you can meet people from all walks of life and feel an instant connection. Strangers meeting while on vacation, who might otherwise ignore each other, are suddenly more than happy to take pictures or give advice and directions.
  • It expands your sense of self. You can be a different person when you’re in a different place. When you travel, no one else knows you or your self-perceived faults. Away from your every day life, and your boss, spouse or your kids, you are free to just be yourself.
Watch the sun sink into the ocean


“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”

Unknown

So consider your health and set aside your guilt or whatever else is preventing you from taking your next vacation. Go out and explore. It doesn’t have to be an extensive or costly trip, as even a long weekend can provide a much needed break to refresh and reset. As for myself, I’m going to enjoy my time off from the hectic working world, go on an adventure and live my life to the fullest with no regrets. I’m going to do what I love most – travel!

Explore the streets in a foreign city


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Mark Twain

Trip of a Lifetime

Four Corners Monument

When you close your eyes and imagine yourself on the most amazing vacation, what do you see? Where would you go if time and money were no object and there were no other barriers to prevent you from your most perfect escape? Would you sail around the world or backpack through Europe? Maybe you’d venture to the Himalayas and climb Mount Everest or travel to the African savannas for a safari. For me, the ideal holiday doesn’t mean leaving the continent or even necessarily getting on a plane. For years, my ultimate vacation goal has been to take a road trip across the western United States and explore the natural beauty along the scenic roads and highways and tour the numerous national parks. This is the my Trip of a Lifetime.

The first notion of a Trip of a Lifetime began one night, many years ago, when a group of friends and I were sitting around and describing what our ultimate road trip would look like. We decided that it would best be completed in a motor home and would take at least six months of continuous traveling. As several destination suggestions were made, it became clear that the majority of what we all wanted to see was in the western part of the states. Whether it was driving Route 66 in a convertible or seeing the towering shaggy sequoias in California, we seemed to have this shared perception of a wild, uncharted land, filled with unique and obscure attractions. We wanted to see Mount Rushmore, hike the Grand Canyon and watch the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns. We wanted to drive up the 101 coastal highway, swim in the ocean and see the Golden Gate Bridge. Something called to us, and it was more than just the fantasy of running off and living like a nomad. It was the promise of vast open skies, landscapes so dramatically different than ours in southern Ontario and escaping the urban sprawl that was our day to day lives.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Even before that late night conversation, as a child growing up in the mid-west, I had always imagined myself heading out west. I wanted to experience first hand the mountains, natural wonders, wildlife, and all the national parks that I had only read about in books and magazines or seen on TV. I had long dreamed of the massive stalactites in enormous underground caves, of riding a mule into the Grand Canyon, planting my feet in more than one state at the Four Corners and driving through the incredible rock formations of Monument Valley.

Lower Falls, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

After years of musing, in 2010, I had the unexpected and fortunate pleasure of having three months off during the summer. While I had begun to make plans to travel solo, a blossoming relationship with a co-worker who was also going to be out of work, created a willing and able travel partner. We spent three glorious weeks on the road taking in Badlands National Park, Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, as well as Devil’s Tower National Monument and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks in Wyoming. We learned that cars pulled over on the side of the road meant a chance encounter to spot bear or coyote and delighted in the opportunity to see elk and bison roaming the parks and landscape. We marveled at the ragged granite peaks of the Grand Teton range, rising majestically from sparkling blue Jackson Lake and almost became immune to sulfurous stink of the bubbling geysers and hot springs at Yellowstone. It was everything I had imagined and more. I was smitten. Those three weeks became the catalyst of my desire to head west again and see more of that unspoiled and seemingly limitless, wide-open part of the United States. That magical trip became Trip of a Lifetime – Part I.

Steaming hot spring in Yellowstone National Park

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

John Muir

Two years later, and hungry to continue with our journeys westward, we started planning what would become Part II of the Trip of a Lifetime. My previous travel partner was now my boyfriend, and against my better judgement I agreed that his two youngest children, both teenagers at the time, could join us. We came up with a jam-packed schedule, eager to cram in as many sites as we could in a two week period. Knowing our time was more restricted than on the first trip, we decided to fly to Phoenix, Arizona, rent a car and tour through Arizona and California, flying home from Sacramento. I was really excited knowing that I was going to make a big dent in my bucket list and cross off more of the places my friends and I had only dreamed about seeing. My wishes were coming true and while it wasn’t exactly the way I had imagined it, I was thrilled to once again head west.

Colorado river, Marble Canyon

The trip in 2012 saw the four of us experience many an adventure and perhaps a few too many arguments along the way, but looking back now, we all agree that it was a trip that we will never forget. In those two weeks, with long hours of driving every day, we crossed off many bucket list items. We visited the Petrified Forest National Park, and stopped at the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark on the way. We drove across the barren landscape of northeastern Arizona to the Four Corners Monument, and followed along the San Juan River, through Mexican Hat to hit Monument Valley. A childhood dream for me, when those towering sandstone buttes came into focus on the horizon, I was captivated.

Next, we spent a day at the north rim of the Grand Canyon and rode mules along the edge and into the canyon. We toured through Zion National Park, the Hoover Dam and spent a night in Las Vegas. We tested out the cooling system of the rental car, and our own bodies, in 118 F temps while driving through Death Valley National Park.

Surviving that first week, mostly unscathed, we started to make our way into California and fell in love with the shaggy and unbelievably colossal sequoias at the Trail of Giants and in Sequoia National Park. We spent two amazing days exploring, hiking, swimming and rock climbing in Yosemite National Park and we learned that any activity performed at 10,000 feet is exhausting, but sometimes being breathless leads to the most stunning waterfalls and vistas.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

We ended our amazing trip on the shores of California where we rode an ancient, thundering wooden roller coaster on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, drove along the coast-hugging 101 highway and spent a day and a half exploring the beautiful San Francisco Bay area.

Chinatown, San Francisco

With so much more of the country to explore, the Trip of a Lifetime series is just beginning. There are fifty nine national parks in the United States and to date, I’ve only seen seventeen. My dreams are still filled with road trips to the west and I can’t wait to share all my experiences along the way.

What’s your trip of a lifetime? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a reply below or email me at tasteetravels@yahoo.com

New Orleans – So Much More Than Mardi Gras

Last week marked another Fat Tuesday and while Mardi Gras celebrations were taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana, I found myself 2,000 kilometers away, with a deep sense of yearning. This longing, however, was not for the parades filling the streets with marching bands and floats, or the crowds of revelers catching beads and trinkets. My nostalgia was not for that at all. For me, the magic of New Orleans is so much more than Mardi Gras.


“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. 
Everywhere else is Cleveland.” 

Tennessee Williams

New Orleans was settled on the banks of the Mississippi River by French colonists in 1718 as Nouvelle-Orléans. It was ruled both by the French and Spanish before being sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana purchase in 1803. During the time of Spanish rule, the city was devastated by two great fires, the first in 1788 followed by another in 1794. Most of the simple wooden structures built by the early colonists perished in the fire and were replaced with brick when the Spanish rebuilt. In a twist of irony, virtually all the surviving architecture of multi-storied buildings, courtyards, and decorative wrought iron seen today in the what’s called the French Quarter, were actually built in the Spanish colonial style.

Once it’s largest city, New Orleans is the vibrant crown jewel of the American South. With a long and colorful history, it frequently serves as a backdrop for TV shows and movies, and is a place that goes by many names: The Crescent City, The Big Easy or NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana). But no matter what you call her, New Orleans is a city that can be anything you desire and where everything is a good idea.

On my first visit some twenty years ago, my mission, like many first-timers, was to get to Bourbon street. I had a weekend to party and that was all I cared about. I drank, I danced, I fell down and drank some more. I tried every crazy alcohol laden drink that was available and stayed up partying until the wee hours. The next day, while nursing myself back to ‘human’ with a large White Russian daiquiri, I roamed through the French Quarter, enjoying the city’s easy going open container law. That entire weekend, I never went further than those 13 blocks that run between Canal Street and Esplanade and left satisfied, thinking I had seen everything I needed to see in New Orleans. Little did I realize just how much I was missing.

“Everything in New Orleans is a good idea.”

Bob Dylan

Since that party weekend almost two decades ago, I have begun a love affair with the city, returning five more times and eager to run back once again. To those who’ve never been, you might ask, why? What is so special about New Orleans? The answer is simple. It’s easy to revisit your great love. Knowing that there are many corners of the city I have yet to explore is just one of the things that compels me to return. It’s also the anticipated joy of retracing my steps to those places that I have already discovered. It’s that perfect cup of gumbo, or finding Mardi Gras beads in the most unexpected places. It’s gazing up at the enormous live oaks as they reach across the streets and seemingly embrace the entire city in a hug. It’s the feeling of losing yourself while walking down a quiet cobblestone street deep in the Quarter, or the impromptu entertainment provided by the buskers and illusionists on Royal Street. It’s the countless artists displaying their works all around Jackson Square or discovering the hidden symbols in the wrought iron balconies. It’s the art of learning how to enjoy beignets at Cafe Du Monde and leaving without being completely covered in powdered sugar. It’s all these things and more. There is a romantic quality to this place that continues to draw me back.

With an almost endless array of itineraries to follow when visiting New Orleans, it can be difficult to know where to start and harder still to fit everything in. Below are my suggestions for four areas of the city to begin your explorations.

#1 Magazine Street

Six miles of restaurants, shops, cafes and attractions, Magazine Street runs between Canal Street and Audubon Park. You can easily spend a day or two strolling down the street, popping into the boutiques, enjoying happy hour specials al fresco at one of the many bars or restaurants, or refueling with a cold brew coffee and pastry. Below are some of my favorite stops on Magazine Street:

  • District Donuts– with a daily rotation of uncommon flavors, you’ll have a hard time picking just one kind donut
  • Sucré – gelato and tons of sugary treats to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth
  • The Rum House – great menu for lunch or dinner
  • Buffalo Exchange – not your average used clothing store
  • Casamento’s – old school restaurant, famous for it’s fresh oysters
  • New York Pizza – NYC thin crust styled pizza

#2 Freret Street

This lively neighborhood, just north of St. Charles Street, is filled with some fantastic treasures. Off the beaten path, it’s recent revival makes it a hot spot for those in the know. Some cool places you need to check out:

#3 French Quarter

No trip to New Orleans would be complete without exploring the French Quarter. Here are some suggestions of amazing places to try:

  • Central Grocery – buy the whole muffaletta – you won’t be disappointed (and yes, it’s absolutely worth the wait in line!!)
  • Café Du Monde – open 24 hours a day, anytime is a good time to order a cafe latte and a plate or two of beignets
  • Preservation Hall – catch one of the three famous nightly shows and arrive early to get the best seats
  • Court of Two Sisters – reserve a table on the brick patio and sip a mimosa in the sun while enjoying their fantastic Sunday brunch. Be sure to save room for the bread pudding.
  • Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone – order a specialty cocktail and go for a ride at this magical bar
  • Verti Marte – market and deli open 24/7 serving a huge variety of sandwiches. Enjoy a cold beverage while you wait for your order to be called. Don’t worry – it’s legal, this is New Orleans, after all

#4 Streetcars & Parks

Part of the romance and charm of New Orleans would be missed without a ride on one of the city’s movable pieces of history. Of the four lines, the St. Charles is the world’s oldest operating streetcar line and my personal favorite. For $1.25 one-way, all the sights and sounds of St. Charles Avenue can be enjoyed, starting from the edge of the French Quarter all the way down to South Carrollton Avenue. Sit back and relax as the streetcar slowly rumbles across the six miles of track, passing under the tunnels of ancient live oaks, and past the large antebellum mansions of historic Uptown. Ready to stretch your legs? Then hop off at the Audubon Park. Comprised of 350 acres, it has multiple pedestrian trails, a nature center, aquarium and is also home to a rookery, making it one of the best birding spots in Greater New Orleans. For an entirely different view of the city, ride the Canal Street line out to City Park. Reopened in 2004, after being replaced by a bus line in 1964, the Canal Street line has air conditioning and wheelchair access. When you arrive at the park, enjoy the various galleries inside the New Orleans Museum of Art, take a walk through the botanical gardens, or rent a bike and tour around the miles of paved paths through the 1,300 acres.

No matter when you decide to visit this timeless city, whether it’s for business or pleasure, to join the drunken debauchery on Bourbon Street or to simply be enchanted by the southern hospitality, I have no doubt that you’ll fall in love with all that New Orleans has to offer. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Multiple colored strands of Mardi Gras beads are wrapped around sections of a small tree
Tree wrapped in colorful Mardi Gras beads

How Marie Kondo saved me $60

Yes, even packing your suitcase can spark joy.

Do you often find yourself at the airport laden down with several bags, envious of those traveling with only a carry on? You’re stuck waiting in the never-ending check in line with your heavy bag, hoping it won’t go over the weight limit while other passengers sail past you looking cool, calm and collected with one small bag.

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. After finding myself in that situation over and over again, I’d make a promise that next time I would pack only the bare minimum. However, when it came to the next trip, no matter how hard I tried, the carry on bag would be overflowing and I’d end up using a large suitcase and paying hefty fees for a checked bag. I was frustrated, but always ended up packing too much and couldn’t figure out a way to change. Thankfully, I’ve come across a solution that worked for me and could work for you too.

If you subscribe to Netflix, you’ve probably already heard of Marie Kondo, organizational guru and world renowned tidying expert. She has become a cultural phenomenon, and her new show Tidying Up inspired me to start organizing my belongings by using her six basic rules. Her techniques can be used in your entire home, however, for the purpose of this blog and stress-free packing, I’m going to focus on her method of organizing clothing.

In the simplest of terms, using The KonMari Method™ involves sorting through all the clothing you own, holding each item individually to determine if it sparks joy. If it doesn’t, it goes in the discard pile to be consigned, donated or disposed of. If the piece makes you happy, you keep it. For those of us who are attached to our clothing, Marie’s technique is a kind and gentle way of discarding excess items.

Marie also shares an organizational practice by which your clothing is folded into small rectangles that can be stacked side by side, thus making it easy to see everything at a glance. No more digging to find your favorite pair of jeans buried at the bottom of the stack. Once you master her easy folding method, organizing becomes effortless and packing a suitcase is a breeze. Each item of clothing is small and compact and once placed in your luggage will be visible without having to search through your entire bag. This means you’ll be less likely to over pack because you’ll be able to recognize that you’ve already filled your bag with 6 pairs of jeans or 12 tank tops and you won’t be tempted to add ‘just one more’.

Below are the basic steps for her folding method:

If you travel a lot and are tired of feeling unorganized, then practicing The KonMari Method™ could work for you. By utilizing this process on my recent trip, I was able to successfully pack enough clothing for seven days, fit everything into a carry on bag and save $60 in checked bag fees. Thanks Marie!!

Clothing is easily viewed after being folded and packed

Southern Charm, Natchez Style.

A destination for history buffs and foodies alike.

Female statue in garden through arch, magnolia petals on the ground
Garden statue at Rosalie

Magnolias and camellias in bloom, and a touch of spring is in the air. It’s early February in Natchez, Mississippi, and if this southern destination isn’t on your radar, perhaps it should be. Founded in 1716, it’s the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River and is full of history, grand antebellum mansions, and culinary delights.

The most popular time to visit Natchez may be during the spring or fall pilgrimage season, when many private homes and plantations open their doors to the public for tours. February, however, is a great option for those looking to escape the northern winter weather and enjoy the sites with very few other tourists. The mild temperatures and low humidity make it a great time to explore Natchez. 

Upon arrival, the best way to get a taste for all the city has to offer, is to take one of the many tour options available. Whether it be one of the self-guided walking tours, the City Sightseeing Hop on, Hop off bus, or the quaint, horse drawn carriage ride of Southern Carriage Tours, you’ll be provided with a more intimate view of Natchez today, as well as a glimpse into it’s past.

Stanton Hall – built in the 1850’s

It’s been said that in 1860, Natchez had more millionaires per capita than New York City. The wealthy displayed their money in grandiose fashion through their lavishly built and furnished homes. While many made their vast fortunes from the slave trade or production of cotton, they did not live at their plantations. Plantations were commonly laid out in the rich, but flood-prone river delta, so instead, they built their ‘town houses’ in Natchez, perched high above the Mississippi. Here, far away from the day-to-day misery of the slaves whose servitude maintained their lavish lifestyles, they were free to attend parties and flaunt their prosperity.

Due to the city’s quick surrender during the American civil war, there are an abundance of antebellum homes that remain, and no trip to Natchez is complete without a historic mansion tour. Many of the grounds are free to tour, and are filled with elegant gardens and century old, majestic, live oaks. For those homes that do charge, the fees are quite reasonable and well worth the cost. While most offer daily tours year round, its best to check their websites, as tour times change depending on the season.

Rosalie Mansion (pictured below), offers a well guided tour, providing in-depth and fascinating details about the families who’ve lived there. Adding to it’s charm and beauty, the majority of the furnishings at Rosalie are original, including a large set of John Henry Belter, hand-carved rosewood furniture, created in the “Rosalie” style that became it’s namesake. Please note that while photography is not allowed inside the house, this is a tour you will not soon forget and is highly recommended.

Rosalie mansion - large house with expansive grounds and originally cypress fence.
Rosalie – built in 1823
Melrose – built in 1848

Melrose Mansion (pictured above), acquired by the National Park Service in 1990, offers another exceptional tour. This home is filled with it’s original opulence. Hand-carved furniture, glamorous gilded mirrors and chandeliers, as well as the original painted oil cloth flooring make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Many of the original buildings, including the stables, milk house and slave quarters are still standing and can be toured free of charge. Tours of the grounds are also free, and should not be missed, especially while the camellias are in bloom. The fee for the mansion tour is $8 for adults and photography is allowed, so be sure to bring your camera and capture the elegance that is Melrose.

While there are many more mansion tours available in Natchez, there are also additional sites that should not be missed. One of these is the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum has many exhibits portraying the lives of African Americans in the days of slavery up to current culture. There are docents available to provide further details as they guide you through the artifacts of black history filling the museum. There is no fee to tour the museum, and donations are accepted.

The Stratton Chapel on Pearl Street holds an amazing collection of photographs, titled Natchez in Historic Photographs. Life in and around Natchez, as well as family portraits, are displayed in various rooms on the 2nd floor of the chapel (accessible by elevator). If you prefer your history in a visual display or are simply a lover of photography, this assemblage should not be missed. The photos date from approximately 1845 to 1910, and the fascinating fashion, hairstyles and architecture captured in these pictures are worth the trip alone. There is no fee to view these wonderful photos, and donations are accepted to offset costs. No photography allowed.

In addition to it’s rich history, Natchez has many great places to grab a bite to eat. For a city with a population of less than 15,000 people, there are a surprising large number of gastronomic delights that will satisfy any appetite. If you like the nostalgia of window service, you’ll love what’s being served up at The Malt Shop. This unassuming corner joint is not to be missed when in Natchez. There is an extensive menu, however, the delicious catfish sandwich and Cajun curly fries are recommended. Enjoy numerous flavors of shakes or malts, and while you are waiting for your order, create a lasting memory by adding your initials to the picnic table out front.

If a sit down restaurant is more your speed, there are plenty of options available. Bring your appetite to Pearl Street Pasta, where the service is charming and the portions are large. The Cajun Shrimp pasta or the blackened, seared tuna is a delicious option for seafood lovers, while the Eggplant Parmesan is sure to satisfy the vegetarian in your group. Or check out the King’s Tavern, circa 1789. It’s the oldest standing building in the Mississippi territory and is rumored to be haunted. Not to be missed are the bacon wrapped artichoke hearts with spicy aioli or the biscuit crusted, crawfish pot pie, served with a house salad with preserved lemon vinaigrette and shaved parmesan.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, day or night, you must try The Donut Shop. If you love donuts, do not drive past this bright, blue building, located at 501 John R. Junkin Drive. They have a large variety of fresh donuts, including the best apple fritters, and will leave you wanting donuts for every meal. Please note there is only window service available, as well as covered, outdoor seating, and they are closed on Mondays. Highly recommended!

There are many more restaurants that I highly recommend checking out, a few of which are listed below:

  • Biscuits & Blues
  • Cotton Alley
  • Jug Heads Fish Fry
  • Natchez Coffee Company
  • Slick Rick’s
  • Roux 61
  • The Camp

If you are looking for an affordable, and interesting destination, complete with southern charm, hospitality, and delicious food, then look no further than Natchez, Mississippi. For a visitor’s guide, click here.

Under the Hill & Mississippi River viewed from the bluff

Did you know the resurrection fern is a remarkable plant that can lose about 75 percent of its water content during a typical dry period and perhaps up to 97 percent in an extreme drought? During a drought, it shrivels up to a grayish brown clump of leaves. When the plant is exposed to water again, it will “come back to life” and look green and healthy. The picture below was taken one day after it had rained in Natchez, so the top part is still green. While the fern gets its name from this supposed “resurrection,” it never actually dies during the process. This is quite fascinating, as by contrast, most other plants can lose only 10 percent of their water content before they die.