Short on time in Memphis? You’ve gotta try these four things.

Beale Street lit sign

Are you flying into Memphis stoked about your new adventure but a little concerned you’ll be short on time to explore the city? Don’t stress. I was there for a three-day weekend and still managed to have a blast, so you can too.

Since I knew I wouldn’t have much time to run around town, the first thing I did was ask my cab driver what were the top three things I just had to experience while there. Without skipping a beat, he recommended “the river, the music, and the food.”  Well, regrettably, with a full day devoted to an event I was attending, I didn’t have time go on one of the many river rides, some of which take you all the way down to New Orleans. However, I did treat my stomach, my ears and my hips quite generously.  How so, I hear you asking. We’ll get to that in minute, hunnie. Just keep reading!

These are my top suggestions for things to see and do if you’re short on time in Memphis:

Eat, eat, EAT

Barbecue at B.B. King Jazz Club Memphis

My driver wasn’t exaggerating when he said Memphis was known for its food, and it’s by no means just a one-hit culinary wonder that solely serves up sumptuous barbecue. Whether you like chicken, steak, pulled pork, or delicious soul food, Memphis has it all in abundance. I’m 1000% serious.  You cannot leave without first filling up your plate and then devouring everything in sight – at a restaurant or two.

The Rendevous, an old-fashioned eatery in a large basement dining room, is known for its hearty servings of ribs and sausages in a vinegar base, topped with dry-rub spices.  Central BBQ is another hot spot, but their specialties are wet ribs and nachos. For some home-cooked styled meals with tummy-rubbing sides like mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, beans, candied sweet potatoes, cornbread and more, 99¢ Soul Food Express, Alcenia’s and Gus’s Fried Chicken come highly recommended. Feeling for lighter, breakfast and brunch fare? Blue Plate Café on South Court Avenue may be just the answer for you. The service is friendly and brisk, and they serve warm maple syrup with their pancakes. Yum.

Immerse yourself in the music

Live ,usic in Memphis

When one town can offer up world-famous entertainers like Elvis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Otis Reading, Isaac Hayes and more over time, that’s got to be worth looking into, right? Music sits on you like a second skin and feels as natural as the air you breathe in Memphis. You can take the historic route and visit one or more of the many venues that chart the musical journeys of the city’s beloved hitmakers, or you can immerse yourself in the present and enjoy the soulful sounds of many talented musicians that play live music daily.

For a foray into the area’s ties to rhythm-n-blues, rock n’ roll, gospel and jazz, visit either the Stax Museum, Sun Studio, Blues Hall of Fame, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Graceland, or the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Then time travel to today and head to Beale Street to sway your hips to the blues. There are several places to choose from, like Blues City Café and Rum Boogie Cafés Blues Hall Juke Joint, but as far as I am concerned,  B.B. King’s Blues Club is where it’s at. There is a $10 cover charge to watch the show even if you’re dining, but the food, the drinks, the melodies and the atmosphere are definitely worth it.

Visit the National Civil Rights Museum

Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was assasinated

The National Civil Rights Museum, housed in what used to be the Lorraine Motel, is a riveting and emotional learning opportunity for ALL people (not just during Black History Month), and one which is especially poignant for people of African descent. The self-guided tour starts with a brief film and subsequent exhibits are arranged in chronological order to relay key milestones of the American Civil Rights Movement, going from slavery up to 1968. It is also the location where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. 

I found it hard to believe that his end came so violently after a life devoted to peaceful protest, especially seeing that only four short years before he had penned his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Bimini (The Bahamas). The entrance fee to the museum also includes access to the boarding house across the street, which shows you the window from which the sniper fired the fatal shot.

Check out the street art

A Day in the life mural_Memphis

Like almost everything else in the city, the art and culture scene is poppin’ too. In addition to interesting galleries, there are tons of colorful wall murals with varying sizes and themes, so if graffiti art is your jam and you are short on time in Memphis, check out this Downtown Memphis Mural Guide to pick your Instagram backdrop spots ahead of time.  Most places are super easy to get to with the trolley, walking a few blocks, or via the bus or a cab.

Have you been to Memphis? What else would you recommend?

Where to find art and culture in Kansas City, Missouri

Did you know that both Missouri and Kansas have a metropolitan area called Kansas City?  Well, I didn’t realize that until three years ago.  Before then, the Wizard of Oz was my only visual reference of Kansas, so when I looked around on my drive from the airport, I expected to see flat plains, large rolls of hay and an austere, dull landscape – maybe even a random pair of red shoes and a scarecrow. But nah, it wasn’t even close.

Known for its popular barbecue joints, chic rehabbed districts, growing number of microbreweries, World War 1 Museum, and contributions to the evolution of jazz, Kansas City, Missouri, is trendier and filled with more outlets for arts and culture than you’d think. In fact, in 2012 it was named one of America’s top cities for hipsters by Travel + Leisure.

Venues for art and culture

Art Alley

If you’re into the budding street art scene, head over to 17th and 18th Streets near Locust and Cherry to see wall murals that are big, colorful and bold. Freelance artist Jason Harrington is credited with starting the movement to spruce up the buildings in the area, but paintings are done by people from all over the city. The art changes regularly, so each trip there is likely to unveil new murals.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkuflvFA0xB/

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Named in honor of a founder and editor of the Kansas City Evening Star, William Rockhill Nelson, and Mary McAfee Atkins, the Nelson-Atkins Museum houses close to 40,000 works of art from all over the world. In addition, outside there is also a sculpture garden that showcases an amazing collection of 35+ pieces by many of the 20th century’s finest artists. Installations include monumental bronze works by Henry Moore and the Instaworthy shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Admission is free, but you pay for parking.

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American Jazz Museum

Are there any jazz lovers here? After a day of browsing what I considered to be one of the coolest places in Kansas City, I discovered that the 18th and Vine District – not just New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago – was also the base for many pioneering jazz greats who performed at nightclubs that fueled a creative and vibrant music scene in the 30s and 40s. Yes, maestros like Charlie Parker, Big Joe Turner, Jay McShann, Count Basie, and a ton of other jazz icons added their flava to the town’s musical history in a time when separatism was still the order of the day.

If possible, plan your visit late in the day on a Friday afternoon and stay for the Indigo Hour at the onsite jazz club, Blue Room. It features soul-stirring music from local R&B and Neo-Soul musicians from 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm, with no cover charge.

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Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

For a foray into the performing arts, check their calendar of events and schedule a visit to the impressive Kauffman Center. It’s both a cultural and architectural icon in the city, and it attracts a wide variety of entertainers and performances from around the world. Shows range from ballet and contemporary dance, to Broadway plays, music concerts, opera, comedy shows, and more.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkxUOriAliq/

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kemper Museum features modern and contemporary works by artists who are well-established, mid-way in their journey, and newbies on the up and up. Staying true to its mission of enriching lives through the display of art in a free and welcoming environment, it also offers access to special exhibitions, installations, workshops and lectures.  If you get hungry while browsing the venue, no need to worry. Just saunter into their elegant snack bar, Café Sebastienne, where art, culture and cuisine combine to provide you with a multisensory experience.

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And that’s my list! All my favortite places to find art and culture in Kansas City, Missouri, at your fingertips.

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Kansas City arts and culture venues

Only 36 Hours in New Orleans? Here are 9 Itinerary suggestions

Some destinations are known for stunning natural scenery, while the appeal of others lies in instantly recognizable landmarks, the significance of the location’s history, its music scene, or culinary identity. But very few, like New Orleans, have most of those attributes with the added distinction of being world-renown for SOUL.Jaz musician statues at ouis Armstrong Park_New Orleans

And I don’t mean soul solely in terms of the definition normally ascribed to the African-American context that infers being steeped in black culture or ethnic pride. No, the Big Easy has soul in a much broader sense because it exudes an emotion, a passion, and an intensity that transcends race and ethnicity. I’d liken it to an intangible, but visceral force that leaps across socio-economic, political, generational and geographic chasms to make you forget about your respective backgrounds for long enough to absorb just the right amount of its crackling energy.

Plan for a long stay, but if you only have 36 hours, here are nine itinerary suggestions:

Take a city tour
You can do bus tours, food tours, or go on historic walking tours. My sister and I planned this trip for our parent’s wedding anniversary, so with seniors on board in the heat of the summer, we opted to sightsee on an air-conditioned bus. The ride took us past the French Quarter, the Garden District, the famous Superdome, the Tremé neighborhood, and the Ninth Ward area that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The stories of the city’s resilience and its sights were impressive, but one of the biggest highlights of the drive for me was getting to see the William Frantz Elementary School where 6-year-old Ruby Bridges boarded the steps in 1960 and did her part to end school segregation. The building is small, but I can’t imagine how huge and imposing it must have seemed back then to that tiny little girl.

Ride the streetcar 

New Orleans Streer Car
The streetcar is such a novel and neat way to see different parts of the city that you should add it to your list. The NOLA three-line, streetcar system is one of the oldest operated ones in the world. One of the cool things about it is if you ride all the way to the end of one line, you just get up and turn your seats around to face the other way on the return. Plus, it’s cheap! At US$3 for a 24-hour pass, its prices beat even Uber and Lyft.

Eat, eat… and then eat some more
Let me warn you now, do not go to New Orleans if you’re on a diet! The food is so outstanding, by trying to watch calories you will be losing out. What I liked best is the wide range of culinary offerings available everywhere, which means you don’t have to dress up and pay fancy prices to savor the deliciousness that abounds. We tried to avoid the tourist traps by eating local, and oh me oh my, the hotel staff and taxi drivers sure didn’t steer us wrong. 

If you’re a fan of shrimp, gumbo and crawfish/crayfish, I have two words for you: Cajun Seafood. It’s a small, stand-up-and-order-at-the counter eatery on 1479 N. Claiborne Avenue that serves seafood by the plate or pound. You get fantastic tasting meals with humungous servings at half the price you’d pay in even the most basic restaurant in the French Quarter.

If you’re staying in the business district and are looking for good ole homestyle breakfast and lunch options that are easy on the taste buds AND your pocket, you can try Commerce Restaurant on Camp Street or P & G Restaurant and Bar on Baronne Street.

Other must-try signature meals elsewhere include beignets (Morning Call Coffee Stand), pralines (Leah’s Pralines), fried chicken (Dooky Chase or Willie Mae’s), and jambalaya (Jacques IMO Café). I didn’t get to try them all, but those places come highly recommended.

Visit City Park

Relaxing in City Park, New Orleans
City Park is NOLA’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, and it is a lovely 1,300-acre green oasis lined with stately historic oaks. The outdoor art in The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is outstanding, but if art isn’t your thing you can check out the botanical garden, or go walk, bike or hike the pathways in the seemingly limitless space adorned with dramatic moss canopies.

Watch live jazz
Music is so interwoven into the history of the city that no visit would be complete without enjoying a live jazz show. It’s quite likely you’ll hear it on the streets from performers who really should already have a record deal, but it you’re looking for more ambiance in your music setting you can plan to visit a hall or showroom. I enjoyed listening to the vocal gymnastics of Mayo Jones at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. They didn’t charge a cover, but there was a one drink minimum rule per set.

Other popular places I heard about were Tipitina’s (which had a Free Fridays night), Preservation Hall and One Eyed Jacks.

Visit the French Quarter


The infamous Mardis Gras stories, and the non-stop revelry and liquor-laced shenanigans that take place along Canal Street and Bourbon Street make the French Quarter famous, but there’s much more to that area than bawdy behavior and colorful, fishbowl-sized go cups. Public monuments in what was once the original town square have French and Spanish architectural design influences that are interesting to see, but the pièce de résistance is its cluster of charming Creole townhouses and cottages.

Go on a riverboat cruise
This is a popular way to get out on the water to see the city. I took the Steamboat Natchez Cruise on the Sunday morning before I left, and it was a relaxing way to recharge my batteries after an action-packed visit. There are also lunch and dinner cruise options that allow you to eat while you glide downriver.

Try a cemetery Tour
Because the city is below sea-level, the residents have a unique way of burying their dead, so cemetery tours are common. On my bus tour, the driver made a brief stop at the Metairie Cemetery, where we got to hear about their burial process and see some of NOLA’s above-ground tombs. I admit this kind of thing is not for everybody, but it is different.

Learn about black heritage and the history of jazz

NOLA Black History & Jazz tour
I encourage you to get off the beaten path to spend about two and a half hours with Mikhala Iversen, a Danish/American jazz singer and recording artist who set up her company – All Bout Dat Tours – to showcase aspects of the New Orleans story not being covered by the other plantation, swamp and ghost tour companies. The history lesson starts at Louis Armstrong Park where she talks about the forced transatlantic journey of enslaved Africans, their subsequent stories of pain and resistance, and their ensuing reliance on music and the healing drum circles of Congo Square, which is attributed as the birthplace of jazz.

If you’re so inclined, you can chant along with her to “spiritual libations” that purportedly evoke good energy and healing under one of the oak trees near the square. Later, she takes you to Bayou Road, which is in one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in the United Sates. There you’ll find primarily black-owned businesses, so take extra money to support them by buying books, local art, and African fabric, as well as things like handmade soaps and jewelry. If you go into the community bookstore to browse for trinkets, please say hello to Miss Jennifer, a sweet-natured woman who doles out hugs like she could be everyone’s grandma.
________
Editor’s Notes

Other travel tips to note:
1. Hotels in the French Quarter are closest to the all-day, all-night tourist action, but they also tend to be expensive and noisy.
2. If you want to be close by, but not in the thick of things, book accommodations in the business district near the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line.
3. Canal Street separates the French side from the English side of town and the streets have names in both languages, so take note of your surroundings carefully. Don’t fall prey to any crafty, metered taxi drivers who may take you on an extra long route to drop you off right across the street.
4. Shopaholics, I was told Magazine Street has 60 blocks of retail therapy just waiting to take your money.
5. Bar loving babes and gents, happy hour starts at 1pm on a Friday and the drinks keep flowing. NOLA residents will proudly tell you, “You will pass out before they run out.”

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All the reasons why Montreal had me saying YASSS in the summer

Dance group from Montreal

June to August is peak tourist season in Montreal for good reason. The weather is amazing (as in, temperatures in the mid-to high 70s = ZERO wind-chill factor); they have multiple outdoors festivals and events (many of which are free); good food abounds everywhere; and the city transforms into a pulsing hub of non-stop activity. Add pedestrian-friendly streets, a good public transport system, plus a Parisienne look and feel (with friendly locals) to that and you have a sure winner in my book.

These are some of the reasons Montreal is likely to win you over, too.

Multiple Festivals Busy street scene in Montreal, Canada

Although I was told the city is teaming with fun options year round, it seems things come to a glorious crescendo in the summer. Music lovers can rock to indie beats at Osheaga, a multi-day festival that happens across six stages at Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drape.au, or savor soulful sounds at the Montreal Jazz Festival, which was verified by Guinness World Record in 2004 as the largest jazz festival in the world. With 20 stages, and reportedly close to 3,000 artists from more than 30 countries and 650+ concerts, it’s hard to imagine any other saxophone-trumpet-trombone party rivaling that. Events on outdoor stages are free, but you pay for those held inside concert halls.

Are electronic music and digital arts more your thing? Don’t worry, Montreal has you covered with MUTEK, too. And if you enjoy bass-heavy rhythmic sounds of music with African and Afro-Caribbean roots, I have two words for you – Nuits D’Afrique.

If you take your humor seriously, plan to check out Just For Laughs. It’s a four-day comedy show that features the likes of sought-after performers like Jim Carrey, Trevor Noah, Howie Mandel, Girls Trip breakout star, Tiffany Haddish, and many more.

Street side performances Festival performers in MOntreal, Canada

I can’t tell you how delightful it was to be able to walk a few blocks from my hotel on rue Jeanne-Mance and run into both amateur and skilled artists giving spontaneous or scheduled performances. Whether it was high-flying acrobats from Montréal Cirque Festival or La Rue Complètement Cirque doing dizzying stunts, or outdoor entertainers of every age and genre dancing, or singing while strumming home-made and/or impromptu instruments, the city’s talented and unofficial emissaries always managed to capture and hold my attention.

A vibrant arts scene Outdoor art installation in Montreal Canada

From the visually and structurally diverse outdoor art installations to impressively curated art galleries and museums bolstered by a budding underground movement, Montreal’s thriving art scene is ripe to be explored. I snapped photos of arresting curbside sculptures, and snuck into the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (casually described as the MAC) to while away half a day viewing interactive and engaging exhibits from some of the world’s top contemporary creatives. I wasn’t in town long enough to also check out the Museum of Fine Arts, but I heard it has an impressive permanent collection of classic and modern visual pieces that’s free for everyone under 30. Of course, to guarantee repeat business, they also showcase temporary exhibitions on a rotating basis.

The fusion food lovers’ dream Sample trays of poutine in Montreal

I read a GQ article that labelled Montreal ‘a contender for continental culinary champion’, and when I got there I realized the writer wasn’t exaggerating. The food tastes like a fresh take on French cuisine mixed with exotic flavors from around the globe, no doubt brought in by residents from this self-proclaimed ‘nation of immigrants’.

Signature dishes include sesame-seed coated bagels; poutine, a calorie-laden snack of cheese curds served on top of fries and covered with gooey gravy; and smoked-meat sandwiches. You can sample all this gastronomic goodness on several of the city’s food tours, at local food fairs, or by popping into one of their many restaurants. My cab driver recommended Schwartz’s Deli for sandwiches and my conference packet had tempting Two for One specials on marinated pig knuckles and smoked meat at Brisket Montréal – Salon Krausmann. I didn’t get to try either place, but I can tell you this: I didn’t have a bad meal anywhere.

The architecture, the floral blooms, and the strong sense of community Old Montreal Building and flower maple leaf

Whether you’re walking down the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal, meandering through Vieux-Port, exploring downtown and Little Italy, or hiking up to the Plateau Mont-Royal, you’ll be in for a treat. Expect to be blown away by the dramatic cityscapes, the beautifully landscaped parks and gardens, and the feeling of being an observer of something larger than yourself. Because deep-rooted history and culture are evident everywhere.

Go visit Notre Dame Square to see the famous cathedral where Celine Dion got married, which is surrounded by a combination of neoclassical, art deco and Gothic revival building styles all in one place. And while you’re out and about, check out the colorful west side where stately gas lamps that never go off line some streets. Or, as you get closer to the International Quarter, step inside the World Trade Center to see a piece of the Berlin Wall that was donated to the city for its 350th anniversary. Of course, everywhere you turn you’ll also be able to revel in the city’s colorful summer blooms.

There’s a perfect Instagram opportunity around every corner

In today’s world, you haven’t truly gone on vacation if there’s no evidence of it on social media, right? HA. Well, you can read about some of my top recommended spots for photos here:

8 Made-for-Instagram spots in Montreal, Canada

When you go, I hope you have a good trip!

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Now about this post. If you like it, you better put a PIN on it, okurrr.  Why are you raising your brow like that? Look at you looking like you didn’t know I was a  lil crazy (lol).

8 Made-for-Instagram spots in Montreal, Canada

I visited Montreal in July 2017 for a business conference and extended my trip to incorporate a weekend stay so I could explore the area in my spare time. There’s so much to see and do in that wonderful city! I plan to write a separate post soon with recommendations for general must-dos, but first I’m excited to share my picks for some of the best made-for-Instagram spots.

Parc du Mont-Royal

Perched high above an urban park that was designed by the same landscape architect that did Manhattan’s Central Park, Mount Royal Park has a lookout point that gives you sensational views of the city.  If the weather is good and you’re in the mood for a little exercise, you can walk there from the downtown area and hike to the top. The climb will get your heart rate pumping, so be mentally prepared for that. Not in the mood to break out a sweat? No problem. Just call a taxi cab or Uber.

Montreal, I have one word for you: Enchanté!

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Vieux-Port de Montreal

The old port of Montreal is a great place to visit because there’s always something going on.  Whether you want to go zip lining or take a slow stroll along the river, eat from a food truck or dine in a restaurant, it’s all up to you. What’s more, there is a giant observation wheel there that is an iconic landmark. It gets #instalove 24/7.

#AboutLastNight

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Palais des congrès

The multi-colored glass walls of Montreal’s convention center, Palais des congrès de Montréal, are like visual beacons competing for your camera’s attention.  A striking combination of 332 colored panels and 58 transparent ones, the end result is like a beautiful kaleidoscope that creates a neat backdrop for your pics.

Notre-Dame Basilica

This jewel in Montreal’s hat serves as a parish church, and is one of the oldest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Canada.  The interior will stun you with its ornate design and works of art that are spread throughout the sanctuary. At special times of the year, I heard you can sit in the second-floor balcony and hear their organist play beautiful pieces from great composers.

Old Montreal

Almost every street corner in Old Montreal is aglow with ‘Gram potential. Brimming with beautiful, historical buildings – many of which date back to the 1600s – this neighborhood is a thriving community and tourist mecca ripe for exploration. I particularly liked the train tracks because they gave me the whimsical feeling of old-world adventure.

The stoops

Slightly different to the wider versions seen at the front of New York brownstones, the stoops in Montreal lead to very elevated doorways that make them stand out against the flowered trellises and imposing architecture of the many lovely neighborhoods. Side note: Before snapping the photo, I’d caution you to ask permission from the homeowner before just going to sit on their stoop like I did. LOL.

Downtown Montreal is all about that stoop life.

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Saint Joseph’s Oratory

A magnificent dome church on top of a hill, this building was founded in 1904 by a man named Brother Andre who started out as a doorkeeper at the Collège Notre-Dame across the street. It is said he saved money from his tips to pay for construction on the building that is now a place of worship, art, music, and culture. I didn’t go inside, but I learned it had more than  200 nativity scenes from over 100 countries on display.

Maison Saint-Gabriel

This museum is a throwback to the 1600s, a time when Marguerite Bourgeoys set up a place to house “king’s daughters”  – young women sent from Paris to Montréal to find husbands. I suspect those that didn’t marry ended up living a not-so-easy life, because they lived off the land with not much outside help, and survived by using primitive tools and sleeping in narrow beds and drafty rooms for comfort.

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Three great beach alternatives in Southwest Florida

Sighseeing at Koreshan State Park

Most people travel to Florida for one of two reasons: to visit amusement parks, or to enjoy water-based activities above or below the sea. But other than sunny skies, sand-lined shores and sensational slides, the Sunshine State also satisfies the desire for other types of vacations. Nature lovers, foodies, as well as culture and history buffs can decide NOT to pack their flip-flops or swimsuits and still have loads of fun.  The one must-have anywhere in the state, is sunscreen.  With average annual temperatures hovering near 85°F (29 °C), no one should leave home without good SPF protection.

Sighseeing at Koreshan State Park
Koreshan State Park

Below are three great activities for travelers who are considering spending time in Southwest Florida – away from the beach.

The Mound House

Mound House on Fort Myers Beach
View of the museum and surrounding lawns from the dock

Anyone in need of tangible evidence that Calusa Indians were a huge part of Southwest Florida’s history 2000 years ago, need look no further than The Mound House on Fort Myers Beach. Documented as the first inhabitants of the Barrier Islands, the Calusa lived in fishing villages and their diet mostly consisted of shellfish and vegetables. They later used the shells to manufacture tools and build mounds that raised their sleeping abodes above sea level.

Living room of The Mound House
Recreation of the living room of the Case’s bungalow

The Mound House is both an archaeological and historical site. The main entrance recreates the living room of previous owner, the Case family. Antique furnishings that match the period were arranged using old photographs as a guide.

Artifacts of teh Calusa Indians
Utensils and sleeping gear of the Calusa Indians

Underneath the imposing main building, visitors get to see a section of the shell embankment while they listen to the story of its excavation. Pertinent facts are interspersed with a multi-layered, horizontal light display that shows the sections in the mound that relate to the finds being discussed. If you have kids, they will love the huge, colorful mural that dominates the left side of the room. It depicts the communal-style living of the Calusa and many of the artifacts discovered at the site are illustrated in various scenes. Upstairs rooms showcase Calusa Indian artifacts, a few interactive exhibits, and belongings from owners over the years.

The grounds are landscaped with different species of plants and trees, most of which are native to Florida.

The museum is open to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9a.m. to 4p.m.

Koreshan State Park

Located just off US Highway 41 on Corkscrew Road, this former religious settlement is a sprawling preserve along the Estero River featuring beautifully manicured lawns, meandering streams, exotic plant life of all shapes and sizes, and historic buildings. Guests also have access to picnic sites and camp grounds.

Kayakers paddling down the Estero River
Kayakers paddling down the Estero River

A free walking tour is offered at 10 a.m. on weekends. Visitors can learn about the utopian community led by Dr. Cyrus R. Teed in the late 1800s up to his death in 1908. Teed had more than 200 followers, mostly women, relocate with him from New York after he took on the name “Koresh” which is the Hebrew word for means shepherd.

House of Dr. Tyrus Teed that also doubled as a schoolroom (Koreshan Park)
House of Dr. Tyrus Teed that also doubled as a schoolroom

To earn their livelihood they ran a bakery, sawmill, general store, printing facility and hotel at various times throughout their history. However, there are no living descendants today. The group’s vow of celibacy ultimately affected the community’s growth.

Gorgeous section of the gardens at Koreshan State Park
Gorgeous section of the gardens at Koreshan State Park

The park is open from 8a.m. until sunset, 365 days per year. Self-guided tour booklets are available at the entrance.

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

This 20-acre property – the imposing winter homes of the famed inventor Thomas Edison and his friend, car manufacturer, Henry Ford – spreads across both sides of a palm-tree lined section of McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers.

Home where thomas Edison spent his winters to get away from the cold.
Home where Thomas Edison spent his winters to get away from the cold.

The place attracts visitors in the thousands each year, a testament to the world’s ongoing curiosity to find out what environment could have contributed to the men’s incredible successes in science and car manufacturing. There must be a special muse in the air that engenders creativity, right? Be sure to visit to see for yourself.

Dock at Edison and Ford Winter Estates
Dock that leads out to the Caloosahatchee River. Before roads were built, it was the main means of transportation between cities.

A "Joy Perfume" Tree that is native to Mexico.
A “Joy Perfume” Tree that is native to Mexico.

The location is set amidst tropical gardens, and on the land-locked side of the street, it houses Edison’s Botanic Research Lab as well as the Estates’ Museum in which significant artifacts and inventions are displayed. The restored homes of both men are viewable on the side that borders the Caloosahatchee River, and on Henry Ford’s side of the compound, car enthusiasts can also see a collection of his classic automobiles.

The attraction is open daily from 9a.m. – 5:30p.m. Visitors have the option to take either guided, self-guided tours or audio tours.

8 Instagram-worthy spots on the southwest coast of Florida

shelling-Captiva island

Recently, I had a blast exploring sections of southwest Florida. I had no idea that Lee County, an area just about 125 miles (201 km) south of Tampa and 115 miles (185 km) west of Fort Lauderdale, had so many unique locations and islands! There are 15 of them, and I was on a self-directed mission to find my favorite.

Much to my amazement, I very quickly realized that was easier said than done because each place that I visited had its own little slice of something special. History, beautiful landscapes, culture, arts, nature…WOW. The unexpected surprises often took my breath away!

I’ll share more with you over time. For now, I’ll just take you on a visual journey.

Edison Ford Estates

Sanibel Island

Cape Harbour

Impossible to ignore a view like this, right? Tap twice if you agree.

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Cayo Costa Island

So, my weekend got off to a running start. How's yours going?

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Captiva Island

Tap twice if you wanna catch a few sunsets with me.

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Matlacha Island (Pronounced Mat-la-shay)

Historic Downtown River District

https://www.instagram.com/p/BF65M1LJsaB/?taken-by=mytravelstamps

Bernie Davis Arts Center

…and this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Feel free to pin this article on your Pinterest boards, if you like!

shelling-Captiva island

 

Three places to eat in Toronto. Try one!

Wrvst Beer house in Toronto, Canada

One of the first questions I asked when I started building an itinerary for my trip to Toronto was, “what food is the city known for?” I suspect you think about details like that too, right? Because really, what is a visit to Philadelphia without tasting their famous Philly Cheesesteak or a trip to New Orleans without slurping from a steaming bowl of any combination of their tummy-pleasing Cajun-Creole gumbo?Tim Hortons Restaurant, Toronto

So imagine my initial surprise when I learnt Toronto didn’t have a distinctive dish! But when I read that at least half of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada, its eclectic food scene made perfect sense. Similar to other ethnically diverse cities like New York and London, a tourist could eat out every night for his/her entire vacation and not repeat cuisines. There’s Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Caribbean, Italian, Portuguese, Indian, Greek, Hungarian food establishments and more available  – in a range of settings that run the gamut from casual to upscale.

With only 36 hours in the city and good home-cooked meals courtesy of friends in the mix, I didn’t have to dine out much but when I did, I had a great time. Below are my takeaway notes from three totally different food experiences.

Wvrst (pronounced verst) Wrvst Beer house in Toronto, Canada

Location: 609 King Street West

Cuisine: A very simple but winning formula of beer, sausages, fries and dips. The cool factor to this place is that the sausages are far from ordinary. I saw venison, wild boar, elk, rabbit, and kangaroo among other unusual options on the menu. Wide array of sausage options at Wvrst, Beer hall, Toronto, Canada

The meals are served with fried, either done Belgian-style or Dirty (a combination of pepper jalapenos & sautéed onions topped with their special sauces).  Accompanying beverages can be selected from their specialty collection of craft beers and ciders served from 24 rotating taps. Sasauge and fries at WVRST, Tornoto, Canada

Ambiance: Quirky, fun and casual. There are communal tables that allow you to meet and easily mingle with other people and the wait staff are friendly and hip. Be sure to say hi to Chris. He’s the guy who was kind enough to pose for the picture above.Dining area at Wvrst Beer Hall, Tornoto, Canada

Price range: $7 for vegan items, $8 for traditional sausage varieties and $9 for the specialty game version

360 Restaurant

360 Restaurant at CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

Location: 301 Front St W, CN Tower

Cuisine: Regional Canadian fare. The menu stirs up your gastric juices with appetizers like house smoked Atlantic Salmon with caper berries and pumpernichel.

The colorful and tasty smoked salmon appetizer at 360 Resturant, CN Tower, Canada

It then goes on to tempt you further with main courses such as salmon and scallops served with oyster mushrooms and new potatoes; pork tenderloin served with apple pudding and root vegetables; slow braised veal accompanied by charred corn polenta;  prime rib and bread pudding; and rabbit and pancetta. salmon and scallops at 360 Restaurant, CN Tower, Toronto

And oh, my goodness – the desserts! You can choose from the sinfully delicious apple toffee pudding, white chocolate and Beamsville cherries, spiced pumpkin cheesecake, warm Canadian butter tart, a dark chocolate tower and other calorie-rich options. Pumpkin Tart at 360 Resturant, CN tower, Tornoto

Ambiance: Fine-dining and classy. It’s definitely a place where you’ll need to make reservations! The restaurant is 351 meters above ground and it rotates 360 degrees every 72 minutes so you get stunning views of the city. The bathroom area doesn’t rotate so if you have to get up to go, note your seating area carefully. The sections are marked.View from 360 Resturant, CN Tower Toronto

The restaurant also features a 9,000 bottle (maximum storage capacity) award-winning wine cellar with a selection of more than 550 international and Canadian blends.  Wine cellar at 360 Restaurant, CN Tower, Toronto

My waiter, Eric, said he had been on staff there for 30 years. The best word I could find to describe him is unflappable because inevitably, he’s seen it all. 

Price range: A two-course dinner starts at $65; for three-courses it begins at $79. Wine and drinks are additional.

Tunup Islands Caribbean Foods Tunup Islands Caribbean Foods

Location: 1542 Jane St

Cuisine: This corner shop advertises itself as a Caribbean restaurant but the menu items are mostly Jamaican. It’s perfect for members of the Caribbean diaspora who are hankering for a little taste of home. Think jerked chicken, festival, rice and peas, oxtail, red peas soup, ackee and saltfish, ground provisions, and other specialties reminiscent of sunnier climates.. Ackee and saltfish, festival and boiled banana with red peas soup and a Ting

Ambiance: Functional. It’s a fast food joint with counter service and a few closely stacked tables.  Ask for the main man Percival and chat with him a bit. He may just hook you up with a little extra on your plate.

Price range: The average meal is $7-10 and at certain times of the day, they have lunch specials.

Note: All prices quoted are in Canadian dollars.

Five Things to Do and See in Toronto

When I flew into Toronto in early February the temperature on the ground was minus 22 degrees Celsius but with the wind chill factor, it felt closer to minus 40. Let that sink into every fiber of your being for a minute, will you? Allow the thought to settle and then freeze into place.

This was my first step outdoors on Canadian soil
This was my first step outdoors on Canadian soil

I’m convinced the city realized it was my first time on Canadian soil and decided to throw me – a warm weather island girl – its frostbite version of a welcome party. Hip hip, horaay? No way. But with every vapor-forming breath and crunch on day-old snow step, this chica was ready to make the most of her time in the stark-looking yet blissfully new and unfamiliar terrain.

Tuning into the local news
Tuning into the local news

These are a few suggestions of fun things to see and do in Canada’s most densely populated city.

Visit The Bata Shoe Museum

I love shoes, so needless to say, I was like a kid opening multiple gifts at Christmas as I entered each floor of this more than 13,000-strong collection. Picture me giddy and unsure where to focus first and dying to unwrap each lovely package!

Founder Sonja Bata and her team spent years curating this world-renown exhibition that takes you on an evolutionary journey into the design and production of shoes over many decades. Stiletto

There is an interactive Design-A-Shoe display, 17th century glass shoes from Holland, silk covered shoes from Korea and Barbie bite-sized footwear collection. I also saw Treccani Milanos, 19th Century Turkish bathhouse sandals, gold-leafed slippers of Asante rulers, plastic thong sandals worn by the Dalai Lama, and much more.

Tinier than really should be possible footwear
Tiny Barbie and Ken footwear

These Bata sandals, which show much sign of wear were donated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2010.
These Bata sandals, which show much sign of wear were donated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2010.

Hot-blooded movie star Marilyn Munroe wore these red stilettos suring a 1967 trip to Montreal and the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor wore these silver evening sandals at an event in the 1980s.
Hot-blooded movie star Marilyn Munroe wore these red stilettos during a 1967 trip to Montreal and the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor wore these silver evening sandals at an event in the 1980s.

Many of the artifacts are fascinating. If you’re strapped for time, go see Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels or the Traditional Artic Footwear sections first. They put an entirely different spin on shoes as we know it. The cost for adult entry is CA$14.

Walk through Kensington Market

Located in the heart of downtown Toronto and west of Spadina Street, Kensington Market is a multi-colored and multi-cultural neighborhood that is a mix of residences and shops that sell food, drinks, spices and clothing. Here’s another plus: its brightly painted buildings and graffiti-outfitted walls will form picture-perfect backdrops for your Instagram and Facebook feeds!

An alley in Kensington Market with walls that looked like an outdoor art gallery
An alley in Kensington Market with walls that looked like an outdoor art gallery

spices at kensington market
Nuts and spices of every type and variety

If it’s cold when you’re there and the weather gets too chilly, don’t despair. Super cozy cafes are likely to beckon with steaming cups of hot chocolate and energy-rebooting expressos or soothing lattes. After a warm-up cuppa something, tiny alleyways leading to throwback 19th century cottages that sit on close lots will entice you to explore more. There is no entry fee.

Time travel at Casa Loma

From the minute you step across Casa Loma’s threshold you are ushered into a time of no-expense spared splendor. Buildings of this size and grandeur were unequivocally the domain of the rich and indulgent. Actually, make that the super-rich and unapologetically indulgent – underlined and bolded, full stop.

It is the former home of Sir Henry Pellatt, a little known stock market investor who just happened to build a house the size of a castle then walk away from it when he ran into money problems 10 years later. It has 98 rooms and reportedly took 300 men and three years to build.

The exterior view of the "castle" that took three years to build.
The exterior view of the “castle”.

The ‘castle’ is now a much-visited museum and landmark but on occasion, it also is the place to be for private events. To get invited, chances are you must be loaded. The guard at the gate told me that multi-millionaire  Michael Jordan had rented the entire venue for his birthday party the night before for the cool fee of one million dollars.  C’mon now, why did you raise that eyebrow?  How else would basketball royalty throw a memorable shindig over Canada’s NBA All Star weekend? Of course, his Royal Airness had to have it in a castle!

The details on this bed frame were just mind-boggling.
The details on this bed frame were just mind-boggling.

Regular visitors like you and me can enjoy far-reaching views of the city from the towers, gaze unabashedly at the ornate and intricately built period furnishings or see a small antique car collection. Music lovers will appreciate the magnificence of the piping system for a 3/15 model Wurlitzer Theater organ that was added after the owner died and young kids can enjoy a bite or two in the on-site restaurant.

One of the three classic cars in the carriage house
One of the three classic cars in the carriage house

Everyone who has the luxury of life without knee pain, will be tempted to explore the secret passageways. Phew. Those stairs are not just narrow; they’re STEEP. The stables and carriage house are connected to the main building by an 800-ft. tunnel.  Entry admission is $24 per adult.

Take the required pilgrimage to the CN Tower

Imagine racing to the top of the world (well honestly, a tower) at 15 miles per hour! Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? Well, the city scenes that rush by serve as the precursor to the full-spectrum of your CN Tour experience –  if you decide to brave joining all the winding queues. There is an Outdoor Sky Terrace where the natural breeze whips through your hair minus staged Beyoncé-style fans; a SkyPod observation platform; an EdgeFloor and an EdgeWalk.

The distinctive CN Tower is sure hard to miss!
The distinctive CN Tower is sure hard to miss!

There’s also my personal favorite, the Glass Floor. Entry to this level is free if you dine at the 360 Restaurant. Made of glass that was built to withstand the weight of 35 moose, you can stand on it and see the street below you, a toe-curling 342m (1,122’) straight down.

You wouldn't believe how many people were scared to step on the glass and look down.
You wouldn’t believe how many people were scared to step on the glass and look down.

Yes, you may get a little queasy or your mind might trick you into thinking  it will crack beneath you. But it won’t. Personally, I think it is a whole lot safer than taking the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod. Now, that is outside at 116 storeys above the ground! (Never mind my weary heart, if you opt to try that, trained guides are with you all the way).

Ride a streetcar

Whether you think streetcars are ‘a remarkably efficient way of moving people’ or ‘as obsolete as the horse and buggy’, you cannot visit Toronto and NOT ride on this unique type of transportation. Operated on an intricate layer of overhead cables, the streetcars are an inexpensive way to see the city and the best part is, you can cover what you want to see at your own pace.

Canadian street car cables
Canadian streetcar cables.

There are 11 routes to choose from but the 506 Carlton Street Car is perhaps the most sight-seeing friendly. It travels from the eastern side of High Park and goes through Little Italy, past the University of Toronto, Cabbagetown and into Little India. If you’re on a walking tour, be careful! The streetcars share lanes with regular vehicles so both motorists and pedestrians must remain alert at all times.

Toronto Street Car (Image sourced from internet)
Toronto Street Car (Image sourced from internet)

What are some of the things you did when you visited or hope to do when you go? Soon, I’ll add a post about my three favorite food spots.

My mad dash through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Until last week, I wouldn’t believe it if you told me one day I’d find myself running through an airport like a crazy woman with just 40 minutes left before my flight was scheduled to depart. Okay, let me be honest. Sometimes I run a little late but oh my goodness, I’d never ever been THAT late.

A snapshot of the Atlanta skyline
A snapshot of the dramatic Atlanta skyline

Please note, I didn’t say 40 minutes before the flight closed or 40 minutes before boarding. I said – and meant – 40 minutes before take-off! While you’re working out the logistics in your head, do me a favor, will you? Please try to figure out how you’d manage to accomplish that feat in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International – the world’s busiest airport.

Stumped? I’d be too, if it didn’t miraculously work out for me. I was in Atlanta for business and my luncheon and final meeting ran longer than anticipated. So, by the time my colleague and I got off the highway and onto the airport exit, our watches said “oh, no” while our frantic minds were saying, “you better press the gas and go”.

Standing outside one of the major nerve centers of World News, the CNN Center
Standing outside the venue of my last meeting and one of the major nerve centers of world news – the CNN Center

Sounds incredible, right? Let me reenact it for you..

3:20 p.m.             Pull up to the car rental return area, hand over the keys and as there’s simply no time to wait, you ask for the receipt to be sent via email.  Grab your luggage from the trunk and simultaneously ask the attendant to point you in the direction of the terminal building.

3:25 p.m.             Climb, not stand patiently, on the escalators to the SkyTrain that will take you to the main processing area. Respectfully ask the persons ahead of you to move to the right in order to give you space to ascend –  quickly!

3:27 p.m.             Ladies, forget about business attire and its accompanying proprieties because subconsciously you know this dash is not going to happen with heels on. So while the train is still moving, open your carry-on and switch the fancy shoes for flip-fops. Make sure you do it with some ‘I know what I am doing’ aplomb and don’t miss a beat when the well-dressed guy standing next to you jovially asks if he can change his shoes too. Just incline your head and smile sweetly while you point to his two-toned wingtips and remind him he’s not the one wearing heels.  You, on the other hand, need to go low as you’re getting ready for a race against the clock that would make Jamaican Olympian sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser proud.

Work shoes were not made for running through busy airports
Note to self: work shoes were not made for running through busy airports

3:33 p.m.             Haul your bag and lost pride down the next set of escalators in close pursuit of your colleague who you told to go ahead because he was familiar with the layout.  In an airport that serves 225 domestic and international destinations combined, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize it will be easier to follow his profile than try to read a gazillion signs. But just before you round the bend, pause to lock eyes with the guy who is still checking you out and tell him to wish you luck. He does so with a nod and a smile and PRONTO – that adds a little more pep in your, let’s be quite frank about this, less than graceful step!

3: 35 p.m.            Thank your lucky stars for the wisdom of online check-in as it gets you to where you need to be in about two minutes flat. But then you see the queue ahead of you and stop abruptly. You look down at your watch and look back at the line quizzically. In between wondering how to get into a fast track lane you’re mentally calculating exactly how many of the average 250,000 passengers a day that pass through this airport are standing between you and your gate right now. 

Lengthy queues at Hartsfield-Jackson International (Image source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Lengthy queues at Hartsfield-Jackson International (Image source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)

3: 37 p.m.            A glance at your watch underscores that the time for shyness and political correctness is long gone, so you rely on your Caribbean go-getter instincts and ask the attendant in the Delta Priority line to let you through.  She explains she is not supposed to do that and she also feels the need to let you know your chances of making your flight are slim to none because even after this checkpoint, you have another train to catch. You politely tell her you are aware of that but you’d appreciate it if she could still try.

3:41 p.m.             The attendant moves off to speak with some other colleagues while the clock keeps ticking. She eventually saunters back and motions for you join her line which is significantly shorter but still has quite a few people in it. Then, the other agent who greets you at the top tells you he can’t put you ahead of the persons at the front of the line. There’s no room for shame in your game at that point so without skipping a beat, you make eye contact with middle-aged gentleman and explain your dilemma to him and anyone within ear shot who will listen. He acquiesces and thankfully, the people ahead of him allow you to move ahead of them too.

Atlanta SkyTrain Image source: Wikipedia)
Atlanta SkyTrain Image source: Wikipedia)

3:45 p.m.             Go into full throttle sprint mode to catch the other train that will get you to the departure gate. Try not to erupt in nervous giggles when you glance behind you and see your colleague “bussing it” in full jacket and tie, with his shoe laces still undone because he didn’t have time to red-do them after the security check.

3: 51 p.m.            Approach the gate, greet the agent and swipe your mobile bar code as directed. With very little breath left, you simply nod in agreement when she says you’ll have to check your bag at the gateway.

3:52 p.m.             Leave your bag, as directed.

3:54 p.m.             Enter the plane and go directly to the restroom to assess the full level of your dishevelment.

3:55 p.m.             Find your seat and sit down right as they announce the door is closing. Expect your chest to be heaving, your heart to be racing and your body to be lightly covered in sweat. Finally, let out that breath you’ve been holding, then lean back in your chair, secure your seatbelt and close your eyes.

You did it!

Thanking the Lord for my trusted flip-flops while the two guys next two must have been wondering, what's up with this woman?
Thanking the Lord for my trusted flip-flops while the two guys next to me must have been rolling their eyes and wondering, what’s her story?”

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