When to Travel

Posted in Travels on May 1, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Airports are often busy and crowded then once you arrive at your vacation destination; attractions are often busy and crowded.  Avoiding congested travel takes a little planning.  Here is some travel advice to beat the crowds:

Best days to travel-  Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days to fly.  Why? Because most people are at work in the middle of the week so flight loads are always lighter.  Tuesdays will only present a problem when preceded by a Monday holiday.  Saturday is also a great day to travel because most people prefer to be at their destination by Saturday.  Since most weekend events take place on Saturday, people usually prefer to fly in before Saturday. This results in light flight loads.  Keep in mind, all of this advice becomes less applicable during winter break, spring break, summer break or near major holidays and as a point of reference; the busiest days to travel are always Friday, Sunday and Monday.

Best months to travel- October to Early November and May.  During October and the early part of November; there are no major holidays, kids are getting settled into their school routine (since school starts in Aug/Sep) so not many family vacations are being taken, teachers are back to work, Summer is over and the yearly routine begins again.  Additionally, most people are preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas trips around this time so flight loads are virtually empty to light.  May is a good time to travel because the Summer hasn’t yet started so school is still in session and there are no major holidays.  These months are considered “off season” but are a great time to travel if you want to avoid larger crowds and busy airports.

By planning your trip midweek or during off season, you can not only avoid large crowds but, often times, save money since tour groups, vendors and airlines are itching for any business during these times.

Best Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo

Posted in Miami! with tags , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Usually, I don’t advocate for anything in Broward County  because, for some reason, I’m extremely biased to Miami.  I’m somewhat of a city snob… Sue me! So me recommending Azteca Real in Davie as the BEST margarita I’ve EVER had should speak volumes! One because it’s in Broward and two because I’ve had a lot of margaritas… Just ask my liver.

I happened across this place and didn’t really expect more than a standard dinner.  Of course, I ordered a Margarita (because anything else would be uncivilized).  A few sips in and I had found a winner! I thought that maybe my particular bartender had a divinely inspired gift, so I went back again and ordered another margarita.  Time after time, bartender after bartender, margarita after margarita; they were always amazing. Passion fruit, mango, strawberry, peach, kiwi and original are the flavor options.  I haven’t had the kiwi yet, but the others don’t disappoint.

I go there so often that I now have a favorite bartender, which is something that I can’t say about any other establishment.  (When you go, ask for Carolina– she’ll be going on maternity leave soon so hurry!)  I honestly feel like Carolina is one of my friends and one tequila filled night, I considered what I should buy her for her baby on the way.  Meanwhile, to her, I’m probably just that girl that comes in front time to time and gets buzzed after just a few sips.  Regardless, the service is always excellent.

I recommend you sit at the bar and socialize with the other patrons.  After a few select beverages, everybody is your friend… This is how I discovered the amazing queso dip that they make (much better than the free salsa).  One drunk girl got to rambling and raving about it and I’ve been in love ever since. This Cinco de Mayo Drinko, make your way to Azteca!

If you’re hungry, they’ve got more than just margaritas. Their menu options are very satisfying and very delicious. They serve up large portions of authentic Mexican cuisine. I can recommend the coconut shrimp, shrimp tacos and sizzling fajitas; but it’s the margaritas that I live for!

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Minneapolis

Posted in Travels with tags , , , , , , , on April 28, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Minneapolis is definitely a good choice for a quick getaway. I hopped on a plane on Tuesday night and was back in sunny South Florida by 6am on Thursday morning. No need for fancy hotel stays or lush accommodations. I decided on a hotel with free airport transfers, a complimentary shuttle to Mall of America and continental breakfast.

The main purpose of this trip was to visit Mall of America, the largest Mall in the USA. This description is based on the number of retail stores as it is the second largest mall in the USA based on square footage (with the planned additions including golf courses, ice skating and a hotel; it probably won’t be second, in terms of square footage, for long). The mall has 4 floors and I recently discovered that there might be a basement level.

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After breakfast on Wednesday morning, I shuttled to the mall and spent the day shopping and exploring. I browsed a few stores of interest (even though South Florida has the same variety of stores), got lost in the enormous Forever 21, then made my way to Nickelodeon Universe. I was looking forward to Nickelodeon Universe more than the shopping and for around $30, I was able to purchase an unlimited ride wristband.

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For a theme park inside of a mall, the rides were pretty decent. There were a few coasters and thrill rides that provided a little too much excitement for me… Three rides in and I realized that I’m getting old!  (Meanwhile, kids that probably can’t even see over a steering wheel were bragging about getting on rides over 7 times.) My original goal was to get on all of the “thrill rides” but somewhere along the way, I came up with a million excuses as to why I should save the other rides for my next trip back to Minneapolis.  One of those reasons being the fact that I was the only person of legal drinking age getting on rides. In my defense, it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday when most normal adults are at work.

At this point, I had been in the mall for over 3 hours and had explored 1 floor and 3 rides. I contemplated exploring the remaining 3 out of 4 floors, but I had had enough shopping for one day. I’m a fan of local eateries so I googled searched a few restaurants (Minneapolis seems to have a good variety of organic and fair market eateries) then decided to make my way back to the hotel before heading into downtown for dinner. Somewhere between the sleet, rain and pending snow storm; I changed the plans and decided to grab a quick bite at the hotel before my flight back home.

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I’ll be back when the weather warms up and on my “to do list”: ride all rides, explore floors 2-4 and sample local eateries.

Pura Vida: Best of Costa Rica

Posted in Travels with tags , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with lots to see and do.  Despite warnings of the safety risks, I booked a flight that landed at Juan Santamaria International Airport around 1a in the morning and felt completely safe.  With the large numbers of American tourists and nomad travelers that make their way to Costa Rica, I wasn’t worried. We exchanged our dollars for colones in the airport and a cab took us to our hotel for a reasonable price.

In the morning, we were ready for action, but before I chronicle our trip, let me just take a minute to rave about the excellent complimentary breakfast at our hotel.  Not just donuts and danishes, but a full breakfast buffet of fresh cooked omelets, french toast, eggs, sausage, rice& beans, platanos and more. I will forgo anymore rants about how amazing the breakfast was, but for a free breakfast it was pretty great.

Now, since I pretty much travel sans a set itinerary, all of our trips were booked via the ever so helpful hotel concierge.  On our first afternoon we took a relaxed city tour highlighting local culture including: Catedral Metropolitano, Teatro Nacional, Museos Banco Central de Costa Rica, coffee production, various other local sites and an introduction to the country’s catch phrase “Pura Vida” (a recurring theme throughout the trip).  Our tour guide also recommended some local restaurants serving up traditional Costa Rican cuisine.  In the evening; we hailed a cab and, for about 10 American dollars, he took us into the city.  We made our way to Nuestra Tierra for a slightly pricy, but very delicious and filling dinner.

Seafood Ceviche

Nuestra Tierra

Our next day started off with an arranged tour  beginning with a 3+ hour drive to the La Fortuna area.  Along the way, we made a stop at “The biggest Oxcart in the World” (who knew?), a local souvenir shop and Restaurante La Finca for a traditional lunch.  After finally making it to the La Fortuna area, we arrived at the volcano looking point with excellent views and photo ops of the Arenal Volcano.  There was also some unplanned bird watching as a group of blue jays posed for a picture. I was interested in taking a volcano hike, but time did not permit.  However, we made our way to the Tabacon Hot Springs and enjoyed a day of relaxing in the warm waters and attempting to capture a picture of the oh-so-elusive hummingbirds.  After dinner, which was included in our tour, we made the long drive back to the San Jose area.  The roads are not so smooth and the ride is rough, but it was worth the drive (if you suffer from motion sickness, plan accordingly).

The biggest Oxcart in the World

The biggest Oxcart in the World

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Blue jays

Blue jays

Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Hot Springs

For our last day in Costa Rica, we planned an action packed adventure of ziplining, rappelling and, unbeknownst to us, a few “sorpresas.” The tour driver picked us up from our hotel and we discovered that it would be just us on this particular tour.  We set off on the rocky roads and probably had more near death experiences in the vehicle than at the adventure site, but I digress… After arriving at the San Luis Canopy Tour company in Cloud Forest and being outfitted with our excursion gear, we were on our way.  My mom (my travel partner), was extremely nervous and not in the mood for jokes.  I, on the other hand, had done this before and was ready for excitement (I’m also a thrill seeker so I live for this kind of stuff). Our tour guides were great and in no time, my mom was calm.  We started off with rappelling down a series of mountainsides and in between time, I had conversations with my tour guide where I was speaking English and he was speaking Spanish (thank you, Miami, for the Spanish I acquired).  We were both too shy to speak in each other’s language except for a few words/sentences so he carried on in Spanish and I in English.  Probably an interesting conversation to listen to, but again…. I digress.  After rappelling it was off to ziplining. We did a few lines through the forest, then came the first sorpresa.  They explained it quickly, but I didn’t quite grasp the concept until they pushed me off the edge of a cliff and had me swinging high above the trees on a rope.  This they call “The Tarzan.” Exhilarating! My mom didn’t participate in this one. There’s only so much excitement she can handle. After a few more ziplines, came the next sorpresa.  They thought it would be fun to drop us from the highest canopy in the forest (75ft) on just a rope. At this point, I didn’t know how much more excitement I could take in one day.  The final zipline was called “The Superman.”  They harness you in Superman style then send you face first on what seemed to be a never ending line, high above a river of rocks.  This zipline, the grand finale, was the most fun and had amazing views.  After leaving my stomach somewhere in the forest, they served up another great lunch and I was finally able to snap a picture of the elusive hummingbird.  Then we headed back to the hotel (I napped the entire ride back to avoid losing my lunch inside the tour van).

Rappelling

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Ziplining

The Tarzan Swing

The Tarzan Swing

Lunch at San Luis Canopy Tour

We packed up our things to head back to the states and said goodbye to “Pura Vida!”

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Reflections at 5,000 feet

Posted in Miami!, That's Life with tags , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by eclecticlemonadestand

I’ve always considered myself a thrill seeker: a fearless adventure  junkie, if you will. So jumping out of a plane at 5,000 feet above the ground seemed normal, in theory… Then comes the moment when you’re strapped to a stranger, staring out at your fate and his untimely sense of humor warrants him to ask: “Any last words?”  As your heart drops and you consider changing your mind, the free fall to earth begins. Herein lie the longest 7 minutes of your life. The anxiety of jumping has subsided and the fear of landing ensues.

While the awesomeness of the experience puts you at peace, there is that lingering thought that all is not well until your feet reunite with the ground. The surrealism of the experience hits you as you survey the beautiful territory beneath you; never once forgetting that you’re still at the mercy of nature, your parachute and one stranger turned best friend (for the moment). Upon landing, my tandem instructor asked “Would you do it again?” and of course the daredevil in me answered with a resounding “Yes!”

10 Things to Do in New Orleans

Posted in Travels with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by eclecticlemonadestand

Take a guided tour of the cityVIP City Tours offers a great, 2 hour tour of New Orleans with stops including the St. Louis Cemetery #3, the lower 9th ward and the Garden District.  Other places of interest are pointed out along the tour such as Jackson Square, the New Orleans Arena, Harrah’s, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Mother in Law Lounge; to name a few.  I took this tour both times I was in New Orleans and both tour guides provided tips on good places to eat throughout the city.  And somehow, I ended up on yet another tour: a mule (yes mule, not horse) and buggy tour with pick up locations in Jackson Square.  This tour was more of an abbreviated tour or a romantic stroll through the city.  Either way, whichever option you choose, a tour is a great way to start your trip in order to get an idea of what you’d like to see and where you’d like to go!

Enjoy traditional New Orleans food and drink: If you don’t make it anywhere else when you visit New Orleans, make it to Oceana Grill!  For breakfast, try the Eggs St. Louis or the Pain Perdu “Lost Bread” and for dinner why not start off with the Louisiana Crabmeat Cakes or the Seafood Gumbo followed by a plate of Mardi Gras Pasta? Then wash it all down with a Hurricane, a New Orleans specialty. I can personally recommend any of the aforementioned choices and guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!

Now, you’re already full and that’s not even the half of it! What’s a trip to New Orleans without jumbalaya, crawfish, a po’ boy, king’s cake (if you’re visiting during Mardi Gras), bread pudding or the famous Cafe Du Monde beignets?  To satisfy your food fix, I recommend Bourbon House, Surrey’s Cafe & Juice Bar, The Market Cafe, The Praline Connection and Mulate’s Cajun Restaurant.  Your tastebuds will thank you!

Experience the music scene: More than just good food, Mulate’s Cajun Restaurant features live Zydeco and Cajun music.  This is an opportunity to experience the traditional music and dance of the area.  For an aural immersion into the classic sounds of New Orleans Jazz, check out the nightlife on Frenchmen Street or Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse inside of the Royal Sonesta Hotel.

Party with the people: New York City may be called the city that never sleeps, but the partygoers of Bourbon Street definitely come in at a close second.  This party never stops, particularly during Mardi Gras!  Throw beads or catch beads, flash or be flashed, party with the drunk and disorderly… I’m not judging!  There are an abundance of clubs and venues all along Bourbon Street suitable to everyone’s liking.

Wander down the Riverwalk:  For more great eats and views of the Mississippi River –take a boat tour or just browse the variety shops at the Riverwalk Marketplace.

Explore the French Market: This outdoor flea market lined with 6 blocks of vendors selling miscellaneous items is open 7 days a week.  Cultural events are held in the marketplace and the nearby New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park can provide you with some jazz history or point you in the right direction to hear some great jazz music.  Check the website for events and festivals.

Relax in Jackson Square:  Take in the sights, grab a beignet from the ever popular Cafe Du Monde, relax in the square or check out some of the eateries nearby.  Explore the square at your leisure.

Tour the Cathedral:  As the oldest cathedral in the United States, this spot deserves a visit.  Rich with history, the beautifully designed St. Louis Cathedral sits right behind Jackson Square and makes for an excellent stop as you make your way through Jackson Square.

Take a ghost tour: Louisiana has a rich history of paranormal activity and Haunted History capitalizes on this.  The tour company provides a variety of walking ghost tours, voodoo tours, vampire tours and the like.  The ghost tour, although based off of historical events, is mildly theatrical.  To their credit, no cheesy tricks or props are used; but the tour is somewhat over-dramatized for special effect.  Putting all that aside, if paranormal activity is your thing then this is an interesting glimpse into the history of New Orleans’ dark side.

Visit the museums: Many people don’t think museums when they plan a trip to New Orleans, but the city has a few museums worthy of touring. The Louisiana State Museum has five properties in the French Quarter all displaying different exhibits.  In the wake of the most devastating hurricane to hit New Orleans, the Presbytere building houses a Katrina exhibit that can only begin to highlight the destruction and attempt to memorialize the lives lost.  The building also includes Mardi Gras exhibit that explores the history and traditions of the popular celebration.  The Louisiana State Museum properties also include the Cabildo, 1850 House, Old U.S. Mint and Madame John’s Legacy with ever changing exhibits.

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Posted in Health & Fitness with tags , , on March 2, 2012 by eclecticlemonadestand

Serving Size: About 1 cup to 1 glass

Preparation: 

-Blender

-1 banana

-1 heaving teaspoon cocoa powder

-1 tablespoon sugar

-1/2 cup of milk

-1 handful of ice cubes

Directions:

Start by peeling banana and cutting into small chunks.  Blend sliced banana and 1/4 cup of milk until moderately creamy.  Add cocoa powder and sugar then continue blending until mixture is evenly brown and mixed.  Add remaining 1/4 cup of milk and ice cubes and continue blending until mixture is smooth and consistent.  Voila!

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