A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: vicki_h

Eat. Drink. New Orleans

Tasting our way through the French Quarter.

I don’t try to pretend New Orleans is something it isn’t. I realize that some people love it and some people hate it.

It stinks. At times, the smell seems like something solid and tangible, clinging to the wrought iron balconies and wrapping itself around doorways. The number of people in the quarter is constant and oppressive. Crowds pulse through the streets at all hours. Crime is real and remaining ever vigilant is necessary. Bourbon Street really is as bad as you’ve heard.

But it is so much more than that.

I love this city. Right there, blending with the stink and the crowds, is a palpable exuberance, a joie de vivre, a mingling of hot sauce and jazz that sits on your tongue and rings in your ears and makes you feel alive.

Our friends had only been to New Orleans once, where they had a less than favorable experience. They were forever left with the impression that New Orleans was a dirty city in a perpetual state of partying and debauchery.

There is so much more to this gritty city than that. I wanted to show them my version of New Orleans – a city brimming with art and architecture, rich in history and culture, a city filled with wonderful things to sip and savor.

With mutual friends in Dallas, we decided it was a perfect place to meet up for a long weekend.

As I always do, I focused my planning on the French Quarter.

Some will tell you never stay in the French Quarter. Some go as far as to say don’t even visit it at all. There is no parking, it’s too dirty, it’s too loud, it’s too dangerous, it’s too crowded, it’s too tourist-centric, and the best restaurants are in other parts of the city.

I think the French Quarter gets a bad rap. Sure….other areas of New Orleans may have more class, more luxury, more posh….but none of them have more pizazz. New Orleans may be unique and colorful, but the French Quarter is the epicenter. It’s the mother ship.

The Garden District may be the prim and proper lady, always impeccably dressed and consistently using the appropriate fork at dinner. She never says the wrong thing and always crosses her legs demurely as she sits.

The French Quarter, however, is her rowdy younger sister. She’s the one that has all the cool parties, wears too much make up, drinks bourbon in the middle of the day, sleeps until noon, and says whatever enters her mind no matter how inappropriate it is.

She wears sequins to the grocery store.

I know who you’d prefer to live with, but which one would you rather spend a weekend with?

Exactly.

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Thursday:

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If the beautiful sunset that greeted us over the water as we landed at New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport was an omen of the weekend to come, we were in for a stellar time.

Ditto for the transportation that was waiting upon our arrival.

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We were whisked away to a 3-story mansion in the heart of the French Quarter that took our breath away.

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It was late, and we were hungry.

It was pure serendipity that we stopped at Orleans Grapevine for drinks and sustenance just as they began BACON HAPPY HOUR.

Happy, indeed.

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With a courtyard filled with twinkling lights and delightful drinks like my sugared hibiscus champagne cocktail or Matt’s neon-lighted hand grenade martini, Orleans Grapevine set an instant tone of awesomeness for our trip.

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We munched on fresh, hot bread, BACON, saffron mussels, BACON, gumbo, BACON, and crab cakes.

And BACON.

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With bellies full, we were off to One Eyed Jacks to meet up with our Dallas friends who had arrived before us.

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We walked into a room with flocked crimson wallpaper; chandeliers; sparkly, scarlet banquettes; and pinup nudes painted on black velvet. The swanky vintage atmosphere was a nod to the building’s history as an old French Quarter movie house and speakeasy, but it looked more like a Mexican bordello to me.

One Eyed Jacks is home to the long-running and beloved Thursday-night “Fast Times '80s dance party,” and once I knew we were arriving on Thursday night….I knew we had to go.

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One Eyed Jacks was a non-Bourbon Street bar with a rock and roll edge. It was the perfect place to get our New Orleans weekend party started.

The highlight of the night had to be this guy in his replica jacket and light up shoes.

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I did feel a pang of guilt as I stumbled past the Saint Anthony Garden which is dominated by a large statue of Jesus, and wondered about those last couple of shots I drank.

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When in New Orleans….

Friday:

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Matt and I woke up early and decided to sneak off to enjoy our favorite early morning indulgence in the French Quarter: Café du Monde.

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You simply can’t go to Café du Monde after 8:00 a.m. The only time to go is before all the lazy tourists wake up from their hurricane hangovers, when all of the chairs are still on the tabletops and the streets smell like freshly sprayed bleach.

Some people prefer the beignets (and lack of line) at Café Beignet. Not me. They simply don’t do it for me. I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s the lack of freshly hosed streets under my feet or the quiet that replaces the bustling activity of a bevy of shuffling waitresses in little paper hats . Or maybe it’s the absence of a heavy mug filled with the perfect and bitter chicory coffee that I can only find at Café du Monde, but for me, the experience is only whole when I am sitting under that happy green and white awning, watching a waitress in a crisp white apron clear a preposterous amount of powdered sugar off a marble top table with a quick swipe of her towel as the sounds of a lone trumpet player in the street drifts past.

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Cafe du Monde at the right time is a moment of powdered sugar perfection, and it is worth all the indignities of being a complete tourist.

Once the rest of our crew had roused themselves awake, we made the short walk to Stanley for a proper breakfast.

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Since the first time I discovered Stanley, it has been a “must do” breakfast on every trip to New Orleans. How can you not LOVE a place that puts ice cream on the pancakes??

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I stuffed myself with a loaded bloody mary and the breakfast seafood platter, a mountain of cornmeal crusted Louisiana oysters, gulf shrimp and soft shell crab atop delicate poached eggs, Canadian bacon, and toasted English muffins slathered in decadent Hollandaise.

Yes, please.

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We spent the rest of the morning trying to walk off our colossal breakfast.

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We were unsuccessful.

We decided it was best to simply eat again.

We found ourselves at Napoleon House.

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This historic restaurant has a wonderful courtyard and is THE place to sample the famed “Pimm’s Cup.”

It is also home to one of the best muffaletta’s in the city.

So we had both.

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The only thing we could really do at this point was keep eating and drinking, so it was off to Bourbon House for oyster happy hour.

Matt was VERY happy.

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Sure, these look like sissy milkshakes, but they are, in fact, the Bourbon House’s famed frozen milk punch: a boozy blend of ice-cream, bourbon, and vanilla topped with fresh nutmeg.

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Then it was back to the house for some much needed downtime (and stomach stretching exercises).

We strolled along Bourbon Street back to our place.

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As we sat on our balcony, a terrible looking sky rolled in, and simply rolled past.

It was quite dramatic.

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The skies cleared up just in time for dinner.

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We headed out..........Because we needed to eat again.

We made our way to Deanie’s, because I had heard about their legendary seafood platter.

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The place was PACKED, but when we saw the plates loaded with fried seafood exiting the kitchen, we decided it was worth the wait. We grabbed drinks at the bar and grew hungrier by the minute.

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Deanie’s had the most unusual complimentary table snack I think I have witnessed to date. Not bread, not crackers, not bowls of nuts or popcorn.
Deanie’s gave us a bowl of whole potatoes.

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They were perfectly soft, dusted in spicy crab boil, and served with butter.

We followed that with a few pounds of crawfish.

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Then the barbecue shrimp.

The broth in the shrimp was absolutely one of the best things I have ever tasted. It was served with crusty bread to soak up the juice.

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And a GIANT SEAFOOD PLATTER.

It was a mountain of soft shell crab, oysters, shrimp, fish, crab balls, and french fries.

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Of course we ate it all.

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Even if it did take us until almost 11:00 p.m.

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After dinner, we strolled down Bourbon Street toward home.

While I am not a fan of Bourbon Street as an actual destination, I do enjoy taking a stroll along it when I am on my way to someplace else.

Our friends also felt a burning need to experience the electric green sweetness of a hand grenade. It’s something everyone should experience.

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Bourbon Street is a mesmerizing blend of fun and depravity. It’s a place lined with bars whose music spills onto the sidewalk and competing sounds create a cacophony of noise, where signs advertise HUGE ASS beers, where drunken groups of 20-somethings help each other stumble down the street pausing only when one group member needs to throw up on the sidewalk; and where people walk around casually dressed as pirates or aliens, and where it seems perfectly reasonable to do so. It’s a place with smoke-filled nudie clubs and a live band in every corner. There are endless baubles and boas, cheap go-cup windows, and dried alligator heads. It smells of desperation, heat lamped pizza, and neon electricity.

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The street was filled with girls with high heels and low self-esteem and idiot frat boys that seem to multiply by the hour. Proprietors with balding mullets stood outside open doorways advertising drinks with douchey names and offering 2 for 1 specials if you were only willing to step inside.

I knew better than to step inside. Entering one of those places would do nothing more than make me want to instantly run for the door, which I wouldn’t be able to do because my feet would be stuck to the floor by 15 years’ worth of spilled drinks, and where I would pick up a latent STD from the barstool.

Instead, we grabbed a hand grenade to go from a window and made straight for home.

A walk down Bourbon Street always makes me feel like a need a long shower afterward to wash off the sweat, smoke, and despair .

It was time to rinse of the night and go to sleep.

Saturday:

Apparently, we had to rinse off the night the next morning as well.

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When your house is in proximity to Bourbon Street, even the quiet end of Bourbon Street, you can count on some mutant to leave the remains of his Lucky Dog by your front door after a night filled with booze and beads.

When a restaurant advertises that the BYOB brunch allows the first bottle for free but charges a $15 corkage for the second, you bring the biggest bottle you can find.

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EAT offers a delicious brunch in a bright and airy space that was only a block from our house.

Good thing, because I couldn’t have carried that champagne bottle far.

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Our bubbly was quickly put on ice and we were given a carafe of OJ.

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Our banana fritters were brought out in a paper bag, perfectly dusted with crunchy sugar and cinnamon, and served with a bowl of creamy peanut butter and Nutella.

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I opted for the Eggs Cochon: delicious pulled pork cakes over mustard greens, served with two poached eggs, Creole hollandaise sauce, grits and one of EAT’s giant homemade biscuits.

Matt ordered the Chantilly pancakes.

I just loved hearing him say, “Chantilly pancakes, please.”

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Brunch over, we hit the streets with mimosa go cups in hand. We headed to Jackson Square to peruse the local art and street vendors.

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If the French Quarter is the epicenter of New Orleans, then Jackson Square is the epicenter of the epicenter.

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The colorful streets around the square are filled with original art and street performers – some good….some not so good….but all interesting.

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Our wandering led us to the French Market where we shopped everything from handmade jewelry and paintings to $5 sunglasses.

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Before we knew it, our go cups were empty. This called for a dash into Molly’s on the Market. I instantly fell in love the second I tasted the frozen Irish coffee.

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It had been at least 2 hours since we had eaten, so we popped into Central Grocery so that our group could try the “other” muffaletta.

Many people think the muffaletta at Napoleon House is the best. I can’t disagree that the fluffy toasted bread and melty cheese were spectacular.

But Central Grocery is still my favorite. Maybe it’s because it was my first, maybe it’s because the shelves are lined with dusty cans of tomato paste and gallon jars of capers, maybe it’s simply the unlimited supply of Zapp’s chips and root beer that you can buy beside your sandwich….all I can tell you is that THIS is my favorite muffaletta.

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We shared a bite and then hopped the streetcar to Mother’s.

Why?

To eat again, that’s why.

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When it comes to dining, New Orleans is an embarrassment of riches. You can’t walk 10 feet without bumping into something delicious.

And in this city, it’s not about eating fancy or expensive…it’s about eating WELL. The best bite you have all day might come from a counter in the back of a convenience store.

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Mother’s is old school and is the perfect blend of divey and delicious. It serves up mountains of comfort food like po’ boys and macaroni and cheese that you order in a cafeteria-style line. You know a meal is going to be good when the interior looks this dumpy, yet there are 20 people in line in front of you.

With so many options on its huge menu, it can be hard to decide what to get. I find it easy, however. I always get the debris po’ boy, dressed.

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Debris is roast beef cooked until it begs for mercy. It’s the juicy bits, crispy fat, and charred goodness that falls off a roast beef when it’s cooked to death. These are served swimming in pan drippings.

My sandwich was drowning in roast beef shavings and gravy and was “dressed” in zesty cabbage, pickles, mayo, and creole mustard.

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Believe it or not, we followed that with oyster happy hour and a delicious Sezerac.

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We were here to sip and savor, so we stopped at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 next.

The bar was kitchy cool and the drinks were creative and tropical with awesome garnishes like a frozen coconut milk tiki and fresh orchids.

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Because our house was located near the quiet end of Bourbon Street, there was then the inevitable Bourbon Street stroll that we seemed to do every day.

We took it all in.

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By the time we got home, we were ready for fat pants and naps.

Our balcony provided us a perfect place to waste the afternoon before it was time to clean up and head out for dinner.

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Before dinner, I made everyone pose for cheesy photos.

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We like to call this one “Burger King Regret.”

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We felt the need to step it up a bit and eat something that did not come in a paper sack, so we had dinner reservations at Sylvain.

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I was instantly drawn to the “Champagne and Fries” appetizer. Sure, it was $90…but it was CHAMPAGNE…..AND FRIES!

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The southern antipasti plate and pappardelle Bolognese were also quite delicious….but …..CHAMPAGNE! FRIES!

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I tried to be more refined by making reservations at a restaurant so in demand that it required a CREDIT CARD to hold my reservation, but the truth is, in my heart, all I really want are some sweat pants and tater tots.

After dinner, we headed to Preservation Hall where I had pre-purchased the Big Shot seats to 1) put us right in the front and 2) avoid having to stand in that horrific line.

With “go drinks” in hand (Preservation Hall does not serve drinks but does allow you to bring your own) we spent the next hour enraptured by the sights and sounds of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Preservation Hall is an exceptional French Quarter experience, in my opinion. For an hour, you feel carried away to another time and place. You forget the bustle and noise of Bourbon Street just around the corner and instead feel transported to an intimate speakeasy where the sounds of a clarinet drip like honey onto the bare hardwood beneath your tapping feet.

It’s just a little bit of magic.

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We ended the night at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, seated around the candle-lit piano in back with voodoo daiquiris in hand, tossing $5 bills into the basket to scream out the name of our favorite songs for the piano man to play.

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He said he knew 18,000 songs.

I think we sang all of them.

Sunday:

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A night of singing “Sweet Caroline” at the top of my lungs had left me hoarse.

I felt the best cure was an overstuffed bloody Mary from Café Lafitte in Exile, just around the corner from home.

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This bar claims to be the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States, and they serve up a perfect bloody Mary on Sundays, shaken with all manner of spices and secret ingredients and literally stuffed with a load of pickled goodness.

We grabbed our stuffed Marys and headed to SoBou for “brunchertainment.” The Legs and Eggs Burlesque Brunch is something that could only happen in New Orleans.

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SoBou?

Try SoBOOOOOZY.

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I’m not sure what I loved most: the giant flask of hooch punch (the special that day was a refreshing blend of blueberry, coconut, rum, and basil) or the bedazzled cabaret dancer that kept shaking her tail feathers in our pancakes.

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The spirited brunch is a lengthy 2-hour, 3 course affair with a live jazz band the Dapper Dandies and, dancing by Bella Blue.

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My meal started off with the panzanella salad with spicy greens, roasted tomatoes, drenched croutons, and a five hour egg. Matt started off with the buttermilk biscuit doughnuts with a smoky bacon & cream cheese frosting.

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Next up, I had the famed “Legs and Eggs,” with crispy confit chicken legs over crunchy brown sugar crusted french toast with poached eggs. Matt? Strawberry and banana pancakes. At least he didn’t have to say, “Chantilly pancakes, please,” this time. If he had uttered those words while holding that tiny little crystal cup of lavender punch, I might never have recovered.

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I am not sure why every restaurant does not offer dessert with breakfast. It was genius.

I had the “Pecan Pie Not Pie” which was a jar of pecan pie filling topped with chocolate covered cracklin’ & peanut butter whipped cream. Matt had the chocolate coma bar which came with a darling little house made marshmallow.

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We walked, strolled, browsed, and shopped until we discovered it was OYSTER HAPPY HOUR TIME!

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Then it was back to the house for booze fueled naps (much classier than passing out).

We roused ourselves in time for happy hour at Cane and Table. Cane and Table is one of the most recommended bars on the craft cocktail scene in New Orleans, and that landed it on my “must do” list.

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A cozy little cocktail bar built into an old carriage house with a rustic patio out back, Cane and Table was instantly charming.

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We decided it was too hot to sit outside and opted for the cool, dark interior of the bar. The cocktails were wonderfully unique and right up my alley. One option was the “daily punch” which was literally served from an antique cut glass punch bowl on the bar.

Loved.

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I convinced Matt to order the Boss Colada, made with fresh pineapple and lime, Angostura rum, Baska Snaps, orgeat, and Peychaud's bitters. There is nothing wrong with ordering a drink simply because it is lovely.

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Next, we headed next door to Coop’s place for some eats.

While there is typically a long line at Coop’s, we hit it just right and simply walked in and were seated.

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Coop’s is one part restaurant and 3 parts dive bar. You have to be 21 to enter, so you could say it’s a bar that serves some food. It was dark and divey with a dozen rickety tables and a big wooden bar.

The service was friendly and the food was our favorite of the trip.

We started with marinated and fried blue crab claws.

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That was followed with a hot bowl of delicious gumbo.

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And then there was the “tasting plate” – a sampler of all the goodness that Coop’s has to offer: shrimp creole, red beans and rice, rabbit and sausage jambalya, and crispy creole fried chicken.

That chicken was intensely delicious.

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For dessert, we grabbed a round of $5 frozen Irish coffees next door at Mollys.

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We walked to Frenchmen Street, where we wandered into a couple of different art markets before heading to Snug Harbor for some jazz.

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While I did love Snug Harbor, I didn’t find the experience as personal as Preservation Hall. It was simply a nice jazz show.

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It was our final night in New Orleans so we decided to go out with a bang and stopped at Port of Call for late night burgers and loaded potatoes before calling it a night.

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Oh what a night!

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Monday:

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It was time for one last carb and fat filled meal.

We needed to hit the road air, so we went for something quick and easy.

I still maintain that the beignets at Café Beignet, while perfectly okay, are nothing like the beignets at Café du Monde.

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However, Café Beignet had a delightful music-filled courtyard and offered up other breakfast goodies like waffles and breakfast sandwiches.

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New Orleans had shown us a good time filled with delicious food, great cocktails, and days filled with sunshine and live music in the streets.

But we needed to leave before we all ended up with type 2 diabetes.

Three days in New Orleans had been enough. I had to throw in the white napkin.

If I stayed here any longer, I wouldn’t fit into my pants.

Posted by vicki_h 13:59 Archived in USA Tagged jazz new_orleans cajun creole mardi_gras french_quarter bourbon_street nola big_easy Comments (0)

Hitting the backspace button: Let's go back to Abaco!

A Quick Easter Break On My Favorite Little Island.

Now that we have our own place on Guana Cay, we try to get down there every chance we get. So when we had an opportunity to make a quick, last minute trip over Easter weekend, we jumped on the chance.

I was on Cloud 9…I was heading to Bikini Hut!

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An early morning flight had us on sunny Abaco by 9:00 a.m. By 9:30 we were loading our bags onto the boat, and by 10:00 we were off and running. We headed straight for Firefly on Elbow Cay for an early “welcome home” lunch.

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We enjoyed frosty cocktails in the warm sun, took a quick dip, and had a long and lazy lunch.

I love the food at Firefly. Most of the offerings you find on the Abaco culinary scene are fairly similar…..fish sandwich with fries…..burger with fries….conch with fries. While it’s no secret that I love some fried food, it’s nice to know there are a few restaurants where you can find some creative options. Firefly definitely stands out as one of the best. We enjoyed ginger-sesame crusted tuna tataki followed by crispy coconut fried lobster with fresh mixed greens and the blackened catch of the day with sweet potato fries.

Not a paper plate in sight!

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After lunch, we hopped over to Hopetown, intending to visit the Reef Bar and do a little shopping before heading to Guana to settle in.

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Hopetown was CRAZY! I have never seen that many people in town before. The Reef Bar was covered up. We realized it was spring break for a lot of families, so we downed one cocktail, took in the views, and jumped back on the boat in search of peace and quiet.

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We didn't exactly find peace and quiet. We had friends on the island and we saw their boat in the shallow lagoon on the south end of Guana Cay. We decided to try to creep in despite the fact that it was low tide.

We proceeded to get stuck, had to have our friends pull us off the sand with their boat, and I blew out my favorite flip flop when Matt told me to "GET OFF THE BOAT AND PUSH!"

Once we were safely back out to sea, we limped back to Guana in shame.

Hopetown had been a bust and the Lagoon had been a bigger bust.

We were ready to get to our little island and call it a day. We hoped it would be quieter than we had found Elbow.

It was.

Our little island was wonderfully peaceful when we arrived.

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We unpacked and settled in, cleaned up, and headed to Grabbers for that first glorious Guana Cay sunset.

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Afterwards, we met friends at Kidd’s Cove for a feast. We celebrated their last night on the island and our first with my favorite potato salad, peas n’ rice, salads, and fresh caught snapper.

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The next morning I woke up early to see the sunrise and realized I had lost my voice and a splitting headache. I couldn’t be getting sick. I was on vacation!

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I had no time to think about being sick. I had packing to do. Sure, we had just arrived, but Matt had convinced me to try spending the night on the boat that night and I needed to rally. I took some Advil and got our stuff together for our overnight trip.

It’s amazing how much stuff I needed to spend one night on the boat.

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We had never slept on the boat. It had a nice cabin and it was one of the reasons we decided on the boat we did. We felt like it was a good time to try it out, since this trip was just the two of us. It would be a good way to test run it and see what worked and what didn’t.

Let me just end the suspense….nothing worked.

We had decided to venture to Treasure Cay and spend a night in the marina. It would be great, Matt said. It’s a nice day, he said. We’ll have shore power, he said. We have a nice cabin with a nice bed, he said. We have a working bathroom, he said.

Lies.

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It didn’t start off too badly. The waves were a little bigger than normal, but just enough to elicit joyful shrieks and laughs. But as we picked up speed, the waves got bigger and the wind got stronger and the shrieks were no longer joyful.

The sea was angry that day, friends. Very angry. I was a acutely aware that as a very small woman with no means to secure myself to the boat, I was in a vulnerable position. I tightened my grip on the metal handle in front of me (for which I’m sure there’s some actual boat term but that I prefer to call the “Oh Shit” bar) and held on for dear life.

Our plan was to first go to Treasure Sands on the far end of the beach for lunch and lounging before making our way back to the marina for the night. We got all the way to Treasure Sands before realizing the water was far too rough to stop there.

This meant we had to go ALL THE WAY back to Don’t Rock. Against the wind and against the waves. That’s when the $hit really hit the fan. I knew I was in trouble when Matt told me to just go below, shut the door, and hold on.

The next 20 minutes were violent. The waves pounded the boat hard enough to knock me into the ceiling repeatedly and to cause the microwave to keep flying open and shooting the glass tray across the cabin. I feared I would be decapitated at any moment.

I spent the majority of the ride wedged in with pillows while using my arms as a brace against the ceiling to keep me from flying up and hitting my head. My teeth were banging together. I was pretty sure I was going to die from a head injury caused by an airborne flashlight that had worked its way out of its cubbyhole.

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It would have probably been smarter to turn back, but we were committed.

I thought about grabbing the air horn to send Matt a distress signal, but I was pretty sure things were worse up top.

Thankfully, I am not prone to motion sickness.

When we finally pulled into Treasure Cay marina, Matt was grim faced and saltwater soaked from head to toe, and my arms felt like I had done 2 hours of push-ups.

So…sure….it wasn’t a great start.

But as we cruised into the marina, things immediately started looking up. It was calm, sunny, and beautiful.

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I set out to explore while Matt tied the boat off and got us checked in at the marina office.

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Treasure Cay is definitely the closest thing to a “resort” that I have seen on Abaco, but it wasn’t resorty by any means. It was still just good old Abaco.

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“We have a small problem,” Matt said as I returned to the boat.

After the ride over, I really didn’t think any additional problems were acceptable.

“Our power cord isn’t long enough to reach the dock so we won’t have shore power.”

That meant no lights, no microwave, no toilet, no a/c.

Let me translate that into Vicki-speak: Darkness, mosquitoes, 15 minute walk to the bathroom, and no coffee.

This was dire.

“Well,” I said, “At least it’s a cool night and we have a comfy bed.”

“That was another thing I wanted to tell you….”

Apparently, the center cushion that turns two narrow, uncomfortable benches around the table into an actual bed was not on the boat.

What was supposed to be this:

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Was, in fact, this:

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And I was feeling worse by the minute. The headache that was ever present was now being joined by a horrible sore throat.

No matter.

We were here now and there was no way in hell I was heading back out into the Sea of Doom for another boat ride.

Instead, we decided to make the best of it and grabbed a taxi to Treasure Sands. If we couldn’t have overnight luxury, we’d have afternoon luxury!

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After the horror of the morning, Treasure Sands was pure bliss.

Treasure Sands was posh, uber hip, and an oasis of relaxation. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Poolside champagne made me forget that boat ride had ever happened, and made me temporarily forgot that we had an uncomfortable night in front of us.

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Like Firefly, Treasure Sands is one of the better dining options in the Abacos. We enjoyed a decadent lunch. I opted for the open face hot fish – fresh hog snapper delicately fried “Nashville hot chicken” style and served with tangy pickles. Matt went for the always delicious lobster club. Both were served with their parmesan garlic fries.

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We lounged late into the afternoon.

Mainly to avoid going back to face this:

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But eventually, we made our way back to the marina where we grabbed showers and opened some wine to enjoy with the sunset before dinner.

For a moment, I forgot about the lack of power, the long midnight walk I’d be making to the bathroom, and the two tiny, hard sleeping spaces we had waiting for us below and I realized how much I could enjoy a night on the boat. It was a beautiful night.

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We walked from the marina to Coco’s for their Friday Night Fish Fry and started the evening with a hard-earned Treasure Bomb Shot. It tasted like cough syrup and made me wish I had some. I was feeling worse by the minute.

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I drowned my sorrows with a frozen blue margarita and then fed them some hot conch fritters.

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For dinner, I went with traditional Abaco fare and got the blackened catch, cole slaw, and mac n’ cheese. Matt got daring and ordered the Fish Fry special.

I draw the line at eating things that still have eyes.

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We returned for our night on the boat.

I’d love to say, “It wasn’t so bad.” I’d like to convince you that I am a good sport and made the best of a less than ideal situation.

I am not a good sport.

It was miserable.

It was a combination of my increasing congestion, a now incessant cough, and trying to sleep on a narrow sliver of hard vinyl.

It’s important to note that I am a finicky sleeper. I need everything to be exactly perfect for me to drift off: pitch black, cool, silent, with a firm pillow, a thick comforter, and a soft mattress. Matt has equated my sleep set up to being no less complex than launching the space shuttle.

The boat cabin was warm and small with light and sound from the marina flooding into every hatch that had to remain open lest we suffocate without the a/c. The “bed,” we’ll just call it that for fun because we all know that wasn’t a bed, was excessively small and ferociously hard. Because I only brought bedding for ONE bed, not 2 separate beds, we had to split the bedding, so it was completely insubstantial.

I’m not sure who was more miserable, me, who coughed all night long and woke myself up with a loud congested snort every time I managed to doze off, or Matt who had to lay awake and listen to me cough all night long and snore myself awake every 23 minutes.

Oh, and did I mention that it was a FULL MOON? A very huge, bright, shining in the hatch above my head FULL MOON?

Let’s not even talk about the long walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

It was a long night.

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But we survived it. As the sun rose over Treasure Cay, I felt like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer.

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We made our way to the small quick market and perused the laughable and awkward medicinal offerings. I found a $24 bottle of DayQuil and an $8 bottle of some unrecognizable nasal spray.

It would have to do.

It’s amazing what a little medicine can do. I felt 90% human and went in search of coffee, since we didn’t have any power.

I found myself at Florence’s and remembered reading about the legendary cinnamon rolls generated by this modest cafe. I popped in for coffee (heaven!), breakfast sandwiches, and ….mmmmm……..cinnamon rolls.

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Obviously, whatever illness I had did nothing to my appetite.

After some coffee and sugar, I felt 99% human.

At least for the time being.

We made our way back to Guana and marveled at the beautiful day.

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With no plans for the day, we headed to Mermaids on the Rocks for lunching and lounging.

If you recall, it opened just last month, about a week before our March visit.

I still really loved the place.

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Tish, the bartender, mixed us up some fantastic cocktails that we enjoyed with their killer view.

We knew their dinner was good, so we wanted to try lunch. It was fantastic.

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Oooey, gooey loaded nachos, a cheesy burger, and a panko coconut fish sandwich made for lunch perfection.

Their crystal clear pool made the perfect place for a post-lunch siesta.

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We followed Mermaids with trip to Grabbers for a dip in the water.

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My DayQuil was starting to wear off, so we headed home. I grabbed some Vicks and Advil at Guana Grocery to round out my vacation cocktail that I hoped would get me through the rest of the trip.

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After some down time, we headed to Grabbers for sunset and drinks.

Do we get tired of going to the same places over and over?

No.

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We followed that with rib night at Orchid Bay.

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The next morning was Easter Sunday. We hadn’t thought to bring church clothes, so we headed to the beach to have our own sunrise service.

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As the sun rose higher into the sky, I was not only thankful for the gift of God’s son and my salvation, but for all the gifts he has blessed my life with.
What a beautiful reminder of what really matters.

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Not interested in another bone jarring boat ride, we decided to keep ourselves parked on Guana for the day, as the wind hadn’t really subsided.

We spent a lazy morning at Grabbers doing a lot of nothing. Which was absolutely perfect.

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I felt like death on a cracker, but was surviving on a steady diet of DayQuil and alcohol.

And cheeseburgers.

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Nippers Sunday Funday and Easter went together about as well as cats and sweaters, so we took a pass. It just didn’t feel right.

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We chose to end the trip with dinner at Mermaids – seared tuna for me and pasta carbonara for Matt.

Mermaids was still hitting home runs.

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Our trip had come to an end, but that was probably for the best. I was quickly running out of $24 DayQuil and the closest thing Guana Cay had to a doctor was Troy, who owns the dive shop and also serves as the entire Fire Department and the island’s entire EMS division.

It was time to head home….and for once….I was okay with that.

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Next up: We’re heading south to let the good times roll in New Orleans! Stay tuned!

Posted by vicki_h 08:19 Archived in Bahamas Tagged islands tropical bahamas nippers abaco elbow_cay guana_cay grabbers marsh_harbour lubbers_landing Comments (4)

Sip, sip, hooray! Girls' Weekend in Nashville.

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It happens. I get soooo busy. So do all of my girlfriends. It's so easy to get caught up in jobs and kids and the stress that life brings and forget to make time for our friends.

That's why we make it a point to stop every once in a while to remind ourselves of the “work hard, play hard” motto and head out for a much needed girls’ weekend. Girls’ weekends are necessary for the mind, body, and soul.

It had been a while since the girls had been together. It was time to plan an epic weekend.

After tossing around several location ideas, we settled on the obvious….NASHVILLE!

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Why hadn’t we thought of this before?

Once best known as the capital of country music, Nashville’s shopping, nightlife, and culinary offerings have blown up in recent years. Nashville is a perfect blend of culture and Southern charm. There is so much to see and do that a simple weekend couldn’t even scratch the surface.

And it’s right in our back yard.

I told the girls to grab their cowboy hats. It was time for a boot scootin’, biscuit eatin’, sweet tea drinkin’ good time.

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We left Knoxville on a warm, sunny spring day and found ourselves cruising into Nashville just 2 ½ hours later.

What should we do first? Visit the Grand Ole Opry? Eat some hot chicken? Buy a cowboy hat?

We made our way to Germantown, a recently revived neighborhood just north of downtown. This 18-square block area is filled with cobblestone streets, charming homes that date back to the 1800s, architectural treasures, unique shops, and some of Nashville’s hottest restaurants. It’s urban, it’s chic, it’s walkable, it’s filled with coffee shops and eateries and wine…..in other words….it was the perfect place for a girls’ trip.

We scored these AMAZING accommodations on AirBNB:

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This duplex was simply perfection.

Only 3 of us had made it so far. Our 4th was not joining us until later that night, so we spent some time unpacking the 35 outfits we had brought for 2 days, quickly spruced up, and made the short walk to Butchertown Hall for one of the city’s best Happy Hours.

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Immediately greeted by the warm interior and the ridiculously wonderful smell of smoked meat, we were quickly seated and handed the Happy Hour menu. We proceeded to order ALL THE THINGS.

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OH MY GOSH! The $5 margaritas were perfect. And all of the food was so stinkin' good, specifically the brisket taco, and the queso with their house made chorizo, and the loin back rib nachos. Oh, and the sweet tea marinated smoked wings!

Oh, and the wood grilled oysters with chili sauce and chimichurri!

I’m getting hungry all over again.

After eating ALL THE THINGS, we grabbed an Uber and headed to Sinema, in Nashville’s Melrose neighborhood.

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Housed inside the refurbished 1940’s Melrose Theater, Sinema’s atmosphere and décor gave a nod to old Hollywood glamour. Downstairs had a supper-club atmosphere with elegant tables and a huge movie screen showing classic films. Upstairs we found a classy lounge with cozy spaces and a creative cocktail menu.

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I pride myself on my research abilities and, typically, there are not many surprises waiting for me when I travel.

Sinema’s ladies' room caught me by surprise, however.

How had I missed the fact that Sinema has one of the most selfie friendly bathrooms in Nashville? It’s actually KNOWN for it’s selfie-worthy loo?

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Sigh. There was a time when the bathroom was the ultimate private space – but that all ended when it became better known as a place where women stand in front of the mirror, phones held aloft, and capture images of their duckfaces.

We were guilty. We spent 45 minutes in the ladies room.

It took that long to perfect our 1973 Album Cover Look.

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After bathroom art and cocktail hour was over, we walked next door to The Sutler to wait for our 4th to arrive.

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Housed in the same location that the original Sutler Saloon operated in for over 30 years, The Sutler is the re-imagination of the original and houses an upstairs food and music venue and a dark, cozy downstairs lounge.

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As old people, we of course opted for the quiet of the downstairs lounge, planning to wait in the peace and quiet with cocktails in hand while listening to some chill music.

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What we didn’t know was that it was 90’s dance night.

No problem. We are adaptable.

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With all four of us finally together, we decided it was time to hang up our dancing shoes and call it a night.

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Friday morning was bright and beautiful. It was time to put on our walking shoes and our eating pants.

But first, coffee.

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We walked over to Germantown’s Barista Parlor. While the place is riddled with ironic facial hair, oversized eye glasses, and permanent looks of hipster-esque disdain, it also serves up amazing coffee and baked goods. Everyone knows that hipsters make the best coffee.

I would call the décor of the Germantown location “vintage nautical industrial,” not to be confused with the original East location which I would characterize as more “nautical industrial lumberjack.”

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There were plenty of laptops, skinny jeans, and unseasonable toboggans. As we puzzled over the hand carved wooden menu (no, I am not kidding), I settled on a Whiskey Caramel Latte, “The Judge” biscuit, and one of their homemade cinnamon sugar pop-tarts.

The coffee was velvety…creamy….delicious.

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The biscuit was perfectly moist (I hate a crumbly biscuit) and loaded with fluffy scrambled eggs, tangy pepper-jack cheese, and ….wait for it….chili glazed candied bacon. Served on a hand made wooden plate with a bandana (no, I am not kidding).

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The pop-tart was INSANE. It was nothing like a pop-tart. It was a rectangle of moist, doughy, flaky, gooey cinnamon filled heaven. I dropped a piece of that luscious icing on the floor and actually considered picking it up and eating it.

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What was supposed to be a “light bite to tide us over” turned out to be a gluttonfest.

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No worries. We had shopping to do and nothing fuels shopping better than sugar and caffeine (unless you count vodka, but that usually results in coming home with odd things like a pink ceramic elephant and size 24 sequined pants).

We rallied and headed out to see how much damage we could do.

9,456 steps and 14 shopping bags later, we were exhausted. I’m pretty sure one of my credit cards self combusted in my purse on the way back to the house.

There was only one thing that could get us moving again….FOOD!

It was 2:30. We just made it to Arnold’s in time to make the line before they shut the doors.

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This hole-in-the-wall meat and three only serves breakfast and lunch, and only Monday through Friday, and only until 2:45.

Arnold’s is no-frills. It’s typically filled with hard-working, humble, good natured folks. Except the day we visited. The guy in front of us was wearing white skinny jeans, had a man bun, and was driving a Bentley.

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They opened their doors in 1983. Almost 35 years and a James Beard Award later, they are still serving up the best fried catfish, mac n’cheese, and hoecakes in town.

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A meat + 3 plate at Arnold’s should cost you a modest $9.74. My lunch, however was $18.59.

Why?

Because I couldn’t stop at meat + 3.

Sure, I started off innocently enough with a simple hickory smoked chicken breast smothered in house-made BBQ sauce, spicy-sweet corn pudding, baked mac n’cheese, and collard greens.

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But then there were those crispy fried green tomatoes.

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And that lonely hoecake.

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Did someone say “hot pepper chocolate pie?” Yes, please.

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So, my meat + 3 quickly turned into a meat + 4 + hoecake + pie.

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We ate so much we shut the restaurant down. Literally.

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We decided to walk some of our lunch off by trying to find the WhatLiftsYou wings mural nearby.

Loved.

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After lunch, we literally crashed back at the house.

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That evening, we decided to stick close to “home” and find drinks and dinner in Germantown.

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We started at the best happy hour of all time at the Germantown Café. Every day from 3:00 – 7:00, this happy little restaurant serves up a menu of creative cocktails and amazing small plates for $5 each. And we’re not talking well drinks and peanuts.

Try offerings like veal meatballs and steamed mussels, paired with a French 75 or a house made mojito.

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After getting our happy hour drink fix, we walked to City House, still one of my favorite restaurants in Nashville.

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The restaurant is inside an old house, and we were seated in the cozy upstairs instead of the large and open (and loud!) downstairs.

We started off with a bottle of bubbly Prosecco and a bowl of warm, marinated olives while we perused the menu and tried to decide what else our stomachs could possibly hold.

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We found the answer in the form of their famous house-made belly ham pizza and the anchovy pizza with a bottle of red.

The first pizza was covered with mellow tomato sauce, anchovies, capers and house-made mozzarella while the second wowed us with belly ham, mozzarella, Grana Padano, oregano, and chiles atop the soft yet crispy crust.

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We had ambitious plans to visit The Green Hour for after dinner drinks and chocolate and the Back Corner for music, but we had to be honest…..we were TIRED.

Instead, we found ourselves back at the house with Pretty Woman on the projector screen, a plate filled with cookies on the table, a few bottles of open wine, and our pjs.

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Do-it-yourself collagen masks or the Walking Dead?

You decide.

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We had been blessed with GORGEOUS weather and Saturday was no exception. We roused ourselves and headed to brunch in Nashville’s quaint 12 South neighborhood.

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During the week, the Flipside is a casual burger joint with a retro diner vibe, but on Saturdays it transforms into Brunch Central, with colossal Bloody Marys, two-for-one mimosas, and tater tots loaded with eggs and cheese.

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Did I mention that you can get an entire plate of crispy bacon? A plate. Of bacon.

With maple syrup for dipping.

Bacon. Syrup. Heaven.

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After stuffing ourselves silly, we walked through the cute shops and streets of 12 South.

You have to love a shopping neighborhood that gives away adorable little glasses of sweet tea and has a cupcake ATM.

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We did obligatory photos with the I Believe in Nashville mural and the Draper James blue and white wall.

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We also shopped until we dropped.

We bought ALL THE THINGS.

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After much needed naps, we roused ourselves for the afternoon’s festivities – a ride on the Sprocket Rocket pedal bar through Nashville’s Honky Tonk Row.

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Pedal Bar is really just an excuse to drink on the street and yell at people while listening to loud music.

And where better to do that than Honky Tonk Row, Nashville’s famed strip filled with neon signs, fried bologna sandwiches, all day drinking, and youthful debauchery. Is it touristy and tacky? Of course it is. But where else in Nashville can you spend the night dodging no fewer than 956 bachelorette parties, see 20-somethings in new suits and even newer cowboy boots throwing up on the sidewalk at 7:00 p.m., and hear Kenny Rogers coming out of one door and ZZ Top coming out of the next while 75-year old ladies line dance in the street?

It’s like the Vegas strip ….just replace the sequins, limos, and Fat Tuesday yard drinks with Wranglers, John Deere tractors, and Bud Light in a can.

We had enjoyed the Pedal Pub on our previous girls’ trip to Asheville so much, that we wanted to see if it was as much fun as we remembered.

It was.

It was us old ladies and a group of early 20's bachelorettes and, I must say, we showed those young girls how it's done.

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We followed our pedal party with dinner at Germantown’s sophisticated 5th and Taylor.

I said the restaurant was sophisticated. I never said we were.

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We started off with their curried crab dip and crispy potato skins.

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I followed that with the filet. This came with a family-style order of creamy mashed potatoes, but that didn’t stop me from also ordering a giant plate of fries because 3 potato dishes in one meal is never too many.

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My filet was perfect, but I have to admit I was a little envious of my friend’s burger.

Dang.

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And, just because we could, we ordered one of every dessert on the menu: the fried apple pie with bourbon vanilla ice cream and hot caramel, the banana pudding, and the chocolate torte.

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Now you see them.

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Now you don’t.

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Much like my willpower.

And my slim waist.

Before we knew it, we were waking up to our last morning.

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We capped our trip off with a fully indulgent, all-you-can-eat breakfast at Monell’s, just a block from the house.

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We arrived early, so there was no wait, and we proceeded to stuff ourselves with fried chicken, bacon, sausage, ham, cinnamon rolls, fluffy biscuits with hot gravy, fresh peach preserves, home fried potatoes, cheese grits, scrambled eggs, pancakes, fried apples, and corn pudding until we had to undo our pants for fear of putting someone’s eye out in the event that we popped button.

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The weekend had been amazing. It was definitely a “laugh until you pee a little” kind of weekend filled with the best kind of girl time. We had a chance to relax, have fun, reconnect, and charge our batteries. We were reminded that we may be getting older, but we’re not slowing down.

Nashville had delivered.

Nashville is a city I can picture myself living in. I’d buy a beautifully restored cottage in Germantown, and spend my days as a barista in a warehouse-turned-coffee-shop while eating my way through every biscuit joint in town. I would un-ironically wear cowboy boots and drink craft bourbon in a hand-blown glass tumbler with a single oversized square cube of ice. My days would be filled with endless hot chicken, country music, and sweet tea.

And good friends.

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Posted by vicki_h 10:48 Archived in USA Tagged nashville germantown girls'_trip Comments (3)

Shamrocks and Shenanigan’s: St. Paddy’s Day on Guana Cay

It was the perfect storm. No, I am not talking about the Andrea Gail. I am talking about the fact that someone decided that St. Patrick’s Day (which is pretty much about drinking), the Barefoot Man concert on Guana Cay (which is pretty much about drinking), and a party at Nippers (which is pretty much about drinking) should all happen simultaneously. Given that any one of these events alone can result in rampant debauchery and mayhem, having them all at the same time was certainly a recipe for complete pandemonium. There was no way we could survive with all of our vital organs and/or appendages intact.

The last time Matt and I tried to attend a Barefoot Man show with John and Teresa, things didn’t go so well. For those who have not read the story, read entry #1 on this blog and you’ll understand….And it wasn’t even on a holiday designed around pub crawls and binge drinking. It was just a Tuesday.

A strong believer in the old adage that “What doesn’t kill us will only make us stronger,” Teresa and I signed on, despite the dire results from our previous attempt to attend a Barefoot Man Concert at Nippers together.

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Who needs green beer?

Irish I had a Frozen Nipper!

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We headed down on Thursday afternoon to ensure we didn’t miss a minute of Friday’s fun. An uneventful flight (the best kind!) got us on Guana Cay in time to settle into Bikini Hut, enjoy $5 Wing Night at Orchid Bay, and relax with a spectacular sunset at Grabbers with a frozen cocktail in hand.

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Wings and champagne.....because I'm classy like that.

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Friday morning found me on the beach early, which seems to be a habit I simply can’t break. My inner alarm clock wakes me before sunset EVERY MORNING on Guana Cay. Knowing it’s only a 2 minute walk to the beach compels me to throw on some cut offs and flip flops and head out the door in the dark every morning. I can’t wait to see the sun come up over that beautiful beach. It’s never the same, and it never disappoints.

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It was an overcast day, but we still expected big crowds to descend upon our little island for the Barefoot Man concert, so I was the designated “table holder.” Ensuring we had our choice of table for the day meant going to Nippers at 10:30 and sitting in the sea breeze sucking down bloody marys until everyone else showed up a couple of hours later.

It was a tough job, but I felt fully up to the challenge.

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As people poured in, filling up every available seat by 11:30, I was glad I had come early. Not to mention that getting there early meant I got to hear the pre-show warm up, had ample time to visit with the colorful cast and crew of Nippers, and had a chance to get up close and personal with the Big Guy himself.

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The downside was that I was already a few drinks in when everyone else arrived.

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We were decked out in our St. Paddy’s Day best and we were ready for malarkey and shenanigans.

Obviously, there were plenty of both.

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In stark contrast to Barefoot Man 2008, Barefoot Man 2017 was a blast. There were no black eyes, no food fights, and no shouting. No left mad and no one cried.

Based on our 2008 Barefoot Man Experience, I had set some goals for the day:

• Goal #1: Actually see Barefoot Man perform.
• Goal #2: Alternate one glass of water for every frozen Nipper.
• Goal #3: Make it through the day with no one getting in a fight.
• Goal #4: Actually eat my lunch instead of wearing it.
• Goal #5: See to it that Teresa’s hat did not end up some shade of “Nipper” by the end of the day.
• Goal #6: Get home without anyone getting hurt.
• Goal #7: Maintain our dignity.

I am pleased to say that we accomplished Goals #1-6.

Goal 7 is subject to interpretation.

Unlike 2008 where some of us were crying, some sleeping, and some holding cold compresses to their face by the end of the day, we enjoyed a beautiful evening at Sunsetters, eating pizza instead of comparing our battle wounds and looking for band-aids.

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As usual, Saturday morning found me on the beach at 0-dark-thirty. And I couldn't have been happier about it.

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Matt had some things to work on at the house and on the boat, so Teresa and I planned to kick around Guana for the day.

We started things off with a visit to the Orchid Bay Market, a seasonal event with arts, crafts, and delicious foods.

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It coincided with the regular Saturday Sir Eden market, where you can find amazing produce from a local organic and hydroponic farm on Abaco.

After buying enough lettuce for a month’s worth of salads (it was so pretty I couldn’t help myself…besides….on an island where 99% of the offerings are battered and fried, I find myself craving something green!), we decided to head down to the new Mermaids on the Rocks to have a look around.

Guana has a limited number of restaurants, most of them very casual in nature: Grabbers, Nippers, Kidd’s Cove, and Sunsetters at Orchid Bay. We were excited to see the “new kid on the block,” Mermaids on the Rocks, rumored to be a little more upscale with a view to die for. It had opened just the previous week.

Those rumors were spot on.

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We found ourselves at a happy, blue building with a bright and colorful bar overlooking the beautiful Sea of Abaco. The views were stellar, the décor was top notch, the wine perfectly chilled, and the pool rules told me someone had a sense of humor.

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With a casual pool bar below and an upscale restaurant above, Mermaids seemed to fill a niche that Guana Cay sorely needed. Without hesitation, we made reservations for dinner that night.

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With an afternoon to kill, we headed to Grabbers where the guys met us for lunch and some luxurious lounge time. On a pretty day, Grabbers is hard to beat.

With a crystal clear pool, shallow sea, palm lined beach, and crispy conch fritters….what more could a girl want?

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Okay, maybe a savory caprese lobster salad sandwich.

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And her two best sidekicks.

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It was a perfectly lazy afternoon.

We were excited to try Mermaids for dinner. We arrived just before sunset and were immediately in love with the outdoor deck and the view.

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One of my favorite things about Mermaids immediately became this sign.

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Have no fear…this doesn’t mean you can’t wear flip flops to the restaurant. This means don’t come strolling in the door wearing nothing but a sarong and a bandeau bikini top crushing your upper half into a uniboob. You just have to put some actual clothes on. Resort casual is perfectly fine, provided you’re wearing more than a swimsuit cover up.

While I love running barefoot around Nippers and Grabbers in nothing more than a swimsuit and a tank top, it’s also nice to have a place where the expectations are a little higher. A girl needs a place where she can pull out the cute dress and nice shoes every once in a while.

We enjoyed sunset on the deck with wine and some of their specialty martinis before moving inside for dinner.

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The interior of the restaurant was simply lovely. Special thought has been put into every detail, from the beautiful mermaid artwork to the intricate lattice of ropes that separates the two main dining areas. The wood bar gleamed and candles cast a soft and intimate glow at the table.

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While I love a good burger and paper plate full of fried things, I was happy to see a menu that offered things like fresh ceviche, spaghetti pomodoro, and several proper steaks, as well as an abundance of fresh seafood options.

My favorite? NO PLASTIC GLASSES!

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We had set our expectations high and Mermaids didn’t disappoint.

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Sunday morning was clear and beautiful.

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We decided to take advantage of the weather and take the boat to Pete’s Pub for the day.

The water views from Guana to Pete's are some of my favorites in all of Abaco.

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Pete’s was calm and colorful and we spent the next few hours sipping Bloody Mary’s and Blasters, dining on their fresh fish sandwiches and savory cole slaw, and doing a whole lot of nothing.

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We made a few stops on the way back for some snorkeling and beach time.

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We were back in time to get cleaned up and head to Grabbers for our nightly sunset ritual.

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Then it was over to Kidd’s Cove for the best lobster on Guana. It’s always the most tender and you can’t beat the potato salad. I could eat a vat of that potato salad.

It’s a good thing all I have to do when I am finished is waddle next door to Bikini Hut!

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The morning of our last full day hinted that it would be another beautiful island day.

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It had been a relatively low-key trip to Guana. Matt had some more work to do, so I spent our last day sunning myself at Grabbers and sipping frozen concoctions.

There was hammock-time, pool floating, lobster bites and cheeseburgers, and plenty of frozen Grabbers.

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We made a late afternoon run over to Shell Island before calling it a day.

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We decided to have dinner at the house, so I popped by Guana Grocery to pick up a few extra things and found a massive sweet potato. You could make an entire pie with that potato. That potato alone could solve world hunger.

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I didn’t buy the potato.

It frightened me.

Instead we had a great pasta dinner and the world’s largest salad, using the 9 lbs. of hydroponic salad greens I had bought from Sir Eden for no good reason.

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It had been an uncharacteristically calm visit to Guana. I was pleased to know that I could actually visit the island without wrecking a golf cart, getting stuck on a sandbar, having to evacuate a boat on fire, anyone needing stitches, getting cut off by Irene, or running from the Police.

Sometimes I CAN adult.

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Stay tuned for my girls' weekend to Nashville .....where I don't adult very well!

Posted by vicki_h 13:12 Archived in Bahamas Tagged islands tropical bahamas nippers abaco elbow_cay guana_cay grabbers marsh_harbour lubbers_landing Comments (1)

Death Cookies on the Ballhooter

Skiing in Snowshoe, WV

Matt and I used to go on a ski trip every year. Yes , I used to ski. Back in the days when we were young and fresh faced, with strong legs and knees that didn't crack when we bent over.

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But that was many years ago.

I learned to ski in 1994, about 6 weeks after Matt and I met. Matt was an avid skier. His friends were avid skiers. Their wives were avid skiers.

I had never skied.

He invited me to go skiing with the group. It was learn to ski or get left behind. So, I learned. I was a very "okay" skier. I was never what one would call “good,” but I was competent. I reached the point where I could pretty much get down any slope on any mountain without dying, even if it took me half a day. I considered that an achievement.

By 1996, we were going out west at least once a year for a group ski trip. We did this for another 10 years. We did it big: Park City, Snowbird, Alta, Whistler, Telluride, Vail, Beaver Creek, Steamboat Springs, Jackson Hole, Deer Valley, Big Mountain, Big Sky. The year Matt turned 40, we realized: 1) Skiing was hard. 2) Skiing was cold. 3) Skiing was expensive. We packed up our ski gear, started going on a winter trip to the Caribbean every year instead, and never looked back.

Until a few weeks ago when a group of friends we’ve recently become acquainted with invited us on a ski trip.

I knew better. I never really liked skiing even back when we did it. I mostly went for the hot chocolate and fireplaces, but I was sucked in by visions of hot toddies and cute fur hats. I had forgotten that I hate the cold and I am terrified of skiing.

So we said “yes.”

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And that’s how I found myself in Snowshoe, WV on a frigid 17 degree day in a blizzard staring down a mountain. Once a decent skier, I hadn’t been on skis in over 10 years, and I couldn't shake the underlying fear that I would fall off the mountain and die.

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Add to this the fact that my body was also 10 years older than when I last put on a pair of skis. There is a huge physical difference between 36 and 46.

Yes. I was certain. I was going to fall off the mountain and die.

I decided on that first day that it was simply too freaking cold, too windy, and too “blizzardy” for me to make my return to the world of carving powder. While Matt went straight for a black diamond run (the man has no fear), I pulled up my fur hood, grabbed a hot beverage, and found a fireplace that I could sit beside while I contemplated exactly why I was here.

I cozied into our room at the newly refurbished Courduroy Inn and found a pen and a pad of paper.

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When I was young and had a decision to make, my Mom always made me make a list of pros and cons. I decided this would work well to address my current conundrum.

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I started with THINGS I HATE ABOUT SKIING:

The cold. What human voluntarily spends 8 hours outside when it is 17 degrees?

All the weird layers. By the time I have on my base layer, some fleece, my bulky ski pants, jacket, hat, glove liners, gloves, mask….I have to pee. Even under the best circumstance, I am like Ralphie in A Christmas Story and walk around as big as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. However, the layers are essential. All of them. Why? BECAUSE IT’S 17 DEGREES.

The boots. Mankind has invented the iPhone. We can turn the lights on in our house from another state. We put people in space, for goodness sakes. Why can’t someone invent a better design for ski boots? Try walking gracefully in ski boots. They make me look like Robocop or a transformer.

Skiing. Actually having to put greased up sticks on my feet and slide down a mountain is my least favorite part of the entire experience.

The Chairlift. An experience 100x more awkward and terrifying than getting on an escalator.

Snowboarders. They are typically obnoxious pre-teens with weird hats who like to crash violently right in front of me. And they seem to multiply as the day progresses, no doubt waking up at noon from their Playstation-induced comas, crushing a Red Bull, and hitting the slopes with one thought in mind: terrorize old people.

Death Cookies. Having done the majority of my skiing out west, on ACTUAL SNOW, I had not forgotten my first few ski trips on the gloriously horrible east coast, where small mountains are covered in fake, manufactured snow that freezes impossibly hard and responds nothing like actual snow under your skis. The worst are the "death cookies," hideous little chunks of frozen snow that are an inevitable by-product of fake snow and grooming. They hide in the blinding white glare, just waiting to take you out, if a snowboarder doesn't get you first.

Children. They are like heat seeking missiles. Every child on the mountain is determined to blindly shoot out in front of me at the worst possible moment, with zero ability to turn or stop, leaving me with a choice between plowing down a toddler or veering wildly into a nearby tree instead.

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Then I considered the things I LOVE ABOUT SKIING:

The quiet and solitude. Even if you are paired up with someone, going down the mountain is a very solitary experience. It’s just you and the snow. As an introvert, I must admit that I love the solitude of skiing, particularly since I often ski alone. It’s crazy peaceful.

The views. I hate cold, but I love snow. Even though the views in WV were not quite the epic and sweeping as the vistas out west, it was pretty. Snow crusted trees, an icy lake at the base of the mountain, and brilliant blue skies are pretty cool.

They physical exertion. Much like my love for hiking, I love the physical challenge of skiing. It's its own reward. As I have already indicated, I am not an athletic person. My level of physical agility is a -3 on a scale of 1 – 10. I’m not really sure how I managed to learn to ski. I never had lessons or an instructor. Matt pretty much threw me to it and I figured it out. Due to my maddening fear of speed and my inability to control myself on skis if any measure of speed is involved, I am an excruciatingly slow skier. I have mastered the art of slow skiing by traversing the slope all the way down. This has allowed me to manage even the most difficult black diamond runs, but it also requires a tremendous amount of leg power and results in skiing about 5 times farther than everyone else on the slope.

Hot drinks. I admit, a hot buttered rum tastes better after a long day of traversing the slopes, back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Fireplaces. Ski resorts are silly with them. You can’t walk 10 feet without running into one.

Apres Ski. As much as I don't like skiing, I love the moment the day on the slopes is over and you can officially enter into the delightful world of "after ski" with cocktails, munchies, and music by the fire.

Clothing with fur. I love anything with fur on it. Unfortunately, fur lined clothing in east TN is not generally necessary, making its appearance fashionably unacceptable on most occasions.

Carbs. Skiing requires that you eat lots of carbs. At least that is what I tell myself as I stuff another cheeseburger in my mouth.

And last, but most certainly not least: Heated towel racks. Where have these been all my life?

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Four hot bourbon toddies later, I had decided that this was going to be an awesome weekend.

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After lunch, the blizzard abated, but it was too late to ski, so I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the village, eating soup and grilled cheese, enjoying the snow, and reading by the fireplace.

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We met up with the group that night at Sunset Cantina in the village and dove into pitchers of margaritas, chips & salsa, and platters of nachos.

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Then it was off to bed early to prepare for a big day of SKIING.

Eeeeek.

We woke up to a beautiful blue sky day with no more driving snow and very moderate temperatures. It was a perfect day for skiing.

I loaded up on breakfast, just in case it turned out to be my last meal.

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Matt headed straight for the Western Territory, a couple of black diamond runs across from our inn. I knew the other ladies were taking lessons, so I was resigned to spend the day skiing by myself, which sadly, I actually enjoy.

I was nervous, though. When skiing for the first time in over 10 years, another warm body would have provided some comfort. I was totally on my own if I had an “incident.”

Unlike most ski resorts I have been to, where the village is at the base of the mountain and your first activity of the morning is to get on a lift, Snowshoe Village is at the top of the mountain. All I had to do was walk out the back door, pop on my skis…and go.

I paused at the bottom of the back stairs from our inn and simply enjoyed the sun on my face, the snow caked trees, and the views.

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Okay, fine. I was stalling.

It was time to put my skis on and attempt to go down the mountain. Alone.

And there it was.

Pure. Black. Fear.

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The truth is, I am afraid of skiing. I am afraid of speed. I am also afraid of falling, of suddenly finding myself sprawled out on the ground with a facefull of snow, arms and legs everywhere like some drawn-and-quartered alpine roadkill, skis knocked off and sliding helplessly down the mountain without me, and arms too weak to haul myself back up with my poles.

I may look perfectly calm as I go down the slope, but in my head, there is a terrified voice that is silently shrieking, “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!”

I’m not a total wuss. I have conquered black diamonds in Jackson Hole, WY and wild terrain in Snowbird, UT, but I know my limitations. For every black diamond I have mastered, I have also scooted down some run on my butt or taken off my skis to hike back up to find an easier way down.

To me, skiing is an unpleasant, vaguely unnatural combination of standing still and moving way too fast. You spend an inordinate amount of time waiting in very cold lift lines, trying not to fall over and take 20 people down with you like a stack of dominoes as well as countless hours a day sitting still and freezing on an open chair lift that creeps up a mountain. Moments later, you are expected to fly down an ice covered mountain. It’s madness. I don’t know who decided this should be recreation. I view skiing as less of a sport and more a socially acceptable form of high risk masochism.

Add to this my innate physical awkwardness. I am not athletic. I am not graceful. I am not agile. When I ski, I look like Bambi on ice.

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I studied the trail map to plot out a course that I believed would get me to the bottom of the mountain intact.

I found myself wondering about some of the trail names. Who names these things anyway? Grabhammer. Ballhooter. Gangway. Choker. They sounded more like descriptions of prison rape than ski slopes.

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While I have done all manner of slopes, greens (easy), blues (harder), blacks (hardest) without mishap, the truth is that my comfort zone sits somewhere between the green and blue runs.

I consider myself a turquoise skier.

I mapped out a plan that would start me off slowly on some easy greens and then work my way up to the blues. On this hard packed, east coast fake snow (aka, ICE), I decided a black diamond was out of the question on my return-to-the-world-of skiing-after-a-long-hiatus trip.

I surprised myself by making it down without incident and finding that I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I swished and whooshed. It all came back to me. The air on my face was invigorating and the world was quiet and soft around me.

I remembered what I liked about skiing.

And then I reached the bottom of the mountain.

And the chair lift.

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

I am absolutely, completely, uncontrollably, inexplicably terrified of freaking chairlifts.

This has nothing to do with a fear of heights and everything to do with the awkwardness of getting on and off the lift and the infinite possibilities for calamity and embarrassment that it holds.

For those who have never actually ridden a chair lift, let me describe the experience.

First, you ski into a crowd of people who have formed several lines. You are expected to get in one of these lines without knocking anyone down or sliding across their skis. Then, you wait. Standing on skis is awkward in itself. Your body is pitched at a weird angle and you have to scooch and slide forward carefully as the line advances. When it is your turn to load, the real fun begins. If you are skiing alone, as I was, you have to advance toward the lift with strangers. When I am on skis, it’s best if I have about a 10 foot perimeter so that my wild flailing of poles won’t impact anyone else. This is impossible when crammed shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, waiting for a flying metal chair to sneak up behind you and slam you in the butt.

Ideally, you are lined up properly and the chair hits you square in the fanny, not off to the side, or at an angle, which will inevitably result in you falling over, the chairlift having to be stopped, and an attendant being forced to come to your aid, retrieve your poles, which you just flung at a nearby 10 year old, and help you onto the chairlift.

After you get seated, you fly through the air toward the top of the mountain.

At this stage, the chairlift is an awkwardly intimate place. You are thrust into close proximity with a total stranger in a strangely quiet environment for a painfully long time. First up is the anxiety inducing SAFETY BAR. Experienced skiers don’t like the safety bar. I live for the safety bar. I grab it immediately to lower it onto my lap and inevitably, smack my companion, who is oblivious to it, in the head. No one likes an over-anxious bar deployer, but that is my reality. It’s simply who I am.

After moving past the clumsiness of the safety bar, there is the worry of getting my dangling skis tangled up or hitting my companion with a pole as I try to find a good place for them to settle and spending the duration of the ride wondering if I will knock this person down in my frantic attempt to get off the lift without doing a faceplant.

Then there is the conversation. It’s too quiet not to speak. It is a silence that only the strongest can survive. As such, my seat mate is going on about the epic powder, sick lines, and awesome aerials while I am contemplating my snow plow…..do I need a bigger pie wedge?

Even though the ride on the open chairlift is FREEZING, I don’t want it to end, because the dismount is horrific. It never stops moving. You are simply expected to lift the safety bar at the precise moment, keep your ski tips up so they don’t catch the platform and pull you to a certain death, find the magical perfect moment to stand and let the chair push your legs gently forward off the lift, and ski gracefully down the dismount slope without running into that stranger that is 6 inches from your side.

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD THAT IS???????

I found myself riding the lift with a woman about my age and her teenage daughter. This was an ideal scenario. It could have been a huge man or worse….a snowboarder.

I was proud of myself when I managed to dismount without killing my liftmates or myself.

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With my first run and my first lift ride under my belt, my confidence grew. I mapped out a plan for the morning, and spent the next few hours gliding competently (if not gracefully) down the intermediate slopes working my way toward the lift that would carry me to our lunch rendezvous spot.

I ran into Matt on my way to the Junction for lunch and we had time to do one run together. God bless him for not complaining about how slow I skied or how sissified the run was.

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We headed inside for drinks and burgers, and I felt like I had earned it!

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After lunch, Matt headed back to the blacks diamond runs and I decided I would ski for a couple more hours or until I got tired, whichever came first.

I was on my final run of the day. I was cold and my legs were starting to feel like wet pasta. I was patting myself on the back. No spills, no mishaps, and I had stayed out and skied almost the entire day…and I did it by myself.

I had taken my accustomed spot in the SINGLES line at the lift. And that is when it happened.

I was motioned forward by the attendant, indicating it was my turn to get on the lift. I looked to my right to see what stranger(s) I would be riding with. I blinked. I was certain there was a mistake.

I was standing beside two very small children.

Apparently, the attendant could smell my fear, because he quickly spoke up, “Their parents are behind you and have several more kids with them. Do you mind riding with these two?”

OF COURSE I MINDED! Did he think I knew how to converse with small people? I don't know anything about what kids like. Is Barney still a thing? And who was going to help them get off the lift? Even if they did fine, how was I supposed to get off the lift without killing them?

I simply nodded and found myself on the lift alone with Ava, who was 7, and Lawrence, who was 5. Seriously. These kids parents would have been better off to leave them in a cage with a wild hyena than to send them up a ski lift with me.

This could not possibly turn out well.

After 10 minutes of Ava singing all the songs she remembered from the car ride on the way over, Lawrence telling me about his breakfast, and both of them talking about the video game their aunt brought on the trip, I asked the necessary question, “Do you both know how to get off the lift?”

I was assuming some level of proficiency given that their parents sent them up with a stranger.

Lawrence waved his hand at me, “Oh yeah. We’ve been skiing for YEARS.”

YEARS he said.

When you are 5, that is a relative term.

I felt my heart start to pound in my chest as we approached the platform. What if I raised the safety bar too soon and one of them fell off? What if I raised it too late and they got trapped and fell off? What if I fell off?

I raised the bar. And waited.

And waited.

Oh dear, God. They weren’t getting off fast enough.

I was going to be trapped….doomed to ride back down in shame.

At the last possible minute, they slid off, leaving me no choice but to point myself in the opposite direction and leap off much later than was advisable. It was ugly, but I made it.

And the children survived.

Who said I’m not child friendly???

That was the point at which I decided to call it a day. One more run was certainly a disaster waiting to happen.

It had been a good day.

And it was about to get better.

I had a 4:00 appointment at the SPA.

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During the next 50 minutes, I forgot all about cold and lift lines and small, erratic children.

I had just enough time after my massage to get cleaned up and meet the group for our backcountry dinner adventure.

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We were handed helmets, given a brief (and unnecessarily stern) safety talk, and herded out to a line of very muddy Polaris RZRs. As our guys climbed in front, I shut my door and half of it fell off.

This was definitely going to be an adventure.

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We were led by a guide through the dark woods, about 2 miles, to a secluded little cabin that overlooked the valley. It was aglow with twinkling lights as the sun faded in the sky.

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Our small group was invited inside where a warm fire was burning in the fireplace and wine was being poured and handed around.

As the wine kept flowing, hot dishes of artichoke dip were brought out to enjoy with our fireside conversation.

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I literally wanted to dive face first into these adorable Mongolian fur pillows .

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After doing nothing more than enjoying several glasses of wine by the fire with our friends, we were told to be seated and our entrees were brought out along with baskets of hot, crusty bread with herbed butter.

There was more wine, lots of laughter, and the soft glow of the fire.

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After several hours, we were bundled back into our vehicles and we made the harrowing drive back through the woods.

It was a seriously awesome dinner.

We had tickets to a concert in the village after dinner and made it back just in time to find our way to the Shavers Centre and the Connections Nightclub.

Have you seen the movie Hot Tub Time Machine? Or any ski movie that was actually made in the 1980’s? The nightclub was a lot like that.

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It was so “old school ski resort” that it was almost cool.

Almost.

My favorite part of the show was the poster. Nothing beats a rainbow puking unicorn.

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After the first two songs, Matt and I decided that sleep sounded WAY more appealing than the band, so we headed in.

You know you are getting old when a good night’s sleep is far more appealing than a night out at a bar with a band.

I’m okay with that.

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We contemplated our options the next morning over breakfast.

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It was warm. Too warm.

The temps were going to be in the 50’s. The real snow that had ushered in our arrival was long gone and it was even too warm to make snow. The slush that yesterday’s warm afternoon created on the slopes had crusted overnight to a hard freeze.

Basically, skiing would mean a morning on ice that would turn into muddy slush at some point.

We decided to find other things to do.

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We shopped. We walked. We had lunch.

After a few lunch cocktails, we all decided to go tubing.

It was a brilliant idea.

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I love vacationing with people who don’t act their age.

We spent a leisurely afternoon with wine and books by the fire.

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Dinner was at the intimate Italian restaurant at our inn, just the two of us, with wine, mussels, crisp Caesar salads, and pasta.

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We met up with the group after dinner for drinks and a comedy show, which was surprising good.

We woke up to our final morning and I decided to go out with a BANG! and stuffed my face with the brunch cheeseburger. Why not?

It's never too early in the morning for a cheeseburger.

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Besides, I had managed to conquer my fear of the mountain despite being 10 years older and significantly less tolerant of pain or general discomfort, and I had done so without killing any small children.

Hooray for me!

The next time I am invited on a ski trip, however, someone please remind me that I prefer the beach.

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Posted by vicki_h 09:51 Archived in USA Tagged skiing snowshoe wv ski_trip Comments (2)

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