Travel Tuesday is a hashtag I started on social media to highlight some photos from my travels. While I’ve blogged here about many of my travels, some photos or specific events were briefly described. So, I figured it might be fun to explore deeper into certain moments/memories. Today, I’m highlighting a photo from my first (and hopefully not my last) trip to L.A.
Los Angeles was something of a fantasy of mine from my youth. Growing up, I was a huge movie buff. I’ve slowed down a bit as I had gotten older, but I have seen a TON of movies. I also used to watch shows like Entertainment Tonight and the Late Shows regularly, not to mention my reading consisted of Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. Celebrities and creating movies and music fascinated me. I wanted to be a part of it all somehow, which is why I took to entertainment journalism instantly. It’s also the reason my ultimate dream is to turn my novels into movies one day.
Hollywood just seemed like a magical place, filled with dreams, movie stars, and gorgeous weather. I didn’t know how it would be when I actually went there… I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t much different than my imagination.
One of the many reasons I was fascinated with movies and celebrities growing up was my love for John Travolta. Ever since he sang my name in “Grease”, I was hooked. I loved his vulnerability on screen, but yet it was covered behind the front of an ultra-macho Italian-American. This prototype was something I grew up around. Being half Italian, and being surrounded by men who always needed to act tough and seeing crying and sensitivity as weaknesses, I grew up yearning for a man to understand and just be warm and compassionate.
Well, John Travolta showed all of those things on screen, and as I learned more, off screen as well. He became a positive male figure in my life when I really, really needed one. One day, I would love to meet him, but traveling to L.A., seeing spots where “Grease” was filmed, and the Walk of Fame was monumental for me in its own right. The photo I am spotlighting this week is one of me outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (where “Grease” premiered in 1978). I had a gut instinct there would be something Travolta related outside of it, and I was right. I got to place my hands into his…well, sort of. Even if it is just an imprint of his hands and feet, I feel like for a moment, I was a part of movie history just like John Travolta has been a part of my life history.
It’s no secret that I travel a lot. Hello, it’s kind of in my name! Usually, I spend 6 months to a year in one place, but the last part of 2014, I was practically in a new city every week! It was exciting, freeing, exhausting, and I’m glad I did it.
In fact, for the first time in 5 years, I was NOT a barista. I was just a traveling coffee taster? Yeah, that’s what I’ll call it. Anyway, upon my arrival back to New York (my home state), I decided being a barista had lots of perks that I began to take for granted. I’m glad I took that break, but I’m also relieved to have the steady paycheck again. Being a freelance writer is wonderful and awful all at once. For more on my travels and personal story, check out my blog at: sandy-lo.com.
In the months that I was city hopping, I had too much coffee, but met plenty of new people at quaint cafes and had some really amazing espresso! Without further adieu, my top 10 picks are below!
Cafe Eclectic – Memphis, TN CafeEclectic.net
With table service, laid back, hipster vibe, lots of food options and interesting coffee concoctions, Cafe Eclectic is a great place to chill and work on your laptop or yuck it up with some old friends! They are the only coffee house that serves Illy brand coffee. Eclectic is perfect if you want some spice in your life (try the Cocoa Capsaicin) or something sweet (try the Karamel Sutra). They also have a full lunch and dinner menu, with vegetarian-friendly options.
Beans and Leaves – Staten Island, NY Facebook Page
I lived in Staten Island most of my life, and never really “connected” with the coffee community here, other than working at Starbucks that is. I was pleasantly surprised to find Beans and Leaves on Forrest Avenue. Not only was the staff super nice, but they were very vegan-friendly (a rarity on S.I.) and served a good cup of joe! The vegan cowboy cookie is filling and delicious!
Breads On Oak – New Orleans, LA BreadsOnOak.com
More of a bakery and breakfast place, Breads On Oak makes the list for its awesome food to go along with a decent cup of coffee. The food definitely outshines their beverages, but this place is great for a brunch date and in the warmer months, the patio in the back is nice to sit and read a book while munching on a fresh croissant.
The Bean Gallery – New Orleans, LA nolalovescoffee.com/the-bean-gallery
The Bean Gallery is a popular (non-French Quarter located) coffee shop in Mid City. WiFi is hard to come by in NOLA, but The Bean Gallery usually had my back. Sometimes you did have to wait for a good seat, but the staff is super friendly, regular coffee is good and the sandwiches are great! I especially loved the “Healthy Bagel”.
Headquarters – Nashville, TN hqsnashville.com
A tiny, newer coffee haunt in West Nashville, Headquarters is one of those hidden gems. It’s like a secret I feel like I’m spilling, but it needs to be acknowledged. This place is quiet; a great spot to be productive on your laptop, read a book or write in your journal. The coffee is good, but one of the best attributes of Headquarters is the VeganVee pastries they serve. Out of this world! Not only are these muffins, cookies, and brownies amazing, but as the bakery name suggests, are vegan and gluten-free.
Frothy Monkey – Franklin/Nashville, TN frothymonkey.com
A trendy hipster-esque joint now with several locations in Nashville, Frothy Monkey has everything those coffee nerds want: latte art, fair trade, and super knowledgeable baristas. I do prefer the Frothy Monkey in downtown Franklin, TN, however, mostly due to their food menu. On a cold December day when I had a ton of work to do, there was nothing like a hot cup of coffee and a hearty bowl of chili.
Cafe enVie – New Orleans, LA nolalovescoffee.com/envie-espresso-bar-cafe
If you’re looking for a scenic spot to sip cafe au laits in the French Quarter, Cafe enVie is the place to be! While Cafe Du Monde is known for beignets and terrible service, Cafe enVie is a much more colorful, relaxed environment. With the look of a French cafe, and a mixed clientele of business men, hobos, artistic types, and some tourists, enVie is something for everyone. A great place to people watch, for sure. On a hot New Orleans day, the ceiling fans and open doors give this place an al fresco feel without baking you under the sun.
Espresso Vivace – Seattle, WA espressovivace.com
First and foremost, you will not find a better shot of espresso anywhere! (At least not that I know of. Feel free to challenge me on that!) Being a barista, I have done espresso shots straight up as a way to get fired up for a shift. There is always an after taste and not just where I work, but most coffee shops. Vivace’s shots are so smooth, even those extra cream coffee lovers would be able to drink it straight. This place does not serve regular coffee, only espresso-based beverages. With the beans roasted right in house, the quality is in every 1-ounce shot. With a large selection of pastries, Espresso Vivace is a regular hot spot for locals and tourists alike.
Victrola Coffee Roasters – Seattle, WA victrolacoffee.com
Also roasting their own beans, Victrola Coffee Roasters is great if you want an extra punch in your day. With a friendly staff well-versed on different brewing methods, Victrola is a Seattle staple with loyal regulars.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Portland, OR stumptowncoffee.com
Stumptown is Portland’s premier coffee stop. Just about every eatery serves the local brew from Stumptown. I personally enjoyed Stumptown’s tea selections and appreciated my own little personal pot that came with it. Overall Stumptown’s coffee was good enough, a little bitter for my taste, but I was also in the area when I was a bit coffeed-out. Nonetheless, definitely check out Stumptown if you like strong coffee and locally sourced places. Though now that it has expanded with locations in L.A. and NYC, I wonder how the quality varies out-of-state.
Unlike many of my travel destinations, Nashville was familiar and welcomed me back lovingly. After living there for a couple of years, and also being away for almost as long, I wasn’t sure if that feeling of home would still be there. Would my friends still be around? Will the vibe be the same?
While many of my friends have either moved out of the city or were too busy, or I simply didn’t tell them I was in town for certain reasons, my closest friends were excited to have me there. It’s like seeing your childhood best friend after time has passed, but feeling as if nothing has changed. But the friends I have in Nashville did not know me since childhood… that says something about the quality of friendships I have there.
In Nashville, I was content just sitting on a couch with my old roommate, Kindell, watching “Who’s The Boss?” marathons or going to GoGo Sushi with my buddy, Jocelyn, or catching up with my friend Tammy over a home-cooked meal. On top of that, I so missed the coffee shops in Nashville!
Each one has its own charm and purpose. Fido is more of a social environment where you go for a meal, and ypu only go there if you don’t need wifi. Tourists, you’ve been warned! My old Starbucks on 21st Ave is a place to run into a familiar face, and surprisingly get the cheapest cup of coffee in town. I never realized how expensive all of the local coffee shops are in Nashville!
I discovered a few new coffee haunts, too, like Headquarters in West Nashville that carries VeganVee pastries (AMAZING!), and The Well. I also joined Kindell on some of her photography jobs in downtown Franklin and finally went to the Frothy Monkey over there. I had only been to the one in Nashville. Wow, great food and service, but always, always packed!
While I was in Nashville, I not only got to see some of my best friends, but was reminded how much I love that city and why I wanted to move back there as soon as I moved away… And so, after much (way too much) back and forth about where to move to, and out of ALL of the great cities I visited on my travels, I have come to the decision of moving back to Nashville in 2015! I couldn’t be happier. As soon as I made the decision, my heart felt hugged 🙂
The 8-hour long train ride from New Orleans to Memphis was long, but fun with Natalie as company. My energy picked up and although I was still lacking money, I didn’t feel so burdened like I had in New Orleans. What was it about New Orleans? The city itself? Or just a funk that happened to take place while I was there? Anyway, the first night in Memphis, we mostly got settled into the hotel. The next day was Thanksgiving. Natalie, Mama Izzy (Natalie’s mom), and myself brought Starbucks to Natalie’s Granny in the nursing home. It was nice to finally meet Nat’s grandmother; I had heard so much about her over the years. Thanksgiving day was spent drinking wine, chatting, cooking and eating.
The next day, Natalie and I visited Granny before heading to Graceland. We didn’t go inside since one, it would take forever and two, it’s kind of pricey. The house was a little underwhelming, but it was still cool to be there. What I truly enjoyed was the tour of the famous Sun Studio. You could feel the music history in the walls.
Afterward, Natalie and I went to Café Eclectic for coffee and a snack. I love the vibe of that place. We met up with Mama Izzy before going to Imagine – a vegan restaurant. It was a cute hippy place with a very nice staff and great quotes on the walls, plenty from John Lennon, of course.
The next day, we went to the Peabody Hotel to see their famous ducks march into the fountain, which was adorable! I was just as excited as all of the kids that were there. Of course I had to see the ducks’ rooftop penthouse to make sure their living quarters were up to par. It was great! The Peabody also had some memorabilia, like Elvis’ RCA contract, which was signed there.
We went to lunch at Arcade, the oldest restaurant in Memphis. I, of course, had a peanut butter and banana sandwich in true Elvis fashion, but it wasn’t like I don’t eat those a couple of times a week as it is! Haha. I found Memphis to be cleaner, friendlier, and more spread out than I expected. I would definitely go back for a visit!
I spent close to a month in New Orleans and stayed with my best friend, Natalie. I had been to this city twice before, so I knew what to expect, and also didn’t feel the need to sight-see. I still love to spend time in the French Quarter though. I got my work and journaling done some days at Café En Vie, which attracted all sorts of characters — from homeless to hippie to business types. I just loved the French styled cafes and architecture, however, the French language confuses me and Natalie often made fun of how I said street names. The menu at most places also tended to gross me out. I don’t care to eat at a restaurant that even serves rabbit or turtle, thank you very much.
With that said, I was surprised to find how many vegan options there are now in New Orleans. Places like Dreamy Weenie and Dat Dog offer delicious meatless hot dogs. Carmo, Cake Café, Breads On Oak all have great options, and Stanley has amazing raspberry sorbet! I also discovered Zapp’s potato chips while in New Orleans – big mistake! So good!
Anyway, when I wasn’t hanging out in the French Quarter working at Café En Vie, picnicking in Jackson Square or looking around the witchcraft store, HEX, I hung out in Mid City where Natalie lives. The Bean Gallery (which happens to be owned by Café En Vie) is always crowded, but serve a delightful healthy bagel, usually has fast wi-fi, and a friendly staff.
Wi-Fi was my biggest obstacle in New Orleans. Maybe it’s the whole below sea level thing. Aside from the Wi-Fi, I was feeling a bit down. Maybe it was hormones or exhaustion from travel, but there were days I didn’t want to get up in the morning. Part of me thinks the low-energy I was feeling had to do with spiritual entities in the city bringing me down, but I also know that these feelings were probably left over from Vegas.
Even though I had my best friend with me, I felt lonely, stressed about finding “home”, money and eating healthy. New Orleans is probably the least healthy city I’ve been to. Even vegan food wasn’t all that healthy, and with the crime in the city being so high, I promised Natalie I wouldn’t walk around too much. I felt sluggish. I could have made things better by eating in more, but in order for me to get work done, I had to go out to a café to use wi-fi, and then Natalie wanted to meet for dinner. I could have said no, but truth is, I wanted to be carefree with my best friend, who I usually only see once or twice a year — if that!
I also found myself missing my mother terribly. It might have been because the holidays are approaching or because that search for “home” is in part a search for her. I know that home is what I make it. I can never recreate the past, nor do I want to, since my childhood home was anything but safe and stable.
In spite of this funk I was in, I loved being around Natalie and in such a unique city like New Orleans. I entertained the idea of living there, but just can’t see myself there permanently. Natalie and I did a 5k together, went to the Nick & Knight concert (you can read my review and see photos here), went to a Pelicans vs. Lakers game, Gumbo Fest, danced in a parade, and much more. I just wish Natalie wasn’t so stressed with work and that I wasn’t so stressed with…well…everything.
My sister Cindy came to visit the last weekend I was in New Orleans for her birthday. My spirits were lifted a bit, but I still had my little cranky moments regretfully. Natalie had gotten us into the World War II museum as well as a Murder Mystery Dinner. Cindy and I even wound up crashing a wedding party at Pat O’Brien’s, which was pretty awesome.
There were definite wonderful memories in New Orleans and my time there went too quickly. Next time, I want to feel much less burdensome while visiting this amazing place. Maybe I’ll sage myself while I’m there just in case those negative entities are playing a part in my mood swings… 😉