A Gatsby Inspired Stay at Oheka Castle

A must visit for any die hard fan of the 20s or The Great Gatsby!

Entering and Leaving the 20’s. On New Year’s Eve, I anticipated the iminent spectacle of the New York City ball drop in the time capsule of Soviet culture that is my in law’s Brooklyn apartment. In Russian, my father-in-law gave a speech about the exciting moments to come in the new year, and I looked apprehensively at the shot of vodka in my hand.  I’d had enough olivier and caviar to choke a horse, and yet, my mother in law insisted on walloping heaps of mayonnaise-slathered (albeit delicious) helpings of cuisine onto my gold and white china plate.

The stupor from over indulging in the Russian spread, combined with the inhumane lack of sleep from being a new mom, left me nearly forgetting that New York, and the entire world, would be welcoming a brand new era at the stroke of midnight. It had seemed, at least according to my Instagram feed, that Americans were beguiled by the possibility of another “roaring 20’s.” My mind conjured up images from The Great Gatsby, a novel I’ve taught dozens of times as an English teacher. 

Champagne, jazz music, flappers, tuxedos, and Gilded Age mansions for housing the aforementioned three. There is a scene where the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, forgets about his own birthday. As the ball began to drop and those around me began to count, it dawned on me that as society was ready to welcome the “20’s” I was days away from preparing to leave my own 20’s behind me. This would be my final year to secure a foundation in life before turning 30, when the “building” of an “adult” life allegedly begins. “Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness” is how Nick Carraway, describes the impending development of the big 3-0. 


As I prepared to enter the last year of my 20’s, I meditated on Nick Carraway’s feelings towards turning 30. In many ways, of course, I was not lonely. I noted that I had my husband, both parents, a son, and a small, core group of friends. However, I could not help but reflect on every other birthday celebration of my 20’s. A memory of my 24th birthday in particular stood out. Twenty or more of my friends and I stayed over at the luxurious Standard Hotel which boasts floor to ceiling windows – presumably for those with voyeuristic fetishes in mind – housed in Manhattan’s exclusive meatpacking district.

We danced and imbibed in New York City’s hottest night clubs, transported via a behemoth of a party bus. I remember the night as an endless barrage of flower bouquets, free drinks, and a $2,000 bill for dinner which upon its arrival, that I didn’t blink an eye at. What was I to care? It was wasn’t me who was paying. I felt like a celebrity that evening. In my mind, I always assumed the throngs of friends I celebrated with would attend every birthday celebration of mine my whole life.

Much like F. Scott Fitzgerald, I found myself unable to cope (even if I only admitted this to myself) that my roaring decade of popularity and evenings out in New York City – the “golden shimmering mirage” – had ended. As I turned 29, and with 30 looming on the horizon, I made the disheartening realization that I have nowhere near as many friends as I once had a few years ago. Even among the friends that remained close there was no time to celebrate something as trivial as my birthday. My core group of friends were pregnant, closing on houses, moving out of New York, working 16 hour days, and – feeling their own “hot whips of panic” upon nearing 30 – and in response, were desperately navigating the dating scene. 

Bleary eyed, in the early morning hours sitting at the school where I teach, I scrolled through Groupon looking for a way to celebrate my special day that did not involve a Bacchanalian evening and the torture of wearing black stiletto heels. It was a half hearted endeavor, I scrolled absent-mindedly just knowing I’d settle for some minor off Broadway performance. Suddenly my finger abandoned the mouse and my fingers found their way to the dry patches of skin on my lips, as they often do when I’m deep in thought. “Oheka Castle” I mused. An overnight stay at Long Island’s only castle-cum-luxury hotel. The groupon was my own, personal, green light on the end of a dock. A signal to “go for it.” My finger hit “purchase.” In a minute or less, I had booked my trip to Oheka Castle. 

Scrolling on Groupon like….

Why would someone in my position be interested in staying at Oheka Castle? As stated in the aforementioned paragraphs, I am a book nerd and English instructor. As such, it is my duty to fawn ceaselessly over writers of the “lost generation.”  This is a labor of love, for I passionately and intensely love the writers of this era as if I know them personally. The first time I saw Baz Luhrman’s rendition of Gatsby in movies, I sobbed.

The beauty and grandeur of the era belonged to those of the past, and I would never experience it for myself. Oheka Castle was in large part a source of inspiration for The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald visited the chateau with Zelda while living on that “riotous slender island.” In its heyday of the 1920s, Oheka Castle hosted lavish cocktail parties, the kind Fitzgerald sought inspiration in for his great American classic. The mansion was used it partly as the setting for Jay Gatsby’s colossal home.

Time travelers.

Otto Herman Kahn was the original owner of the home. He was a banker and philanthropist, as well as a contemporary and competitor of JP Morgan. In addition, he was the inspiration for the Monopoly man (as if his resume were not impressive enough) at least according to the lovely tour guides at the estate. The castle was built on a 443 acre plot in Cold Spring Hills neighborhood of Huntington, NY; its construction cost over 100 million dollars in today’s currency.

Needless to say, Kahn possessed an unfathomable type of wealth. The gargantuan size of the estate cannot be overstated enough. In fact, the 109,000 square foot estate was twice the size of the White House. Unlike the White House, Kahn and his family did not live in 127 room estate full time. Oheka Castle, the second largest private residence in all of the United States was merely Kahn’ summer residence which happened to host a number of royal figures, politicians, and celebrities at its glamorous parties in the 1920’s. Chaplin, Gershwin, and the Folly girls all indulged in the opportunities for fun provided at the estate such as ballroom dancing and swimming.

Portrait of Otto Kahn – original owner and creator of OHEKA castle. Original fireplace is pictured as well.

Just a few short years after the stock market crash, Kahn died of a heart attack in 1934. Not wanting to maintain the upkeep of the property, his widow sold the estate to none other than the New York City Mayor at the time, Fiorella La Guardia. Under his care, it became a retreat for sanitation workers and their families who were only expected to pay $1.00 per day of retreat. 

The building came into the hands of the Merchant Marines during World War Two for radio operating school afterwards. Then, it became a military training school. Due to the resistance of the Vietnam War, enrolled plummeted at the school and so was closed. Oheka Castle remained entirely abandoned and fell to the whims and delights of local vandals and thieves. Gary Melius, a developer and contractor, was undoubtedly inspired by those with an interest in preserving the castle’s history. He bought the property and the 23 acres surrounding it.

In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby sincerely believes that his love from five years ago (Daisy) will abandon her high society husband (Tom) for a man she hasn’t seen nor loved for five years (Gatsby) after reuniting at Nick Carraway’s house. The consensus is largely that he is delusional. When seeing photographs of Oheka Castle after years of vandalism, arson, and theft there were undoubtedly throngs of skeptics who wondered if Melius plans for restoration were not entirely as delusional as Gatsby’s own dream.

The post apocalyptic edifice would have been better suited as a shooting location for The Walking Dead. However, both Gatsby and Melius carried “infinite hope” and saw the boundless possibilities of a dream that seemed to many, to be utterly unattainable. However, Melius was also equipped with something that Gatsby never had, yet desperately needed: a plan and professional help.

Melius and his team of historians and researchers used photographs, salvageable relics from the mansion, and original architectural drawings to bring Oheka Castle to its former splendor and to maintain its historical authenticity.

Today, Oheka functions as a wedding venue (notably, one of the Jonas brother’s choice of location.) A plethora of movies (such as Citizen Kane) and television shows have been filmed at the estate including HBO’s new thriller Succession. A dizzying list of celebrities have visited the castle and filmed music videos on its premises including Taylor Swift for her Blank Space shoot. Beyond all of this, Oheka Castle is a luxury destination for anyone looking to fulfill their dreams of living like the Buchanons.

Wedding reception area

The long driveway to the castle is lined with an impressive array of sizeable and perfectly trimmed trees which seem to brush against the sky. This is where most visitors start to gain awareness that this is not merely a “hotel.” However, the first view of Oheka Castle undoubtedly casts a feeling of awe and surprise on any first time guests spirit – this is where the transformation to another time period entirely really begins.

On first thought, it would not at all be outlandish for one to rub their eyes and wonder if they were actually on a trip to France’s Loire Valley and not in fact, on a weekend getaway to Long Island, New York. Guests should prepare to become an instant VIP upon your immediate arrival to Oheka Castle. Instantaneously, uniformed staff begin radioing of one’s arrival to each other quickly. I was surprised to have my car door opened for me and my luggage immediately being taken off my hands and transported to my quarters.

I teetered unsteadily in a smart pair of pumps across the gray cobble stones and took a moment to look at the many windows and chateau style peaks which top the castle. The style of roof of Oheka Castle helps give the castle a fairy tale look. When undergoing renovation, Melius and his team used the exact company that Kahn’s crew had used when building the roof. After marveling at the exterior architecture, prepare to step back in time. 

Straight out of The Great Gatsby

The magnitude of grandeur of the foyer is so lavish, that one nearly feels a small level of paralyzing chagrin. I was met with a grand horseshoe shaped marble staircase. It swept out from both sides of a large door adorned on either side by statues of women doing their best to hold large candelabra over their heads. From the door, both sides of the staircase sweep down toward a landing where a marble bench is placed. Past the landing the sweeping of the staircase continues onto the main floor. The artistic railing which lines the stairs are entirely wrought iron.

The inspiration for this staircase came from the famed Fontainebleu of France. The entrance door swung shut behind us sending a rippling echo of sound up to the church like high ceilings which hold some impressive pieces of artwork, two windows the size of mattresses on either side of the staircase, and an ornate and prodigious chandelier over the staircase, which looks like it would be able to crush an entire group of guests should it fall. If there is any traveler who has even wanted to step into the 1920’s or an F Scott Fitzgerald novel – this is the place.   

The grand horse shoe shaped staircase as guests enter the front door of Oheka Castle on Long Island
The grand staircase which greets guests at Oheka Castle

Our chateau category room at Oheka Castle came equipped with the most comfortable bed known to humankind. The ceilings were gold plated, and the fireplace gave an aesthetically rustic and historic feel to the room. Our son slept in bed with us all night (go ahead – judge me.) The next morning, I came to regret that decision.


A proper read for a Gatsby inspired stay at Oheka Castle!

Allow me to briefly jumpy ahead to the following morning. Henry lay playing on the floor with my husband early in the morning. As I lay in bed, I got the feeling that I was not alone – that something had gone terribly amiss. I was terrified, I knew there was something in my bed and it took a ton of courage to finally look. And then – I had a real life Goodfella’s moment.

I lifted up the comforter and screamed bloody murder. Not a horse’s head, something worse. Baby shit. Everywhere. No idea how it happened. I can still smell it as I write this. I had to scrub every single inch of it out of the sheets and the mattress topper. Honestly, my biggest fear was that the hotel would see the stains and assume it was my grown ass husband and I who committed the crime. That is something that I SIMPLY COULD NOT ALLOW TO HAPPEN. AND, I can’t believe I’m writing all of this for people to read. But, (butt HA) it’s the truth, and I must share it. I am forever traumatized. I used my bare hands guys. I’m like Lady Macbeth…but with baby crap. (Want more cringe-worthy embarrassing tales? Try looking here

For dinner we were seated in the quirky “Chaplin room.” An upscale  room where intimate conversations took place among couples and a family celebrating an anniversary. The room is painted entirely in red and has no less than DOZENS of photographs and posters of Charlie Chaplin from all around the world. Khan was a fan of the silent picture star and even visited the mansion. Thus, when the chateau was resurrected, it was decided that one of the dining rooms would be named after the 1920’s star.

I ordered the Long Island specialty of duck breast in fig and port wine sauce with a side of the creamiest wild mushroom risotto. It was well worth the price tag and then some. A side of a few glasses of rose’ didn’t hurt either. When dining at the castle, everyone is treated to bread with a side of the gorgonzola cheese sauce for dipping. Move over fondue, you have met a far more decadent and elevated match! https://www.ohkbarandrestaurant.com/

Dinner in the Chaplin Room.
Long Island duck, kale, rose’, and the creamiest risotto in the world.
Henry has gotten significantly better at fine dining. I mean….look at that stance.
Obviously a top notch visualization of our evening together.

After dinner, we moved onto cocktails in the library. The library features one of the three remaining original fireplaces in the mansion and all of the remaining details are authentic to original plans. Having had a prior residence destroyed by fire, Kahn sought to have his entire mansion made as fireproof as possible. The “wooden” walls are actually not wooden at all – but drawn to look like wood with a fire safe material underneath!

Relaxing after dinner.
My kind of party ambiance.
Getting all crafty with that bottom up angle!

The morning after we indulged in a feast. Oheka offers the best continental breakfast that I’ve ever seen included at a hotel stay. Pastries, fruit, Greek yogurt, and bagels were all up for the taking. The tea bar offered a dizzying array of variety and I found my new favorite brand – Stash tea! It is beyond my creative limits to try and imagine what it might be like to eat breakfast in such a regal setting. I’m sure however that I could get used to every day being waited on hand and foot.

Continental Breakfast with bagels, pastries, yogurt, tea, and apple juice at Oheka Castle on Long Island
Diet starts tomorrow.
Tea station in grand ballroom with giant painting above at Oheka Castle on Long Island
Tea Bar!
Breakfast in grand ballroom at Oheka Castle on Long Island with giant painting in background
One of these is a lie: A – I brushed my hair the morning of this photo. B- I look exactly like Kate Middleton in her castle in this photo.

The part of the trip which makes my soul burst with joy – I found the hidden indoor pool. The pool is hidden in the basement behind a heavy black door and would not have been easy to find.

Hidden black door to hidden pool at Oheak Castle on Long Island
Would you ever think a hidden pool was behind this door?!
Indoor pool with black and white tile on Long Island at Oheka Castle
Hauntingly Beautiful

Paranormal investigators did a stake out in the room a few weeks prior to our visit, and it’s no wonder why. I still feel chills looking at these photographs. Despite being the only person in the room, I truly could feel as though the spirits of Gatsby’s roaring 20’s party guests were all around me, and one might accidentally pushed me in. It was the eeriest, most awe inspiring moment of my life. 

Indoor pool with black and white tile on Long Island at Oheka Castle
Absolutely chilling. However, imagine the parties that must have gone on in here!

Guests visiting the Long Island mansion have the option for doing a tour without staying over, however, staying overnight at the hotel gives guests a free guided tour the next morning. We were able to learn an extensive amount of history about both the original owner, the new owner, and all of the history in between. While our tour was passionate about her job, she rubbed me the wrong way.

I am NOT one of those people who believes it’s adorable when kids misbehave. However, my son was on his best behavior at all times. Several times she went out of her way to make comments (disguised as jokes) about how he needs to act properly. At one point he giggled at the lecture being given to which she remarked, “I’ll let you know if he gets to be too much for us.” I felt so upset that I left the tour for a while while my husband took notes.

Selfie with baby in mirror at Oheka Castle on Long Island
Mirror selfie with my best friend. Our tour guide got mad that Henry giggled during her speech and suggested I leave the lecture with him. I was not happy about that.
Sun shining through the office room at Oheka Castle on Long Island
Upon his death, Kahn was laid here for his wake before being taken to his final resting place.
Fire place with picture hanging over it at Oheka Castle on Long Island
Cozy vibes.
1920's detailed bathroom with clawfoot tub at Oheka Castle on Long Island
I need to believe that this was exactly what Gatsby’s tub look like.
Grand ballroom with chandeliers, paintings, and tables at Oheka Castle on Long Island
Plenty of room to Charleston.
Dining room as tour explores at Oheka Castle on Long Island
11AM Tour
Giant bridal suite at Oheka Castle on Long Island
When Fitzgerald wrote about Gatsby having how own “home” within his castle I could never understand or conceive of what that looked like. Now, I get it!

What is perhaps most surprising about Oheka, is that given its vastness and sprawling design, it feels cozy and intimate. It is not too difficult to get the feel of one’s (albeit extraordinarily large) home rather than a frigid, marble slabbed mausoleum. I think it is entirely possible that Gatsby felt totally fine living in his mansion alone before Daisy.

The staff are professional, but approachable. By Sunday morning, we already knew many of the workers. Many who would call my son, Henry, by name, play with him, and even offered to rock him to sleep. In his mission statement, Gary Melius hopes to impart a familial and welcoming feeling to each of his guests and has undoubtedly succeeded. So often a luxury setting can be anything but relaxing as one constantly has to consider if they are behaving, speaking, and eating in a way that exudes class and conveys a sense of deserving to be staying at a five star establishment. Oheka combines old world luxury with the added benefit of genuinely allowing visitors to let their shoulders down.

Busts and painting found outside of our hotel room at Oheka Castle on Long Island
Decor outside of our hotel room

The 2020’s will very certainly not be anything like the 1920’s – sorry to disappoint. My 30’s will more than likely not be anything like my 20’s. Change is inevitable and we should welcome it as warmly as Gary and his staff welcome their travelers. Afterall, we do not want to be entirely like Gatsby, retreating ceaselessly into the past, clinging to dreams that have long since fleeted and being unable to move forward. There is much to look forward to…

dining room with chandelier in Oheka Castle on Long Island
Imagine this being your own personal dining space?
standing by giant mural in Oheka Castle on Long Island
I think 29 will be a great year for me. We can only wait and see!

In the words, once more, of Nick Carraway “tomorrow we will run faster [and] stretch our arms out farther…”  https://www.oheka.com/

New Orleans Through the Years

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At this point in my life, I’m incredibly well traveled. Inevitably, I will often be asked “what is your favorite place in the world?” I haven’t been to everywhere in the world, but I’ve been to 25 countries in counting and dozens upon dozens of cities. While most travelers say, “Ugh, I hate the question of my favorite place” I’m not afraid of it. My favorite place in the world, is New Orleans. Hand’s down and no contest. This Thanksgiving, will be my fifth time in the Big Easy (also my good friend’s college nickname.) I’ve been scanning through my photos from 2014 to now, and it’s so interesting to see my love affair of New Orleans through the years.

There is nothing pretentious about New Orleans. Even at its most exclusive and upscale of institutions it is welcoming and inclusive. New Orleans is admirable in the lengths it takes to preserve its culture and the uniqueness of its identity. While many cities are chameleons, trying to be like Paris, or New York, or Rome, New Orleans knows it is not those places and does not try to be, because it’s better than those places.

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I’m amazed at the taxi cab drivers. Every single one has mastered the art of conversation and for 15 minutes to an hour, I get a no holds barred look into the life of a complete stranger. On my most recent trip I met a refugee and former attorney from Venezuela who indulged in all of the ways that he was pursued by the Venezuelan government for his speaking out against them. I had another cab driver pass me her phone where I watched videos of the dancing she does in her free time. Yeah, try striking up a conversation with a New York cabbie about dance moves, see how that goes.

I love the way the intricate and unique architecture and bold colors of creole cottages mixes with the undeniably palpable feeling of residual other wordly energy lingering from the Yellow Fever days. It feels as though the people who once lived in the city have never really left. You are never alone in New Orleans, even when you’re the only person on a block. The city turns even the biggest skeptics of ghosts into believers. The magnitude of their stories lingers heavily. There is an air of mysticism in the city; one sees it as he passes the tarot card readers, wanders into Boutique du Vampire for some herbs, and examines a dizzying array of voodoo dolls in VooDoo Authentica.

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The city is so damn eccentric. Let’s start with the fact that the first inhabitants, Native Peoples aside, were convicts and prostitutes who traded prison sentences for freedom if they built up the city. Once you understand that, everything else falls into place. There is something not disturbing, but poignant about the tales of The Big Easy’s history of Storyville prostitutes, coffin girls, madams, psychics, druggies, writers, and Bohemians.

As much as New Orleans is a tale of wantonness, it is also, as Tennesee Williams once said, “an easy intermingling of the races.” In this city there are cultures of people simply not found within the United States. There are Creole people of mixed descent, people of Native, African, and Spanish heritage. There are French Cajuns and a true Francophonie society where French culture and language is preserved; French immersion schools exist here.

Nowhere in the world has better food than New Orleans. Yes, you can find your share of gumbo and jambalaya. But, the city also procures the best hummus I’ve ever had. It also churns out exceptional bahn mi and pho thanks to its Vietnamese population. A large part of acclimating to the New Orleans culture, is holding tight to your mother culture and sharing it with the city. What is more beautiful than that? Just as delicious, savory, and fulfilling is the music of the city. As essential as water and oxygen, music is present at all vital passages of life, New Orleans is the city of Second Lines and jazz funerals. Everything, everything, is celebrated and expressed with music.

I’d like to take a look back on some grainy photographs, and at some points even grainier recollections of my time in New Orleans through the years!

My first trip was in February of 2016. My husband and I drove down from Brooklyn after severe winter weather grounded all flights out of New York City. After 13 hours in total on the road, none we reached the Crescent City. From the very first night time looks from the car it was gritty, it was gray, it was raucous. It was a city made for me as far as I was concerned.

I was in my early twenties and completely content with doing the Bourbon Street thing, and that is exactly what we did starting early the next morning. We waited in line for Jimmy J’s Cafe, and I’ll never forget my first New Orleans meal: crispy bacon and bananas foster french toast. The restaurant was jam packed, but the streets were even more packed. I remember leaving Jimmy J’s just in time to catch a glimpse of a parade passing by, one krewe member looked right out from the float and threw a frisbee. I was all the way in the back of the crowd with at least a hundred people in front of me, and yet, the frisbee floated over the heads of the masses and directly toward me, and landed right into my non athletic hands. It was in that moment, clutching the bright yellow frisbee, my jaw hitting the floor, that I knew New Orleans was magical. I still have that frisbee.

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I get a brain freeze just thinking about all of the slushee drinks, the hurricane after hurricane that I pounded down. That is what I really remember about that day, and that’s what got me into a lot of misadventures. I remember after already slamming something like 5 or 6 of them, a woman from Slidell stopped us and said, “I’d slow down with those. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint. I made the same mistake you’re making now my first time down here.” I scoffed in her face and pounded the drink as I walked away. This was no mistake, this was NAWLINS. I spent a lot of that evening with my head in my hotel toilet. I hope she’s reading this now and laughing at me.

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I promised random adventures, there were quite a few. None that really make sense now as a sober person several years later. I remember taking photographs with a topless older woman with an exquisite Mardi Gras mural painted across her chest. I remember a random llama roaming the streets and taking photographs with it and thinking, “is Mardi Gras really this crazy? We got llamas up in here now?!” I remember women flashing for beads, but being really disturbed by the amount of photographs being taken of these revelers. I think more women would have had fun and bared it all if there weren’t perverts encircling them with cameras. Mostly, I remember how disgusted I was with a group of protestors who marched in with their anti gay nonsense. I got in the faces of one of the protestors, and my husband was pepper sprayed by the police as a consequence.

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I had way too much fun, and got into way too much trouble. I slept off the day hangover, and was treated to the New Orleanean dinner of my dreams later that night. Enter, my first shrimp and grits in the city, and samplings of crawfish etouffee and jambalaya. I still remember the creaminess of the grits and the rich, smokey dark brown roux.

That first trip was mostly drinks, but it wasn’t entirely drinks. After hearing about bayous in so many rock and country songs, I finally saw one. We did a cruise through ominous waterways full of twisting, turning, bare trees and all sorts of wildlife. I saw a gator, our tour guide straight up grabbed him out of the water by the snout, petting him like the family dog. Louisianians are crazy. CRAZY. (In the best way.)

I was introduced to Marie Lauveau for the first time, and she has captivated my attention and heart ever since. Marie Lauveau is known as the voodoo priestess, but she is actually and literally one miracle short of being a saint. Her major life’s sacraments are recorded history in the Catholic church. She exuded the manifesto of “love thy neighbor” by allowing those with no place to be buried to rest forever in her family crypt. She was an entrepreneur who used the gossip she often overheard as a hair-dresser, as well as word from enslaved people, to put on the appearance that she had powers that were beyond worldly. She would hear a piece of gossip about a person in the city, and confront the person about the new fact leaving the person stupefied as to how she could possibly know such an intimate secret. Once she built faith in her clientele, she was able to sell them potions and charge money for readings.

After just three days it was time to move on with our road trip and leave New Orleans. I knew I’d be back soon. I returned several more times.

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I returned for a bachelorette party where we carried an inflatable man and his giant penis into every bar on Bourbon street, his name was Bad Boy Brad. At one point, someone stole him and he crowd surfed all the way up to the main stage at a live music event, it was really difficult getting him back, but we did it!

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That same weekend I had drank two giant hurricanes and a dozen jello shots and danced in the same bar on Bourbon Street for FIVE HOURS. Five solid hours dancing with no breaks. I don’t know how many middle aged random women that we pulled onto the dance floor and forced them to be friends with us, but it was probably at least fifteen.

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I rode the streetcar.

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I visited Mardi Gras world and saw how the parade floats are made and learned about the history of the holiday. I had no idea that designing and decorating the floats are full time careers for some artists, and the opportunity to work on these floats attracts real artists from all over the country!

I ventured into the Treme and had the best friend chicken in all of the United States.

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I visited Muriel’s and had no idea it was haunted. But, we also lived our best life ordering champagne and the best food ever. The savory gorgonzola cheesecake makes its way into my dreams at least once a week.

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I went in the winter, during January, and found more things to fall in love with.

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I tasted crawfish for the first time and while I still freak the fuck out that they look like mini cockroaches, and I feel like they’re going to re-animate and come back to life every time I pick them up, they’re damn delicious. My favorite place for them is the Original French Market restaurant and bar on Decatur. In fact, they offer my definition of comfort food and one of my death row meals. Crawfish plate, crab legs, their creamy and generous portion of mac and cheese, and a tap beer.

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I returned to the bayou, and came face to face with my long lost twin, seen below.

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I found Frenchmen street, and my tastes are now such that I really prefer it to the madness of Bourbon Street. I heard a second line for the first time on Frenchmen, and it brought me to tears. The diversity of crowd it attracted, the hard work of the performers, people from all walks of life coming together to enjoy the music, these are the most magical moments of travel.

However, I was 25, and so a rendevouz down Bourbon Street seemed appropriate. We said we were just going to take a quick stroll and then…

I met the love of my life…the Central Grocery Muffaletta. Being Italian, this was always bound to happen. A huge delicious loaf of bread stuffed with all the meats and cheeses and olive tapenade…yes please.

I met a random restaurant owner on the street who knew my name without ever having met me and told me that angels told him to tell me that I have a blessed and protected life.

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I ate approximately 9,234 beignets during both my January and July trip.

I whole heartedly enjoyed every second of jazz brunch at Antoine’s. Once of the oldest restaurants in the city.

After a few year hiatus, I took a trip last month with my cousin, Nina (who you remember from my Wales escapade.) This was my first girls trip after having a baby, and you could say I really let loose.

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We got wigs, spread a gaudy amount of glitter on our bodies, caked on purple eye shadow, and became new people. Fifi Mahony’s on Royal Street is THE best place for wigs. They charge a five dollar capping fee, but it goes toward the purchase of a wig. We must have tried on a dozen, and the women who work there were incredibly patient and helpful.

We had a bougie French meal at Justine’s complete with champagne, a cheese plate,duck and oysters.

I had possibly the best meal of my life at Shaya, an incredible Israeli restaurant which if you follow what’s hot in the gastronomic world, tops the charts of New Orleans constantly. Shaya made cauliflower taste good. I couldn’t stop eating it. This is the kind of magic that this place creates, guys. The hummus had to have been made by gods. I can see no other way to understand the perfection of their hummus. Seriously…get on a plane and go there.

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I tried the Cafe DuMonde in City Park and I risk my life by saying…the cafe mocha is so much better than the cafe au lait.

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We visited New Orleans’ Arcadian book store where books are sold in both French and English. The works are piled high and you’re bound to find something (or someone) interesting. I’ve never been in a bilingual bookstore, but I think we need more of them.

In New Orleans through the years, I’ve always been content to just do the tourist thing each time I visit. But, locals keep saying that the best way to experience the city is through the many festivals that the Big Easy offers. Enter…mac and cheese fest! Live music and a multitude of different types of variations on the classic. Not to mention, a mac and cheese eating contest!

I’m a huge fan of AirBnB experiences. Here are some that I did during my trip in October:

Champagne Destiny Reading: I’ll be doing a separate write up for this entirely because it was so great, and linking it to this article once I get it done. Briefly, the experience starts with a bottle of bubbly (as every morning should) which was appropriate because the organizer, Mika, is so much fun and so full of life! She was down to earth and easy to talk to, she shared about her own background and how she became involved in the mystical practice of card reading and astrology. I will say, my reading was eerily accurate. The entire practice is based on birth dates. I’m now a believer!

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Frenchmen Street Pub Crawl: I’ve been on Frenchmen Street, but never knew which clubs and music spots to dive into. Quay changed all of that for me. He was our guide on our big night out in the Marigny, a respected musician, and his mother used to sing back up for Aretha Franklin! He took us to several music spots throughout the night and timed everything perfectly so that we would always be listening to the best live music. We saw jazz, classic rock, blues, and even danced to Zydeco thanks to a lot of liquid courage. He led us to places I would never have known to visit, and we always had the best seats in the house! We even stopped at the Art Market to pick up some souvenirs. He really opened up my eyes, heart, and what’s left of my soul to the huge range of diversity in New Orleans music which makes the city so unique. I feel way too old to be partying on Bourbon street anymore, but there’s a new life for me and my antics, and that life is on Frenchmen Street with world class music!

Drag Queen Tour: It’s difficult to pick a favorite experience of my October trip to New Orleans, they were all outstanding. However, I might have to go with my drag queen tour! I try to pick the wackiest, most fun, most unique activities when I visit the city, I love all things drag, so this seemed like a great option. As a humanities teacher, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about the history of marginalized people. This tour was packed full of the history of people of color, the LGBTQ community, sex workers, and WOMEN! Quinn was our guide and she was so full of knowledge and humor, I was captivated from the get go. Quinn exudes a style of teaching which makes it impossible to forget the stories she tells. However, please don’t think this experience was anything like a boring history class! We learned about women who danced seductively with oysters on their bodies, the sex workers of Storyville and its history, violence, and all the raunchiness! I’m a proud ally of the LGBTQ community and so I loved learning about the struggles of the community, but also its history and how members of the community have overcome bigotry. I enjoyed learning about how women used their limited opportunities in the city to become entrepreneurs. It was inspiring, educational, and SO much damn fun!

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Drunk and Haunted tour: New Orleans just does everything in such an incredible fashion, and this was no exception. The city is full of unbelievable story tellers and we were lucky enough to have one as our guide. I learned so much and after hearing about all of the stories truly felt the spirits of those who passed walking among us. Not in an eerie way, but a matter of fact way. In every location we went to, Nina was able to see green orbs on her phone! If you’re not a ghost nerd, orbs are said to be spirits floating around. I learned the real story of Marie Lauveu, and the heinous story of Madame LaLaurie, even visiting her old mansion. There is said to be so much residual energy there that people actually faint when visiting. I ran this past our tour guide, and she thinks they faint from drinking too much. I REALLY appreciated that she herself is a historian and only shared what was factual and did not fabricate for the sake of the tour. There were two stops on the tour which were opportunities to get drinks and the Pimm’s Cup I chose was a pretty boss move. The sky was a midnight blue, the white moon shone bright, the air had a crisp chill and rustled the leaves on the streets. Other tour groups walked excitedly from place to place like adult trick or treaters. Autumn was a perfect time to take this tour! I’ll be sharing more in a separate post!

I also got MY FIRST TATTOO! Shout out to Downtown Tattoos and Piercings who did such a phenomenal job. I came in with an embarrassingly gaudy and hideous idea for a tattoo, and they gave me suggestions and ideas which saved my foot from pretty much looking like a giant king cake. For their creativity, for their professionalism, for their great humor and conversation, I’m so thankful! In an ode to the city I love the most, I got a fleur dis lis.

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New Orleans through the years has certainly changed. When I first visited, it was still legal to smoke in bars! That’s mostly a thing of the past. When I first visited, I was mainly interested in the drinking and partying scene, as any proper 23 year old should be. Nowadays, I try to visit at least once a year for different reasons. The cocktails will always be an integral part of my experience, but I also love the history, music, and culture. It will be interesting to see what experiences I have in November going with my husband, parents, and 6 month old baby. Talk about a change! Any ideas on what to do when I visit for Thanksgiving? Let me know in the comments!

Inconsistent India

I shouldn’t have clicked it, but I did. New York Post put out an article today entitled,

“Woman raped and burned kills attacker by dragging him into the flames”

I held my stomach with one hand as I opened the article on my phone with the other. “Surely, the country can’t be getting this fucking bad” I thought to myself. Things were getting ‘that bad’, but, in another country. My country was not the sight of the attack. It had taken place in India, a country where sexual assault, rape, and violent crime against women is up, again.

Damn. Humans are selfish. At least I am. After reading the article and the comments, I thought about myself. I began to recall my own time backpacking through India. I thought about my own uncomfortable moments involving the men there and put my phone down. “Can’t believe I did all that. Backpacked through India.” Despite only being two years ago, it seemed like some wild, impetuous thing I’d done as a teenager/young adult, to which there are many stories. On more than one occasion, I felt threatened by a man in India, and I still feel the same nausea thinking about those moments as I did when they actually happened.

I listened to a podcast on the way home from work, punching my foot to the gas to get to church and receive the good ashes, evidently. Four female hosts talked excitedly about their time in India and how they’ve been trying to re-create their favorite dishes of the country in their own homes here in the states. “Oh…India!” I declared out loud, suddenly and VERY fondly remembering the rainbow array of exceptional food I had during my two week stint. I did not have a single bad meal while in India. The hosts talked of sweet coconut chutney with idli, a better version of pancakes. “Yes, yes! I remember eating that every day for breakfast, it was delicious!” I said aloud in agreement. Writing this now, I’m embarrassed saying that because as you’ve probably guessed, I was alone in my car saying this aloud. A flood of happy memories such as lounging on a private boat on a sunny day in Kerala, dining on the beach in Goa, and laughing so hard my sides hurt in a rickshaw with my husband and our driver in Delhi came pouring into me. India, one of my best trips, I mused.

Same trip, same traveler, two very different recollections. So, what gives? Mixed feelings. I participate in many travel related social media groups. Every once in a while there is a woman who will ask if she should visit India, or visit India solo. The responses are always, “yes!” “hell yeah!” “OMG YES!” These straight up, no hesitation responses always puzzle me. Admittedly, when a woman asks if she should do anything in this group, there are seldom people who say something like, “no” or “let me be honest…”

I’ve been an outcast in so many spheres in my life, that I don’t comment on these circumstances and just let everyone pipe in with their “yeahs” and “yipees” which I’m SURE are well-intentioned. After all, these people are all adults. My strange comment won’t mean much, I’m sure. But, if a friend were asking me if they should visit India, here is what I would say.

I’ve been to 23 countries and God knows how many places in the USA. I mean it when I say, I love every single country I’ve ever visited. I. love. India. There are so many reasons why. I intend on writing another article about the details of my trip to India, but here’s a snapshot.

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India, on one hand, is not what you think. Yes, I did visit the bustling cities of Delhi and Mumbia. But, India is more than just that. The south of India, in particular, is another world entirely. Kerala and Goa are the best parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, and California rolled into one. Think lush greenery, beautiful beaches where people party until sunrise, palm trees swaying in the wind, hippies, yoga in the brightest green tea hills you have ever seen, and the most soft spoken, humble, and normal people you’ve ever met. Kerala is nicknamed God’s own country, and the name is legitimate.

If God used a mighty paintbrush to paint only one part of the world canvas, it was undoubtedly Kerala, and south India as a whole.

Goa was a vacation spot for people who are exactly like the friends and family you know. In fact, nothing could be more typical of a resort town. Older women clinking their wine glasses as they cheered being on a girls trip and away from their stupid husbands. Men slamming down beers and singing “pub style” in small beach shacks, celebrating being away from their annoying wives on a guys trip. Parents dipping their small children into the ocean and laughing at their reactions at seeing the ocean for the first time. Guests ordering plates of fried seafood. People drunkenly singing karaoke at beach side bars and trying to find the perfect souvenirs of t-shirts, sunglasses, and trinkets in small clothing huts. Tito’s lane is full of nightclubs, bars, and restaurants that could fit right into Los Angeles, Miami, or anywhere of the like.

Some parts of Mumbai and Delhi could easily have been mistaken as any big city in my own country. We were shocked to see young couples on…DATES! Dates in chic, hip restaurants which played hip hop music and kept right on part with the edgy molecular gastronomy movement happening everywhere in Europe and the Americas. Young couples held hands and walked along the water. Dads driving middle class cars held the door open for their small children to run in and be dropped off, presumably, at school.

For those who aren’t visiting India to see a different version of the same thing they see all the time, there is room for that too. In Udaipur we visited a temple where men, women, and children sat in colorful and elegant clothing clapping their hands and signing to worship their gods, barefoot and smiling. We visited small shops where artisans create works of art from animal bones, and we caught a performance of traditional Rajasthani performance. Our first day in Udaipur we passed a public bus, except this bus allowed men to sit on top of it when there was not enough room down below.

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India, on the other hand, is exactly what you’d think. As we drove from Mumbai’s airport to our hotel, I was physically sick from culture shock. THOUSANDS of horns were blaring, cars drove in fictitious and self created lanes, cows ran wherever they pleased. At a traffic stop, a man with a missing arm banged his “stump” on my window begging for money. The buildings were gray and dilapidated, trash was abundant, smells were more abundant, and everyone looked at me from outside as the asshole, rich, white foreigner that snapped photos of their day to day life to post on social media later.

When we got to our hotel, I turned on the shower, climbed in, and sat on the floor knees curled to chest and cried. I fucking hate this and I want to go home immediately. (Side note, I no longer felt this way after spending that afternoon and night sleeping comfortably.)

We took a tour that night of Mumbai by night. In addition to our incredible tour guide and driver, we met a couple from Australia who were lovely. This tour made me see Mumbai in a different way, a way I really liked. It should be noted, that people of India LOVE taking photographs with foreigners. So, when two shy young men asked to take a photo with us, I didn’t think this was odd at all. In my world, it is not unusual to throw your arm around the person next to you in the photo, or to step closely to them. In an attempt to break barriers, I said, “come on guys! Group photo with new friends!” I threw my left arm over my husband’s shoulder, and my right over the shy young man next to me. Big mistake. The man began groping me FIERCELY and uncomfortably around me waist and my stomach as the lens snapped. The photo was taken, they thanked us, and ran off with it, and I was left dry heaving and in tears. I was at a loss for words and as I give pause while I write this, I feel sick re-thinking about this. My biggest fear was that this photo would be used in an unwholesome way, not as a memento from having met some cool Americans. I’d like to write more on how I felt, but I’m as much at a loss for words now as I was then. I felt disgusted and even plunged into an acute panic attack/depressive moment as that moment, the feeling of his grimy hands on my as I stood next to my husband played over and over again.

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When riding a train another day in Mumbai, a man put his hand over mine as I held onto the strap. Usually, Mumbai’s trains are a nightmare, and you cannot be mad for people being too close to you or being in your space, you just can’t. But on this day, at this time, there were only 7 of us in the compartment. Twenty straps, and this man had to put his hand ON my hand. I moved it, thinking, maybe this is his strap, the one he uses daily. He again, took his hand and put it over mine again and stared at me as I looked at the floor waiting to get off our stop. I shutter not that this happened, but for how much more could have happened had I not been with a tour group, had my husband not grabbed my hand to show we were married, and had I been alone. Later on in Mumbai, less disheartening, but still a shock to me, when negotiating a deal with a tour operator, I spoke up to explain a concern my husband and I had and was told by the operator to be quiet because this was a conversation to be had between him and my husband, two men, and I had no part in it.

In Delhi, at the Red Fort, three men stared at me in a way that made sweat drip down my neck, every woman knows this feeling. “We want to take a picture with your wife” one of the men declared. My husband, tried to give them an out. “Excuse me? Did you say you would like my wife to take a picture for you? Of the three of you?” The man clarified that, no, he had in fact wanted me to be in a picture with the three of them. My husband gave them a stern no and laughed it off, but again, I wonder, what if I had no husband to say “no“ for me? Would my ”no“ had been enough? A few days after returning home, I read an article about a foreign couple who was stoned outside of the Taj Mahal for denying a photo with a group of men. Could that have been us?

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I will say, there were plenty of places where men were more than respectful towards me. We took a private 24 hour boat ride in Allepey, and the crew of men were professional and accommodating. When my husband became ill overnight I made several demands, spoke sternly, and was given the upmost respect and was spoken back to like a person of equal stature. The men made themselves scarce and stuck to their duties the entire trip, but also made themselves available for polite conversation and to work out every detail with us to make our journey perfect. I felt so comfortable with this crew, that I could have easily been on the boat myself and not felt in danger.

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If you are healthy both in mind and body, have an adventurous spirit, and can roll with the punches, you should always visit India. The bad experiences I had pale in comparison to all of the magnificent ones I had, and given the chance, I would absolutely go back. I personally would not feel comfortable traveling to India alone or with a girl friend. I felt that my husband was not only an amazing travel partner, but a big deterrent in being harassed or taken advantage of, even in terms of being charged for things. There were times where I felt very uncomfortable, because I was out of my comfort zone! Some days were outstanding, but challenging for me because they were so different, not because I felt unsafe or in danger. For example, in Munnar we went on an hour long hike and I had never done a challenging hike before. I was so thankful to have my husband there to physically help me when I felt weak and to know all the right things to say when I felt scared or unsure of continuing. I would recommend visiting India with someone you know and trust who will be your biggest asset when you need support and who you will always be glad you shared such an adventurous and amazing time with.

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