half of my heart is in havana

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Cuba has always been a mysterious destination to me, an off limits locale due to the long standing US embargo.  And what they say is true, you often want what you can’t have.  Thus, when the travel ban was eased in 2015, Havana shot to the top of my list of places to travel, and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to visit.

Growing up in the US, there was not much information about this large Caribbean nation other than what was very briefly covered in history books, so I didn’t know what to expect.

This turned out to be a good thing because Havana was the best surprise.  I was stricken by its je ne sais quois (or no se que in Spanish…doesn’t really translate ;).  I mean, it’s an incredibly culturally rich and beautiful city.  It is both quaint and cosmopolitan, architecturally divine with its expansive boulevards and thoughtful city planning.  But there’s more to it than that because a lot of cities have those things and they’re not quite as fascinating.

Historically speaking, from pirates to American gangsters, you’re not going to find as interesting a place in these parts.  The country’s rise to immense power due to the sugar trade was astounding and its revolutionary history with its colorful figures is even more intriguing.  And being closed off to American travel for so long?  Maybe that adds to the allure.  Whatever it is, Havana is a really wonderful destination.

As Camila Cabello says, take me back, back, back…

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day trip to Louisville: Derby time!

Derby City has a long, illustrious history of horse farms, and of course, the Kentucky Derby, but there’s so much more to the city.  It’s the hometown of the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger and great southern eats like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Come on, you know you love those 13 spices.

I only got to drive through this city, but the roadtrip through this part of the country is serene and beautiful.  There’s fields of bluegrass for as far as the eye can see and pastoral scenes of horse farms and billboards advertising bourbon distilleries and caves.  It does not get more southern than this.  If you’re coming from the South, you will pass Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, too.  Louisville sits on the banks of the Ohio river and for that, was/is considered the gateway to the South.  And in fact, if you cross the river, you’ll be in Indiana.

Louisville, even though steeped in Southern history, seems very vibrant and young, maybe in part due to the college atmosphere.  There are a lot of trendy coffeeshops, I really liked Quills and local chain Sunergos.

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My first must see in the River City was the Muhammad Ali Center, a cultural museum dedicated to Cassius Clay, the man who would become the greatest American boxer of all time.  This center has interactive displays, movies and even a boxing ring.

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There’s tons of paintings and art featuring him, including this gorgeous piece by LeRoy Neiman.

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It’s not for profit, and celebrates the life of a man who inspired so many.

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The center sits on Louisville’s waterfront, which features a large lawn and green area, with playgrounds, paths and an outdoor event venue.

Louisville’s downtown is actually larger than I expected, with the center being the KFC YUM Center, where the Louisville Cardinal NCAA team plays basketball.  You are in Bourbon country, so there is a Woodford Reserve Club in the arena, and just down the street is one of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, Evan Williams.

The buildings in the West Main District and Whiskey Row have facades in the cast iron revivalist style, similar to those in SoHo in NYC.  There are tons of art galleries and museums, hotels in this walkable area.  It’s also home to the arts district of Louisville, with the Center of the Performing Arts and Actors Theatre.  Inside the Actors Theatre is MilkWood, one of severeal Top Chef allum Ed Lee’s dining experiences in the city.  I wanted to try this place so badly, but it was closed when I was passing through.  Louisville has a ton of high end dining options: maybe you’ll run into Tom Brady at Decca or the Fat Lamb, you never know.

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Behind that large gold replica of Michelangelo’s David (not sure the reason for that), lies Proof, a funkily decorated dining room that features everything from catfish dip to bourbon pie.  And of course, they’ve got juleps, which you’ve got to try when you’re in Kentucky.

Just a few blocks down is the Louisville Slugger museum.  You can’t miss it, it’s the one with the 120 foot tall baseball bat in front of it.

IMG_7115.JPGThis museum also serves as an active factory and you can take a 20 minute tour where they show you from start to finish how the bats are made.  Everyone gets a free mini-bat, but just remember not to put it in your carry on if you’re flying (it will be confiscated).  There’s a wall of famous “slugger” autographs and batting cages, of course.  There’s also famous bats that you can hold.  It’s kitschy, but I’m into baseball, so I liked it.

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This was a super quick trip, but that’s a good starting point to your Derby weekend.  Even though Churchill Downs is the main event, don’t forget to explore the other amazing attractions this city has to offer.

Famous Louisvillians: Muhammad Ali, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence, Hunter S. Thompson, Diane Sawyer, and Rajon Rondo (a motley crew if there ever was one)

Listen to: Nicole Scherzinger, My Morning Jacket, Patty Loveless and Bryson Tiller (Louisville gets more and more interesting as this list goes on)

Souvenirs: umm, Bourbon and a Louisville Sluggers — that should make for a fun night?

Bienvenido a Miami: Parte 1

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south beach bringing the heat

I may be the only person who goes to Miami for the architecture. Context: Miami is not my favorite place. I don’t enjoy nightlife (I am a million years old), scantily clad people (I will never own or wear a body stocking, no one wants to see this) or loudness (both in sounds and personalities). I get you, Miami, but you’re not always my type. When you’re still, you’re lovely, but you can get crazy so fast. Too temperamental.

I think when you’re young and you go there, it’s a lot of pressure to go out and party, but you know what?   In your 30s, you no longer give AF. And that, my friends, is growing up.

Welcome to Miami…

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MSP: NCAA Championship edition

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Man, it seems like Minneapolis is getting all of the sporting events because of their fancy new stadium.  Of course, the NCAA tourney will be played there on Monday, April 8th.  For those of you heading to the game this upcoming week, here’s a little Minnesota refresher.

you’re gonna make it after all…

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Happy Lunar New Year!

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Happy Lunar New Year!  Yes, it’s not only Chinese people who celebrate the lunisolar calendar, so show a little love to your friends who are celebrating the start of year of the pig/boar today!

In Vietnam, the new year celebration is called Tet, and it is HUGE.  Lots of festivals, lion dancing, fireworks, fashion, bestowing of li xi or lucky red envelopes, and feasting.  If you’re ever looking for nonstop partying this time of year, book your trip to Asia to join the revelry.

A throwback to my favorite city in Vietnam today, happy new year!

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Touchdown in Kan-SAS CITY

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THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME IS GOING TO BE PLAYED AT ARROWHEAD!  THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

For the first time EVER, Kansas City hosts the AFC Championship game on Sunday and I am STOKED to say the least.  It’s gonna be hella cold, but I know Chiefs Kingdom is going to show up.  Unfortunately, I’ll be watching from Vegas (poor me, right?) but for those who are visiting KC, welcome to the loudest stadium in the NFL!

If you’ve read this blog, you may know that I lived in Kansas City just shy of a dozen years (and write about my visits) and I LOVE coming back.  It will forever be my second home, and the Midwest is very dear to my heart.  The trips have become fewer and far between as I am now an Adult (capital A) with a “job,” but recently I had the chance to go back for a little bit of work and a lot of play.

The changes that have occurred in this city since I left 4 years ago are astounding and numerous, and I guess in some ways I am lucky all of these cool, trendy places weren’t around when I was living there, or else I’d be broke and/or very large.  I’m even luckier that many of my pals still reside here, and I get personal tours every time I return.

I visited some old favorites and found some new ones, and of course, got to spend time with people I love…which is the best reason to travel.

Going back to Kansas City!

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Feliz Navidad from Mexico!

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In the words of the great Jose Feliciano, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart!  Feliz Navidad is one of the all time great Christmas songs, and Mexico is one of the all time great travel destinations.  The culture, food, history, people– everything about this country is amazing.

La Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX) is one of the foremost cosmopolitan areas of the world, with bustling energy, a lively arts and fashion scene, inventive and traditional food culture, and architectural gems galore.  There are well preserved alhambras and monuments reminiscent of the grand plazas of Europe amongst a sea of modern skyscrapers and high rise hotels.

Fun fact: I won the Spanish language award my senior year in high school.  Another fun fact: my Spanish is terrible. Like muy terible. I have the worst American accent when I attempt to speak, but I do try, y es la intencion es lo que cuenta? Un poquito (read: oohn poke-ee-toe)?  En acualmente, escribo mejor que hablar, que lastima!  Lo siento, yo se mi espanol no es bueno, pero me humor por favor.

Nota: Todas las photografias en esta blog post son cortesia de mi hermana.

CDMX is having a real moment right now, so brush off your Paso a Paso book from high school…vamos a Mexico! HOLA y Bienvenidos a Mexico!

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happy holidays 2: lost in new york

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Remember Home Alone 2?  That’s a holiday classic that never gets old.

New York is my favorite US city when it comes to the holidays, and really for lots of people — that’s why it’s featured so heavily in many movies around this season, Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, Scrooged.  From the Rockefeller skaters to the Rockettes, this city comes alive during the most wonderful time of the year.  Even though it’s colder than Jack Frost, there’s something very magical about rockin’ around this enchanting city while it snows.  Happy Hanukah and here’s to dreaming of a white Christmas!

Tis the season!

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Pittsburgh strong

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It completely broke my heart to see the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday.  It’s just so sad and the vitriol so unnecessary, and I don’t have any more words to describe it other than that. The Pittsburgh community is one of the most down home, genuine cities with the best people and the actions of a hateful individual will not change that.

The city is strong like its Steelers, neighborly like one of its most famous former residents, Fred Rogers, and a horrible act of violence and hate will not change that.  Pittsburgh strong.

Let’s channel a little Mr. Rogers and be good neighbors to all our friends in Pittsburgh.

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weekender in LA: happy lebron day

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Happy Lebron-starts-for-the-Lakers Day everyone!  A momentous day, hopefully an auspicious one.  There’s been a drought not only in Southern California’s water reserves, but in winning seasons for our Showtime squad and that just will not do. We were obviously spoiled by the Kobe era.

And if that weren’t enough, the Dodgers play the Brewers tomorrow to win the NL pennant race!  Because everyone loves October baseball…let’s continue the series of NLCS/ALCS cities with LA! We goin’ back to Cali, Cali, Cali…

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