Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Next Stop: St. Thomas


It's been a long while since I visited the lively Rock City, also know as St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. After 2017's Hurricanes Maria and Irma, I covered how the VI was affected and how to help. This week, I'll get the chance to observe the recovery firsthand and see how legendary vistas like Magens Bay, shown above, have fared.


I'm also excited to attend St. Thomas Carnival! I'll be watching the kids parade, sampling goodies at the Soca Village and maybe even participating in the adult's parade, so please keep a look out for posts and videos!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Design Beauty of Guadeloupe's Mourne-a-l-Eau Cemetary


I'm not a fan of wandering through cemeteries and hanging out among the graves but Guadeloupe's Mourne-a-l-Eau cemetery is a beautiful exception. Set atop a hill, most of the crypts are covered in black and white tiles that resemble little checkerboard houses.



The first thing I learned is that you should never enter a Guadeloupe cemetery or church without knocking first. So I knocked on the gate and roamed though the rows of intricately decorated tombs. The black and white design is supposed to represent the black color for mourning in Europe and the white color for mourning in Africa.


Many of the crypts looked like miniature homes, complete with spaces for mourners to sit and commune with their ancestors. Some people even hire architects to create their tombs. I've never seen anything like Mourne-a-l-Eau, although I did spot smaller versions as I traveled through Grande Terre. To me, the beauty of these final resting places reflect Guadeloupe's respect for the cycle of life.  Do you like to visit cemeteries?


Friday, April 6, 2018

Discovering MLK on Guadeloupe


The islands of Guadeloupe presented me with quite a few surprises. I didn't realize that the main island is really made up of the twin islands of Grande Terre and Basse Terre.  And there are also three other islands that make up Guadeloupe to add to the confusion. That was just the first unexpected experience. Spotting a mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a Grande Terre street was another.



I've always been a big fan of graffiti art. It gives a creative glimpse of the local communitiy's focus and concerns. Seeing MLK told me a lot about the locals pride and awareness. I actually watched the artists complete this mural, they had just started it the night before.


Street art is always interesting but witnessing an American icon be painted on a French Caribbean wall was certainly an image I'll always remember.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Next Stop: Guadeloupe


This week, I'm honored to travel to Guadeloupe and explore the island's extensive black history.  This French Caribbean territory boasts a long culture of resistance and I will be documenting it all, including the battles of Louis Delgres, who fought Napoleon's attempt to return slavery to the French Caribbean, Gwo-Ka music and dancing rituals, and the Memorial ACTe, a global initiative to tell the history of slavery and the institution's effect on the world.  Of course, I'll also be capturing Guadeloupe's unspoiled natural beauty so please stay tuned!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Classic Montreal Eats


Montreal is a foodie paradise. Whatever cuisine or dining experience you desire, you will find an excellent version in Montreal. The restaurant scene bubbles with cafes, chic dining spots and casual eateries on every other corner. But there are a few culinary requirements for every visitor. You must try an authentic Montreal bagel and you must sample poutine.



Bagels are a very serious thing in Montreal. They were brought by Eastern European Jews in the early 20th century and they quickly grew into an essential Montreal food. Now I'm not a huge bagel fan but Montreal bagels differ from the more familiar New York bagel. Montreal bagels are smaller, sweeter and less doughy. They are cooked in a honey water solution and then baked in a wood fire oven. They are not meant to be sliced but are munched warm from the oven and dunked in flavored creme cheese if you like. There's a contentious rivalry between Fairmount and St, Viateur Bagel Shops and locals pledge their allegiance the way Chicagoans represent either the White Sox or that other baseball team. I have visited both bagel shops and I'll just say that eating a warm morsel of a St.Viateur bagel sprinkled with sesame seeds and covered in salmon cream cheese made me want to occupy the shop and eat bagels, (which until that point, I thought I didn't like) all day.


Poutine is an acquired taste. This Quebecois dish of fries, cheese curds and gravy has risen from a late-night, hangover-alleviating remedy to a cultural hallmark. You will find poutine at McDonald's, at cafes, diners and delis but whatever you do, don't eat it at any place with poutine in the name. That's a guarantee that it will not be good. There's a lot of discussion on what makes the best poutine--extra fresh and squeaky cheese curds? Crispy fries? Well seasoned gravy?  I personally think that the cut and crisp of the fries is key and the Le Plateau mainstay, Chez Claudette  serves up a very popular menu of poutines with great fries. Bedsides, the classic, you can order poutine with spaghetti sauce and ground beef, hot dogs, mushrooms and peppers or braised pork. I had the veggie version, which was fine but nothing I could eat regularly. Poutine is best enjoyed late at night when your senses are blurred and your taste buds are eager for unhealthy food. Have you ever sampled Montreal bagels or poutine?



Monday, March 12, 2018

More Montreal Street Art


Besides the bohemian spirit and international vibe, what I love about Montreal is the zany street art. Yes, there are historic murals and lovely statues but what really excites me are the unexpected art scenes that pop up on walls and in alleys. I  last chronicled the city's street art in 2014 and four years later, I discovered fresh pieces all around the city with Danny from Spade &  Palacio, which supplies non-touristy tours. Check it out:



This rather creepy paintings stared back from a side street.


I was thrilled to spot this Jackie Robinson tribute for when he played with the Montreal Royals baseball team. I learned that he played with the Royals in 1946, before starting with the U.S. National Leagues and that it was a mutual love affair between Jackie and Montreal. His wife Rachel described his year of playing in Montreal after dealing with the racial hatred in the U.S. as "like coming out of a nightmare, the atmosphere in Montreal was so positive."



This old world figure peeked out of an alley across from the iconic  St. Viateur Bagels shop.


I really loved these anime characters hanging out on the side of a cafe.


And this old lady is quite famous from travel photos but I still enjoyed seeing her up close. If you visit Montreal, the street art should be at the top of your must do list, next to eating poutine and bagels, which I will cover in the next post.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Next Stop: Montreal


I love Montreal. And the proof of that love is reflected in the fact that I am visiting this exciting city in the middle of the winter. I love Montreal in the summer, when the port of Old Montreal is filled with activity and outdoor fests energize every other weekend. I love Montreal in the fall when the ice wineries feature non-stop tastings and restaurants host pop ups and tours. I love Montreal in the spring when locals dance in the parks and Jean Talon market  smells like fresh cannolis. But I don't know Montreal in winter. I've never been brave enough to subject myself to a winter more frigid than Chicago but when I was invited by Tourism Montreal to snow shoe in Mount Royal Park  (shown above) and to try fat biking and kick sledding in the Eastern township of Magog, I couldn't resist. I love snow shoeing , biking and sledding. So stay tuned for my inaugural winter adventures in Montreal. I'll also visit the  Lumiere winter festival of performing arts, gastronomy and outdoor activities so please keep a look out for updates!