Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler- "Let The Good Times Roll"....This past July was a month like no other in New Orleans, Louisiana, commonly referred to as NOLA. A tropical storm that is often reserved for the fall season erupted in the area, and was determined to spoil our Washington Family Reunion. However, despite the dozen or so family members unable to make it, and multiple airline delays for those coming from the Northeast, we had more than 60 family members from SC, NC, TX, and NJ show up and show out. Many of our planned activities were cancelled, yet the hotel was very accommodating with food and beverage services, as well as a few restaurants near our centrally located hotel. We also found out that the Casino never closes, even during a storm. LOL!!
Despite the approaching storm, we found plenty of local attractions near Hotel Indigo on St. Charles St, our home abode for 5 days. We got in early to NOLA and found a cute dining spot near the hotel, Avenue Cafe, where we ate smoked salmon on a bagel, and a mimosa for a drink. The remainder of the day was family arrivals. We immediately jumped on the phone the next day seeking a tour company willing to accommodate not only our group, but one that wasn't closed because of the impending storm, as our original tour group company cancelled our reservations. We found Aventures Tours, and William was nice enough to accommodate our family on two vans as we ventured through the city. Even with the darken skies, NOLA is a magnificent place to visit with it's extraordinary history. Make sure to view our pictures below for some the sights including a wall that was put up to keep the river water from coming into the city; the infamous Cafe Du Monde; and a statute of Mother Teresa placed in one of a dozen or more cemeteries that we passed by during our tour. We ended our first full day with a Cajun meal at Please U Restaurant near our hotel. We were thankful that they were able to accommodate such a large group.
The remainder of our days were spent near the hotel getting reacquainted with family members and watching Madea movies, although a few family members found the doors of Harrah's Casino opened when everything was closing down. Some even got lucky!! A few of us walked along St. Charles, and found out we were a mere mile from Beyonce and J-Z's New Orleans home (pic below). And the late night owls found a bar nearby with karaoke. Most of the family that were driving departed early on day 4, and those that remained got to venture back out to the city for another beignet at Cafe Du Monde and lunch at Cajun Seafood. Unfortunately, a few stayed in NOLA because of a late airline cancellation back to to the Northeast, but as family do, we welcomed them into our hotel room overnight for the ultimate family sleepover.
It was on our very last day that we were able to finally go to Mardi Gras World. We found a discounted coupon code on Groupon, and after a short trolly ride, we found the location. We were simply amazed at the artistry that went into the float designs, and the size of the structures. Check out the King-Kong and Fiery Furnace displays in the images below.
Have you ever went to a destination and was caught up in a natural disaster?
Rhonda and Sharee
I had the opportunity to spend Memorial Weekend in Chicago to attend a work training conference with my sister, Rhonda, as a tag-a-long- :-). We both had a lot of fun exploring the city by foot and at times on the CTA train.
The areas we visited were alongside Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. As we took our leisurely stroll toward Chicago's Navy Pier we were astounded by the number of colleges in the vicinity, including DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, and Roosevelt University. The area is also very family friendly. We saw many families on vacation, and the streets were relatively safe as we saw cops on every corner. Especially near the train stations, as I had to meet my sister at a nearby station after a late night flight into the city.
Once we got to the pier we ate at Giordano's which is famous for it's Chicago stuffed deep dish pizza. We didn't partake of the famous pizza; nevertheless, we enjoyed a scrumptious spaghetti lunch.
Chicago should definitely be on your list of cities to visit. And for those in the Columbia, SC area, flights were less than $145 round-trip, and we booked 2 months out. You can't beat that price with a stick!!
Have you visited Chicago? What were some of your highlights?
A random discussion (so it seemed) with one of my graduating high school students landed Rhonda and I with a rare find. Rare Variety Cafe that is. The vegan restaurant is located on North Main near Columbia College campus, and has been in business 6 months. The area is known for having one of the lowest per capita income in the city, and a plethora of health disparities that are of major concern in the primarily black community, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. What the business partners have done within the span of less than 4 years is remarkable indeed.
Using their own personal funds to open the restaurant, Ronnie Willingham and Keith Alexander are rarities themselves. Ronnie has been a vegan for over 22 years and an auto detailer by trade. Keith is a former 5th grade teacher turned multi social entrepreneur. Together, they not only opened Rare Variety Cafe, but are one of only 3 HUBs designated in the state of South Carolina with a special grant from the USDA to aid local farmers with distribution of their surplus fruits and vegetables to the underserved populations in the state.
With their own personal funds and money from the grant, they have been able to source produce from local farmers, and create their own garden on the premises of the restaurant. In addition, they will operate a summer feeding program supplemented with the produce from local farmers; open their own grocery store next door; and with a recent purchase of a bus, they will be able to educate and train people to set up their own community gardens. Their platform is all about "Farm to Fork"...growing your own produce, and eating it at your own table.
The pair have hired local teens to assist them in the kitchen. The teens will also have a hand in setting up community gardens all across the state. There are also personnel to help in the garden adjacent to the restaurant. The garden is loaded with a variety of herbs, tomatoes, and greens. Rhonda has taken on a consulting role with the business partners, and will aid in establishing their business strategies so that they can operate all aspects of their business seamlessly.
Oh.... and can we say the food is DELISH!! The southern fried cauliflower taste just like fried chicken. The curry-jackfruit stew is better than any pulled pork I've ever tasted. Both are pictured below. We also tasted Ronnie's newest creation, the E-Burger, which is made with chickpeas and mushrooms. We would show you a picture, but we both ate our burgers so fast, the camera couldn't keep up. Additional menu items can be seen in an image captured below. It's definitely a place to visit. You'll thank us later.
Rare Variety Cafe hours are Wednesday - Saturday, from 11:30am-8PM. They are located at 4622 N. Main in Columbia near the Columbia College campus main entrance. You'll see a beautiful mural with a picture of George Washington Carver and one of his infamous quotes "Where There Is No Vision, There Is No Hope". Parking is near the mural.
Travel Chops (TC): Where are you from?
Courtney: I'm from Atlanta, Georgia.
TC: Where do you attend college and your career goals?
Courtney: I am a graduating senior at NC A&T State University. My career goal is to be an entrepreneur. Exactly what kind of business I'd end up running- I'm still figuring that part out.
TC: You are moving to Japan after graduation. How did that decision come about?
Courtney: My decision to move to Japan was made over 14 years ago, when I was just a child. I could've moved sooner but I didn't know how to. All of the information that's currently easily accessible on the internet either wasn't around when I was younger, or I was unable to find it (because I was so young and didn't know where to look).
TC: What was your perception of Japan prior to your first experience traveling there?
Courtney: My perception of Japan, before I went, was that it was a normal place like America. I did expect it to be different culturally, though. As I interacted with Japanese people and watched YouTube videos, I had a good understanding of what Japan would be like.
TC: What was the reality of your first experience in Japan?
Courtney: My first experience in Japan was everything I imagined and more. All of the things that I had seen on the internet, (most) of my experiences with Japanese people, and the career opportunities I'd hoped would be available to me were there.
TC: What do you do for fun?
Courtney: I enjoy writing, drawing, and running in my free time.
TC: Name 2 of your favorite travel destinations?
Courtney: My favorite two travel destinations have been Okinawa and Fukuoka. Both are in Japan.
TC: What are 2 destinations you have yet to visit?
Courtney: I would really like to visit Busan, Korea and Cebu, Philippines.
TC: What is your advice to persons contemplating living abroad?
Courtney: Do it. Especially if you're Black. I can only speak for my experience in America, but traveling and living abroad is not encouraged in the Black community. To some degree, I understand people's concerns with going abroad, but I think you will learn a lot about your own identity and how to be comfortable in your own skin. Going to a place like Japan would've had a seriously negative impact on me (because I stuck out) if I didn't learn to be more confident. The upside to it is that you appreciate your own people more after being in a place where no one looks like you. Lastly, in some countries, including Japan, there are communities of Black people that are very close-knit because they're such a small minority there. It's like having a family (if you don't come from a close-knit family) or a family away from home.
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With the recent terrorism attacks in Sri Lanka, a question that comes to mind for any traveler to a foreign region: Is It Safe? One place to look for current information is the US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs website. Not only is the site used for Passport and Visa information, but it also has a travel advisory section for international travel.
You are provided the general quick facts of information such as need of Visa or Immunization requirements. In addition, advisory levels are set depending on current conditions. The levels range from 1 to 4. View attached as an example. As of Feb. 2019, the advisory level for US Citizens visiting Ghana is a 1. This is the safest level there is, but foreign travelers are asked to use precautionary measures. This means it is not safe to walk alone at night, be wary of thefts such as pick-pocketing and "snatch and grab", and use caution at the ATM. In comparison, both the United Kingdom and Sir Lanka, upgraded their advisory level to a 2. It is advised for travelers to avoid areas of demonstrations and visiting on certain upcoming holidays due to recent terrorism threats.
As an international traveler, the US Government recommends it's citizens to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alert messages and easy access to locate you in case of an emergency during your travels. We have used this during recent travels to both South Africa and European cities, and always felt an extra level of comfort knowing that the government is aware of our travel itinerary.
As it relates to our upcoming trip to Accra, Ghana in December 2020, we will use every necessary precaution to keep everyone safe, including having a native Ghanaian (Tour Ambassador) with us at all times. Ground transportation to and from the airport, as well as to all excursion locations, will be provided. The hotel will be in a central location, and easily accessible to most tourist attractions. One evening you will be provided the option to experience night life in Accra, and everyone is encouraged to walk in small groups (never alone). We'll update you as time nears of any threats or concern, but as of now, especially during this period of 400-Year Return to Africa, we think that traveling to Ghana is a must-do on anyone's bucket-list. Here's a very poignant article about the 400-Year Return to Africa, and the 10-year declaration to get us to "The Door of Our Return" as we plan to visit two UNESCO sites, Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle, both considered Word Heritage Sites of the slave era.
Sharee and I traveled with EF Tours and nineteen Midlands Technical College's (MTC) students, chaperones, and community members to London, UK during their Spring Break recently. The MTC group was combined with fifteen students and chaperones from the University of Western Illinois.
Prior to seeing the play Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre we ate at the Bag O'Nails pub. We ate Vegan Fish Fillets & Chips with Garden peas. A true Londoner would eat their peas mushy.
Two Interesting Facts:
Fact #1: "Chips" in London is what the US calls "Fries"
Fact #2: The Bag O'Nails club [not pub] located at 9 Kingly Street hosted an early gig by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966. The Beatles frequented the original Bag O'Nails often and it is where Beatle's Paul McCarthy met his future wife Linda Eastman in 1967.
As we toured London on our free day, we were fascinated with the food. The Twelve Pins pub hosted football night(in the US we call it Soccer). The Juventus football team from Turin, Italy was playing and the restaurant pub was packed with Italians. As we ate our veggie burger & "chips" with curry and Red Wine, the pub patrons were on the edge of the seats, biting their lips, yelling at the tv screen, as the team was so close to scoring, and then erupting with pure joy as Juventus scored. On this particular night Juventus won 3-0 versus Atletico, Madrid.
For lunch during the middle of the week we ate at one of the many EAT. locations. We both had the Spinach & Paneer curry(paneer is a fresh, mild Indian cheese that many vegetarians eat as a main course) over peas & rice.
If you are a FOODIE then you must eat at the Borough market. There were foods from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Ethiopia, just to name a few. Once we smelled aroma of the food from Ethiopian Flavours, we knew where we were going for lunch. The price of 4.90 pounds was within our budget. No food pictures from this location. The food was gone before we realized we forgot to take a picture. Oops!!
On our final day in London we did what most Londoners do: Drink Tea
One of the student travelers found an awesome tea room, the Highness Cafe & Tea Room, located in the middle of a pleasant neighborhood near the Arsenal football team stadium.
What are your favorite places to eat while in London? Comment below.
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We are in a booth at Ben's Chili Bowl, a black owned restaurant in Washington, DC sitting next to a black family enjoying their food and conversation in the 1960's. Next we are listening to two elderly ladies, one 85 years old and the other 101 years old, talking about traveling while black. Finally, we are in near tears as Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, is in front of us retelling the story of her 12 year old son's death. How she sat in the front passenger seat of the ambulance while her son, Tamir, was in the back of the ambulance because of a gunshot wound inflicted upon by a Cleveland police officer..
We are back in Columbia, SC at the Richland County Public Library. No, we did not leave Columbia and traveled back in time, but in this VR Experience you are sitting at the restaurant table or on a bus heading south, listening to these trailblazers up close and personal. We listened intently to their stories, such as not being able to hop off the bus to use the restroom because of "White only" establishments (hotels, restaurants, gas stations, etc) as they entered the state of Virginia and the states below. Blacks were only able to stop at establishments listed in The Green Book.
After viewing this VR Experience we realized not only how privileged we are to travel, but also the need to still be careful. You maybe pulled over in your car simply because of the color of your skin. However, it shouldn't stop you or give you the fear to travel. We don't have the Green Book today, but the opportunity to freely travel to any destination our heart desires. We recently curated various travel itineraries for in-state, out-of-state, and abroad travels. See the sample itinerary below that was adapted from one of the several Greenbookofsc.com regional itineraries. We can customize each tour for your educational, business, church, and/or family needs..
Want to view the Traveling While Black VR Experience in-person. The Central Carolina Community Foundation, newly located in the Bullstreet District in Columbia, SC, will host an experience on Tuesday, February 19 from 4:00pm-7:00pm. This Sundance Film Festival VR documentary is traveling to various venues throughout the country. Be on the lookout for the Traveling While Black VR Experience in your community.
Free 15 Minute Consultation: calendly.com/takealeaptravel
Talk to us about your your personalized travel itinerary needs.
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Rhonda W. & Sharee W.
Where do you currently reside?
Jersey City, NJ
Many people first time abroad is to Europe. Why India? Where did you stay?
It was for a class trip. We stayed at Hotel Ajanta in Delhi and with students at our university's partnering college[near Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state of Gujarat].
How long did you stay in India?
Was this your first time traveling abroad?
What was the passport process to go to India if this was your first time abroad?
The process for acquiring a passport to India was trying. A lot of information was needed to substantiate my identity as I was a first-time applicant for a passport. The visa application was fairly easy. I received my notice of approval the day after submitting the application.
What was the most challenging aspect of being in India?
The most challenging part of being in India was adjusting from an individualistic culture to a collectivist culture. Not to mention differences in living varied greatly.
What were the most interesting or fun times you had?
The most interesting and fun times were getting to know and spend time with the students at our partnering college and partaking in the closing ceremony of the student exchange program by dressing in traditional Gujarati attire and learning their dances and other cultural forms of celebration.
Did you travel beyond your central location in India? If “Yes”, where?
Yes. We visited Agra to see the Taj Mahal.
Where will you be traveling to next or want to travel to domestically/abroad?
Travel abroad, I would love to travel to Africa. As for domestic travel, I would love to take a cross country trip.
Full disclosure - Alyssa is our 2nd cousin. Thank you Alyssa for taking the time to share your first experience traveling abroad. Continue to go see the world.
Have you studied abroad in High School or College? If "Yes", where did you travel to? What was your experience?
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Happy New Year!! We will begin a series in 2019 of introducing you to people who are novice, occasional, or experienced travelers.
First up is creative Sharn Hopkins. Travel Chops bloggers Rhonda and Sharee first met Sharn as attendees at her plays. They later assisted her as filmmakers on her two short films, A Mother's Plea (2016) and Nightmare (soon to be released). They were glad she was available to answer a few questions about her travel experiences.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Columbia, SC
What is your first experience do you recall of traveling beyond your hometown?
I remember as a teenager going to Tampa, Florida to visit family. The farthest I have ventured during those trips were in Orlando to visit more family members or go to the flea market.
Whom do you know in your family who has a passport?
My immediate family...no one. Extended family like cousins but just only a handful.
What are your top 3 travel destinations domestically and abroad?
My top three was Seattle, Santa Monica, and Miami. All three I traveled when I was working. If I had a top three of where I would like to go...domestically, Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Chicago. Internationally, I would like to go to Canada, Greek Islands or Lake Como in Italy.
Can you tell us about New Life Productions?
New Life Productions is an independent theatre and film company based in Columbia, SC. We believe in the concept of Edu-tainment which is having entertainment (theater or film) with a message that will educate on health and/or social issues. Sometimes, we do produce projects that are pure entertainment and fun. Also, New Life has an arts education foundation called For the Love of the Arts. The foundation focuses on training artists in performances or literary. We have programs and workshops in schools, community, and penal institutions.
Have you been able to travel through your organization? If "Yes", what destinations have your organization taken you to?
We have performed in New York..Brooklyn. Also, I have traveled to Miami, Winston-Salem, NC, and New York City on behalf of my company.
How can readers of the Travel Chops blogsite and the Take A Leap Travel newsletter follow New Life Productions?
They can visit our website at www.newlifeprod.com or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel Chops blogsite and Take A Leap Travel newsletter would like to Thank Sharn for taking the time to answer our questions about travel in the creative field.
If you have a traveler you want us to highlight, contact us at email@example.com.
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We had the opportunity to visit the area's newest hotel in Downtown Columbia on this past Friday evening. Hotel Trundle caters to small businesses, and kept the locals in mind in its craftsmanship. As such, it not only used locals to customize the furniture, but it also uses them in preparation of food and libations. They offer locally crafted beer at check-in, and have locals cater their "Sip and Nibble Reception" in the early evenings with wine selected by local wine experts and light hors d'oeuvres by local restaurants.
We were invited by Consultant/Strategist Tori West of Talent Impact Strategies to her Holiday Social in the hotel lobby, and it was the most divine experience at the hotel dubbed by locals as "the unique boutique". During the reception, it was a family affair, as we were greeted by Tori's mother and aunt, and provided a crafted gift from the hotel upon arrival. The event was catered by Kiki's Chicken & Waffles, and we partook in chips and spinach tip, and chilled shrimp. After a few lively conversations with the guests, we took advantage of the selfie camera to take pictures, and ended the night with a gift of four artisan chocolates by Bruges Chocolaterie.
It's the season for a multitude of Holiday Social invites. We're so glad we came out to this one to support Tori and her business.
Do you plan to attend any Holiday Socials? If so, what unique locations are being used to host the events?
Rhonda & Sharee Washington