New Orleans: I’m the One Who Takes Kids to Bourbon Street and a Bar

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We hit Bourbon street early. Because, let’s face it: that’s the only time I want to be there.

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We wrangled the street maps and took the trolley to the French Quarter.

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We walked down Bourbon, gathered our beads, and and made it to Jackson Square.

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It was too early in the day and too cold for much else, so we hopped on one of the touristy carriage rides (but not before someone had to go to the bathroom, OBVIOUSLY.)

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A mule named Charlie Brown took us around town.

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His handler, who assured us that if Charlie Brown could make change he’d be out of a job, was a self-described Whiskepalian. He worshiped at the church of Reverend Jack Daniels.

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Me? I was a fan of the brightly painted facades, the plantation shutters and the fancy ironwork balconies.

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There was lunch, there was gumbo, there was walking holding a sleeping almost-four-year-old.

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There was a jazz ensemble in Jackson Square, because of course.

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Then there were pralines, we found the po-boys, and a stroll through the French Market.

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And then, and I’m 100 percent not kidding, someone had to go to the bathroom.

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Fall in Hungarian Forest

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I spent a week this fall in the forests of Hungary.

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It was just me, the conference of about 60 from all over the world, and about 100 octogenarian Hungarians.

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Apparently the hotel has a reputation for relaxation and good buffet dinners.

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I enjoyed hiking in the forest as early as I could convince my jet-lagged bod to head out the door.

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I also spent an afternoon in nearby Sopron.

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It’s not a tourist town per se, so it felt like a view into the lives of real Hungarians.

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The ancient fire tower helped guard the city.

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Which today, is just a charming little town.

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Some day I hope I’m as cute as these two old ladies, with a best friend or sister to sit backwards on a bench with and chat about the day in the fall sunshine.

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But until then, there are many more paths to pursue.

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Devil’s Backbone

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As we drove past it, I inadvertently gasped. There it was, jutting out the hill and scraping the sky like a claw.

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It turns out the Devil’s Backbone was just next to our Airbnb. We didn’t have much time, but we made time to hike it.

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I was hoping to scale the rocks, but it turns out they’re too fragile. So we were limited to the trail that winds around beside this incredible rock formation.

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The only time we had was on a gray rainy morning, and since I’m the queen of not being prepared for weather, We started out the hike with trash bag rain gear. Because we’re classy.

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And that’s why these are all iphone photos: I wasn’t willing to haul my SLR out into the drizzle.

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It was a great, easy hike with the kids (though they whined plenty), and I could have gone much longer.

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But we had to rush back, since we were late for lunch at the Silver Grill.

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Where to Shop: Quito

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Now, if you’re doing the full-blown Ecuador tour, you should go to Otavalo. It’s about an hour north of Quito, and it really is the centuries-old marketplace for the indigenous people.

The central square is lined with booths with artisans selling just about everything under the sun. On some weekdays, there is livestock and fruits and vegetables. But all the time, you’ll find all the scarves and handicrafts to satiate your soul. Be sure you bargain; they start at the tourist price. You can get there by bus or private car.

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But imagine you’re on a really tight schedule, or you don’t want to take the time to go out to Otavalo. Then, my friends, Quito has you covered with the Mariscal market. The city built market stalls on a small city block downtown, off Amazonas street, the main shopping/business drag. You can get there by trolley, bus or taxi.

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Mariscal market is all of tourist-loving Otavalo plus a few inauthentic girls dressed in indigenous-wear selling organic chocolate. But who cares?

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This time, I loaded up on colorful blankets, a poncho for my daughter, a flag, a traditional gold necklace, some jewelry for friends and probably more things I forgot. In the past, it’s been watercolors, scarves, more jewelry and leather goods.

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There’s also ceramics, wooden artifacts and plenty of tchotchkes.
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Make sure you tell everyone that the so-called “Panama hats” are really made in Ecuador. Seriously, check the label. They were popularized by men digging the Panama canal, and so got their name. But these babies are Ecuador-made.

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This girl sold me my necklace. I asked all the vendors for their best price, and she not only gave me a discount, she left her stall to go get the exact style I wanted from somewhere else. There it is to the right; she’s wearing a similar one in the traditional style.

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The legit Otavalan vendors drive in from their homes outside the city with all their goods. The Otavalan people are born entrepreneurs. I’ve see them all over the world, from Sweden to my little podunk Oklahoma town. And they always have those sweaters and blankets and purses, handmade in Ecuador using ancient techniques and Ecuadorian wool and alpaca.

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Let me give you an idea of prices:

-$10-20 for a handmade necklace

-$5 for an Ecuador flag

-$20 for a queen size wool blanket

-$25 for a 11×14 watercolor

-$8 for a scarf

Obviously, barter with them for the best price, but don’t be rude.

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I bought a blanket from this sweet lady, and she really wanted me to take more. That top photo of her is also now enlarged on a canvas and hanging in my living room above my fireplace. Every time I sit on the couch and study her face, it makes me happy to have a little bit of Ecuador in my home, through her shining eyes and high cheekbones.