New Orleans, Louisiana

NOLA: The Big Easy beckons

Bourbon Street

“Up here! Up here!” Everyone on the balcony was shouting to parade revellers below, arms outstretched to catch beaded necklaces flung up into the air. I wasn’t even there during Mardi Gras, but in New Orleans (also known as NOLA), there’s always a reason to celebrate and on Bourbon Street, there’s always spontaneous bursts of revelry and music.

But unless you’re a university student on break, don’t linger on Bourbon Street. Instead, walk a few blocks over to Frenchmen Street, a decidedly more charming and quintessentially New Orleans experience. This is where I found a poet-for-hire, moodily lit by neon, telling his tale of how he ended up in NOLA with his typewriter. But the live music was calling—a jumble of jazz and hip hop and rockabilly, spilling out onto the street and tempting me in. The Spotted Cat (spottedcatmusicclub.com) and Snug Harbor (snugjazz.com) are favourites among locals.

Char-grilled oysters; The land of crawfish

But my main goal was to eat my way through New Orleans—the best way to explore such a culturally diverse city with regionally specific cuisine. Char-grilled oysters are a staple in this town, introduced over 20 years ago by Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (dragosrestaurant.com). I’m used to the fresh, briny scent of delicate raw oysters, so the smell of garlic, butter and cheese was inconsonant—until the first bite. The rich sauce that bubbles over during grilling to create caramelized, chewy edges works beautifully with the Gulf’s larger, meatier oysters. Equally delicious but far trickier to eat are crawfish. Seafood boils are a tradition in which crawfish comes steamed in a bucket and dumped over paper in a heap on the table in front of you. Forget the cutlery, dig in with your hands. When you face your first boiled crawfish (it’s inevitable), remember this: pinch the tail, twist the head and pop the meat out.

Liuzza’s shrimp po’boy

Try Bevi Seafood Company (beviseafoodco.com) or Schaefer’s Seafood, which has been around for over 40 years. And don’t leave without trying a po’boy (traditionally fried oysters on baguette-like bread). On a hot tip, I ventured outside the French Quarter to Liuzza’s for her famous BBQ shrimp po’boy (liuzzas.com).

Willa Jean’s cookies

After all that seafood, wash it down with a frosé: frozen rosé. While these adult slurpees can be found in most restaurants throughout New Orleans, this sophisticated version is rumoured to have originated at Willa Jean (willajean.com), a contemporary southern-comfort-food eatery specializing in exquisite baked goods. The cornbread and tartines are just about as famous as the frosés. And if that’s not enough, try a beignet, a French take on a fritter, another sweet treat that NOLA’s known for.

Crypts in one of NOLA’s cemeteries; Go-to spot for voodoo souvenirs

The best place to walk off all this food and drink is through one of New Orleans’ hauntingly poignant cemeteries, nicknamed “cities of the dead”. The most famous is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and its most famous vault belonging to the voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, an occult and voodoo practitioner during the mid-1800s. Whether or not she had special gifts, she did hold great power over residents who both feared and respected her. Her influence continues today, evidenced by all the “X”s covering her vault. It’s rumoured that you can invoke her spirit by marking an “X” on the tomb, turning around three times, knocking on the tomb, telling her your wish, then returning later to circle your “X” and leaving Laveau an offering. If that’s too complicated, you can always buy a voodoo doll at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo (voodooneworleans.com) in the French Quarter. Which is what I did. — Catherine Tse

Miami, Florida

MIAMI MODERN: Where art is hot!

Wynwood Walls. Photo by Barb Sligl

Ah, Miami. It conjures hotness…as in beach, beach bodies and spicy Cuban fare, moves and music. And, yes, there’s all that. But there’s a hot factor in its art scene too.

The city has become a modern-art mecca, which Art Basel Miami shines a bold spotlight on. The see-and-be-seen party gets the glitterati out (think Leo and George and such), mingling, critiquing and buying contemporary artwork (this year it’s on December 7 – 10).

But to partake in Miami’s art scene all you need to do is walk through Wynwood Arts District (wynwoodmiami.com). Edgy and all things hip, this once industrial ’hood is now home to more than 70 art galleries, performance spaces, shops, bars and restaurants. And its crown jewel is the Wynwood Walls street-art installation (thewynwoodwalls.com).

Inside the de la Cruz Collection; “Sprache der Vögel,” Margulies Collection. Photo by Barb Sligl

Beyond those vivid walls are galleries within old warehouses, now showcasing museum-worthy private collections. Your mind may be blown at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (margulieswarehouse.com), housed in a 45,000-square-foot retrofitted warehouse that presents seasonal exhibitions from the vast collection of renowned art collector Martin Z. Margulies. Sample artwork: the spread wings of a three-ton sculpture by German artist Anselm Kiefer. Sprache der Vögel, or “Language of the Birds,” refers to 20th-century French alchemist Fulcanelli’s ideas on hidden truths and the transformative nature of alchemy. Stand beneath its massive wingspan and let its meaning soak in.

There’s more to ponder at the de la Cruz collection (delacruzcollection.org), in the nearby Design District (miamidesigndistrict.net). An extension of billionaire art lovers Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz’s home, it’s another massive (30,000 square feet) contemporary art space showcasing mind-boggling sculptures, paintings and installations. And it’s free to the public.

“Fly’s Eye Dome” public art ; “Le Corbusier" public art. Photo by Barb Sligl

Also free in the Design District is the Institute of Contemporary Art (icamiami.org), which is all about experimentation in contemporary art. A new 20,000-square-foot exhibition space and 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden (yes, Miami likes to go big) open on December 1, 2017.

Still in the Design District, meander the pedestrian-friendly maze of shops and office spaces to find various public art pieces like Neo-Futuristic architect Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye Dome,” which is…just that. A 24-foot fly-eye-like sphere that’s considered a green-architecture pioneer—an interactive sculpture that the artist called the “autonomous dwelling machine.” It connects underground parking to the sky and courtyard above (part of the Palm Court shopping centre and another must-see design project composed of glazed-glass fins by architect Sou Fujimoto), where you’ll find a giant bust of Le Corbusier by French artist Xavier Veilhan. Surreal.

South Beach; Miami vibes on South Beach. Photo by Barb Sligl

Just south is the Pérez Art Museum Miami (pamm.org), Miami’s main art museum, which, besides the art inside, is set in a 200,000-square-foot showpiece by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron. Its simple-and-sleek three-storey slatted canopy, hanging vertical garden and expansive deck overlook Biscayne Bay—a celebration of the city’s tropical vibe.

And on the other side of Biscayne Bay is the Art Deco wonderland of South Beach, where there’s both eye and ear candy… Gape at the curvaceous shapes and pastel palettes of iconic architecture from the Rat Pack era and then have picnic in the park while listening to the New World Symphony (nws.edu) projected on the façade of yet another architectural masterpiece, this time by Frank Gehry. It’s Miami modern. — Barb Sligl

MORE: Check out miamiandbeaches.com

Shanghai, China

SOLITUDE IN SHANGHAI: Find flickers of tranquility in China’s largest city

Left to Right: The Bund; East Nanjing Road. Photo by Janet Gyenes.

The low morning sun hides behind the buildings huddled up to East Nanjing Road in Shanghai’s Huangpu district. A few blocks from the Bund, thousands flock to this pedestrian stroll to shop at its 600 trendy boutiques, businesses and Qing Dynasty-era department stores. But for now, it’s still slumbering. The massive façade of an Apple store hasn’t yet transformed into a glass birdcage for a captive audience. Instead, it’s the backdrop for a cadre of women dancing in formation. Like delicate birds, they flap their arms, snapping open and shut broad yellow-and-red fans that seem like plumage extending from their fingertips. This scene is a not-so-rare respite from the cacophony of China’s largest city.

Once flooded with trade in tea, silk and opium,  more than 4,000 years of history has shaped this port  city on the East China Sea. So too has the Huangpu River (a tributary of the Yangtze), carving this metropolis of  24 million people into two distinctive areas on its east and west banks.

Pudong (its name translates to “east bank”) lives up to its Instagram persona, its skyline spiked with high-altitude skyscrapers such as the spaceship-like Oriental Pearl TV Tower (its third sphere is actually called Space Capsule) and the 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Center, a neo-futurist building that looks like a colossal bottle opener. Puxi, or “west bank,” is framed by the Bund, a one-kilometre-long riverside promenade lined with heritage buildings, including the 1929 art deco Fairmont Peace Hotel.

Left to Right: Roof lines of the Jade Temple juxtaposed with modern Shanghai; At the Jade Temple; Prayer beads. Photo by Janet Gyenes.

With its mega-tall towers and throngs, Shanghai often draws comparison to New York City. Or Paris, thanks to the trove of villas and wutong (plane) trees lining the streets in the former French Concession. But this not the US or Europe. Chinese culture and quiet can be found in Shanghai’s spiritual spots such as the Jade Buddha Temple in the Jing’An district. Here, peek inside the halls where worshippers kneeling on colourful cushions murmur prayers to gilded deities. Be sure to seek out the temple’s namesake 1.9-metre buddha; photography is prohibited, adding to the solitude.

Left to Right: Graffiti at M50; Shanghai Teahouse. Photo by Janet Gyenes.

To explore the modern, artful side of Shanghai, take a one-kilometre walk from the temple to the M50 creative park, tracing tea-stained Suzhou Creek. Formerly the Xinhe Cotton Mill, the revamped industrial space with graffitied walls is now a warren of ultra-cool artists’ studios, galleries and cafes. Chat with artisans as you snap up their fashionable handmade leather goods, jewellery and ceramics. After drinking in new Shanghai, head to Old Town, a cataclysm of cutting-edge and ancient where smoggy silhouettes of towers rise behind the winged eaves of wooden structures. Elbow past the crowds and climb the staircase to the Old Shanghai Teahouse, a 1930s throwback with the aura of an antiques shop. Settle in, sip tea (or beer) and devour juicy dumplings in this second-floor enclave while listening to the chirp of live music being performed. — Janet Gyenes

MORE: Check out meet-in-shanghai.net