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Looking for an option to take my sister away for her 60th birthday, we chose New Orleans as a place we could have good food and music, not too far from DC or NY, and a place to celebrate. Overall it was a perfect weekend. The only complaint on our distance decision was that there really are no great flights from DC, and I had to connect through Chicago, which made a pretty long trip for me. My sister caught a direct flight from NY though, and she had Mario Batalli on her flight - coming and going!
The W provides funky accomodations and luxury touches. Nonetheless, it's not my favorite place. I have stayed in 2 W's, mainly because I have Starwood Preferred Guest points and I'll put up with a lot if it's free. The W French Quarter is in a charming old building with a lovely courtyard. Nonetheless, I can't help thinking that I'm being nickel and dimed on all the little things, so I am always on my guard at these hotels. Both my husband and I have had the experience of being charged for things we have not taken from the "honor bar." In NY, they "forgot" to leave a price list for the honor bar, AND they left a bottle of water on the nightstand - guess what - 8 dollars for that bottle of water! In New Orleans they have coffee in the morning and a stingy continental breakfast where they charge for every little item. Not that you would eat there, given all the lovely choices around you. Also, they charge an exhorbitant fee for Internet access in the rooms, while the local Days Inn gives it to you for free.
Complaining aside, the local staff has nothing to do with "policy," and they were quite friendly and helpful and even sent up a piece of chocolate cake (on the house) when I mentioned it was my sister's birthday.
One last comment about "policy:" Though W has a "whatever, whenever" motto, this does not include lending us a scissor, which is apparently against "policy." Why? Can you hijack a hotel with a scissor? Were we going to cut up a pillow? We just wanted to cut a tag off a blouse. Sillly. Very silly.
I would not rent a car in New Orleans, particularly if I was spending time in the French Quarter mostly. That said, we were not particularly successful in the taxi department. I read later (in a great little book that I recommend - Rambles around New Orleans by Roy Blount, Jr.) that everyone calls United. I'm not sure if we used United cabs, but they invariably took a while to show up and in more than one case appeared not to know where to go. We almost missed a dinner reservation at Commander's Palace due to the SLOWEST cab driver in the world.
When I arrived, flustered, at the restaurant, I apologized for being late due to a slow and possibly incompetent cab driver. The hostess looked at me, slowly raised her eyebrow, and innocently asked "Really? Here in New Orleans?" From which I gather this is not the first time she had heard a similar tale of woe.
Getting acquainted with the Quarter.
Having arrived in the afternoon, and knowing we had a 6:30 reservation, sis and I just wandered around the French Quarter - down Decauter, up Royal, to the French market, etc. There's definitely an hour or two of rambling you can do - lovely stores, galleries, etc. And we stopped for a drink and snack at a lovely historic tavern.
Great place to get all your kitchy souvenirs - masks, hot sauce, CDs, alligator heads, t shirts. In the process of post-Katrina reconstruction. Definitely cheap and touristy, but a quick hit for all your souvenir needs.
Must go - lovely historic house with great drinks, salads muffalatas, etc. Drink a "Pim's cup," a refreshing cocktail with Pim's, lemonade and cucumber. Trust me - it's great.
Great dinner at an Old New Orleans institution. The BEST thing there was the bread pudding. To call it a pudding would actually be an insult. Normally bread pudding is not my favorite thing, but this is an amazing souffle. The other famous dish, the turtle soup, was very good, but didn't wow me. The dinner and service were great, not as memorable as NOLA, but definitely lovely.
This is a terrific source when looking for music and events in town. They have an online version for when you are planning your trip, and have free copies in many local establishments.
Worth going to once. Basically a trashy and trashed scene. Not appropriate for kids due to the porn shops that are everywhere. Also, one end appears to be mostly gay, not that anyone seemed to care whether or not we were there. Worth it to drop in on Preservation Hall though, to see some of the wonderful old timers. I wish Bourbon street had more authentic music - blues, zydeco, jazz, whatever, instead of bad cover bands. On the night we were in town though, Offbeat didn't have anything else of interest.
Great place. Smaller than you would imagine, with only wooden benches to sit on, but the old guys sure can play -- if you like jazz --- even if you only like it a little.
The most expensive and filling breakfast you'll ever have. But a nice place to try some interesting cocktails. We filled up and then walked about 10 miles, so it all balanced out. There are Brennans' restaurants all over the place, some owned by feuding factions of the family, but politics aside, they all have a good reputation.
We walked from the Quarter all the way up Magazine street to the Zoo. It was about 8 miles, but the shops, the architecture and the gardens were all charming and we were never tempted to just grab the bus (which we did, to be sure, on the way home). I always think the best way to see a city is by hoofing it.
The zoo is cute, but we in fact went for the music. They had a "swampfest" going on all day with bands from all over. People were dancing near the elephants, two-stepping near the orangutans. You get the picture. Plus food and drink. If you get the chance, time a visit with this particular event (we were there Nov. 1-2).
Of the three "nice" restaurants we visited, this was my favorite, even if it was a little loud. The service was wonderful and the dishes superb. I had the duck and chocolate waffles for dessert. Both NOLA and Commander's Palace were splurges, but not as much as you think. One piece of advice - buy your wine by the glass. If you are planning on going out afterwards for music or bars, you don't really want to split a bottle of wine at dinner and be too drunk or too full to enjoy the rest of the evening. It saves money too. Another thing about NOLA - if you are out with someone not your spouse and planning on having an intimate conversation, as were the couple next to us, remember this is an uncarpeted bistro with not a lot of space between the tables. Sis and I were entertained, but the couple in question would be in big trouble if we were investigators hired by either's spouse.
Great venue for music, and you can't beat watching people come up from the lanes in their bowling shoes, dance a number and then return to their game. We saw a terrific band and our Sunday guide to the cemeteries told us that this place is known for attracting top talent. Who'd have thought a bowling alley would be a great music venue?
This was the band we saw - thought I'd give them a plug. Nice guys too - from Lafayette, LA
A New Orleans "must." I was sceptical about the chicory coffee, which turned out to be delicious. And of the beignets, because I don't like donuts. Wrong on both counts. Yum, yum. Cash only, I believe.
Best to visit these with a guide. Our guide was Midge, who hangs out either at the tourist information booth on Canal Street or the Chart house bar on Chartres street. Without a guide, you don't get the color or the character of these unique cemetaries - and you risk getting mugged.
A downright perfect weekend getaway. The city, and anyone we talked to, still bears the scars of Katrina. We didn't ask much about it, but the stories come out. Not sure that all the construction we saw was post-Katrina rebuilding or just the general state of an aging, sinking city. I left the city totally smitten and longing to read and learn more about this part of the country and its role in our history. Starting with Roy Blount's book, but also wanting to read more Faulkner and more about the other artists who spent time here. Go and enjoy. Even bring the kids, but that would be a very different experience....