A stay at the legendary, romantic Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans
The famous Hotel Monteleone Exterior
Located smack in the center of Royal Street in the French Quarter, the 1886 Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St) is part of the heart and history of New Orleans. The hotel’s roster of famous guests and the rotating Carousel Bar make Hotel Monteleone a destination, not just a place to stay. This affordable hotel makes my Top Ten Most Intriguing Hotels list.
The doormen give Gene and I fast, attentive service when our taxi pulls up to the hotel entrance. We feel like we are emerging from an elegant horse-drawn carriage. The bellmen dress like royal footmen and attend incoming guests with supreme southern hospitality.
Though still sumptuous, the Hotel Monteleone looks more faded in the flesh than in their online photos. The lobby seems less polished; the grandfather clock in the center, much smaller.
Many small love seats and chairs are scattered around the comfortable lobby, so it was easy to use as a meeting place. The 1909 grandfather clock makes an elegant old-style centerpiece.
I glimpse the Carousel Piano Bar to my right as I enter. The bar room is dark— it is only eleven in the morning. I hope the fabled rotating bar will be as majestic now as it was in the days of its legendary guests: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Truman Capote and Eudora Welty. The Hunt Grill is closed too, but through its window-paned door, I see white-clothed covered tables set with austere elegance.
Perhaps I over-romanticize the lives of the Literati and their hotel connections. The New York writers had the Algonquin Hotel and the writers of the South had the Hotel Monteleone.
The writer who adopted more locales than any other, Ernest Hemingway, was also a frequent guest at the Hotel Monteleone. Truman Capote claimed to have been born in the grand hotel, but perhaps he meant in his heart rather than in body. Or perhaps, Capote was a teller of tales.
The Carousel Bar
The Carousel Bar
Gene, B. and I have a drink at our home base, The Carousel Bar in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone. We sit at a corner table since customers fill all seats at the rotating carousel. The bar seats, with wild animal pictures on the chairbacks, rotate slowly enough for easy people-watching. B. has a Hemingway Daiquiri and Gene orders a Sidecar before switching to the local beer, Abita.
One patron looks like Rod Stewart, with Stewart’s classic sloping nose and dark-rooted blond spiky hair. We entertain the notion for a second (only a second!) that he might indeed be Rod Stewart. But we chalk the man up as a reasonably good Stewart impersonator. Until we hear him sing.
After B. says good night, “Rod” belts out a few lines of Maggie May and we wish B. had stayed to witness the hilarity. Then Rod sings the lines again. And again. Now he has the attention of the folks around the bar. Cameras come out and “Rod” basks in the attention.
What will airlines charge passengers for next? The oxygen masks?
Delta, United, I get it; you’re strapped. You have slapped an extra price tag on every fundamental of air travel. But please, find a more palatable way to increase revenue. Sit in your conference rooms and drum up ways to make passengers want to open their wallets.
Charge us for something we haven’t had before, like vibrating seats or in-air pedicures.
First, it was the meals.
Once I got past feeling angry that I had to pay for the food that I once was entitled to, I remembered that your food sucked anyway. It occurred to me to buy my own food, stuff I like. Now I always keep a Clif Bar tucked in my purse in case I get a free wait on the tarmac.
That’s what you predicted would happen: customers will complain for a while, but eventually the extra fees will feel normal.
Then, you started to charge for checked bags.
That took some getting used to also. I stopped “leaving room in my suitcase” as my mother always advised. But after I thought about it, I agree—someone traveling with two tons of luggage should pay more than me with my roll-on.
Caveat: checked bag fees increase your responsibility to not lose the luggage, AirTran. Be warned—the anger of the man who paid to get his luggage lost will escalate beyond your expectations.
Then, you made customers pay to sit in Exit Rows.
Now your policies are starting to hurt. Yes, Exit Rows are preferred seats and yes, passengers try hard to land them. But what if I have to perform the duties that come with being in the Exit Row? Will you pay ME?
Now we have to pay to NOT be in a middle seat.
Calling window and aisle seats “premium seats” and charging for them, creates intolerable situations. Delta, United, you better think hard about this.
You only release window and aisle seats once you have extorted as much seat money as you can. Passengers are afraid if they don’t buy a window or aisle up front, they will be squeezed in the middle seat.
The fallout: people traveling together cannot sit together without paying a premium. Unlike other incremental fees, this upcharge does not hit consumers who are using more of your services. It’s a seat. This pricing “strategy” feels more like blackmail.
According to the Associated Press, “The airlines say they try to keep parents and young children together. Gate agents will often ask passengers to voluntarily swap seats but airlines say they cannot guarantee adjacent seats unless families book early or pay extra for the preferred seats.”
Cannot guarantee adjacent seats unless families pay extra? That means you CAN guarantee adjacent seats, you just won’t.
Daddy, Make Them Stop
New York Senator Chuck Schumer is coming to the rescue. He is asking the Department of Transportation to force airlines to allow families to sit together for no extra charge. Government shouldn’t have to get involved, but they really they do, because airlines, like many businesses, will take all they can and them some.
Tough New Baggage Fees
Airfares are up 22% over last year. Tickets to Europe are higher still, up 29% over 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A surf session on Travelocity confirmed the tough news for travelers. The best fares I find to London in July or August are well over $900 before the taxes and that jazz heaped on. London is a better bargain pre-Memorial Day or post-Labor Day, that’s a given, but I thought I might find something around $700. Rome, Amsterdam, Dublin, Berlin are all just as pricy. One can tell I have not been to Europe in the summer.
So we all get raked for summer tickets, plus those undecipherable fees that are not worth deciphering because they are not going anywhere just adding huge percentage to the total price paid. But the airlines are no longer stopping there.
First the airlines charged for a second bag. Okay, some people really travel heavy. But now all checked bags come with a fee. Did you think anything could be more annoying than fees for checked baggage?
How about Spirit Airlines’ audacious charge for carry-on bags? $20 to $45 to put an item in the overhead bin, space made scarce by the airline jamming extra seats in the plane. How will they execute the charge? What if I swear my bag will fit into the space under my seat and then I put it into the overhead bin anyway?
A part of me thinks Spirit will can’t make these charges stick and they will roll back the fees. But another part of me thinks other airlines will watch with fee-envy and start charging themselves. Its like the ATM fees. Once Citibank caved, Chase, one of the final holdouts, had to have some of the pie. Another WSJ article offers insight into that math behind the baggage fees.
The news is not all bad—hotel room rates are the one bright spot this summer. I am thinking Las Vegas, where once you get there the hotel rates are dirt cheap. In the city that is all about its hotels, rates are down 18% from a year ago. On the low end, four nights in July at Circus, Circus will average $39 a night. But why not seize a rare opportunity? Those same nights at the elegant Bellagio will only set you back an average of $202 per night. But if you’re going to spend $202, why not go all the way and go for the Wynn at $252 per night?
I would, but that darn baggage fee . . .
Tonight, people will say goodbye to 2009. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.
A tough year in many respects, 2009 was a year to stay relatively close to home. Many of us, despite the wanderlust in our hearts, did just that.
The stay-cation became an accepted norm. In New York, the stay-cation is no raw deal. People pay good money to get here; we don’t have to sink the airfare or hotel cost to see a Broadway show or visit the Met.
In more certain times, we take one big trip out of the country and several domestic trips every year. But we only left the borders of the city a couple of times, though we did reach the left coast once.
The moment my job was assured, we spent a week in California, driving down Highway 101 and spending some time in both endcaps, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In August, we went to Milwaukee for a week, since we skipped it in 2008 in favor of Austin. Milwaukee is my adopted hometown and 2009 was a year for going home.
Not everyone confined themselves to the continental US. Good friends went to Turkey and Greece, another just headed to India.
Where, if anywhere, did you go in 2009?
The rewards of travel are greater than simply seeing a new place.
For the duration of a vacation, your possessions are reduced to the contents of your suitcase.You don’t need all that crap in your basement, attic or storage space. You don’t need shoes in every color and maybe, just maybe, you will feel the lightness that comes with owning less.
You may be carrying baggage in the physical sense on vacation, but your metaphysical baggage is lifted.
For the duration of a vacation, the nagging pressures of everyday life evaporate. You don’t fret about house repairs, repainting, paying bills, or getting along with your boss. You don’t worry that you aren’t keeping up with life’s demands and how the bathroom is never quite clean.
For the duration of a vacation, life is no longer about going to work, lunchtime errands, traffic jams, and second-shift chores once home.
When traveling, you fall into discovery mode. Your mind is free to focus on where you are. Live in real time where there is little stress. Soak in the joy of awe-inspiring scenery, the profundity of historical places, the flavors of new cuisines and okay, great new places to shop.
For the duration of a vacation, everything is here and now. You shift effortlessly into mindfulness.
My last vacation seems longer ago than it really was, and my next one seems far in the future. But I am planning . . . Italy? South Africa? London? Germany?
I am a fan of pizza: New York slices, cheesy Wisconsin thin crust, Chicago deep dish, you name it.
Would I go to the ends of the earth for it? My friend Bryan Myers, world traveler and news producer, did.
He and his crew sampled Bolivian spicy llama pizza high in the Bolivian Andes. I’ll pass on the llama topping myself, but Bryan’s experience at the highest pizza joint in the world proves the ubiquitous nature and infinite varieties of The Pizza.
I recently got this list of Do’s and Don’ts for travel in Italy from my friend Bryan Myers who works for a news program broadcast on public television. Many of the people who work on his program are foreign nationals, and each were recently asked to prepare such a list for their home countries. The one written by a staff member from Italy was one of the best:
1. Italian families and friends usually kiss when they meet, irrespective of their sex. There are usually two kisses – first on the right cheek, then on the left. When greeting a person you don’t know, stick to a firm handshake.
2. It is usually forbidden to enter a church if you don’t have your upper arms and legs appropriately covered by clothes. Men should wear long pants; for women, a skirt within a couple of inches of the knee is acceptable. You may be asked to leave the church if you are wearing a sleeveless shirt or short pants. Locals often complain about tourists breaking this rule.
3. In a formal conversation, when talking to someone holding a university degree (any degree), you should address the person with the title of “Doctor,” not “Mr.” or “Ms.”
4. Like in many languages, in Italian there are two distinct ways of addressing people; one familiar, used with friends and relatives (“tu”), and one formal used with strangers (“lei”). It’s considered very impolite (even aggressive) to address people you jut met with the familiar “tu.”
6. When eating, it’s very rude to put a piece of bread on your plate. Leave it on the table beside the plate. Bread is not considered a part of the meal, but rather more like salt and pepper. This is why restaurants do not charge for bread. Also remember to break the bread with your hands and not with a knife.
7. When eating at a restaurant, asking for the check immediately after finishing a meal is generally seen as rude. Take the time to relax and exchange a few more words with the other people at the table.
8. After entering one’s home, it’s impolite to take your coat off is you’re not invited to do so. Ask first.
9. Putting one’s bag or purse on the floor is considered bad luck; you should hang it somewhere or put it on a chair.
10. Flowers should be offered in odd numbers only.
I found a list of Travel & Leisure’s Top 25 Hotel Spas in the continental US and Canada, as I browsed their October issue–just noting what cool places I will not be going to in the foreseeable future. Why did they include Canada in the parameters when no Canadian hotel spa made the list? To rub it in? (a little spa joke)
Hard to miss that five of the 25 hotel spas are in Arizona–four in Scottsdale and one in Phoenix:
Desert Ridge Resort & Spa
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
(Don’t let the names fool you. the Phoenician is in Scottsdale and it’s the Desert Ridge Resort that is in Phoenix.) Arizona has 20% of the best hotel spas on 3% of the United States land area. Why haven’t I been there yet?!
The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin ranks #5. Wisconsin’s pride and joy, you may only know the name Kohler because it is etched into your bathroom fixtures. I know Kohler because their Sunday brunch is etched in my brain.
Don’t we all deserve a spa weekend?
G and I spent four days in Paris in May last year, traveling via London. After returning home, I lost my Paris photos in a laptop disintegration. My chagrin over losing the pictures kept me from posting this journal.
I kept thinking the pictures might resurface. They must be on one of the digital camera discs, I thought. But how many times can I check the discs as if I don’t remember what’s not on them? How I did I back up all the digital photos from my gasping computer and miss only the Paris folder? Were the Paris photos on that one bad CD? Should I have really thrown that bad CD out?
Pondering these questions, I ignored the journal itself for months. At one point, I thought the journal might be a computer casualty too. (My laptop died three times during this period.)
Coming ’round to the conclusion that I was lucky to have the words still, I reread and edited the journal. The missing pictures flooded back into my imagination as I worked on the journal. I’m sorry the images of the trip are only in my head.
But here are the words to our four days in Paris.
We take a second look at London. Loved it the first time around, loved it even more the second.
Read my London Journal for the details.