08 AUG 2016: “Just hop onto the St. Charles streetcar - it’ll take you right where you wanna go,” grins my hotel porter pointing to the legendary people mover buzzing by me in this city dubbed The Big Easy.

My introduction to New Orleans on my recent visit sure was big and easy.   N’Awlins history is full of amazing tales with southern twists. It’s also guaranteed to make you say “that’s hot” pretty much anytime. Whether you get that hot flash after biting into a Tabasco doused nibbly, or from quaffing an old fashioned Bloody Mary prepared by a ship’s bartender as he flicks more hot Tabasco into the ice cold glass - New Orleans is hot.  

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Louis Armstrong Airport, the Superdome and the convention center, as the city hosted North America’s largest travel trade show, IPW.  Trade show attendees jostled with the usual tourism folk who head south during the blistering hot summer season. And every night was party night. Street weddings marched through the French Quarter, bar stools filled up at the landmark pubs, and maitre d’s sharply eyed the growing queues at their fine dining establishments.

Don’t have the time for an organized group tour or the dough, then consider hopping onto the St. Charles streetcar for a scintillating ride through streets known for shotgun houses and antebellum mansions. These unique homes, a feature of New Orleans, can be viewed from the vintage streetcar for the price of a transit fare.

Away from the city revellers on busy Bourbon Street lies the fragrant serene streetscape of the Garden District where a whole other world unfurls.  My first stop there was the Crescent City Skating Rink. “What’s a rink doing here?” I asked an employee inside The Garden District Bookshop, renowned author Anne Rice’s favourite bookshop when she lived there.

“This wasn’t used for ice but was a roller rink,” laughs the bookseller as I perused the inventory rife with books by Rice and by Fight Club creator, Chuck Palahniuk, that were nestled by a string of autographed posters and author memorabilia, one of which depicted a sawed off arm dangling by the bookcases. “That’s Chuck Palahniuk’s – he’s one of our bestsellers.”

And so my quest for the old and odd went.

Behind the historic facades are tales of wonder and awe. On Fourth Street, the Cornstalk Fence House with its whimsical fence of cornstalks, which perhaps exemplifies the lady of the house missing her family’s cornfields in her native Iowa.

For eerie views, the Greek Revival townhouse considered a transitional architecture for its Italianate addition and rosette patterned fence was once home to Anne Rice, who penned, “The Witching Hour” novels while living there. And nearby stood Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel where actor Nicolas Cage of the blood sucking vampire character in the film, Vampire’s Kiss among other roles once resided.

The big surprise in the Garden District: The restaurant Commander’s Palace owned by the esteemed Brennan family (no shorts policy) which is across the Lafayette Cemetery (free open daily until 4 pm)

Overnights:

Edgar Degas House: Museum, Courtyard and Inn This heritage property built in 1852 is located beyond the French Quarter in the tree-lined quieter Esplanade Ridge neighbourhood enveloped by 200-year old Live Oaks. The proprietors have created a charming bed and breakfast which has its own house museum. The fabulously appointed setting is also an ideal wedding venue for clients interested in tying the knot with a true Deep South theme.

The house’s provenance is the other big score.  Reportedly the only house anywhere in the world which was a home to the French impressionist artist Edgar Degas that’s open to the public, guests can stay at the heritage home and enjoy the popular southern breakfast followed by a house tour. If you’re lucky Degas’ great grand niece Joan Prados, a tour guide, will lead the way.


Westin New Orleans Canal Place For a fashionista’s fix and someone who doesn’t want to fight the crowds around Bourbon Street, this upscale hotel chain has thought of it all especially when it comes to hosting the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) crowd.

Located in the Shops at Canal Place , home to luxe brands like Saks Fifth Avenue and Armani with a Starbucks attached, guests have a choice of two elevator accesses and are beamed up to the 11th floor main lobby for their check-ins.

The 437-room hotel has business services like a small business center for printing boarding passes and meeting rooms.  For pool buffs, the rooftop pool is hands down the finest pool in town simply for its birds’ eye view of the Vieux Carre and the mighty Mississippi with the legendary crescent.

Intercontinental New Orleans  The competitive hotel scene in a city like New Orleans is evident as soon as you arrive with the vast selection of tony B&Bs, boutique hotels, and large hotel chains.

But immeditely upon arrival at this downtown hotel on St. Charles Avenue you quickly forget the competition and quietly smile to yourself. As soon as you arrive, the attentive front desk staff welcome you, and let you know they are available to help. Yes, that’s the usual phrase you’ve heard before from other leading properties but it’s what happened next that made my intro to this amazing property and city even nicer.

The concierge upon hearing my penchant for gardens hands me a simple printout, “Garden District Self-Guided Walking Tour,” smiles and tells me to have a good time.

I head to the hotel entrance, spot the porter and ask for some directions. Right on cue, appearing before me there was the iconic green #12 streetcar. He too tells me to have a good time, and says, “You’ll need a dollar and a quarter,” and then... hands me two quarters to go with my dollar clenched in my fist as I was zipping past him again.

That’s New Orleans, the local charm, warm generosity, and folks who just want to make sure you experience true southern hospitality.

“Let the good times roll,” I say.

Watch for New Orleans Part 2 – next week.

New Orleans
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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