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Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Toronto, Canada
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Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

We had a great trip...here's our trip report. Thanks to all who answered my questions before we left. I'll break it down using the day by day format to make it easier to read.

Toronto, Canada
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1. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

If you’re familiar with the expression “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”, you might know that this homily could well be applied to a trip to New Orleans. There’s so much to do, and it always turns out there’s so little time to do it in. In fact, I’m thinking of getting a t-shirt made for our next trip – “too much great music, too much great food & drink, too much damn walking, and too little time”, with check marks beside each sentence. Our guide on one of the tours we went on said it best – “you can’t get a bad meal in NOLA” and I believe he’s right.

My trip report won’t be “as cool” as some of the regulars on this forum….I had good intentions, and what I thought was a plan to see everything, and do everything in 5 nights and 4 days, but our trip was definitely not “Mission Accomplished”. So…there will have to be a next time. Poor me……Another trip to NOLA must be made (snicker).

I purposely picked the week before Christmas to visit NOLA for several reasons. First, the temperatures would be more moderate, and without the high humidity. Second was the low hotel rates…our “Papa Noel” rates at the Royal Sonesto for a Sunday to Friday stay was only $129.00 per night…and when I was offered a “R Club” upgrade at an additional $23 per night, it made it a fantastic deal…..breakfast for two included every day, and access to the lounge for a complimentary Happy Hour with munchies and drinks, a coupon book with restaurant and tour discounts, and a complimentary bottle of a very nice champagne.. Third were the lack of crowds, and finally, NOLA would be decked out in all it’s Christmas finery to get us in the Christmas spirit.

Our trip didn’t have a great beginning. We had a flight delay of 3 hours from Toronto….first the Air Canada plane came up “lame” with a “dodgy” engine, so they had to substitute equipment. Then, the First Officer mashed his hand in the planes door, so they had to find a replacement for him. Then we had to change gates….which meant a long trek from one side of the airport to the other. Our substitute plane was much smaller…we went from a 120 seat plane to one that seated about 60…one of the few times I actually boarded a plane from the tarmac, and only walked up 6 steps to get in. No movies and no audio entertainment. Our final delay was getting another flight attendant….her plane was delayed by weather getting in. Once in the air, the turbulence was unbelievable….so bad, our flight attendant took a bad knock on her forehead on one of the overhead bulkheads. She was pretty woozy for a bit. Even the captain remarked that it was the worst turbulence he’s encountered in 2 years, and this from someone who flies thousands of miles nearly every day.

Once we landed and collected our luggage, we went to ground transportation, and took a cab from the airport to the hotel. Some construction delays, even on a Sunday night…NOLA was getting ready for the Super Bowl, and was making a big effort to put on it’s best face for the expected visitors. Since Bourbon Street was closed to vehicle traffic when we arrived at the Sonesto, the cabbie dropped us off at the Conti Street entrance. Check in was quick and painless….first thing we noticed was how beautiful the Christmas decorations were….there must have been 20 tree’s on the property. Our room (on the 6th floor, overlooking the courtyard) was a little on the small side…double beds instead of the usual queens, but they were quite comfortable, and it was quiet. No coffee maker (as many have complained about), but, we didn’t find it a deal breaker, as we had access to “free” coffee in the R Club lounge every morning with breakfast.

By this time in the evening (9:00pm), we were getting pretty hungry, so we went and ate at the Desire Restaurant, which is one of 3 restaurants attached to the hotel. Our experience was pretty good….service was a little spotty, as our server Tony brought us grilled oysters, instead of the oysters on the half shell we ordered as our appetizer. Still…it was a mistake that turned out for the best… grilled oysters are a house specialty, grilled with garlic butter and parmesan cheese toppings. Margaret had her first “Hurricane”…usually; she’s a vodka & soda girl, but “when in Rome…..” I had a local beer…an Abita. I was not too impressed by it, but it was cold, and within reach, so, that makes it fine by me. Then for our entrée, I decided on another appetizer…the seafood gumbo, and Marg had a grilled oyster Po-Boy. I thought the gumbo was very good….Marg ended up wearing much of the Po-Boy….it was good, but messy. We were too full now, so we passed on dessert. Too tired as well from traveling and with full bellies as well, we headed to our room, and tucked ourselves in with big plans for next day.

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2. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Monday morning was bright and sunny, and it was already 65F at 8:00am, so after breakfast we headed out for our first walk in the French Quarter. We were on a mission….my Marg is major cat lover, and I had found a reference on Tripadvisor to a local artist, who produces what she calls her “Creole Cat” series…the “Creole Cat” being a black and white tuxedo cat depicted in various NOLA settings. I thought this would be a perfect Christmas gift for her. I assume this is a take-off on the “Blue Dog” series, by George Rodrigue, which we also found to be very prominently displayed in the galleries on Royal Street. We wandered in and out of every gallery on Royal Street, starting at the 300 block, until we finally found what we came for at the Cassell Gallery on the 800 block. We purchased two signed and numbered prints, and I tried to negotiate a better price on a striking oil painting of some Mardi Gras Indians and the Zulu Krewe, taken from a photograph, but the shopkeeper wouldn’t budge on price…she wouldn’t even throw in shipping back to Canada, so we left with the “Creole Cats” only. We then headed down to Jackson’s Square for lunch at Muriel’s. Marg had a roast beef po-boy (good, but messy), and I had the seafood gumbo (excellent). While at Muriel’s, we saw the table they always have set for the resident ghosts, and spent some time in the upstairs séance room, waiting for a sign from the spirit world. Marg thought she felt a presence, but I didn’t. We then headed back out into the French Quarter for more exploration, and to continue to look for some art representative of our trip. I had seen some Terrance Osbourne paintings on-line that intrigued me, but while I appreciated them, they just didn’t “speak” to me, and I couldn’t see me looking at them every day when we got home. I had some specific criteria in what I wanted….the art had to have a music theme, it had to represent the city, the culture & history, and the residents…and it had to have the right price. We also wanted to get some Christmas ornaments with a NOLA theme for our tree back home, and gifts for friends.

At 4:00pm we realized our blood alcohol lever was getting too low (snicker), so we stopped into Pat O’Brien’s. Margaret ordered a Hurricane, and I ordered a Cyclone. Bad idea on my part…hard liquor (2 oz of vodka), low blood sugar brought on by all the walking, combined with some pain medication I had taken earlier in the day for my bad knee, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I started to feel pretty woozy, and Marg got a bit concerned. She wanted to call a cab to take us back to the hotel, but I waited it out for a bit, and then started to feel better. We left, and headed back. The band playing at Krazy Korner sounded good from the street, so we went in and listened for a bit. I think they were called “The Blackouts” (somewhat appropriate, considering my physical state in Pat O’Brien’s)….they were just a rock cover band, which took requests, and bantered a lot with the audience. The guitar player and b*ss player were pretty funny, and kibitzed well off one another. People watching is always fun, and maybe more so in NOLA, and a couple came in that made you wonder, “What’s up with that?” He had to be in his late 60’s, and she was early 40’s, and clearly out to have some fun, dancing around him, teasing him, and not caring in the slightest who was watching her “performance”. I’d say she was about “3/4’s full”, to use an expression my college roommate coined We speculated…was she a “paid companion”, or perhaps was she once the “trophy wife” he married when he was 50, (after ditching Wife #1) and she was in her 20’s. Now he’s retired from his high paying CEO position and in NOLA for some fun, and she’s determined to keep his eyes off all the young “hotties” out there and being “traded in” herself. Anyway, we left her to it, tipped the band, and headed back.

After cleaning up in our room, we headed for the R Club lounge for some munchies and drinks. Happy Hour was from 5-7:00pm, and was well attended. People are usually friendly and less reserved with one another when they and you are on vacation, and we struck up conversations with several people in the lounge. One lady we met had an interesting background. She was a retired police detective from Philadelphia, and a big hockey fan, so she and I had lots to chat about. She was actually in the Spectrum the day the Flyers beat the touring Soviet Red Army hockey team back in 1976. She comes to NOLA several times a year….no husband or children, and nothing to tie her down, so she loves to travel, and had made friends with some of the locals as well.

I had decided we should go to the Funky Pirate that evening, so, we decided to eat again at the Desire Restaurant (more for convenience sake, as we were “knackered” from all the walking). We ordered (and got this time) some oysters on the half shell….they were huge, and meaty, and very fresh, served with a very hot horseradish sauce and a spicy/sweet cocktail sauce, and fresh bread and crackers. Marg went back to vodka and soda, and I switched to Michelob Ultra. For our entrée, we ordered to share the “Creole Sampler”…consisting of seafood gumbo, red beans & rice, jambalaya, and andouille sausage. It was a nice mixer, and gave us a small taste of traditional NOLA dishes. Maybe there are better places to eat these dishes, but, we found them tasty and very enjoyable.

We really were exhausted from all the walking, but there was no way we weren’t going to hear some music, as we were determined to go to the Funky Pirate. We hailed a cab, and he took us on a backstreet route to our destination. The band (Infusion) had just started their set, so Marg ordered a “Hand Grenade”, and I stuck with Michelob. We were seated right up front….only a few people were there, but the band played some great “cool jazz”…even some Miles Davis. Excellent players all, with a standout front man on woodwinds…particularly on tenor and soprano sax. I was really into it….we don’t get to hear music like that in Toronto, except in a concert hall setting, or at our two jazz festivals we have in the summer months. I think the band noticed us, and fed somewhat off our enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment. After the set, the drummer (Bernard) and keyboard player came over to talk to us. Once they found out we were from Canada, it turned out they had played and toured a lot in Canada “back in the day”, as members of The Temptations touring back up band. We stayed and listened to another set, and then someone came in and set up a table with red beans and rice, for everyone to sample. We were stuffed, but it smelled terrific….I wished I had room to try some. During the break, I asked the drummer where we could hear some really good funk music, along the lines of Tower of Power with a “kick-*ss” horn section. As it turned out, a couple of the musicians (drummer & b*ss player) from the band (Ka-Nections) playing at Fat Katz up the street showed up on their break for the free red beans and rice, and they told us they played some T of P charts. We waited till the start of “Infusions” next set, and took our leave, dropping a fiver in the tip jar

We walked the 2 blocks to Fat Katz, and arrived just as “Ka-Nections” was taking the stage for their next set. The b*ss player noticed us coming in, and nodded as we found some seats at a table near the back, and then the band broke into my favourite T of P chart, “What is Hip?”. I have to say… they “cooked”. The 3 piece horn section (trumpet, trombone, and tenor sax) just “screamed” through the chart, with the trumpet player nailing all the high notes, and the tenor player taking an extended, exciting, well thought out solo in the middle. I don’t think the crowd really knew what to make of it, judging by their very lukewarm reaction. The next song was “Ladies Night” by Kool & the Gang, which, while a song I enjoy as well, isn’t even close to the same ballpark musically as “What is Hip?” However, the crowd liked it, and many got up to dance. I guess even in NOLA, you play what’s popular, and pays the bills, even if it doesn’t “stretch” you musically.

We stayed till nearly the end of the set, finished our drinks (being from Toronto, we still hadn’t got used to the fact we could take our drinks with us in a “Go-Cup”), and tipped the band on our way out. Bourbon Street seemed busy for a Monday night, although I’m sure it would seem slow to a local. We meandered our way back to the Sonesto, sticking our noses into a few other clubs to listen to the music for a song, but nothing really intrigued us, so we kept going. A dancer in front of the “Little Darlings” adult entertainment club beckoned us to come in, and flashed me her breasts. Welcome to NOLA!! Finally, our tired legs carried us back to our NOLA home, and we collapsed to bed, and delicious sleep.

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3. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Tuesday, after breakfast and coffee in the R Club, we decided to take a van tour of NOLA, The Bell Captain recommended Celebration Tours. We were picked up at 10:00am in front of our hotel by “Huey”, along with 2 other couples from different hotels, and then we were off. We drove by all the local landmarks…Jackson Square, St Louis Cathedral, the French Market, and then the driver took us out to the 17th Canal Levee breech site, with “drive-bys” of Harry Connick Jr’s Musician Village, the Brad Pitt “Make it Right” housing projects, the Metaire Cemetery, St Charles Ave, the Garden District, and the Central Business District, past The Fairgrounds, and the houses of some famous residents such as Anne Rice, Sandra Bullock, Ernie Manning, and Nick Cage. “Huey” was ok as a tour guide, but he didn’t seem to want to deviate much from his prepared script to answer questions or engage in a back and forth conversation. I was a little disappointed in the tour, as I thought we would be able to get out of the van more, and take some pictures, but we only got out 2/3rd’s of the way through for a “biology break” at City Park. We got a coffee and beignet while there…I wasn’t impressed by the beignet, but realized after we had them later in our trip at Café Du Monde, that it was a poor representative of a beignet. As far as rating the tour, I gave it a 6 out of 10…..it gave me a good idea of where we wanted to return to for a more detailed visit, and a general “lay of the land” of the city. We didn’t go into the Lower 9th Ward…Huey told us that the residents there had petitioned city council to stop the buses of tourists, as they were tired of getting gawked at, and that reasoning was fine with me. I’d seen enough of the devastation on television, and there were still plenty of reminders of Katrina & “The Federal Flood” to keep memories raw. Cost was $49 per person for a 3 hour tour.

For this evening’s musical entertainment, we had decided to hear Jason Marsalis at the Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse venue at the hotel. We also had a coupon for 2 for 1 appetizer’s there, so we listened to Jason’s first set, and then ordered the appetizers. I ordered the BBQ Shrimp, and Marg had the calamari. Marg also ordered a Pimms Cup…I stuck with beer, but tried her Pimms Cup, and found it delicious. My BBQ Shrimp was very tasty, as was Marg’s calamari, served with a side of Pico De Gallo dip. Oh…and the music? Well, it was excellent, after what I thought was a bit of a shaky start. Jason plays drums in his trio, with piano and acoustic bass….they stuck to “the standards” but, the solos were new and fresh and inventive, but more importantly, they “swung” and were melodic. I don’t enjoy it when solos get “too far out there”….I call it “playing scales”. It must be hard for Jason to ply his craft in NOLA, as he represents the 3rd generation of NOLA’s first family of music, and there must be constant comparisons with the more well known family members.

We started to get our “second wind”, and decided to head over to Frenchmen’s Street. Our waitress assured us we would enjoy it, as Frenchmen’s is where all the locals go to hear good music, and leave Bourbon Street to the tourists. Lots of famous clubs there…the Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor, Café Negril, Blue Nile, Maison…all within a block of one another. A 10 minute cab ride costing $8.00 including tip, and we were there. The Spotted Cat was tiny….much smaller than it looks as depicted on Treme….and so crowded that patrons were spilling out into the street. No place to sit either…and after all that walking, standing was not an option. We headed to Snug Harbor…Davell Crawford was playing (he appeared in a couple of episodes of Treme as himself), but the cover was $15 each, with no guarantee of a place to sit down. We passed, and headed over to Café Negril, to hear the John Lisi Band. It was full of college/university age kids, but we got a seat in the back. No originals played while we there…just covers….and we chuckled as the band played The Beatles “Come Together”, and all the youngsters sang and danced like it was something brand new they just had discovered all by themselves.

After the set ended, we left and headed over to Maison, but it too had a crowd lined up into the street, and a cover, so we gave up, hailed a cab, and headed back to “NOLA Base Camp”. That turned out to be an interesting trip…our lady cab driver must have misheard me when I gave her the name of the Royal Sonesto…she only heard the “Royal” part, and was heading to the wrong hotel before I realized her mistake, and redirected her. She did cut us a deal on the meter fare, and reduced it to $6 from $12…but I tipped her anyway, despite the mistake. It was late, exhaustion had set in, and we had been going since 7:30am.

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4. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Wednesday morning also turned out to be a beautiful day, so after breakfast, we headed down to Café Du Monde, and had the coffee and beignets. They were much, much better than the ones at City Park. We had previously purchased tickets for the “Hop On, Hop Off” double decker tour bus, so we caught the first bus at 9:30am right in front of Jackson’s Square. We sat up top, enjoying the bright sun and light breeze as we cruised NOLA streets. This was a much better tour….you could “hop off” at a stop, take a more detailed look around, and another bus would pick you in 30 minutes. We did the whole tour circuit (about 90 minutes in length) and the second time around, decided to get off at the World War Two Museum. Admission is a bit pricey at $50 each, but we also purchased the combo ticket, which included the 4-D movie experience “Beyond All Boundaries”, narrated by Tom Hanks. I’m a bit of a history nut, and own the Blue Ray editions of “Band of Brothers”, and “The Pacific”, so I was skeptical they could pack the entire war into 45 minutes, but it was an interesting experience, and worth the cost IMO. The exhibits didn’t sugarcoat the war, and some exhibits examined in depth the racism within the American forces toward their own African-American soldiers, and the reciprocal racial hatred between the American forces, and the Japanese. There were a lot of exhibits that focused on personal stories, which were fascinating, and very emotionally moving. I could have stayed much longer. We had a light lunch and a drink at “The American Sector” canteen restaurant, which is in partnership with NOLA chef John Besh. Marg tried her first Sazarac, I had a taste…an interesting drink, and we ordered Happy Hour appetizers…some pulled pork sliders, meat pies, and duck wings with Korean BBQ sauce. At 75 cents each, they were a tasty and cheap snack. We then caught the tour bus, and rode it back to our starting point at Jackson Square. We didn’t feel like walking back to the Sonesto, so I hailed one of the numerous pedi-cab taxis and off we went. The two of us made a pretty big load, but the driver was a good sport about it, and I tipped him well for his efforts when we got back to the Sonesto.

We had got a lot of sun that day, and we didn’t think to use sun block or wear hats. I was getting pretty pink looking, but we cleaned up, and headed to Happy Hour in the R Club. It was then that the most unsettling thing happened. The retired Philadelphia cop and us were the only ones left in the room, and we were talking about our days activities, and the subject of parenting came up. Marg remarked that there was a couple who brought 2 small children and a toddler in a stroller into the movie “Beyond All Boundaries”, even though there was a warning on the door and tickets that it was not appropriate for small children under 10 years of age. The noise and special effects scared them, they cried and made a fuss, and Marg remarked the parents should have never brought them in the theatre. It was then, that the room hostess, who hadn’t been part of the conversation, but was listening, verbally attacked Marg, asking who the hell she thought she was, to judge them (the parents), and their parenting skills. She was really angry, and the Philly cop was as surprised and shocked as we were at this over the top, completely inappropriate reaction from her. I tried to defuse the situation, and not make it worse, but, in retrospect, I realize now I should have immediately stood up for Marg, got in this woman’s face, and reported the incident to hotel management. We went back to our room, and Marg got extremely upset. I was getting pretty upset myself, and wanted to go back up to the R Club and confront her myself, or make a complaint to the hotel manager, but Marg thought she might lose her job, and she didn’t want that to happen. After a bit, Marg composed herself, and we went back out to Fat Katz to hear some more music from KA-Nections, but our hearts just weren’t in it. The shooter girls there were extremely aggressive selling their drinks, and we both had one, just to make them go away, but when she said the price for two shooters was $18, I knew we had been taken advantage of. We left, and made an early night of it.

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5. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Thursday was our last full day. Marg didn’t want to go to breakfast in the R Club, so I let her sleep, and went up myself, ate, and came back with coffee, muffins, and yogurt for her. The room attendant that we had the run-in with was there….I ignored her, and she ignored me, except to ask if I was finished when she cleared the plates off my table. I just stared at her.

I had seen some art I liked on a previous outing, so, as this was our last day, I headed back to the Royal Street galleries. I had seen a Currier & Ives print of New Orleans, circa 1890, showing tall ships and steamships on the river, and docked, off-loading freight, which I purchased, as well as some prints of Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, and Charlie Parker, superimposed over French Quarter scenes of Preservation Hall. They were very inexpensive ($10 each), and I plan to put them in nice frames around the Currier & Ives print in our upper hallway. This will go well with a theme I already have at our house, artist renderings of old maps of some of the places we’ve been and loved visiting….Jamaica, and the Baja Peninsula. Marg did some more window shopping, and then we headed to Mulates for a lunch of Cajun food. Marg had some sort of fancy mixed drink, and I stuck with Michelob. We ate lightly….we wanted to be hungry for our “fancy dinner” at “Mr. B’s Bistro” later that evening…I had the BBQ Shrimp appetizer, and Marg had the Crayfish Etouffee. My BBQ shrimp was heavy on Worcestershire in the roux…I like it more with garlic, butter base & pepper, but it still was very tasty. We then shared some bread pudding…it’s not a favourite of mine (my mother used to make it, and hers was horrible), as I wanted the Key Lime Pie, but the bread pudding was more traditional for NOLA as a dessert choice. Marg thought it was very good…I’m still unimpressed.

Our “Hop On-Hop Off” tour pass was still valid (it’s for 48 hours), so we went to the stop just up the street from Mulates, and waited. I had seen it go by while we were eating, so we had it timed perfectly…we only waited 3 minutes before it came around the corner. We “hopped on”, and rode it over to the French Market. Thursday was bright, sunny, but very cool and breezy, but we still braved the top story. The French Market is really just a flea market, but, it definitely had a NOLA feel to it, from the vendors, and some of the unique products for display.

It was while at the French Market that we had a very emotional encounter with one of the vendors. When she learned we were Canadian, she told us that the area of the city where she lived after Katrina took on 9 feet of water. She (her name was Jennifer and, coincidentally, she also bartends at the Funky Pirate) was stranded on her roof, and the first emergency responders to reach her were a group of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) volunteers, who came down on their own dime to help out. She was still bitter that her own government left them for nearly 3 days, and the first responders who finally saved her were not even from her own country. I’ve seen both Spike Lee documentaries on Katrina (When the Levees Break & If the Lord is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise) and am a big fan of HBO’s Treme television show, so I think I’m pretty sensitive to what happened to the residents of NOLA, but, her raw emotion, and gratitude to me, as a Canadian citizen, 6 years after the storm, had us both tearing up. She came out from behind her vendor table and gave us both big hugs…real hugs, the kind you give a dear friend, not someone you just met 5 minutes ago. I was very touched.

I then asked her opinion of the Treme show….did she like it, did she think it represented what happened accurately, and how people got back on with their lives, and she was very positive about it. I’d have to say she might be in the minority within NOLA residents…I had been getting the distinct impression that “Treme” is a bit of a controversial subject in NOLA…Bernard (drummer I met at the Funky Pirate) “clammed right up” when I asked if he had ever been on the show, as he has a very distinctive appearance, and had that “where have I seen you before” look about him. He said “they asked me, and I said no”, and that was all he would say about it. The room attendants at the R Club Room at the Royal Sonesto didn’t seem too thrilled by it either. I guess it brings up too much raw emotion in people who would much rather try to put it behind them, rather then be reminded each Sunday night what they went through - someone remarked to me it’s like “pickin’ at a scab” to watch it.

Some other people had come to Jennifer’s booth to buy her wares (clay trivets & coasters with images of NOLA landmarks and insignia of NOLA groups, such as the Treme Brass Band), so we excused ourselves, and continued down the aisle. We went all the way to the end, and then circled back. I purchased some more art prints, and two t-shirts(I almost never buy “vacation” t-shirts, as I prefer something more lasting to remind me of our trips), but these were very nice. We then came back to Jennifer’s booth, and purchased 2 coasters, one with the Spotted Cat sign, one with the Jean’s Absinthe House sign, and a trivet with the Treme Brass Band insignia on them. Another hug and she wished us well, and told us to come back again.

We proceeded west down Decatur Street, window shopping, went into Central Grocery, browsed, but never purchased anything, and then stopped at a café for a libation. As the afternoon had worn on, it was getting colder, made worse by the increasing wind. We started to look around for a cab, or a pedi-cab, but they all seemed to have disappeared. We pressed onward, and finally we were back at the hotel.

It’s fitting that our last night in NOLA, was the night we had our very best dining experience, possibly the very best dining experience I’ve ever had. After changing for dinner, we walked from the Sonesto over to Mr. B’s Bistro. It was about 7:30pm, we didn’t have reservations, but we got seated immediately (for some reason, ahead of 2 other couples who were waiting as well), at a table next to the piano, overlooking a window on Royal Street, with a view of the Hotel Monteleone. One of our two waiters (Len) appeared immediately, presented us menus, and took our drink order. Water and delicious bread appeared. Our other waiter (Giorgio) appeared, asked us if we had any questions about the menu items, and made some recommendations. I had already made up my mind I was going with their signature dish, BBQ Shrimp, but everything looked so good. Marg finally decided on the filet. In what seemed like only minutes, our food appeared; along with my bib (if you order the BBQ shrimp, you’re told they are presented with the heads, legs, and shell still on, so removing them can be messy). We dug in. The “shrimp” were actually more like prawns, huge, and there was at least 8 of them in the most wonderful roux I had every tasted. Butter, garlic, pepper…something else… in just the right proportions…..yum….with the most wonderful fresh baked bread ever for dipping. It was messy…thank heavens for the bib, and a bit difficult at first to remove the heads, shells, and legs, as the dish was served very hot, but as the dish cooled, I soon got into a rhythm…heads first, legs, tail, and then the rest of the shell, with a bite of roux soaked bread to accompany each bite. Marg commented her filet was like butter, thick cut, and cooked perfectly to medium rare, with garlic potato medallions, on a bed of wilted, seasoned spinach. Finally, we were sated, our dishes whisked away, my bib removed, and some lemons, and hot clothes to clean my roux soaked fingers and beard were brought. I now know how a cat feels, when he cleans his face and whiskers after a meal. A dessert menu was presented…again, everything looked so good, but I was surprised at the absence of a key lime pie offering. Still…it hardly mattered. We passed on the signature bread pudding, and went with the pecan pie to share. I have to say, their pastry chef is a genius with a crust, which is what really makes or breaks a pie for me. You can have a great filling, but if the crust is bad, the dessert is ruined. But this pie had a great filling as well…sweet, but not so sweet it was cloying, fresh pecans topping it, with a side of restaurant made, delicious vanilla bean ice cream.

This had truly been one, if not the best, great meals of my life. The service, the food, the ambience…were all superb. I even kidded Giorgio that they must have thought we were celebrities of some sort, the service was so good. Also, I thought it was reasonably priced…$80, with one mixed drink each….considering I can’t get out of Ruth Chris’s for less than $200 before tip; Mr. B’s Bistro is a great deal in NOLA. I left a $25 tip for Giorgio & Len, our waiters, because they deserved it, and as we leaving, Giorgio (a truly professional waiter) caught us at the door, and shook my hand, and thanked me for coming, and the generous tip. He then gave me his card, and told me to go to the restaurant website, if I wanted to try to make the BBQ Shrimp at home. I’ll look, and perhaps I’ll try, but I’m sure I’ll never be able to recreate that wonderful roux.

It was now 10:00pm. We’d been going hard (for us) for 5 days….walking, shopping, drinking (I’m a lightweight now, at 54, when it comes to drinking), eating, music…there just hadn’t been a free minute. Someone we shared an elevator with at the hotel had told us about a little bar on Canal Street, just some little hole in the wall, where you could hear great blues guitar. We headed there, but, it had got quite cold and windy, and we weren’t really dressed for it, so we turned back, and headed back down Bourbon Street towards the Sonesto. And, for the first time in NOLA, I got a little nervous about our surroundings. Large groups of rowdy young men, all drinking from Mickey bottles, some smoking weed, and some smoking what I thought might have been meth or crack in glass pipes. Aggressive panhandlers accosted us and not politely either. We crossed the street three times in two blocks to avoid them. It certainly soured the evening for us.

Once back at the hotel, we popped the bottle of complimentary champagne, and watched some television. Friday was our travel day, and even though our flight home wasn’t till 5:00pm, checkout was noon, and I had forgotten to ask for a late checkout. I went online, and checked the Air Canada website for any delays, and also the Weather Network for Toronto.

Toronto, Canada
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6. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Friday was our last “kick at the can”. We rose at 8:00am, had a breakfast at the R Club, brought coffee, muffins and fruit back to the room for snacks, and packed. If the room attendant we had the run-in with still expected a tip, she was sorely mistaken. However, I did tip the very gracious gentlemen attendant, in her full view, so I’m sure she got the message her big mouth negated any possible tip from us. She was lucky we didn’t make a complaint with hotel management, but, Marg was worried she might get terminated over this incident, and she thought it would be “bad karma” if we complained and that happened. We had brought one piece of checked luggage to share, along with our carry-on, and in anticipation of bringing back our souvenirs. We showered, took our time, enjoyed the coffee, packed, called for a bellman, and went downstairs to check out right at noon. After settling our bill, we had the hotel store our luggage, and went for another walk over to Royal Street. Marg had seen a faux fur short poncho/cape/stole earlier in the week that she liked very much, at a shop called “Sashay” and I was still one Christmas present light for her. While there, I also spotted a large silver cross that also incorporated the Fleur De Lis design, that I thought made it a unique piece. When Marg wasn’t looking, I paid for it, and slipped it in my pocket. I then paid for the cape, with a wink to the cashier, and we headed back to the Sonesto. On our way, I saw a street musician who looked really familiar. Turned out, he was guy who played Sophia’s much older street musician boyfriend on Treme. Marg wasn’t so sure, so she went over to ask him when he was finished a song he was playing with two other musicians. He looked a bit sheepish, but confirmed that was him. Marg kidded him, and told him she was glad he got dumped, as he was way too old for Sophia (this was all a plot line for the show, of course). We all laughed, and we continued back to the hotel.

At 2:00pm I used the lobby computer again to check that our flight was still on time. It was, so we had the doorman get us a taxi, and headed to the airport. Traffic slowed in several places, even at that time of day, because of the construction. I had expected much bigger crowds on the Friday before Christmas, but we rolled right up to the Air Canada desk. It then turned out our checked luggage was overweight by 8 pounds, and the additional charge was going to go from $25 to $100. So, I had to open it, and transfer some articles from it to our carry-on. It probably was the trivet and clay coasters. Luckily, no one came up behind us while I was doing it (how embarrassing that would have been), so I delayed no one, and on the re-weigh it came up 3 pounds under. Of course, now our carry-on was filled to bursting.

The rest of the trip was smooth and uneventful. Our plane was on time, we each got aisle seats beside each other, with no one in the window seats, I got to watch 4 episodes of “Big Bang Theory” (my guilty pleasure) on the seatback TV screens, we sailed through customs and baggage claim, the Park & Fly van was waiting for us when we came out, and our car was warmed up, detailed, and waiting for us at the Park & Fly valet parking terminal. Traffic was a bit heavy on the way home, but we soon burst in the door, surprised the cats, and our NOLA trip was “in the books”.

Blenheim, Canada
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7. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Wow Bucky! Thanks for the very long and wonderful trip report! Glad you guys had such a good time and lots of good food and drinks along the way. The only downer seems to have been that room attendant who couldn't keep her mouth shut and stay out of people's personal conversations. I liked the story from the lady at the French Market too. We Canadians are pretty good people : )

So you HAVE to go to New Orleans huh? That's the way it always goes for the rest of us too! There is always way too much food and drinks to get through to do it all in one (or 10) trips! Have you thoiught about when you'll make the next trek to Nola?

Not that I mean to be knit pickey in any way, shape, or form but the hotel you stayed at is the Royal Sonesta--not Sonesto! Hopefully while you were there you got a chance to talk to your doorman Malcolm too. He really is one of the absolute gems of New Orleans!

Thanks for sharing all of the fun and adventures!

Cliff Island, Maine
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8. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Fantastic report! I lived every part of it.

Vancouver, Wa
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9. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Thanks Bucky....that was really fun!

Willington...
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10. Re: Trip Report - Royal Sonesto December 16th-21st

Thanks for my afternoon reading, that was a great trip report.