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Friday, August 28, 2009

Laissez les bon temps rouller!

I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't visit New Orleans until November last year. Me and the hub decided to go there over Thanksgiving, and I have to say, I would swap out turkey for gumbo any time.

We stayed in the French Quarter, at the Hotel St. Marie ( on Toulouse Street (here's the view from our balcony). It was raining off and on the entire time, which they say is typical in the city. I liked it; it lended a nice and shiny dreariness to the streets and old buildings.

New Orleans is a great place to walk, and we dashed between porches, balconies and overhangs, following the straightforward paths set out in Walking Tours of Old New Orleans by Stanley Clisby Arthur. It's a great book, which deserves to be read on the plane for the details of the buildings and tales about the previous owners, then used as a guide for walking through the best areas.
You can't talk about New Orleans without talking about food: po'boys, macque choux, jambalaya. And we ate as much as we could, convincing ourselves that it was an American right during Thanksgiving. And New Orleans needed the money.
We made sure we went Coop's Place (1109 Decatur Street,, a tiny bar that we heard about from Clarence Hill, owner of Clarence's Taste of New Orleans in Edgewood, Maryland ( He used to work at Coop's, and he gave us a list of things to try (jambalaya with rabbit was at the top of the list), as well as the name of a waitress there. Turns out, she was the only waitress there, and she didn't seem particularly impressed that we knew Clarence ("Oh, Clarence. I just saw him six months ago," she said, as if our carried greeting would have been more welcome if she hadn't seen him in years.) We weren't particularly impressed with Coop's either--the bathrooms were too dirty and the jambalaya too smoky for us. But don't take my word for it--people love it. I might have gotten the wrong dish. Or the wrong waitress.
We got dessert at Cafe du Mond, although neither of us drinks coffee. We were in town, and it just seemed like we had to go. The beignets were good, and the people watching was even better.
Our favorite place of the weekend was a tourist trap: the Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street. It was in a great old building, pleasantly run-down, with murals on the walls and great high ceilings. We loved the gumbo, of course, but also liked the fried alligator, and wished we had made a meal of just that. We went there for our last foodie experience, too...a big take out box of bread pudding, which was still warm when we got back to our hotel room.
It may have been touristy, but that's what they say New Orleans needs...more tourists. Best of luck to them as they continue to rebuild from the storm. It's a crappy anniversary to celebrate, but New Orleans will use any excuse for a party.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Whoopie! A Trip to Lancaster's Newest Adaptive Reuse Hotel

I spent the last two days in the new Marriott on Penn Square, in lovely downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania ( ).

First, I should tell you that I like Lancaster. Sure, I can get surly when stuck behind a slow moving buggy, and I'm trying to get to a 9:00 meeting. But generally, I like the plain people and their fancy desserts. I'm a big fan of whoopie pies, for example, and began thinking about them as soon as I got details on my meeting.

But Lancaster city is a little different than Lancaster County. It is a city, after all, and although it has some beautiful buildings, they are hard to enjoy when you're clutching your purse and running from a pack of laughing teenagers.

I didn't see the teenagers, but I felt them lurking around the corners as I pulled into the parking garage at 10:00pm, walked to the nearest stairs, and found myself dumped into a very dark section of Duke Street. There were no street lights at all, and I was soon running to the better lit part of the block, hauling my little weekender bag behind me.

I ended up walking (read: sprinting) around most of the block, and felt a little more comfortable as I closed in on Annie Bailey's, the little Irish Pub next to the hotel. That section of the street, even though it was just a half a block away from the garage, felt much safer...which is the effect that top-shelf whiskeys often have on Historic Travel Girl.

I finally found myself in the lobby of the Marriott, checking in to the new "luxury hotel." It had a nice boutique hotel feel, even though the lobby was huge (the hotel is in the old Watt and Shand building, which took up almost an entire city block). But the purple chairs and chic sofas didn't feel like standard Marriott, and the bar inside the front door had a pretty hip vibe for a town full of Amish people.

My room--which I was told was an executive suite, although it looked like the other rooms I visited during my time there--was larger than usual, and furnished with Marriott's latest color scheme of crisp white bedding with splashes of warm gold. The bath was their latest, too, with the tailored looking wallpaper, modern mirror and sconces, and granite counter.

And the nice Bath and Body Works travel sizes, that I immediately hid in my suitcase, hoping that the cleaning staff would replace them with a full set the next day (they did). As the lady in the commercial says...I haven't bought that stuff in years.

Outside of my own room, my favorite part of the hotel was the small balcony area on the second and third floors, which overlooked the facade of an 18th century brick home. The bowed wall on the building was gorgeous (and those bowed window panes were probably more expensive than my last kitchen remodel), and the crew did a nice job restoring the woodwork and copper roofing. I heard rumors during my stay that Marriott plans to turn the building into suites. That "building within a building" look reminded me of my last visit to the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, except those buildings were fake, and this baby was the real thing. Kudos to Marriott for spending the extra money to save it, and work it into the plan. It's a nice addition to the view outside many of the windows, where you can really appreciate the detailed plasterwork on the walls of the old department store.

Marriott also honored the past with an archeological exhibit on the first floor. It's close to the convention center (which I didn't get to see), as well as to the entrance to the parking garage, which is what I used when I checked out, instead of the scary sidewalk. It's really a nice set up, if only they invested in a few signs to tell you how to take advantage of it on the way in, and not just on the way out.

So, two days after my check-in, I returned home. All in all, it was an above average stay. I'd give it an extra star if they just added whoopie pies to the room service menu.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Historic Hotels by the Sea

It's hot in Baltimore. Fry-an-egg on the sidewalk, bake-cookies-in-your-car hot. The kind of hot where historic travel girl likes to sit in her office, and daydream about...the ocean. Or the Gulf. Or any body of water bigger than the water cooler right outside her door.So, this morning I thought I'd daydream about some of the best historic hotels I've visited on the water.

The Hotel Del Coronado (or Hotel Del, as the locals like to call it) was the inspiration for Oz in Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz series, and it is as magical and fanciful as the Emerald City (the residents are somewhat taller). Just looking at the red spires against the blue sky makes me feel like Marilyn Monroe...even if I don't Like It Hot (hey, some do, some don't).

Congress Hall in Cape May is as stately as the Del is whimsical. With its seeming thousands of white columns lining its tall porches, Congress Hall makes me feel small, and my problems feel smaller. A nice lemondrop martini from their chic bar doesn't hurt, either.

Because historic travel girl's budget doesn't always allow for the constantly dropping dollar, it's nice to find a bit of European elegance in nearby British Columbia. The Fairmont Empress is refined without being snooty, and the view of the Inner Harbor is sparkling and perfect. Just like the mimosas at breakfast.

Gumbo tastes good, even on a hot day. And it tastes the best at the Hotel Galvez, right on the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas. Last time I stayed was Mardi Gras 2007, and I could watch the parade on Seawall right from my hotel room. If I had thought ahead, I could have ordered gumbo as well. The Galvez has a new spa this year...that might even trump the gumbo for me.

Sigh. Back to work.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Eating My Way Across Galveston, TX, Part One

Look, historic travel girl loves to stay in old houses. But do I want to subsist on a diet of Victorian-era excesses...with exotic new dishes and lots of courses? Uhh...YES!!!

Luckily, Galveston does not disappoint the hungry historic traveler. Here are just a few of the options (there are tons more--coming soon!)

Yaga's Cafe and Bar. 2314 The Strand, . Now, if you're thinking this is some hippy dippy place where the staff all wears flip-flops and the kids congregate like're right. But in the best way.

Yaga's is laid-back and casual, but the food is great and the prices seem made for a college student's budget. I like the seafood taquitos...lightly fried, filled with fresh pink shrimp, and with two lick-the-plate sauces. The wait staff is always friendly (they actually played with my three-year-old nephew when we took him there), and it's cool to sit in a window seat and look out at all the beautiful cast-iron buildings that line the Strand like sentries to the past.

La King's Confectionery. 2323 The Strand, . The inside here is as cool as the outside, and both are as cool as a black-and-white shake (that's East Coast lingo for a chocolate shake made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup). It's 1950 inside, from the mile-long candy counter, to the sweetheart ice cream parlor chairs and tables, to the well-kept waiter with their little black bow ties. And the ice cream and candy is su-weet.

Mosquito Cafe. 628 14th Street, . Moving off the Strand, and into the gorgeous East End Historic district, you have to check out this spot. It's a survivor of the 1900 storm, as well as a 1980's biker clientele, not to mention Hurricane Ike in 2008. The Mosquito has come out better than ever...with fresh, interesting meals and fabu desserts. I like the quiche of the day, followed up with a piece of lemon cake; the historic hubby opts for the curry chicken salad and anything chocolate (although he's been known to eat a scone as well...and he loves them).

Speaking of scones, homemade vegetable scones are the base for the amazing Mosquito Benedict, a gastronomic skyscraper stacked with asparagus, grilled shrimp, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and...oh yes...perfectly poached eggs and a dripping of Hollandaise sauce. You get two of bring a friend (or go on the weekend, when breakfast is served all day, and you can count it as a late breakfast, early lunch).

These three happy historic haunts serve awesome food with a side of architecture. But there are lots more places on the Isle...stay tuned for future posts.