The Big Easy

This past Sunday I headed off to New Orleans to do a site visit for a conference I am planning for 2009.
After an uneventful pair of flights (Cleveland to Charlotte, Charlotte to New Orleans) I met Ken (UOAA’s current president and my “boss”) at the airport and we cabbed it to downtown. The Sheraton is located right in the downtown area almost between the French Quarter and the Garden District. We checked in and were informed that we had been upgraded to Executive Suites. Pretty cool! However…of course they upgraded us…the rooms were comped to begin with, and they want us to throw a $50,000 conference their way. Duh! The room was great, but really, if they wanted to wow me, they should have put me in the Presidential suite with the whirlpool tub. ( I am just kidding…I’m NOT a hotel snob. I was quite appreciative of my free executive suite )
We dropped our stuff off in our rooms and then headed out to find some dinner. We ended up at this place called The Gumbo Shop. YUM! is all I have to say about that. I had a traditional Creole meal – Chicken Andouille gumbo, Chicken Espagnole with rice and garlic potatoes, and bread pudding with whiskey sauce. And of course I topped it off with an authentic New Orleans praline that I purchased on the walk home! (I bought a whole box and have been eating them since I got home. I believe I’ve found the newest form of crack! )
Back in the room, I enjoyed the view from my floor to ceiling window, chatted on the phone, answered email and proceeded to pass out. I do believe it was a Creole-induced coma
Monday morning we met with the hotel sales manager to talk business, view all the meeting space, etc. The hotel is beautiful, spacious, and has a full-service Starbucks in the lobby, which gets them my vote!
After our meeting, we consulted with the concierge about things for us to do in the area. I REALLY wanted to take a ghost and cemetary tour of the city, where they show you all the “haunted” spots, and tell stories like that of Marie Laveau ( famous voodoo priestess). But alas, we found out the tour was a 2.5 hour WALKING tour, and since yours truly only brought strappy platform sandals and high heels, we decided against the walking tour.
We did end up on a Super City bus tour that took us everywhere! We started out in downtown and toured all the neighborhoods. We even saw some of the areas decimated by Katrina. We went north to lake Ponchatrain and then came back down via the Garden District, past Tulane and Loyola. Beautiful architecture, magnolia blossoms, and Mardi Gras beads were everywhere ( St. Charles in along the parade route). The tour driver was so knowledgeable about the city, giving us history of Creoles, Cajuns, the cities wealthiest occupants, as well as famous people that have inhabited the city through the years. He talked alot about Katrina and pointed out various landmarks and places of interest along the way. I think the best part was his snippet about the cemetaries and how the plots and tombs are utilized. The tour was a 2 hour history lesson and I enjoyed every second of it!
After the tour we walked over to the famous Cafe Du Monde and had beignets and cafe au lait. WONDERFUL! We sat on their outside patio, talked about love, life and UOAA business and listened to great street musicians play and sing. It was a laid back, relaxing afternoon…and really gave me a nice opportunity to get to know Ken better.
That evening we headed down Bourbon street in search of dinner. After passing Huge A$$ Beers to Go and Big Daddy’s Topless and Bottomless, we decided that we’ll not need to plan any programming for ’09. I mean really…what else do you need for a successful conference? ( I am totally kidding, of course) We ended up in this place called Yo Mama’s for dinner. Yes, it was as hole in the wall as it sounds, but had a really cool vibe…and surprisingly enough, great food!
When we got back to the hotel, I was really tempted to go back out on my own and explore, but I knew Jon ( not to mention my mother and grandmother) would freak out if they knew I ventured out into a strange city by myself…afterdark! Oh the horrors! So I went downstairs and hung out in the lobby and at Starbucks by myself for a while. I chatted with a few nice folks in town for a disaster recovery conference, but mostly I people-watched, one of my favorite things to do. I love watching people interact, imagining the stories behind their lives, wondering about their dreams, etc. I went back upstairs at about 11pm, packed up most of my stuff and went to bed.
Tuesday morning we met with another hotel rep, had breakfast and headed to the airport. It took me all day to get home, thanks to a two hour layover in Charlotte. Jon and Jaidin picked me up at the airport and suprised me with a huge bouquet of brightly colored daisies! I love walking out of baggage claim to find two smiling faces and pretty flowers to greet me!
I had a fantastic time in the Big Easy, and I think it’s pretty probable that we’ll be having a conference there in 2009. Now all I have to do is convince Ken that our next site visit should be sometime in mid-February next year. Can you say “Mardi Gras”?

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