Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: December 2019

Hotel Review: New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center

I struggled writing this review of the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center as  I really wanted to like the hotel for its location but came away feeling  underwhelmed by the lack of luxury and dated décor.

Built in a renovated 19th century cotton mill in a location that borders the Warehouse/Arts District, the Garden District and the French Quarter the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center is in a super central spot opposite the sprawling New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as its name implies and within walking distance to all those historic neighborhoods have to offer including the National World War II Museum, Mardi Gras World, and the Port of New Orleans’ Julia Street Cruise Terminal.

My Halloween arrival found the spacious lobby scaled back to a fraction of its former size which a letter left in room 1405, a “King Guest Room”, explained was due to a renovation project that started the day prior and is scheduled to end in April, 2020. This work  came a complete surprise to me as the construction work wasn’t noted on the Marriott website or sent out by email.  The work to transform guest rooms, restaurants, lobby and meetings rooms is limited to 9 AM – 5 PM  on weekdays and 10 AM – 5 PM Saturdays with no work undertaken on Sundays.

The room while far from hideous is dated and so overdue for an overhaul.

photo by author

photo by author

While my stay was very early in the construction project, I encountered no noise impact or restricted access.

The view from room 1405 is of the convention center and the Crescent City Connection (CCC), twin cantilever bridges that carry U.S. Highway 90 Business over the Mississippi River.

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While the hotel features a pool it’s tiny and unheated so unusable much of the year when temperatures drop below 16 Celsius or about 60 Fahrenheit. The view if the best thing about the pool deck which along with the adjacent fitness room are accessed with a guest room key card.

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Breakfast at the hotel was not included in my room rate and at USD$19 for a breakfast buffet is on the pricey side so I walked a few block to the Two Chicks Cafe for a hearty cooked-to-order “Cafe Breakfast” for USD$8.50.  The Cafe opens daily at 7 AM which came in handy as I had some early morning rendezvous.

After packing up by bags and getting ready to leave for the lobby to check-out at the end of my three night stay, I noticed a fleck of blood on the bed sheet and not having suffered a cut was sure it wasn’t mine making me feel a little queasy wondering how long it been there escaping my notice and that of housekeeping. The last-minute discovery however sort of summed up my impression of the hotel as not being quite up to four-star Marriott standards and more befitting  the moderate Courtyard brand. The location makes for a good base from which to explore the heart of “The Big Easy”on foot  but I would give it a pass until the construction work is completed.

Pros

  • Central location within walking distance to historic French Quarter and Garden District and opposite New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
  • Mississippi River views from higher floors
  • Noted local restaurants within blocks offer an alternative to on-site Wolfe’s Restaurant and Wolfe’s Bar
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi for Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program members; USD$10.95 for non-members
  • Starbucks off the lobby

Cons

  • Extensive renovation project underway as November 2019; construction noise may impact some rooms
  • Tiny, unheated outdoor pool
  • USD$39 daily fee for valet parking
  • Busy with large convention groups

 

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Restaurant Review: Emeril’s New Orleans

Emeril’s Restaurant is chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse’s famed flagship restaurant housed in a renovated pharmacy warehouse in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. Since opening in 1990, Emeril’s has been a definitive force in contemporary New Orleans cuisine and has earned rave reviews and accolades for nearly 25 years, including Esquire magazine’s “Restaurant of the Year” and Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award” for 14 consecutive years.

photo by author

One of the first celebrity chefs with their own cooking shows on the fledgling Food Network in the early 1990’s Emeril became known for his jovial hosting style and signature catchphrases, including “Bam!” which began as a way to keep his studio crew alert during a full day of taping shows.

While Emeril wasn’t in residence during my lunch visit, patrons wanting to watch his chefs in action are invited to sit on bar stools at the counter overlooking the kitchen.

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Dining solo I opted to sit at the bar for the banter with the bartender but another solo guest attending an event at the nearby convention center sat next to me and we carried on a casual conversation over lunch and I was grateful for the contact as sitting at a table would’ve left me all alone.

I started with a classic Cajun appetizer of homemade Andouille and Boudin sausages  which are very different as the former is a  smoked pork sausage while the latter is a mixture of pork, liver and rice which comes accompanied by southern greens, Emeril’s Worcestershire Sauce  and whole grain mustard.  Crumbly cornbread and an Abita Amber beer compliment the appetizer.

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Cautious of a suspected shellfish allergy, I opted for comfort food in the form of Emeril’s “Who Dat” double stacked hamburger with hand cut fries.  Unlike in many American restaurants, Emeril’s bartender didn’t ask how I wanted my burger cooked and it came cooked to perfection and was hands down one the best burgers I’ve ever had.

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For a landmark restaurant I didn’t find Emeril’s New Orleans prices exorbitant – the big burger entree for example is USD$16 – or the atmosphere stuffy so very much enjoyed my leisurely lunch.

If you are visiting New Orleans and unsure of your schedule you may inquire at the restaurant but I confirmed my reservation online in advance through OpenTable.

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Maximum Minnie; 36-hours in magical Minneapolis

After connecting countless times through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) I finally found a way to experience the “biggest underestimated place”  for myself and came away loving this corner of the country.

Minneapolis developed around Saint Anthony Falls, the highest waterfall on the Mississippi River and a source of power for its early forestry industry before becoming the flour milling capital of the world as covered in this blog article.  While Edmonton lacks waterfalls, I noted many similarities with Minnesota’s largest city as a river runs through and dominates each city, former riverside industrial areas have been converted to pubic trail networks, and a large university campus lies close to the downtown core.

One of the landmarks worth visiting on the University of Minnesota campus – home of the Golden Gophers  football team – is the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum named after a Minneapolis native, entrepreneur, and noted philanthropist. The teaching museum’s glimmering exterior was designed by the internationally acclaimed Canadian-born architect Frank O. Gehry and offers free admission  to  university students and visitors alike in an effort to make the arts easily accessible.

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While not known as a music town in quite the same way as Memphis, Nashville or New Orleans Minneapolis is home to the iconic live music mecca First Avenue & 7th St Entry a former former Greyhound bus station made famous in the 1984 semi-autobiographical movie “Purple Rain” by native son Prince.

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Shot on a shoestring budget of $7-million dollars, Purple Rain went on to gross almost ten times that at the box office making Prince an international superstar and the venue a must-see for visitors to Minneapolis.

There are over 400 artists who have a star at First Avenue with another 96 blank, ready for when it’s time to paint on a new name. I walked along spotting names I hadn’t expected to see including U2, INXS, The Buzzcocks, and Los Lobos but there’s a full list here to browse all the artists.

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As I was admiring the impressive list of music acts acknowledged with stars on the wall, a local couldn’t help commenting on my Rush t-shirt and his appreciation for the legendary Canadian rockers who built a loyal following in the U.S. with decades of touring. Music really is universal.

One of Minneapolis’ oldest and most popular parks features the majestic 53-foot Minnehaha Falls which attracts more than 850,000 visitors every year. The name Minnehaha comes from the Dakota language meaning  waterfall but the popular translation of “laughing waters” comes from a felicitous, but too literal Anglophone translation of “ha ha”. New England poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, gave this Minneapolis waterfall national fame in the Song of Hiawatha, although he never saw the falls he wrote of in 1853.


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The Midtown Global Market is an internationally-themed public market housed in the former Sears, Roebuck and Company Mail-Order Warehouse and Retail Store which was built in 1928 and in use until abandoned in 1994 before its rebirth a decade later as a multipurpose commercial space.

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The market is a deeply diverse destination with a craft brewery, shops selling locally made goods and food stalls and restaurants serving cuisine from almost every point on the compass including  Indian, Mexican, Moroccan, BBQ and Middle Eastern. Safari Express specializes in Somali cuisine and is home of the camel burger for the more adventurous diners.

photo by author

photo by author

A local landmark listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, the Midtown Global Market is a bit of a detour from the Lake Street/Midtown station on the Metro Blue Line and from the downtown but 1.5 million people visit Midtown Global Market each year because its a cultural journey that’s run by the people for the people as all businesses are locally-owned and operated and the crafts made by local artists. Think global while shopping local.

Weather permitting, walk through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden  open daily year-round  and the adjacent Walker Art Center.  The 40 permanent sculptures  are scattered throughout the 11-acre garden and include the oft photographed Spoonbridge and Cherry Pop Art  piece by Claes Oldenburg.

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Nearby is a 25-foot blue rooster sculpture titled Hahn/Cock by the German artist Katharina Fritsch whose name is a double-entendre.

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There’s plenty of public art to be found around Minneapolis including a  pair of colourful giant downtown building murals focusing on Minnesota music legends Bob Dylan and Prince whose lyrics to his Purple Rain song ‘Baby I’m A Star’ are referenced by a comic book character.

photo by author

photo by author

The graceful curves of the Stone Arch Bridge span the mighty Mississippi River just below the Saint Anthony Falls and affords outstanding river valley views.  The former railroad bridge,  Minneapolis’ oldest bridge,  was completed in 1883 and served to import raw grain and export milled flour that helped make Minneapolis the flour milling capital of the world, a title it held from 1880 to 1930. The wide bridge span makes for an ideal modern pedestrian and bike path that’s part of a river valley trail system.

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Looming over the Stone Arch Bridge is the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, the flagship mill of the Washburn-Crosby Co. (later General Mills) which when it was built in 1880 was the largest and most technologically advanced flour mill in the world. After being shut down in 1965 and sitting abandoned for decades, the former mill suffered a devastating fire in 1991 but from the ashes of its ruins was rebuilt as the Mill City Museum and opened to the public in 2003.

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One of the city’s best visitor values is the Metro Transit All-Day Visitor Pass which allows unlimited travel on the light rail and bus network and may be purchased at the Meet Minneapolis Visitor Center which is open daily except Sundays.  There’s a  warmth in the welcome from the visitor center staff who are eager to offer sightseeing suggestions and provide helpful information and maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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