Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Le Méridien New Orleans

We arrived late into New Orleans. After waiting at baggage claim (I had to check a bag because a 6 day work trip required a couple suits and sport coats, unfortunately) for about 30 minutes, we hopped in a cab and were headed downtown.

The ride was about 25 minutes and we pulled into the port cochere and were greeted by several valets who were quick to help us with our bags.  The entrance is quite grand, with two sets of huge double doors.  These automatic doors swing out (watch out – don’t get hit!) and welcome you into this recently renovated property.

The Le Méridien New Orleans was the W New Orleans before the reno and rebranding.  I never stayed at the W New Orleans, but I did swing by for a drink and a meal during my first visit.  I’m not cool enough for the W hotel, that’s for sure.

Before we fully entered the lobby I was struck in the face with a smell that is unique and draws so many memories back.  The smell makes me think of Cambodia.  In general, that wouldn’t be a good thing, but after about 5 seconds, it all clicked.  The first Le Méridien I visited was in Siem Reap Cambodia.  It wasn’t a bad smell at all, it was the LM Signature Scent.  It was welcoming, relaxing and reminded me of a great vacation.

No one was in front of us at check-in (we arrived near 23h00).  The young woman who helped us, I believe was called Elisa, informed me that we were upgraded to a higher floor room and no Platinum Suite Upgrades were available – because it was JazzFest and if I come down on Sunday afternoon they can move me into a Suite.  I didn’t buy it.  JazzFest was slowing down during the week, but 12,000 insurance people were descending on the City that same day.  We shall see.

We were given a room on the 23rd Floor, which was fine. It was clean, it had an enormous TV on the wall, the bathroom was spacious and most importantly, the rooms had been updated.  The rooms still looked a little rough, but not at all like it had been a W in it’s previous life.

That first night, after we dropped our bags off in the room, we head down to the bar for a quick drink.  The bar was packed – full of JazzFesters and Insurance Yahoos (me being the latter).  It had been a long work day and a slightly delayed flight.  I was tired.  I drank a local beer, Abita, and headed off to bed.

Two days later, Sunday, I called down to the front desk to inquire about our Sunday afternoon room upgrade.  As I suspected, no upgrades were available.  I mentioned that Elisa thought she’d get me into one.  Go dice.  The GM called me back shortly thereafter apologizing for the miscommunication.  Honestly, it didn’t matter to me.  New Orleans is like Las Vegas, New York and Paris to me: I need a safe room that is clean, quiet with a bathroom with hot water and good water pressure.  I have no intention of spending a lot of time in the room.  They did offer to upgrade me to a suite on my final night.  Better than nothing, I guess.

I grabbed rooms service (which something I never do) twice on this trip.  Once for breakfast and once for lunch.  I had some work to do, and I wanted the quietness of the room.  Even though one meal was at breakfast time, I was able to talk them into making me a lunchtime quesadilla.  It was good, but way too much food and it needed some more guac.  Don’t trust a hotel with a French name to properly make a pico de gallo / salsa – just dreadful.  The next day for proper lunch, I had the make your own flat bread – I included tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, Canadian Bacon, pineapple and goat cheese.  It wasn’t a flat bread.  It was a big square pizza – way more than one person needs for lunch.  But I ate it – and really was digging it. #oink.

Quesadilla - Pretty tasty, but the salsa was one big garlicky mess

Quesadilla – Pretty tasty, but the salsa was one big garlicky mess

On Wednesday, I moved to my new room…after some persuading.  The front desk sent up Carl to help me pack my room and escort me to the new room.  Carl was very helpful (although I didn’t need any help really), he loaded my suitcase up and walked me to the new suite on the 5th floor (vs. the standard room on the 21st floor).  He then proceeded to show me around the room. He gave me the $10 tour – everything in painstaking detail.  He showed me the bed; the bathroom; the powder room, the living room the various mini-fidges.  Carl was extremely excited about 2 fridges in the room – according to him, you can “put anything in these….I mean anything”  I actually don’t know what he meant, and I’m a little afraid that he would show me, if I asked.  I let it go.

The suite was basically two standard rooms with an additional powder room in the entry. As you walk in, the power room greets you.

Powder Room Off Main Entrance

Powder Room Off Main Entrance

You turn right and enter the bedroom which is identical to the room I had for the first 5 nights.  I had a desk, an enormous TV and a king size bed.  Unlike the first room, the sheets on this bed weren’t ripped (gross).

Bedroom - King Bed - Ample Bedside Outlets

Bedroom – King Bed – Ample Bedside Outlets

Bedroom - King Bed, Tiny Window

Bedroom – King Bed, Tiny Window

Bedroom - King Bed Plus Awkward Desk

Bedroom – King Bed Plus Awkward Desk

Back to the main entry way and instead of turning right, you turn left and you see an equivalent room, but without a bed.  It had a comfortable sofa, a small round dining style table and again, an enormous TV on a swing-out-wall-mount.

Living Room - Sitting Area plus Dining

Living Room – Sitting Area plus Dining

Sitting Area - From Dining Table

Sitting Area – From Dining Table

I spent about 2 hours in this living room area on Wednesday, between meetings and catching up on work.  It was night to have a separate area for work – and it would have been even nicer to have this area when there were two of us in the room.

Full Bath Room - Why do hotels insist on leaving the toilet seat up after cleaning?  It's gross.

Full Bath Room – Why do hotels insist on leaving the toilet seat up after cleaning? It’s gross.

Sink in Main Bath - Translation of the Mirror Etching -Remember, You Are Beautiful.

Sink in Main Bath – Translation of the Mirror Etching -Remember, You Are Beautiful.

I checked out around noon on Thursday and stowed my luggage with the front desk folks, as our flight was delayed and we hadn’t had lunch yet.  I hate lugging luggage around.  Interestingly enough, my past 3 Starwood Stays, my folio has never made it to me, I have to call back and have them re-email it to me.  The process takes about 45 seconds, so it isn’t a big deal, but it is a bit of a pain in the neck.  I don’t know what happened to the SPG system so that it doesn’t automatically kick it out to me any more.

All in all, I dig the Le Méridien New Orleans. It is centrally located – close walk to the convention center, the casino (laissez les bon temps roulez), Canal Street, the French Quarter and the Warehouse District.  I got anywhere I needed to go by foot or a cheap taxi or the newly introduced Uber.  I would absolutely stay here again.  The service was great – but not over the top, in your face.  The staff was helpful and not aloof (like those W people are).  I didn’t try the restaurant or the gym or any other services they offer (other than the bar and room service) though.  Give the Le Méridien New Orleans a shot next time you are in the area – I know I will return.

Our Urban Farm – Round One

This is our second summer in our house. We moved in over Labor Day weekend in 2013 – at the end of the summer growing season. When we were looking for a home, we wanted a place with a back yard – I had done a pretty acceptable job of container gardening in the old condo, but wanted to expand my urban farm.

Last year, we pulled out some trees and bushes that really closed off our backyard and I built a raised bed. That last part is pretty impressive, considering the mechanical aptitude in my family. That being said, I purchased the corner pieces and just had to insert the wood into the brackets. Pretty straight forward – even for me.

We had never used a raised bed before and didn’t really know how much sun we would get throughout the year – so our plan last year was to plant and plant and plant and see what happened. We planted the following (number of plants in parentheses) in the raised beds:

  • Cucumbers (1)
  • Cantaloupes (1)
  • Tomatoes (4)
  • Thai Chilies (1)
  • Eggplant (1)
  • Green Beans (1)
  • Artichokes (2)
  • Zucchini (1)
  • Serrano Peppers (2)
  • Bell Peppers (2)
  • Basil (1)
  • Sage (1)
  • Tarragon (1)
  • Other Misc. Herbs

Well, most things did surprisingly well. I ended up canning two dozen jars of pickles (the bread and butter were much better than my dill recipe); making a quart of tomato chutney (my problem is that I love tomatoes and just eat them straight off the vine – not a lot of cooking with them); we had eggplant Parmesan a few times (100% garden driven — except the cheese, of course). Unfortunately, the zucchinis got suffocated by the tomatoes and the cukes, the cantaloupes never really ripened and the artichokes produced a single artichoke – and we were out of town so it basically went from not quite ready to a flower before we realized it.

This year we are taking a slightly different approach. We planted some lettuces (from pre-started plants) and some beets from seeds. The lettuce is taking off and the beats have started to pop up. Our goal is to have a couple salads before we rip this stuff out and put in the real summer plantings for 2015.

Raised Beds with Round One of Lettuce

Raised Beds with Round One of Lettuce

We haven’t finalized our planting list, but we know we will plant:

  • Cucumbers (need more sweet pickles)
  • Tomatoes (of course)
  • Eggplants
  • Thai Chilis
  • Various herbs including Basil

I’d like to try a couple new things too – but we’ve got City rabbits in our yard and try as we might to keep them out, we aren’t succeeding very well.

We had some bushes along the garage that were purely ornamental – and well, not that ornamental either. We had those removed and we planted some raspberry, blueberry and some rose bushes.  The first year raspberries produced about two dozen berries, while we only got 1 blue berry (yes, one — and we didn’t even get to eat it, we found it had fallen off the bush and was partially eaten by something (that damn City rabbit, I bet).

This year, we pulled out the blueberry bushes and planted more raspberries.  My goal is to get 100 raspberries this year and closer to 300 next year.

One Year Old Raspberries in Foreground with New Plantings in Back

One Year Old Raspberries in Foreground with New Plantings in Back

What are you planing in your Urban Farm this year?  How do you keep the rabbits away (without poisons or outdoor animals)?

New Orleans – Making the Most of a Work Trip

Each year I attend a conference for work.  Usually, this event is hosted in pretty great Cities, like Boston, San Diego, Philadelphia and Vancouver.  Sometimes it’s not: Orlando or Honolulu, for example.  This year, we were in New Orleans.  I love New Orleans.  This 4 day conference always starts late on Sunday night, so I make sure to get in early and enjoy the host City (unless of course, it is in Orlando).

This year, MS came with me and we arrived late on Friday night.  It was also JazzFest weekend.  Couple a 12,000 person conference with JazzFest and let’s just say, hotels aren’t cheap and restaurants are quickly booked.

This will be a mini-trip report, where over the coming days/weeks, I’ll talk about:

I really dig New Orleans and I have this irrational, romanticized view of living in the (French) Quarter, wearing a khaki or white suit, holding court in either a fabulous restaurant/bar/antique shop that I own – telling tales and drinking cocktails with anyone who will listen.  I think I could channel my inner Southern Gentleman and live in the fictionalized version of New Orleans, don’t you?

Do you love New Orleans, or are you like so many of my fellow conference attendees who just loathe the City?

Air France – An Infatuation

I have never flown Air France, but I am obsessed with them lately. I stumbled across their most recent safety video – take a moment and watch:

Some of my favorite parts of this video: The safety belt will elegantly highlight your waistline; A non-smoking flight is simply chic; If you lose your mobile, don’t manipulate the seat, call a crew member (which is a great piece of advice, as in BusinessFirst on United I lost my Bose headphones and nearly lost my arm trying to retrieve them – I was too embarrassed to ask for help). Also, why are there only French women as flight crew in this video? I’m sure Air France has some hot young French male stews, right?

I love France. I’ve been to Paris (twice – read about it here and here); Nice (and Monte Carlo, but before I blogged) and Southwestern France. I have never flown on Air France – and I’ll admit I’m a bit nervous to do so. Not because of any flight safety issues, but because of the pitch (distance between the back of your seat – as far back as you can scootch your body) to the back of the seat in front of you – basically your usable space in the seat for your body and legs. Air France flies an A330-200 (A332) between Chicago (ORD) and Paris (CDG). In economy this plane has 32” of pitch, which is the same as some of the United Regional Jets (the ones I often take to Nashville). I can (barely) handle the 62 minute flight to Nashville in these tiny little seats. I can’t image flying 8 hours to Paris in a seat like this. Air France does offer a Premium Economy seat – it looks to cost about 40% more than regular economy (I just did a sample search over 4 different dates and it was pretty consistent). That’s a big premium – but Premium Economy has 6” more pitch (than regular economy).

Air France serves much better food in coach than United does (or so I’ve heard) – which isn’t very hard to do.

I’d love to fly their Business or La Première class as well. The A380 service from LAX to CDG would be a great way to cash-in (blow) miles. Take a look at this review from Lucky, here.

Since I’m not going to be paying for Business or La Première seats, I’ll have to either wait for a mistake airfare and hope they honor it, or cash in miles. Air France is a transfer partner with Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards. You’ll have to do the math yourself to see if transferring points into their program makes sense.

Flying Blue (the Frequent Flyer Program for both Air France and KLM) offer regular discounts on mileage redemptions. They send an email that outlines the current month’s promotions. I haven’t seen anything for La Première before, but I have seen options from Chicago to Europe in Economy, Premium Economy and Business. Keep your eyes peeled.

Should I be infatuated with Air France? Does the promise of marginally better economy food and a fun safety video warrant my time? What are the chances that I get half way through my trip with Air France and find that I just hate the tiny/tight little seat? Should I let it go or should I give it a go?

Another SPG Promotion Today

I was excited to see yet another promotion email from SPG today. This one was titled “Spice it Up With Double Starpoints and More.” Double points – yes, please. I clicked in and found that the double points are earned at select restaurants on Starwood Properties. Just spend $10 and you earn 2 points per dollar spent.

Not great, but something that may work for some. Before my office moved, 18 months ago, we were right next to the Weston Michigan Avenue and we’d pop over to The Grille for lunch from time to time…or more frequently the bar for several glasses of vodka before heading home for the night.

I went to register for this promotion and I saw that 94 restaurants in the US participating. That seems like a decent number at first. Only two of those 94 are in Chicago, which is nice…I guess. Both are at the recently renovates W Lakeshore. I haven’t been by this hotel since the reno, so this may just entice me to pay them a visit. Looks like SPG is getting what they want from this promo – driving traffic to locations that need it. Plus I get something too – visit a spot that has been on my list, plus getting extra points too.

SPG Dining Promo

I never remember to show SPG card when dining at an SPG restaurant – god only know how many points I’ve given up. Truth be told, I don’t usually eat at hotel restaurants in general.  Don’t forget, you don’t have to be staying at the property to earn points for your dining either.  Keep that in mind.  To get these bonus points, you’ll need to register for this promotion – do that here.

How often do you actually remember to earn points while dining at an SPG restaurant?  Better question, how often do you really dine at an SPG Restaurant?  Does your City have great SPG dining options?  Chicago doesn’t really have anything I’d like to visit regularly.