Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans

Bedroom, Ritz Carlton in New Orleans

Armoire, Ritz Carlton in New Orleans

Bed Tray, Ritz Carlton in New Orleans

Desk, Ritz Carlton in New Orleans

Lobby: The lobby is actually on the third floor – so if you drive in on Canal, you come up the ground-floor lobby to the third-floor lobby. It’s really pretty – there is always a *huge* arrangement of fresh flowers, and it makes the entire lobby smell so nice.

Service: Everyone that works here knows your name. From the valet to the doorman to the front desk, and so on. When they see you again, they somehow remember your name. They’re all really thoughtful, and if you come through a hallway at an odd hour when someone might be vacuuming or doing something else, they will stop or turn off the vacuum, and wait for you to get well clear before they begin again. I know people say this a lot, but it *is* the small things that really count, like remembering your name, and saying that it’s so great to have you back since your last visit in December, things like that.

Food: We had room service Sunday evening and it was superb! From my salad, pasta, and creme brulee to Av’s soup and fish entree, it was all perfect.

Salmon, Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans

Pasta, Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans

Creme Brulee, Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans

Our experience is this: We’ve stayed at some great places in the Quarter, like the Hotel Monteleone and the W, but the R-C really is the nicest and most gracious. We sometimes try other hotels in New Orleans (mostly because sometimes the R-C can get VERY expensive – WELL over $300/day, sometimes more) and sometimes just to see what the other ones are like. But the R-C will always be my favorite.

Our Anniversary

So it was our six year anniversary, and Av made these great plans for us to take the train (I loooove the train) to New Orleans. Since we were only going to stay a couple of days, the train would be perfect because we would just be walking around in the Quarter. Usually, we take the Volvo and mess around all over New Orleans – doing interesting things like going out to eat at fabulous restaurants – and then there are the things that I just *have* to do, like getting some doberge from Gambino’s in Metarie, and watching a movie at The Palace 20 – while having a daquiri.

We got in a little after 8pm Sunday and took a taxi to the hotel (the Ritz-Carlton, my favorite). We had been thinking about going over to Galatoire’s for supper, but were really tired for some reason, so we stayed in and ordered room service. Delish.

Food This Trip:
Muffuletta from Central Grocery in New Orleans

Muffuletta at Central Grocery – this visit, we decided to do things that were famous but we had somehow never got around to doing before. The muffuletta at Central Grocery was excellent – messy and yummy. Olive salad, mmmmm.

Oyster Po Boy from Acme Oyster House in New Orleans

Oyster Po Boy at Acme Oyster House – everything, everything about this po boy was perfect. The bread. The oysters. Dressed perfect. Yum!

Roasted Duck at Dante’s Kitchen – delish. We ate outside, and the temperature was perfect. We had company and everything was just perfect.

Possum in a Peach Tree

...and a Possum in a Peach Tree.

Possum in a Peach Tree

Spring-time is coming. Several of our neighbors’ daffodils are blooming already, the Japanese magnolias are starting to bloom, and our peach tree is also starting to take off.

This past September, we were woken one morning by our dog Lox (she is a red mini-dachshund) barking over and over again. Once you have dogs for a while, you can tell from their barking what is going on. There is the “I hear something, so I’m going to do a little short barking so you know there’s a dog around here”, there is the “I see somebody or something so I’m going to bark-bark and let them know that I’m over here”, and there’s the “something is really exciting me and I’m just going to bark my head off”. The last times she has had those episodes, something really was going on – twice there was a snake in the yard, one time a snake bit Bagel’s nose, and this time there was a possum in our peach tree.

We couldn’t immediately see what was going on, so we went out in the back yard and there he was, just very calmly sitting on a limb. Growing up in a small town, I had already had a couple of possum encounters (including one eating our cat’s food in the backyard), but Av hasn’t. So I told him to come see, take some pictures, but if the possum starts hissing to high-tail it back inside the house. Possums are pretty much like most other wild animals – they would rather take off than have to deal with a human – but if he were to get agitated and start hissing, it would be best to take off.

My PawPaw z”l used to tell me possum stories, like if one bites you, they bite and don’t let go. He also said that when he was a boy growing up in Attalla, that his family would occasionally catch a possum, put it under a tub, feed him for a week to fatten him up, and then cook him. PawPaw said that he wouldn’t eat possum but that everybody else did.

BTW, the way to cook (a cleaned) possum is to put it in a roasting pan at 350* for about an hour along with sweet potatoes.

Thankfully, our possum was off in a couple of hours after a delicious meal of past-prime peaches.

Grand Opera House, Meridian MS

Opera House in Meridian, MS


Inside Grand Opera House (Under Renovation), Meridian MS


Gibson Girl, Opera Angel at Grand Opera House in Meridian, MS

Above are pictures taken last week at the Grand Opera House in Meridian, which we got to go in and see even though it is still under renovation. The Opera House is actually on the second floor of the Marks-Rothenberg building (which was a department store in the late 19th and early 20th century), and to get to the opera house, you had to walk through the store. The store built the opera house, so this was a “marketing opportunity”. 🙂

In the picture above, you can see the stage, the fire curtain, and some of the boxes.

The Opera House was leased to Saenger Theatres in 1923 and closed by Saenger in 1928 when they built “The Temple” theater. Really, although some renovation efforts have been made over the years, the theater was mostly just as it was in 1928 with the added decay of 75 years or so.

Mississippi State is heading up the project with plans to renovate the entire M-R building (and other buildings on that block) for multi-use, including a MSU campus, a Meridian Community College campus, a conference center, space for other exhibits/museums, a parking garage, and performances at the restored Grand Opera House.

I can’t wait to go once it is reopened in March of 2006! Yay!

Weidmann’s, Meridian

We enjoyed a hosted supper Saturday night with many, many friends at Weidmann’s in Meridian (MS). Weidmann’s has been a landmark in Meridian since 1870, and has operated continuously since then, except when it closed for renovations a couple of years ago.

How it used to be:
It used to be open from early in the morning to pretty late each day, and the servers, who most had probably been there decades, were real professionals. There must have been at least 100 options on the menu, and everything we ever had was excellent, excellent. It was the type of food you would fix at home if you time the time or inclination. There was a long lunch counter, a dining room in the back with hundreds of signed photographs of national and local celebrities – from governors and astronauts to flag twirlers and cowgirls – and a room to the left as you walked in that had a very rustic feel, and I believe it was called the 1890 room (or 18-something room). Since butter was in short supply during WWII, Wiedmann’s substituted and put peanut butter in crocks on the tables. The little crocks could even be purchased at the cash register (we have one).

Not a whole lot in updates had ever, I think, gone on at Weidmann’s. Nothing was ever new. If it wasn’t broke, there was no need in fixing it. Weidmann’s was never broke.

How it is now:
This isn’t going to be as positive as I like my writing to turn out, but…..
Weidmann’s reopened in 2003 with 58 investors. I’m sure these were well-meaning people, but what they did to the Weidmann’s institution is……wrong. Sure, if they were out to open a fine-dining establishment, well, you can do that in any town, in any either stand-alone building or even a strip mall. But to rip up a tradition and put in its place a business that would have the pretentiousness to declare on the front door that it is “dark Sundays” rather than “closed”, well, next time go.do.that.somewhere.else.

The new Weidmann’s is white-tablecloth. Dim lights. Brick walls. One-long-sheet-of-paper menus. Wine lists. Hushed voices.

The food is good. Quite good.

It is just as good, and the new atmosphere is just as good, as any other mid-sized town that has a restaurant you just wouldn’t feel right going into with bluejeans on.

Nothing remains of the old Weidmann’s.

Well, sort of. It seems that the *new* Weidmann’s wasn’t doing so well financially, and back in October or November of last year that a new party came in and saved the restaurant from what may have meant closing for good. Here’s an excerpt of an article about the transaction in the EMBJ:

But the operational end was not the only concern. The restaurant has failed
to court those who were loyal to the “old” Weidmann’s and those who continue to
perceive the restaurant as high-priced and “too formal.”

“When it opened I believe it was slightly above the market not only in some of the food items, but in some of the price points,” Wile said. “I think it was also played up that it was ‘fine dining,’ which to some people means you have to wear a coat and tie. That’s just not the case, at lunch or dinner. “Then I think the change alienated a lot of people who were loyal to Weidmann’s and had been all their lives. I think we may have underestimated the effects of that. While it retained
the name, it didn’t look, feel or taste like the Weidmann’s they knew.”

Though the “old” Weidmann’s is now gone, Wile said some changes being made will bring back some memories of those days. The peanut butter jars have returned to the tables — although without the peanut butter due to health department restrictions — and old photographs are being matted, framed and hung throughout the lobby and upstairs in the lounge.

Roma Royalty in Meridian

Kelly Mitchell, Queen of the Gypsies (Romas), Meridian, Mississippi

Marker of Queen Kelly Mitchell in Meridian

Above is the grave marker of Queen Kelly Mitchell in Meridian, MS. The story is that she died in 1915 while giving birth at a camp in Coatopa, Alabama (which is west of Demopolis). Her family brought her to Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian to be buried. A recollection of that event can be found at this very good site that also refers to the rest of the family of Emil Mitchell, who was Kelly’s husband, the “King of the Gypseys”. The story goes on about the burial customs and the fact that the grave was reinforced with steel bars and concrete so as to discourage thieves (because apparently many fine things were buried along with her body for use on the other side of the Styx).

Kelly Mitchell, Queen of Gypsies (Romas); in Meridian, MS

collection of items left on Kelly Mitchell’s marker

I have heard that when the Roma come through Meridian, they leave items on Kelly’s marker. Visitors do as well (people seem to do that a lot…people leave all kinds of things in Montgomery at Hank Williams’ grave….guitar pics, whisky bottles, etc. Next time I go through, I’ll post a picture). This gravesite also seems to be a spot for people who do geocaching, so I’m pretty sure that some amount of this must have been left from them. Whenever we go through Meridian, we stop at Rose Hill to see what’s on the markers. It is different every time.

Along with Kelly Mitchell are buried her husband, Emil, who died in 1942 close to Attalla (AL), Flora Mitchell (Emil’s sister), Joe “Sharkie” Mitchell and Princess Diana Sharkey Mitchell, Slatcho Mitchell, Helen and Frank Mitchell, Mehil Mitchell, Lawrence Mitchell, Nicholas Gulumba, Costa George Bimbo, and Ovdoikia George Bimbo.

Riverview Hotel, Mobile

Riverview Hotel, Mobile, Alabama

Our room at the Riverview Hotel, Mobile

Room: The Riverview Hotel in Mobile was formerly the Adam’s Mark Mobile. We’ve stayed here probably at least ten times (when it was an Adam’s Mark). About five years ago, we first gave it a try as I was impressed that we could get a 4* hotel under $80 in downtown Mobile. Once we got into our room, I was just taken with the view (the even-numbered rooms face the dock in Mobile, and there is something going on there all day and all night. For someone not used to seeing a dock in operation, it is really something). It was easy to forgive aging furnishings for that view. However, last year we decided that most everything there was so far past-prime that we would find somewhere else to stay for most of our trips there.

Last year, the Adam’s Mark was sold and it is now called the “Riverview”. The website states that they are now undergoing a $17 million renovation.

Uh, I don’t know where or when, but there’s no evidence of it. Anywhere.

We booked a room at a rate significantly higher than the old Adam’s Mark rates. What did we receive? The same worn-out room with worn-out furnishings. Without exaggerating, I can say that I felt every single mattress coil underneath me all night. We won’t be back.

Lobby: Very ’80’s. Very hunter green.

Service: There needs to be more people available at the front desk for check-ins, it seems.

Food: There is no excuse to eat here when there are all kinds of great places in Mobile! I’ll post about that later….. 🙂

Extra: There’s a walkway between the hotel and the Outlaw Convention Center.

Our experience is this: Never again. If I were a hotel manager, there is no way that I would have guests sleep on mattresses that……..coily.

Grand Casino, Gulfport

Hotel Room, Grand Casino, Gulfport, Mississippi
Our room at the Grand Casino, Gulfport

Room: This was our second stay at the Grand Casino Oasis Hotel in Gulfport. The Oasis Hotel is actually across the street from the casino and main hotel (but both can be reached via an enclosed walkway that runs over the highway) and is a little less expensive since it is a bit of a walk. The room is average in size and amenities to a Hampton (and is a little less in cost).

Lobby: Standard-issue casino hotel lobby.

Service: Oddly, when we got in, the door to our room was open. Not all the way, but the deadbolt arm was extended, keeping the door from closing all the way. A pillowcase was left hanging on the closet door, and there was no extra pillow inside so we figured that the maid must have forgotten to come back with the extra clean pillow. I called down to the front desk to let them know that the room had been open all day and that I just wanted to make them aware of it since I wan’t familiar enough with the room to realize if anything may have been taken (you never know. I really didn’t want to think about someone taking something from the room, but I would have been really upset if we had gotten home and be charged for something.). They made a note of it.

Food: We didn’t eat here, but we DID have supper at Vrazel’s. This was our first time at Vrazel’s and it was great. I do have to say, though, that we walked in wearing blue jeans and although no one said anything or even looked at us weird, we should have really been dressed nicer. We both had fish, and everything was excellent!

Our experience is this: We would stay here again.

Sheraton Four Points, Ft. Walton Beach

Sheraton 4 Points Hotel Room, Ft. Walton Beach, Florida

Our room at the Sheraton Four Points, Ft. Walton Beach

Room: This was our first stay at a Sheraton Four Points (which I think is supposed to be their answer to Hilton’s Hampton Inn and Marriott’s Fairfield Inn chains). As late as the 80’s, this hotel was the Coronado Beach Resort, where Av and his brother used to go on vacations with their grandparents a few summers. Our room was on the 6th floor of the ‘tower’, which has been built since the Coronado days, I believe. The room was about average in size, but the room as a whole was in serious need of an update. Our room also had a balcony with a couple of plastic-y Wal-Mart style chairs. Since Ivan blew through, the hotel has decided to undergo a renovations of the rooms which will take place later this year.

Lobby: Golden Girls-eque decor.

Service: Those at the front desk and breakfast restaurant were very friendly.

Food: Our stay came with a breakfast buffet which was *much* better than average.

Extra: It’s on the beach, and there’s not a whole lot on either side, so I would guess that during the busy season the beach in front of the hotel isn’t just overrun with other hotel’s guests. During our stay, the beach was closed to repair the dunes.

Our experience is this: Honestly, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of better choices in Ft. Walton Beach, especially since a few are still closed for repairs after Ivan. Would I stay at this hotel again? Maybe. I’d sure spend some time looking for something more interesting, though.

The Beach Club, Orange Beach

Beach Club, Orange Beach, Alabama
The Beach Club, Gulf Shores

Beach Club, Orange Beach, Alabama
Me on our balcony

Beach Club Master Bedroom, Orange Beach, Alabama
Our bedroom

Room: We reserved a one bedroom condo for three days/four nights at The Beach Club over the New Year holiday. When we got there, we were given a two bedroom condo (it was their reservation system’s error) which we were given at the same rate as the one-bedroom we had reserved. We stayed in the Avalon tower on the 8th floor. It was really decorated nicely. I didn’t want to leave!

Lobby: There’s actually a separate building on-site for checking in. All the public buildings are really nice.

Food: Well, I cooked everything! The kitchen was really well-appointed, so Av and I just went down the road to a Bruno’s and picked up groceries.

Spa: There is a spa, but we didn’t make any reservations.

Our experience is this: We plan to make staying at The Beach Club a tradition. For a few years (when we don’t go to a bowl game) we have stayed down in Gulf Shores for New Year’s. There was a fireworks show practically right in front of our room this year! We’ll also be coming back some time in March.