I have been extremely lucky and travelled a fair bit in 2013. So here are my random awards – THE WILLIES – for the year

BEST LONG HAUL AIRLINE: BRITISH AIRWAYS

No airline gets everything right all the time, but I think BA gets it right more often than most, and I don’t agree with those who think it’s fashionable to bash it just because it’s a national symbol. After a dip a few years ago – my goodness some of those crew could be right battle axes – I have had some great flights this year with very friendly staff. And on their re-vamped fleet (A380s, 787s and some 777s – sadly only those) the inflight entertainment is pretty much there with the best in the industry.

BA A380

BA A380

Best short haul airline: easyJet

Again, for me this comes down to crew. I have had several easyJet flights this year where the crew seem to have remembered that flying can be fun and went above and beyond in customer service.

easyJet airbus

easyJet airbus

Surprise hit – long haul: Bermuda

If I had a penny for every time someone said “oh you won’t like it, it’s boring” before I set off for Bermuda, well I’d have around 7 pence by now. But guess what? I loved it. Laid back, great people, awesome beaches. The only major negative points are on cost (not cheap!) and not be able to rent a hire car, although I do understand that the island would be one great big car park if that was allowed.

Sunny Bermuda

Sunny Bermuda

 

Surprise hit – short haul: Italian Dolomites

I was fortunate enough to travel to this part of Italy twice this year – once for skiing and once in summer. It is an incredibly stunning region and I think the Dolomites knock the Alps into a cocked hat. Add in the mix of mouth-watering Italian/Austrian cooking and it is somewhere I would highly recommend whether for skiing, hiking or just eating!

 

IMG_3885

Back-country touring near Cortina d’Ampezzo

 

Surprise hit – mid haul: Marrakech

I went to Marrakech in the 1980s and just remember the hassle so I was somewhat hesitant when I went back in November. I’d heard things were less ‘aggressive’ now and it was true. Maybe it was the 27 degrees while Britain was shivering in Autumn, or evening cocktails on the roof of Riad El Fenn, wandering around the souk or looking in the more modern shops of Gueliz, but this time round it was an altogether much, much more positive experience.

Marrakech

Marrakech

 

Pool of the Year: Espace Henri Chenot, Merano, Italy

I know I have an incredibly tough job (cough cough, splutter, choke) but honestly, sometimes, you can only get free wifi around the pool. Well, that’s what I tell the other half.

Espace Henri Chenot. Merano

Espace Henri Chenot. Merano

 

Breakfast of the year: Caravan, Kings Cross

I do like my breakfasts and for me, Caravan, behind Kings Cross is consistently good and my regular go-to. I hope to discover plenty of new breakfast/brunch places in London next year.

Caravan

Caravan

Gratuitous pic of the year for dreaming of travel on a rainy, winter day in London: Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro

This was Ipanema on a Sunday afternoon last February. But are they happy? (!)

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Thank you to everyone who has made my travels possible in 2013, not least my long-suffering other half who puts up with 4 weeks’ holiday-days a year while I trot off all over the place, and never once complains.

 

Well ah do declare – I’m sorry, I don’t know if anyone actually talks like that in the south of the USA but my childhood images were formed by one Miss Penelope Pitstop – if my favourite foodie, Ms Erika Rose, she of Musette Bakery in Brooklyn, hasn’t just gone and spent time in New Orleans and sent me back some amusing musings on her time there, dangnabbit!

I must be honest – New Orleans was never really a to-do for me. I just picture loud, rowdy college kids drinking on Bourbon Street and not much else. But, having read Erika’s recommendations on where to eat, and the descriptions of all the delicious food, it now definitely is on my 2013 list.

So if you’re heading down there and want to know where to eat in the Big Easy, read on, y’all.

The author and Mr Henry Myers about to eat.

“Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light.”  So says Dave Eggers, in his 2009 tome to New Orleans, Zeitoun, and so say I, after a recent long weekend visit with friends to the home of jazz, po-boys, and Ignatius J. Reilly.   New Orleans is a place like no other place I’ve been in the United States, all at once American and French and Spanish and other, familiar and alien, old and new.  But, mostly, delicious.

It was the food in New Orleans that always enticed me, the promise of praline everything, fried everything, gumbo’ed everything.  And, on that front, New Orleans did not disappoint.  Our first day in town, we awoke and walked our way through the French Quarter to Cafe du Monde, a well-known stop for coffee and beignets, fried fritters covered with powdered sugar, and a staple of New Orleans cuisine.  We took a seat at our table after a ten-minute wait outside, and, five minutes later, the table was covered with powdered sugar.  An order of beignets and coffee with chicory for everyone.  The taste of warm dough and sugar melting in our mouths.  Six happy stomachs.  We walked off those beignets with a wander around the French Market, a series of shops and buildings on the Mississippi River that has been around since the 1800s.

All that was left of the beignets, once the scoffers of New Orleans had done their work

A quick beignet-induced nap later, and we were off to Acme Oyster House.  After another short wait (expect to wait at least a few minutes at many New Orleans hotspots on the weekend), we took our seats, and immediately placed an order for raw and chargrilled oysters.  Gulf oysters, I discovered, are in a class of their own, far bigger and sweeter than the many Wellfleet and Pacific oysters I have known and loved.  But, it was the chargrilled version that changed my oyster-loving life.  Grilled in a pan with Romano cheese, white whine, lemon juice and Creole seasoning, the oysters, and the sauce that was left to soak up with bread when they were eaten, blew me away.  I had barely processed the experience when out came my Fried Peace Maker Po-Boy.  Already a fan of po-boys of any kind, this was, by far, the best of the best.  A combination of fried oysters and shrimp, generously seasoned, nestled inside two pieces of bread lathered with Tabasco-infused mayonnaise, this is the sandwich to end all sandwiches.  Even the bits of shrimp and mayo that fell out of the back of the sandwich were gobbled up in a matter of minutes.  And the Boo Fries we had on the side, golden fries topped with roast beef gravy and cheese?  They disappeared, too.  Acme, you sure know how to treat a visitor.  New to my bucket list is to someday join your 15 Dozen Club (that’s 15 dozen or more oysters consumed in one sitting, and I think quite a lofty goal.).

It is a testament to the power of New Orleans food (and our stomachs) that we were ready to eat again by dinnertime.  Off to Cochon  we went (a ten minute taxi ride if you’re staying near or in the French Quarter).  Cochon specializes in Cajun Southern cooking, and is run out of a former warehouse by two chefs with three James Beard Awards between them.  We dove right in, and started off our night with a trio we lovingly referred to as “gator, cheeks, and feet”.  First up was fried alligator, tender and hot, served with a creamy garlic aioli.  Next were the cheeks: pork cheeks glazed with cane syrup and served with mushrooms, and, that other Southern staple, corn grits.  And finally, finally, a pig’s foot, stuffed with cabbage and apples.  I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite among three strong (and filling) appetizers, but, if I had to do it again (if only!), I’d have the pork cheeks.  They made me inordinately happy, and they felt like home, even all the way down South.  The Louisiana cochon, the restaurant’s namesake, was a formidable main course, but the real standout was the rabbit & dumplings, another warm, comforting dish that struck all the right notes.  It was a most memorable meal.  Did I mention the deep fried homemade beef jerky on our salad?  No?  Well, it’s also available in the Cochon Butcher shop next store (well worth a visit in its own right), and it tasted just as good on the flight home.

A brunch of softshell crab, grits and poached eggs at Elizabeth’s

Twelve hours later, still full and dreaming of pork, we headed out to explore a different neighborhood, the Upper Ninth Ward, and a different kind of Sunday brunch, New Orleans-style.  Elizabeth’s held the promise of praline bacon, and that bacon, coupled with biscuits and gravy and an entire softshell crab, fried and served with a poached egg, made my morning.  Crisp, salty and sweet at the same time, topped with pecans, the bacon itself summed up everything I fell so quickly in love with in New Orleans.  When we walked outside, full and happy, we were greeted by two young boys, marching down the street, playing a drum and a trumpet, and it was at that moment that I knew that New Orleans had captured a piece of my heart.

Galatoire's

Another piece went that night, when we headed out for our “last hoorah” meal, the one we had imagined for months, the one that brought me to New Orleans, the legendary Galatoire’s.  Galatoire’s rightly calls itself “the grand dame of New Orleans’ old-line restaurants”, and has served authentic French Creole cuisine for four generations.  That cuisine includes mouth-watering versions of Eggs Sardou (poached eggs, artichokes, creamed spinach and Hollandaise sauce), shrimp cocktail, Meunière Sauce, and jumbo lump crabmeat on top of anything.  And I mean anything.  In fact, one of the true joys of stepping into Galatoire’s is the waitstaff, who are not only polite and exceedingly professional, but who aim to serve and to please your every gastronomic desire, all while sitting in an open dining room under chandeliers and tiled floors.  Whatever you like, however you like it cooked, it’s yours.  Galatoire’s was an experience, from the red fish to the bread pudding to the wine list to the gentleman who greeted us at the door.  I can’t imagine it ever being replicated anywhere else, and, for a few hours, I couldn’t have imagined being anywhere else either.  That New Orleans light, it lives here.

No night in New Orleans, not even the most delicious one, would be complete without music.  I can highly recommend Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a quaint old building on the brighter side of Bourbon Street (for those of us who aren’t into the more traditional Bourbon Street experience).  Grab a drink and sit at the edge of the piano, bathed only in candlelight, and you’ll never want to leave.  For jazz, it’s hard to beat The Maple Leaf Bar in Carrollton.  If you’re lucky you’ll be there the same night as The Dirty Dozen Brass Band!  Another well-known club, popular since the 1970s, is Tipitina’s in Upper New Orleans.  Or just stroll along Frenchmen Street, a short walk from the French Quarter, where music echoes from every bar (and even on the street).

Taking it to the streets

I may have come to New Orleans for the food, but I left with so many other memories.  I’d highly recommend riding the St. Charles Streetcar line through the Garden District, an ideal (and cheap: round trip for $2.50) way to see the old New Orleans houses from the comfort of a streetcar line which dates back to 1835.  New Orleans is also known for its above-ground cemeteries, and a walk through St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the best place to start, as it’s both the oldest and the closest to the French Quarter.  Just wait until you see the pyramid Nicholas Cage has made for his afterlife.  Afterwards, stroll through the French Quarter for a drink at Napoleon House  on Chartres Street.  Legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte was set to exile in the building from France, and you can almost picture it when you step inside and take a seat at the stately bar.  For those of us who are fans of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, famously set in New Orleans, there’s a statue of the unforgettable main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, at the former site of the D.H. Holmes department store, on the 800 block of Canal Street, just outside the French Quarter.  And, if you’re into cycling as much as I am, you’re in luck: there are plenty of resources for cyclists in the area, including the New Orleans Cycle Club, which arranges group rides, and Rouler, a mobile bike mechanic and fitting service for cyclists of all levels.

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton New Orleans, which I’d highly recommend both for the location and the nightly jazz.  For a longer-term vacation rental, I’d suggest River House, a guest house a few blocks from Frenchmen Street (one unit and two unit condos, currently (Nov 2012) starting at $345 a night for short term rentals, prices vary longer-term).

Further afield, if you have the time, is Mosca’s, a family-style Italian restaurant in Avondale, Louisiana, about a half hour from New Orleans (and well worth the trek).

With many thanks to Hank and Natalia Lauricella, a New Orleans native and his New Orleans-loving daughter, who share, among other things, my fierce love of food.”

COPY & PHOTOS = MS ERIKA ROSE. So don’t cut & paste and pretend it’s yours y’all or we’ll come and get you. Seriously.

www.neworleansonline.com, www.louisianatravel.com

From the UK Bon Voyage Travel is my recommendation to tailor make trips to New Orleans

Erika’s bakery in New York = Musette

HUGE THANKS ERIKA!

"OK this time Henry I want wistful with a hint of hungover"