New Orleanians have the best of almost everything right here at home. Let’s face it, who can top our unique mix of cultures, cuisine, music, architecture and laissez-faire, bohemian and resilient spirit? But, New Orleanians also know that to really appreciate home, you have to broaden your horizons.
So when the temperature and the humidity start to rise, some adventurous locals choose to take a holiday. And when it comes to travel, sometimes it’s the best of times and sometimes it’s the worst of times. We asked several well-known New Orleanians to tell us about their best and worst travel adventures.
Joel Dondis, Owner of Joel’s and founding partner of Sucre; Gretchen Dondis, and their daughter Hailey
We believe in taking our daughter Hailey (5 years old) everywhere we go and think it is so important to show her the world.
Favorite vacation spot: St. Barth—we went there on our honeymoon and returned 5 years later because we loved it so much. There are fantastic French restaurants and of course beautiful beaches. We rented a jeep and went to a different beach each day. The first time we stayed at a resort (Guanahani), but rented a villa the second time.
The villa also allowed us to cook some and to hang out at our private pool.
Worst travel experience: Although a wonderful trip, the train ride from Rimini, Italy
(we were there for a gelato convention) to Zurich, Switzerland was unforgettable. When we booked our first class cabin we thought we would have from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. on the train. We did not realize that at midnight we had a layover in Bologna for an hour, where we had to stand in a smoky train station with a 3-year-old. Once we got in our cabin on the second train we were fine. However, the conductor turned the heat very high so we had to open the windows on the train. We had good ventilation while traveling, but as the train stopped at the stations our cabin got very warm again. We must have stopped 10 to 15 times before arriving in Zurich. Despite the uncomfortable cabin, it was a beautiful picturesque trip with snow falling in the Swiss countryside.
Dream vacation: Asia (Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo). Gretchen’s
brother and sister-in-law (Michael and Sheldon Schmidt) are moving to Shanghai in May, so we are planning to visit them next summer and travel with them. We
will go as soon as Hailey gets out of school.
Chef Emeril Lagasse
Best travel experience: One of my favorite things to do always is go fishing, and there’s no better place to do that than right here on the Gulf Coast. Also, a rare, but beautiful vacation for my wife Alden and I is a relaxing trip to the Bahamas.
Worst travel experience: My worst travel memory has to be a trip to France I took with some colleagues. I ended up with food poisoning after dinner at a world famous restaurant, which shall remain nameless, of course.
Dream vacation: My dream vacation? That’s easy. I have always wanted to visit the wine country of Australia.
The Golden Buddha in the major temple in Bagan, Burma.
John Bullard, President, New Orleans Museum of Art
Favorite vacation spot: Over my 34 years at NOMA, I have had the opportunity to travel to many wonderful places, often with a group of our patrons. One of the most memorable of these trips, organized by the legendary New Orleans travel agent Leonard Parrish, was to Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Burma and Malayasia. The trip was organized around a five-day boat trip on the Irirady River in Burma, operated by the Orient Express Company, cruising from Mandalay (flying fishes, etc.) to Bagan, one of the greatest Buddhist temple sites in Asia. The sights along the river—landscape, people, and architecture—were incredibly beautiful, exotic and unspoiled. Then we flew back to Bangkok from Rangoon to catch the Orient Express
train, which runs down the Malay peninsula, stopping at the bridge over the River Kwai, and ending after two days in Singapore, where we stayed at the famous Raffles Hotel.
Worst travel experience: Again a trip organized for NOMA by Leonard Parrish, this time two weeks in Provence and Paris. The days in France were wonderful, but getting there and back proved to be disastrous. Our plane from New Orleans to New York’s Kennedy Airport was delayed so long that we missed the connecting flight to Nice. After hanging around the airport—the 20 of us—at midnight were transported to a motel near Kennedy to await another flight the next day. Because of the number of seats needed our group was split into three parts: a lucky few were able to fly directly to Nice, the second group went to Paris and transferred to a local flight to Nice, the rest were routed through Rome and then Nice. Being a day late, we missed one night at a fabulous hotel in Saint Paul de Vence and dinner in a three-star restaurant. Two weeks later we left our hotel in Paris for the airport, only to be told on arrival that our flight home was cancelled, that no other flights were available and we would have to spend at least one night at another terrible airport motel. And this was before the tightened security and delays since 9/11.
The New Orleans Museum of Art group boarding the “Road to Mandalay” Boat on the Irirady River in Burma.
Dream vacation: The one place I have wanted to visit for years is Australia. It is so far to travel and such a big country that I have never been able to corral enough NOMA patrons to make the trip. So I will probably have to go on my own. You need three or four weeks to do the country justice. Besides some great art museums, there are incredible natural wonders to see like the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback and Ayers Rock. And the Orient Express Company has a wonderful train running along the East Coast through a beautiful rain forest.
Bryan Batt, actor, and Tom Cianfichi, co-owners of Hazelnut
Rachel and Lenny Feder (seated) with Jim Testa, Tom Cianfichi and Bryan Batt at Beaulieu-Sur-Mer in the south of France.
Best travel experience: We love to travel and have been to many fantastic destinations, but hands down our favorite vacation was two weeks with dear friends in a hillside villa in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer in the south of France. The combination of the exquisite setting, the local cuisine and relaxed pace experienced with great friends made for an unforgettable memory which still makes me smile. At dusk the medieval village fortress across the bay would fire its cannon, and we’d immediately commence the corkage and bask in the glorious Cote d’Azur sunset.
Worst travel experience: After a wonderful trip visiting friends while they were living in Tokyo, we were on the first of a three-leg journey home to New York. Note to reader: NEVER fly from Tokyo to Hawaii during typhoon season! The turbulence was so horrific that the pilot demanded the flight attendants take their seats and buckle up, which happened to be directly across from us. It was not reassuring when one pulled out her Rosary, while the other kept exclaiming “Oh God!” “Oh God!”—and I don’t believe that she was a member of the “mile high club”!
Dream vacation: We both have very different dream vacations and hope to be included in each other’s 2 for 1 package deal. Tom would love a private tropical South Sea island getaway with gorgeous vistas, relaxing luxury and no televisions, computers or cell phones. I want the first class, European Grand Tour with lots of Louis Vuitton steamer trunks, bellhops and whistles.
The view from the villa in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer that Bryan Batt and Tom Cianfichi stayed at.
Adele Borie, co-founder and co-director of 3 Ring Circus/Big Top Gallery, and Tad Mondale, real estate agent
Favorite vacation spot: That’s a tough one, as we’ve done a lot of great trips, including snowboarding out West and lots of vacations abroad with my family. We loved our bicycle touring trips (two for me, many for Tad) through Holland. We especially loved visiting the Wadden Islands (Terschelling, Vlieland and Texel) off the northwestern coast. Biking over there is so nice. Every road has its own bike path and it’s flat! We camped out along the way at their campgrounds, which are great—and they have their own restaurants and bars. The Dutch go there and camp for months. I especially liked that we were the only Americans that had
been on the Wadden Islands all year and it was August. After visiting those islands, we headed down to Amserterman (Amsterdam) and hung there for a couple of days and had fun there, as usual.
Worst travel experience: It would have to be our second yurt trip. Tad’s friend, Tim Rogers, who lives in Sante Fe, N.M, organizes this trip every year to go cross-country skiing up to a yurt near Chama, N.M. We did it once a few years ago and it was nice. We had some snow on the ground and it wasn’t easy (it was my first time to cross-country ski and you have to do it with all your gear on your back), but it was fun and nice and beautiful. And I loved the yurt! It’s toasty warm with a wood burning stove.
But the second time, last winter, was a different story. There was a blizzard going on, but we went anyway. We were all loaded up—Tad, myself, Tim Rogers and two other guy friends, one of which pulled a sled loaded up with food, beer, guitars, trombone, etc. So, we headed off in the snow on our skis. The snow was coming down harder and harder, and it was waist deep. The only way we knew where we were going were little blue ribbons on the trees that marked the “trail.” The guys took turns dropping their packs to forge ahead and make a trail, then go back and get their packs. It really was beautiful, a virtual winter wonderland, but it was miserable. Torture! I was so cold. After a few hours, I stopped Tad and said, “I have two questions: 1) why are we doing this? and 2) how do you know when you have frost bite!” That’s when Tad’s chivalry kicked in and said that we were turning back.
He and I turned around, leaving one of our backpacks there and headed back to the car. Thank God! Once I was situated in the car with the heater on, Tad went back to get the other backpack, which took him a while. It was hard to find; it was almost completely covered with snow. Once he got back, he scraped the snow off the car, and we went back to the room we had rented before (“The Little Creel”), got warm and cozy, went out and got a good steak dinner then came back to the room. A few minutes later, the other guys showed up. They had turned back too. And they were cold and tired. We were glad they came back; we were really worried about them. It was rough out there!
Dream vacation: I think we want to sail our sailboat “Cha-Ching” down to Central and South America and explore there for a while, then sail through the Panama Canal and go to Fiji.
Robert LeBlanc, owner of Republic
Favorite trip/vacation spot: I know this answer is going to seem somewhat unpredictable and boring, but for interesting reasons my favorite vacation
spot is a combination trip to New York City and Southampton. New York is amazing for all of the obvious reasons, but my little brother lives there along with several friends, so it is mostly about spending time with all of them. Also, it is an incredible place from which to draw inspiration for my industry (the entertainment industry). Several of my friends own restaurants and music clubs there, which allows me to see much of that from the always intriguing “behind the scenes” point of view. We then go to Southampton to spend time with my fiancée’s family for a few days to unwind. We spend time with her family and enjoy the small shops, fresh markets and great restaurants. Such a leisurely place.
My only point of contention there is the water.
They claim it is amazing, but it feels like 30 degrees to anyone from the South, so I can’t really enjoy the ocean there.
Robert LeBlanc with Danielle Webb in the Hamptons.
Worst travel experience: A distant, but still memorable one. I went skiing with my aunt and uncle and cousin Elizabeth in Colorado when I was eight. I got tons of very cool (particularly for an 8-year-old from south Louisiana) ski gear so I would fit right in on the slopes. True to Murphy’s Law, which is my life most times, my luggage was lost and I had to borrow clothes from Elizabeth, which was no problem because we were best buds and she was (and still is) super-hip. I still vividly remember my futile attempt to convince the kids in my ski class that the Chic jeans I was wearing were actually made for boys, too.
Dream vacation: This one has got to be Italy, and more specifically Rome. I had this lofty ambition that I would honeymoon there. I was going to take Italian lessons for the year leading up to the trip so that we would be able to speak the language
somewhat while there to really round out the experience while visiting the countryside. Needless to say, the lessons never happened and we’re going
to the Caribbean. I will learn to speak Italian, though, and will get there soon.
David Ignatius and Margaret Jones,
owners of Scriptura
Favorite trip/vacation spot:
Dave: We have the perfect opportunity to mix business with pleasure in Italy. A number of our major suppliers are located in Milan, Florence and Venice and it is always good to holiday in these wonderful cities. We look forward to meeting
these cities on our own terms, and not rushing from place to place.
Our two favorite things to do are walk through the hills and neighborhoods on the other side of the Arno River in Florence, and walk through the Pian dei Guilari to the San Miniato al Monte.
Our favorite event in Venice is the La Biennale art show every odd year. This huge contemporary art show highlights the best current examples of contemporary art from video to painting and everything in between. Art is displayed in public buildings, churches, schools and historic building throughout the city. You walk the calles, navigating from campo to campo and discover some of the most beautiful and quirkiest art imaginable. It’s also easy to drop into an enoteca and sample the wines and nibble on local delicacies.
Margaret: My favorite vacation spot in 2006 had to be Berlin. The energy of the city is just phenomenal. We were lucky enough to be there for the kick off of the World Cup and this dynamic city was the perfect meeting spot for visitors from all over the world. The city has a very youthful vibe, the most incredible modern architecture and a funky, fashion forward edge. Another city worth mentioning is Stockholm, as we found it to be one of the most serenely elegant and welcoming cities we have visited. We took a day trip out to the archipelago and really enjoyed the pristine natural beauty.
Worst travel experience:
David: Our worst travel experience was in Portugal
at the shrine if Our Lady of Fatima. We were driving from Lisbon to Porto with another couple and decided to stop in Fatima. We had a wonderful time visiting the shrine and the small town that is beside the shrine. We returned to our car and finished driving to Porto, and found our hotel with little trouble.
I got out of the car with a great sense of accomplishment and ready to start touring the city, and went to the truck to open it to get our luggage and discovered there was no keyway left in the lock. We got the bags out through the back seat, the other couples’ bags came out, Margaret’s bag came out, but none of mine. Thiefs broke into the car and took all the small bags, including the bag containing our passports. The other couple lost a bag with many personal mementos. We spent most of the night reporting the theft to the police, and had to cut the trip short to return to Lisbon to get our passports.
Dream vacation: Margaret and I have become very interested in South America. We visited Buenos Aires last year and found one of our favorite cities of the world. We would like to explore the wine country of Argentina, see Patagonia and the southern Andes, get to know Chile and spend a late fall holiday in Uruguay. We have heard many good things about Medellin, Columbia, and would like to see La Feria de las Flores.
Lee McCullough, One Restaurant
Best vacation spots: My two favorite vacation spots have to be Hawaii, where I toured each of the islands, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I like to travel without any set itinerary, and venture out on my own. Visiting Hawaii and Cabo were great places to wander, snorkel, and so much more.
Worst travel experience: This is a tough one because I don’t really have one. I think that whenever I can just get away and travel it’s a good thing. I have no negative experiences yet!
Dream vacation: I’d love to travel to Italy, Spain and Brazil. Each of those places has so much culture, history, great food and people that live a free kind of life. I can already imagine sitting at a little hole in the wall place in Italy enjoying some of the world’s best red sauce!
Bill Capo, reporter at WWL-TV/Channel 4, and Leslie Capo, Director of Information Services at LSU Health Sciences Center
Favorite trip/vacation spot: Our favorite trip was the one we made as a family to London and Paris when our daughters were 11 and 14. It gave them a new understanding of how big and diverse the world is, and a sense of history that led to measurable improvements in school. We tried to see everything, from spotting Queen Elizabeth to seeing the Crown Jewels to touring Buckingham Palace and Versailles. We spent a day in the Louvre, rode the Chunnel Train through the tunnel under the English Channel, strolled along the Seine and the Champs-Elysées and found fabulous restaurants, including dining one night in the same place once frequented by Shakespeare and Dickens. It was a marvelous experience, because of the connections between England and the United States, and Paris and New Orleans, there was a familiar feeling to both places. The kids even had to learn to think in
different currencies to buy souvenirs (menus in French from the McDonald’s on the Champs-Elysées were a hit). Just a note to parents, it is a wonderful experience for the children and the entire family, but since you will have to go during the peak summer travel season, sign the credit card receipts and pay no attention to the amounts. It is the best way to avoid a heart attack. Just pay it off when you get home, and in the end you’ll be glad you made the trip.
Most summers, though, you can find us in our favorite vacation spot, Orange Beach, Ala. It is just three hours away, an easy drive, with a stop at the Burris Farmers Market in Loxley to pick up strawberries, bread and produce. We rent a condo and pre-make the basic ingredients for gumbo and other favorite meals. That way we can stroll off the beach, heat up dinner, and eat a relaxing meal in minutes on the balcony overlooking the water, instead of having to get dressed up and eat out every night. But you can find us at places like Zeke’s Down Under (a traditional first night stop for us), and every day strolling down the beach (except on rainy days when the girls go shopping at Riviera Center in Foley).
Worst travel experience: Bill: On a business trip to New York, my crew was somehow routed through Orlando on an itinerary my travel agent later said was impossible. We had to change planes, which included reclaiming and rechecking luggage, and multiple trips through security. What could have been a two hour flight turned into a ten hour ordeal. We were so exhausted, we finally fired up the camera, and came back with a report on how important it
is to carefully plan a trip.
Dream vacation: We have always wanted to see the pyramids and one day plan to visit Rome, when schedules allow.
To make your summer travel plans run smoothly, keep in mind these tips, tricks, and travel accessories:
1. Try a taking a “packing seminar.” Keeping things light, safe, and secure are essential, and the experts at Rapp’s Luggage and Gifts (3250 Severn Ave., Metairie) not only know the best way to put it all together, but they also have
all the goods, such as clear packing folders and cubes, to make it happen.
2. Nothing is worse than painful feet. Wherever you travel you will probably spend time walking and sightseeing. Perfect Fit Shoes (5008 W. Esplanade Ave., Metairie) has shoes that will fit your vacation location, are stylish and
comfortable, and keep your feet happy.
3. If you plan on visiting amusement parks this summer, you’ll want to keep cool and comfortable. Massey’s Professional Outfitters (3363 Severn Avenue, Metairie) has the CoolMax Extreme shirt from Royal Robbins that dries before you know it and looks great in any weather.
4. When traveling to a beach destination, be sure to check the surf conditions before entering the water, a tip from the beach experts at Beaches of South Walton
(www.beachesofsouthwalton.com). It is important to note that on red flag days “knee is too deep” due to potential rip currents and double red flags indicate the water is closed for swimming.