A hostel situation in never-to-be-forgotten New Orleans
Posted on the 18th Nov 2012 in the category travel

Here is the debut travel review of John Tipper, the other member of Brummies for Obama, here he writes about the world famous hostel we laid our heads in New Orleans. 


Finding ourselves in New Orleans without a place to stay on the Halloween weekend ('mardi gras for locals', no less) we chanced upon the India House Hostel, writes John Tipper.

Around for about 25 years and a mainstay of the budget travel market in the Big Easy, it's some distance from the French Quarter, in a part of Mid-City known equally for sporadic gang violence and excellent gelato.

We booked a double room, wryly titled 'Ocean View' on the grounds that it overlooks the small swimming pool in the back yard. It was basic but not especially uncomfortable, although clambering up to the top bunk proved to be a bit of a pisser. Given that places like India House thrive on communal life it's probably best that there's so little to detain you in the rooms, although the (seldom enforced) ban on boozing in them is a bridge too far for me.

Our fellow guests were a lively bunch, drawn from all corners of the globe. True to form, I ended up deep in conversation with a girl from Wiltshire; not only was she pleasant company, but as we grew more voluble - which is to say, drunker - we started attracting sharp looks from a couple of Australians. I don't consider a trip worthwhile unless I've pissed off at least one Aussie, so that was a very welcome development.

Breakfast the next day was cheap 'n' tasty, at $6 for bacon, eggs, toast and a couple of hash browns, and marred only slightly by the presence of the world's surliest chef. A couple of bottles of Abita, the excellent local beer, and I was ready to spend another day failing to see any of the magnificent sights that make New Orleans the city it is. 

All in all, the India House Hostel is a decent place to lay your head, especially as it's linked to the French Quarter (and Treme, Bywater et al) by a pretty dependable bus and tram service. And that's all you really need - particularly for the first-time visitor, time spent in a hotel room in New Orleans is time wasted. My advice is: check-in, then go straight back out to soak up the atmosphere and drop half a po'boy down your shirt.

Brad, Angelina, De Niro and little old me
Posted on the 14th Nov 2012 in the category travel

The Soniat House Hotel in New Orleans is one of those hotels that you did not really believed still existed in our all mod-cons world, writes Steve Zacharanda.

The building is on the US National Register of Historic Places and as soon as you step into the carriageway where horses used to enter it is like stepping back in time.

The court yard is a vision of green as century old trees reach into the sky and the smell of coffee wafts around you.

A feeling of tranquility quickly made me into one of the most relaxed Brummies on the planet.

The feeling of an era long gone continues in the drawing room where Clare the cat seemed continuously asleep, the manager said she never left the hotel and I can't blame her.

Staff like Michele, Randolph and Irving all have accents to die for and manners that would not be out of place in Buckingham Palace. In fact the endless wait for the taxi chatting to Randolph and Irving might have been the funniest half an hour in New Orleans. Great people. 

In the corner is an honour bar, on an antique dresser naturally, where you can have champagne by the glass amongst other wee drams.

The hotel is handily placed, two blocks from the world famous Bourbon Street and one from French Market.

As this little corner of the French Quarter is mostly residential the bedlam of Bourbon Street is far enough away not to disturb the peace of the hotel.

Opened in 1984 by Frances and Rodney Smith the Soniat House reflects their passion for French antiques. Part of the hotel is even a quaint antiques shop. Every one of the 30 rooms is different and all have antique furniture in, hence the sensible ban on children under 10. The tvs are delightfully discreet, after all a 42 inch plasma wouldn't really add anything to these splendid rooms.

This was a boutique hotel before the over used term boutique hotel was even dreamt up.

Mr and Mrs Smith are on good terms with that other Mr and Mrs Smith - Brangelina, who often place visiting guests in the Soniat.

Robert De Niro stayed here last month, in the $675 suite probably, as it he probably wanted to feel the master of the house.

The great thing about this little gem is honeymooning couples or tourists can afford to stay without breaking the bank. And there are not many places that regularly host A-listers can do that.

All the rooms in the old slave quarters are both quaint and delightful and at under $200 worth every penny.

Breakfast is served in the court yard and includes chicoree coffee and buttered scones along with mouthwatering jams, or preserves as the locals call them.

Guests also get to use the New Orleans Athletic Club a few blocks away which is worth a visit alone, as it is the second oldest gym in America.

And this being new Orleans it has an oak paneled bar in the middle of it.

However, I doubt guests spend too much time there because like Clare the cat they probably never want to leave the faded grandeur of the Soniat House Hotel.  


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