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Let the Good Times Roll at the ANI

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We've recently returned from the Board meeting in New Orleans and while our days were filled with strategic meetings; the Crescent City's atmosphere made everyone excited anticipating the ANI in October.

First, The Sheraton Hotel where we will be based is a great hotel venue for a meeting. Its central location right on Canal Street puts the French Quarter in easy walking distance. As a side note, the Baltimore Ravens were staying across the street at the Marriott when they played in the Super bowl earlier this month. There are so many restaurants in the area with a wide variety of menu options and prices,

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, with live music is in many restaurants and bars. Just walking up a street, you will hear the sounds of jazz, zydeco, blues, bluegrass and just about any kind of music.

Recent TV shows have been promoting New Orleans. From Anthony's Bourdain's The Layover on the Travel Channel to CBS specials hosted by Grammy award winner Wynton Marsalis; New Orleans is post Katrina and a wonderful city to experience. The HBO show, Treme has also been great promoting the city.

While Mardi Gras season starts in January; the Mardi Gras spirit stays with people all year long. You can always find beads, masks, boas or funky hats for souvenirs.

This is a city to experience if you have a few days or even a few extra hours. I'll share some of my favorites. I'm sure once you've been to New Orleans you'll have your list too.

* Beignets at Cafe DuMonde. This is one of musts whenever I'm there. I get a beignet (hot, fried, puffy dough pillows) without the powdered sugar and a café au lait, a strong, rich coffee laced with dark chicory mixed with cream, that is so not Starbucks. The beignets come 3 to an order and with a café au lait, it’s under $4.00! Plus, they are open 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Sometimes I go twice!

* Felix for a dozen raw oysters. Acme Oyster House gets all the tourists so you can usually get a seat at Felix. I think it's comparable and I appreciate not standing in line.

* The French Market. Just past Cafe DuMonde, after you’ve had a few beignets, you’ll come to this great indoor-outdoor market with interesting and colorful stuff like a flea market. There are crafts, inexpensive jewelry, T-shirts and more.

* Magazine Street. Many people fail to venture to Magazine Street. You can take the streetcar for a dollar or so, it stops in walking distance to Magazine Street. Window shopping is so interesting along Magazine Street. This area is not like the French Quarter. It’s less touristy with some neat, small boutiques, antique shops and vintage stores that students frequent.

* Jackson Square. Any time of the day or night is interesting in Jackson Square. Early in the morning artists are setting up their works on the fences as it has become an open air artist colony. Fortune tellers find their spots and the state museum, The Cabildo is there too. The Cabildo is another secret place folks fail to visit, filled with Civil War & Slavery memorabilia along with historical items and information about how New Orleans came to exist. Named for President Andrew Jackson, the square is a great spot to peruse the art, enjoy ice cream and people watch.

* A secret stop, a small needlepoint and knitting store that has been on Chartres Street for as long as I can remember called the Quarter Stitch. They have small tin Christmas tree ornaments and neat mini needlepoint canvases of New Orleans fleur de lis.

* Gumbo. You can find expensive restaurants in New Orleans and also inexpensive places like the well-known Mother's. No matter what you spend or where; the gumbo in New Orleans is so delicious. It's a thick soup-stew filed with seafood and served with a scoop of white rice. It makes me hungry thinking about it.

* The streetcars. Here is a city where riding the street car is just fun in itself. There's the Streetcar Desire and it stops not far from The Sheraton. It is fun to take a round trip as the streetcar route weaves through the Garden District and offers a glimpse of living in city. We started talking to some locals one day and totally missed our stop we were having so much fun.

* Blue Dog Gallery. The artist George Rodrique is the creator of Blue Dog and his gallery is in the Quarter. Every trip to New Orleans, I try to stop in and lust for an original Blue Dog. There's something about the look in the dog's eyes in every painting that makes you feel they are all knowing.

* Just walking around, some may call it aimless wandering but every street in New Orleans seems interesting to me. I love that it's a pedestrian friendly city that is very welcoming.

New Orleans is perfect for the ANI, we'll work hard and network but with the backdrop of this wonderful American treasure; I think you'll come away with a great experience.
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