It is time to get out there and become one with nature, grab a little culture, listen to endless hours of music, and eat for no reason at all. Ummm…that looks and smells like a road trip to us! Each year starting Memorial Day through Labor Day is the time that many of us Americans hit the road. This summer we decided to join in the fun and share our finds & fun with you all. Let the planning begin! We first decided where we wanted to go. New Orleans, San Antonio, and Austin would be the first three cities in what we are calling, “Urban Swanks Road Tour Summer 2013”. Next up was how would we get to each city?!?! Having the right set of wheels can make or break a road trip. Lucky for us, General Motors (GM) was generous enough to provide us with vehicles for each trip.

Ready, set, we’re off…

First up was NOLA baby, or for those that are not from around these parts…New Orleans. We packed up our sexy Urban Swank mobile (any vehicle we roll in gets this title), which just happened to be a Cadillac XTS Platinum series. SWEET- your girls were rolling in style (make sure to check it out in the slide-show).

“New Orleans is going through a Renaissance” – those were the thought provoking words shared by Vice President & General Manager of the Royal Sonesta Hotel, Alfred L. Groos, during our talk while visiting New Orleans. Before the horrific hurricane came that left New Orleans in shambles, New Orleans had a reputation. It was known by many visitors as a party town and depending on your lack of knowledge regarding the general areas that surround the French Quarter, you may not label it as the safest place to roam. New Orleans wasn’t a top contender when businesses were looking to host conventions or other company functions. It wasn’t seen as a destination for a family vacation or a place you took your children. Quite honestly, we agreed with many of the labels, until recently.

We would like to introduce you to the “brand spanking new, equipped with a set of new tires” New Orleans…

Driving down Canal Street on the way to our hotel felt very familiar, but some things had changed. The afternoon crowds were the same. Those making their way in and out of hotels, peeping into windows of boutiques, small art galleries, antique shops, and mom and pop eateries to enjoy a Creole or Cajun lunch, or getting the day started early with a cocktail, beer or both. What was the same? New Orleans was still the place where anything goes, but it had a fresh coat of paint – a subtle newness that only a diehard New Orleans fan would notice. Music seemed to be piped in from every corner almost inviting you into the treasures that seemed hidden behind every door. It was alive, moving at a constant pace, and changing…right before our eyes.

We checked into the Royal Sonesta Hotel, located in the French Quarter right off Bourbon Street, for our stay. Referred to as the “Jewel of the French Quarter, its European feel blended with Southern charm and topped off with the undeniable presence of Southern hospitality is one of the reasons we love this place. It is symbolic of what New Orleans represents. The city’s culture is embedded throughout from the popular Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse that is open 7 days a week, to the timeless and meticulously decorated rooms, to the grand entrance, rooftop pool, and courtyard that make every entrance appealing and inviting.

What do you do while you are here?

We could quite easily say, do it all, but we know a little direction is required for those that are “new” to “Nola”. We suggest you start your stay and dive straight into the history and culture of New Orleans; it is everywhere. New Orleans has been influenced by so many. You will find that a little piece of French, Spanish, Haitian, African, and even German has made New Orleans into what it is today. New Orleans has some great museums like the New Orleans Mint, the National World War II Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Those should not be missed.

Another reason to love New Orleans – shopping, shopping, and more shopping of course! This city has some wonderful antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques. If you have time to get a little retail therapy in, look no further than Magazine Street, where you can find all the above and a little bit more. A few favorite art galleries to check out are Cole Pratt Gallery and Jamie Hayes Gallery. If antiques are on the brain, then make your way to Antiques on Jackson. Looking for a few fun pieces to add to the wardrobe? Then give Ah-Ha a try for apparel and Jezebel’s for jewelry.

If you haven’t been to Bourbon Street, you haven’t been to New Orleans. It is a must do, must see, and place to be in New Orleans at any time of the day and throughout the night. You could spend an entire weekend here and not see it all. Here you will find a plentiful collection of bars, hotels, shops, and restaurants. While you are in that part of town, drop by Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, the French Market and Preservation Hall. If you get a chance to spot a Second Line Band (brass band) performing and leading wedding guests down the cobble-stoned streets of the French Quarter, you will surely be in for a treat.

Next, enjoy the food! The cuisine in New Orleans is world renowned and that includes both the restaurants themselves and the chefs. When someone says, “traditional dishes like Gumbo, Po-Boys, Muffulettas, Bread Pudding and Beignets”, your reply should be, “New Orleans food for a thousand please” (clearly we watch too much Jeopardy). New Orleans is easily one of the greatest food cities in our nation. We started eating as soon as we got into the city and didn’t stop until we rolled our happy fat asses (gained about 5 pounds in two days) out the city. We ate lots of good food, and had to share our top two favorites – Cochon Restaurant and Restaurant R’evolution.

Cochon is one of the hardest reservations to get in the city and we felt lucky that with only 4 days notice someone cancelled and we grabbed their 10 p.m. reservation. They are serving traditional Cajun southern dishes the chef, Donald Link, grew up eating. We fell in love with the smoked ham-hock, crawfish pie, and fried boudin.

After spending almost five hours during brunch service, we can say with confidence that we are kinda digging Restaurant R’evolution. We think their slogan should be, “The love is in the details and our food!” Every nook and cranny was well thought out when Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto build this place, and in some rooms you are walking through history and in others modern meets traditional. The food is a fusion of both chefs styles, and is a reinterpretation of classic Cajun and Creole cuisine. Please don’t sigh when we say this, but we loved everything we ate that day! A few stand-outs would have to be Death by Gumbo (Roasted Quail, Andouille, Oysters), Beer Battered Crab Beignets, Sheep Ricotta Gnocchi with Lobster, and the Corn and Crab Cappuccino (black truffle, popcorn).

The same weekend we were visiting New Orleans, the FestiGals were in town. FestiGals, an event created by woman for woman, was entering its 3rd year. The festivals primary mission is to attract a diverse group of women to New Orleans for the purpose of experiencing the culture within an intimate all-girls get-away setting. We only had time to attend one event, and that was the delicious brunch hosted by James Beard finalist Chef Tory McPhail of Commander’s Place. However, the other ladies had four days that offered a variety of inspirational seminars, enrichment workshops, networking opportunities, a charity auction where “bras” took center stage, and plenty of opportunities to just let loose and shake their wanny fannies.

New Orleans is not your typical American city and is actually more reminiscent of a European destination or Caribbean town. New Orleans has come into its own and a new life has ignited underneath the city. It is now a city of new beginnings, mixing the old with the new and the classics with cutting edge trends. It is not only the place that continues to be known for its unique cuisine, sultry music, and non-stop nightlife. And although New Orleans is known to put on amazing and memorable events like Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and the Essence Festival, it is so much more than that.

We invite you to go and fall in love with New Orleans all over again!

The Urban Swank Girls

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