Legend has it that when the world’s first travel blogger, aka. Marco Polo, chronicled his travels of the Silk Route to discover the mysteries of the Far East during the early 13th century from his native Venice, it set forth a chain of events that eventually inspired Christopher Columbus in later years to search for a navigable oceanic route to that enchanting place. The rest is text book history as we know it.
The point I am trying to make is how one person’s written account of an enchanting place could cause a physical reaction in others for years to follow. Finding such a place, and writing about it, certainly is every travel bloggers’ dream. However, the challenge remains in stumbling upon a place of magic and mystery these days, because no thanks to modern methods of communication, almost every unknown is known to all.
Well, at least that’s what I thought. Until New Orleans happened to me!
When is a hotel not a hotel? When does it move beyond a symbol of manufactured object constrained by boundaries to a realm where you just find yourself lost in the vibrancy of its character, its people, its story? A hotel is after all a gathering point – a place where minds meet, communication happens, sounds traverse.
Indeed there are hotels across the globe that have managed to elevate themselves to something beyond its physical constraints, albeit sometimes organically and sometimes notoriously. Either way, when such a transition happens, stories are shared, tales are told, old mysteries deepen, and new mysteries evolve.
I have lived in well over 200 hotels to date through my travels, be it for business or pleasure. 95% of those times, it has been a thing I need to just get done with. Like getting past border control or catching that cab ride to some destination. Check-in, enter, out, done. Depending on location and class of hotel, it may just be enter-out-done. Ask me the names of these places I stayed at, I probably would have no recollection. This happens 95% of the time.
Luckily, there are some places that capture your imagination in such a way as you probably never felt before. It draws you in slowly as you find yourself merging in to the vibrancy of its character. The physical can only enchant you for so long. Eventually the latent sound of the place, its people, its atmosphere, its cumulative history begins to snowball from curiosity to excitement.
What if there was a place where you found the pinnacle of western culture and refinement all at once? What if such a place evoked your sense of pleasure and made you feel guilty each time you left the premises to expose yourself to the outside world?
What if such a place was a favorite jaunt of the fashionable and intellectual crowd without the baggage of pretentiousness and excess that seems to be the “tendance” in contemporary hotels?
What if the passerbys of this place were more polite and elegant in their demeanor than what you are typically accustomed to when traveling?
Most importantly, what if that place was not just a place but a repository of incredible tales of a great historical event that impacted mankind?
A place that is a standing homage to the courage, determination, and resiliency of the human spirit? Would that make you see it in a different way?
Could such a place of contradiction exist all at once in one place at given moment in time?
Maybe it does. I cannot answer these questions definitively for you. It is something that I can only chronicle the way Marco Polo did and something that you have to experience for yourself just as Columbus did.
All I can say is that the closest thing to such a place that I have experienced was during my stay at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. Notice I do not refer to it as a hotel. It is not just a hotel. It is not just a Hyatt. Read on.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Hyatt Regency New Orleans became ground zero for city officials, emergency crews and media during this time. Following the disaster, the battered hotel remained closed for six years, becoming an iconic reflection of the destruction caused by the hurricane.
After an immense $285 million redevelopment, it reopened in the Fall of 2011. Some of its pre-hurricane staff returned. Several did not. New ones arrived. Each one has a story to tell.
Its legacy remains. This is what makes it evolve beyond a hotel. This is what makes it so culturally and historically significant. This is the tale of a New Orleans Legend.
Acknowledgement: The New Orleans visit was for my research on how some of the businessess that were impacted severely during Hurricane Katrina had recovered following the aftermath. A sincere Thank You to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and Whitley Donsereaux, Public Relations & Marketing Manager of Hyatt Regency New Orleans, for coordinating this media tour. I was not paid by any party to write this post and nobody has reviewed it prior to publication. All comments are my own. Check out my other stories on New Orleans here.