Theme 43: New Orleans. Royal Sonesta Hotel Review

 Royal Sonesta New Orleans hotel review by NYC based influencer Ulia Ali. Louisiana Travel

One of the places that has been on my bucket list long before I moved to the USA was a charming, mysterious city of New Orleans. For some reason I kept putting away a trip to probably one of the most cinematic cities in the world, waiting for some serendipitous moment to arise. This October, unexpectedly, I was invited for a journey to the city of my fantasy-novels-inspired dreams, exactly on the city’s 300th anniversary.

After confirming my flight, I, in a dream-like haze, was saving all the information about haunted mansions, quaint bookstores, houses of famous writers and all the Instagram-worthy locations in Nola. But then I realized I have no idea where we should lodge!

I undoubtedly dreamed to stay in a famous, and, by the way, ridiculously gorgeous French Quarter, but I wanted to steer clear of any loud hotels, filled with people who came to only party on a fun Bourbon street. Some AirBnb properties looked lovely, but when I saw some photos and read about Royal Sonesta New Orleans, I was intrigued.

For me New Orleans is an enclave of a dark and beautiful history, rich with layers of French and Spanish Creole culture and architecture; a magical place where time doesn’t exist and you loose yourself in a time travel fantasy, while listening to the best jazz music you ever heard.

The hotel Royal Sonesta was a perfect choice for such a nostalgic soul like me, and it let me immerse myself into that classy, elegant, yet seductive and mysterious New Orleans dream I imagined for many years.

ulia-ali-in-new-orleans
 Royal Sonesta Grand Lobby Reception area. New Orleans visit review
 Royal Sonesta street entrance
 Royal Sonesta Review in New Orleans.

The grand lobby of the Royal Sonesta hotel looks like a movie set: a big old style wooden hotel reception with keys and neat envelops, hotel porters in sleek royal blue uniforms, vintage and antique items beautifully placed here and there, exquisite chandeliers and candelabras, water fountains, huge flower bouquets lushly blooming and filling the room with their sweet aroma and a soft jazz music playing on the background teasing the guests with the promise of one-of-the-kind stay.

The moment we stepped into the Royal Sonesta, I knew this is my kind of place as it reminded me of small chateaux in France, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” film and some lavish vampire pre-ball (of course! We are in NOLA after all!) setting at the same time.

royal-sonesta-new-orleans-pr-blogger
royal-sonesta-new-orleans-amazing-pool-view-hotel-luxury.jpg
 Room Sonesta
polka-dot-new-orleans
reception-nola-sonesta-hotel.jpg

There are almost 500 newly renovated beautifully decorated guest rooms and luxury suites, and the room we had was so cozy and charming that we loved going back to it and taking breaks between venturing out for long walks with a stop for delicious beignets and coffee at the world famous Cafe du Monde, and getting back out to the most wildly intoxicating and mysterious night air of New Orleans. Conveniently, the hotel Royal Sonesta is located right in the heart of the French Quarter!

The service at the hotel, by the way, was absolutely impeccable and I was able to learn about famous Southern hospitality firsthand. Once, for example, I asked for a steamer, and it was delivered pretty quickly, so I was able to steam my dresses for the city strolls. 

The breakfast and even lunch were included with the Sonesta Travel Pass (it is a loyalty program I recommend you to join as it has a lot of great perks! Learn more here), and even though I am usually pretty picky with hotel breakfasts, I was really happy with the variety and also some of the unique breakfast options Royal Sonesta offered their guests. I got to try grits for the first time in my life, and loved substituting my usual oatmeal with it. Another really sweet, in every sense, detail is that there was a full candy bar with Halloween chocolates, caramels, cookies and gummy worms, along with fruits and tea/coffee available from early morning to late night at the breakfast lounge. I might or might not sneaked some chocolates every night before going to bed to watch “Poldark” (not the most New Orleans inspired show, but I love period dramas, and I finished watching the most New Orleans’ show ever, “The Originals”, months ago!).

 New Orleans trip. Royal Sonesta Hotel pool.
 Charming hotel in New Orleans

The hotel by the way, despite being located in the heart of the French Quarter, felt like a luxury quiet oasis from a bygone era.


The sounds of a bursting with life, Bourbon street, somehow do not travel through the walls of Royal Sonesta. The lush courtyard with a fountain and quaint little tables are welcoming to have a calm little moment with a book or your own thoughts. The pool area of Royal Sonesta is also absolutely beautiful and a great place to relax and enjoy the sunny weather of Louisiana’s most exciting city!

 Royal Sonesta NOLA

There are so many great little things and charming little details about Royal Sonesta, but I think it is important to note that the hotel is also home to some of the best dining and entertainment venues, making it even more unique! The Jazz Playhouse is arguably the best jazz club in the city, offering incredible live jazz music every evening right in the lobby level of Royal Sonesta. 

 Jazz Club New Orleans
 Desire Oyster Bar at Royal Sonesta New Orleans


Desire Oyster Bar is another dining venue inside the hotel and it was so good that we went there twice for fresh chargrilled oysters, amazing creole food, like jambalaya and gumbo, and a wide variety of fresh seafood.

There is also a Restaurant and a bar R’evolution, Le Booze and PJ’s Coffee Café inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel, which we haven’t had a chance to experience. I heard from other guests that R’evolution serves some of the most interesting Cajun and Creole dishes and original cocktails, so I am looking forward to visit it next time in New Orleans (and I hope to be back for many many times in the years to come!).

This New Orleans trip was special for many reasons, and the Crescent City absolutely stole my heart like no city has ever done before (except maybe London back in 1999 when I visited it for the first time and made a wish to move there one day, which happened years after, but that is another story). I believe that accommodation is so incredibly important and should reflect the mood and aesthetic of your dream trip, and Royal Sonesta with its impeccable service, gorgeous classy 1930s-style-luxury-hotel decor and many charming spots, like a jazz filled ballroom, a courtyard with a pleasant babbling fountain and a decadent dining areas deserves all the stars I can give to it!


Theme 42: Pennsylvania. A weekend in Gettysburg

 Review on oldest inn in America - The Historic Fairfield Inn in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

There has been exciting changes in our lives. Ben and I are now proud owners of a beautiful white fluffy samoyed that we named Enzo (full name is Enzo Sir Lancelot of Pine, because let’s face it, I would never be satisfied with just one name!). We chose to get our samoyed from the breeder White Magic Samoyeds, and going to Pennsylvania to pick up our puppy was a main reason of our road trip adventure.

 Red door Fairfield Inn in Gettysburg
 My samoyed puppy

I have never been in Pennsylvania before, but there were quite a few places I was dying to explore. One of them was Fallingwater House designed by world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The house named “best all-time work of American architecture” was a little bit far from our final PA destination, so we opted to focus on exploring the city of Gettysburg and the nearby areas. 

 Pennsylvania antique store
 Pennsylvania

If you follow me on Instagram or regularly read my blog, you might know that I am a big history buff, and as Gettysburg town played a significant role during the American Civil War, it has a great deal of historical monuments, wartime relics and is soaked with hair-raising ghost tales. Gettysburg also has this wonderful small-town charm, beautiful old Victorian style houses and one of the oldest inns in the whole America - The Historic Fairfileld Inn.

The Fairfield Inn that was built in 1757 was originally the Mansion House of Squire Miller, an original founder of town. The Inn is irresistibly charming and preserves all the flavors and details of the Revolutionary and Civil War eras. The Inn offers a few beautiful elegant and cozy rooms, but unfortunately, the Fairfield Inn was bully booked for the weekend we visited. I do recommend you to stay at the Inn (and I will certainly go back to do so!) as it is a unique and very romantic experience, and so much more intriguing than some little basic hotel room at a generic giant hotel chain.

Even though, Ben and I couldn’t stay at the Inn, we still wanted to explore it. Luckily the Inn has excellent dining options. We were lucky, and on the day of our visit there was a limited period dinner theatre experience, and I was obviously excited about it! 

 Dinner Theatre with Professor Kerrigan

The Inn was even more wonderful and detail-rich than I imagined, and as we arrived early, we had some great conversation with the host of the dinner theatre, Professor Kerrigan, who performs Civil War era magic, tells dramatic ghost stories, and is frankly, hilarious and fascinating at the same time!

The show was lovely, and truly gave us a little feeling of being immersed in another time. Food was beyond excellent! Don’t expect expensive fancy gourmet dishes as the Inn offers authentic, filling, delicious meals, that give you a taste of home. It is the kind of food your grandmother lovingly prepares specially for you when you visit, or what you imagine people eating on Christmas or big weddings in the 19th century. I had one of the most tasty soups I EVER had - a traditional Ham & Bean soup from the original recipe that was used to feed the Confederate Army in 1863! Then we tried Ribs and famous Chicken & Biscuits, that is prepared using the old recipe  passed through generations of innkeepers for centuries. But the absolute highlight of the my period dining experience was a freshly baked berry pie that I am craving every day since.

 Dinner theatre with Professor Kerrigan
 Fairfield Inn dining options

It was such a pleasant and warm visit, and now I really want to go back during Christmas time as they put out a beautiful Christmas tree and all the fireplaces are inviting you to warm yourself next to the crackling fire. How wonderful does it sound?

Discovering and sharing precious and under-the-radar places in America really gives me pleasure, and I can’t wait to explore more charming towns, rich with history and hospitality of their habitants. 

 

 Fsirfield Inn 1757
 Fairfield Inn building
 Fairfield Inn Decor 1757

Theme 8: California Diary. Loews Hollywood Hotel Review

"There's something in the air in Hollywood"
 Blogger Ulia Ali review on Los Angeles Hollywood hotel

As every self-respecting blogger who is trying hard to fit in, every April I attend Coachella festival with Ben, who from a highly ranked financial consultant transforms into my full time photographer during our trips. The festival is actually our favorite excuse to stay in Los Angeles and explore the city more (aka looking for the most instagrammable places). One of the hotels we stayed at during our annual 'Californication', was Loews Hollywood Hotel.

Located in the heart of Hollywood - literally just next to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Dolby Theater that is best known as Oscars location since 2002, Loews Hollywood Hotel is a dreamy and tasteful choice of accommodation for every traveler that wants to be close to the La La Land world.

The Hills! The Hollywood sign! The Theaters! Do I even need to say more?!

 Loews Hollywood Blogger Review

Waking up to the world famous Hollywood sign is definitely a very cliche thing that HAS TO BE on your bucket list, and Loews Hollywood can make that dream come true! Apart from having the A-list view, the hotel room we had was beautiful, spacious and comfortable, and had a bunch of informative magazines and books that helped to plan our city walks.

As Ben and I used to live in hotels full time, we have an eye for details and pay a very close attention to how a hotel's staff treats their guests. We were very impressed by how clean and equipped was the room, and how INCREDIBLY friendly and respectful every member of the Loews Hollywood family was. It is mind blowing how many luxury hotels nowadays have problems with their staff. W Hotel in Dubai was a great hotel, but had the worst valet service ever; St. Regis Kauai staff couldn't remember our names after two weeks of us staying there and were not attentive at all. We not only had zero issues with Loews Hollywood Hotel, but we actually had one of the best valet experiences in the last few years. It might seem like a small detail, but small things do really matter!

 Loews Hollywood pool review and rating

There are a lot of great amenities at the hotel, including a well-equipped gym, but me and my friend Vivien, who joined Ben and I on this trip, fell in love with the pool and hanged out there more than we initially planned. The view at the pool area make me geek out to this day as it a little bit reminds me of Ancient Assyrian wall reliefs. And any historical reference and a unique photo spot ranks high in my book.

I honestly think it is one of the most Instagrammable and just photogenic in general, pools in Los Angeles!

 Loews Hollywood 4 star hotel review

If you are hungry, Loews Hollywood offers a great variety of dining options, including a lovely American restaurant Preston's and a fun, filled with beautiful people, H2 Kitchen & Bar. It is not a secret that the breakfast buffet is one of my favorite parts of the staying at hotels (oh c'mon, we all can appreciate a variety of pastries and 10 types of cheeses on a plate to choose from!), and Loews Hollywood has an excellent one. I am getting hungry now by just thinking of that freshly made omelette and a bowl of fruits, soaked in honey :)

 Loews Hollywood

Another thing to mention and that is, I am sure, important for many of you, is the pricing point. For the service, location and the comfort you can't beat Loews Hollywood prices (less than $300 a night). The hotel is modern, chic and upbeat, but is family friendly and offers a calm retreat to the adventurers in the middle of the Hollywood's delicious madness!

 Ulia Ali - review of Los Angeles hotels

 Yandy swimsuits review

Swimsuit from: Yandy


Theme 41. Affordable Online Shopping Fashion Finds. Pretty Missy

 NYC blogger Ulia Ali gives tips on where to find affordable trendy looks. PrettyMissy.com review

With so many online shops popping up on the wild "fields" of Internet every single day and bombarding us with endless ads, emails and posts, it is quite overwhelming to narrow down your search and find what you need. For that reason I decided to launch a Theme 41 on my blog, where I can list my online shopping finds with some really affordable prices.

Well, if you read my blog somehow regularly or follow me on Instagram, you might saw that I own quite a few pieces from PrettyMissy online store (my autumn look here and this is my Williamsburg look post). Today I wanted to share other items from the store and highlight some of their new arrivals or pieces that just went on sale.

 Pink gloves in NYC. Ulia Ali styles the look!

First item that I saw on PrettyMissy and knew I HAD to have are these elegant and chic pink gloves. Priced at just $7, the gloves immediately add a very sophisticated and glamorous touch to almost any look. I found them to be easier styled with a matching beret, a bow or with similar colored accessories. 

 Downtown New York Style
 Pink Beret NYC look

Another item I picked this time was a black silky top. It is pleasant to skin, a bit revealing, but very sexy and fun. You can find it on sale here.

I have also looked through some of their newest additions and sales items and picked a few outstanding pieces that you might like. Overall, PrettyMissy is shop where every girl can find very affordable, but chic looking pieces! The website often runs some big sales, so it is definitely a great place to shop for new outfits on a budget.

Click on a photo to be redirected to the item!

My Top 3 choices today are the Jasmine inspired silky two-piece, glamorous silver dress and a fun floral top. Have fun shopping and remember to come back for more online shopping tips!


Theme 15: Downton Abbey. The Exhibition in New York.

 Downton Abbey: The Exhibition Review. New York, 2018

When I first heard that Downton Abbey: The Exhibition was coming to New York, I was beyond excited! It has been years since the last season aired. Nothing could quite replace witty, funny quotes of Dowager Countess, the fascinating-to-watch competition between Mary and “poor Edith”, blossoming romances, emotional heartbreaks and seemingly never-ending miseries of upstairs and downstairs habitants of Downton Abbey.

Asking myself the iconic “What is a weekend?”, I decided to take my friend Allison, a fellow fiction writer and another die-hard Downton Abbey fan, to the exhibition on Saturday morning to explore and review it for my Pastiche.today readers. I already had a Downton Abbey theme running on my blog, and I knew that this experience will be a perfect addition to the collection of my articles about the show and looks inspired by the Downton Abbey’s characters. You can click here to see the rest of the posts inspired by the famous PBS show.

 Mrs Patmore's kitchen. Downton Abbey exhibition in New York.

From the very beginning, the exhibition immerses you into the Crawleys’ household and really makes you feel that you are stepping into the Highclere Castle, where the PBS show was filmed. It all starts with the warm welcome from Carson and Mrs Hughes, and leads you through an impeccably and very true-to-detail executed kitchen of Mrs. Patmore, where she ruled over a handful of kitchen maids and footmen. Then you continue to explore the detailed sets and costumes of the servants’ quarters.

 Servants Quarters in Downton Abbey. PBS show exhibition
 Downton Abbey cast's costumes on display in New York.

The second and the third floor explores the lavish and beautiful world of Crawleys. It felt almost scandalous to peek at immaculately recreated Lady Mary’s bedroom, where I couldn’t help to avoid thinking of Kemal Pamuk. Then there is of course a grand dining room. Empty, but all set for an exquisite dinner party that could arrive any second. Every detail is intimately familiar and gives such a surreal feeling of invading Crawleys’ home that I half expected the Dowager Countess Violet to appear in front of me with a suppressed, but visible mark of a humorous disdain on her glorious face:  “Oh, roll up, roll up, visit an actual dining room! Complete with a real life table and chairs!”.

 Downton Abbey: The Exhibition.
 Lady Mary Bedroom
 20s dresses in Downton Abbey. Period drama costumes. Fashion of Downton Abbey.

Slowly walking and taking in all the magnificence of the masterfully designed space by Imagine Exhibtions, Allison and I especially enjoyed all the interactive and smartly placed insights of the historic events and changes that occurred in daily lives of British subjects from Post-Edwardian Era to the World War 1 and the Roaring Twenties. I can confidently and sincerely declare that even those who haven’t yet seen the Downton Abbey would enjoy all the valuable and entertaining information if they have even a remote interest in history!

 Wedding hair in Downton abbey
 Downton Abbey. Edit's Wedding gown
 Downton Abbey fashion.
 PBS Downton Abbey fashion styles.
 Sybil's harem pants in Downton Abbey.

And how can I forget to mention the costumes and accessories of the Downton Abbey’s ladies and gentlemen! The abundance of wedding laces, strict lines of riding costumes and enchanting glitz of all the glamorous 20s gowns absolutely stole my heart. Even though sometimes I like slipping into pajamas at a Netflix kind of night at home, I desperately long for the times when an afternoon tea in a garden required a pretty hat, and for a 6 pm dinner you had to change into an evening gown and wear long elegant gloves.

 20s fashion in Downton Abbey show.
 Downton Abbey Exhibition

Lord and Lady Granham, Mary, Edith and Sybil, Tom Branson, Mr, Barrow, Isobel, Daisy and all other beloved and sometimes despised characters of Downton Abbey already felt so real to every fan of the show, but the exhibition immersed us into their world like never before. Allison noted: “The section with the gramophone and the visual explanation of social hierarchy reminded me of the circumstances these characters faced and the changing landscape they had to navigate. The characters already felt real and three-dimensional. All of this information along with the costumes, sets, and  props made them even more alive!”

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition has exceeded my expectations and truly made me feel like I was a dear guest at the Crawley’s, or a curious phantom wondering through the halls and sumptuous rooms of the family that quite honestly feels in a way like my own!