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Silver threads: Hotels

During my last time in London, the dollar was very low against the pound. That meant two of my girlfriends, who were there to join me, and I really couldn’t afford the little South Kensington hotel where my husband had usually stayed.
It’s the Aster House, an old four-storey (that's Brit spelling, not a typo) dwelling that has been beautifully converted for paying guests, and the rate was $400(US) a night.
So I went online and found a business called “Home Away from Home” through which we could rent a flat for 10 nights for no more a quarter of the cost of spending the same length of time at the Aster House. Two bedrooms, a bath and kitchen and living/dining room. I can’t even imagine what they were getting at the time from American guests at the Savoy or Claridges. The Ritz in Paris, which reopened this week after a four-year renovation, charges $1,475(US) per room per night — for starters.
Our flat was way off the tourist route, and a local friend who visited London frequently just sneered when I told her about it. But for the first time I got to see Highgate, Hampstead Heath (wonderful view of London from there), Camden Town and Chalk Farm, all places I’d read about in the English murder mysteries I was addicted to. And the point of the trip — as I’d conceived it — was to visit sites made famous by British writers such as Ruth Rendel, who’d set a spooky killing in the Highgate cemetery.
We travelled to Greenwich one day hoping for a sight of the Isle of Dogs, which Anne Perry frequently mentioned in her novels about Inspector Monk of the Thames River Police. (And did go more “classical” and tour one of the former homes of Charles Dickens.)
Our flat was only a 20 to 30 minute tube ride from Leicester Square, where we bought tickets almost daily to the London theaters — another point of our trip.
I got to thinking about this the other day when a Minnesota friend who has arranged a trip to the eastern Caribbean called. The cruise — which I’ll be on — takes off from Boston on Oct. 30 and finishes here in New Orleans, and of course she and about 10 on her “tour” want to spend a while in our city.
But room rates at the big hotels are $400 a night, and reservations for mid-November are already scarce. “What’s going on?” she asked in an email. “Is it Jazzfest time?”
“Not even close,” I replied, “but it’s the height of the convention season, and maybe there will be a Saints game to boot.”
I know that New Orleans is a very popular, often over-crowded tourist town and that hotel rooms here are pricey for those who want to step outside in the middle of the Quarter. But I never imagined it would so hard to find less expensive accommodations within a streetcar ride or a manageable cab fare. And especially six months on advance of a projected stay. I tried, but I’m a novice at this kind of searching.
Not so my friend. She eventually located available and more moderately priced rooms on Magazine Street, within walking distance of Canal. Not nearly as cheap as my London flat, but closer to the action.
Unless you’ve been reading detective stories set in Chalmette or Metairie.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]