Visit includes high-end hotel, minor league baseball

On a recent visit to New Orleans, my father, his brother and I defied expectations.

In the midst of a multi-stage train trip, we stayed only 14 hours and we didn’t patronize jazz bars, streetcars, restaurants or the French Quarter.

Instead, we went to a minor league ball game.

My father, celebrating his 80th birthday, is working toward 250 in a lifetime tally of ballparks he’s visited; so we trekked out to see the New Orleans Zephyrs, AAA affiliate of the Miami Marlins.

This was after a mere hour of post-travel rest at the swanky Hyatt Regency, a surreal experience in itself.

Every room in the 27-floor edifice faces a cavernous central atrium; you step out your door onto a balcony running all the way round and get a spacious view down into the restaurant, bar and lounge. When my uncle went to set his coffee on the banister, he discovered it was A-shaped, not flat – to prevent items getting accidentally knocked a dozen floors down onto unsuspecting diners.

The glass elevators have no buttons inside or out – you cannot get on one without a key-card; scan this, and a readout tells you which car to board. The car automatically whisks you to the proper floor.

Somewhat undone by these high-end accommodations, we grabbed a taxi – but Zephyr Field is such a rare tourist destination that the driver didn’t know where it was. Thank God for GPS.

The 10,000-seat park has the usual relaxed, community feel of minor-league venues, with plenty of craft beer and fine local food; we enjoyed excellent jambalaya and crab etouffee.

One highlight was discovering a swimming pool beyond the outfield fence – first time I’d ever seen one in a ball park. Use of the facility doesn’t come with admission; it’s rented out by local clubs and businesses, as was the case that night, with plenty of patrons enjoying both baseball and aquatics.

I also noted preparations for post-game fireworks, but the kids had to wait a long time; this game, against Colorado Springs, went 13 innings.

Anticipating a 7 a.m. Amtrak departure the next day, we left early, our cab driver kindly returning for us and even more kindly answering inquiries about his European accent.

“Moldova,” he told us – a reply greeted with some silence, as none of us were sure we’d even heard of this place.

Driver Ion Topa (pronounced ee-YOAN), 23, came to America in 2013 and taught himself English. When my uncle asked about Moldovan government, Ion told us it had been Communist but now is democratic – in both cases, corrupt. In fact, Ion said he preferred Communism because “at least under Communism, there was only one person stealing all the money.”

Food for thought indeed, not the kind of food one normally gets in the Big Easy, but all part of a memorably unusual visit.