Hopping on our bike after walking it off the ferry, we headed towards the boardwalk that runs along the river’s edge. Children in school uniforms were running around and feeding the seagulls outside of the Audubon Aquarium. The screams of delight and laughter were infectious and I couldn’t help but smile and giggle myself as we rode past. Continuing on down the board walk we saw people from every walks of life out enjoying the day of no rain after quite a few days of wetness and gray. Many people had lots to say about our tandem bicycle and we enjoyed the laughter and joking that their comments brought. My favorite comment was when a few guys sitting on a bench yelled out “Hey!! She’s not pedaling!” I was totally pedaling! For real 🙂 It was pretty funny because our hosts, Bill and Erin, from the night before had told us that people would say that to us, and it happened a few times. Anyway, we turned off the board walk and started heading towards the massive cathedral we could see protruding above the other buildings. That is when the true adventure started. As I have mentioned before I am not a very experienced bike rider- especially not in busy places. Thankfully Kyle is not only experienced but rather skilled at navigating through such situations because as soon as we entered the French Quarter, what to me seems like the heart of New Orleans, here is what we were biking with: thousands of people, cars, police on mopeds, horses, horse drawn carriages, bike taxis, other bikers, countless van taxis, scooters, and a few balloon and hot dog carts. Everywhere we looked, turned, or moved was filled with tight spaces and quick maneuvering. Kyle handled it like a champ and I felt completely safe and at ease on the back of the bike as we explored the cultural and historically filled city.
The streets were lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and my favorite, really awesome houses, apartments, and duplexes- all connected as though they were one long building, but distinct from one another due to different colors and designs. Blues, pinks, greens, purples, and brick colored buildings with balconies above them. Many streets closed to cars, on others cars, people, horses, and bikes, shared the roads. As we pedaled along I was filled with awe and joy at the culture and beauty around me. Not just the buildings and the network of the city, but the people! People, human beings, are so incredibly amazing and the French Quarter instilled this upon me even deeper. Kyle and I are on a tight budget so stores, bars, and restaurants were just to be enjoyed from the outside as we pedaled along; it turns out that ended up being the most wonderful gift. Because we weren’t looking for a place to go inside and spend money we decided to enjoy the streets- which I truly believe is where the real talent and performances are. We would pedal along until we heard some sort of music playing and then would follow the music until we found the source. Our first stop was on the corner of Royal Street and there was a beautiful girl named Maddy and 6 jazz musicians behind her. The banjo, guitar, tuba, trombone, drum, and washboard supplemented her amazing voice as she sang soul filled jazz tunes and in between verses played the trombone. We leaned the bicycle up against a pole and took a seat on the curb; during a break between songs Maddy took interest in our bicycle and our journey and we chatted a bit while they got ready for the next song. Before we knew it Maddy had offered for us to come stay at her house, shower, and use it as a home base while we explored the city. I took down her number but told her we had already found a place to stay using Warmshowers, but that if it fell through we’d give her a call. Later Kyle and I would find out how small of a world it really is!
Eventually ‘Maddy and Jazz Friends’ packed up for the day and Kyle and I headed onwards to continue our exploration. We walked the bike for a few minutes just to experience the city at walking pace, and then hopped back on and travelled down some side roads. That is where we saw all the colorful and unique homes. As we were pedaling down the road we passed a violinist set up on a corner; she was playing on her own and once again we screeched to a stop and turned around. We set the bike up on a fence and plopped down on the curb across from her to enjoy the music. This was the theme of our day and I was grateful we chose to spend time on the streets with the musicians as the talent was unbelievable and the positive energy flowing strong. As the hours of the day began to dwindle down we pedaled to a bike shop to get a spare tube as we had used ours. Once again we were greeted by friendly and interesting folks at the shop; a warehouse with bicycle parts but also different artists and craftsman working on different projects. We chatted with the owner for a while and he gave us some tips for our upcoming route. Saying our goodbyes we headed toward our host Brett’s house in the Ninth Ward area. Despite people telling us to steer clear of this area, we went with our gut instinct and pedaled to his house. The area of Ninth Ward, while a bit run down in spots, is actually rather beautiful. The houses aren’t manicured, the people are friendly, and what I noticed the most was a huge sense of community. I could feel the history, culture, impact of Katrina, and the network of a community rebuilding their neighborhood as we pedaled along. Arriving at Brett’s house we were greeted by a friendly guy, about our age, and an awesome house! After saying our hellos and meeting each other he showed us around the house; it’s an old house that was damaged quite a bit during Katrina. Brett has been living in the house for 4 years and while it is a project house for sure, it has a lot of potential. Tall ceilings, wooden floors, big windows, lots of space, and endless amounts of wood to be used to restore the house. He offered for us to stay inside, but I loved the backyard so much that I really wanted to stay in the tent so we set the tent up before making some dinner and meeting the other people who live at the house. Three people, including Brett live in the house, and all of them are musicians. Brett’s friend and his son, a 14 year old, both live there and I was so impressed by the 14 year old’s musical talent. From the piano to the saxophone to the clarinet- he practiced all this morning and I was so thrilled to be able to experience the talent.
Kyle and I’s plan was to just stay for the night and head out early this morning, but after being invited to a folk/bluegrass event at a nearby bar we made the decision to stay up late and not take off the next morning. Brett offered for us to stay as long as we like and we decided that instead of rushing onward trying to make miles we would stay until we felt ready to leave. Having some projects that he needed help with on the house we were looking forward to helping out and getting to know some locals and seeing New Orleans from a non-tourist point of view.
Originally when we bought the bike and started the pedaling part of our voyage Kyle and I had planned to make it to my parents house near St. Petersburg, Florida but last night we changed our minds. At first we were turning down the offer to go to the bluegrass/folk show because we were concerned about money and making miles in order to make it 600 miles before Christmas. As we thought more about this I realized that we had, once again, lost sight of our “no schedule and no rush” goal. Therefore we made another decision about our journey- the goal wasn’t so much St. Petersburg as just the border or Florida. Pensacola is the border and only about 200 miles away which could be done easily in 5 days. Discussing a bit farther we made a choice: we are going to make it as far East as possibly by December 23rd, definitely Florida, maybe Pensacola, maybe Carabelle, maybe farther. But during the next 16 days we will take every opportunity that comes our way to meet interesting people, explore new cultures, see beautiful places, and embrace the freedom and exploration that travel provides. With that mindset, we took Brett up on his offer to stay for another night or two, and last night we went to the bluegrass/folk show and had just a marvelous time meeting local musicians, artists, and other fellow travelers. I am not much of a dancer, but Kyle and I were sitting at the bar chatting and enjoying the show while people danced and chatted around us. A guy came up and asked me to dance.. Kyle of course thought this was wonderful and pushed me out of my chair so I didn’t have much of a choice. For the next couple minutes I attempted to dance in my socks and sandals with a musician from Brazil named Chisago. He was a real nice guy and we laughed together a bit, but as soon as the song ended I said thank you and B-lined it back to Kyle!
Once we got back to Brett’s house I was exhausted and ready for bed. We laid in the tent and had the most wonderful surprise! In the distance I could hear Maddy, the jazz musician who happened to be Brett’s neighbor, singing and playing a horn instrument a block away. A train passing through the city sounded its horns and I would anticipate when the horns would end so I could hear her voice again. Guitars and other string instruments could be heard in the far distance- every once in a while laughter and sounds of joy travelled through the air as we drifted off to sleep.
This morning the neighborhood roosters woke us up and soon after Brett came outside with a cup of Greek coffee for us to try. He then went on to explain the origin and history of coffee and all the while someone inside the house was playing the piano and singing amazing jazz tunes. After coffee and making some breakfast Kyle and I hopped on our bicycle (which by the way is amazing to ride with no gear on it!) and went on a hunt for a thrift store as Kyle was in need of some new shoes. When we arrived back to the house, once again, we had a treat in store. The 14 year old was outside on the back patio practicing the clarinet. Kyle and I quietly sat down next to him and I did some writing while Kyle cooked us lunch. The sound of the clarinet filled us as we enjoyed some sunshine that poked through for the first time in days. The rest of the day has been filled with conversation, music, and helping with a few projects around the house. I find myself smiling as I observe the neighborhood around- dogs, kids, people out and about and what I find the most remarkable is what seems to be the “open door” mindset. While there is still privacy and independent homes everyone seems to not only know one another, but to be friends with one another. It is very different than anything I’ve experienced as all the neighbors, regardless of age, race, or gender are friends! And not just “hey how’s it going” friends, true relationships that are in depth. They spend time with one another, play music with one another, and share their stories and lives. I find it refreshing and beautiful and I am so happy to know that communities, “village like” as Brett calls it, still exist.
So far my experience in New Orleans has been eye-opening in that I’ve been introduced to a new community and way of life. I’m feeling thankful our journey made this turn as its been filled with new challenges and growth.