NOLA Halloween

 

Audubon Park

Usually when I visit NOLA I hit up my old haunts, the same places I’ve been to time and time again. This time was different. This time my sister and I went for Halloween weekend and almost all the things we did were novel to me.

Friday: We drove all day. Traffic made the trip 11 hours, a stretch from the usual 8 1/2. Once in our hostel off Canal street, we decided to head to Frenchman street.  We brought bikes to transport our fleshy exteriors, which made getting around a breeze. No need to call for an Uber driver (a hip service I have never used). We rode to Frenchman and parked where we pleased. We found some good music at our spot Vaso. We meanderd some more, and ran into a group playing on the street. There was a keyboardist, a guy on an effects machine, and an extremely skilled violinist. The genre seemed to be hip hop/trance style beats with wicked gypsy violin. My sister also plays violin, and we were amazed at how dexterous this guy was with the thing. He danced around wildly whilst sawing out electric clear notes all jambled together to produce his hypnotic tunes. In the middle of a lick he would throw the bow to the ground in one blurry motion and play the thing staccato horizontally. We danced at the front of the crowd alternating faces of enthusiasm and disbelief with sips of high-quality spirits. After a while, we decided to retire and started the thigh-strengthening ride back to the hostel.

Robby and Andi NOLA

Saturday: Oak Alley Plantation, a place straight outta Interview with a Vampire. Our frugal energy manifested itself once again. Adult tickets were $22 and for minors it was $8. I told my sister we’d try to get her in as a minor to save some fundage for drinks and food later. Luckily for us, the lad at the ticket booth gave her a toddler ticket. Free entry for her! The ticket checker ripped them up, and we were elated to have gotten two people in for the price of one. The house was gorgeous. But, none of the info signs described the horror of the institution of slavery for what it was. We joined a tour around 2:00 pm. One tidbit of info that stood out to me: Back in the day: “it took a rich cotton plantation owner to make a poor sugar plantation owner.” Later that night we hit Frenchman again. Not quite the same scene as the previous. We dressed up as a pirate and mime. Enter a slew of drunken political and social justice conversations, subjects on which my little sister is highly keen.

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Sunday: We rode around the Bywater on our bikes. We rumaged through some old thrift stores. We ate at the delicious Willie Mae’s, the best fried chicken and catfish this side of the Mississippi. We took a nap at Audubon park. Mosquitos seem to like my sister more, nay, way more than they do me. That night we didn’t go out. We drank wine and played music at front part of the hostel. Some people seemed to really enjoy our practice which was uplifting.

Monday: One last walk around French Quarter and one last fried chicken and catfish lunch at Willie Mae’s. The trip back took the expected 9 hours with stops for food and gas. It was Halloween day, and to set the mood we found a Spotify station that had a man reading ghost stories that people sent in to the show. That seemed to pass the time I and enjoyed listening to people’s accounts of encounters with the paranormal. Finally, we made it to Austin. Another NOLA trip down, extra love for la Nouvelle Orleans, and some nice sibling quality-time.

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Austin to New Orleans by Moto

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Recently I spent the 4th of July in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans! After living there in 2011 – 2012, I try to make it there at least once a year. Since I’ve already done most of the touristy things, when I go I just visit some of my old haunts. The thing that made this trip different was time this time I went by motorcycle.

The ride there was long and tiresome. I broke it up by spending the night in Houston at a friend’s house. Even so, the trip the next day was hard. It was close to 100 degrees (38 Celsius) and humid as hell. I ran into rain at the start of the trip. Also, a wasp hit my helmet face shield and somehow ended up inside my helmet with me! He seemed unconscious but I could see him waking up and I had to stop and try to take my helmet off to shake him out. Despite the heat and humidity, it was a pretty drive. I especially like the tall coniferous trees around Bastrop, TX. The bridge over Lake Ponchartrain in LA is breathtaking, it’s such a huge lake you can’t see the other side.  I also like the view from the bridges over the Mississippi river in Baton Rouge.

A friend of mine who lives in New Orleans was nice enough to let me crash his place. During the days, I spent my time riding around and visiting places I used to frequent. I had drinks on Magazine St. I walked the Quarter, especially the quieter parts away from Bourbon. In fact, I didn’t go to Bourbon St. at all. I cruised down St. Charles gazing at the old, plantation-style mansions and shotgun houses. I read a book in the Lafayette Cemetery. On Independence Day I went to watch the firework show on the Mississippi. Afterwards I went to Frenchman to watch a show, the Brassaholics at the Blue Nile. They’re a local brass band and they put on a badass show. That was the second time I’d seen them.

The next day, I started the long ride back. My friend gave me a windshield that he didn’t want for his bike anymore. It helped take the wind off my chest and I didn’t get so fatigued  on the way back. By the time I hit Houston, I decided I would just go all the way to Austin. All in all, I was on the road for more than 10 hours that day. When I finally got home I was beat. I just threw my dirty self on my bed and didn’t move. The next day, I decided to take my car instead of riding my bike. On a day without rain! There’s a first for everything I suppose.

This trip, I felt like my feelings for the city changed. Until this trip, I usually felt a sort of longing for the city, a desire to move back there someday. This was the first time I didn’t feel that desire. I now feel that New Orleans was the stage for an important chapter of my life. I guess they’re all important aren’t they? Though, that stage is in the past, and I can’t go back and recreate that place in my life even if I wanted to. So I left there feeling that I had finally made some sort of peace with residual feelings about the past. New Orleans was a wonderful stage for that chapter in my life.

Saudades – The Hardest Part About Travel

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about the Lessons I’ve Learned from World Travel.  That article was about some of the wonderful aspects of travel and how they have shaped me. Though, I didn’t mention some of the more difficult parts of travel. Before I tell you what the most difficult parts about travel are for me, I’ll tell you what they are not. It has nothing to do with the physical body. It isn’t getting tired or hungry. It’s not the aching feet from walking 20 mi (32 km) in one day. Nor is it the days I was stuck in my hotel room with food poisoning thinking that I was about to die. In that post I talked about how those are things that toughened me up, and hence I view them as a positive. No, one of the hardest things for me is leaving pieces of my heart in every place that I connect with.

New Orleans

Have you ever heard Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, by Louis Armstrong? Listen to the lyrics and you’ll know right away that Louis gets it. The Big Easy is one spot where I left a piece of my heart. New Orleans was my home in 2011-2012. Sometimes I think about the creaky, old, 19th century houses on St. Charles, in Midtown, Tremé, the Garden district and the Marigny. I look back on when I used to walk through the French Quarter after work. All the lights would be out except the old gas-lamps. I used to stroll around my neighborhood and smell the scent of sweet olive and jasmine floating through the moist swamp air. I loved taking the creaky St. Charles streetcar to work during the week. I miss the festivities, the humidity, the history, all of it…

Paris, La Seine

For me it’s also Paris, another once-upon a home of mine. I reminisce about when I would walk around the city for hours and hours. I lived in a tiny, bohemian mansarde (attic room previously for live-in maids that had a slanted ceiling and only a few feet of space at one end where one can actually stand up). I was broke, but I was so happy to be living in Paris surrounded by beautiful architecture and interesting people. I used to wander into the grandiose cathedrals and ponder the stained glass. I miss the parties in my Spanish friend’s little 5th-floor apartment.

The most recent place where I left a piece of myself was Vila Velha, Brazil. I had a nice one-bedroom that was only a 10-minute walk from the beach. I went there almost every day. My friend and I would swim and watch the sea turtles coming up for air. Sometimes I would spread out a sarong and read in the sand. Oftentimes we would attend independent film festivals at the university. I miss cooking Moqueca, Feijoado and other Brazilian dishes. When I got tired of cooking I’d go out for Gormet Pizza, Churrasquinhos and Açai. It was an unforgettable time for me.

Those are just a few major examples from my life. I have other places where I left a piece of my heart such as the village Tad Lo in Laos, also Budapest and Madrid. Even if I’m happy in my current location, there are always feelings of longing, or Saudades in Portuguese. I feel  that longing whenever I’m reminded of that place. Sometimes it’s from a song, a movie, or someone mentioning that they were there recently. Sometimes I just daydream and the feeling comes out of nowhere and smacks me right in the face.

And, if you should return to a place looking to relive that magical moment in your life be forewarned. It probably won’t feel the same. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t return to a place and expect to get the same feeling. The connections formed with those people and places were not coincidence. They were the coming together of many factors and energies. These converged to create a unique and special moment in time and space for me and the people I shared those experiences with. They are singular and cannot be replicated.

So how do I go on traveling, leaving pieces of my heart in so many places around the world while still staying whole? Though it feels like I leave something in each place, I also integrate something new into my life. A friend of mine Brazil said it best –

“Vamos deixando pedaços de nós pelo caminho e cada pedaço que fica para trás nos mostra que podemos seguir com menos medo de perdê-los.”

“We go about leaving pieces of ourselves on the road and each piece that stays behind shows us that we can continue onward with less fear of losing them.” – L. M.

Thus, I continue to embrace the Saudades I feel almost on a daily basis. All these experiences, bitter and sweet, have shaped me. So, when I am having one of those moments or periods of life, when I am forming a deep connection with a person or place, I try to live those moments to the fullest. I try to give my whole heart to the attention of the moment, because that moment will never come back. It can always be relived and revisited in your memory, but can never be replicated. And that to me is one of the most beautiful AND the most difficult parts for me about world travel.

Stay tuned for part 2…

Laissez les bons temps rouler! New Orleans part deux

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I spent my 28th birthday in New Orleans recently, and had the most amazing time! It was so nostalgic to be back in the city I spent a year in (2011 – 2012), that when I tossed my backpack down on the creaky bunk of our hostel in the Garden District my nerves were really on edge. I really miss living in New Orleans. I didn’t realize just how much until I was there and felt the vibe that the city gives off. So much history, so much culture, so much to do and great food, interesting people, an interesting place in time and space. After living overseas next year I plan to have some money set aside and I’d like to move back to New Orleans.

I went with my sister, and two friends Nataly and Stephen. My sis and I stayed at a hostel right off of St. Charles and my friends stayed elsewhere, so it was mostly my sister and I going around seeing the sights, my old stomping grounds, and partying like rock-stars. The first night, we got in after a 9 hour drive, got dressed and went straight to the French quarter. We bar hopped a bit and ended up in a strip club where my sister got a lot of attention. That first night we only stayed out until about 2 am out of exhaustion from the long drive.

The next day, Friday, we spent the whole day sightseeing and took advantage of some free tickets I got to catch a ghost/haunted walking tour. I’ve been on that tour many times and I especially like hearing about the La Laurie mansion. I carried a small backpack loaded with alcohol and we barely spent any money that night, since in NOLA you can drink in public. By the time we headed back to our beds the streetcar had stopped running and we walked for about 30 minutes instead of taking a taxi. As we neared the place on St. Charles the sun was coming up to greet us, something I don’t see often.

The following day, my birthday, we got up at about 10 am despite having went to bed about 5 hours earlier, got ready, and did it all over again. We ate at a great place in the neighborhood called Parasol’s, and I got a b-day shot of some nice whiskey. We took a walk around Audubon Park close to where I used to live and where I used to jog and read. Later on we caught the streetcar from the quarter and hit up the Bayou Boogaloo festival in Mid-City. That night, we went out and my sister and I challenged ourselves to stay out all night until mass at St. Louis Cathedral at 9 am (which we had planned on attending before our drive back to Austin). We hopped around, partying hard on Bourbon, dancing and drinking the night away to live Jazz on Frenchman and in the Marigny, and met some locals at a great dive bar on Decatur. At about 6 am we went to Café du Monde for some Beignets and OJ. We were so exhausted but we found a bench on the boardwalk on the Mississippi and watched a breathtaking sunrise. We took a nap on the bench our heads next to each other until I was awaken by the sun cooking my skin. We started towards the Cathedral but to our dismay a slow moving, very long train was separating us from our destination, so we had to muster the little energy we had and climb over it to the other side. During mass we were dead! Every time we stood to say a prayer or sing I cursed at how much energy such a simple task took. We still sang to the best of our abilities, and the songs they chose that day were particularly beautiful. Afterwards, we collected our friends and drove back to Austin, Texas. A couple days after we got back I bought a trumpet (an instrument I’ve been wanting learn for some time!), and every time I play I remember the jazz and all the good times I’ve had in The Big Easy…Laissez les bons temps rouler mes chères amis! A la prochaine…