New Orleans, Part 1: Jazz and Jambalaya

We just spent a couple of nights in New Orleans to break up the road trip from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. We rented a lovely, pet-friendly cottage through AirBnB that had a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms, just a short Uber ride from the action.  It was pristine, affordable and super comfortable.

After working out and showering, we spent our first NOLA night on Bourbon Street, a place we barely got to explore last year when we came through because it was just too loud for Gavin. But this time, with Gavin off at college, we headed down there again. Mardi Gras is still a month away, so it wasn’t high season yet, and we headed out early to avoid crushing crowds and deafening noise.

Bourbon Street is the heart of the touristy French Quarter, and we were planning to go to historic Preservation Hall to see classic New Orleans jazz. For $20 seats on the floor, we would need to stand in line outside to get day-of-show tickets. After a day spent driving, we weren’t in the mood.

Bourbon Street

So we instead opted to get a more local experience recommended by our Uber driver, Joe. First we shared a mouthwatering dinner of blackened redfish and jambalaya at an oyster bar on Bourbon called Le Bayou. Jambalaya is a kind of dirty rice with spicy tomato sauce and andouille sausage. We also enjoyed hurricanes, a classic New Orleans drink with rum and fruity juices. Our waiter kept calling us “y’all,” so we couldn’t forget we were truly in the south. After filling our stomachs, we strolled along Bourbon, taking in the crowd scene, and even saw a school band marching up the road, followed by a small parade of what I assume was a krewe, a social organization that helps put on a parade or ball during the carnival season, which runs January and February.  

Bourbon Street is amazingly loud, even in the off-season, and the road is closed to traffic so people can just wander at their leisure. Musicians with saxophones, guitars or even just spoons and plastic buckets, entertain for tips on street corners. The shops are filled with colorful art, with candy skulls, masks, voodoo paraphernalia, and jazz accouterments.

We walked about a mile to Frenchmen’s Street, a locals’ favorite area. Frenchmen’s is lined on both sides with lively bars and restaurants. As you wander along the sidewalk, you can listen to the music blasting out the open doors and choose your poison. Most have no cover and a local clientele. We chose Marigny Brasserie, and enjoyed an hour of music by a sweet jazz duo. A drunken regular celebrating her 71st birthday alone plopped down next to me at the bar and I was friendly to her. That turned out to be a mistake as she subsequently kept hitting me to get my attention, then ranting in a slurred voice about the injustices of her life and why it was horrible that the bar was showing The Waterboy and Captain Phillips on the big screen when people should be getting to know each other instead. Since she sitting on a stool between me and the band, it was impossible for me to watch the band. I guess if you want to be where the locals are, sometimes you have to put up with a local!

But we ducked out and wandered, encountering an Art Market where local artisans sold jewelry, paintings, even hand-made three-string guitars.

The band at Bamboulia’s

On the second evening, we ate at Bamboulina’s, a cozy bar with exposed brick walls, and enjoyed incredible pulled pork and a wonderful blues band. If I lived in NOLA, I think I would go to Frenchmen’s every weekend and try a different bar each time! Our last Uber driver encouraged us to try Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans next time, so watch for that blog in the spring when we pass through again on our way back north!

Up next … The National World War II Museum

On the Road Again!

After 7 ½ months back in the States, we are back on the road again – this time, bound for Mexico City!

We left Bob’s mother Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg around 8 this morning, with a considerably lighter load than the last trip to Mexico: no Gavin, no Gavin’s luggage, no Ellie the adventure cat, and no bari sax. They have all migrated to Burlington, VT, where Gavin is in their freshman year studying filmmaking. We were also able to leave a few things at Bob’s mother’s house. She passed away three weeks ago, and we will be returning in the summer to fix up the condo and sell it.

Bob in the truck with the cats, ready to go

But till then, we are getting on with our life! And that means driving south.  First stop, Athens, Tennessee, tonight! We are staying at a clean, cheap Motel 8 that accepts cats with no fee and has a number of dining options within walking distance, plus about eight cheap gas stations.

Tomorrow we will hit the road again by 7:30 or 8 AM and drive to New Orleans, where we’ll spend two nights. Then, after another day driving, we’ll spend two nights in San Antonio to break up the 40-hour trip.

The newest addition to our dashboard menagerie, an African wild dog that Aryk gave Bob for Christmas. (He needs a name)

If all goes according to plan, we’ll cross the Mexican border at Laredo, TX, spend a night at the Midway Inn in Matehuala, México, and arrive in Mexico City on Feb. 2, hopefully in plenty of time to find a bar with the Super Bowl on TV. Hasta luego!

We Have Booked Our Mexico City Lodging!

We have booked a wonderful penthouse apartment just a couple of blocks from Chapultepec Park in Mexico City for our 2 1/2 month stay this winter and early spring.

We have done a bit of research into Mexico City, talking to friends who have lived here or visited, and reading books and perusing online resources, to determine which were the safest and most fun neighborhoods to live in — Polanco, Juarez, Roma Norte and Condesa among them. We knew we wanted to live near a park for running, near public transit, and within walking distance of restaurants and other amenities.

The kitchen and dining room

This apartment in Juarez was on sale for half-price because it was a new listing on Airbnb, so we are getting a big place in a great location for pauper’s prices. It’s also a new apartment, and newly furnished, and the landlord says most of the other apartments in the building are not yet occupied. It has two bedrooms with large closets, a little room with a bar, a full kitchen/dining/living area, a patio, and even a roof garden, where the landlord, Eduardo encourages us to practice our instruments. He doesn’t normally allow cats but is making an exception after I begged. (I think he thought it was worth it for the income.) This is the unit: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/40229764

This location is perfect for us because it’s just a couple of blocks from Chapultepec Park, one of the largest city parks in Latin America. This park is more than twice as big as New York’s Central Park, with a zoo, seven museums, live music, and of course great running (which we missed in Tlaquepaque). There’s even a lake where I can kayak!  

Chapultepec Forest Lake (Source: Pixabay)

The apartment is also a couple of blocks from Paseo de la Reforma, a wide, tree-lined avenue that runs across the heart of Mexico City. We’ll be able to run down it to the city’s historic district. It’s also about three blocks from Calle Chapultepec, another popular avenue with lots of restaurants and nightlife that starts at the park by the same name.

Paseo de Reforma (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Fortepan — ID 73834: Adományozó/Donor: Romák Éva)

There are several close subway stations, which is good, because we will park our truck in a secure parking spot when we arrive and not use it again until we leave.

We are confident this is an apartment where we – and the cats – will be able to spend a safe, happy two and a half months in Mexico City.

Enjoy our YouTube video about our successful search for a place to stay in Mexico City!

By Lisa
Hamm-Greenawalt

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s hard to believe it has been seven months since we left Mexico. A brief summer interlude in Vermont getting one of our vacation homes ready to sell and settling our youngest child, Gavin, into Champlain College in Burlington turned into a much longer stretch in the USA when Bob’s mother, Jane, called us in August to say she had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Enjoying a boat ride in Montreal during a weekend off working on the Vermont houses

So after spending the summer painting a house, tiling a kitchen, planting two gardens, refinishing a floor, staining two decks, replacing windows, and doing more tasks than I care to remember on both houses – punctuated, thank God, by a couple of long weekends in Montreal and Burlington and many visits to local craft breweries – we moved into Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg, PA, in October to care for her in her last months.

While living here, we kept busy. Lisa signed up for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) in November and wrote a long-postponed book. Bob threw himself into the editing of his many videos from our time in Mexico for the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel. We both spent countless hours studying Spanish and practicing our instruments (Bob saxophone, Lisa guitar). We spent 9 days in Cancun in November, during a period when Jane was doing better and we needed a break.

The official winner’s certificate for Nanowrimo. Lisa wrote a YA fantasy novel called Elephant Rock.

We also spent time with some of Lisa’s family members around the winter holidays, and got to know Jane’s neighbors in her over-55 community. As her health deteriorated, we became quite attached to her regular visitors from Homeland Hospice, who became our family’s lifeline: her CNA (certified nursing assistant) Sherry, who came every day to bathe and dress her; her hospice nurse Hannah, who visited weekly; and our social worker Pam, who supported us all in too many ways to count.

Jane was able to lift a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. She passed away a week later.

Meanwhile, we cared for Jane and tried to keep her comfortable. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with her. The kids came home for Christmas break and got to spend time with their grandmother. Bob’s sister Beth came to visit regularly.

And on Jan. 7, 2020, at the age of 89, Jane Greenawalt left us.

Now the funeral is over, the spawn are back at college, and we are officially empty nesters. Although Jane’s stuff still needs to be sorted and dispersed, and her condo needs to be fixed up to sell, we are deferring that till the summer.

It’s time for us to get back to our lives, at least for a while. So we are planning to return to Mexico later this month and spend the rest of winter and half of spring there. We’ll come back in late April, before Gavin’s school lets out for the summer, and spend some time in Vermont before returning to PA for the next round of heavy lifting.

This time we are headed for Mexico City! We are excited at the prospect of living in a big city, after spending the summer in rural Vermont and the fall in this Harrisburg suburb.  We are currently deciding between several condos in a safe neighborhood – Condesa, Roma Norte or Polanco – near a huge park (a requirement for us as runners). We are also looking at language schools, because we plan to study Spanish every day, at least for the first month, the way we did in Tlaquepaque last year. It will only be for two hours a day this time, because Lisa is editing her book and we want time to enjoy the city.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop! Right now the plan is to leave Jan. 28 and drive our trusty Toyota Tacoma (with two cats on board; the third now lives with Gavin at school) slowly south, stopping in Cincinnati, Memphis and Austin on the way so we can see some friends and take some breaks from the road. We should arrive in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, Spanish for Mexico City) on Super Bowl Sunday.

Wish us luck! Hasta luego!

Mexico City, here we come!