Health + Fitness | Travel

Bikes are a great way to tour a city

You can learn a lot about a city by taking a bike ride.
On a recent trip to New Orleans, my friends and I opted for a two-wheel tour over a bus excursion. It was cloudy but warm and we liked the idea of combining exercise with sightseeing. Our guide, Bob Rodrigue, owner of Big Easy Bike Tours, was extremely knowledgeable about the city, offering lessons in its French, Spanish and Creole history, its African-American and musical culture and its unique geography.
From the edge of the French Quarter, we pedaled single file along Canal Street to the Mississippi, where Rodrigue pointed out the first of many city gems: The New Orleans Holocaust Memorial Sculpture. Described as an artistic visual prayer, a series of panels feature designs that meld into single images depending on your vantage point. They include dark images of the Holocaust but also a large yellow Star of David and a rainbow, a sign of hope. It was mesmerizing.
Just as it began to rain, we pedaled along tree-lined Esplanade Avenue, past Creole mansions of various architectural styles. About two miles from the French Quarter, we reached St. Louis #3 Cemetery, among three Roman Catholic cemeteries where the graves are above ground-vaults. Soaked, we ducked into a mausoleum, where Rodrigue explained that above-ground burial at historic cemeteries had more do with French and Spanish customs than flooding issues.
At City Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country and home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, we paused under a stand of mature live oaks and marveled at the Spanish moss dripping from their branches. One of the oaks in the 1,300-acre park is nearly 800 years old. We snapped lots of pictures.
On the way back, under clear skies, we passed through the Treme neighborhood, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the country and home to St. Augustine Catholic Church, where slaves and freed blacks alike attended mass before the Civil War.
Rodrigue encouraged us to attend mass.
“It’s not like any mass you’ve ever been to before. It’s uplifting,” he said. “Bring a bottle of water. You’re going to be there awhile.”
We left Rodrigue at Congo Square, the birthplace of jazz, and we walked away from our bikes and guide with not only a better sense of the city and its history but also a wealth of tips on restaurants, bars and entertainment.

Greg Tasker
Greg Tasker is Detroit News Arts and Entertainment Editor and has been writing about travel for more than a decade. His travel stories have appeared in AAA Living, Frommer's Budget Travel, Scouting, AMC Outdoors, Vermont Life and Island Life.