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Too Many Choices

Welcome reader! You have found my blog. I am a proud lifelong resident of the best city that ever was, Baton Rouge. Yes, superior to New Orleans, which makes it to many top ten lists of US travelers. We have the same climate, scenic architecture, antebellum monuments, and fabulous Cajun (French Creole) cuisine. But it is the state capitol on the Mississippi River, making it distinctive and colorful. Plus, we have the Blue Bayou and Dixie Landin’ amusement park. I want to let people around the world know what a great place it is to visit and all the ways you can pass a good time here. Trust me, there are a lot! I will be your one-stop internet tour guide for the state of Louisiana. I’ll let you know what to eat, where to go, and what to eat. If you think of any questions that I don’t touch on, drop me a line in the comments! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Let’s start with a big shout out to the happy and friendly people of Baton Rouge. They are kind and considerate at their core. Take the day I ran out of hot water. I was in big trouble as I had a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and a load of laundry to do sitting on top of the washer. Not happening! My neighbor came to the rescue and brought over as many containers of the hot stuff as I needed. That’s the spirit of my town. I also got help from numerous friends who wanted to find me a new hot water heater, like the ones here. Everyone  who commented on my post on Facebook sent me an example of a top brand they liked. I had so many that I simply couldn’t go through them all and decide.  I was overwhelmed with the options.

It wasn’t any better at the Home Depot store. I thought I could narrow it down to just a few types. No, it just made me more confused. All of them were great and had the features and benefits I needed. Even price wasn’t an issue. It drove me crazy. I did ultimately end up with a tankless model thanks to the clerk in the home water heater department. So many people got into the picture that I had to do the right thing in the long run. Such are the good people of Baton Rouge.

A Year of Celebrations

We like having a good time here in Baton Rouge, and we like to be sure that our guests do, too. That’s why we throw some of the best Mardi Gras parades and Balls every single year! So much of what we do is family-friendly, too. We’ve got all kinds of events: crawfish cookoffs, Cajun dance parties, tailgating, performances and concerts in our great parks, and holiday parades to name a few.

As a matter of fact, we’ve been doing this a long time. 200 years in 2017, not that I am being boastful. Since we’re not really ones to put things off, we started celebrating at the very end of 2016 – and we certainly needed something to celebrate after the flood in August. The annual Red Stick Revelry (our New Year’s fete in North Blvd Town Square) was a great way to get the festivities started!

I really give the bicentennial committee credit, they did a lot of work to get people involved. They had a “Wear Red Day” to mark the official incorporation of Baton Rouge. Seeing everyone join in to commemorate this special year on social media was incredible. It was such a great way to bring people together and something anybody who wanted to participate could do to show their Red Stick Pride.

The Old State Capitol had a fantastic history exhibit that ran the whole year, which was a nice reminder that no matter the troubles we have had as a city, we have been able to overcome them.

Louisiana Life Magazine had a Bicentennial Bash at the Old Governor’s Mansion. That in itself probably would have been enough, but it also honored residents of the year and benefitted the Foundation for Historical Louisiana. I wish I could have gone but alas, I was unable to attend. I had a celebration at home with friends instead!

However, I did participate in The Biggest Selfie. That was just too good to miss. There was a Wine Walk beforehand and then we went to the levee. I can’t say that I remember a lot of it, but what I can recall was a fun time.

Different companies were able to use the logo to commemorate the event. There were Red Stick shirts, socks, posters, cups, mugs, and all kinds of other items. Even my favorite brand of soda made special bottles just for the bicentennial!

In December, they did a Champagne Stroll and Trolley Ride. What a great idea! You got to go through downtown to see all the holiday lights and hear carolers singing, with stops to have a glass of champagne. The Holiday Shop Hop was held at the same time, so you could get all your Christmas shopping done at once!

This great year of celebrations ended the same way it began – at the Red Stick Revelry in North Boulevard Town Square, complete with birthday cake, the traditional dropping of the red stick, and fireworks over the Mississippi. I wish we could do this every year!

Best Times to be in Baton Rouge

I am biased, because I think the best time to be here is year-round. But for those of you who only get to visit, I wanted you to know when the best times to come are. It really depends on what you’re looking for. But here is a friendly tip: if you don’t like the heat, come in the winter or real early in spring.

First of all, if you are interested in Mardi Gras, you need to be here for that. Look for it somewhere between February and March, as it depends on when Easter is. Mardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday” so it is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the official start to Lent. It has developed into a week or so worth of parties and parades. Personally, I think ours are better and more family-friendly than in New Orleans, but you can decide – it only takes an hour to get from here to there.

Since nobody throws a party like we do, you can do your New Year’s celebrating right here. Who needs Times Square in freezing cold New York City when you can be here watching our namesake Red Stick drop at the strike of midnight? You’ll enjoy great food, good music, and a great fireworks show.

If you are a fan of blues music, we have one of the oldest blues festivals in the country. It is typically held in April. You’ll find a great mix of local artists and big-name stars. Best of all, this weekend-long festival is free. If blues isn’t your thing, there are spring and fall concerts on Sundays in North Boulevard Town Square and Friday nights at City Hall Plaza or Repentance Park.

For my athletic readers, we do have a marathon. Of course, we do it our own way: over the course of three days, with all types of races and distances; and we celebrate with bands and food. You may enjoy running, but you’ll love Finish Fest. Plus the weather in January is pretty good for running.

And if you prefer eating to exercising, there are a lot of food festivals around here. There’s the new Red Stick Food Fest, which is held on Mother’s Day weekend and features food, music, and fun times. Perfect thing to do with Mom, and she doesn’t have to cook a thing! We also have a street food festival, a soul food festival, and wine tasting events. When to come will depend on what you want to eat!

For the kids (and the kid in you) who love Christmas, you will love the Festival of Lights. It kicks off in December with the tree lighting ceremony in North Boulevard Town Square. There are fireworks, a visit from Santa, ice skating, and real snow. You can walk through the Bethlehem Village, ride the Mansion Express train, and visit local art vendors. It’s a great way to put yourself in the holiday spirit.

Anytime is a good time to visit, really, but these events are sure to make you glad you came.

A Brief History of a Great Place

Baton Rouge may not be the biggest city in Louisiana, but I certainly think it is the best one. And since it is the capital, I am going to say that the state agrees with me. As a city, we’ve had ups and downs, but it is a great place to live, work, and visit.

We’ve gone back and forth a few times between foreign rule, then Union and Confederate control. The area itself is incredibly old – Native Americans have lived around here since around 8000 B.C. But if we’re talking about it resembling an actual city, this great city was established as a French military post. The name Baton Rouge means, “Red Stick,” so named after explorers saw bark-stripped red cypress trees on tribal hunting grounds. The Native Americans used these sticks to impale sacrificial animal and fish heads.

Europe really liked the area. Back then, there was plenty of bear hunting and fishing, which made it perfect for settling. Plus the water access was amazing. France, England, and Spain all had control of the city at one point or another. When France had the area, settlers from Acadia, an area of French Canada, fled here after the British took their land. Their descendants were known as Cajuns, and they had a heavy influence on our culture and language. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War, gave it over to the English in 1763. They did not have it very long, as it was lost in the Battle of Baton Rouge in 1779 to the Spanish.

The Spanish managed to hold onto it a little longer. The governor, appointed by Spain, Don Carlos de Grandpre, is the one who created Spanish Town. However, the locals overthrew them in 1810, and called it part of the West Florida Republic. This was a very temporary situation, only around 90 days, and then it became part of Louisiana. And as you probably know, Louisiana was accepted into the Union in 1812.

In 1849, Baton Rouge became the capital city. Union soldiers took over the city in 1862, and there were several battles fought here. The Third Battle of Baton Rouge was lost by the Confederates in one of the longest fights in our American history.

We were originally more of an agricultural area but after the Civil War, the population grew thanks to oil refineries – the first of which opened in 1909. Then LSU moved in 1932, creating more middle-class neighborhoods in the area. This diversity continues to help us grow and be a great place to live and work.

Downtown started getting a little downtrodden, but Davis Rhorer and some other political backers worked very hard to entice businesses and restaurants back into the area, which has made it a great place to be. There’s lots of hotels, offices, and places to eat.

Where to Go in Baton Rouge

I love Baton Rouge, and I’m proud of my home city. Everybody knows that we know how to party, and that Mardi Gras is a great time to visit. But there is a lot more to do here, and year round, too! It was hard to just choose a few places, but I narrowed it down to just a few locales that cover a lot of interests. Anything for you, cher.

In the spring, take a day and go to Alex Box Stadium to enjoy a baseball game at Skip Bertman Field. The tickets are much cheaper than at a major league ballpark and more fun to boot. And once fall comes, you can find most of us at Tiger Stadium on game days. Trust me, you’ll want to be there.

Sports aside, you really should just come to LSU and check it out. The campus is just beautiful. If you’re into architecture, you’ll in for a real treat. For the younger crowd, Mike’s Habitat (the LSU tiger) is really something! There’s also the AgCenter Botanical Gardens, where you can walk some landscaped grounds, and the Hilltop Arboretum.

If you like those parks, you can also hit the Riverfront Plaza, Arsenal Park, Repentance Park, or North Boulevard Town Square. They are all great. Sometimes there are concerts or events that are open to the public!

The Old State Capitol is another great place to visit. It’s really beautiful – it looks like a castle! Spiral staircases and stained glass provide a great background for photos. But you can also learn about the history of the area here, so it is well worth the trip. Did I mention that it is free? There’s a children’s area, guided and unguided tours, and even a ghost. The actual capitol building is great too, and you should definitely visit there as well. But as for me, I say the Old Capitol is a can’t miss activity.

For more history, visit the USS Kidd, a destroyer from WWII. Aside from the ship, there is also a museum and a Memorial Plaza right next door. Take the tour. Some of the docents are actually veterans who were stationed aboard the ship. They’ll be able to tell you everything!

If you like tours, there are two other great places to go. The first is the Old Governor’s Mansion. It is like a small White House! Take a tour and enjoy this wonderfully restored treasure. Another great place for a tour is the Magnolia Mound Plantation. While not as large as you might think, the tour can be great fun and it is amazing to see this French Creole home and its open-hearth kitchen.

I hope that you find yourself having a great time and maybe even learning a thing or two when you visit these places. I also hope that you experience some of the fun and southern hospitality Baton Rouge is known for!

If I missed a place, let me know in the comments. Maybe I’ll have to write another (or several) post and make this a multi-parter!

Eating Authentic Cajun Food

There’s a reason people say that Louisiana is a whole other world. We’ve got the best food there is, for one! Cajun cuisine is definitely worth a try if you’re here in Baton Rouge, or if you just want to be adventurous and try something new. Here are some things you’ll need to know.

For many dishes, you start with a roux. Any good Cajun uses oils or animal fat instead of butter like the French. It sounds simple but it can be difficult to cook – it involves stirring the fat and flour constantly. A good roux will make your gumbo alive with flavor and a bad roux will make it unedible. Roux is essential when making crawfish étouffée, one of my favorite dishes. It is essentially a thick stew that is cooked by “smothering.”

Now, if you go to a crawfish boil, you will hear people say, “pinch the tail and suck the head.” That is the secret to eating crawfish the right way: by pinching the bottom, you loosen the meat enough so that you can just suck it out the front. If you want to cook them yourself, start with live crawfish, clean those suckers really well, and be sure to have a large enough pot to boil all the crawfish your friends and family can eat! Once they’ve boiled, you put them in a seasoned ice bath to steam them.

Another great food to try when you’re here is a Po-boy. Now, New Orleans takes the credit for this one, and you can always try one in both places and see whose is better. You might think it is just another sandwich, but you would be wrong. Usually a po-boy has roast beef or fried seafood served on French bread. You’ll probably be asked if you want it “dressed”, which usually means lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise. For fried seafood po-boys, you often won’t have a choice – it will come dressed with melted butter and pickles.

But if you’re here, you really have to try a good gumbo. Everyone will tell you their mama makes the best. You start with a roux and add the “Holy Trinity,” onions, bell peppers, and celery. I like it best with seafood, but others prefer meat. Most versions will still have andouille sausage. It is traditionally served over rice, which makes it different than jambalaya, which has many of the same ingredients but is cooked along with the rice. Jambalaya is also something you should try when you’re here, as we make some of the best.

Other options for food will depend on what’s in season when you visit. Andouille sausage is always good, as is boudin. Crawfish, catfish, shrimp, and oysters can all make for a great Cajun dish depending on what’s freshly caught. There’s also game hens, duck, quail, chicken, pork, and sometimes beef. We also like rice, hot sauce, and cornbread on the side!