I once concluded that the shape of Louisiana resembled a toilet, and I even believed the smell resembled that as well — try driving through Monroe without wanting to vomit from the odor that the paper mill blasts into the air. It was probably the last state I had ever imagined myself living (except for Mississippi), but I would eventually spend three great years of my life in The Bayou State.
Me and my wife, Natosha, were shocked and surprised when we received an opportunity to move to Louisiana, but we both knew it would be an opportunity to spend more time together and embrace a new culture while we were still young. Both of us were searching for something different from our current situations, and a move to a new state appeared to be the answer.
We both formerly shared a negative image of Louisiana, but we entered the state with open minds and open arms. The Boot instantly flaunted its beauty, and we easily found a passion for a place that we believed had no potential. We traveled across the state and explored many areas, we attended events and festivals, we chowed down at some impressive restaurants, and we embraced a new culture. This place had found a way into our hearts.
We gazed as the sun set over Lake Pontchartrain, we devoured so many king cakes– various flavors from bakeries and grocery stores, we cheered as we watched prisoners ride bulls at the Angola Prison Rodeo (the longest running prison rodeo in the nation), we attended part of the filming of Jack Reacher 2 — hopefully we are extras in the movie, we watched fireworks erupt over the Mississippi River for Independence Day, we pressed against the glass as LSU’s Mike the Tiger interacted with us and seemed to pose for pictures (RIP Mike VI), and we were amazed by the hot air balloons at the Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival. Louisiana offered so much more than we had ever realized.
The swampy areas of south Louisiana once seemed dirty and gross in my mind, but I learned to appreciate the nature that God had placed in this area of America — the swamps hold a special place in Louisiana culture. As we toured different areas of the swamp lands, we encountered beautiful birds, turtles, snakes, and even alligators. The calmness of the swamp can best be complimented by the cypress trees. The bald cypress tree is a symbol of the swamp and the state tree of Louisiana.
The structure of the cypress could be towering and impressive, but Natosha found herself obsessed with yet another beautiful tree found in Louisiana — the Live Oak. The Live Oak is a monumental tree, and the tree’s beauty can only be understood when seen in person. They are usually not very tall trees, but the heavy branches can spread more than 100 feet across and are draped in Spanish moss. Some of the best live oak trees that we spotted were located at the Jungle Gardens in Avery Island and at the New Orleans City Park — unfortunately we never made it to Oak Alley Plantation which boasts a walkway that is lined with 28 live oak trees connecting the plantation to the Mississippi River.
The New Orleans City Park was one of our favorite areas of New Orleans, which is where we spent much of our time in Louisiana. Its a 1,300 acre park with a sculpture garden,
the New Orleans Museum of Art, Botanical Garden, Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, a golf course, and so much more. One of our favorite events we attended was the Celebration in The Oaks where they light up 25 acres of the park with hundreds of thousands of lights and displays. It really was a magical time for all ages and was the perfect way to start off the holiday season.
City Park is only a small piece of the things to see and do in The Big Easy. The Audubon Zoo is another family friendly place that we enjoyed. We visited four zoos in Louisiana — Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Zoosiana (Zoo of Acadiana) in Broussard/Lafayette, Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe,
and the Baton Rouge Zoo. The Audubon Zoo was our favorite, because it was more renovated, displayed a vast array of animals, allowed you to be interactive with certain animals, and it featured a Louisiana Swamp exhibit that highlighted the wildlife and culture that can be found in the swamps of Louisiana. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas was another amusing place we visited that complimented the Audubon Zoo(we prefer the Georgia Aquarium, sorry Nola).
When I was young, I looked at New Orleans only as a “party city”, full of trash and filth. The trash and filth can definitely be found around the city (Bourbon Street is overrated), but don’t let that distract you from the beauty that this city displays. You won’t find us in the party scene much, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the French Quarter.
An ideal day in the French Quarter for us would start with a quick — or quick as possible — stop by Cafe Du Monde. It is impossible to visit this area without munching on some beignets. We would then start browsing the local art that surrounds Jackson Square
while we listen to the local music that can be heard on most corners during a busy day. After buying some art, we would make our way over to the French Market and browse other local shops as we walk by. There are so many lunch options in the area — one of my
favorites was the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, but just a short walk away will take you to Frenchman Street, where you will find some of the best gourmet hot dogs around at Dat Dog. After lunch, we would take a stroll down the roads of the French Quarter and gaze at the New Orleans style homes — you won’t find them like this anywhere else. Jackson Square, the St Louis Cathedral, and the Woldenberg Park all make for great picture opportunities as you plan your dinner in the area.
We even attended our first Mardi Gras parades while living in Louisiana. Coming from the northern section of Alabama, we didn’t understand the magnitude of Mardi Gras — It’s a huge holiday! We ate king cake for the first time and instantly became addicted. We attended some smaller parades leading up to Mardi Gras and were surprised at how much Mardi Gras was celebrated, but we never fully grasped just how big it was until we attended the Krewe of Bacchus parade. Thousands of people lined miles of the streets to watch the parade and catch throws. John C. Reilly served as the King of Bacchus during our first parade, and Jim Caviezel served as King this past year that we attended. We fell in love with Mardi Gras season, and that is a piece of Louisiana that we will always keep close to us. Hopefully we will be back in the next couple of years to celebrate some more!
New Orleans was where we spent most of our time outside of Baton Rouge, but we also traveled to other areas of Louisiana too. We spent a couple of days in Monroe mostly visiting Duck Commander and other places that related to Duck Dynasty. We also spent a weekend in the Shreveport and Bossier City area. Lafayette was an hour drive for us, and we spent a few different days touring the area and trying the restaurants. One of our favorite areas that we visited though was Avery Island.
Avery Island is most popular because it is the home to Tabasco Sauce. Tabasco offers a self-guided tour that will take you through a museum, a small greenhouse, the warehouse holding barrels full of pepper mash, and the factory building (you can watch the workers bottle Tabasco sauce on weekdays during work hours). There is also a store where you can purchase all of your Tabasco products and a restaurant serving food flavored with spices. Tabasco is the reason that people visit Avery Island, but the Jungle Gardens is the best reason to spend your day there.
I like to believe that the Jungle Gardens is the best kept secret in Louisiana. Many people that I knew and worked with had either never heard of the place or have never visited. The charming side of Louisiana can be found here as you experience the
tranquility of this 170-acre garden. Hundreds of snowy egrets can be found in the Bird City area, and if you are brave enough, you can walk right up to the alligators like we did! The azaleas and camellias bloomed beautifully, the live oaks spanned as far as you could see, and the bamboo was thick and towering. Hiding in the middle of the garden is a Buddha, a centuries-old statue, that is positioned on a hill overlooking a soothing pond. I could not imagine a more peaceful area that displays the wildlife and nature that makes up Louisiana.
I can’t forget about views from the city that we called home, Baton Rouge. The capital city features the tallest capitol building in the U.S., and it allows you to walk out on the Observation deck located on the 27th floor, giving you a stunning view of downtown. One of the most historic, beautiful sights in BR is The Old Louisiana State Capitol. It is located in the heart of downtown, and you can’t miss this ‘Gothic architectural treasure’ as it overlooks the Mississippi River. The admission was free to enter this National Historic Landmark, but it is worth so much more!
Only a block away from the Old Louisiana State Capitol, you will find the USS Kidd berthed on the Mississippi River. This destroyer ship is one of the largest attractions downtown, and you can receive a great workout as you climb up and down the various levels of the USS Kidd. There are a couple of casinos on the river near the USS Kidd, but we preferred to travel farther down the river to gamble at L’Auberge Casino. L’Auberge is newer, nicer, and just a better all-around experience than the other casinos in town — and that buffet is delicious! We were not big winners when visiting, but we did have a great time playing. We even ran across Coach Ed Orgeron (LSU Football Head Coach), and he was nice enough to talk with us and take a picture.
Coach O reminds me of the people that we met across Louisiana, especially in Baton Rouge. The residents were hard-working, accepting, and friendly…not great drivers, but great people. We didn’t hear as many Cajun accents as we thought we would, but the people there are definitely proud of the Louisiana heritage. These great people in Baton Rouge endured some hard times though while we lived there. In July of 2016, Alton Sterling was shot and killed by two police offers sparking a national outrage and multiple protests. Only two weeks later, a man murdered three police officers and wounded others only two miles from where we lived.
We were torn to see what was happening in Baton Rouge, and so many others in the community could relate. Some of the protesters that were arrested were from other cities, but most were from other states. Even the man that murdered three police officers was a resident of Missouri. The killing of Alton Sterling was a terrible situation within the city that needed to be resolved without others coming in and trying to stir the pot more — results of the case are rumored to be presented this week.
Most people that I came in contact with in Baton Rouge were sad to see that the Alton Sterling shooting occurred, and didn’t want to see more destruction take place. I believe everything negative that happened following that did not represent the people of Baton Rouge fairly. People in the city were grieving, and people were praying, and people were trying to find ways to help us all come together as one. Coming together is what Baton Rouge needed most then, and I truly believe that is what most others wanted to see happen as well.
The residents of Baton Rouge are resilient though. The media started to back off the stories, the protesters became tired and slowly settled down, and the U.S. Justice Department remained silent on what actions may be taken in the shooting of Alton Sterling. The people in BR were working to get back to the normal routine as the situation faded away, and hoped that they wouldn’t have to see anything that terrible again. In August of 2016, a historic flood affected many residents of Baton Rouge and nearby cities, and once again, the great people of Baton Rouge would face adversity.
The Louisiana flood claimed the lives of 13 people, over 100,000 homes and thousands of businesses were impacted by the flood, and costed the economy an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion. Nobody expected rainfall to exceed 20 inches in many areas or the rivers to rise well above historic records. Thousands were trapped and had to be rescued, and many lost everything they owned.
We found ourselves stranded on the interstate as the water from the Amite River rose and began to cover the lanes of I-12. The water was beginning to pond in different sections of the interstate, and we were forced to drive through water around two feet high. Eventually we were no longer able to continue driving through the portions of the interstate covered in water, and the water would continue to build around us trapping us in that area. A couple of nice people (in a larger vehicle than ours) offered to give us a ride to our exit, and I’m thankful everyday for them. We have never felt so helpless, but we could not have been more thankful to only lose our vehicle in the flood.
Once again, the people of Baton Rouge were forced to be resilient. I have never seen people come together to help others as much as I did after the flood. Once the water began to rise, locals with boats would go out and try to save as many people and animals as possible — they were known as the “Cajun Navy”. The local media presented excellent coverage of the flood, even when the national media failed to show the real impact it had on residents and businesses. People from all over donated their time, supplies, and money to help those in need. As soon as the waters started to diminish, the community worked hard to clean up and rebuild. It was amazing to see how fast these businesses and houses were being revived. The strength of the citizens was revealed in this area, and those were the great people of Baton Rouge that we knew.
We traveled to some amazing places, and we met some great people, but we also enjoyed some appetizing food! Some of the best seafood and Cajun food can be found in South Louisiana. I tried a great deal of new food in Louisiana including alligator, boudin sausage, boudin balls, and turkey neck. A few of my favorite meals were duck quesadillas from Coyote Blues, crawfish etouffee from Chimes East, and Acadian catfish (fried catfish fillets topped with crawfish etouffee over rice) from Sammy’s Grill.
Besides seafood and Cajun, Louisiana also knows how to fix the perfect bread pudding. Walk-On’s serves a Krispy Kreme bread pudding, Coyote Blues sold a Godiva white chocolate bread pudding, and every other restaurant prepares their own type of various flavors of bread pudding. When we were in New Orleans, we always made the effort to stop by District Donuts — their donuts are flavored, filled, and massive and are great for breakfast or dessert.
Our favorite dessert, the buttermilk pie, can be found at our favorite restaurant, The Cabin located in Burnside. You can even buy their buttermilk pie recipe for only $1. The Cabin is the most unique restaurant we visited. It was an original slave dwelling of the Monroe Plantation, and the building is about 180 years old. You can feel the history when inside as you view pieces of antique farm equipment that is hanging from the walls. The history here is worth seeing, and the food is worth eating. The seafood platter includes catfish, shrimp, crab fingers, stuffed crab, crawfish tails, crawfish etouffee, and a cup
of chicken and andouille gumbo — my favorite plate in Louisiana! If you are not feeling up to the challenge to eat that much seafood, I recommend the shrimp scampi or the encrusted chicken.
I’m already missing all of the mouth-watering food that Louisiana has to offer, all of the great people that we met and worked with, and all of those gorgeous places that can be found in the southern part of the state. We never thought we would end up there, but don’t regret making the move. We are happy to say that we made many memories in the three years that we resided there. If you have never visited Louisiana, we recommend that you plan a trip soon, we promise that it will not disappoint.
This was no longer a state that resembled a toilet for us, but instead it resembles a picturesque place that will always live on in our hearts and memories.