Louisiana 2013 “Holiday Trail of Lights” Media Tour

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I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend the 2013 “Holiday Trail of Lights” Media Tour a couple of weeks ago, and was able to attend.  This is my experience of the tour.  I am blessed to be able to let you in on lots of very cool events, places and historic ventures that you too can take your family on over in the Louisiana area.  We started in Shreveport-Bossier area at the Boardwalk there.  I didn’t even know they had one.. Oh and as I followed the instructions of my GPS, I had typed in the address of the hotel I was suppose to meet Deann at, much to my surprise it took me straight to the Bass Pro shop located right there on the boardwalk.. (one of my FAVORITE out of town stores to visit) So of course I had to go in and shop a little.. I drove in the night before the tour started just to get there and have time to get lost and find my way and not in the dark.. I am not the best at directions. I found the hotel after my fun in Bass Pro, which is located on the boardwalk right beside the carousel.   Deann graciously invited me to dinner at Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro right there on the board walk which was amazingly delicious!! I was going to be healthy and eat right…… well that ended at dinner my first night there.  I had the best Shrimp alfredo that came in a HUGE bowl and underneath the shrimp and noodles was this pizza crust like yummy thing… then she said do you want dessert…… well why not.. so we had the resses peanut butter cup cheese cake… It was soooooo good… Then I had to go check out the Nike store right around the corner, which I did get some running shorts on sale.. and then I had to check out the Gap store (got some running capris on sale), by this time it was getting late and stores were closing so I just walked and enjoyed the sights, the streets were all lit up with Christmas lights and it was a beautiful walk back to the hotel.  The Courtyard by Marriot at Louisiana Boardwalk (318)742-8300 is where they put us for the first & second night.. Beautiful, well ran hotel i need to add.   so now the actual media tour starts.

Thursday Nov 21

We meet in the Hotel Lobby and have breakfast and get to know each other.  There is a travel writer from Houston and Kelly from the Alexandria/Pineville Area CVB.  After breakfast we head over to Shelby Lane’s Closet in Bossier.  Shelby Lane’s Closet produces items for purchase, as well as offering public and private crafting parties. Shelby Lane’s Closet provides a one-of-a-kind experience with a variety of themed project parties to choose from such as centerpiece baskets, burlap fleur de lis wall décor, picture frames, crosses, holiday décor and more.  We took a tour of the building learning about the history and shopping as we walked around, then we were taken to a room and decorated  wooden stockings, we painted, stained, and tied ribbons on them also monogramming them with letters.  It was soo much fun, while we were painting there was a lovely smell coming from the kitchen (that we just happen to be in) Lunch was being cooked for us as we painted by Panderina Soumas, founder of Soumas Heritage Creations LLC., she serves up food reflecting her Creole heritage.  She caters events and parties and has a dry good merchandise line comprised of South Louisiana cuisine mixes.  She is on the web at http://www.soumasheritagecreole.com & facebook  under Panderina Soumas.  She prepared us Creole sassy, sweet n spicy chickin wrap n roll, with bayou black bean n tomato herb soup (which was to die for) with “Who Dat” peach dump cake dessert and this peach lemonade that I couldn’t get enough of.  Oh yes.  at lunch We were joined  by Bob “Santa Bob” Collins and his wife Beth, also known as “Beth Claus.” Some things you should know about Bob: He is a card-carrying member of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas and a graduate of the University of Santa Claus in Houston, TX. And he really, really loves to dress up as Santa.  He can be contacted at 318-518-0250 if you need a santa. With our full bellies and decorated stockings in hand, and I also had new rubber boots and a metal crown i just HAD to purchase while there we jump back in the van and head to Les Boutiques De Noel at the Bossier Civic Center for MORE shopping.  Each year, more than 10,000 holiday shoppers visit the Bossier Civic Center to shop at 100 holiday-themed booths representing 10 states. A regional holiday tradition since 1974, all proceeds from Les Boutiques de Noel benefit the Shreveport Opera.  There were rows and rows and rows and… rows of vendors selling holiday items, toys, jewerly, clothes, etc… for us to browse through… I left with only one bag, my husband was thankful for that but I bought a really cool sweater with leather crosses and studs on it.. If you know me you will understand my excitement in this find .. lol  After they round us up from the Boutiques De Noel shopping, to stay on time with our schedule we head over to one of the COOLEST places we visited, If you have younger kids or are a kid at heart you gotta check out Sci-Port!  Louisiana’s Science Center features more than 290 science, space science, technology and math exhibits. This stop will focus on one fun family-friendly experience: a holiday-themed film screening in the center’s IMAX dome
theater and the new Lego Exhibit.  Hands on fun learning for all ages!! We were suppose to watch Santa vs Snowman but arrived a few minutes to late to catch it so we watch the history of planes on this HUGE dome IMax theater.. it covered the whole ceiling.  Contact them at https://www.facebook.com/sciport or 318-424-8678.  At this point it is getting dark and were heading back to the Louisiana Boardwalk Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.  Kids were everywhere waiting patiently, families dressed in Christmas cheer.. cheer leaders waiting to perform.. If you, like me didn’t know there was a Louisiana Boardwalk it is a must vist.. It is the largest outlet, lifestyle, dining and entertainment destination in the state of Louisiana. The Outlets at Louisiana Boardwalk consists of over 70 retail stores and restaurants. From movies to ice cream, sporting goods to kitchenware, latest fashions to great food, the Outlets at Louisiana Boardwalk is the place to visit.  Now it is time to head over to Minden LA for a driving tour with Lynn Dorsey.  Lynn Dorsey, Executive Director of the Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau and Pattie Odom, Economic Development and Main Street Manager for The City of Minden will join us for a brief driving tour of the lighted neighborhoods of Minden, La. Established in 1836, this historic city’s downtown streets are still paved with brick. Minden’s popular Fasching Fifth Season Celebration, held each November, celebrates the community’s German heritage.  We drive around looking at some very historic homes and lots of Christmas lights.  We stop at a store downtown to meet Mrs.  Milly Rose.  If you go to Minden you HAVE to meet Mrs. Millie, her store Second Hand Rose (318-371-9830 509 Main St. Minden, LA 71055)  is filled to the brim with coca cola memorabilia, vintage jewelry, housewares and more. Visitors can shop to their hearts content while being entertained by the stories and, perhaps, an impromptu song here and there by owner Milly Rose.  She sang, told stories, sand again and told us that Jessica Simpson loves to visit her sore and that she will shop for hours. Mrs. Milly also told us of how Ice Cube was in town filming a movie and bought stuff out of her store and had to come back and ended up buying the window screens from her house for the movie.  He then came back and bought one of her puppies for his kids.  She keeps her two dogs up there with her and they were just as sweet as Mrs. Milly. As a matter of fact one of them really liked me .. the whole time we stood there talking to her the dog liked my leg… like seriously liked my leg.. I would move over and so would she and just keep licking.. .. needless to say I think she like the lotion I had on.. Straight from Mrs. Milly’s we walked two doors down to eat at a mexican restaurant called Habascus(318-382-0079).  I just noticed that their is also one in Springhill, LA also 318-539-2360. Habascus is a fun Mexican restaurant featuring karaoke on Thursday nights. The restaurant was a hit when LA Rider TV filmed there this year.  We sit down to chips and dip that were delicious and we were HUNGRY!  Oh I forgot to mention that we have been joined by another writer from the Dallas area earlier today.  I tell Mrs Lynn that I think I am going to order the burrito…. she laughs and says oh yeah .. were doing the burrito challenge in a few minutes… confused I go on chowing down on my chips and salsa and the cheese dip.. Oh yeah the cheese dip.. they had a white cheese dip too.. YUMMY… did I mention that I had thrown my diet out the window the night I arrived???  Well all the sudden the waiter brings out this pan/tray and sets it in front of us.. I now see what Mrs. Lynn meant about the burrito challenge.. (must see the picture of the Ginormas burrito!!) on the tray is this monster of a burrito.. 3 of us ate off of it and were not able to put a dent in it.. It was DELICIOUS.. now that we are stuffed to the Gills,  It is 10pm at night and we are dropped off at our hotel to rest up for another day of travel and sight seeing.

Friday, Nov 22

We meet in the lobby once again, Deann shows up with donuts, kolachis and waters for breakfast.  We depart Shreveport headed over to Monroe-West Monroe.  This is another one of the COOLEST stops, We visit the and toured the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens.  You will enter the Coke Museum through the large glass display room to view items including the first Coca-Cola delivery truck, and antique signage hung high in the galley. You begin the tour of the Coke Museum where you will “visit” a replica of a vintage soda fountain and view our collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia. The next building on campus is the Bible Museum, with a guided tour of some of our favorite pieces from Emy-Lou’s collection. Next door to that is the historic Biedenharn home.  At the back of the home, you will find the beautiful English walled gardens that Emy-Lou spent much of her life developing. The gardens feature thousands of flowering plants, graceful statues and beautiful water fountains, as well as a conservatory.   From the coke museum we learned about the different shapes of the bottles and the years and reasons they were shaped like they were to learning about the mess ups in the shapes and how they changed it into what it is today.  Please look at the pictures to see more details.  I thought this all was very interesting and fun.. there is a working coke machine that you can get a coke for a nickel… 5 cents.. really cool.. From there we went to the Bible Museum.  I was very intrigued but the Bible Museum,  Emy-Lou had like 10 brothers and lived a wonderful life of accomplishment and success.  Her story was very interesting to me on exactly how much she accomplished.  We learned so much over the few days i was there and can’t remember her story exactly but it is worth the visit to hear about her.  and see her house at it was when she passed, and her dad is the one who bottled coca cola, which we learned prior to visiting her house and bible museum.  This was the most historical trip i have ever been on.. I kept thinking the whole time if only history class would have been this interesting and heart warming.  Her bible museum was FULL of bibles she kept, thier family bible, pieces of VERY old bibles, paintings, and more.  If you love history and haven’t visited LA, with the help of a Convetion and visitors bureau rep to help you find the things that interest you.. it sounds like you should be planning a trip.. If you love Christmas lights you should plan a trip too..

Up to now the trip has been fun and VERY interesting.. the Biedenharn Museums and history is just the beginning of the History that we would encounter.  We go to a aviation and military museum in Monroe, I have to admit and now hate to admit that I was thinking.. oh this will be boring…. Boy was i WRONG!! The gentleman that toured us around the museum loved what he did so much and really loved sharing the history of every piece in the building that it was hard not to cry at the history and memoribilla.  We watched a short dvd about the history of the building and how the men that founded it started Delta airlines and if I am not mistaken the building we were in was also a military base at one time.. INCREDIBLE history and accomplishments made by the founders.   Northeast Louisiana has played an incredible role in aviation and military history. The Chennault Aviation & Military Museum of Louisiana, Inc. is dedicated to preserving that heritage and the first-person accounts of the men and women who contributed to it.  I couldn’t stop looking around.  and the cool thing about this museum was that the memorabilla in it was put there by the people who wore it, used it, received it, fought in it, and so much more.  Some of the men and women actually come in and stand by their stuff and tell their stories of heroism and how they lost war buddies right before their eyes, some having to use their deceased friends as shields from incoming napalm.  It was so hard not to cry, I would look at a uniform hanging and think what did that uniform go through.. I almost didn’t want to leave..

Now it is lunch time.. The schedule said were eating a a place called Big Mommas.  I am a VERY picky eater and was worried that i would starve… We pull up and I am thinking.. ug oh…. lord, please let me find something I will like… we walk in and it is a small packed restaurant, during lunch time.. the line wrapped around the inside I couldn’t see anything.. I am a very picky eater and was very curious of what I was fixen to encounter… we get up to the line where they are serving us and I am in Heaven… I wanted one of everything.  It was hard to choose from all of the yummy  food.. So I get a gravy steak, rice, green beans, and cornbread..oh and a piece of catfish just to taste it..  my plate was over flowing onto my tray the gravy steak was so big.. Hello Big Momma’s!!!!! We ate until we couldn’t eat anything else then ate some more just because it was so good!! The hot water corn bread, was so good as full as I was I Had to eat the last piece.. I think I could have went the rest of the trip without eating again I was so full.  Big Momma’s is As featured restaurant in Louisiana Cookin’ magazine’s Ultimate Fried Chicken Trail, Big Momma and her son Daryl are serving daily plate lunches of smothered pork chops, beef tips, and hamburger steak with good Southern vegetables like real mashed potatoes, butter beans, candied yams, greens (mustard and turnips), corn and black-eyed peas. And you can’t leave without trying some of Big Momma’s hot water cornbread. And for dessert, a big piece of homemade cake, cobbler or pie.

Now we head over to West Monroe to meet Sheila Snow at Antique Alley and to tour the Hamilton House Inn.  Antique Alley is primarily located in the historic downtown of West Monroe, Louisiana, on the banks of the Ouachita River. Most shops are open Tuesday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, and some shops are open Monday and Sunday afternoons. It features nearly 30 different shops offering everything from antique treasures to clothing and kitchenware.  This was my kind of shopping… cheap trinkets and old jewelery all the way to expensive antiques, and handmade jewlerly.. Please take the time to look at the pictures.  The Hamilton House Inn is nestled in the Historic Cotton Port District of West Monroe, Louisiana, our Luxury bed & breakfast features five plush rooms.  Decorated in a casual-meets-elegance style, we offer a relaxing atmosphere and convenient location to the Downtown West Monroe/Monroe area.  Whether you are staying one night, looking for a weekend getaway, visiting family or looking for a meeting/reception space the Hamilton House Inn is the perfect place.  Tonya Hamilton 318-366-2412

We drive over to Alexandria-Pineville to have dinner at the Diamond Grill.  Very elegant place to dine, have a reception dinner or just a date night.  In 1931 it was a downtown jewelry store, now Diamond Grill, recipient of the 2006 Louisiana Preservation Honor Award, offers a wide range of superb menu items to suit every taste and budget.  (924 3rd Street, Alexandria, LA 71301 318-448-8989)  After a wonderful dinner at the Diamond Grill we head over to the Alexandria Zoo Holiday Light Safari Preview.  We were able to See the Zoo in a different light as thousands of glistening lights transform the Zoo into a sparkling winter wonderland. Holiday Light Safari will be held weekends during the month of December. The Alexandria Zoo was said to be one of the “best small town zoos in America” by Jack Hanna.  Lee Ann took us around the zoo telling us about the animals and showing us the new additions.  We also sat with Lee Ann and ate brownies and were able to ask questions about the zoo.  She is friends with our Ellen Trout Zoo owners and they work close together.

It is now like 9:30 or so and we head over and check in to the Loyd Hall Plantation in Alexandria-Pineville area.  It’s dark and at this point VERY cold, we were able to take a few pictures of the outside of the house, even in the dark we were in awe of it beauty.  You could actually feel the history.  Loyd Hall Plantation is Listed on the National Historic Register, Loyd Hall (circa 1820) is the heart of a 640-acre working farm. Framed by stately oaks and surrounded by sugar cane and pasture land, Loyd Hall provides its visitors with a sense of inspiration and appreciation of the timeless charm that only the south can bring.  We had a wonderful host who made us breakfast and then gave us a tour of the house.  Sara from BSCENE Magazine out of Tyler Texas joined the media tour late last night and joins us for breakfast.  The tour guide showed us the bullets still in the walls from the civil war and also an Indian arrow head still stuck in the door from a confrontation.  The field in the back went on as far as I could see, i think it still had sugar cane growing.  To hear her tell us the stories and history of how the owners lived and died gave me chill bumps.  Of course there were so many stories of the place being haunted and where a civil war soldier had hid in the attic and one of the ladies of the house had ran into him and killed him.  also a woman had jumped off of a balcony and died, a man was hung there.  I could go on for days about this beautiful place..  After breakfast and the tour of the Loyd house we head over to Inglewood Plantation. It is an organic vegetable and chicken farm, sustainable forage-fed livestock farm, pecan and fruit orchard, and nature preserve. The Farm hosts a weekly Harvest Barn on Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays selling produce, fruit, meats, eggs, and other local organic products. (6287 Old Baton Rouge Hwy., Alexandria, LA 71302)

Next stop is the Kent Plantation House (3601 Bayou Rapides Road, Alexandria, Louisiana 318-487-5998 ) The Kent plantation house is one of the oldest standing structures in the state of Louisiana. Together with its outbuildings, it preserves the homestead of a successful Creole family typical of a Louisiana colonial era working plantation.  We were able to walk around each room with a guided tour hearing about each piece of furniture, painting, flooring, etc.  VERY interesting.   From there frozen and cold and wet from the rain we head to Atwood’s Bakery & Deli, where we got to meet owner Mark Atwood.  We walk in and were like kids in a candy store there is glass counter from one end to the other with yummy desserts in it .. Too many to choose from.  Mr. Atwood has been on one or two tv shows competing baking cakes.  The Ultimate Cake Off on TLC, i think making the 2,000lb monster truck cake or smurf cake.. One episode you might remember him by is that when they were wheeling the cake up the ramp to get it into the judging the ramp actually broke as they were coming up it.  He came out and introduced himself bringing  a couple of trays of yummy desserts.  Cheesecake galore!!! my favorite was the red velvet cheese cake, it had oreo’s for the bottom… YUMMY!! Atwood’s is a local favorite for cakes, pies, and other sweets but have also made a name for themselves with their delicious lunches and Saturday brunch. (1125 MacArthur Drive, Alexandria, LA.  71303 318-445-9561)

We now head over to the Melrose Plantation.  It was a about a 30 minute drive over to the plantation.  I am looking at all the houses and places as we drive.  You can see the historic homes and can tell where the 20th Century has moved in and mixed itself in.  We turn down a road and I immediately spot a bunch of little houses close together.  My heart breaks as I realize those were probably slave houses.  I am one who is very sensitive to how they were treated, and that era.  I would hope that my family would have chosen to be different and treat all people equal.  So my eyes are teared up just thinking about the families that lived and died in these small houses.  Hoping that there was some laughter and happiness too.  I figured we would come back by them for me to stop and get a picture and didn’t mention stopping to take a picture because staying on schedule was VERY important.  For some reason the image of those houses really hit me hard.  We get to the Melrose Plantation and on a bus was a lady they wanted to introduce us to, Lori Tate who played the grooms mother in the movie.  She was a hoot , telling jokes and smiling for pictures with us.  We walk into the little gift shop and meet up with our tour guide and head out back. This plantation was prob my favorite, there were trees there that were 200+ years old.  Established 1833, on land acquired by land grant, Marie Thereze Coin-Coin, an enslaved woman and her children with Frenchman Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer built Yucca House (later Melrose). Melrose Plantation became a hub of art and education. Many of their Creole descendents still live in the area. We were able to explore the wonders of the early 20th century Melrose artist retreat founded by Carmelite Gary Henry and follow the discovery of Clementine Hunter, one time Melorse cook, as she emerged as Louisiana’s most celebrated primitive folk artist.  As we toured the house my favorite piece of memorabilia was a piece called a Lavabo dated back to 1725, it hung on the wall beside the door, as the family went in and out the would stick their finger in the holy water and anoint themselves as they left the house.  In 12 more years the piece will be 300 yrs old.. WOW.  oh and in this house I was introduced to the Prie Dieu, these were chairs that were at the ends of the beds that the family would take turns kneeling on and praying before bedtime each night.  In the pictures there is one that had indentions in it from all the prayer… WOW… The way they kept the beds fluffed and warmed were simply amazing.. I could go on for days of all the history we learned.  As I heard the story of Marie Thereze Coin Coin on to Clementine Hunter, two very strong and successful women, I  would picture them in my mind doing whatever the guide was telling us.  Then we went up into the ( I am pretty sure it was called the African Room) where Clementine Hunter painted the walls.  To hear the guide explain Clementines way of expressing herself and her life on the plantation made me feel like I went back in time to when she was alive.  Her paintings were of weddings, funerals, days of picking cotton, everyday life for her, it was all she knew.  I have to admit my eyes teared up again just looking and feeling her paintings, Then seeing a actual picture of Celmentine, you could see the years of hard work on her small petite face.  The two trees that were on the property for 20+ years had stories of their own to me.. (please see pictures)

So now it is time to jump in the van and head over to Natchitoches, LA. on our route to Natchitoches, Katherine Johnson  gets in the van with us and gives us ALOT of history of the plantations, river and churches we pass along the way.  I couldn’t help by cry, as she mentioned the slaves again, and after learning about Clememtine Hunter & seeing her days on the plantation in her paintings.   I know I am a cry baby in my old age. I am very sensitive to that era. We were able to make a quick pit stop at the house that the movie Steel Magnolias was filmed at.   We arrive at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Regional Museum.(  500 Front St., Natchitoches, LA 71457 ( 318-357-2492)   The state’s rich sports heritage is featured in a 27,500 square -foot contemporary state-of- the-art sports museum. The state hall includes eight members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, seven of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players including Shaquille O’Neal, six Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, 13 Pro Football Hall of Fame members, six Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame enshrines, 18 Olympic medalists (10 gold medal winners), 31 College Football Hall of Fame members, three National High School Hall of Fame enshrines, jockeys with a combined 12 Triple Crown victories, six boxing world champions, three College Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, three NBA Finals MVP”s and two Super Bowl MVP’s. So I am walking around just looking at all the cool stuff and I see a picture of these little worn out houses… Yes .. they were the the slave houses that I had seen earlier !  I was able to take a picture of a picture of them to keep!! I was so excited to have that pic for a memory.  Now it is time to walk over to the Natchitoches CVB and meet the staff there and ENJOY a buffet dinner.. Hello meat pies!!!!

After dinner we walk over to one of the coolest stores I have been in.  Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile, located in historic downtown Natchitoches, is the oldest store in Louisiana. Visitors can find an eclectic array of housewares, vintage jewelry, tools and more. Each transaction is processed with an 19th Century cash register.  We were able to meet with owner Luke and hear how he grew up in the store.  They have a working floor elevator that they still use on a daily bases.

Now it is time for the big finale!!  We walk down and across the street to the “Turn on the Holidays” and Natchitoches Tri-Centennial Kick-Off.  A Louisiana Main to Main Event hosted by the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Louisiana Office of Tourism includes fireworks and entertainment throughout the day and evening.  Its cold but we are bundled up!! Families, couples and groups of friends are lined up along the Cane River waiting for the lights to come on and the fireworks show.

We are not disappointed.  The lights and fireworks were AMAZING.. Well worth braving the cold weather to watch.  (please see the pictures) If you love Christmas lights and history this is a must plan trip!!

It is now time to head back to Shreveport to the 2439 Bed & Breakfast for our last night stay before we head back home.  This Bed & Breakfast was so cozy and decorated in a way that also took you back in time a few centuries.  “A Bed and Breakfast”, as seen in Southern Living. Private balconies and relaxing jacuzzi tubs, complimentary breakfast. (2439 Fairfeild Ave.  Shreveport, LA.  71104) Me and Sara were able to sit out on the balcony in the rocking chairs and talk about the things we had seen and learned about.  It was late we were tired but had so much on our minds it just seemed the right thing to do.

And that is my “blog” of the 2013 “Holiday Trail of Lights” Media Tour.  I tried to remember to put contact information for each place we visited.  Below I have listed the contact information to each Convention and Tourist Bureau’s if you would like help in planning your trip.

Alexandria/Pineville Area 800-551-9545 http://www.theheartoflouisiana.com

City of Minden (800)2MINDEN http://www.mindenusa.com

Monroe-West Monroe 800-843-1872 http://www.christmasovertheriver.org

Natchitoches 800-259-1714  http://www.christmasfestival.

Shreveport/Bossier 800-551-8682 http://www.shreveport-bossier.org

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