When you’ve made a conscious decision to travel without a car, the idea of the “day trip” can be a fairly laborious task. But once you book the journey, it’s certainly worth the effort. The day before Jazz Fest began in New Orleans, my partner and I boarded a 10am Greyhound to Baton Rouge. It’s a 1 hour 45 journey each way, and a return ticket pre-purchased only set us back $20 each. Arriving just on Noon, and heading back at 7pm, it gave us just enough time to wander the city’s streets and explore what State Capitol of Louisiana had to offer.
The journey via bus slides you over the swamps and the rivers. The bayous and the gators. The expanse of three lane roads stick out of the water like sinking bridges; while your view of the road seems to have no end in sight. Even when surrounded by trees, they too are emerging from the swamp waters. The Handsome Family (they did the True Detective theme song) serve as a suitable soundtrack for the unique terrain, as the odd motel, Waffle House and McDonalds sign posts are spotted, with the road gradually returning to land, where foreboding “flood insurance” advertisements litter the roadside. Only the water towers which bear the name of its town gives you any indication of your location.
On arrival, a short taxi ride will take you from the Greyhound station to the centre of Baton Rogue. We headed first for the State Capitol (N. 3rd St. on State Capitol Dr.), from which I took the article’s headline photo. Sitting in front of a beautiful park, you enter the building surrounded by groups of school children, and the lobby of the building seems to have some sort of educational fair going on. From there, you can head left or right into the chambers for the State Senate and House of Representatives, or you can head up the 34 stories to the top of the iconic and Historic structure.
At 137 metres, the 1932 building is the tallest in Baton Rogue by far (and the tallest Capitol building in all of America), and provides an incredible view of the city. It’s so tall, in fact, there are two elevators required to take you to the top, and it’s a noticeably long journey today with the groups of school children ensuring we have to wait to board the second lift. You don’t get much more than a view – but it’s an impressive one – and best of all – it’s free! Given we were new to the area, an information desk back on the ground floor was more than helpful in assisting in our itinerary formation for the day. First thing was first – we needed to get some lunch.
We were recommended to try Poor Boy Lloyds, where simple Po’Boys (here known only as their original name: a Poor Boy) are served. For those not in the know – a Po’Boy – or a Poor Boy – is a staple of Louisiana cuisine. It’s a french bread served with meat or seafood, with a bit of lettuce – sometimes some tomato – and the expectation of hot sauce. A lot of hot sauce. Which the bread and meat or seafood soaks up beautifully. Going to a place like Poor Boy Lloyds isn’t going to get you the best Poor Boys of your life, but those in the know say this is simple and authentic, and indeed it tastes a treat. No visit to Louisiana is complete without it – and we recommend the Catfish.
With our stomachs satisfied, it was time to learn more about the city. While the working Capitol Building’s main attraction is its height – and the working Government, I guess – the Old Capitol Building (North Blvd. and St. Philip St) is now a museum, the Museum of Political History in fact. And it’s a surprisingly good one, detailing the history of the city – and of Louisiana – with artefacts and educational resources that keeps it engaging, with installations like the one below, showcasing Governor Huey Long, who was responsible for the towering State Capitol building we visited earlier.
Also look out for the surprisingly high-tech “Ghost of the Castle” multimedia show which fills an entire room with projections and tells us more about the city. It’s designed for school children no doubt, but for travellers through the city it’s an easy way to get to know more about the Capitol. There are a surprising amount of museums in Baton Rouge – the Art and Science museum being one of the most popular, though it was the LSU Museum at the Shaw Center for the Arts (100 Lafayette St) where we spent much of the rest of the afternoon.
It’s a superb museum, which has a mix of visiting exhibitions and an incredible permanent collection, showcasing some of the great art of the region. The collection mixes old with new, tracing back British and continental influences on the earliest art of the region, with American and British furniture, decorative arts and portraits. You can find out more about what is currently appearing at the museum HERE and the entry fee is $5. And before our journey back to New Orleans, no visit to a city in the South of America would be complete without stuffing our faces with margaritas and nachos. So, we went to Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant (151 3rd St, Baton Rouge, LA 70801), and did just that…
And just like that, the day was over. We jumped back on the Greyhound to New Orleans and watched as the sun started to set over those bayous that seemed to drift forever into the distance. It was a day well spent, in a city we now knew more about than we had expected.
Learn more about Baton Rogue at http://www.visitbatonrouge.com/
All prices were correct at the time of printing. All photos by the author.