What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Baton Rouge

When we first planned our road trip to Louisiana, it was to be a family thing.  Audley had work meetings to attend to, so it was the perfect opportunity to take the kids where they had not been before.
Then Bradley said, “but Mom, this is the only week I have to go stay with Uncle Jon and Aunt Wendy in Nashville & you said I could go.”
And Madeline said “if he can go to Nashville, why can’t I stay at Pop & Nana’s for a the week?”
And MacKenzie asked, “how much history will be involved?”
“Well …. you are traveling with me.  History will be involved!”
So our family road trip became a trip for just Audley & I, which is probably a good thing since we ended up traveling over 3000 miles in just 8 days!
Audley’s first meeting was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He conducted business while I slept in at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown.  It’s a gorgeous hotel and our suite was huge, loaded with such amenities such as a nice sofa and sitting area, huge bathroom, microwave and refrigerator (very necessary when you pack a lot of your own food to stay focused on your diet), a King size bed, and a gorgeous view of the city.
We are brand specific when we travel, preferring the Hilton brand of hotels.  I will tell you now, in the 14 years Audley has had to travel for work or the family travel for vacation, I can count on one hand the number of disappointments we might have experienced, and I can assure you, Hilton fixed them.  Hilton also has a great rewards program for their loyal patrons, so we get a lot of free stays as well which is often how we vacation as a family.

After business was conducted, Audley and I decided to shop a little (this is where I discovered Lululemon Athletica, an absolutely amazing fitness attire store), then visit a WWII memorial down on the Mississippi riverfront.  The centerpiece of the memorial park was the WWII destroyer, USS Kidd.

Having a husband who is a Navy vet has created a fascination for Naval history in me.  This is his favorite history to study, so it makes touring things like this so much more fun!

The USS Kidd was commissioned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and named for Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, who was killed on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941.  Nicknamed the “Pirate of the Pacific” after leaving the shipyard in NY flying the skull & crossbones of the Jolly Roger flag.  After obtaining permission from Admiral Kidd’s widow, they also had the image of a pirate painted on the smokestack of the ship (which somehow I did not capture!).
Admiral Kidd’s widow helped launch the boat in 1943 with a rousing “May the destiny of the USS KIDD be glorious! May her victories be triumphant and conclusive!”
I just love all of the patriotism shown in WWII!
The USS Kidd saw much action in the Pacific and was even hit by a kamikaze which killed many of her crew.  The ship held fast and made it’s repairs.  Besides action in WWII, the USS Kidd was out to sea during the Korean War and toured the Pacific a lot during the early years of the Cold War as well.  The ship was decommissioned in 1964 after 21 years of service, earning eight battle stars for serving in the Pacific during WWII and another four battle stars for serving during the Korean War.

Due to the efforts of many, instead of being torn a part in the Naval scrapyard, the USS Kidd, was salvaged and brought to Baton Rouge in 1982 as part of a memorial park to those from Louisiana who had served in war.  It opened to the public for the first time 1983.  Over the years, preservationists have slowly worked to restore her to her condition in 1945, setting up displays throughout the ship that demonstrate life on board throughout the war.

330 Men lived on-board the Kidd during it’s service in WWII.




Audley explaining how the guns work and how the men set everything up


Torpedo chute


Just a few of the guns on the deck…. It is frightening how open and vulnerable the sailors manning these guns were!
Communications Room …. was manned 24 hours a day.

The kitchen that prepared meals for the men on board ship.  Meals were served in shifts based on the sailors schedules, so the cooks were basically in the kitchen 24/7!

Nothing like seeing the stacked up tight space that the enlisted men lived in to have even greater appreciation for the sacrifice that they made!  The other bunk area on the ship had the tables (picnic style) where the men actually were served their meals in shifts!

Cramped officer’s quarters on board the USS Kidd. Not only did the officers live here, they had to use this area as a work space!  Three men lived and worked in this one tiny area!


Pilot House

The officers mess or wardroom was a really nice space for the officers to escape, spread out paperwork or even relax.  The wardroom was financed by contributions from the officers on board the ship and maintained the atmosphere of a gentleman’s club prior to battle.  That meant officer’s were in full dress attire and kept to a strict code of conduct when they were in this space.  After the battles became more frequent obviously there was less time for relaxing and this became more of a work space than the cramped quarters the officers shared.



Throughout the ship are memorial areas that tell the story of the USS Kidd and her sailors.  There are mementos from hitting port as well as military mementos shared by the families of the sailors.

The kamikaze that hit the USS Kidd killed 38 crewmen and injured 58 others.  The ship limped to the nearest US port to make repairs, buying the dead at sea along the way.

Down in one of the lower bunk rooms, there is a museum that highlights the history of the other destroyers in WWII.  Some survived, some did not.  This was such a sobering space to spend time.

The Memorial park itself was also a sobering walk.  It’s easy to forget today all of the sacrifices that were made so that we could have our freedoms; freedoms we very often don’t appreciate.

The Louisiana Memorial Park is a tribute to the lost in just ONE state in various conflicts.


The polished black granite walls of the Memorial Plaza space are inscribed with the names of over 7,000 Louisiana natives who died in service to their country in all of the American wars, from the Revolutionary War of 1776 to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
An eternal flame rests at the center of the square and seven American flags are flown daily on the western side of the courtyard in tribute to our fallen heroes.


Vietnam bomber on display


Memorial to US Coast Guard Cutter White Alder that collided with a freighter on the Mississippi River, killing 17 of her 20 crew members.  The lost and the boat lie on the bottom of the river to this day.




I loved this display sharing the history and accomplishments of women in the Navy over the years.

The Lone Sailor statue was at the end of our tour.  There are 13 of these around the country, one original and 12 replicas scattered around the country in places like Charleston, West Haven, Norfolk, Great Lakes, Jacksonville, …. and of course Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge’s Lone Sailor Statue was a gift to the city in February of 2010 from the Navy Memorial commission in DC for their final Naval memorial that is in progress outside of the museum.

The original was modeled after Petty Officer 1st Class (at the time), Dan Maloney, a submariner. As the wife of a submariner, I thought that was totally awesome!

I know there is probably so much more to see in Baton Rouge than military history, but wait until I share the beauty of Oak Alley Plantation with you!  You will quickly see why we limited our sight-seeing in Baton Rouge to just a few hours!

Touring the Biltmore * Part 2

When George Washington Vanderbilt constructed his magnificanct estate in 1895, he had quite a vision in mind.  Besides a vacation home, he was looking to stimulate the economy of the Pisgah Forest area and the people who lived there.  He envisioned a self-sufficient estate; one that could stand on its own.  While that vision was not totally realized in his lifetime, 100 plus years later, I would say that his goal was reached.

Our Bradley and his little friend, Brodie


We stayed at the Doubletree hotel next to the Biltmore house when we visited just before Christmas.  It is a repurposed building that once housed the Dairy that was run by the grandson’s of Mr. Vanderbilt.  We had a great time exploring the hotel and discovering some of the history of the dairy.




And a little trivia for you, did you know that the Vanderbilt’s had an award winning group of dairy cows?  They travelled all over the country entering them in fairs and competitions.
How ordinary is that?  Farmers do this all the time even now.


When the dairy was bought out, Vanderbilt’s ancestors took on another venture, this time in the form of a winery.  The old dairy barn was converted into a winery during the 1980’s and now is home to many award winning wines.



We enjoyed a grand tour of the winery and then the adults indulged in a little wine tasting.  While not all of the grapes used in making Biltmore wines are grown on the estate, the grapes used are American grown then pressed, aged and bottled on location.
Our tour guide was quite informative and very personable when on our tour.  She even took time to answer my 11-year-old son’s questions.  He was very fascinated with the whole wine making process.  Bradley can still quote the 5 S’s of wine tasting (although he has only tried this with red grape juice!):  See, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Savor.
Maybe when he is 21….


I loved the little details scattered about during our winery tour.
 The kids didn’t go into the wine tasting room or participate in the tasting, but instead explored nearby Antler Hill Village.  Audley on the other hand enjoyed comparing the different flavors of reds based on the grape.



Biltmore wines are not the most expensive on the market, but I do find them quite enjoyable.  This year’s Christmas vintage was really quite wonderful.


The Biltmore is also home to several wonderful restaurants.  We dined at the Stable Cafe for lunch on Saturday afternoon and everyone of us were more than thrilled with our fare!  The restaurants on the estate all use seasonal and fresh ingredients in their food as well as local grown product.  Most all of the meat is still raised on the estate and gardens (cold-frames in the winter) are maintained to help keep the freshest of ingredients available.  The Stable Cafe is of course located in the old stables right next to the house.
I love the whole atmosphere of the Stable Cafe.  From the tables nestled in stalls (the rings where horses were tethered still remain) to actually watching the chef and staff prepare our meals it was all so lovely and delicious!


My little foodies anxious waiting on lunch!


Our friends, mother and  daughter, Jamie & Amy
I just love the old horse stalls!


And the food?
Absolutely fantastic!  Check out a few of our dishes….
Roast Chicken and squash medley


Chicken Pot Pie


Audley’s meatloaf dinner


Southern Cobb Salad …with maple-glazed bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, chicken, deviled eggs with dill & yes, that is fried okra!


Fresh from the estate, Angus burger


Crab Cakes … really fabulous!
And for desert, a Tiffany glass inspired chocolate cake ….
We visited one more restaurant on the estate which I will share later this weekend, along with a recipe for a delicious homemade pizza crust.
If you have never had the opportunity to visit the Biltmore House in North Carolina, add it to your bucket list.  There is something for everyone in your family no matter what their age, and I promise, you won’t be disappointed.