Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Of Crafts, Coke and Cotton: Monroe joins the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights

            For years Shreveport-Bossier City and Natchitoches have teamed up with three east Texas towns for the annual Holiday Trail of Lights. This year, it’s all about the Bayou State, with Texas leaving the trail and Monroe, Minden and Alexandria joining the fun.
            The 2011 trail makes a nice loop through the state with Natchitoches and its 85-year-old popular Christmas festival at the core. On its left flank will be Monroe, which offers a unique holiday experience.
            Christmas on the River will be a month-long holiday celebration that includes both Monroe and West Monroe, each facing the sleepy Ouachita River. Here will be dancing lights along Antique Alley (a great place to find unique items at great prices), a downtown gallery crawl, the fourth annual Bawcomville Redneck Christmas Parade along with a parade sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and a pet parade, chili cook-off, theatrical performances, fireworks and much more.
            The Children’s Museum will transform into a Santa’s Christmas Village with photos with Santa and snow falling, letters to Santa at the Peppermint Post Office, a place for children to create ornaments and a store to purchase gifts for family. In addition, there’s ice skating outside. Admission is only $5, $10 for ice skating.
            The Biedenharn Museum and Gardens has built by Joseph Biedenham, the first bottler of Coca-Cola. His daughter Emy-Lou, a European opera singer, lived in the home for years, creating a beautiful garden and conservatory out back. Today, the house and garden is open for tours, along with the Bible Museum next door (Emy-Lou collected Bibles and the museum exhibits both hers and traveling displays) and the Coca-Cola Museum on the corner with its Model T delivery truck, memorabilia and machines that sell the beverage for 5 cents.
            Christmas at the Biedenharn will include unique decorations of each room throughout the month of December. There will be a Chamber Arts Brass Christmas Concert on Dec. 6 in the fountain room and an open house Dec. 8-10. The Coca-Cola Museum also has a gift shop with wonderful unique gift items, not to mention a fabulous artistic nativity.
            I mentioned shopping on Antique Alley — there are numerous antique shops in the Cotton Port Historic District of West Monroe, and they vary from collectibles and Americana to 18th and 19th century furniture. Since I like to include a book to enjoy in travels, I recommend Memory Lane Antiques with its extensive collection of old books, many Victorian with gilded covers and unique illustrations. I found an old copy of Longfellow’s “Evangeline” with photos of Nova Scotia and the original Cajun homesteads, plus a Golden Book of “Rudolph” — remember that one?
            As for a great place to eat, don’t miss Cotton, formerly known as Coda Bar & Grill, run by Chef Cory Bahr, a recent Louisiana Cookin’ Chef to Watch and winner of the Louisiana Seafood competition. The restaurant, with its menu of exquisite boudin balls, red bean hummus, creamy shrimp and grits, tender pork loin and so much more, is housed in the second oldest building in Monroe.
            For more information on the holiday festivities, visit www.christmastontheriver.org or call (318) 387-5691.

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