CHATTANOOGA: BLUFF VIEW ARTS DISTRICT & THE NORTH SHORE

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While you are in Chattanooga, make sure to visit the Bluff View Arts District.  Why?  For starters, click on the link and check out the aerial shot, so you can get a feel for the location and views.  There are some nice views from the bluff, so the district was aptly named.  In the lower right corner of the photo in the link, there is a small park with sculptures.  It was really nice strolling around the park, enjoying the sculptures and views.  These are some of the things you may see while you are there:

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For details on the galleries, museum, restaurants, and shops; the website describes it quite well, so have a poke around the site.  I can tell you that when we were there, there was plenty of free parking, and it was a wonderful place to see on foot.

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Hunter Museum of American Arts (also located in the modern building to the left)

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This sculpture by Deborah Butterfield stands in front of the museum.  It looks like driftwood, right?  We thought so and actually had to touch it to believe that it was cast bronze, as was stated in the plaque.  Amazing!

We were also pleased to see that just beyond the Hunter Museum of American Art, we were able to access the beautiful Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.  Built in 1891, it has such style and was quite photogenic!  Accessible only to pedestrians (and their dogs!) as well as cyclists, it was a safe and enjoyable way to get in some exercise while taking in the views of downtown Chattanooga and the North Shore while crossing over the Tennessee River.

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A view of Walnut Street Bridge from the Hunter Museum of American Art.

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We took this bridge that crossed over the street to access the Walnut Street Bridge.

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The view from the street bridge of both the modern building of the Hunter Museum and the Walnut Street Bridge.

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After crossing the street bridge, we came across this handsome fella.  High paw!

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A view of the Hunter Museum from the Walnut Street Bridge.  I loved this walkway they built to take pedestrians all the way down to the river!

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Bruce, checking out the view form the Walnut Street Bridge.

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A view of the North Shore from the bridge.

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The city did a fantastic job developing the area where the bridge begins, as you can see in these photos.  It is very pedestrian friendly!

Across the river on the other end of the bridge is the North Shore.  You will get a nice view of Coolidge Park.  Make sure you spend some time checking out the fountain and the Coolidge Park Antique Carousel before you head into town.  I’m willing to bet you have never seen such an interesting variety of animal and reptile species represented on one carousel!  Bring your cameras; it’s a hoot!

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The North Shore has a very hip, cool, and artsy vibe, so allow some time to poke around the shops and grab some lunch at one of the restaurants.  Although I am known in our household as the “Aqua Dog,” we passed on the hot dogs at Good Dog and opted instead for some unusual tacos at Taco Mamacita.  The various taco combinations offered on the menu were so tempting, but we ordered just two different tacos a la carte for a light lunch.  Delicious!

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Want to dance off your lunch or learn a new dance step?  If you don’t mind learning in the middle of the sidewalk as pedestrians pass by, there are instructions on five different dance steps located right in front of the shops and restaurants in the main part of town!

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Our time spent in Chattanooga was so enjoyable that we are planning to return in May when “Nightfall” (described in my previous post) starts up again.  It was a great getaway spot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHATTANOOGA: ALL ABOARD!

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Hearing the name, “Chattanooga,” always puts a smile on my face, because it sounds so funny to me as many Indian names do.  “Chattanooga,” comes from the Creek Indian word for “rock coming to a point.”  This refers to Lookout Mountain, one of the city’s major attractions.  Although we fully intended to take in the views from Lookout Mountain, the haze over the region during our visit kept us from even getting out of our car.  We took a quick drive around, and then headed back down to the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

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The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of Chattanooga is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the former train station that became a hotel in the 1970’s.  Terminal Station, as the train station was originally called, was a large and modern station for its time.  It became especially famous when Mack Gordon (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music) wrote about it in 1941 in their tune that Glenn Miller recorded, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”  The song describes the journey of a train traveling from New York City along the Eastern Seaboard until its end at Terminal Station.

Unfortunately, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, rail traffic decreased and the station was ultimately closed.  Then, in 1972, a group of businessmen bought the station and surrounding property.  They renamed it “Chattanooga Choo Choo” after the Glen Miller song, and they opened up a hotel. 

We didn’t stay at the ‘Choo Choo, because the reviews on Trip Advisor were a mediocre 3-1/2 out of 5.  Anything less than a “4” rating on Trip advisor is an indication to me to give a place a miss for overnight stays.

The ‘Choo Choo, however, did serve as an excellent base for our daily visits to the city during our three-days in town.  Adjacent to the hotel, there is a large covered public parking structure with reasonable parking rates that are less expensive than in the heart of downtown.  In addition, CARTA’s free downtown electric shuttle departed from there, so we ditched our car in the lot each day and hopped on the shuttle for our trips to downtown and the North Shore across the river.  It was a great way to get around, and we were impressed with Chattanooga for offering this green option that keeps a lot of cars off the downtown streets.

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Before heading out on the shuttle, we first had a look around the ‘Choo Choo, so we could get a feel for what Terminal Station must have been like in its glory days.

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Domed ceiling skylight

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Downtown Chattanooga was a nice place to walk around, especially in the Riverfront district where the Tennessee Aquarium is located.  The city did a wonderful job developing the riverfront with plenty of walking and biking paths, public art, and park space.

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This clever brick work was in the Tennessee Aquarium plaza.

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Tennessee Aquarium

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If you visit Chattanooga between early May and late August, try to plan your visit around “Nightfall,” the free downtown concert series that is held in Miller Plaza each Friday, between the first Friday in May and the last Friday in August.  The opening act starts at 7 PM followed by a nationally touring headliner at 8 PM.  It’s kid friendly and pet friendly, so grab your dog’s leash and bring your lawn chairs (unless you get there early enough to snag a provided chair), and spend the evening.  There are food trucks and beer available, or you can bring your own picnic.

We opted instead to have pizza right next door at Community Pie, where they offer New York style, Detroit Style, and Neapolitan style pizzas you can watch them make behind the big glass kitchen window.

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Actually, to be honest, we didn’t even know about the concert series.  We had planned on eating at Community Pie, and the concert was a happy surprise.  When we left the restaurant, we heard a live band warming up, so we wandered over to see what was going on.  Cool!  A free concert!  While we waited for the music to start, we grabbed ourselves front-row seats and people-watched.  I also headed over to the grass area to see the craft booths that were set up for the event.  There was also a motorcycle show in the blocked off street near where the food trucks were parked, so I grabbed my camera and went to explore.

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The entire scene of the well-planned event was just so perfect!  What started as a nice surprise turned out to be a very enjoyable way to spend a summer evening.  Watching the people happily listen or dance to the music, seeing the children and dogs having a good time, and observing a wide mix of people peacefully congregated to have fun was just a really pleasant, happy feeling.

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Good on Nightfall and its sponsors for making that happen.  Wrapping up its 32nd season, over the years, Nightfall has brought in a diverse line-up of artists representing many genres of music, and they have developed it into a great series for the entire community.

In my next post, we’ll visit the Bluff View Arts District and the North Shore.

CHATTANOOGA: SONGBIRDS GUITAR MUSEUM

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To celebrate Bruce’s birthday, we hit the road to Chattanooga for a three-day visit.  Located less than three hours away, it was a very doable drive for a short get-away.  The draw?  Songbirds Guitar Museum, located in the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo complex.

As a former drummer, harmonica player, and singer with Anthem, a 1970’s-era San Diego-based rock band, Songbirds pulled on Bruce’s heart strings.  This was the perfect opportunity for Bruce to be in his happy place on his birthday.

As the Songbirds website states, “The Songbirds Guitar Museum not only brings our unparalleled collection of guitars to life through audio accompaniments, but the exhibits also embed these fretted instruments in pop culture vignettes with period-specific items of historical significance and relevance to the development of the guitar.  Guitars are grouped by brand, time frame, and linear progression.  Acoustic, electric, jazz, bass, mandolin, banjo and mandocello models- their stories are here for you.  Songbirds Guitar Museum is historically accurate, educational and fun for both guitar enthusiasts and those new to guitars.”

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The exhibits cover fretted instrument history from the 1920s to the 1970s, with a heavy focus on collector favorites like custom color models and other rarities from Fender, Gibson and Gretsch.  At any given time, there are over 300 instruments on display.  In all, the museum owns a collection of over 1,700 instruments, and the exhibits rotate on a regular basis.

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The combined value of the collection is worth over $200 million, with the value of individual pieces ranging from $10,000 USD to $1 million.

This incredible American-made collection is owned by the Songbirds Investment Group, a group that includes David Davidson, a partner with We Buy Guitars in New York City.  He worked for years to build the collection and find it a home.

Guitar aficionados consider the collection to be the premier private collection of rare guitars in the world.  Some of the crown jewels of the collection include 34 Gibson Les Paul “Bursts” from 1958 to 1960 (about 2% of all the “Bursts” in existence), around 300 custom color Fenders and 75 custom color Gibson Firebirds, rare early Gibson Flying V and Explorer specimens, a 1941 Martin D-45 and a set of instruments all made on the same day by legendary luthier Lloyd Loar.

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This 1958 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst was displayed in a glass case in the Vault, a highly secured room only accessible while on a guided “All Access Tour.”  This is where the museum’s most valuable guitars are displayed in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.  This particular model guitar sold for a few hundred dollars when it was new and is now valued in the mid-six figures.  Read more about these vintage guitars here.

The best way to see and enjoy the museum is to spring for a guided “All Access Tour” ($38) that includes the Green Room and Vault.  On the day we visited, there were just two other people on our tour that lasted almost two hours.  (Normally, the tour lasts about 90 minutes; however, our guide was happy to answer all the questions we threw at him!)

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This is the Green Room, only accessible on the guided All Access Tour.  The highly-secured Vault is in the back of the room.

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The Vault had the most elaborate (and expensive!) security I had ever seen outside of a bank.  The most valuable guitars in this room were worth up to one million dollars!  Since only 300 instruments are displayed at any given time in the museum, the remaining 1,400+ instruments are stored somewhere off-site.  The location is a highly guarded secret.

The stories behind the guitars in the Green Room and Vault were fascinating, even for the two of us non-guitar players.

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These are prototypes.

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AMERICAN DUCHESS CRUISE: PITTSBURGH (POST CRUISE) #3

Before we cross the river to take in a ballgame at PNC Park, here are some scenes of downtown Pittsburgh:

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Although we are not Pittsburgh Pirates fans (or St. Louis Cardinals fans, for that matter), we do like the game of baseball and visiting ballparks in other cities.  The Pirates were playing the Cardinals while we were in town, and we thought it would be a perfect way to kill three birds with one stone:  Take in a ballgame, do some photography of the Pittsburgh skyline, and enjoy the sunset.

Professional baseball games have gotten expensive to attend, especially if you have dinner at the ballpark.  We aren’t cheap, but we are frugal when we feel it’s appropriate.  All we wanted to do was get into the ballpark, so good seats weren’t our priority.  Besides, the best seats to enjoy the skyline are in the outfield, in the nosebleed section.  Checking out PNC Park’s orientation, we opted for seats high up in left field for the ideal view of the city.

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To save even more money, we purchased our tickets online at StubHub rather than at the ticket window.  Even with the service charge, we saved a tidy sum of cash.

Rather than eat at the ballpark, we checked out Trip Advisor and found a casual Greek restaurant just across bridge.  The food at Salonika Bar and Grill was good, reasonably priced, and far less expensive than ballpark food.  A gyro sandwich only set us back $7.75 each.  An “artisanal” pretzel at the ballpark is $6.50!  Want a liter of water?  That will cost you $7.25!  Sheesh, we brought our own water in for free.

Before the game started, we enjoyed strolling the concourse and checking out the stadium.  It was a great way to take in the city views!  After the first pitch was tossed, we watched the game—and the sunset—unfold.  What a beautiful evening and a great way to enjoy the city!

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Good night, Pittsburgh, and so long!

Next up:  A short getaway to Chattanooga.

AMERICAN DUCHESS CRUISE: PITTSBURGH (POST CRUISE) #2

If you visit Pittsburgh, I think the best way to see the city is to put on your walking shoes and hit the pavement.  It is a great walking city!  One of the enjoyable walks we did was between the Duquesne Incline and the Monongahela Incline.  The view of the Pittsburgh skyline, rivers, and bridges was spectacular!

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The Duquesne Incline, located across the river from downtown, has a wonderful story to it with a happy ending.  After years of financial loss, the incline was closed in 1962.  Local civil engineer, David Miller, and his wife, Ruth, formed a neighborhood organization to save the incline by raising money through the sale of souvenir tickets, bake sales, and card parties.  Within six months, the community had made minor repairs themselves and raised $15,000.  The incline reopened and is now one of Pittsburgh’s most popular visitor attractions.

After we rode the Dusquesne Incline up to the top of Mount Washington, we walked through an attractive residential area to get to the Monongahela Incline, so we could ride it back down to the city.  Along the hilly walk, there were viewing platforms to take in the breathtaking views.  Riding up the Dusquesne Incline and down the Monongahela was the ideal way to get the most out of the excursion across the river.  It was a short walk from the bottom of the incline to the Smithfield Bridge for a walk over the Monongahela River to the heart of downtown.

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Pointe State Park wasn’t far from the bridge, so we continued our walk to the park where could see across to Mount Washington and the inclines we had just enjoyed.

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Located at the tip of the downtown area where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River, there is a lot to see without taking a forward step.  Slowly spin yourself clockwise 360 degrees, and you will see Mount Washington, the three rivers, Three Rivers Stadium (home of the Pittsburgh Steelers), PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates’s home), several yellow-painted bridges, and the downtown skyscrapers.  When you come to a stop, feel the spray of the huge fountain.  On a hot day, it feels so refreshing!  It was the perfect place to stop, cool off, and watch the boats pass by.

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There are 30 bridges and river crossings on the three rivers within the city of Pittsburgh!

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The riverside walking trail will lead you all the way to the Strip District at the edge of dowtown; however, we opted to head up to Penn Avenue and stroll through the Cultural District, instead.

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We were impressed with how nice and pedestrian-friendly the downtown area was along Penn Avenue.  It was an enjoyable walk!

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Laura, this is for you!

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The Strip District features the John Heinz Regional History Center and Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction Building as well as shopping and dining.  Although there are some tacky and touristy stores and street vendors selling Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins sports team stuff; there are also some very cool ethnic food stores.  Even if you have no need for groceries, they are well worth a walk through!  Besides, the Italian groceries smell incredible!

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The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company was our favorite, and we couldn’t resist picking these up for lunch:

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Established in 1902 by three Sicilian brothers, the business started as a pasta manufacturing operation and eventually branched out to include over 5,000 Italian specialty foods and cheeses.  The third generation of the family is now running the business, and the place is a gold mine!

Another fun place to poke around is Wholey’s Market, established by Robert Wholey in 1912. The market features seafood and poultry, and there is a cute train that runs along a track high up above the seafood display cases.

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In my final Pittsburgh post, we’ll cross the river to PNC Park.  Take me out to the ballgame!

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN DUCHESS CRUISE: PITTSBURGH (POST-CRUISE)

I’m finally back, after visits to Chattanooga to celebrate Bruce’s 70th birthday, and a 10-day trip to Calabria, Italy.  Those posts will follow Pittsburgh.

The ‘Duchess completed her voyage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and we stayed on for a few days to see the city before returning home.

Pittsburgh is no longer that steely steel town of the past.  Today, it is home to 1,600 technology firms and was listed in 2015 as one of the “eleven most livable cities in the world” by The Economist.

 I’m not sure the snowy winters would make Pittsburgh livable for me, but it sure was a nice city to visit!  For us, the 24 miles of riverfront trails were one of the highlights of the city that was built where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers meet to form the Ohio River.  Not that we conquered all 24 miles; but we did get in some nice walks along the downtown riverfront, where we took in views of the skyscrapers, Three Rivers Stadium, PNC Park, and the beautiful bridges that cross the river.

It rained during our first day, so after settling in at our hotel, we took the shuttle to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where we were able to stay dry while enjoying the indoor exhibits.

Ranked #1 for “Things to Do” in Pittsburgh by Trip Advisor, we immediately learned why over 3,100 reviewers gave Phipps the top ranking.  The moment we stepped into the lobby, we were blown away by the introduction of their current exhibit, “Van Gogh in Bloom.”

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These are my favorites of the many photos I shot during our visit:

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For each “Van Gogh in Bloom” exhibit, a Van Gogh painting was displayed to set the scene.

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Phipps Conservatory also has several Dale Chihualy blown glass pieces on display.

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That was one BIG flower!

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Chocolate is made from this!  Cacao is near and dear to my heart (and stomach)!

Stay tuned for more posts on Pittsburgh!

AMERICAN DUCHESS CRUISE: SMALL TOWN SCENES

One of the enjoyable things about river cruising is having the opportunity to visit small towns we would normally not get to see otherwise.  They aren’t destinations we would choose to dedicate an entire vacation to visit, but spending a few hours in some of these towns gave us a good feel of what life is like in other parts of our country.

The following are some scenes of Point Pleasant:

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Wall murals are a common site along the Mississippi an Ohio rivers.

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This is Marietta, Ohio:

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The corn was completely drenched in butter before being served.

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“Corn Hole” is a bean bag toss game.

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Cheeeeeese!

Our final destination for the cruise was Pittsburgh where we spent a few days before flying home.  I haven’t even looked at those pictures yet (and will be otherwise engaged for awhile), so check back at a later (undetermined) date for posts!

AMERICAN DUCHESS RIVER CRUISE: MAYSVILLE, KENTUCKY

After visiting Augusta, Kentucky, our next stop was Maysville, also in Kentucky.  It was here that the American Duchess cruise staff continued with the “Racing on the River” theme of our cruise by organizing a “3K” walk/ run through the quaint town.  There was no charge to enter the race, and our free entry included a t-shirt and a bourbon slush at the finish line— pre-breakfast, in our case.

What’s not to love?  Surprisingly, only about half of the passengers signed up.

Being a very active Masters competitive swimmer, my body is a lot happier in the water than on land, so I opted to walk the course and save my joints from the pounding of running.  I walk faster than Bruce, so we agreed to meet up at the end for a bourbon slush toast.

At 7:45 AM, we gathered in front of the tied-up ‘Duchess and waited for the horn to blast.  Annnnd, they’rrrre off!  Six passengers ran ahead, so I knew I could never catch them.

As I followed the course by myself, I was surprised to see that it was the real deal!  The local police had blocked off the streets and had cars posted at the intersection with officers holding back what little traffic there was that early in the morning.

I wasn’t wearing a watch, but I know how fast I walk.  To my surprise, when I turned one of the corners of the course, the finish line was just up ahead.  What?  Already??  That sure was a short “3K” race!  I asked the winner, a young gal from Belgium, what she thought, and she replied that it was more like a 2K course.  That, dear readers, is why I typed quotation marks around “3K.”

As it turned out, I was the first walker in, and I placed 7th overall.  To my surprise, the cruise director, Dustin, and his wife, Courtney (Assistant Cruise Director), along with Jeff, the other A.C.D., greeted every participant with a very nice-looking medal. (All three were actually the singers/dancers who doubled as cruise staff.)  The front of the spiffy medal has a running scene, and the back was inscribed with “American Duchess /Racing on the River /3K /Maysville, KY /July 17th, 2019.  Along with the cute shirt (I love the graphic!), the medal made a nice souvenir of the cruise.  It now hangs from the closet door in my home office, along with a bunch of swimming medals.  Even if it was just a participatory medal, that was the first—and will probably the last—medal I have ever received for a walk or run.  What a hoot!

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Jeff, Me, Courtney, and Dustin, our cruise director

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And, Bruce, with his medal

As for the bourbon slush, I’m not a bourbon (or any hard liquor) fan, but that drink was good!  It was fun hanging out with everybody at the finish line and watching the stragglers come in to a round of applause and cheers.

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At the conclusion, we walked the short distance back to the boat for breakfast and to drop off our medals, before heading back into town to see everything we had quickly walked past during the race.

The featured attraction of Maysville is the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, home of the Kathleen Savage Browning Miniature Collection, which is the largest miniature collection in the world—in this little town of 7,500 residents.  Even the exhibit my friend and I saw in Chicago was smaller than this one.

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Walking into the gallery, I felt like a giant!  Remember that 1989 movie, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids?  Not only were the kids in miniature here, everything was!  How did the artists make everything so darn small?  Bruce plays a great blues harmonica, and we even saw a tiny miniature of one!

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The harmonica Bruce was admiring (above) is in the lower front on the floor.

Each 1/12-scale miniature was personally collected by Maysville native, Kaye Browning.  Only a portion of her collection is displayed at any one time in the 3,300 square-foot gallery, so the exhibits rotate with the seasons.  At Christmastime, out come the tiny lit trees and Santas!

The highlight of the museum was the amazing miniature of Princess Diana’s childhood home, the Spencer House.  Kaye Browning commissioned artists to replicate in 1/12-scale the 18th century ancestral home.

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This is the back of the Spencer House pictured above.

We watched a film about the making of this miniature masterpiece, and we were captivated by the patience these artists had in re-creating the oil paintings as tiny replicas.  Along with the mini Oriental carpets, bronze sculptures, upholstered furniture, sterling silver serving pieces, and gold gilt carvings; the entire reproduction was incredible to see up close.

Throughout the entire gallery, all we could say was, “Wow!  How did they make this so small?!”  Check out the hand-knit sweater, for example.  It looks large in the picture, but it was itty-bitty!  We were all just blown away.

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To give you an idea of just how small this sweater was, imagine a miniature person wearing it and sitting in one of those chairs in the Spencer House above!

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This is a full-size violin; however the instrument workshop depicted inside the violin is 1/12-scale.  Check out those teeny violins hanging above the workbench!

 

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I love this mini needlepoint!  Wow!

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And, how about this restaurant dining room scene, complete with cakes displayed at the center of the room?

After browsing through the other exhibits at the museum, we visited the Old Pogue Distillery where we had enjoyed our bourbon slush.  It is now a museum, and it was interesting to see the old equipment, barrels, bottles, and labels that were on display.

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This very rare “Old Time” bottle dates back to 1900.  It was found in an antique store in California this year.

Have you ever wondered what makes a whiskey a “bourbon” whiskey?  First of all, it must be produced in the United States.  It is made from at least 51% corn and is distilled at 160 degrees or below.  Then, it is put in a new, charred oak barrel, and then put into a container at 125 degrees or below.  It contains no added substances other than water (which happens during the distillation process.)

To be called a “Kentucky Bourbon,” it must be produced, and then aged at least one year in the state of Kentucky.  To be a called a “Straight Bourbon,” it must be aged for a minimum of two years – if aged less than four years, it must have an age statement on the label.

So, there you have it.  And, it is all lost on me, I’m afraid…  Now, if it was chocolate, you would be speaking MY language!

Next stop was the Washington Opera House, the 5th oldest theater in the country still in use.  Built in 1898, it was completely restored in 2006.

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I briefly paused during my race walk to snap this shot.

The town was small, but there were still a lot of interesting things to see.  A couple blocks over was the Russell Theatre, built in 1930 in the Spanish Colonial style.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the theatre is owned by a group of community leaders and is a registered non-profit.  Movies, concerts, and tours are conducted to raise funds to complete the restoration.  It is also available for rent, as is the Cox Building across the street where banquets and weddings are held in the interesting venue.

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The Cox Building Banquet Hall

Here are more scenes captured while wandering downtown and dodging a downpour at one point:

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It rained in the morning and afternoon, but by the time we left later in the afternoon, it was beautiful!

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AMERICAN DUCHESS RIVER CRUISE: CINCINNATI & THE GREAT RIVERBOAT RACE

The theme of our cruise was “The Great Riverboat Race,” but the race theme was carried out in a few of the other stops as well.  In Louisville, we toured Churchill Downs (horse racing), and that evening, a group went to the NASCAR races (car racing).  In Maysville (detailed in a future blog post), the American Duchess staff had arranged a 3K run/walk race for the passengers.

Cincinnati was the location for the Great Riverboat Race originally scheduled to be between the American Duchess and Belle of Cincinnati.  As it turned out, however, a third boat entered the race:  American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen, the boat Bruce and I cruised on in 2017 for the three-week “Mighty Mississippi” trip.  That wasn’t in the original plan, because the American Queen wasn’t supposed to be in Cincinnati.  Due to the very high water levels on the Mississippi River, however, the ‘Queen had to drastically alter their cruise route.  Not only would they be changing stops, but they also had to divert to an entirely new end destination.  What a mess!  I can only imagine the chaos of having over 400 passengers disappointed and/or angry.  But, what could the ‘Queen do?  Even with the smoke stacks down and the pilot house lowered, the boat couldn’t clear some of the bridges.  Besides, the passenger contract clearly states that the cruise line isn’t responsible for diversions due to situations like this.  Still, the company wanted to keep their passengers happy, so it did all they could to cheer them up.

For one thing, they tied the ‘Queen up alongside the American Duchess for the earlier part of their Cincinnati stay, and then they entered the race, among other perks.

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The company’s owner, John Waggoner, and his wife, Claudette, were on the ‘Duchess for the afternoon, so we got some of the scoop while watching the race together on the top deck.  When one of the passengers asked why the ‘Queen’s passengers all had matching t-shirts, Mr. Waggoner explained to her that he thought it would be a nice thing to do since their cruise itinerary was completely rerouted.  (Keep this in mind as I tell you about the race…)

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John Waggoner, CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company is interviewed by a local TV station about the upcoming race.

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We were supposed to have a pre-race champagne party up on that top deck; however, just as the corks popped and the band was about to play, a rain squall chased us back downstairs.  Fortunately, the canopies were quickly broken down and the band equipment was hauled back downstairs to spare any damage.

It was also fortunate that the skies cleared just in time for the race.  Along with the ‘Queen and Belle of Cincinnati, the crews untied the lines, and we all lined up at the bridge.  To the sound of (very loud!) horns, RACE ON!

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Now, keep in mind that after cruising on the ‘Duchess once before and having been traveling on her for several days already on this cruise, Bruce and I were familiar with just how fast the boat could travel—and, how fast the paddlewheel could turn.

These facts, together with the plight of the ‘Queen’s staff (dealing with disappointed and/or angry passengers), all come into play when I speculate on the reasons behind the outcome of the race.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that the Great Riverboat Race has a history of shenanigans?  Just read that linked article, and you will see what I mean!

According to the ‘Duchess crew, she is the fastest of the three boats and theoretically should win any race between those other two boats.  Having said that, you would think that to be especially true if the ‘Duchess cheated.  Which she did.  First, she got off to an uncharacteristically pokey start (on purpose; see previous photo), and then, before the designated turning point, she turned early, slowed, and then blocked the Belle’ from passing her.  At least, that’s how it looked to all of us on deck!

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We had already turned (early!) and were headed back to the bridge.

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This allowed the ‘Queen to pass both of us.  Then, when we lagged behind, Bruce and I headed aft to take a look at the paddlewheel.  It’s rate of revolutions had mysteriously slowed.  Considerably.  At least, that’s how it appeared to us…

The Belle’ is a smaller boat, and she didn’t stand a chance against the larger and more powerful ‘Queen.  Besides, she was loaded down with a bunch of tourists who had paid to experience the race from ground-zero.

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The Belle’ passes us.

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The Belle’ had been blocked by the ‘Duchess, so she was unable to catch up to the ‘Queen.

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American Queen wins!  (Gee, what a surprise…)

So, dear readers, these are my questions that will never get answered (unless the Waggoners decide to fess-up):

  1. Did all three captains get together and hatch this plan, pre-race?
  2. Did the ‘Duchess and ‘Queen captains devise the plan to cheat the Belle’?
  3. Did John Waggoner order the plan between the ‘Duchess and ‘Queen, because it strategically made more sense to please 400+ passengers over the 132 on the ‘Duchess? (After all, they needed some cheering up!)
  4. Was our captain just up to no good and cheated without telling anybody ahead of time?  (Check out this link.)
  5. Does any of this really matter anyway?

By the reaction of some of the passengers (including one who rudely insulted Mr. Waggoner behind his back by complaining to the Shore Excursions Manager while I was talking with her), you would think this was the Kentucky Derby with money at stake!  Come on, folks, this was all in GOOD FUN!

And, fun it was!  Bruce and I had a blast watching the spectacle, especially at the race start when we were alongside the ‘Queen, and their cruise director was talking smack about us over his very loud microphone.  It was a hoot!

We also enjoyed meeting the Waggoners, the nicest couple you could ever meet!  I had previously written to John, letting him know how much we enjoyed our experience on the ‘Queen.  He wrote a wonderful personal message back, rather than a form letter.  Now, THAT’S how you do business!

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Claudette was very personable, and I enjoyed our conversations throughout the day.  I gave her my card, so she could read my blog posts, and she sent me the sweetest e-mail!  If you are reading this, Claudette, thanks!

The entire day was a blast, and definitely the highlight of the trip!

The following are scenes from earlier in the day in Cincinnati.  As you can see, the weather was all over the board!

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We couldn’t wait to go over to the American Queen and look for our favorite crew, Tyrone James (“TJ”).  We got to know him during our Mighty Mississippi cruise, and we became buddies!

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We walked into town and enjoyed what we discovered! What a clever way to disguise a parking garage!  The same with the one below.

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After walking around downtown, we hopped on American Duchess’s hop-on, hop-off bus for a tour around the city.  We hopped back off at Newport on the Levee, across the river from downtown.  It was a nice walk across this bridge back to the boat.

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Ha!  I loved the sense of humor of this artist!  This was playground eqt. that kids could climb on and make the pig fly!  This was located at the beautiful park along the river, in front of Cincinnati Reds’s stadium.

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This is the world’s largest foot organ, and Bruce played it.  It was built by Cincinnati’s Verdin Company, the maker of bronze bells, street clocks, tower clocks, and carillons.

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We got a kick out of this dog biting at the water, while his buddy looked on.  Meanwhile, The Reds’s mascot hangs out on the park bench.

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AMERICAN DUCHESS RIVER CRUISE: MADISON, INDIANA

Journalist Charles Kuralt once called Madison, Indiana, “the most beautiful rivertown in America.  Although we haven’t seen them all, Bruce and I have seen a lot of these little towns during out cruises along a few of the American rivers.

Mr. Kuralt was onto something.  Madison was so charming, it put a smile on my face as we roamed the quaint town on the Ohio River.

Back in the early 1800’s, Madison was a significant cultural and industrial town for the region.  Today, it’s just a cute little town that welcomes river tourists and road trip enthusiasts alike.

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This is a utility box for the street signal on the main street.  Quite a catch!

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Shrewsbury-Windle Home, built 1846-1849

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Lanier Mansion, built in 1844

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The mansion had quite a backyard and view of the Ohio River!  The community pool (below) is located next door to the backyard.

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It was a hot day in Madison, and this pool was very tempting!

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On Broadway, cars are permitted to park down the center of the street along the solid yellow line!

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There were so many wonderful houses, both big and small, in the historic district.   Laura, we thought of you the entire time!

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I love the Little Free Library system!  The first one I ever saw was on our road trip, and I fell in love with the concept of  “Take a book, return a book.”  I am proud to say that in our community of Spalding County (pop. 60,000) has 28 Little Free Library’s!  Check out the non-profit here.

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