AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY’S AMERICAN EMPRESS

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Welcome aboard American Queen Steamboat Company’s second paddlewheel riverboat, the 223-passenger (and 83 crew) American Empress.  She’s a beauty with her traditional black smoke stacks, red paddlewheel, ornate trim, and beautiful décor.

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Having been on the grand dame of the fleet, American Queen, and the newest addition, the upscale boutique hotel inspired American Duchess, we were curious to spend a week aboard the four-year-old American Empress and get a feel for their Washington-based riverboat.

What makes this boat different from the others is that all of the staterooms are outside with balconies/ verandas.  Although our stateroom was located on the walking deck, and the veranda wasn’t as private as the balconies on the other decks, I loved having easy accessibility to get quickly around the boat when I wanted to check out the view from all angles for photography.  It was also convenient for my deck walks (8-1/2 laps equaled a mile), since there wasn’t a gym available.

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As always when we cruise, we selected the least-expensive cabin, since we don’t need the extra space or spend much time inside our room.  At 150 square feet, it was the same size as most inside cruise ship cabins, and it was appointed with a mini refrigerator, coffemaker, flat-screen TV, desk, safe, and plenty of closet space.  A nice touch was the addition of a nice pair of binoculars.

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Just a short walk down the hall from us was the River Grill, the casual dining option for breakfast and lunch buffets, or reservation-only dinners.  Although we didn’t dine there for dinner, we enjoyed all of our breakfasts and lunches either on the deck outside of the River Grill, or just inside with great views looking out.  When the weather was nice, they would open the doors, so you could enjoy the comfortable temperatures inside, but still feel like you were dining alfresco.

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What made the convenient location dangerous for our waistlines was the 24-hour soft serve ice cream machine (with several toppings) and cookies.  (Thankfully, I did so much walking during the week that I didn’t gain any weight!)

The other dining option, the Astoria Dining Room was fabulous for dinner.  Although we had second seating (7:45 PM), it wasn’t assigned seating, so you could choose to dine alone or share a table with other passengers.  The dining room was never full for the later seating, because first seating was more in demand.  The River Grill was also a popular option, so it took the pressure off the dining room.  As a result, dining was relaxed, the service was excellent, the food was delicious, and we weren’t rushed out of the dining room at the end of the evening.  Baja, the Maitre D’ also made sure the wine was always flowing.

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The highlight of our dining experience was being invited to have dinner with Captain Andrea Mickelson.  As it turned out, my previous three cruises (two with Bruce and one I took my mother on) totaled more cruising days with the company than any other passenger, so that is why we were invited!

We were quite impressed with the captain’s eight-year rise in the ranks from housekeeper to earning her USCG Captains license in 2002.  She has been on the rivers ever since, and her passion is evident.  Thanks to Baja seating me next to Captain Andrea, I was able to ask her a lot of questions and get to know her a bit.

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Baja, along with Adam (bartender/ cocktail waiter), Evan (waiter), and Gail (Excursions Manager), were all working aboard the American Duchess when we were on in January, so it was fun seeing them again and getting to know them better.  Adam remembered the dates we would be on, because it was his birthday during our cruise, and Baja scheduled us in his phone; so, we had a very warm welcome from them both on the first day!

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Adam, Evan, and Baja with Bruce

In between the show and dinner, and then again after dinner each evening, we made our way to the Paddlewheel Lounge to hear Frank play piano and sing.  What a hoot!  His quirky sense of humor added even more enjoyment to his wonderful singing and phenomenal piano playing.  He had us thoroughly entertained!  And, when he wasn’t playing, we enjoyed the great views of the scenery out the side windows and the turning red paddlewheel out the back.  Off to the side, there was a small library with comfortable couches, and four computers to access the free WiFi.

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In the show lounge, Lawrence gave informative lectures during the day (We particularly enjoyed his two-part talk on Lewis & Clark).  At night, there were excellent shows featuring various combinations of the four talented staff singers accompanied by a fabulous four-piece band.  Sammi and Daniel were so much fun and friendly, and they seemed to truly enjoy performing together.  Greg (Cruise Director), and his wife, Lindy (Hotel Manager) reminded us so much of husband and wife team, Max and Darcy, the cruise director and assistant cruise director/ entertainers aboard the American Duchess.  Not only did they all remember our names after the first time we met, but they were very personable, friendly, and amazingly talented.  “Lindy on a High Note” was Lindy’s fantastic cabaret, which highlighted her operatic training while singing selections from Broadway musicals.  Greg followed up with his own one-man show of Broadway musicals, complete with on-stage costume/character changes for each one.  From Fiddler on the Roof to Don Quixote to Phantom of the Opera, we were totally captivated by his versatility and talent!

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Lawrence, the Riverlorian

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Daniel and Sammi

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Sammi and Daniel got Bruce up to join them as a “Pip” for a Glady’s Knight & The Pips tune!

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Lindy and Me with my prize for being the most-traveled Steamboat Society member on this cruise

The dining and entertainment on all three boats is truly top-notch quality, and the best we have experienced on the water, including the many ocean cruises we worked on as Arts & Crafts instructors with two major mid-level cruise lines.

What makes American Queen Steamboat Company’s cruises unique, though, is the included hop on-hop off buses that follow the boat throughout the itinerary.  They make frequent stops at several of each town’s highlight attractions, and admission to those attractions are included as well.  (Check out this blog post for more about the buses.)

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Premium excursions are also available, and we scheduled our first one for this cruise.  (More on that in a later post.)

The most enjoyable aspect of each cruise we have taken with American Queen Steamboat Company, however, has been the staff, from the captain all the way down to our stateroom attendant.  As personable and friendly as they are, it appears as if they wisely hire for personality and train the skills needed to perform the job.  The company also does a great job promoting from within.  Lindy was originally hired as an entertainer when the American Empress first started; however, she was asked by the owner of the company, John Waggoner, to become Hotel Manager.  After initial protest by Lindy (I’m not a hotel manager; I’m an entertainer!), she agreed under the condition that she would still be able to perform her cabaret.  Mr. Waggoner agreed, and she now pulls double duty and seems very happy.

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Bruce & Olivia, our stateroom attendant

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Sean had to sit out all day checking people in and off the boat, so he kept himself (and the passengers) entertained solving his collection of Rubik’s Cubes.  He was fast!

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The best part of the dance party was the crew getting to join us!

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Romano “Roro” was a hoot!  That’s him in the previous picture (white shirt) kickin’ up his heels at the dance party.  He wowed us with his splits and other fancy dance moves!

The staff also goes out of their way to make sure their guests are happy and having a good time.  I witnessed one man at the River Grill looking at the selection of ice cream toppings and asking where the nuts were.  Edward, the River Grill chef promised he would get some for him the next day.  Sure enough, the following morning, we watched Edward pour out a bag of mixed bar nuts on his workstation, so he could pick out the peanuts for this passenger’s ice cream.  Then, he spent his work break going into town to buy a can of peanuts to keep this passenger happy the remainder of the cruise!  That’s going above and beyond, don’t you think?

Knowing I liked the chocolate chip cookies, Evan surprised me one night at dinner with a wrapped plate of the treats to take back to our cabin.  I hadn’t asked for them, but he thought to do it anyway.

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In addition to seating me next to the captain, Baja brought us out lobster tails on the last night of the cruise, because he knew how much we had enjoyed them the night before.

It is all of these reasons that we will continue cruising with American Queen Steamboat Company.  We already have one booked for next summer!

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Next up:  LEWISTON (IDAHO) AND CLARKSTON (WASHINGTON):  CAN YOU GUESS WHO THEY ARE NAMED AFTER?

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN EMPRESS PRE-CRUISE: SPECTACULAR SPOKANE

One year ago, before taking the American Queen on the three-week “Mighty Mississippi” cruise and American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest paddle wheeler, American Duchess (again, on the Mississippi), we had booked a cruise on the American Empress.  After having such great experiences last summer and in January on the other two paddlewheelers, we were looking forward with great anticipation to cruising the Snake and Columbia rivers aboard the company’s second boat in their three-boat fleet.

We chose an east to west itinerary rather than the reverse, which was a good call.  The eastern part of Washington is barren desert with an annual rainfall averaging about ten inches.  As you travel west, the scenery becomes much more lush and green, thanks to the 70+ inches of rain falling closer to the coast.  During our cruise, it got prettier each day as we made our way from Clarkston to Richland, and then to Stevenson and Astoria, before disembarkation.  (The Dalles, Oregon, was also on the itinerary; however, the water level was too high to stop there.)

Prior to boarding the river boat, we spent one night on our own in Spokane at the Ruby 2 and then stayed another night with the other American Empress passengers at the Historic Davenport Hotel, just a short walk away.

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The Ruby 2 was in a great location and quite a bit more budget-friendly than the Davenport.  We figured being totally spoiled for one night would be more than enough for us, since we were perfectly happy in our clean, comfortable, and quiet room at the Ruby 2.

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The view from our room at night.  The old steam plant across the street has been renovated and now has a restaurant, shops, and offices.

As luck would have it, we arrived in town on the morning of Spokane’s annual Lilac Festival, and the evening parade was routed just a block away from our hotel.  This was such a big deal in this city of 208,000 residents that people started staking out their viewing spot the night before by leaving lawn chairs on the curb.  By the time we arrived, there were colorful rows of canvas-backed chairs covering the entire parade route in the downtown city center!

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Lilac Festival Parade

It was a gorgeous day, so we took advantage of the beautiful weather by seeing the downtown area on foot.  Spokane Falls is the main attraction, and it borders one edge of the city center.  Pictures don’t do it justice, because it’s not just about seeing the falls; you need to hear and feel the power created by the tremendous rush of water.  According to www.visitspokane.com, “Flows can reach upwards of 31,000 cubic feet per second—that’s the equivalent of nearly 232,000 thousand gallons of water racing through a single square foot of the Spokane River in the blink of an eye.”

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Between Spokane Falls and the downtown city center is Riverside Park, a nice place to walk through while checking out the various views of the falls.  Along the way, we saw plenty of geese enjoying the pond (and bread being tossed to them), and children enjoying the gigantic red Radio Flyer and beautiful carousel.

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 The following day, we checked in to the Davenport, left our bags, and took the bus to Manito Park, because it was too hilly and non-pedestrian friendly to get to on foot.  What a beautiful place!  I was envious of the homeowners that bordered that wonderful park—until I remembered how cold it gets there in Winter!

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After returning to the hotel, we took the hotel’s interesting self-guided tour.  What a beauty!  As for our room, we lucked out with a corner room, which was huge—and, the nicest hotel room we had ever stayed in.

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The following day, American Queen Steamboat Company bused us to Clarkston, Washington to board the American Empress.  For a tour of the boat, check out my next blog post coming soon!

Coming up next:  AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY’S AMERICAN EMPRESS

 

 

 

 

 

Alabama Senior Olympics

On May 2, I competed in the Alabama Senior Olympics to qualify for the National Senior Games that will be held in Albuquerque, in June of 2019.  (Qualifying years are the even years, and the National Senior Games take place in the odd years.)  It was my first time traveling to Hoover, Alabama for their state games, because I usually swim at the Georgia Senior Golden Olympics, in September.  After three times competing under the hot sun in warm water at a poor facility, though, I was ready for a new experience.

What a nice surprise!  The Hoover Recreation Center was beautiful.  I had never seen such a nice, well-equipped locker room at a city facility, and the deck area was comfortable for competitors and guests alike.

Although the pool was warmer than the recommended competition temperature of 78-80, it was still a few degrees cooler than the Warner Robins pool in Georgia.  Nice!  They also had electronic touch pads, which is more accurate than hand-timing a race.

The best part about the meet was the fact that it ran a whopping 3-1/2 hours faster than the Georgia meet, and that includes the one-hour medals ceremony at the end!  In addition, the staff and volunteers were fabulous!

A special thanks to Deanna Pack, Program Coordinator for the Governor’s Commission on Physical Fitness and Sports, for shooting photos at the meet.  I especially appreciated this, because the photos were made available for the athletes to download and keep.  (Since my husband shoots video of my races for me to analyze and learn from following each meet, I don’t have any nice photos from my competitions.)  Deanna did a nice job on these, and she has allowed me to post them.  This is what she wrote when I asked permission:

“I am so glad to hear you enjoyed the photos! You have my permission to use any photos you would like, but there is no need for credit.

We hope you enjoyed your time with us and will return in 2020!”

Deanna, I am giving you credit anyway!  THANKS!

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Only two of us gals competed in the 200 Yard Butterfly, so they combined us with the only man to compete in that race, my teammate, Bob Cutrone.  We all won golds, because we had no competitors in our respective age groups!

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I was happy and relieved to have won six gold medals in the 400 IM, 200 Butterfly, 200 Breaststroke, 200 Individual Medley, 100 Butterfly, and 50 Breaststroke– all in about two hours of time!

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Leslie Landey and Stacy Fox were the other two from Georgia to travel to Alabama for the meet.  Stacy and I competed against each other in the 50 Breaststroke in the 55-59 age group.  That’s Bruce in the background looking over the heat sheet.

 

 

INJURIES AND OBSTACLES: MAKING THE BEST OF BOTH AS A SOLO SWIMMER

Note:  This article can also be found at Swimspire.com.  This is the fourth in a series dedicated to the solo swimmer.

Just when you have gotten into a great groove with your swimming, you get injured in a bicycle accident or it’s time to embark on that ocean cruise you booked last year. Your routine is disrupted—again. Don’t let injuries or obstacles derail your swimming. Make the best of both!

Making the Best of Your Injury

The advantage of being a solo swimmer when you have an injury is that you don’t have to worry about not being able to do the coach’s dictated workout or keeping up with lane mates. Instead, you get to call the shots. Following are tips and ideas to keep you in the pool.

First, before you swim another lap with that injury, visit a doctor for an accurate diagnosis, and follow your doctor’s orders. Your doctor may allow you to swim with waterproof bandages covering open wounds, but make sure to ask about this and any other work-around ideas you may have for your injury.

For many types of injuries, such as those involving muscles and joints, a visit to a physical therapist for an evaluation may be recommended by your doctor. If not, ask if it would be appropriate for you. After a physical exam of the injury, a physical therapist can show you strengthening exercises that will not only get you healed and back in the pool again, but could prevent further injury. Make sure to follow your prescribed exercise program to the letter! Then, even after you are fully recovered, keep doing the exercises as part of a regular dryland routine to help avoid reinjury.

If you are not sure whether it would be safe for your particular injury to do some of the proposed adaptive swimming ideas outlined below, do a Google or YouTube search and show a video clip of it to your doctor or physical therapist for approval. For example, after my stitches were removed following a hip labral tear repair and hip flexor release, my doctor didn’t want me to do any kicking for two months. I showed him a video clip of swimming with a pull buoy, and he approved it for easy freestyle and sculling drills, but no pushing off the walls. I was also given the strict order, “Let pain be your guide!” My swimming was severely restricted; however, I was back in the pool two months earlier and was able to keep my healthy shoulders strong while my hip healed.

Four Limbs, Four Strokes, Unlimited Possibilities!

Aren’t you glad you’re a swimmer rather than a runner? As a runner, you won’t get too far with a lower limb injury; however, (most of) us swimmers have four limbs, four (competitive) swimming stroke options, and unlimited possible combinations.

A pull buoy became my best friend following hip surgery, and it can become yours, too, if you have a lower limb injury. For proper usage, search “pull buoy swimming drills” on YouTube. Just keep in mind that eliminating your kick in swimming will put increased reliance and stress on your shoulders; so, leave the paddles at home, use proper stroke technique, and reduce yardage throughout your recovery to avoid other injuries. The same applies with any injury and any adaptive swimming you do to compensate. Again, let pain be your guide, and don’t overdo it! You won’t know how much your body can withstand of your new routine, so stay flexible with your workout plan, yardage, and duration.

For an upper limb injury, this will be the time to focus on incorporating kick sets with lap walking in the shallow end of the pool mixed in. Using a kickboard puts stress on the shoulders, so opt instead for a front-mounted snorkel and kicking with your arms relaxed by your side (or out in front if your injury allows). If you are like me and dislike snorkels, roll to one side to breathe or take a quick breath in front. (Note:  A snorkel is your best option for neck injuries.)

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Kicking options include flutter or dolphin kicking face down, on your side facing to the left, facing to the right, or on your back. Breaststroke can be kicked face-down or on your back with your arms either above your head or by your side. To avoid overdoing it, try mixing them up in various combinations for each set. An example would be kicking a 100 Individual Medley on the first and third repeat, and flutter kick face down, to the left, to the right, and on your back on the second and fourth repeats, resting for a set interval in between each 100. Mixing in one-minute egg beater kicking in the deep end or water walking (forward and side steps) in the shallow end can give your legs much-needed variety as they get fatigued.

You may also be able to swim some one arm drills, depending on your injury.  Show the following video, “Swimming—Freestyle—Single Arm Variations” to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this would work for you.

Another option is to combine the upper half of one stroke with the lower half of another. When my hip flexor gets fatigued, I like to swim breaststroke pull with an easy dolphin “kick”—more like keeping my legs together and letting them flow behind me, keeping my hips loose.

Again, if you have any question about whether these ideas would work for you, bookmark videos of swimming drills on your phone ahead of your doctor or physical therapy appointment, and run the videos by them for approval.

In addition, if you are reading this prior to sustaining an injury, go ahead and get somebody to shoot some video of your swim strokes. Not only could you use the videos for stroke technique analysis, but they might come in handy someday if you need to show them to your doctor or therapist for clearance to swim with your injury!

Overcoming Obstacles

Rather than an injury, perhaps you have been faced with an obstacle that is conspiring to keep you out of the pool. Maintaining consistency is important for fitness, well-being, and staying race-ready (if you are a competitive swimmer). If your regular pool has been closed for maintenance or you are going to be traveling, a terrific resource for locating an alternate pool is Swimmers Guide. According to their website, “Swimmers Guide contains the only international, descriptive directory of publicly-accessible, full-size, year-round swimming pools you will ever need…” I utilized this site to successfully locate pools throughout the northeast United States, so I could swim throughout a seven-week road trip I did with my husband.

What if you have access to a pool during your travels, but it’s tiny like this riverboat pool?

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If the pool is too small for stretch cords, you can still get a great workout by kicking face down with you hands up against the side. For breaststroke, push off with your hands, allow yourself to float backwards, and then do a kick back to the wall. Repeat several times before switching to flutter kick again.

I worked on strengthening my hips by pushing off underwater and streamlining to the other side, and then quickly turning around underwater and pushing off again. Going back and forth underwater not only worked my legs, but it worked my lungs as well! Mixing in vertical streamlined jumps off the bottom added variety.

For an arm workout, I stood facing the side with my feet on the bottom and toes up against the side. Leaning back slightly, I did fast repetitive breaststroke pulls, going as quickly as I could for one minute. This is a great way for improving turnover speed and aerobic endurance. Doing all of these drills in fast succession, I was out of breath as if I had done a sprint workout!

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and these tips and ideas can help! The swimming routine you have developed is too important to let injuries and obstacles keep you from the fitness, well-being, and endorphin rush that swimming provides. Next time an injury or obstacle conspires against you, get creative and make the best of it!

ElaineKrugman

 

 

SIX SUGGESTIONS FOR THE SOLO SWIMMER

Note:  The following article appeared on Swimspire.com in September of 2016 and was adapted for the Georgia Masters Newsletter in December, 2016:

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Are you a solo swimmer?  If so, welcome to my world!  For many of us, swimming solo rather than with a workout group or team isn’t a preference; it’s dictated by circumstances.  In my case, the nearest U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) team is located quite a distance away, so the community pool just one mile away is the more convenient option.

Although swimming solo may have its disadvantages, I have discovered ways during my six years as a lone Masters swimmer to overcome them and make the most of my swimming experience.  Hopefully, the following suggestions will do the same for you.

  1. No coach? No problem!  Learn to coach yourself with video.

The most frustrating thing for me training solo was not having a coach on deck to evaluate my strokes on a regular basis, so I bought a waterproof camera and enlisted the help of my husband to periodically shoot video of all four strokes. Having to kneel down on the deck to record underwater views was a knee and back buster, so I rigged up a camera mount on a PVC pipe.  Now, my husband can stand up straight to shoot underwater video.  He simply twists the pipe to pan the camera as I swim by, or he holds it still at the end of the pool for front views.

In order to shoot video myself, I use reusable rubber-coated twist ties (available at Home Depot) to attach the PVC pipe to the pool ladder or railing.

Next, I upload the videos to my computer, and compare them to instructional videos right here on Swimspire.  I also compare my stroke videos to “Go Swim” and “Total Immersion” videos viewed on YouTube.

Alternatively, the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums (www.usms.org) are a great place to have your stroke video evaluated by other Masters swimmers.  Just upload your video to YouTube, and post the link on the Forums.  (You don’t have to be a member to sign up for a free account.)  Every time I have done so, other “Forumites” have responded with great advice.  Often these online “coaches” have been actual swim coaches or world-class Masters swimmers!

  1. Are you lost as to how to design your own workout plans? Check out the Internet!

The USMS website is THE place to find a variety of excellent workouts to suit your needs.  Sign up for that free account, and check out “Workouts” in the “General” section of the Forums.  Swimming workouts are posted on a daily basis by top-level Masters swimmers that are geared for sprinters, long-distance swimmers, triathletes, stroke specialists, and more.  There are even swim workouts specifically written for expectant mothers and those with limited mobility!

There are plenty of other options for swim workout ideas, too.  Google “swim workouts,” and there will be numerous options for ideas.

I copy and pasted my favorite workouts into Word Documents, custom-formatted them in larger font for easy reading through goggles, and printed them out.  They are kept in a three-ring binder in plastic sleeves, and I place a selected one in a jumbo Ziploc bag to keep it dry at the pool.

I also record my results (such as my practice “race” times) on a plastic SCUBA slate using a pencil.  After recording the information online in my USMS Fitness log, I use toothpaste and water to scrub it clean.

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  1. Be a sociable solo swimmer.

Many swimmers love the solitude of swimming solo, and escape to the pool to alleviate stress.  If you’re an extrovert like me, though, I enjoy being around people; so, I make an effort to be sociable when I’m at the pool.

Regardless of your personality type, there are advantages to getting to know others where you swim.

Over the years my friendliness towards others at the pool has come back around in ways I had never expected.  I get asked about upcoming competitions, receive a lot of encouragement, and get congratulated when I return to the pool following a meet.  There are several people who even offer to move (or just automatically do it) if they are using my favorite lane when I arrive for my workout.  (The other narrow swim lane has two ladders that are not built into the wall—painful for my fingers if the butterfly recovery isn’t timed perfectly.)

Striking up conversations with others at the pool has led to some wonderful friendships, too.  We already had one thing in common when we met; we loved to swim!

  1. Become a “Forumite” on the USMS Discussion Forums.

Joining USMS, and being active on the Discussion Forums has also led to cherished friendships over the years.  One “Forumite” (a FINA World Record breaststroker) who had viewed my posted stroke videos and responded with advice did something for me I will never forget.  At my first USMS Short Course Nationals, just two months after joining USMS, he surprised me by watching me race, and then meeting me at my lane to provide stroke feedback.  Hearing what I did well and how I could improve helped me going into my next race.  This “Forumite” has been my valued online coach ever since, and I am one of his biggest fans!

At another national swim meet the following year, my husband and I got to know the guys from another team sitting next to us in the bleachers.  When it came time for my 200 breaststroke race, I heard a booming, “Go, Elaine!” echo from the bleachers as I stepped up onto the starting block.  That jolt of inspiration propelled me to swim a personal best time!

Besides learning a lot from the other Forum contributors, many of them have become real friends—unlike the so-called “friends” many people make on Facebook (that they may never meet face-to-face).  When I compete at swim meets—especially USMS National Championships—I get to see and spend time with my Forum friends.  One of them even traveled across the country to visit me in Georgia, and participate with me at an upstate meet.  It was a blast!

Overall, the swimming community is a friendly, open, and supportive one.  Become a part of it, and you will be happy you did!

  1. Volunteer.

Are you a non-competitive fitness/recreation swimmer?  You will be welcomed with open arms if you go to a local swim meet, and volunteer to time races, count laps during distance events, or assist the meet director!  It’s a great way to meet other swimmers, and become a part of your local swim community, even if you never swim a race.

When I was unable to compete following hip surgery, I timed races at a meet.  I had so much fun cheering my teammates on and socializing with the others.

Are you considering becoming a competitive swimmer, but a lack of self-confidence in your abilities is stopping you? Do you feel intimidated by the thought of competition?  Volunteering at a local Masters or Senior Games meet is a great opportunity to see what it’s really like.  Watch the other swimmers, and see how you compare.  At a recent local swim meet, there were swimmers of all levels; from a three-time 1980’s Olympian to a swimmer who appeared to struggle with completing the race.  Nobody paid particular attention to either one; we were all there to race against the clock and achieve our personal goals.  As always, the atmosphere was fun, friendly, and supportive.

  1. Share your skills.

Related to the last suggestion, sharing your skills with other swimmers will bring joy in unpredictable ways.  When I complimented a new resident at my community on her freestyle stroke, she lamented the fact she hadn’t been coached since her age-group swimming days; so, she wasn’t sure how her stroke looked.  I offered to shoot topside and underwater video of her stroke, so we met up the following day for a video session, and I recorded her stroke from several angles.  I then uploaded the videos to YouTube and sent her the links.  She was so appreciative that she treated me to lunch!  We had a great time, and a new friendship was formed.

I also write a monthly “Swimmer Profile” column for the Georgia Masters Newsletter and contribute photos I shoot at swim meets.  In addition, I periodically submit meet recap articles.  I enjoy the writing process, and interviewing profile subjects has been a great way to get to know other area swimmers.  Friendships I’ve formed have deepened, and the compliments on my writing have been gratifying!

Think about your skills and how they could benefit other swimmers at your pool or your local swim club.  It will be a rewarding experience!

Putting these six suggestions into action is sure to make your solo swimming experience more enjoyable.  Give them a try and see for yourself!

A TOUR OF THE AMAZING AMERICAN DUCHESS

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My previous post included a sneak-peek of the American Duchess; however, I wanted to provide a more detailed look at American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest riverboat and her fabulous crew.

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Created from a 1995 hull, this 340 foot-long paddlewheeler features four decks and employs 80 American crew to run the boat and manage its 80 suites—the first all-suite paddlewheeler to cruise U.S. rivers.  The maximum passengers she will sail with is only 166, so the crew-to-passenger ratio is quite high.

Our cruise was sold out; however, the boat never felt crowded at any time, even in the show lounge where there were always plenty of seats.  (There were 165 seats available, including the chairs that line each wall.)

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One of the reasons there was always so much space to roam was the fact that the suites range in size from 180 square feet (for an interior cabin like ours) to 550 square feet for a two-story loft suite featuring 19-foot ceilings.  Those suites (and the Owner’s Suite) had their own “River Butler” to spoil them rotten, so I’m guessing those passengers spent a lot of time in their cabins!

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Our 180 sq. ft. interior cabin.

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There was a refrigerator on the right side of the desk and a coffee maker.  Once the luggage was unpacked, it fit nicely under the bed. leaving plenty of space in the walk-in(!) closet.

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The toilet was located just to the left, and the walk-in shower with a rain shower head was behind me when I shot this photo.

For those passengers who had the “Commodore Services” included with their suite and had a butler, he was available for them throughout the ship.  We saw him everywhere, and he made sure his passengers knew it.  Have you heard of helicopter parents?  Well, he was a helicopter butler.

Although the décor of the boat wasn’t to my taste, the abundance of blown and fused glass artwork was.  Bruce and I absolutely loved it, especially since Bruce is a glass artist (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com), and glass is our favorite art medium.

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The American Duchess had a modern boutique hotel feel to it, rather than a traditional riverboat ambiance.  In all honesty, we preferred the 1800’s motif of the American Queen, built and decorated to replicate the paddlewheelers of their heyday.

Most notably, the Duchess lacks a promenade deck, a must for open air enjoyment of the views, especially for a sunset stroll.  Of course, Winter Storm Inga didn’t allow for much of that; however, I would have sorely missed a promenade deck had the weather been better.  (The Duchess does have a large sun deck; however, it just doesn’t have the appeal of the top deck space on the American Queen.)

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Sadly, the Duchess also lacked a calliope, a charming feature I enjoyed so much on the American Queen.

The most impressive area of the Duchess was the bar, dining room, and stairs leading up to the Lincoln Library.

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The windows on each side looked down into the dining room.

The dining room layout was similar to the American Queen in that it had tall ceilings on each side with a lower ceiling in the center.  Without a doubt, the dining room on the Duchess was nicer, though, because even though the boat was sold out (like it was when we were on the Queen), there was much more room in between the tables.  In addition, there was only one seating; however, you could be seated any time within the open hours (5:30 – 8:00 PM for dinner) and dine either alone or with others.  There was no assigned seating, and they accepted reservations for parties of six or more.

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Since the American Queen Steamboat Company has an executive chef who creates the menus for all three of their boats, the menus were similar to what we enjoyed on the Queen, and the food was similar—fabulous on both boats.  The service on the Duchess was better, though, and much more relaxed.  (By the way, we had the same Maitre D’ on both cruises!  Oscar boarded the Duchess the same day we did.)

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Chef Jeff had a sense of humor, too!  Check out the comment about the cookies.

The desserts (at least the chocolate ones!) were better on the Duchess, though.  Rachel did a great job!  I especially liked the creative little birthday dessert that was left in my cabin along with a card.  I also received an incredible piece of chocolate ganache cake in the dining room for dessert!

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Rachel, in the galley.

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The galley is larger and better equipped than on the American Queen, a 414 passenger boat!

In addition to the dining room, the River Club and Terrace was a more casual option for meals.  Breakfast and lunch were buffets, whereas dinners were table service.  We enjoyed a lobster tail there on our first night aboard, when we joined the other Steamboat Society of America members (repeat cruisers with the company) for an invitation-only dinner.

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The final option for food was in Perks, a little café with a self-serve cappuccino machine, juice dispenser, popcorn maker, and windows to sit and watch the river.  Those were all well and good; however, it was the fresh-baked chocolate chunk cookies I was after.  Yeah, there were other varieties, too, but it was always extra special when I could nab my favorite!  (In the morning, they had pastries, and fresh fruit was always available.)

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Entertainment included “Riverlorian” talks during the day, as well as the usual bingo, Name That Tune, trivia, etc.  What we enjoyed the most, however, were the lounge shows each evening.  Max (also the cruise director), his wife, Darcy, and Matt were three talented and personable singers who performed each night backed by a top-notch band.  We had a few chats with Scott, the bass player, and it turned out we new several of the same San Diego-based jazz musicians!

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Matt and Max

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Max, Darcy, and Mike (Riverlorian, Lights, Sound)

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Me and Darcy on my birthday

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Me, Max, Darcy, and Bruce

By far, the best feature of the American Duchess was its crew, from the captain on down.  They bent over backwards to make every passengers’ experience a memorable one—especially when we were hit with snow and temperatures that averaged twenty degrees below normal.  The day after the blizzard, Captain Joe McKey was out on the River Club Terrace scraping snow off the deck and cleaning things up.  (Yes, you read that right; the captain!)  In the dining room, Executive Chef Jeff Warner constantly came out to the “front of the house” (in restaurant speak) to help serve or pick up plates.  He was very personable and made sure all his passengers were happy.  Read the book Waiter Rant, and you will soon learn that is not typical.  I know, because I worked in the restaurant/ hospitality business for several years, most notably at the University Club in San Diego for my last seven years. Unless it was to take a bow at an event or receive kudos from a requesting club member, the chef never left his comfortable domain of the kitchen.

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One thing that brought a smile to my face one late evening in the Lincoln Library was seeing one of the bartenders playing Monopoly with a young passenger who had nobody her age to pal around with on board.  At another table, the Riverlorian was playing a card game with some other passengers.  Whether that was permitted by the hotel manager or not, I don’t know; but, I sure hope they didn’t get reprimanded.  As a matter of fact, I hope they will be encouraged in the future to do more of the same!  It is an example of the congenial atmosphere that is evident between the crew and passengers, and it was, in a word, special.  I hope they always keep the magic they have created.

American Queen Steamboat Company has a winning formula down to every detail.  The success they have had and the awards they have won are well-deserved.  It is my hope they can sustain it and never cut back or cut anything out like what has happened with several of the large cruise ship lines.  Ask any of the long-time cruisers with Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean Cruise Line what I mean, and they will tell you.  As a former guest lecturer with both companies, I speak from experience.  When you start cutting back, people notice, and you will lose your most loyal customers.  More importantly, word gets around.  American Queen Steamboat Company, you have a great thing going.  May it always stay that way!

For additional pictures, check out my album here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROLLIN’, ROLLIN’, SNOWIN’ ON THE RIVER

When we booked an American Duchess riverboat cruise while aboard the American Queen last August, we knew we would be in for some cold weather in January; however, the lyrics of “Proud Mary” hadn’t come to mind quite in that way.  We wanted to experience the new American Queen Steamboat Company riverboat, though, and they were offering the January cruise at a low enough price to catch our attention.  Besides, Bruce said he wanted to take me for my birthday.

I grabbed my ski jacket, gloves, ear muffs, and scarf (Bruce is a lot tougher than I am), and off we flew to Memphis, on January 14.  Since we had seen the ports on this itinerary as part of our three-week “Mighty Mississippi” voyage, we looked forward to this being a cruise where we would mainly relax and enjoy the new boat.  As it turned out, that was for the best…

Having watched the 10-day forecast on weather.com, we learned that not only would we be in for some cold weather, but it was going to be VERY cold!  Upon arrival in Memphis, we were greeted with a 27-degree slap in the face and ice on the ground from an unusual (for Memphis) snowfall.  One step outside, and I knew I was in for a challenge due to having Raynaud’s in my toes, fingers, nose, and ears.  (The nose is a particularly difficult body part to keep warm without looking like a bank robber!)

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We were troupers in Memphis, making the best of our first afternoon and following day in the city, seeing a few things we had missed during our last visit to Memphis.  Touring the Gibson Guitar Factory was especially interesting, since we had toured Martin Guitars during a previous road trip and could compare the guitar-making processes. Unfortunately, Gibson didn’t allow photography in the factory, though, so I only have this picture from their store, in addition to a few photos I shot around town:

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Instead of enjoying the downtown music scene at night, we decided to hunker down at the hotel for dinner.  Between the icy sidewalks and 9-degree temperature, we thought it to be the wiser choice!

As we boarded the American Duchess we had a nice surprise, immediately recognizing Ginny, the Engine Room bartender from the American Queen.  She remembered us, too, especially Bruce’s harmonica playing when he sat in with Jim and Norman on that cruise.  Our champagne greeting by the staff was such a nice warm welcome from the cold!

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Ginny, with me and Bruce in her new (temporary) digs at the River Club & Terrace

Over the next few days, the American Duchess had a difficult time staying warm while Winter Storm Inga unleashed a blizzard (the first night) along with twenty degrees below average temperatures.  The dining room, with its high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, was an ice box.  After I placed my lunch order, I hustled to our cabin to retrieve my ski jacket.  Like everyone else in the dining room, we enjoyed our delicious lunch fully zipped up!

Thankfully, the Lincoln Library was comfortable enough, so we spent our afternoon reading and staying warm, after freezing in the gym that morning.  Helena, Arkansas was supposed to be our first port; however, the south isn’t equipped to handle snow and ice, and the town literally shut down during the storm.

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Lincoln Library

I’ll have to admit that the first couple of days aboard the American Duchess was not the most comfortable—only because of my Raynaud’s.  I mean, how do you keep your nose warm when you are dining on fabulous food in the dining room?

The following day, we were in Vicksburg and attempted to go out; however, we didn’t even make it off the boat before the 15-degree cold caused us to make a quick U-turn and run back indoors.  Besides, Vicksburg is very hilly, there was ice everywhere, and most of the town was shut down!  Instead, we stayed on board and signed up for the afternoon pilot house tour.

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The sun (and, snow!) deck

Wow, never did I think I would enjoy that hour with John Cook so much!  Between learning about piloting the river and hearing his entertaining stories, we were thoroughly fascinated.  It turned out to be one of the highlights of our American Duchess experience.

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Speaking of the American Duchess, in my next post, I will take you on a tour of the boat and introduce you to her wonderful staff.  As the week continued, the storm passed, and the boat warmed up; we enjoyed the experience more each day.  The friendly and accommodating staff did all they could to make everybody comfortable, and they surprised me in ways I have never seen on any cruise ship.  More details to follow!  Meanwhile, here are some scenes from around the boat following the blizzard:

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Coming up next:  A TOUR OF THE AMAZING AMERICAN DUCHESS

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, NOTTOWAY

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“The White Castle of Louisiana,” as the riverside mansion of Nottoway Plantation has been nicknamed, was the last stop on American Queen’s three-week cruise down the length of the Mississippi River.  The plantation’s location was quite convenient, because all we had to do was walk up and over the levee embankment, and we were there.  No hop on-hop off bus was needed for this tour!

Before touring the mansion, however, we did attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for American Queen’s newest bus.  Isn’t she a beauty?

The expertly-guided tour of the South’s largest antebellum mansion was interesting.  Completed in 1859, the 53,000 square-foot, three-floor, 64-room mansion is Greek Revival and Italianate in style.  It features 200 windows, 22 massive exterior columns, 15-foot ceilings, 12 hand-carved Italian marble fireplaces, 11-foot tall doors, modern bathrooms with running water, and its own gas plant to provide gas lighting throughout the mansion.  (All that was missing from this place was the partridge in a pear tree…)

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Commissioned by John Hampden Randolph, Nottoway Plantation was built as the ultimate showcase of his wealth, which was accumulated off the backs of his 195 slaves that harvested the 1,000 acres of sugar cane on his property.  No expense was spared, and when the mansion was completed, it became home to Randolph, his wife Emily, and their eleven(!) kids.

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The centerpiece of this lavish mansion is the oval ball room, which is stark white from top to bottom—one of the reasons Nottoway got its “White Castle” nickname.  The custom trim in the ballroom and throughout the mansion was made from Spanish moss, clay, plaster, and mud.  (Spanish moss was also used as stuffing for the furniture cushions.)

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This seat cushion exposes the Spanish Moss stuffing.

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Our last evening aboard the American Queen was magical.  It was as if the sky was putting on an encore performance to punctuate the beautiful sunsets we had enjoyed throughout the cruise—and the memorable experiences we shared with the other passengers, staff, and each other during our three weeks on the Mississippi River.

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…And, the big wheel just keeps on turning…

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Stay tuned for a review of the American Duchess, American Queen Steamboat’s newest paddle wheeler…

BUSY IN BATON ROUGE

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The American Queen stayed a full day in Baton Rouge; however, I still found myself racing against the clock to get everything in that I wanted to see.  Bruce joined me for the first half of the day; however, he came down with what turned out to be a nasty case of bronchitis, so he was down for the count before the day was done.

We set out in the morning for the Saturday farmer’s and craft market in town, conveniently located near the hop on-hop off bus stop.  Thanks to the American Queen staff, they were thoughtful enough to make that arrangement for us!

As veteran craft show vendors ourselves (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com), we always appreciate and enjoy seeing what others create.  This particular market had some interesting and fun creations available.

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Enjoying tasty Farmer’s Market treats!

Our next stop:  Louisiana’s State Capitol.  I had visited Baton Rouge before with the American Queen in 2013; however, Bruce had never seen the city.  Knowing how much he would enjoy seeing the capitol, we made sure to get a visit in while he still had the energy.

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It was a prettier day when I was there in 2013, so you may want to check out my photos from that post.  Other than the state capitol, we didn’t see much that day, however, because it was Good Friday, and much of the city was closed down for the weekend.  This time, it turned out that there was so much to see, a day wasn’t enough time to get it all in.

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Following our visit to the capitol, we ended up spending far more time at the Capitol Park Museum than intended, because the exhibits were excellent.  Upon arrival, we headed straight up to the second floor to learn all about the various cultures in Louisiana, a state very different from our native state of California.

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Louisiana was first inhabited by numerous tribes of American Indians, but then it was colonized by the French, Spanish, and English.  It was built largely by African slaves, and then acquired by the United States.

In 2005, Bruce and I had visited New Orleans for several days on a dedicated trip to the city; however, the second-floor exhibit at the museum encompassed the entire state.  The presentation of the exhibits was done in such a fun and colorful way, and today’s pop culture was included along with the history of each region.  In the colorful exhibit on Mardi Gras, for example, they even covered New Orleans’ gay krewes, including the Krewe of Yuga, the first organized krewe founded by and for gay men.

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It was interesting to learn the difference between a Cajun and a Creole.  Cajuns were historically a French-speaking group that now mostly speak English.  Prior to 1955, French was their first language.  They are quite culturally mixed in heritage, because the Acadians who settled in Louisiana in the late 1700’s intermarried with other ethnic groups, including Spanish, Germans, and Anglo-Americans.  Today, they remain a culturally distinct group, linked by their shared cuisine, music, and geography.

During the early 1800’s, native-born Lousianians began defining themselves as “Creoles” to distinguish themselves from foreign-born and Anglo-American immigrants, and, in the case of free people of color, from enslaved African Americans.  After the Civil War, a white Creole was someone who traced his or her heritage to white French or Spanish colonials, and a Creole of color was of mixed ancestry (African, Native American, French, or Spanish) or else descended from French-speaking slaves.

Today, there is still no consensus in Louisiana on the term “Creole,” and it was interesting to listen to videotaped interviews of experts on the subject who all seemed to disagree.

One thing I know for sure about Creoles, though; they sure have an interestingly mixed cuisine, and New Orleans is known around the world for their fabulous food.  Influenced by American Indians, Africans, Anglo-Americans, French, Spanish, Germans, Italians, and those from the Caribbean; the resulting mix of spices, flavors, and styles of cooking is tasty!  Just remembering how good the food was in New Orleans made my mouth water as I perused the exhibits at the museum.  Thankfully, the food aboard the American Queen was wonderful, including the Cajun and Creole dishes we enjoyed throughout the Louisiana portion of the cruise.

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After spending so much time enjoying the second-floor exhibit, we only took a glance through the first floor, because Bruce was out of steam and ready to return to the ship.

I went back out to see the old state capitol building located just across the street from our dock.  What a surprise it was!  As I entered the lobby and looked up, I literally exclaimed, “Wow!”  I was alone, but I couldn’t help myself.  The stained-glass ceiling window was that beautiful.

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Built in 1850 (and restored in 1880 after the war), the capitol building was cast aside in 1932, when the new capitol was built, which is the tallest state capitol in the United States at 349 feet.  (Megalomaniac, narcissistic Governor Huey Long made sure of that.  Does that remind you of our current president, perhaps?)

The most interesting exhibit in the building, I thought, was on Huey Long, and it was done in a very clever way.  As you walked into the room a black faux crack went across the floor, up the wall, and across the ceiling, dividing the room in two.  In the yellow-painted right half of the room, the exhibit detailed all of the good things about Governor Long’s character and his accomplishments.  The left, blue-painted half of the room pointed out the ugly and evil side of the governor, and all of the ways he tarnished Louisiana.  It was this half of the room where I saw the uncanny parallels between Long and President Trump.

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When we return to Baton Rouge aboard the American Duchess, I look forward to showing Bruce the Old State Capitol.  We also plan to return to see the first floor of Capitol Park Museum, and perhaps take a stroll through the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum, located directly across from the Old State Capitol and adjacent to the riverboat.

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For my final post about our three weeks aboard the American Queen, coming up next:  LAST BUT NOT LEAST: NOTTOWAY

 

 

 

 

 

SCAMPERING AROUND ST. FRANCISVILLE

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The oldest town in the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, St. Francisville, has a population of less than 1,800.  It doesn’t take long to see the charming and quaint town; however, we thoroughly enjoyed two highlights:  The Myrtles Plantation, which was a stop on our hop on-hop off bus tour, and the picturesque cemetery of Grace Episcopal Church.

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The Myrtles Plantation dates back to 1796 and is surrounded by beautiful Spanish moss-covered live oak trees.  We were given a guided tour of the mansion that currently serves as a bed-and breakfast and features beautiful furnishings, as well as a 125-foot verandah with ornate ironwork.  Photography wasn’t permitted indoors, however, photos of the rooms can be found on their website.  Following the tour, we wandered around the property that includes bed-and-breakfast cottages situated around a lovely pond.

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Back in town, we strolled through the historic grave sites at the church cemetery:

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There were some attractive boutiques in town, including Grandmother’s Buttons. Located in a former 1905-era bank building, the boutique features a button museum in the former bank vault.

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Located just 35 miles from St. Francisville, we cruised down river in the early evening arriving in Baton Rouge in time to enjoy the beautiful sunset and see the lights of the downtown skyline.

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Coming up next:  BUSY IN BATON ROUGE