MUSICAL MEMPHIS

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Prior to the American Queen’s visit to Memphis, Tennessee, we stopped in New Madrid, Missouri, and Ashport Landing, Tennessee.  Neither stop was anything to blog about; however, I will throw in a few photos from Fort Pillow, where we learned way more about Confederates and canons than I ever cared to know.  This photo of the museum exhibit on the subject explains my distaste for all things Confederate and Civil War:

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Moving on to Memphis, this was a day Bruce was especially looking forward to, being the blues harmonica player that he is.  I had been to Memphis in 2013, when I took my mom on a cruise aboard American Queen, from Memphis to New Orleans; however, I looked forward to returning and sharing the experience with Bruce.

Included in our cruise was a tour of Graceland, and what instantly came to our minds as we headed to Elvis Presley’s mansion and museum was Paul Simon’s song lyrics:

…I’m going to Graceland

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In Memphis, Tennessee

I’m going to Graceland…

I can just hear Simon’s voice now… but, I digress.

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Graceland opened their doors an hour early for American Queen passengers, so it was great to get a nice head start through the mansion and exhibits, knowing we would have a full day ahead of us.  Neither of us are huge Elvis Presley fans, but we enjoyed the experience.

Here are some photos from Presley’s mansion and the museum:

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The stained glass peacocks were beautiful.

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There were actually three TV’s in this room.  Elvis would watch all three at the same time.

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The entire ceiling and wall was covered in folds of fabric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This room was just…bizarre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The remainder of our day in Memphis was spent enjoying the sights of downtown.  We were able to walk into the city easily from the boat, so we headed to the historic Peabody Hotel, home of ducks (Really, I mean it!  Check out my 2013 post about it here.  While you’re at it, check out the neon pictures taken at night along Beale Street.)

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The backstory on these famous Peabody ducks is that in 1933, the hotel’s owner had live ducks as decoys for duck hunting.  As a joke to the staff and guests, he decided to put them in the lobby fountain.  Well, it was a huge hit, so they have been at the hotel ever since.  (Of course, not those very same ducks; they don’t live that long!)  The ducks live up on the hotel’s roof and are escorted down to the lobby by elevator, led by their master, dressed in top hat and tails.  He makes a big to-do about it that draws crowds of people each day to watch the ceremony of ducks waddling down the red carpet, across the little bridge, and into the fountain!

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W.C. Handy

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Our next stop was the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, an included attraction with our cruise that was especially fabulous.  The introductory film we saw before continuing into the museum was well worth the visit alone.  The exhibits, though, were very well done, and we could have spent all day just listening to all of the great music they had available throughout the museum!

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Blues City Café was where my mom and I had gone for lunch back in 2013, and I had a hankering for another plate of their tasty tamales.  I thought Bruce would enjoy them, too, so we stopped in for a quick lunch.  Yum!

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Next, we visited the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, located just across the street from the café.  Although smaller in size and not as fabulous as the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, we still enjoyed the exhibits.

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Carl Perkin’s guitar

When it started to pour down rain later in the afternoon, we decided to board American Queen’s hop on-hop off bus, and enjoy Memphis in dry comfort. One of the bus stops was at Sun Studio; however, we didn’t have enough time to take the tour.  No worries; we’ll see it in January, when we return to Memphis for our American Duchess cruise.

The final stop for the bus was Bass Pro Shops, and we figured we had enough time to take a quick run around the huge store before the next—and last—bus arrived to take us back to the ship before departure.

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This boat was for sale, as were all the others floating in their ponds.

This Bass Pro Shops location wasn’t your ordinary Bass Pro Shop store (although, none of their shops are ordinary!); it was housed in a 320-foot high glass pyramid, the 10th largest pyramid in the world, and quite the spectacle!

From beginning to end, we made a (very) full day of seeing—and thoroughly enjoying—Memphis!

Next up:  “Blues Boy” & Delta Blues

 

 

 

 

A DAY “AT RIVER”

Ocean cruisers are familiar with that term “at sea,” when there is a transit day on an itinerary without a port visit.  Many experienced cruisers love those days at sea, so they can relax, enjoy being out on deck, and out on the open sea.

If cruise ships have days “at sea,” then what do riverboats have when there is no port to visit?  A day “at river,” of course!  Well, that’s what I call it, anyway.

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American Queen’s day “at river” wasn’t in the original itinerary, but as they say in life, s*&$ happens!  The night before arriving in Paducah, we were still in Cape Girardeau SEVERAL hours after our scheduled departure.  Although the passengers received some announcements along the way, we didn’t hear the full story until the captain explained what all had happened.  It was one thing after another, and the captain had us in stitches, as he comically detailed the events to us passengers in the show lounge:  First, a couple of essential crew members (who were coming on board to replace crew going on leave) were late arriving due to a delayed flight.  Next, there was a generator problem with one of the three generators.  Evidently, U.S. Coast Guard approval was necessary for the boat to continue operating on only two generators, and they weren’t exactly expedient in granting this approval.  Meanwhile, three tugboats were held up at the upcoming lock (usually it’s first come, first served), so we could get preferential treatment, and keep to our port schedule.  Since the Coast Guard was taking their sweet time returning the captain’s call, however, the tugboats were given the go-ahead to pass through the locks.  It wasn’t until 10:00 pm before we could finally depart Cape Girardeau.

But wait, there’s more!  The lock gate in the chamber broke down!  After the gate was finally repaired, and we were able to pass through the locks, you would think we were good to go.  Right?  Wrong!  The river was very narrow at that point, and we had to wait our turn to go through the narrow passage.  More delays…

To add insult to injury (at least for the captain), the water levels were reportedly too high for our boat to pass under the bridge in Canton, which meant we would not be able to stop in Dover, the day following Paducah.  As a result, the captain hesitantly announced that the American Queen would stay late in Paducah, welcome her new sister, American Duchess, and have a day “at river” the following day.  The captain braced for groans; instead, he got cheers and applause!

By now, several of the passengers (including us) were ready for a chill-day to relax, and enjoy just being on the river.  Besides, the only thing in Dover was Fort Donelson, an American Civil War battlefield.  At this point, gauging by the applause, it was evident that most of the other passengers were as burned out on the Civil War as we were.

Our day on the river was blissful:  a nice, long workout in the gym, a leisurely brunch sipping mimosas with our table mates, Jacque and Rick (Thanks, you two, for sharing your bottle!); and, an afternoon of watching the riverbanks pass by.  Steve, the cruise director entertained us that night with a fabulous piano concert of ragtime tunes choreographed to famous old-time silent movies.  The night’s finale?  Bruce jamming with Norman and Jim in the Engine Room Bar.

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Our tablemates, Rick and Jacque

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Norman, Jim, and Bruce jamming in the Engine Room Bar.  Those are Bruce’s harmonicas on top of the piano.

So, dear readers, on that note (no pun intended), as I reflect on our day “at river,” I end this blog post with some American Queen facts and river trivia:

~ American Queen is 418 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 100 feet tall with the smoke stacks raised.  She draws 8-1/2 feet of water; however, the river is only nine feet deep.

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~ Speaking of boats, a boat navigates rivers and lakes, and a ship sails upon seas and oceans.  That is the difference between a boat and a ship!

~ American Queen is the largest steamboat in the U.S.A. and was built by Delta Queen Company, in 1995.   She is constructed of steel (rather than wood, a fire hazard) to accommodate overnight passengers—a federal law.  When she was built, it was the first steamboat ever constructed at that shipyard.  It took 550 workers to get the job done, and when she was christened, the ceremony was done with a giant Tabasco Sauce bottle (rather than champagne).  Gotta love that Southern sense of humor!

~ Hornblower Cruises purchased the American Queen in 2012 when the Delta Queen company folded.

~ Her refurbished engine was from the original Delta Queen steamboat, now sitting in a shipyard, due to the fact she was made from wood and not allowed to accommodate overnight passengers.

~ American Queen now boasts a large propeller and modern propulsion system, in edition to its beautiful bright red paddlewheel.

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~ The pilot house lowers on hydraulics for bridge clearance.

~ The steam-powered calliope entertains us on every port departure, much to the delight of locals watching along the riverbanks—and me!

~ On the upper Mississippi alone, there were 22 locks that dropped a total of 390 feet.  We traveled through many more locks down the river…

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American Queen’s fabulous staff:

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Tyrone “TJ” James was our favorite.  He always had a big smile on his face, treated the passengers like gold, and made everybody around him happy!

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Kim made visiting the Front Porch Cafe such an enjoyable experience!

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Brian, the Front Porch bartender was super!  He liked Mountain Dew, so we picked up some in a few ports as our “thanks” for his great service and friendly personality!

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This is Cassie, our friendly (and fabulous!) stateroom attendant!

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We had a lot of fun with our waiter, Kirk!

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Starla and Ashton (the singing waiter) were a lot of fun, too!

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Thorsten was the tallest person on board, and staff member, Ky was probably the shortest man.  They both wanted a photo with each other!

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Thorsten and Anna Maria (along with Eva Maria), visiting from Germany, were passengers on board the American Queen

 

Coming up next:  Musical Memphis

 

 

 

 

 

 

PATCHWORK PADUCAH: HOME OF THE NATIONAL QUILT MUSEUM

There are many forms of art and craft that have always fascinated me; however, quilting never captured my interest as much as glass-work or woodwork, my two favorite mediums.  That all changed in 2006, when I saw the most amazing quilts as part of a fiber arts exhibit, at the Southwest School of Art, in San Antonio.  Sometime after that, I heard that Paducah, Kentucky was home of the National Quilt Museum.

Paducah?  This California gal had never heard of Paducah, population +/- 25,000; however, I kept hearing the name over and over, after moving to Georgia.  When Bruce and I noticed Paducah was on the itinerary for our American Queen Steamboat cruise, it piqued our interest, because of the National Quilt Museum.  If the quilts at the exhibit we had attended were that amazing, imagine how incredible they would be at a national museum!

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We made the museum our first stop, following the hop on-hop off bus tour of the artsy town that is located on the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, halfway between St. Louis and Nashville.

As soon as we walked into the lobby, we knew this wasn’t just your grandmother’s quilt museum!  There are not enough adjectives to the describe the quilts we saw, and if photography (flash or otherwise) had been permitted, the pictures wouldn’t have done those quilts justice.  Go ahead and check out their website, though; you will be amazed!  Glancing at the current exhibit, you will think those are paintings hanging on the wall.  You can’t possibly imagine the thousands of hours that went into making some of those quilts, obviously labors of love.

I did, however, take pictures (with permission) of the gorgeous stained-glass windows in the lobby and conference room:

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Visiting the National Quilt Museum was not only the highlight of our day in Paducah, but it was one of the highlights of the entire cruise.  Those sentiments were echoed by Bruce as well as several of the other men we spoke with on our cruise.  (Even the men who were dragged to the museum by their wives were enthusiastic about what they saw and happy they went along!)

Aside from the museum, the entire town of Paducah had such a cool, artsy vibe.   As a matter of fact, UNESCO designated Paducah as the world’s seventh City of Crafts and Folk Art, in 2013.  (Santa Fe, New Mexico is the only other American city given such a designation.)

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In addition to the artistic feel of the town, great care has been taken to preserve the historic buildings of Paducah.  As a result, twenty blocks of the downtown commercial district have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.P1140621.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paducah also did a great job of beautifying their formerly drab flood wall with murals designed and painted by Robert Dafford and his crew.  We enjoyed learning about Paducah’s history through these murals, just as we had done in Cape Girardeau.

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Walking around downtown was such a pleasure, and we enjoyed seeing the historic (and beautifully maintained!) homes nearby.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s marketing department definitely got it right when they chose Paducah as the meeting point for American Queen and the company’s third riverboat, American Duchess.  On its inaugural river cruise, the brand-new Duchess arrived before sunset and tied up just ahead of our boat.  It was a beautiful evening that couldn’t have been planned any better.  As the passengers from both boats waved, shot photos, and shouted greetings, the Queen welcomed her sparkling new sister with several loud steam-horn blasts and a calliope concert.  It was a travel brochure moment for American Queen’s marketing department, and we were sure the drones that were sent up captured some amazing shots!  We sure had a lot of fun, too!

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Although several of the crew and passengers went over to tour the Duchess, we opted to enjoy another fabulous dinner in the dining room, and wait until January to see the new girl in town.  (More to follow next month!)

Until then, here are some scenes from that Kodak moment, reminiscent of when the American Queen, Mississippi Queen, and Delta Queen met up in Paducah in 1996, as was depicted in one of the wall murals (above).

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Coming up next:  A DAY “AT RIVER”

 

 

CRUISING TO CAPE GIRARDEAU

Following our visit to Chester, the American Queen Steamboat paddle wheeler steamed on down to the sleepy river town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Founded in 1733 by a French soldier as a trading post, it is now home to around 38,000 residents.

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The American Queen is on the right.

As we had typically done previously during the cruise, we took American Queen’s included hop on-hop off bus for a narrated tour of the town to get a good overview, before hoofing it around on foot.

The historic Glenn House was located in a lovely neighborhood situated on a hill overlooking the river, so we opted to head back up to take the included tour of the lovely 1800’s home.

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Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home was built in 1883.  I especially liked these beautiful stained-glass windows in the foyer:

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Across from the home, we thought this was quite the curious sight:

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This was the original bridge that crossed the river; however, it was ultimately replaced by a new, modern one.  Instead of completely tearing the old bridge down, they kept the beginning of the bridge intact as a river and riverfront park viewpoint.  Clever!

Back in town, the downtown streets were pleasant to meander and photograph.

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One of my favorite buildings that added a bit of charm to the town was this Spanish-style home to Southern Missourian, the local newspaper.  These murals on the side of the building depict the history of the town and newspaper print:

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The highlights of Cape Girardeau, in my opinion, were the fabulous river wall murals.  What started as a necessary—but ugly—barrier to protect the town from flooding, was morphed into attractive and informative works of art.

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“Mississippi River Tales” is an 18,000 square feet mural that covers the 15-foot high wall with 24 panels of history, beginning with the Native Americans who inhabited the area between 900 and 1200, long before our “founding fathers” stepped foot on American soil.  Informative plaques describe each panel that tells the history of the area in chronological order.  Painted by Chicago artist Thomas Melvin, in collaboration with several local artists, the mural has graced Cape Girardeau’s flood wall since 2005.

These were some of the panels of interest to me:

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Immediately following “Mississippi River Tales” was the “Missouri Wall of Fame,” spanning 500 feet of the flood wall.  Depicting 45 people who were born in the state or achieved fame while living in Missouri, this mural included some of our baseball favorites, including Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher who had, let’s say, an interesting way with words!

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Unfortunately, the mural also included Cape Girardeau’s very own Rush Limbaugh, who also has a way with words…

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Next up:  PATCHWORK PADUCAH:  HOME OF THE NATIONAL QUILT MUSEUM

 

 

 

CHESTER’S MAIN MAN: POPEYE!

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I sure hope they sold out of those eclipse glasses, because the next total solar eclipse to be viewed in the U.S.A. won’t be until April 8, 2024!

Our post-solar eclipse stop along the Mississippi River was Chester, Illinois.  Although Chester was a stopping point on several occasions for Mark Twain when he piloted a riverboat on the Mississippi River, from 1857 until the Civil War, it is best known as the “Home of Popeye.”  Popeye’s creator, Elzie Crisler Segar, was born in Chester, and several of his characters were created from experiences with the people from the town.

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Have you ever wondered where Olive Oyl got her name?  Back in the 1800’s, Chester’s chief commodity was castor oil, which was used as a lubricant.  Guessing there was a connection there, I researched Olive Oyl on Wikipedia and discovered she was the youngest sibling of Castor Oyl.  Aha! I knew that Olive Oyl was named after olive oil; however, I’m pretty darn sure big bro was named after castor oil, after Chester’s chief commodity.  (As you have probably ascertained by now, I’m not exactly a Popeye scholar—or, familiar with all of his buddies!)

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More Chester trivia:  Scenes from the 1967 movie “In the Heat of the Night” were filmed in the town, as were scenes from “The Fugitive” (1993).

Coming up next:  CRUISING TO CAPE GIRARDEAU

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE, AUGUST 21, 2017

Unlike solar eclipse enthusiasts, Bruce and I did not book our travels because of the solar eclipse.  People had been talking about the upcoming solar eclipse for months—even years!  There was even a non-swimming related thread on the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums (of which I am a member) about the eclipse and where the best place would be to see it.  There were swimmers I knew who traveled out of state just so they could see the eclipse.  Me and Bruce?  No.  I hadn’t paid much attention to the discussion, and we didn’t even know when the eclipse was going to be when we booked our three-week Mississippi River cruise aboard the American Queen.

It wasn’t until we were already on board that Bruce and I realized we would be in one of the best places in the country to view the eclipse in its totality.  There was even a special premium excursion, “American Astronomy:  A Solar Eclipse Tour,” passengers could book for August 21, 2017, the day we were docked in Alton, Illinois.  Us?  No, we gave it a miss in favor of taking the included tour into St. Louis, for the morning.  We figured we would catch the eclipse when we returned to the ship for the afternoon (Although, we never bothered purchasing viewing glasses, so we wouldn’t be able to view it).

As it turned out, the riverside casino, Argosy Alton, was sponsoring an eclipse viewing party at the park adjacent to where the ship was tied up.  I happened to notice a little note posted on the purser’s desk counter about it with a mention that free viewing glasses would be handed out to the first 300 people in attendance, beginning at 11:30 am.

Filing that tidbit of news away in my memory bank, off we went to “see” St. Louis.  (Seriously.  How much can you really see of a city on a morning bus tour?)  I’m not a fan of bus tours, because you can’t experience a place in such a short period of time.  That, my friends, goes without saying, though.  I could write an entire BOOK on the topic!  Suffice it to say that shooting pictures out the bus window is definitely not my cup of tea, nor is getting off the bus for a few minutes to shoot a few more pictures.  Having said that, we thought it was better to see something of St. Louis than nothing at all; so, the following pictures (shot out the bus window and otherwise) are what we saw of St. Louis:

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As the bus returned to Alton, I surveyed the meager crowd at the riverside park that began to gather for the solar eclipse viewing party.  Quick calculations made by gazing out the bus window led me to declare upon disembarkation, “Screw having lunch.  I’m going to find those free viewing glasses!”  Ignoring Bruce’s protests, off I went in search of those eclipse peepers while Bruce mumbled behind me.  It was hot out, and neither of us wanted to hang out in the park; however, I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by.  The eclipse was going to happen, so we may as well be able to view it safely!

Glasses in hand, and a grateful “Thanks!” to the Argosy Alton employees who so graciously dispensed them, we returned to the ship, ate lunch, and waited out on deck.

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As the eclipse began, I noticed clouds gathering on the horizon.  Then, the clouds got closer… and darker… and, then the race was on.  Would we witness a total eclipse of the sun by the moon, or would the eclipse get obliterated by a rain storm?

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We watched and waited.  Then, I came up with an idea and shifted my focus away from the impending gloom.  How about photographing the eclipse by covering the small lens of my Panasonic Lumix with the eclipse viewing glasses?  I couldn’t safely look up at the sun without my glasses; however, I could guess at the angle, shoot, review the shot, and try again if I missed!  Wash, rinse, repeat!  Yeah, there were a lot of misses; however, I did manage to get a few shots, too.  That’s the nice thing about shooting digital (rather than film, like the “old days”); it doesn’t cost anything to make a bunch of mistakes, and try again!

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Bruce’s last look at the total eclipse as the Argosy neon lights turned on, and the storm grew near

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Pleased that I captured a few photos, I returned to viewing the eclipse—and watching the clouds roll in.  It was an eerie site, difficult to describe—and, even harder to capture accurately in a photograph.  When the eclipse reached totality—or 99.7% in Alton, according to local experts—the ambient light took on a strange hue.  Between the eclipse and the impending rain storm, it was the strangest feeling.  After the crowd at the park cheered enthusiastically at totality, the nearby Argosy Alton Casino neon lights turned on, the wind kicked up, and a huge cloud passed in front of the sun, obliterating it for less than a minute.  Soon after, it got very windy, the storm blew in, and it began to thunder, lightning, and rain.  We got to see totality just in in the nick of time.  Between the “ooh’s” and “ahhh’s” (and, me poking Bruce with a snarky, “Aren’t you glad NOW that we got these viewing glasses?”); in retrospect, Bruce and I realized we couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried.  August 21, 2017 was a day to remember for a very long time.

FROM PASSENGER TO PERFORMER ABOARD THE AMERICAN QUEEN

The entertainment aboard the American Queen paddle wheeler was top-notch during our three-week Mississippi River cruise.  From the guest entertainers to staff singers/dancers and musicians, we were quite impressed with the quality of the shows we enjoyed after dinner each evening.

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Bobby was also the Riverlorian and gave presentations on all things Mississippi River and riverboats.

Even the captain had us impressed when he sat in with band with his electric guitar made from the planks of the ship’s old paddle wheel.  That guy could play!

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Following one of the shows early in the cruise, we made our way back to the Engine Room Bar to listen to the duo performing covers of classic rock tunes.  The setting back there had a cool vibe—an ornate tin ceiling, a lot of dark wood, and port hole windows; just as you would expect on a vintage-style ship or riverboat.

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Through those port holes, I was mesmerized by the turning of the huge red paddle wheel, as I listened to the music.  During the break, I stepped out on deck to enjoy the view up close.

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It was during those early days of the cruise that I tried to convince Bruce to ask if he could sit in with the guys and play his harmonicas.  He had brought a few harps with him and played a little bit on deck when nobody was around; however, I knew Bruce would enjoy playing with the guys.  He had played drums and harmonica in bands back in high school and college, and I’ve seen him get enthusiastic applause and glowing compliments each time he’s played since getting back into music.  He only plays occasionally now, and sits in from time-to-time with a really good rock and blues band, when they perform fundraisers for local charities.  They love to have him join them, and he fits right in.  Not to brag about my husband, but the guy is good.

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Not wanting Bruce to regret being too humble to ask to sit in with the guys on board, I stepped in with a little nudge.  I told Jim and Norman that Bruce had a few harmonicas with him, and he would love to sit in.  Oh yeah… and, Bruce is good.  I’m sure they thought to themselves, “Yeah, that’s what they all say; we’ll let him join us—for just one song.  Period.”  To me and Bruce, Jim actually said, “Sure, bring your harmonicas with you next time, and I’ll bring you up to sit in on a tune.”

The next night, that one tune was all it took.  They invited him back onstage for another, and another, and… Every time we saw Jim and Norman around the ship, they wanted to know if Bruce was going to come sit in at the Engine Room bar that night.  One time, Bruce went to an afternoon Dixieland Jazz performance that included the show band and Engine Room performers, and Norman sent him back to the cabin to get his harmonicas!  When Bruce protested that he played blues, and Dixieland wasn’t his genre, Norman shot back, “That’s ok; you’ll figure it out!”

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That’s Norman, the American Queen Steamboat Company’s musical director on piano and Jim, on guitar.

Now, Norman was not only the musical director for the American Queen, but he was also the musical director for the other two American Queen Steamboat Company riverboats, the American Empress and the brand new American Duchess.  He knew his stuff!

At the end of the cruise, when I told Jim how much Bruce enjoyed sitting in with him and Norman, he told me how skeptical he was when I first asked him to let Bruce sit in.  Having had nearly all give-it-a-miss experiences with passengers sitting in, he was prepared for Bruce to be a one-and-done.  Let him sit in once, so he could have that memory to tell all his friends, and then never invite him back on stage.  Instead, Jim told me I should have asked earlier in the cruise, instead of waiting until the last week!  Norman echoed the same sentiments, and they both kept thanking him.

Bruce learned his lesson, and I’ve learned mine.  Harmonicas have been added to the packing list for our upcoming American Duchess and American Empress river cruises, and if Bruce leaves them behind the first night, I’ll bring them myself!  After all, I can just tell the band, “Norman and Jim told me to ask you if Bruce can sit in.  They said you wouldn’t be sorry.”

 

Coming up next, I back up one week to August 21, 2017, the day after visiting Hanibal, Missouri.  Our next port was Alton, Illinois, our home-base for the day while visiting St. Louis in the morning, and Alton in the afternoon for the solar eclipse.

HANGIN’ IN HANNIBAL

It had been years since I had read a book by Samuel Langhorne Clemens; however, memories of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Flinn came back to me during our visit to Hannibal, Missouri.

Hannibal was the boyhood home of Clemens (aka Mark Twain), and it inspired the setting for those two novels.  Many of Twain’s haunts have been restored to their historical accuracy, so the entire town has a Mark Twain feel to it.

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Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) visited with the passengers one evening aboard the American Queen.  He never broke character, even during the Q&A session after his monologue!

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Hannibal, Missouri

It’s a picturesque little town with houses dotting the bluffs that border the river, and attractive 1800’s-era businesses that quaint and well-maintained to attract the tourists.  The shops and restaurants are even named after Mark Twain characters.

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We enjoyed our tour of Mark Twain’s childhood home and the Mark Twain Museum—both well worth the visit, especially the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the museum.  They thought of everything, even making the famous fence a tourist destination, complete with paint brush and bucket!

Have you ever wondered how the name “Mark Twain” was chosen by Clemens?  If you remember back to Clemens’ novels, Mark Twain was fascinated by the Mississippi River and wanted to become a river pilot.  Back in the 1850’s, river pilots didn’t have modern navigational aids.  When entering shallow water, a man was sent to the front of the boat with a lead weight tied to a rope.  He tossed the rope out in front and let it sink to measure how deep the water was.  A series of knots were tied in the rope at measured distances.  A “mark” was the distance of six feet (the same as a fathom in the ocean), and “twain” meant two; so, the knot at “mark twain” meant the water was twelve feet deep.  For river boats, twelve feet was safe water and mark twain meant “safe water ahead”, so Clemens like the way that sounded!

The Unsinkable Molly Brown was another famous character from Hannibal.  Remember her?  She was the Titanic survivor who heroically helped rescue many women and children during the disaster.  She was a distant relative of Mark Twain’s, and Hanibal was her home as well.  (Her home was open for touring as well; however, we didn’t visit it.)

We found Hannibal to be quite a charming town and well worth hangin’ out in for a day along our Mississippi River voyage.

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Meanwhile, back on the American Queen Steamboat, the evening entertainment aboard the paddle wheeler took an entertaining turn in a more personal way.  Check back for more details in my next post!

 

BUMMING AROUND BURLINGTON

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I liked the historic feel of Burlington, which was quite different from where I grew up in Southern California.  Several of the downtown Burlington buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was great to see the care taken to preserve these old buildings.

Take the Capitol Theater, for example.  Dating back to 1937, the 700-seat theater had been closed since 1977; however, a foundation of passionate citizens was formed to raise the money needed to restore the theater back to its 1937 splendor– with some modern additions.  Such painstaking care was taken in the restoration that the new seats and carpet were reproduced to look like the originals, and a boatload of money was spent to restore the marquee to exactly as it looked in its heyday.

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We took a guided tour, one of the included attractions for the day.  I especially liked the art deco-style lighting throughout the theater, and the old projector was a classic!

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The hop on-hop off bus also made stops at the top of Heritage Hill, a beautiful neighborhood of lovely old homes and Snake Alley.

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Constructed in 1894, Snake Alley was once known as the crookedest alley in the world.  It was built to create a short cut from the top of the hill to the business district below.  Needing to accommodate horses, the mode of transportation at the time, the bricks were tilted higher on the upper edges, making it easier for the horse’s hooves to catch on the raised edge making the ascent easier and the descent a lot safer.

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We didn’t have access to a horse, so we hoofed the 275 feet of Snake Alley carefully on foot to the street below.

While bumming around Burlington, we had a quick look at St. Paul’s Catholic Church:

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In all, it was a pleasant little historic city of 25,000-26,000 people, and we enjoyed having a look around.

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It was another beautiful sail-away highlighted by an entertaining calliope concert!

 

 

 

 

 

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A typical river barge on the Mississippi River

 

Coming up next:  HANGIN’ IN HANNIBAL

QUAD CITIES

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The “Quad Cities” region, at the confluence of the Rock and Mississippi rivers, was next up on the journey aboard the American Queen Steamboat paddle wheeler.  Located in northwest Illinois and southeast Iowa, the focus of the hop on-hop off bus route encompassed Davenport and Bettendorf, the two Iowa Quad Cities  We hopped aboard for a look around.

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The Isabel Bloom sculpture studio, in Bettendorf, was our first stop where we saw a demonstration of how they make their sculptures.

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In Davenport we chose to spend some of our time at the River Music Experience, which included a very cool performance by two local musicians, and a stroll through the Bix Beiderbecke Museum.  Davenport was home to the great jazz cornetist in his younger days, so the private not-for-profit museum was established for the purpose of collecting, preserving, and exhibiting material related to his life and career.

We also enjoyed the exhibits at the Figge Art Museum, where the highlight for us was seeing this Tiffany stained glass window:

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Downtown Davenport

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A bank building in Davenport

Back on board, the sail-away was eventful, between the bridges we sailed under, the calliope concert (always fun!), and the locks we went through.  It’s a tradition for the steamboat crew and passengers to throw beads to spectators at the locks, so one of the officers handed out strands of beads to toss to these onlookers, who made a sport of catching them!

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Next up:  BUMMING AROUND BURLINGTON