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

 

 

 

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!

 

AMAZING AMNICON FALLS & DELIGHTFUL DULUTH

Before visiting Amnicon Falls State Park, we took the scenic route around the tip of Bayfield Peninsula.  The little town of Cornucopia was having a festival, so we pulled over to check out the crafts booths and shops along the marina.

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The vibe we picked up on throughout Bayfield Peninsula was that many of the residents were progressive, so this awesome solar-powered pottery studio fit right in place:

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Amnicon Falls was well worth the detour before continuing to Duluth, Minnesota.  The scenery was spectacular, and the hiking trails throughout the state park were so peaceful.  From any location, we could hear the rushing water from the falls.  The day was gorgeous, and we had chosen the perfect place to have a picnic and devour the remainder of our smoked fish and hand-picked berries.

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The remainder of the final full day of our road trip was spent up in Duluth, Minnesota, located on the south-western shores of Lake Superior.  The Downtown Lakewalk sounded like a nice way to spend a beautiful afternoon, so we put more miles on our legs while taking in the sites around the lake.

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Fitger’s Inn up on the hill looked interesting, so we climbed the stairs to see what was up there.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Fitger’s was Duluth’s first brewery, dating back to 1857.  After 115 years of brewing beer, the brewery closed in 1970.

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The Fitger’s Brewery Complex was re-opened in 1984, and it appeared to be thriving during our visit.  Between the Inn, brewery, restaurant, and shops; the place was bustling.  It was warm, so many people were out enjoying a cold brew while relaxing on the patio and taking in the view of Lake Superior.

We opted for a cold Bridgeman’s ice cream, instead, and thoroughly enjoyed this local favorite.   Dating back to 1936, Bridgeman’s began as a family-owned business, and it remains in the Bridgeman family to this day.

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This was a great place to enjoy the sunny afternoon before heading south for the last night of our road trip.  The following day, we would be joining the American Queen Steamboat Company for a pre-cruise stay at Radisson Blu, at Mall of America.  Soon, we would be rollin’ on the river!

Coming up next:  ROLLIN’ ON THE RIVER ON THE AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The American Queen Experience: “A” for Excellent!

How would I rate our overall experience aboard the American Queen? In one word: Excellent!

One of my favorite things about this cruise was the friendly and efficient hop-on/hop-off bus service at each port. American Queen Steamboat Company owns four tour buses that look like our ship on wheels; very cute! And, they are driven by four of the friendliest and helpful bus drivers I have ever met. The buses followed us the entire way, driving on to the next port while we cruised during the night. The drivers would stay at hotels and meet us the next morning.

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Abe and Mark, pictured below, were my favorite staff members of all the AQ staff I encountered.
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The bus system was very efficient. The night before our port, we could pick up color-coded boarding passes that were in 15 minute increments. And, the wheels on our designated bus would roll at exactly that time. This arrangement meant not having to wait in any lines- nice!

We were also given maps with the stops labeled, including attractions that we could visit that were pre-paid by the ship. Other points of interest were also labeled, as well as banks, pharmacies, and our bus stops. It was so easy and efficient, making it very relaxing and stress-free at each port. The buses would even do final sweeps around the circuit if people were missing at the designated all-aboard time. Nobody was ever left behind.

At sail away from each port, the captain would blow the steam whistle, followed by the pianist playing a calliope concert on the aft deck.

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During one of the concerts, I noticed one of the steam pipes wasn’t working too well, so an otherwise perfectly sounding song medley was punctuated with weak/sour notes every once in a while. It was good for a lot of laughs from everybody on deck! And, there was something quite charming about that experience that I will always remember.

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Another advantage of being on a riverboat rather than a huge cruise ship is the opportunity to learn about how the boat works. The engine room was open for viewing and there was always somebody available to answer questions. They even had an information sheet explaining how it all worked.

The Riverlorian also conducted tours of the pilot house each day, so we learned about the navigational system, as well.

The entertainment on board was also terrific. The staff orchestra and singers produced cruise ship quality shows and the guest entertainers were wonderful. We heard a jug band from Louisville, Kentucky, as well as a Blues Brothers tribute band and a New Orleans jazz band. It was a great variety of good ol’ Southern music. And, we especially enjoyed one of those shows by bringing our complimentary bottle of Champagne with us.

So, what about that good ol’ Southern cooking? Fabulous! Our waiter was quite good about explaining the dishes in detail and making recommendations; all which were spot-on. But, I really couldn’t imagine anything being bad, because it all looked and tasted so good! Even the assortment of rolls at dinner was too good to pass up; especially the pretzel rolls. And, don’t even get me started on dessert…

I will include a picture of one of our dinner menus, but you will need to click on it to see it enlarged. It’s worth a read; it will make your mouth water…

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The service was friendly and efficient; especially the complimentary wine service. Those gals came around with wine constantly, so our glasses were never allowed to run dry. In my opinion, the dining room experience was a cut above most of the cruise ships I had previously sailed on.

Overall, the staff on board the American Queen was very friendly and accommodating. It was a nice surprise, given the fact it is an all-American staff that works 14-15 hour days; something most Americans are not used to doing.

Would I recommend the American Queen to my family and friends? Most definitely!