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

 

35 Miles Down the Mississippi River

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It wasn’t much of a steam down the Mississippi to get from St. Francisville to Baton Rouge; just 35 miles was all. So, we arrived at 11:00 PM and tied up for the night.

This morning, I looked out from the American Queen and saw 7 HUGE semis
And four RV-type buses lined up across the street. Elton John is in town for a concert that sold out in four hours.

Later on, as we circled Baton Rouge in our hop-on/hop-off bus, we noticed two more buses from his entourage parked in front of a hotel that we were told costs $600 per night to stay in and books out six months in advance. No worries; Elton can afford it, I’m sure…

Our day in the state’s capitol could not have been more beautiful; sunny and 73 degrees with a comfortable breeze. The only downside of the day was that it was Good Friday, so most things were closed. There are a lot of Catholics in Baton Rouge, evidently, because the city looked like a ghost town. When we gazed down from the 27th floor outdoor observatory of the capitol building, there was hardly a moving car to be seen.

No worries; Baton Rouge did not strike me as a must-see city that would make my bucket list for a repeat visit. But, the day was enjoyable, anyway.

A little background about Baton Rouge: The name comes from the French words for “red stick”, in reference to a pole covered by bloody animals that marked the boundary between two Native American hunting grounds, back in 1699. French explorer Sieur d’Iberville gets credit for that lovely discovery.

Since then, it has been under the control of France, Britain, Spain, Louisiana, the Florida Republic, the Confederacy and the United States; a complicated history compared to my native state of California!

Baton Rouge has been Louisiana’s capitol since 1849. And, the push to establish the city as a hub for river traffic came under the direction of French Canadians driven from their property in the north by the British. The group was known as Cajuns and their unique cultural influence is a key component of the area today.

Although New Orleans was the most populated city in the state pre-Katrina, the hurricane drove many people out of the New Orleans area. In a very short time, Baton Rouge had an influx of 200,000 new residents, making the city one of the fastest growing for its size in the United States.

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The highlight of our visit today was visiting the state’s “new” capitol building, built in 1932. It is the nation’s tallest capitol at 34 stories and has a beautiful interior of Italian marble. The floor was particularly interesting to me, as it was made of Mt. Vesuvius lava rock and travertine square tiles.

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Other than the capitol, the only other visit of the day was a self-guided tour of the the USS Kidd, an early 1940’s destroyer that was conveniently docked next to the American Queen.

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What was lacking in Baton Rouge was the Southern charm we enjoyed in our other ports. This, of course, is only based on a one day visit of just the downtown area, but it is an apples-to-apples impression, compared to our other stops.

Our final stop is just the opposite; a sugar plantation called Houmas House. More on that in my next post…

Natchez, Mississippi

Continuing on down the Mississippi, we arrived in Natchez, a small city of less than 20,000 people that has quite an interesting history. I was fascinated to learn that Natchez has flown under several different flags: French, English, Spanish, American, Confederate, and again under the American flag.

During the 1800’s, Natchez was a frequent stop for steamboats and a major port for the loading of cotton bound for New Orleans, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The city recovered from a tornado in 1840 which killed 269 people and had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States prior to the Civil War. Although occupied by General Grant’s army in 1863, Natchez survived the Civil War intact and today has some of the most extensive examples of antebellum homes in the country. One of those antebellum homes is on a plantation, now owned by American Steamboat Company Chef de Cuisine Regina Charboneau. The acclaimed Southern chef now operates Twin Oaks as a bed and breakfast.

Our day was spent hopping on and off the bus and touring three different antebellum mansions, including Stanton Hall, a Greek Revival structure built in 1857.

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We also enjoyed strolling along the streets of Natchez to enjoy the other homes of the town.

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Overall, our impression of Natchez was very positive. It would be a wonderful place to return to for a stay in a bed and breakfast and to enjoy The Great Mississippi Balloon Race that takes place in late October.