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!)

P1170229.JPG

P1170230.JPG

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:

P1170245.JPG

P1170252.JPG

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!

Ginny.JPG

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.

P1170265

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.

P1170321.JPG

P1170319.JPG

P1170343.JPG

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.

JohnCook.JPG

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:

P1170334.JPG

P1170325.JPG

P1170328.JPG

P1170341.JPG

P1170339.JPG

P1170349.JPG

P1170315

P1170318.JPG

Coming up next:  A TOUR OF THE AMAZING AMERICAN DUCHESS

 

MUSICAL MEMPHIS

P1140910

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:

P1140753.JPG

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

Graceland

In Memphis, Tennessee

I’m going to Graceland…

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

P1140761.JPG

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:

P1140777.JPG

P1140774.JPG

P1140763.JPG

The stained glass peacocks were beautiful.

P1140765

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

P1140767.JPG

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1140769

This room was just…bizarre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1140822.JPG

P1140794.JPG

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.)

P1140798

P1140800

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!

P1140856

P1140837

P1140820.JPG

P1140817.JPG

P1140812.JPG

W.C. Handy

P1140853

P1140839

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!

P1140851.JPG

P1140849.JPG

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!

P1140841.JPG

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.

P1140840.JPG

CarlPerkinsGuitar.JPG

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.

P1140886.JPG

P1140894.JPG

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

 

 

 

 

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNEHAHA, MINNESOTA—THAT’S A LOT OF WATER!

“Minn” in the Dakota language means “water”, and there’s plenty of it in Minnesota—more than 10,000 lakes!

How did we end up in Minnesota, anyway?  It all started from two separate paths that met up perfectly in Minneapolis.  U.S. Masters Swimming Summer Nationals was scheduled for early August, 2017, and it’s a state we had never been to during our travels.  I had also missed the National Senior Games when it was held previously at the very same pool, so I thought it would be a great opportunity.

Meanwhile, I had been telling Bruce over the past four years how great the American Steamboat Company’s “American Queen” was when I took my mom on a paddle wheel cruise down the Mississippi, from Memphis to New Orleans.  It was an experience I thought he would like very much.

One day last year, Bruce greeted me at the door holding the new American Queen Steamboat Company brochure, exclaiming, “I found a cruise for us!”  I figured he had finally decided he wanted to try one of their one-week cruises from Memphis.  Instead, he picked out their 23-day re-positioning river cruise that paddles down the Mississippi from Red Wing, Minnesota to New Orleans!

It just so happened that cruise was scheduled for one week after Nationals, and he had a plan.  (I sometimes wonder what’s rolling around in his head when he takes breaks from his glass work, kicks back on the bed, and stares at the ceiling…)  “How about if you swim at Nationals, and then we’ll rent a car and do a road trip around northern Wisconsin?  We can return the car back in Minneapolis, and then we’ll take the cruise?” he asked.

Adding up the days, this plan amounted to five weeks of travel—piece of cake for me, but not so much for Bruce.  “Are you sure you want to be away for THAT long?” I asked.  “We did a seven-week road trip two years ago, didn’t we?”  Yeah, good point.  “What about your Etsy business?”  I asked.  “We’ll take it with us!” he replied.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the phone and the cruise was booked.  (By booking immediately before the early-booking deadline, we saved $3,000 and were able to get one of the lowest-priced cabins that book up quickly.)

Fast forward to May of this year, the swimming part of the plan started to unravel (as you may have read in my July 8 post).  Due to injuries, I didn’t know whether I would be able to compete at Nationals after all.  The entry deadline was prior to my open water swim, and I wouldn’t have time to prepare for my usual competitive events.  (There’s a big difference between swimming the 200 Meter Butterfly or Breaststroke in a Nationals competition and a 1K freestyle fun race in a lake.  Others may argue with me on this point, but I’ll take the 1K as the easier-on-the-body-and-mind event.)

The deadline came, and I knew I wouldn’t be ready to compete at Nationals, so I let it pass.  We decided to go anyway, see (and cheer on) our friends, and stick with our travel plans.

We arrived in Minnesota on August 1 and took their excellent Metro Transit train downtown to our hotel.  The afternoon was spent taking a long walk down to the river and across the bridge for lunch, and then back downtown.

Here are some scenes from our first day in Minneapolis:

01

02

Downtown Minneapolis

03

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

04

05

06

Across the bridge from downtown Minneapolis

07

08

09

Minneapolis has a thriving foodie food truck scene!

10

11

12

Next up:  The M’s have it!  Minnehaha (Ha-ha!) Falls, Minneapolis, and Mall of America

 

 

 

 

 

Memphis, Birthplace of the Blues

Greetings from the American Queen steamboat! We have been to Helena, Arkansas and are about to depart Vicksburg, Mississippi, however, I haven’t yet had a chance to post about Memphis; our port of embarkation. The days have been full, but FUN! So, making time to write has been difficult… But, I will take you back to our time in Memphis, before boarding this beautiful steamboat.

Our vacation with American Queen Steamboat Company included one night at the Marriott Hotel, in Memphis, Tennessee, before boarding the American Queen. The hotel was located downtown, on the Main Street trolley line with one of the stops right outside of our hotel. We were given a trolley pass to use throughout our stay, so we decided to take advantage of it and ride the entire route of all three trolley lines and take in the sites. Given the weather conditions, it was the perfect way to go. It was cold and rainy on our date of arrival and extremely windy the following day, as the storm blew out. According to Weather Channel, the “feels like” temperature was 37 degrees! Considering the average high temperature in Memphis is 61 degrees, in March, this was a bit of a shock! So, we opted to spend most of the time huddled up in the heated trolley cars, rather than brave the cold.

P1080474.JPG

We made our way on foot to see some of the highlights, though. After settling in at our hotel and hopping onto the Main St. trolley, we disembarked at Union St. and walked over to the beautiful historic Peabody Hotel. Built in 1925, the Peabody is known more for their interesting tradition than anything else: The Duck Parade. Each day, at 11:00 AM, the resident ducks are escorted from their “penthouse suite” to the elevator, for a ride down to the lobby. They parade down the red carpet and up the carpeted stairway that leads them into the lobby fountain, where they splash around until 5:00 PM. At precisely 5:00 PM, the Duck Master sets out the red carpet and stairway for their parade back to elevator and up to their suite.

This has been a tradition since 1944. And, the lobby is packed up to an hour ahead with people vying for the best view of the 10 minute ceremony. We arrived too late for a front row view, so we headed up to the balcony to look down on the spectacle. Photos from up there weren’t possible, so I waited until the following day to return and catch some shots of the ducks frolicking about in the fountain. What a hoot!

032.JPG

034.JPG

 

Following the duck parade, we walked over to Beale St. and had dinner at Blues City Café, a funky bar-b-que joint that happens to also be known for their “World Famous Tamales”. Mom had the ribs (tasty!) and I enjoyed the best gumbo and tamales that lived up to their great reputation.

008.JPG

007

The remainder of the evening was spent strolling the famous section of Beale St., home of the blues. Memphis is a pilgrimage for those wanting to visit the birthplace of the blues, of soul and of rock ‘n’ roll. On Beale Street, W.C. Handy put down on paper the first written blues music. Joni Mitchell sings about Handy in “Furry Sings the Blues”. Check it out here: http://youtu.be/ybCwd1yBP88 .

For those who love the Blues, Beale St. is the place to be. Walk down the street and you can hear the sounds of blues at every bar doorway you pass.

The following day, we spent the blustery cold morning riding the trolley lines to get our last glimpses of Memphis life before boarding the American Queen. And, we took one last stroll on Beale St. to pay our respects to W.C. Handy.

011.JPG

Onward to the American Queen!

012.JPG

P1080528

P1080511

P1080523

P1080533

P1080518

P1080515

P1080516

P1080546-1

P1080495.JPG

All Aboard…

… as the American Queen sets sail along the southernmost area of the Mississippi River.  My mom and I will be aboard the 432 passenger paddlewheel, on March 24, after spending one night in Memphis, Tennessee.

Longer than a football field and six decks high, The American Queen is the largest riverboat in the world.  She is a beauty, complete with gingerbread trim, fluted stacks, and a giant red paddlewheel giving her an old-fashioned appeal, even though she was built in 1995 and refurbished last year.

As a (former) California girl who feels right at home in the northwest or northeast areas of our country, living aboard the American Queen for one week will be as foreign to me as I felt observing a Balinese cremation ceremony and walking the old city streets of Casablanca.  I live in a house with rattan furniture, handicrafts from my world travels, and fused art glass.  The American Queen, in contrast, will be like stepping back in time to “Gone with the Wind”.

This is precisely the motivation for booking passage aboard the American Queen steamboat:  Experiencing something completely different and not expecting it to be like home.  There is nothing more frustrating to me when I travel than hearing other Americans whine and complain about how, “At home, in the U.S.A., the food is (fill in the blank), and the hotels are (fill in the blank), and the service is (fill in the blank).”  BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!  What I wish to tell those people, at that point is, “Well, then, you should have stayed home!”

Traveling, to me, is all about stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things.  Not that an American Queen cruise is exactly roughing it.  But, to me, the Deep South is like being in a foreign country; not unlike the experience of living in Texas, when we lived there for four years.  Culturally, the people of Texas and Griffin, Georgia, where we have lived for the past four years, are more culturally different from Californians than many of the foreign countries I spent a lot of time in, including Australia and New Zealand.

It’s all good!  I absolutely love the experience of living and traveling in new and different places.  Ever since I spent one year traveling the South Pacific, solo, with my backpack, I have craved new adventures.  Whether it be trying exotic foods, traveling to experience different cultures or moving from the 7th largest city to a town of 23,000; I have been up for it all.

So, on Saturday, I leave my casually and comfortably furnished home (and healthy food… and swim training…) for an ornately decorated steamboat and good ol’ southern cooking.

All aboard!

BrochureCoverItinerary