A RELAXING DAY IN RED WING

One of the enjoyable aspects of cruising aboard a riverboat is the easy access and close proximity of each town on the itinerary.  In most of the ports we visited, it was a short walk to town from the boat.  Many of the attractions were close by, and for the highlights not within walking distance, the (complimentary) hop-on-hop-off buses got us to where we needed to go quickly and efficiently.

The evening before each port, we stopped by the kiosk located at the purser’s desk and selected the time we wanted to hop on the bus for the narrated circuit of town.  Forty tickets were available for each time slot (on the hour, quarter hour, and half hour).  Select the desired time and quantity of tickets, and your tickets would immediately print out for the taking.

The following morning, we would board the bus at our designated time, and off we would go.  If we arrived early, and there were still available seats on an earlier bus, we could take that bus instead.  It was an efficient system, because it avoided unwanted line-ups and waiting.

Once in town, tickets weren’t needed.  If there were seats available on the bus when it stopped at one of the several available locations on the circuit, you could hop on for a ride.  There was never a problem catching a ride; the buses were never full.

Most of the time, we would ride the circuit once to listen to the narration and learn about the town.  Once we had gone round-trip, we would plan out our day from there.

Red Wing was one of those towns located adjacent to the river, so it was a very short walk into town.  We did hop on the bus, though, because the Pottery Museum of Red Wing was one of the attractions located outside of the historic town center.

According to their website, The Pottery Museum of Red Wing is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich and colorful story of Red Wing’s clay industry. More than 6,000 vintage pieces of artisan-crafted stoneware, art pottery, dinnerware and folk art bring the story of historic Red Wing to life in dozens of dynamic exhibits covering 13,000 square feet.”

 The museum had a group of excellent docents, and we were fascinated by the history of the pottery they had on display.

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Red Wing, Minnesota, a small town of less than 17,000, is also known for their handcrafted work boots of the same name, a company that has been in existence since 1905.  These giant painted boot sculptures around town were a humorous reminder of the company that made the town’s name recognizable to us two native Californians:

The historic downtown was an attractive little area to walk around, especially this quaint little park located across from the St. James Hotel:

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We also made sure to stop by Red Wing Confectionery to pick up a couple of treats and compliment them on the cute steamboat chocolates that were waiting on our bed for us when we returned to our cabin the previous evening:

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As we sailed away from Red Wing during the late afternoon, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of some bald eagles.  This one was photographed from quite a distance using telephoto, and then cropping the photo.  Due to the fact we were moving when the picture was taken, it isn’t sharp.  Still, l thought it was worth including:

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The sail away was the beginning of our 2,300-mile, 21-day journey down the Mississippi, and we were excited to be in on the adventure!

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Meanwhile, on board, I had a humorous encounter with another passenger as I stepped into the hallway from my cabin.  A man stopped one of the cabin attendants in the hallway, and in a jovial, teasing manner, asked her why all the passengers on this deck had cabins with pretty names on the doors, while he was stuck on a floor with cabins named after presidents.  He lamented, “I’m in the ‘Polk’ cabin, and ‘Filmore’ is next door—two of the worst presidents in history!”

I was listening in on him teasing this poor gal, so I took a flyer and snapped back, “At least you aren’t in a cabin named after Trump!”  Now, that could have gone either way.  At that very moment, I either made an enemy, or made a friend.

Fortunately (for me, because he was a big guy with a gruff-looking expression), that brought a smile to his face!  After a bit of commiseration about the current state of national affairs, we introduced ourselves and exchanged typical passenger-to-passenger questions, such as, “Where are you from?”  The thing is, every time I asked Rick a question, and he replied, I felt as if our pasts had mirrored each other—and, his wife’s, too!

As it turns out, Rick and Jacque currently live about four miles from where Bruce and I had lived during our last fifteen years in San Diego County.  Then, I learned they were both from my native home town of Long Beach (and neighboring, Lakewood), California!  Rick graduated from a rival high school, while Jacque was a Lakewood Lancer, like me!  Go Lancers!!  Jacque and I also attended Long Beach City College; however, the two of them graduated from Long Beach State University, while Bruce and I were San Diego State University graduates.  Jacque worked at San Diego State University, though, and they are basketball and football season ticket holders.  Go Aztecs!!

Since we had a twenty-year age difference, we didn’t know each other back then; however, it still felt like a small world.

When I met Jacque at the show that evening, she greeted me with a big hug and, “Go Lancers!”  She couldn’t wait to text her group of friends who were also Lancers and have stayed friends over all these years.

As it turned out, the four of us were able to arrange a table together in the dining room, and we were table mates for the length of the cruise.  Lucky for us, we really hit it off, and they were the best table mates we have ever had!

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Coming up next:  LOVELY LA CROSSE

http://www.potterymuseumredwing.org/

 

ROLLIN’ ON THE RIVER ON THE AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT

Following our ten-day road trip around Wisconsin, we met up with the other American Queen Steamboat passengers for a night at the Radisson Blu hotel at Mall of America, near Minneapolis.  After getting registered and settled in, I took advantage of the hotel’s pool for a swim workout (such as it is in a small hotel pool), as Bruce relaxed poolside.  Not being shoppers, we opted to spend the evening at the mall getting a good walk in and a casual dinner at an Asian noodle restaurant, before returning to our room.

The next morning, we got to know some of our fellow passengers during the buffet breakfast.  They were from California, as were approximately ten percent of the sold-out ship’s 400 passengers.  Another ten percent were from either Australia or New Zealand where the seasons are reversed, and they were escaping their cold winter.  Since this was the only longer vacation (23 days) offered by the cruise line during the year, it attracted travelers from afar who wouldn’t be inclined to fly such a long distance for a 7-day cruise.  This made for an interesting mix of passengers, several of whom we had fun getting to know during our weeks aboard the paddle wheel boat.

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Boat?  It’s not a ship?  No.  Ships sail the oceans, and boats, like the American Queen Steamboat, sail the rivers—just one of the things we learned from Bobby, the “Riverlorian” who presented lecturers throughout the journey.

Our home away from home for the following 21 nights, was a paddle wheel steamboat built in 1995, recently renovated, and beautifully maintained.  Step aboard, and you feel like you have been transported in time back to the 1890’s.  Other than the Front Porch Café and the outside decks, the ship has been decorated to bring you back to that era when steamboats were a common site on the rivers.

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We were transported from our hotel to the American Queen by a bus wrapped to look like the American Queen on wheels.  The company has a fleet of these matching buses that mostly serve as hop-on/hop-off buses at each port.  In the early evening, the buses caravan to the next port where the drivers stay the night at a hotel.  One evening, while enjoying the view from the top deck, we saw all five buses in a line crossing the bridge over the river—cool!

In the morning, the buses are lined up dockside, ready to transport the boat’s passengers around town, arriving at each stop every 15 minutes or so.  Local docents hop aboard each bus during the busy morning hours to provide running commentary, and then disembark at Noon.  As the afternoon winds down, the buses make their rounds at each stop every 30 minutes while each driver takes their break for lunch at the Front Porch Café or their local favorite haunt.

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The Front Porch Cafe offered buffets at each meal for a casual alternative to the dining room, as well as 24 hr. access to non-alcoholic drinks, soft serve ice cream (with toppings), fresh-baked cookies, and popcorn.

The drivers were terrific, especially Al, my favorite back in 2013 when my mom and I rode his bus frequently.  It was great to see he was still with the company!

Our cruise began in Red Wing, Minnesota where we were dropped off to embark the American Queen.  We stayed there overnight, so we had plenty of time to settle in our cabin, tour the boat, and still enjoy the town the following day.  (More about that in my next post.)

I was so pleased to see that Bruce was just as impressed with the boat as I had been when I boarded the American Queen the first time.  Although I had emphasized the small cabin size ahead of time, he even commented on how much space we had for storage!  (We had space left over after unpacking our suitcase filled with clothes for our 5-week trip AND our business supplies for our Etsy business at www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com !).

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We had the cabin next door to this one; however, we had already started unpacking before I remembered to get a picture!  (The storage and door were located along the wall behind me.)

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Our stateroom attendant, Cassie, was such a sweetheart!

The food, entertainment, and friendliness of the staff was just as impressive to Bruce, and I was happy it was just as good as I had remembered it to be from my first cruise on the American Queen.

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The menus changed daily.

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Here are the crab cakes I ordered from the menu above.  YUM!

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These scallops were AMAZING!

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So was this lobster!

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During lunch in the dining room, we had a choice of ordering off the menu or enjoying the lunch buffet.

Stories about our experience on board (and more photos!) will be included in future posts, so for now, I will leave you with some photos taken aboard the American Queen.

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The Engine Room Bar was situated directly above the engine room (pictured below).  See those round windows?  We would watch the paddle wheel turning while listening to the music.  On each end of the night club, there were doors leading out to outdoor seating with a view of the paddle wheel.  More stories to follow about the band– and Bruce!

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Next up:  A RELAXING DAY IN RED WING

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:

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Downtown Minneapolis

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Across the bridge from downtown Minneapolis

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Minneapolis has a thriving foodie food truck scene!

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