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

 

FROM TIFFANY WINDOWS TO COCA~COLA NOSTALGIA: VARIETY IN VICKSBURG

P1150036.JPG

Although President Lincoln described the Siege and Battle at Vicksburg as “the key to victory” of the Civil War, and Vicksburg is full of Civil War history, we opted to pass on seeing the battlefield, monuments, cemetery, U.S.S. Cairo, museum, etc.  Civil War buffs we are not.

It was a bit of a dreary, rainy day in Vicksburg; however, we didn’t mind walking the town with our umbrellas in hand, after we took the hop on-hop off bus tour for an overview.

Being the glass buffs that we are, we chose to spend time viewing and learning about the six priceless Tiffany stained-glass windows at the Church of the Holy Trinity, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  In all of Mississippi, there are only eleven Tiffany stained-glass windows, so the windows at this church are quite significant.  A husband-wife docent team gave an informative talk about the gorgeous windows.

When the church was built, the original church windows were clear.  The stained-glass windows were paid for by contributions from Civil War veterans around the country, dedicated to the soldiers who died in battle during the Siege of Vicksburg.  The front wall windows were the first ones installed at the church as a memorial of reconciliation in the South following the Civil War.  (It’s interesting to note that Vicksburg was 70% Union.)

P1150002.JPG

Six of the windows were created by Tiffany Studios in New York under the supervision of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Opalescent glass was used for the windows, giving them a watercolor-like appearance.  Tiffany felt that not only should the color be part of the design, but the texture as well; so, texture was added to the glass to give a life-like appearance.  In one of the windows, the woman is wearing a robe that has wrinkles, created quite effectively with added layers of glass.  Surprisingly, we were encouraged to go ahead and touch the textured glass in these priceless windows.  (Since no insurance company will insure the church, a value for the windows cannot be determined.)

Tiffany was also a genius in how he worked with color to capture light.  In this window, “The Good Shepard,” we were told that no matter what time of day or ambient light, the lantern always looks lit.

P1140996.JPG

Having the opportunity to see and photograph those incredible windows was well worth visiting Vicksburg.

P1140999-ArchangelRaphael.JPG

For a fun bit of nostalgia, we popped (no pun intended) into the nicely restored Biedenharn Candy Co. building to have a look around the Beidenharn Coca-Cola museum.  Owned and operated by The Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, they did a nice job restoring the building and creating enjoyable exhibits about the Biedenharn family who were the original bottlers of Coca-Cola. Alongside reproductions of the first bottling equipment used to bottle the iconic soda-pop, they explained the bottling process.  In addition, Coca-Cola memorabilia and advertising from past to present were on display.

P1150021.JPG

P1150025.JPG

P1150023.JPG

When the stopper was pulled out of the bottle, the rubber made a popping noise– “soda pop”.

Bruce and I also checked out the Old Courthouse Museum (built in 1859) and Lower Mississippi River Museum.  Most memorable was exploring the river museum’s M/V Mississippi IV, a former river workboat that plied the river for the Corps for over thirty years and hosted public Mississippi River Commission (MRC) meetings, until she was decommissioned in 1993.

MVMississippi.JPG

Headquartered in Vicksburg, the MRC was established by an act of Congress in 1879 with the purpose of controlling the Mississippi River.  In addition, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has its research headquarters in Vicksburg, and the town boasts more Phd’s per capita than any city in the U.S.A.  Who knew?

In addition to Cape Girardeau and Paducah, Vicksburg also did a wonderful job turning an ugly river flood wall into a beautiful work of art.  Here are some of the murals that graced the wall where American Queen was tied up:

P1080893.JPG

P1080892.JPG

P1080899.JPG

P1080898.JPG

P1080907.JPG

Next up:  NOTORIOUS NATCHEZ