30 November 2014

The American Queen

One of my readers has asked me for details on the American Queen. Since we are now in New Orleans in a B&B with fast internet access, I can do that.

The American Queen is said to be the largest river steamboat ever built. She was built in 1995 and is a six-deck recreation of a classic Mississippi riverboat. She has 222 cabins for a capacity of 436 guests and a crew of 160. She is 127m long and 27m wide. The American Queen offers guests a gym and spa. The Front Porch Cafe is open 24 hours a day. The River Grill & Bar, Grand Saloon for evening entertainment and the J.M. White Dining Salon, where guests dine nightly in a two-sittings arrangement.

Compared to other river cruises we have taken, namely Amsterdam to Budapest and a river cruise through the Burgundy wine region in France, this one has some limitations.

The cabins are not sound proofed and you hear just about every conversation in the rooms next door including the television shows the neighbours are watching nightly. With the passenger age well above 50, hearing limitations require them to have the telly on at full volume. A set of earplugs, however fixed our night sleep.

Internet service, although advertised as 'free', was non existent except for the occasional text only email.

But the food was exceptional and plentiful. The service staff are fabulous and very helpful. Nothing is any trouble for them. One night I ordered snapper for dinner and when I came across a few bones, our waiter was right there offering me a steak or any other dish instead. It only took us a day to teach the service staff that to make a proper cup of tea you need the teabag in the cup first and then pour boiling water over it. In America, they usually give you  cup of hot water and then fetch a teabag that has little chance to really infuse the tea. But on the American Queen, the staff now know how to serve tea to Aussies, Kiwis and Poms.

The night time in the Grand Saloon was very good with a great band and great entertainers. There is also a cinema but we never went there.

The American Queen at Vicksburg
The Smoke Stacks
Diane, Kathy and Rob visited a nearby mansion one morning which gave me a chance to visit the Pilot House to find out how the boat is operated, it was fascinating. We also visited the engine room on another occasion.

The Pilot House
The Wheel is in the Chart Room
Some more Pics
The cruise started in Memphis Tn and first stopped at Vicksburg, where we were taken to the Civil War Battlefield. Next stop was another little town called Natchez Ms, for another tour of the town.  Next day we arrived at St Francisville La, where we were taken through the small town on a short tour in the morning and in the afternoon we did a tour of the Angola Luisiana State Penitentiary.

Then we sailed through the night  past Baton Rouge the State Capitol of Luisiana. We didn't stop there, instead tied up at the Nottoway Plantation. It was Thanksgiving Day which is an American Tradition, including more food, especially turkey. Wine on the boat was flowing freely that night. After dark, the plantation lit a huge bonfire, another American tradition. We stayed there overnight and the following morning, the buses took us to Baton Rouge and a tour of the USS Kidd moored at the Naval Museum.

Finally, the following morning we sailed our last leg to New Orleans, where the weather for the first time since we left Los Angeles is in double figures. AND THE INTERNET WORKS.

Question is was the trip good value for money? Compared with river cruises in Europe or even on the Murray River in South Australia, answer is, not really. But I'm not sorry we did it.

29 November 2014

Our Final Port - New Orleans LA is next

We're still moored at Nottoway Plantation between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It's a grand house dating back to before the Civil War. The plantation and adjacent resort belongs to Mr Ramsay, an Australian of Ramsay Health. Last night we had the Thanksgiving dinner here on board. Quite an affair. Then at 9.30 pm they lit a huge bonfire at the mansion which was interesting to see from the American Queen.

This morning, the buses picked us up and drove us to Baton Rouge, the capitol of Lousiana. There we  visited the USS Kidd, a famous destroyer now permanently moored at the US Naval Museum in Baton Rouge. After our return to our boat, we saw a matinee show about songstress Patsy Kline. It was very good.

So, one more dinner tonight and a Big Band Christmas Show and we sail our last leg for 'Nu Olans' (New Orleans) where we arrive early tomorrow morning.

We'll spend four nights in a B&B, hopefully with acceptable WiFi.

Until then....

27 November 2014

St Francisville La

We've docked on St. Francisville this morning. That's in the state of Louisiana. It has a population of 7800 of which 6300 are in jail. You may have guessed, the Louisiana State Penitentiary is here and that's where we ended up this afternoon for a visit. It's a very big place, more like a township. Our bus drove straight into the prison compound for a couple of miles along cattle paddocks, produce fields. Nothing we've seen before. The prisoners are in a series of camps on a 18,000 acres. There are 60 prisoners on Death Row. a very large number of prisoners are in for life, meaning they will never ever be released. They'll die in the prison. The yanks don't namby-pamby their criminals. We could take a leaf out of their books.

The Blogger outside Angola Prison
Death Row and Execution Chamber

Kathy is trying the chair for size
We were taken to the previous death row and execution chambers and then we met some of the lifers who are now mentoring other prisoners to take up trades such as plumbers and builders, although some of them will never be released. Naturally a lot of them have now found god. The end result is the prison has very little violence and is a model to many other US prisons. It was quite an experience.

The Angola Prison Farm

24 November 2014

Vicksburg MS

After a leisurely day sailing down the Mississippi, we stopped at Vicksburg MS early this morning.

Vicksburg, also referred to as 'Red Carpet City of the South' is steeped in American History. We joined a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour through this historic town this morning.

Unfortunately the internet on the American Queen is extremely slow and won't let me upload picture, which is a shame because we visited the famous battle field where Yankee General Ulysses S Grant battled it out with Confederate General Pemberton. It took 47 days siege before Pemberton surrendered to Grant.

Funny thing was, when we boarded the bus to go to the battlefield, the tour guide gave everyone a card with a character of the battle. I was to be General John E Smith of the Union Army. Turns out that General John E Smith was born in the canton of Berne in Switzerland, just as I was. Except he was born in 1861 and was 6'1". How strange is that?

We then also visited the Coca Cola Museum. Vicksburg was the first place in the world where Coca Cola was bottled (as if you didn't know that).

Now we're sailing through the night to Natchez for our next stop. Hopefully the internet will improve.

Until then.....

23 November 2014

We Are Sailing

This afternoon, we are boarding the American Queen for our river cruise to New Orleans.

22 November 2014

More of Memphis

We explored a little more of Memphis today but my opinion hasn't changed. Yesterday, we purchased 'Hop On - Hop off' Bus tickets for the exorbitant price of $22. This morning we walked down to the city's Welcome Place where the bus is supposed to pick up every hour. Well 10 o'clock came and went, without a bus. After 20 minutes, Kathy went in to see the 'Welcome' people who phoned the bus company. They promised to send a bus which eventually arrived another 20 minutes later.

First stop for us this morning was Sun Studio where a lot of Rock Stars recorded their songs, including Elvis, Johnny Cash and many more.

The front Room of Sun Studio
Sun Studio was opened in 1950 by rock pioneer Sam Philips. During the next few years, he recorded many artists such as Rocket 88, Howlin' Wolf, BB King, James Cotton Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Radio WDIA in Memphis was one of the first stations to play Sam's recording. When the building of the radio station was being demolished, Sun Studio went in and salvaged the radio studio which is now proudly displayed in Sun Studio.
The studio of Radio WDIA

The microphone which recorded all the greats including Elvis and Roy Otbison
We then took the bus to the National Civil Rights Museum. It's situated on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was murdered. I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing about how the whites treated the slaves and after slavery was abolished, the African Americans. It was plainly inhumane. 

It then explained the struggle they had to be able to get educated and later get the vote. Unbelievable.

The Lorraine Motel. The wreath shows where Martin Luther King was murdered

The Lorraine Motel, now site of the Civil Rights Museum

It was getting past lunch time so we decided to dodge the beggars in Beale Street and check out one of their restaurants. I had a burger with a dark Irish beer and it was wonderful.

My lunch

Lunch at Silky's to the sounds of a live blues band
After lunch we rocked up again at the Hop On Hop Off bus stop where we were let down once again. We waited twenty minutes for the bus but it never turned up. It was starting to rain,so we walked up the street and took a city bus for a dollar.

Tomorrow we're boarding the American Queen for New Orleans.

21 November 2014

Graceland Memphis

Not impressed with Memphis at all, it's pretty grotty. I actually call it Beggarsville. Every few metres along any street you are accosted by someone being very friendly, then asking for money. Beale Street which is the live music street is also packed with beggars.

The temperature has lifted and it was quite warm, as we made our way to Elvis Presley's home, Graceland. It's basically a Theme Park dedicated to the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Amazing how much money he had even from an early age. He bought Graceland when he was 22 in 1977, for the sum of $100,000. Today the entire money-making machine is owned by Lisa-Marie, his only child and a singer in her own right.

Graceland, the Main Building

One of the living Rooms

The stairs leading to the Basement Media Room

Elvis liked to watch several Channels simultaneously

One of the Trophy Rooms

Even the Racket Ball Room has been converted into a Trophy Room
In 1977, Elvis was playing with friends in the above Racket Ball Room, when he told friends he is going for a lie down. That's where he suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 42.

Elvis is buried next to his mother and father in the grounds of Graceland
You soon see how much money he had. There are two Rolls Royce motor cars in his collection besides numerous other cars including Cadillacs and Jeeps and even a John Deere Tractor is in his collection.

But the most famous car in his collection is his pink Cadillac which he gave to his mother, because she favoured it.

We had a bite to eat in the Diner in a typical 50s booth.

Rob, Kathy, The Blogger and Moi.

One of his guitars
You can see how much money Elvis had, not only by the number of cars and the opulence in the house, but on the backlot are a couple of airplanes. The larger one is a Convair Delta 880 jet liner. Elvis had the interior converted into a dining room, lounge room and bedroom.

Convair Delta 880 'Lisa Marie'
Lockheed Jetstar
Both airplanes are for sale as Graceland is planning major renovations. Neither of the planes are servicable.

20 November 2014

Memphis TN

We left Gatlinburg this morning at 7.30 AM where it was -12 Deg C. and still dark. It took 8 hours to get to Memphis where the temperature is 12 Deg C, basically a heatwave for us. We haven't experienced above freezing temperatures for nearly a week.

We have a few days in Memphis before we board the American Queen. We're staying at the Sheraton Memphis Downtown.

Tomorrow we'll go exploring.

19 November 2014

We're driving to Memphis

After a few days in the wonderful Smoky Mountains, we're driving down to Memphis.

It's a long day on the road...

18 November 2014

Cades Cove TN

Cades Cove is an isolated valley located in the Smoky Mountains National Park, the place we went to spend the day. In early days, Cades Cove was settled by the Cherokee Indians. In 1818, the cove was then settled by European settlers such as John Oliver and his wife Lucretia Frazier and others. By 1820, the population of Cades Cove grew to 671 with the size of cove farms averaging between 150 and 300 acres.

Today, Cades Cove belongs to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where a ring road leads   through the cove. Visitors can enjoy the many buildings left by the early settlers.

There is lots of wildlife, including bears and deer. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we didn't see any bears, but the ranger at the visitor's centre assured us there are about 1,500 bears living in Cades Cove and the numbers are increasing.

The temperature all day today was hovering around the 0 Deg C mark.

My daughter Carol has requested a map of the area, so here are a couple.

This map shows part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Anyone interested, Dollywood (Dolly Parton's Theme Park) is about 20 minutes away from Gatlinburg. We didn't go there.
This map shows where Gatlinburg is in relation to the park
 Now let's have a look at some pictures I took today on the drive through Cades Cove.

A typical settler's home

The Oliver Family hut

Kathy and the Blogger imagine keeping warm in one of these houses
About half way along the loop is the Cades Cove Information Centre where they sell books, CDs and DVD's as well as souvenirs of the place.
Information Centre
Another Mill in another Woods

Another settler's hut

Finally we spotted some deer in the woods
 The early settlers in Cades Cove were very god fearing folk, both Baptists and Methodists. At one stage both lots started disagreeing with each other and both the Baptists and the Methodists split and started individual churches, so now there were two lots of Baptists and two lots of Methodists.
Primitive Baptists Church, one of the two split churches

Rob took the opportunity to preach fire and brimstone to us

A few more deer crossed our paths

Another settler's hut

And a storage hut
Tomorrow is our last day here in the Smoky Mountains. The temperature forecast for tomorrow is -2 Deg C top, -11 Deg C during the night.. Too cold for us to go outside. We're having a lay day in this fabulous B&B in Gatlinburg.

The day after, we have a long drive to Memphis TN.