Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Along the Mississippi - Part 5

Continuing our journey on the Mississippi aboard the new Queen of the Mississippi of American Cruise Lines from St Louis to Memphis…

It was pretty clear by Day 4 that our journey along the waterways of the mighty Mississippi was very much one of small-town America, taking in the kind of places that might have been significant stopping points for Mark Twain but which the world has largely by-passed ever since.

Alton and Cape Giradeau were certainly charming enough, but their 19th century roots were still clearly showing. They offered a fascinating, if slightly jaded, view of their waterside history, yet they were struggling to remain relevant in a 21st century world that has little time for that sedentary pace.

And then we came to Paducah. Like Cape Girardeau, this key river town is sealed off behind an impressive river wall, but there the similarity ended, as this Kentucky town offers much more in the way of modern sensibilities, from the award-winning National Quilt Museum and state-of-the-art concert venue to the sprinkling of vibrant art galleries and boutiques, while remaining in touch with its heritage via the Tilghman House & Civil War Museum, the River Heritage Museum and the surprising Railroad Museum.

Although two tours were offered, at a modest $35 and $15 per person, we decided to strike out on our own this time as everything was on a very walkable scale, yet still offered plenty to see and do given a full day in town. 

We learned Paducah's Civil War history with John, an excellent docent at the Tilghman House (former home of the railroad tycoon who became a fine Confederate officer before his death, along with his son, at the Battle of Champion Hill, near Vicksburg); we soaked up the 20th century railroad history and a truly wonderful train simulator experience, where we both got to sit in a half-size Amtrak engine mock-up complete with genuine controls, sounds, 3-D screen and other special effects; and we dived into the full River Heritage, learning how the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers have shaped the region for centuries (while also trying our hand at a neat riverboat simulator).

We browsed a dozen or more shops, all with unique, individual styles and stopped for  lunch at Kirchhoff's Deli, where fresh sandwiches and salads made for a tempting array and the neighbouring Etcetera Coffeehouse served a delicious Spanish Latte. There were at least half a dozen other alluring alternatives and, while the weather wasn't exactly balmy, the day here passed in total enjoyment.

Was it action-packed and dazzling? No. Was it busy and bustling? No. Was it beguiling and thoughtful? Absolutely. And we'd go back in a heartbeat, just because - like almost everywhere else - they had some of the friendliest people we've met, and the town had some genuine fascinations, both period and modern.

Back on board, dinner that night featured superb Sweet Corn Chowder, Gulf Swordfish and Blueberry Cobbler that set the seal on a great day. To top it off, local country and bluegrass musician Alonzo Pennington entertained one and all in the Magnolia Lounge and we were truly in the heart of the Mississippi (OK, the Ohio River) as we signed off for the day.

Up next - Columbus, Kentucky.

PS: Like Cape Giradeau, Paducah boasted a superb array of murals along their riverwall, and it's worth adding a few pics of that, as, if anything, they were even more striking than their Missouri neighbour.