Friday, 16 November 2012

Along The Mississippi - Part 6

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

We stayed anchored in Paducah almost overnight and it quickly became clear our riverboat was as much an attraction for the locals as the town was for us. A steady stream of cars drove by throughout the evening, cruising by as slowly as possible so as not to get a ticket for parking!

The Queen of the Mississippi may be a familiar-looking vessel in historical terms, but it is a good few years since the cruise-going traffic was a regular visitor hereabouts, hence it is a welcome sight once again, as well as being a great travel vehicle for those on board.

We eventually sailed at 4am which meant we were slowly returning along the Ohio River as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and the latest in a series of fascinating talks from our Riverlorian Jim, taking A Journey Through Time in the story of the mighty Mississippi.

As Jim was finishing up his talk, it became clear we were slowly navigating our way into our next port of call. Now, we had come across some fairly small stops on the river in the course of the first few days, but nothing quite prepared us for the view when we pulled into Columbus, Kentucky.  

Our first reaction was 'Have we stopped short of the town?' Our second reaction was 'OK, where IS it?' And our third reaction was 'Huh??'

In truth, there was a town (or village) of Columbus, but it was situated at a safe height from the river, up a small hill and completely out of sight of our boat. We were told the local population numbered all of 160, so we weren't expecting anything grand, and Susan's hope of a little morning shopping expedition was completely torpedoed.

Our ship excursion, to the Columbus-Belmont State Park & Museum (a Trail of Tears and Civil War National heritage Site) wasn't scheduled until after lunch, so we postponed any pre-meal wanderings in favour of coffee in the welcoming Sky Lounge and then the usual mid-day meal at 12.30.

A series of three 12-seater buses was there on the dot of 2pm ready to take us to the State Park, which turned out to be a small but beautifully wooded park on a large bluff overlooking the river (and dubbed the Gibraltar of the West). It consisted of an old mansion house converted into the museum, a small gift shop and, er, that's about it. But the setting was stunning and the history was compelling - this was a key Civil War site in the battle for control of the rivers - and they provided several interpreters in period costume, while, with the trees in full fall foliage, the overall look of the place was extremely eye-catching.

Back on board, we all agreed that Columbus probably wasn't the most enticing of our ports of call, and we wouldn't be in a hurry to return but, once again, we had learned more about the river and the Civil War than we expected, and, coming from Florida where the change to autumn consists merely of a change in temperature from 90F to 80F, it was a welcome change of scenery.

After the obligatory Cocktail Hour - this had really become a key social event by now, full of convivial bonhomie - and another excellent dinner, highlighted by a tasty French Onion Soup and a main course of Steel Head Trout, we were able to kick back in the Magnolia Lounge with the docu-drama 'Trail of Tears: The Cherokee Legacy,' and put another nail in the coffin of President Andrew Jackson and his fellow land-thieves. Sad and tragic and all too true.

Up next - New Madrid, Missouri.