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The largest passenger steamboat in the world, the American Queen, is returning Friday to St. Paul, where it will board passengers who will mosey down the river to St. Louis. And I, the travel editor, will be among the lucky passengers.
Sure, the paddle-wheeler has been plying Mississippi waters for months now (It took its inaugural sail out of New Orleans in mid-April; Priscilla Presley smashed it with a champagne bottle in Memphis for its christening on April 28). But I had my reasons for waiting: I wanted to launch from a home port and, after all, time cures all glitches. I like sailing on a boat and with a crew that has a few miles under its belt.
The American Queen, built in 1995, sailed the Mississippi for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. Bankruptcy grounded the boat, until the newly formed Great American Steamboat Co. came to her rescue. Since it purchased the paddle-wheeler last fall, the company has put $6.5 million into refurbishing her. The Victorian ambiance hasn't changed, albeit with new carpet and mattress.
I'm all in. I suspect you'll find me gazing at the egrets from what's called The Front Porch of America, sipping tea on the Main Deck Lounge, fueling my imagination in the Engine Room Bar and working off last night's dinner in the small fitness room. I am under the impression that a Mark Twain impersonator will aboard, and that I can follow our progress in the Chart Room. Whatever I encounter, I'll let you know. I'll be blogging about my experience every day. I hope you'll follow along.
So last month we had to drive through Illinois, a near-endless panoply of dying corn stalks and not much else. Except for "the cross."
This out-of-nowhere behemoth looms 198 feet over I-57 in the otherwise thoroughly unremarkable town of Effingham. "I'm surprised there aren't a lot of wrecks here from gawkers," my way better half said as we fairly whizzed past it.
When I told a friend in Nashville about it, he said, "oh, that's just like the one next to I-40 near Knoxville [Tenn.]." That got me to wondering if there's a network of these iconic colossuses (colossi?) across the land, all made by the same company. Turns out there are not, although one Tennessean has built a slew of them, according to this site
Effingham's, though, is its own deal, erected by the Cross Foundation and surrounded by Ten Commandments monuments.
When we headed back north and hit Effingham, I still didn't notice the monuments. I was able to discern, however, the material used to construct the cross:
LAKE DELTON, WIS. -- People were starting to complain that this artificial lake was looking more and more like pea soup. Not anymore.
The Lake Delton village board voted to "inject" 500 gallons of dye in the famous lake that hosts the Tommy Bartlett Water Ski show, a 60-year-old institution in the Wisconsin Dells. The move is said to be harmless, unless you're a local taxpayer. They're on the hook for more than $29,000.
The 267-acre lake last made headlines when a 2008 flood left it drained and empty when it overflowed and broke through a earthen barrier, damaging several homes.
Tom Diehl, general manager of the water ski show and village board member, told the Wisconsn State Journal that resort owners and visitors were complaining about the pea-green color of the water this summer. Enter the liquid dye "AquaBlue" -- which should keep it a pleasing blue through August, according to a spokesman for the LaCrosse company that did the dying.
The dye job has some people seeing red, not blue. The River Alliance of Wisconsin called it an "expensive, temporary and downright foolish 'fix' that won't clean up Lake Delton in the long run."
Among the highlights: "sunrise surfing in Malibu, falling into a 20-foot snowdrift at Crater Lake, getting robbed in Seattle, lost within the Redwoods at dusk and sword fighting with whale rib bones on the Oregon Coast."
Along with former college roommate Derek Karnatz, he says, "we aquired a lifetime’s worth of lessons in three months. These experiences have changed the way I view the world and my ideas for what is truly possible with a goal and a little imagination."
It's been wonderful to see the proliferation of farmer's markets in the Twin Cities, even if our season is woefully short. They're everywhere, it seems, and good on us for making it so.
But as wonderful as all the small ones and Minneapolis' sprawling setup and St. Paul's fiercely locavore mart are, there's still nothing quite like the one on the plaza outside San Francisco's Ferry Market building. (10 a.m.–2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays).
On my first visit, I bought asparagus, artichokes, heirloom tomatoes, blueberries and fingerling potatoes. Yes, they were all in season at the same time, at least from someplace in California.
Not only is the array of produce preposterously cool, but the prepared food is amazing: Mexican breakfasts, Italian sandwiches, all manner of seafood, yummerific little pies.
The people-watching is pretty terrific, too. Oh, and the setting is spectacular in more ways than one: It's right on the bay, and inside the building there's even more amazing food, including top-notch stores devoted to caviar, tea, wine, cheese and bread.
I can't imagine a San Francisco visit without it.
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