Aug 2 2014
In front of me was an exquisite, peaceful and 360-degree view of the Mississippi River as sunset neared.
Below me, since it was a Tuesday evening, were plaintive ballads of love, loss and wanderlust – sung during weekly rehearsal of The Eddies, longtime songsters with a soulful, folksy, Irish-tinged repertoire.
Home for the night was Covington Inn Bed and Breakfast, but this was about as far from the traditional Victorian B&B décor as you could get.
The Covington is a 1946 towboat that weighs 300 tons and for 30 years pushed petroleum-filled barges along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Then the vessel was gutted, refurbished and transformed into a unique, four-suite getaway that is docked on the river at Harriet Island, across from downtown Saint Paul, Minn.
My modest Mate’s Quarters was compact but not cramped, with a private patio facing land, right outside my door. Out the riverside windows were unobstructed views of water and the city shoreline.
The boat didn’t bob, but the floor slanted slightly. Since the in-suite toilet and shower are hooked up to the city sewer system, everything operates as it would on land. Radiant heat automatically warms floors in winter, the season that innkeeper Liz Miller says “has it own special charm.”
“It’s a world away from the heart of the city,” she says, “and since it weighs so much, it takes quite a bit to rock.” Liz lives on the boat and took over B&B ownership 10 years ago.
Prospective guests wonder about mosquitoes, but Liz says spiders take care of most. Nothing was tormenting me as I watched river life – crew teams, barges, gulls – as day ended and I stretched out on the rooftop deck.
The Eddies practice on the pier here because member Tom “Wabasha Levee” Welna was the Covington’s rescuer and previous owner. He says online that he turned down a Rhodes scholarship at age 21 to become a riverboat deckhand.
The Covington used to be home to the No Wake Café, too, and that’s how Liz was introduced. She waitressed there, until Tom and his wife decided a towboat wasn’t the safest place to raise a toddler.
He had bought the towboat from a scrapyard for $7,500 and by 1995 had moved it to Saint Paul and given it new life as a B&B. Now Liz is ready to sell, and the asking price is $650,000. She wants to head south for a while.
That means the long-term future of this unusual destination is uncertain, but for now it remains a remarkable way to sample river life without straying far from shore.
Rates at Covington Inn B&B, Harriet Island Road, Saint Paul, begin at $160 per night, which includes a hot breakfast. Children under age 13 are not allowed. Parking is available in a nearby lot. covingtoninn.com, 651-292-1411
For more about where and what The Eddys play, go to eddiesontheriver.com.
This is the tranquil side of the Mississippi River, with a dearth of restaurants, shops and noise. An acceptable exception and a short walk inland is the friendly Joseph’s Grill, a good match for budget-minded travelers.
Monday Margarita Night means $4 for a rail Margarita (two hazelnuts float with the ice because “we’ve always done it that way”) and $2.50 for a fat beef taco. josephsgrill.com, 651-222-2435
Many more dining choices are northwest, across the Wabasha Street Bridge, which has wide and pleasant pedestrian walkways.
A next-pier neighbor of the Covington Inn is the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, where University of Minnesota students perform “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as a musical melodrama, through Aug. 21.
These floating showboat performances have gone on since 1958.
Admission begins at $20 for rush tickets (sold one hour before these matinee and evening shows). Ask about Family Fun availability ($5 per child admission for every $25 adult ticket bought). showboat.mn.edu, 651-227-1100
Within a five-minute walk upstream is Padelford Riverboats, at the end of Dr. Justus Ohage Boulevard. Mississippi River rides of 90 minutes to four hours are offered.
Choices include a sunset dinner cruise, journeys with lunch to Lock and Dam No. 1, early evening happy hour rides and no-frills sightseeing trips. Narration is taped; terrain quickly changes from urban to woodsy landscapes.
When water is too high or rough, sailings are canceled. That happened after a deluge of rain in late June, when water levels reached six feet above flood stage, and the spot is marked on the riverside wall of the Padelford ticket booth. Additional flooding canceled trips for three days in July.
Tickets start at $8, for Monday Madness trips, when everybody boards at the child rate. riverrides.com, 651-227-1100
Upcoming events on Harriet Island include the free Irish Fair, Aug. 8-10 (irishfair.com, 651-645-0221) and Women Rock, half-marathon and shorter-distance runs, Aug. 30 (womenrockmn.org). For more about area events and attractions: visitsaintpaul.com, 651-265-4900