A special young lady that I know attends college in a little town on the Mississippi River called Hannibal. If you don’t know anything about this town, you may be in good company, but it happens to be the childhood home of Mark Twain and the setting of the fictional “St. Petersburg” where Huckleberry and Tom had great adventures in Twain’s classic novels.
Upon arriving in Hannibal, Missouri, you will immediately feel like you have been transformed back into the nineteenth century and may have the sudden urge to tie a string to a stick and do some fishin’. As you walk down main street you actually might catch a glimpse of Huck himself who I happened to see taking a break at the Java Jive- an establishment that probably was not around in 1851 when Mark Twain was a typesetter for the Hannibal Journal.
Speaking of the Java Jive, if you are looking for a break from Huck Finn themed restaurants, this is a wonderful coffee shop in a beautiful historic building where you can get a delicious White Raspberry Truffle latte and a pastry that is out of this world. Lunch is scrumptious as well and the staff is friendly and helpful. 4 out of 4 gourmet stars for Java Jive!!!
Hannibal sits right on the Mississippi River and when gazing across this great river you will see the shoreline on the other side which is in the state of Illinois. If looking for a Starbucks, one must cross the river and drive to Quincy, Illinois- about 20 minutes to the north, upriver. While there, make sure to visit The Tower restaurant that serves both Mexican cuisine and Italian cuisine under one roof. Of course I had to try the pizza, and I must report that it was pretty darn good! Being thousands of miles from the nearest Garlic Jim’s I was pleased to bite into the Tower’s thick crust Canadian bacon, sausage, onion and olive creation. 3 out of 4 gourmet stars for The Tower restaurant!
Back in Hannibal, my lovely and charming host took me to a place high above the town and the river called “Lover’s Leap”. There is a plaque that details the Romeo and Juliet-like tragic love story of the couple from 2 different Missouri tribes from long ago who took the final plunge rather than be separated. The spot is a stunning place to stare at the Mississippi in awe and think about all of the history that this river has seen. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the river represents freedom and adventure. Sitting high above the river it is impossible not to feel the power of the very real freedom and independence that this river brought to so many in that era. As much as the mosquitoes were adding to the ambience of the scene, the bites on my arms and legs were plenty enough for the evening and we bid farewell to the Lover’s Leap.
Of course, I couldn’t just try one pizza restaurant during my stay so one evening I took some college roommates to the local Hannibal favorite- the Brick Oven. This was yet another lovely historical building that had a woodfire oven and made thin Neapolitan pizzas. They were very tasty indeed and we were seated at a table that looked straight into the kitchen allowing for great views of the proprietor hand rolling out each crust while stoking the fire with the enormous stack of wood next to the actual brick oven. 3.5 gourmet stars out of 4 for the Brick Oven!
When we weren’t eating at quaint restaurants in Hannibal, my accommodating host indulged my obsession for just walking around and exploring. (The more you walk- the more you can eat!) We walked through the residential area of town, which was well worn but endearing. The modest houses all have either screened in or open front porches where residents sit to get some fresh air or have evening refreshments. As the sun sets in the evening, the sound of crickets grow louder and the sweet smell of Mississippi River Valley vegetation and slightly humid October air envelopes you. *Note that in the middle of the summer the humidity is not slight- so beware!
Back on main street, we walked back and forth many times past the art shops, taverns and marketplaces that line this ultra charming street. On the south end of Main Street sits the historic Mark Twain Hotel built in 1905 which had guests staying there including Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Amelia Earhart and Norman Rockwell. It is now an apartment building for seniors, but looking from the outside definitely transports you back in time.
As I bid farewell to Hannibal, it was not a final goodbye because one who is precious to me lives here- at least for a few years. I look forward to my next visit and to stroll the same streets that Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, did when he was young ( except with a latte of course!) If you find yourself in Missouri or ’round these parts- take the time to visit Hannibal. You’ll be glad you did!
Ciao for now!