Scenic South Dakota: Sioux Falls & Steever House

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Steever House

It was one of those weekends where everything falls into place.  I’m just finishing up a stay at the Steever House in Lennox, SD and my only regret is that I can’t stay for an extra day or two.

But let’s start at the beginning.

It was an absolutely perfect spring day for one of my jaunts.  The sun was bright.  There wasn’t a cloud to be seen.  And the temperature was, mmm, just right.

I hopped into my car and began the drive to the Sioux Falls area of South Dakota where I would be staying at Steever House as well as reviewing Jesus Christ Superstar for the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.

The drive was great and it was nice to enjoy some new scenery as I headed north to South Dakota.  Once I crossed the border into the state, I admit I did a double take when I saw the 80mph speed limit.  Maybe I’ll try the max speed on the empty Sunday roads, but not being used to that type of speed, I kept things to about 75mph.

I arrived in town about 12:30pm.  Regrettably, I was only doing an overnight so I didn’t have the normal time that I usually allow my explorations.  But if I were going to do one thing, it had to be a visit to the town’s namesake falls.  So off I went to Falls City Park.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in a park in my life.  As a testament to the absolutely gorgeous day, families galore were having picnics, exploring the Sioux Falls, riding bikes, and meandering.  Heck, a group was even taking wedding photos there.

The Sioux Falls once powered a hydroelectric plant for the city and you can actually take a self-guided walking tour full of informative tidbits about the falls’ past including the remains of the first hydroelectric plant and mill.

The falls themselves were quite the sight and I found myself mesmerized by the beautiful waterfalls and even saw salmon trying to swim upstream for the first time.  The day was so pleasant that I took a nice shady spot under a tree to catch up on my reading.

About 2:15, I headed over to the small town of Lennox to check into Steever House, owned and operated by John & Sara Steever.  This lovely home is certain to trigger relaxation as it is on a secluded piece of property about ten miles outside of Sioux Falls.

As I pulled into the driveway, I was greeted by John who introduced me to his wife Sara.  He led me to the Dakota Suite, the inn’s newest room and my base of operations for the night.  This is the biggest room I’ve ever had at a B&B and I instantly felt calmer with the room’s soft blue walls and carpeting.  It consisted of a massive bedroom/living room area with a comfortable king sized bed and a couple of plush leather easy chairs set in front a fireplace.  I also had a sitting room and a ginormous bathroom with a whirlpool bathtub.

I had an early dinner reservation so I organized my belongings and drew a bath.  The tub was actually a “smart” tub with a little computer panel to activate the jets and even warm up the water (so I assume as I saw the temperature go up a few degrees during my bath).  I rested my head on the bath pillow and let the jets work their magic.  There was a set of jets shooting water into the small of my back and it felt like a massage therapist knuckling the area.  I could have sat there for an hour or more having the area kneaded.

But since I didn’t have an hour or more, I lingered for as long as I could then got into my suit for dinner and a night of theatre.

I had made dinner reservations at Carnaval Brazilian Grill and, trust me, if you’re in the area, you need to eat here.  Reservations are highly recommended as the place was packed when I got there and it was only 5pm.  Thanks to my reservation, I was immediately led to my table where I ordered a Brazilian cream soda and the famed Rodizio meal.

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Carnaval Brazilian Grill

Brazilian steakhouses are fun because it’s almost like a buffet.  Instead of ordering a standard meal, you get to visit a hot and cold salad bar plus waiters will bring skewers of meat to your table so you can have as much or as little as you want.

This was probably the most in depth and impressive salad bar I have seen with gourmet style vegetables such as champagne soaked onions.  I whipped up a little plate of spinach salad topped with onions, fresh jalapenos, bacon bits, and ranch dressing along with a spoonful of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and caviar medley.

I returned to my table to enjoy my salad, then flipped my tower for the meats.  Brazilian steakhouses give you a disc (or a tower in my case) that is green on one side and red on the other.  When you want some meat, you turn it to green so the waiters will stop by with their skewers and flip it to red when you want a break.  Over the next 90 minutes, I had a sampling of top sirloin, lamb, glazed barbecue pork, and a signature beef marinated in Carnival’s homemade marinade.  That last was the tastiest dish.  I also tasted grilled pineapple basted in cinnamon which was amazing.  Coming from me, that’s something as pineapple is one of the few foods that I genuinely dislike.

I realized I had made a wise choice in having an early dinner as I exited.  Where the restaurant had been packed before, it was now overflowing and spilling out the doors.

From there I hopped into my car and made my way to the downtown area of Sioux Falls which is quite reminiscent of the Old Market area of my hometown of Omaha, NE right down to the lack of parking.  I easily found the Sioux Empire Community Theatre and you are permitted to use most of the empty business parking lots in the area which one-ups Omaha since you now have to pay at the Old Market parking meters during the weekend.

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Sioux Empire Community Theatre

This was one of the best nights of theatre I have experienced.  The theatre is beautiful and it was a sensational production.  You can read my review here.  I even had the pleasure of meeting the theatre’s artistic director Patrick Pope and the show’s director, Eric Parrish.  Patrick told me I’d be welcome back at the theatre any time so I look forward to reviewing more shows at this little jewel.

Then it was back to Steever House for a little writing and a most restful night’s sleep on my bed’s soft mattress.

I felt fully refreshed when I awoke the next morning and went downstairs to enjoy a tasty meal of fruit, granola and yogurt, ham, Dutch baby, and baked apples.  I also had a pleasant conversation with the Steevers and another couple staying at the inn.

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But now it’s back to reality.  But if you’re in the Sioux Falls area, stay a night at Steever House.  It’s comfortable, secluded, quiet, and the hospitality can’t be beat.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Cotton Patch Really Redux, Days 3-4: Historical Jaunts

When I awoke in the morning, I was ready for some more of Norma’s fine home cooking.  Today’s morning repast was a dish of oranges, blueberries, and strawberries, French Toast, bacon, and scrambled eggs.  Once again I enjoyed a blissful breakfast while continuing to read my Sherlock Holmes mystery and keeping myself up to date with the daily news.

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I was dedicating today to the exploration of several historic sites around the area.  The first two were in or just outside of Petersburg and they were the grave of Ann Rutledge at Oakland Cemetery and Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site.

Ann Rutledge is widely considered to be the first love of Abraham Lincoln.  Nobody is entirely certain of the extent of their relationship.  What is known is that Lincoln was devastated after her death.  So hard did he take it that a friend of his took away his pocketknife because he was afraid Lincoln would hurt himself.

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Ann Rutledge’s Tombstone

Lincoln had lived in New Salem for about six years.  It was considered a turning point in his life because he was a little lost when he first arrived, but discovered his calling to politics while in this town.  When he left town to pursue this calling, the town folded up shortly afterwards.  It was almost as if it had come into existence solely to inspire the future president.

The site is not without some features of interest with an exhibit hall that tells of Lincoln’s time in New Salem and holding some of his surveying equipment, but the village is a pretty good reproduction of the actual town and a few of the buildings are original.  Still I thought the site lacked a certain oomph and I quickly made my way through it.

From there, I returned to Springfield where I visited the Dana-Thomas House, a construction of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wright designed the house for Susan Lawrence Dana.  She had been the daughter of the mayor of Springfield and when her father and husband perished in rapid succession, she opted to use her $3 million inheritance (modern day equivalent nearly $80 million) to have the family home completely redesigned.  She wanted a place that could serve as a home, a place for the arts, and a place for entertaining people.

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Dana-Thomas House

The house is actually a marvel in architecture, but I was disappointed that pictures inside the house were disallowed.  It featured stain glass windows with a butterfly motif, murals with a sumac motif, a bowling alley, a ballroom, an intercom system, and even a doorbell alert system due to the numerous doors of the estate.  It is free (donations encouraged) and certainly worth a look around.

Afterwards I visited the tomb of one of the greatest men in the history of our country (possibly even in general history).  The mausoleum is certainly an awesome sight.  In front is a giant bust of Lincoln and people often touch its nose for good luck.  The path to the tomb is peppered with statues of Lincoln along with various quotations of his.  His tombstone is massive and there was a certain weightiness to knowing that the man who saved our country lay 10 feet under my feet.  Across from Lincoln’s tombstone lay the remains of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their sons.  The fourth is buried in Arlington, VA at the request of his wife.

I certainly felt humbled as I left the tomb and returned to Branson House to begin writing my articles.  At 4:10 it was time for church.

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St Peter Catholic Church

I attended services at St Peter Catholic Church and went through a rather speedy service (it was finished in 40 minutes and that included a full contingent of hymns).  Even with the quicker than normal service, I did get a rather fascinating sermon from either a deacon or a visiting priest.  It was a very humble homily talking about how nobodies are still somebodies in the eyes of God.  The speaker was quite honest about feeling like a nobody in his youth until he realized the simple truth.

When services ended, I decided to eat dinner.  I was weary after the multiple round trip visits to Springfield and decided to eat in town.  I visited Los Rancheros which proved to be an excellent choice.  I chose the Rancheros Burrito which came with a side of Spanish rice and refried beans.

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With another relaxing meal under my belt, I decided tonight would be a good night to write, organize photos, and just put my feet up in general.  And I did just that before calling it a night.

After a hot shower and shave, the next morning, I was greeted with a breakfast of cinnamon rolls, oranges and cream, and egg bake filled with cheese, sausages, and onions.  I ended up having a great conversation with John about my adventures and he gave me a little history on the town.

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Alas, the time had come for me to head for home.  But if you’re in the neighborhood, give Branson House Bed and Breakfast a visit.  It’s nice and comfortable in a quiet little town and you can experience a lot of history in the area, especially in Springfield.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Cotton Patch Really Redux, Days 1-2: Experiencing Lincoln & Cotton Patchful

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Sometimes fate gives you a chance at redemption.

As my regular readers may remember, about a year ago I was in Arlington, TX in order to review Cotton Patch Gospel for the Repertory Company Theatre when a series of unfortunate circumstances exploded that attempt.  If you need a refresher or just need to read the story for the first time, click here.  A few months ago I found that the show would be playing in the much, much closer venue of Springfield, IL at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.  I got in touch with their executive and artistic director, Gus Gordon, and arranged a media ticket to review the show and looked forward to a trip to Illinois’ capital city in early March.

My journey did not start with the normal sense of joy that I usually have with these road trips.  Part of it was just general antsyness about wanting to get to Illinois.  The other part was my irritation at being unceremoniously turned away from an event I was asked to be part of on the previous night.

A rest stop in Hannibal, MO served to restore much of my good humor.  After lunching at Wendy’s, I found myself in a decidedly better frame of mind and the rest of the drive felt like my normal road experiences.

A few hours later, I found myself in Petersburg (about 20 miles outside of Springfield) and my home away from home:  Branson House Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by Norma and John Stiltz.  John also happens to be the mayor of Petersburg.

Branson House is an Eastlake Victorian home built in 1876 by Nathaniel Branson for his wife, Frances.  The house boasts 7 marble fireplaces and, believe it or not, an elevator.  When I rang the doorbell, I was greeted by Norma who gave me the nickel tour of the home before leading me to Uncle Billy’s Retreat, my room for the next few nights.  And, yes, of course I used the elevator.  It would have been impolite not to have used it.

Uncle Billy’s Retreat was a most comfortable room, indeed.  It boasted a large iron framed king bed with an electric fireplace, sitting chair & footstool, and a day bed in the corner.  After doing my usual reconnaissance, I relaxed for a bit before heading over to Springfield to get some dinner and locate the Hoogland.

Downtown Springfield does require a little getting used to as the roads are a criss cross of one way streets, but after I went back and forth a couple of times, I found myself expertly navigating the streets.  Within a short time, I arrived at D & J’s Café for a little old fashioned comfort food.

Any lingering frustrations to the start of my day vanished with that meal.  I enjoyed a patty melt with bacon which was apparently just what the doctor ordered.  A side of crinkle fries and a Mountain Dew helped to complete the cure as I chewed merrily away and completed a rereading of Ellery Queen’s The Siamese Twin Mystery.

Upon returning to the inn, I organized some photos and then hit the sack.

The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed.  I headed to my bathroom and took a long hot shower before heading downstairs to breakfast.  Norma had prepared some wonderfully thick pancakes with a dish of kiwi, blueberries, and strawberries, plus an egg pizza with cheese and chives.  I’m not usually a fan of strawberries, but these were quite delectable and I savored every mouthful of my meal while reading Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma, the latest novel from my favorite Holmesian pastiche writer, Larry Millet.  I also formally met John who graciously brought me the local paper.

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Pancakes, fruit, and egg pizza

With the inner man restored, I headed to Springfield to indulge in a bit of history.  Springfield was the home of our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln and his tomb, museum, and library are all located in downtown Springfield.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is well worth a visit for a very interactive study of the life of Mr. Lincoln.  I’ve always had a great deal of admiration and respect for Honest Abe, but I was stunned to find out how much I didn’t know about him.

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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

His formal schooling lasted less than a year and he was a self-taught reader and lawyer.  I was even more shocked to find out that he began his presidency as our most hated leader.  Let that one sink in.  It was a particularly contentious election with 4 candidates.  Lincoln managed to win a decisive Electoral College victory thanks to the northern states (he actually didn’t make the ballot in many southern states), but only had 40% of the popular vote.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  It also seemed like he could do no right as anything and everything he did brought hatred and vitriol upon him.  I was genuinely shocked to see the numerous hateful articles and political cartoons written and drawn about Lincoln.  History, of course, has vindicated him.

The museum is split into several sections.  One is dedicated to his life before the White House, another to his presidency and the Civil War, another to the Library next door, another to rare family treasures, but the best section is an interactive movie theatre that briefly describes Lincoln’s life.  The film showed me that Lincoln had an interesting duality in personality.  Despite being a popular wit and storyteller, Lincoln was also plagued by doubt and melancholy.  I also learned that Lincoln may very well have been near death even without the aid of John Wilkes Booth’s bullet.

Two busts of Lincoln done after he won the presidency each time show the ravage that leading during the Civil War wrought on him.  Underweight to begin with, Lincoln was almost skeletal going into his second term.  One noted sculptor thought the second bust was a death mask.  Studies of pictures of Lincoln after his first term seem to support the theory that he may not have been long for the world.

After my moving and enlightening education, I took a walk down to the Hoogland to get a picture of it.  On my walk, I passed the old and current state capitols and also met a homeless guy who needed a sympathetic ear.  He was quite philosophical and well versed on our current state of politics.  I ended up giving him $5 so he could get a sandwich.

I got my picture of the Hoogland, then returned to my car where I drove back to Branson House to relax a bit before dinner.

At 4:30, I got cleaned up and into my suit for the evening’s activities.  I drove back to Springfield, hoping to eat at the Chesapeake Seafood House, but it was jammed to the rafters.  It would have taken 45 minutes just to seat me.  Luckily, I remembered passing a restaurant called Alexander’s Steakhouse as I entered town, so I rushed back then, where I was able to be seated immediately.

I think I ended up getting the better deal as Alexander’s had one of the best salad bars I have enjoyed.  They also brought me a perfectly chargrilled Atlantic salmon with some hand cut Idaho steak fries.  After a tasty dinner, I hopped over to the Hoogland.

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Hoogland Center for the Arts

It was a magical night of theatre.  The Hoogland is actually home to several theatres and I met Gus Gordon who was a warm and friendly guy.  I also met Ken Bradbury, the director of Cotton Patch Gospel whose expression of “I’ll be damned” still brings a smile to my face when he found out I had traveled from Omaha to review his show.  And the show was excellent.  You can read my review here.

With bluegrass music playing in my head, I returned to the inn to write my review and get a good night’s rest.

A Grand Holiday Experience: Grand Anne, Keokuk, and Nauvoo

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Hello readers and Merry Christmas!

It’s December which means it’s time for another holiday B & B review.  To be honest, I was not sure I was going to be able to do a holiday review this year due to the timing of the family Christmas gatherings, but I managed to get lucky when I checked out the reservations site for the Grand Anne of Keokuk, IA and found they were wide open for the month of December.  I quickly snagged a room and prepared for another Christmas jaunt.

Keokuk is noted for being the southernmost city in the state of Iowa.  So southern is the city that the states of Illinois and Missouri are mere minutes away.  It also has quite a bit of history nestled in its environs.  Howard Hughes’ grandfather, Rupert, was the mayor of this town once upon a time and, at one point, Keokuk had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country.

Keokuk was notable to me for one reason.  When I was a strapping lad the town of Palmer, IA was an unstoppable powerhouse in high school basketball having gone undefeated for 4 years.  Keokuk’s basketball team ended up being the giant slayer as they stopped Palmer in that year’s state tournament and Palmer BB was never quite the same again.

But I digress.  It was a frozen Friday that I began my journey.  I was very excited as I could make the drive using nothing but one highway so I figured the road would take me through a lot of small towns.  I was surprisingly wrong on this score as I did go through a few small towns, but far fewer than one would expect for a nearly 5 ½ hour drive.

I arrived in Keokuk a little earlier than expected and looked for something to do until I could check in.  As I traveled towards the inn, I spied a little salon called Laura’s Hair Company and decided to stop for a haircut as I had left town before getting a much needed trim.

Laura was a very interesting barber who knew quite a bit about the town, even sharing the story of an allegedly haunted house on Grand Avenue where Grand Anne was located.  She also gave me the best haircut I’ve had in years, trimming my hair to absolutely perfect length.

After the relaxing haircut, I popped in at the local library (nicely stocked for a small town) and skimmed a novel until I could check in at Grand Anne.

The Grand Anne, owned by Kent and Cassie Barrett with caretaking done by Rick and Cretia Hesse, is the very picture that pops into your head when you think about B & Bs.  It’s a 22 room Grand Anne mansion designed by George F. Barber who built his fortune designing mail order homes.  He would send people the plans for the house with sheets of graph paper and ask for a rough sketch of any changes to be made to be drawn on the graph paper and mailed back to him.  He would then draw the changes to scale and go back and forth until the people buying the home were satisfied.  At that point, the buyers could either build the homes themselves or Barber would sell them the materials and rent out the help to build the home.  For a fun bit of trivia, Barber had no formal training in architecture, yet 2,000 buildings he designed are still standing today.

Barber designed the Grand Anne for Clyde Royal Joy, a managing director of SF Baker and Company, a pharmaceutical firm, in 1897 for the astonishing price of $12,500 (modern day equivalent of nearly $360,000).  The house is worth much more than the modern day equivalency as Joy spared no expense on the home.  To give you an idea of its modern day value, the wood used in the parlor costs more than $12,500 today.

When I arrived at the inn, I found a piece of paper and a key for my room sticking to the front door.  I walked into the foyer and instantly felt at home.  The Grand Anne is easily one of my favorite inns that I’ve stayed at as it is a classic B & B, the likes of which I haven’t experienced since the Victorian Villa.  I headed upstairs to Clyde’s Retreat, the one time master bedroom and my base of operations.  It’s one of the most spacious rooms I’ve had with some very comfortable chairs and a plushy bed.  All I needed was a fireplace and a sidekick and I’ve would have felt like Sherlock Holmes.

After unpacking my gear, I wandered around the mansion, enjoying the Christmas trees and decorations, especially a Christmas village located on the Steinway piano in the music room.  I then donned my coat and took a walk around Grand Avenue.

Grand Avenue was once the Millionaire’s Row of the city as that is where the expensive and ritzy homes were built.  I later learned that a 72 room mansion once filled the six blocks next to Grand Anne costing an eye popping $1 million back in 1887 (modern day equivalent of $25 million!!).  Regrettably, that home only lasted for 30 years and not a trace of it exists.

It was still mighty cold outside so I headed back to Grand Anne to warm up for a bit before heading out to dinner.  I decided to give the Hawkeye Restaurant a try.  This eatery is known for a pork tenderloin sandwich that was deemed best in the country by USA Today.  If I could have preserved one I’d have taken it back to Omaha as that is my pop’s favorite sandwich.

The restaurant is quite popular as it was jammed to the rafters when I arrived.  I managed to get seated in the lounge where I ordered jerk chicken with a cup of their “World Famous” Wisconsin cheese soup and a side of fries.  The soup was remarkable.  It had a bit of a kick to it and truly was the best cup of Wisconsin cheese soup I had ever tasted.  The fries were crisp and the chicken was served on a bed of rice with fried jalapenos.  It was pretty good, but I expected a lot more spice for a Caribbean dish.  It had the hint of authentic jerk chicken, but needed to go a bit further with it.

After the meal, I decided to drive around the town to see what they might have for lighting displays and was surprised to see that very few homes actually set up anything on the outside.  I drove to the farthest end of Grand Avenue and then saw the mother of all lighting displays.

The display was in a place called Rand City Park and it was called the City of Christmas.  I drove through the park in awe of the incredible display which was sponsored by many of the local businesses.  I saw Biblical displays, winter displays, and a section dedicated to the beloved Christmas specials of my childhood.  Definitely worth a visit if you are in Keokuk around Christmas.

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City of Christmas

Once I had traveled through the City of Christmas, I returned to my room where I watched a DVD and then curled up in my cushiony queen bed and slept the night away under the soft glow of my Christmas tree.

The Grand Anne is famed for its 4 course gourmet breakfasts and I was very much looking forward to it the next morning.  At 8:30 I went downstairs to the dining room where I enjoyed Cretia’s fine cooking which included a freshly squeezed special orange juice blend of the inn’s, a lemon muffin, grapes & yogurt, and chili egg bake with baked bacon.  I had fellow guests this time and spent a rather enjoyable few hours sharing conversation.  Afterwards we went up to the Billiards Room on the mansion’s first floor where we learned we all had the same level of skill in pool.  That is to say, we all stunk.  But it was still fun to play.

When the game was done, I bundled up, hopped into my car, and drove to nearby Nauvoo, IL.

Nauvoo is a Mormon settlement built by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saints, and his followers.  When they first arrived, it was a malaria ridden swamp land and they built it up to a bustling community of 50,000, the second largest city in Illinois at one point before the assassination of Joseph Smith ended up scattering the Church of Christ.  Today the town only has a population of 1,100 but it does an impressive job of preserving its history.

I stopped in the Joseph Smith Visitors Center where I paid for a tour of Old Nauvoo.  My tour guide was Don who was a fount of knowledge about the history of the area as he showed me around the old homes of Joseph Smith and told me about the history of the area.  One thing I learned it aside from the history was that those old homes were built to last.  The old homes kept the cold outside without virtue of any of our modern conveniences.

The tour ended in the Red Brick Store which sells books, old fashioned candies, and even a famed “home brewed” root beer.  The quotes are because it’s actually made in Ohio, but it is quite tasty nonetheless.  After my tour I drove to the top of the city to look at the rebuilt Mormon Temple before returning to Keokuk.  Nauvoo also has year round wagon rides and nightly shows.  In the summer there’s quite a bit more to do, so if I’m in the region again during that season, I’ll be sure to give it another visit.

I returned to the inn and relaxed for about an hour before heading to worship services at the Church of All Saints.  This church was like stepping into a time warp as the inside reminded me of Sacred Heart, a church I sometimes attended back in Fort Dodge, IA with a priest that reminded me of my favorite pastor, Father Richard Kielbasa AKA Father K AKA The Rock.  Yep.  Before Dwayne Johnson, the original Rock was Father K and they both shared the same charisma.

Originally, I had planned to go back to Nauvoo to eat the buffet dinner at the famed Hotel Nauvoo, but discovered they stopped serving for the season in mid-November.  Instead I visited Beef, Bread, and Brew in Keokuk.  It’s a small, quiet restaurant known for its weekend buffets (seafood on Friday, Prime Rib on Saturday, and a Grand Buffet on Sunday).  I opted for a filet mignon with a side of lattice fries and included a trip to the soup and salad bar.  I tried a cup of their Wisconsin cheese soup, but it was just OK.  It needed to be a little hotter and lacked the zip of the previous night’s soup.  The salad was excellent as was the filet mignon which was cooked to perfection and was nice and juicy.

When dinner was done, it was back to the inn where Rick gave us a 2.5 tour of the mansion.  He was a great storyteller and knew every intimate detail of the house and quite a bit about the town’s history.  He has quite a few interesting stories including the “Story of the Bullet Hole”.  One amusing story I’ll share is that of the golf ball riddled door.  The inn’s second owner was Judge Huiskamp who was an avid golfer (also a good friend of Bing Crosby who often came to Keokuk to play golf with the judge).  Back in the day, the third floor was a ballroom and the judge set up a net to practice his hitting.  He never missed the net, but his children often did pelting the walls and door of the now Tower Suite with golf balls.  The door to the Tower Suite is the original and is just riddled with golf ball divots.

When the tour was done, I returned to my home to begin writing, but a stuck e key curtailed that so I decided to call it a night.

I slept right through the night.  When I awoke the next day, I checked my e key and found it to be working again so I drew a relaxing bath before heading downstairs to breakfast.

The first courses were similar to the previous day’s though the fruit was kiwi and the muffin was cherry.  The main entrée was a delicious egg soufflé with cheddar cheese, chives, and mushrooms with some more baked bacon. Once more I engaged in pleasant conversation until it was time to get back to work and head for home.

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Egg souffle with baked bacon

Another splendid visitation is in the books.  The Grand Anne was truly a grand experience and I highly suggest a visit if you find yourself in town.  You’ll experience a classic bed and breakfast with some truly superb meals and can take a dive into history at the same time.  Have a blessed and happy Christmas!

The Wamego Files: A Case Study of Victory Inn, Oz, a Headless Horseman, and Zombies

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Victory Inn

Well, October is here which brings visions of colorful leaves, Halloween, haunted houses, and a return to the road.

This leg of the road would bring me to Wamego, KS as I had negotiated a media ticket with the famed Columbian Theatre to review their production of Sleepy Hollow.  My home away from home would be the Victory Inn Bed and Breakfast owned and operated by Francis and Margaret Feyh.

I was particularly looking forward to traveling this time as I would actually be going in a new direction.  Nothing but highways going west and south.  New scenery, at last.  It was a pleasant afternoon for a drive and I enjoyed passing through the small towns of our great country.  About 1pm, my thoughts turned to lunch just as I began to pass through the town of Tecumseh in Nebraska.

Lo and behold I saw a place called Frazier’s Café off to my left and decided it would be a make for a good break.  I glanced through the menu looking for something different when my eyes fell upon a meal listed as the H Bomb which described itself as a spicy chicken fried steak sandwich.  I decided to order one though I thought the price was a little high at $9.95.  That is I thought it was a little high until I actually got the sandwich.

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Frazier’s Cafe

This sucker was about the size of an H Bomb as well.  It was so big that I needed a knife and fork to eat it.  It was tasty and big enough for 2 meals which is exactly what I made out of it.

Full from lunch, I continued my drive which included traveling through Burchard, NE, the birthplace of silent film star, Harold Lloyd.  About 3:30pm I entered Wamego and parked in its downtown area.  I wandered up and down the street admiring the buildings.  I stepped into the library and thumbed through a few books before I finally headed over to Victory Inn.

I was immediately struck by the beauty of the inn.  It had a well manicured backyard with a little waterfall and gazebo.  I rang the doorbell of the back door and waited a few minutes.  Upon hearing nothing, I began to search out the front door when I heard the turn of doorknob.  I did an about face and retraced my steps as Margaret welcomed me into her home.

She quickly led me to the Victory Inn Suite before leaving me to my own devices.  I got myself settled and goggled at the palace sized bathroom which housed a Jacuzzi bathtub before exploring the house.  I admired the antiques and glassware and bumped into Margaret’s husband, Francis who quietly welcomed me to the inn.

After wandering about the home, I drew a hot bath and enjoyed a good long soak before slipping into my suit and heading over to the Columbian Theatre.

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Columbian Theatre

The theatre is quite an impressive edifice.  It was built in the late 1800s as a music hall and that same hall still serves as the theatre’s performance space.

The show itself was rather disappointing. After a rough show, I walked back to the inn where I wrote a very difficult review and then retired for the night.

In the morning I was ready for breakfast and Margaret had a nice repast waiting.  There was nothing fancy about the meal.  It was just good old-fashioned home cooking with eggs, bacon, cinnamon coffee cake, some amazing hash browns, and juice.

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Old fashioned country breakfast

I needed some exercise so I spent the next two hours wandering around Wamego where I visited the park, saw the town’s famed windmill, and then I stopped at the famed Oz Museum.

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The windmill of Wamego

The Wizard of Oz is very big in this town.  Not only do they have a museum dedicated to all things Oz but several businesses are named after items in the story such as Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz.

The Oz Museum has brought in visitors from all over the globe and it was actually an interesting little visit.  The history of L Frank Baum (author of the series), the birth of the stories, the creation of the famed movie, and other Ozian things came to life before my eyes.  The most surprising piece of trivia I learned was that the books were so popular that other writers were brought on to create more stories after Baum’s passing.  Baum had written 15 stories, but the series ended after the 40th novel written in the late 1960s.  For those who have the time or desire, the film is also shown all day.

When I stepped outside it looked like it was about ready to rain so I decided to while away the afternoon in my room where I watched the Iowa Hawkeyes pummel the Purdue Boilermakers.

After thoroughly enjoying Iowa’s shellacking of Purdue, I took another Jacuzzi bath and then headed over to St Bernard’s Catholic Church for worship.  The church is a pretty impressive edifice and looked fairly new to my eyes.  My eyes did not deceive as the building was erected in 2010.

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St Bernard Catholic Church

It was a pretty good service and Father had a very thought-provoking sermon about how 80% of Catholics no longer attend services which got me to thinking as to how much the attendance rate had fallen amongst all denominations.  His most telling statement was, “I don’t think it’s because we (he was an elderly man) were old-fashioned.  I think we’ve just lost faith.”  Very profound food for thought.

After services, I had hoped to eat at the Friendly Cooker, a diner on the main street of Wamego.  However, the only nights they serve supper are Thursdays and Fridays.  Instead, I decided to try the cuisine at Toto’s Tacoz.

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Toto’s Tacoz

Twas not a bad choice at all.  I had the namesake food which ended up being shredded beef, cheese, onions, lettuce, cilantro, sour cream, and tomatoes on a tortilla.  It was seasoned quite nicely and a little of it goes quite far.

Then I headed over to Junction City, a military town (Fort Riley is nearby) to experience Zombie Toxin.  As a teenager in Omaha, I rather enjoyed the haunted house attractions available in the city and we have some pretty good ones.  While my interest in them has waned as I’ve gotten older, this one made me curious as it touted itself as the #1 haunted attraction in Kansas.

After visiting it, I can say that those claims are perfectly valid.  I would also like to give a special shout-out to Rob for providing me with a speed pass media ticket so I could enjoy Zombie Toxin.

First off, this attraction pays meticulous attention to the details.  It begins with the story of Dr. Von Monschture which I absolutely love because it gives a sense of reality to the attraction.  Once inside, you appreciate the care that went into this place.  Each room has a specific atmosphere and a lot of creativity went into creating the numerous experiments in Von Monschture’s quest to revivify corpses.  There’s nothing cheap about the horrors here.  It has the quality of a big budget horror flick.

Aside from the horrifying beasts, you’ll have to deal with crackling electricity, falling barrels, giant wolf’s heads and a maze in darkness in your attempts to escape from the mad scientist.  Oh, and be wary.  The weird creations and characters of the house pop out anywhere and anytime.  I’m still trying to figure out who or what grabbed my jacket at about the halfway point.

If you live in the vicinity of Junction City and are looking for something to do this Halloween season, visit Zombie Toxin.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

After visiting the haunted house, it was time to head back to the inn for the night.

For some reason my sleep was a little fitful.  I popped out of my sleep due to goofy dreams on a couple of occasions, but still felt well rested when I woke up for good around 7am.

Another old fashioned breakfast was on the table consisting of pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, cinnamon pecan rolls, juice, and water.  Once more I ate my fill, then came back to finish writing.

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Another leg of the road has been completed and Wamego is a quaint little town with friendly folk and a bit to do.  Take in a show at the Columbian.  Travel to the merry old land of Oz.  And for those who need more, the town of Manhattan is less than 30 minutes away.  But make sure you get a room at Victory Inn, you’ll get comfort, hospitality, and a good meal.

Until the next time.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Rest: Liberty, MO & Terrace Avenue Inn

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Terrace Avenue Inn

Give me the open roadway and a set of songs and I’m a happy man.

An author named Mick Foley said something similar in one of his memoirs and it suits my feelings when it comes to travel.  This weekend I traveled to Liberty, MO to stay at the Terrace Avenue Inn AKA Anna Marie’s Teas and Inn, owned and operated by Brenda Hedrick.  I had been invited to return to the K.C. area by the Barn Players of Mission, KS who wanted me to review their amazing production of Kiss of the Spider Woman.

To make the drive a little lighter, I spent the first night at my older brother’s house in Maryville, MO before driving the last 90 minutes to Liberty.  It was a great day for travel as I listened to the Iowa Hawkeyes battle North Dakota State on the radio before I lost the signal and moved over to my tunes.

I arrived in Liberty at nearly 1pm.  This suburb of Kansas City is actually quite a bit bigger than one would expect.  I was met by a myriad of businesses and restaurants upon my arrival.  A restaurant called the Corner Café caught my eye and I decided to pull over for a bit of lunch.

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Corner Cafe

I wish I had a bit more time to linger over lunch, but I had arranged a 2pm check-in time and was slightly pressed.  Still, if you like good, old-fashioned home cooking, then Corner Café is definitely worth a visit.  I dined on a Corner Melt (patty melt with bacon) with a side of fries while reading Ellery Queen’s The Egyptian Cross Mystery.  I will say that while the food is quite tasty, it is all a la carte, so the bill may come to a bit more than you’d expect for food of this type.

From there, I headed to the Terrace Avenue Inn located in one of Liberty’s historic districts.  I was met on the porch by Brenda’s husband, Al.  He led me to the Terrace Suite which was truly a cozy room with a soft king bed, private balcony, and a Jacuzzi.  Al left me to my own devices after a brief orientation of the inn and I brought in my gear and began exploring the house.

The Dutch colonial bungalow was built in 1923 and is remarkably well maintained.  The home boasts 3 rooms (Cottage Nook, Liberty Suite, and Terrace Suite).  The bottom floor consists of the inn’s tea shop along with a small dining room and well apportioned kitchen which guests can use for light cooking.  Being quite a small home, my explorations went quickly.

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The Tea Shop

After giving the house a onceover, I began to walk around the historic district and downtown area of Liberty.  Liberty actually boasts quite a few things to do from wineries to walking tours.  I didn’t do a very thorough exploration, but I did visit the Fairview Cemetery and meandered through the business district before I returned to the inn where I promptly dozed off on my plushy king bed (a result of a burst of insomnia at 4:30am).

I awoke at 5:30pm and had just enough time to make myself presentable for the play.  I had a wonderful shower than drove to Mission, KS to watch the Barn Players work their magic.

From there it was back to the inn to write the review while Quantum Leap played in the background and a sound night of sleep.

I felt truly well rested when I awoke on Sunday morning.  And I was ready for breakfast since I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before.  Al had a nice repast waiting for me.

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Market spice tea, Devonshire cream, fruit, scones, and a ham and egg dish.

Oh!  You want to know what it was.  Well, he had a pot of Market Spice Tea ready for me.  Now I’m not the biggest tea drinker in the world, but this was truly excellent tea.  A spoonful of granulated honey added just the needed sweetening to it.  There was also a ham and egg dish, fresh fruit, and 2 scones with chunks of chocolate.  A little Devonshire cream on top made for a tasty breakfast dessert.

And from there it was time to write the last few words of this review before returning to Omaha.  But Liberty is a nice little town and the Terrace Avenue Inn will certainly provide a comfortable room, a filling meal, and a lot of tea.

Return to the Rising Sun, Days 7-8: Beautiful Kawaguchiko & A Climb on Mt Fuji

Day 7

The final day in Shinjuku.  We packed up our belongings before heading to Shinjuku Station where we said good-bye to Andrew.  And then there were four.

Mat, Dave, Amy, and I hopped on a train and began the two hour trek to Kawaguchiko which lies at the base of Mt Fuji.  Traveling by train was a very pleasant way to see the country and it was neat to see the crammed buildings of the city begin to give way to foliage and open countryside.  Heck, I finally saw my first gas stations by taking the train.

Kawaguchiko is a very pleasant small town, not unlike the many I’ve visited for my B & B reviews.  And, would you believe it, we actually stayed in a B & B called Koe House.

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Koe House

Koe House is a dormitory style B & B not unlike a hostel.  Because of this, you may room with strangers.  For our first night, we briefly had a roommate from Malaysia who was going to climb Mt Fuji from the very bottom.  He was not in our room for long and left at 11pm.

The room was a little uncomfortable.  My roommates didn’t like the hard bunk beds.  The room was stuffy due to the humidity and the little fan mounted on the wall didn’t do much for circulation, though we got a nice cross breeze going once we opened the windows and the temperature dropped dramatically at night to a very pleasant level.

We had our lunch right across the street at a little ramen joint.  I had a soy sauce and pork ramen which filled the hole nicely.  We then walked off our meal at Lake Kawaguchiko which made for a lovely afternoon.  Afterwards we returned to our room to relax and get cleaned up.  Be certain to bring your own towels as Koe House charges a rental fee for them and for using the laundry (300 yen a load).  There is also no dryer, though there is a rack outside to hang your clothes.

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Soy sauce ramen

We didn’t do too much for the rest of the night except stop at a 7-11 to pick up some light snacks for dinner.  I had a rice ball with some sort of spicy sauce in the center as well as a surprisingly good ham sandwich with the best mayonnaise I’ve ever tasted.  As Mat explained, Japanese mayo uses more vinegar which explains the wonderful tang I got off of it.

Day 8

It was an overcast day, but the temperature was fine.  Ironically, the terrible weather set to plague the area never manifested so we would have been able to climb Mt Fuji, but a decision had to be made and there are no regrets.

We started with breakfast in the small restaurant on Koe House’s first floor.  Breakfast is included in the stay and we dined on eggs, cabbage salad, and thick slices of toast with butter and orange marmalade.  I had never tried marmalade before, but rather liked its taste.

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Koe House breakfast

We did hop a bus and ride to Mt Fuji’s fifth station.  It was interesting being up in the clouds which were so thick that it made getting a decent view difficult though it cleared up from time to time as a light rainfall dissipated the clouds.

After looking around the station (which is very touristy) we began a brief climb on Mt Fuji to get an idea of the experience.  The weariness on the faces of the people returning from the top clearly showed the difficulty of the trek.  You do need to be well rested and in fairly good cardio shape to attempt the climb.

We walked up about a half hour before a rainfall drove us back, but it was enough to get an indicator of the climb.  One would expect to climb for about 20-30 minutes, rest, then repeat the process all the way to the top of the mountain.

Our little group grabbed lunch at one of the restaurants where I had hot green tea, iced cocoa, and a lava ramen.  This was easily the best bowl of ramen I have ever eaten as it hit the spot after I spiced it up even more.  One thing that surprises me is that Japan is known for its small portions, yet the eateries always serve a good sized bowl of ramen.

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Lava ramen

With a good lunch in our systems, we wandered around the gift shops for an hour before returning to Kawaguchiko.  We would have an early start tomorrow so we relaxed in our room and played cards until bedtime.