A Hot Time in the Old Springs: Gables Inn & Hot Springs, AR

Gables Inn

Today the road has brought me to Hot Springs, AR.

I had some time to burn, so I decided to go on an outing, but wanted to go in a new direction and, preferably, someplace warm.  A little look through my spreadsheet and I settled on Hot Springs, AR where I would stay at Gables Inn, owned and operated by Dave and Judy.

It was a beautiful day for travel and I enjoyed the weather and my tunes as I made my way to my stopping point of Miami for the night.  Miami, OK that is.

Miami is a small town nicknamed “The Gate” due to its being about 30 minutes from the Kansas border and about 20 minutes from the Missouri border.  The legendary Route 66 also runs through the town.

I checked into my suite at the town’s Holiday Inn Express and rested for a few hours before heading off to worship at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Sacred Heart

It was a mighty good service as Father warmed up to his sermon which centered on the parable of The Prodigal Son where he talked about the role of forgiveness in Lent.  Father said nothing thrilled him more than when people came to Confession and told him that they hadn’t come in years.  He saw it as a time for celebration as they recognized their need for forgiveness.

I also ended up providing a little entertainment for the congregation as I was seated near the front and didn’t know what to do for Eucharist as nobody appeared at the front to distribute it.  One of the parishioners eventually pointed out that they were really old school and actually knelt at the Communion rail in order to receive it.

After church, I began looking for something to eat, but found myself thwarted a bit.  My first choice was closed for the day and the town is also suffering from the short staffedness caused by the pandemic so I ended up skipping my second choice as the wait would have been too long.  Eventually, I hit pay dirt with my third choice of Montana Mike’s Steakhouse.

I enjoyed a surprisingly tender sirloin with a topper of Creamy Cajun shrimp.  The cream was nice and sharp and really enhanced the flavor of the beef.  After the meal, I returned to the hotel where I enjoyed a quiet night capped off with a relaxing jacuzzi bath before going to bed.

The next day I was back on the road and soon found myself in the Natural State enjoying the views of forests and mountains as I made my way to Hot Springs.

Hot Springs is a village nestled within the Ouachita Mountains and the last 70 miles found me navigating twisty roads and hills as I admired some of God’s scenery.  Around 4pm I found myself at Gables Inn.

Gables Inn is a Victorian house which had been built as the dream home of Fred and Myrtle Sammons.  The home was gutted by the infamous Hot Springs fire of 1904, but the Sammons rebuilt the entire thing from top to bottom and returned to their home in 1905.  The house became an inn in 1993 and was taken over by Dave and Judy in 1996 which makes it the longest continuing B & B in Hot Springs.

Judy met me at the door and led me to the Governor’s Room which would serve as command center for the next few days.  The room has the feel of a classic Victorian inn with its fireplace and Victorian lamps.  For more modern comforts, the room contains a king-sized bed with memory foam pillows and a two person jacuzzi bath.

On the desk was a bottle of the town’s namesake water which is reported to have high healing properties and I can certainly testify that it healed my thirst.

I didn’t plan too much for my first night.  I just went to Red Pier for dinner as I was in the mood for Cajun food.  It’s a chain restaurant very similar to the Angry Crab Shack of Phoenix, AZ.  The meal balanced out to OK.  I had a small bowl of gumbo which had a decent taste, but was more like soup instead of stew.  The chicken strips I had were incredibly juicy with flavorful meat, but had bland breading.

Red Pier

After dinner, I just returned to the inn where I puttered around before going to bed to energize myself for the next day.

In the morning I went down to the dining room for breakfast and heard the other guests excitedly planning their days while we dined on a delicious 4 cheese quiche with cherry tomatoes and sausage.  With the other guests plotting their own adventures, there wasn’t much conversation so I finished eating fairly quickly before heading out the door.

4 cheese quiche, cherry tomatoes, and sausage

Hot Springs is interesting as it is not only a tourist town with a lot of activities, but it’s also built around a national park so there’s something for everybody.  Is shopping your bag?  Lots of interesting stores to visit.  Enjoy nature?  Plenty of hiking and scenery.  Perhaps you like shows?  The #1 magic show in all of Arkansas holds court in Hot Springs.  Maybe you just want to relax?  There’s a series of bathhouses and spas along Bathhouse Row.

For myself, I went to the national park and went to the top of the Mountain Tower.  This 216-foot structure provides a panoramic view of Hot Springs and in the distance you can see the West and Sugarloaf Mountains.

After enjoying nature, I went back to the main drag and bought tickets to take a duck boat tour as well as visit Josephine Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

A duck boat is a truck that can transform into a boat.  So our captain took us on a tour of Hot Springs on the streets before taking us onto the lake in boat mode and show us some of the luxury homes.  A lot of wealthy people like to use Hot Springs as a vacation home.  The owners of one of the houses only visits 3 days out of the year and, the rest of the time, the house is occupied by a housekeeper and her daughter who keep the place tidy.

Speaking of “vacation homes”, a lot of notorious gangsters liked to spend time in Hot Springs.  Lucky Luciano and Al Capone were frequent visitors who often plied their trade while relaxing.

When the tour was done, I went to Josephine Tussaud’s Wax Museum.  If you’re wondering, she is the great-great granddaughter of Madame Tussaud, but this museum is not connected to that famous chain.  It’s been the same exhibit since 1971, but is still in pretty good condition.  I enjoyed replicas of The Last Supper, wandered through a Chamber of Horrors, experienced historical moments like Lincoln’s assassination, and ambled through a land of fantasy where characters from fairy tales and Mark Twain stories greeted me.

From the museum, I wandered up and down the drag, stopping in at an old-fashioned candy store where I picked up some cinnamon bears and at a beef jerky outlet when I picked up a snack pack of cracked pepper jerky.  Heads up, the jerky isn’t cheap.  My snack pack cost nearly $12.

I also took a brief stop at Arlington Lawn to see the hot springs and briefly touch the 143 degree water.

Hot Springs

Then I got in my car and headed off to Anthony Chapel.  This wood and glass structure looks like the twin of Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the inside of it as a wedding was being held.

Anthony Chapel

I was ready for a little break and returned to the inn to rest up a bit before walking downtown for an early dinner at Brick House Grill.

This is one of the favorite restaurants of Dave and Judy and after experiencing it, I can see why.  Brick House Grill has a bistro feel and even includes outdoor seating.  I had the Brick House Burger and it was one of the tastiest burgers I’ve ever eaten.  I could smell the chargrill as it was placed in front of me.  It was so juicy and the grilled onions and crispy bacon really hit the spot.

When dinner digesting I headed over to the Malco Theatre AKA The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic.

Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Comedy

Maxwell Blade’s magic show has been the top rated show in Arkansas for the better part of three decades and I highly recommend a visit to the theatre to experience both the Close Up show and the full theatre show.

The Close Up show takes place at 6pm in a tiny theatre just behind the bar.  And I do mean tiny.  The theatre only holds about 24 people so I can assure you the tricks are done right in front of your face.

The Close Up show is performed by Jonathan Erlandson, a very talented magician.  He did things 3 feet from my face that just didn’t seem possible such as making a table float and dance.  He even did variations of classic tricks with bold twists.

At one point, Erlandson brought up an audience member and had her shuffle a deck of cards and give him half.  Then he offered to switch decks or even have her take cards from his pile or add cards to his pile from hers.  She added to his pile.  Then she picked a card and he picked a card.  Then they switched decks and he correctly picked her card.  But the real trick was that she was going to pull his card.  Erlandson told her to fan the cards and pick any card she wanted from his deck.  Then he calmly stated what his card was and the eyes of the audience member bugged out as she turned the card around and it was right!!

I thought his most impressive illusion was when he asked for a bill.  I offered up a $20 and Erlandson had me write my name on it.  He then folded it up, tossed it into a bowl of lighter fluid, and lit it on fire as a stopwatch while he sped solved a Rubik’s Cube.

He solved the puzzle in a matter of seconds, but my $20 was ash.  Then he talked about the Attention Test (watch the video first).

Did you do so? OK.

Then he asked us if we had noticed the point he walked over to the sealed jar on the opposite side of the stage.  He went to the jar, removed the lid, and took something off of the clip hanging to it.  He handed it to me and had me unfold it.  It was my $20. And, no, he never walked near the jar.

You must see this show and enjoy some truly in your face magic.

Maxwell Blade

The main show, performed by Maxwell Blade, is also a treat.  Blade’s show is full of comedy, music, and magic.  His sleight of hand is so quick and sure.  He’s an accomplished piano player and he and his girlfriend belted out a pretty fair rendition of “Rocketman”.  Blade’s tricks and illusions are performed at a blitzkrieg pace, but my two favorites were his new take on Houdini’s famed Metamorphosis trick.  Though, in this one, his assistant was chained up in an iron maiden shaped cage in full view of the audience before they swapped places with a close of the curtain.  With another sweep of the curtain, Blade had escaped and the stagehand was now shackled.

His final illusion was incredible as he poured various colored powders into a fish bowl and swirled them into liquid.  After showing us his clean hands, he swirled again and broke them back up into solid powders.

If you’re a fan of magic and fun, buy a ticket for this show and find out why it’s the best in the state.

Then I walked back to Gables Inn, drew a jacuzzi bath, and just relaxed while sipping a cream soda before going to sleep.

The next morning found me back in the dining room where I had some conversation with a couple from Texas and a couple from Germany while enjoying blueberry cream cheese stuffed French Toast and sausage.

Sausage and Blueberry Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast

This was a great trip and I’m a little blue to see it come to an end.  But take some time in Hot Springs where you can enjoy almost any sort of activity you can imagine.  And be sure to take a room in Gables Inn where you can enjoy some classic Southern hospitality in a comfortable Victorian inn.

Until the next time. . .oops, wait a sec.

It’s bonus time.

On my way home, I took an extended break in Fayetteville, AR so I could experience Arkadia Retrocade.

Arkadia Retrocade

Hands down, this is the best vintage arcade I have ever seen and it wasn’t operating at full strength. The arcade has only recently reopened so some of the games are being worked on, but even at partial strength, this place is amazing.

For $5 (yes, you read that right) you can play all you want for the day. This place not only has classics, but has some next door to impossible games to find as well. Some rare gems I found at this arcade were Thayer’s Quest, a Dragon’s Lair type game that was never fully finished; Hologram Time Traveler, another Dragon’s Lair type game which simulates the look of a hologram; Gold Medalist which was made for the Seoul Summer Olympics; 720, Krull; and many more. There are even sections set up where you can play classic systems like Coleco Vision and Atari 2600. If I’m ever through this way again, I’m going to arrange for a full day of gaming as two hours was simply not enough time.

And now, until the next time. . .happy travels.

Natural Tranquility: Hidden Serenity & West Bend, WI

Hidden Serenity Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to West Bend, WI.

It’s nice to get back on the road after the winter months.  Though, honestly, I was originally going to take this trip back in January as the Midwest had been experiencing a very mild winter.  However, the night before my trip, the state of Iowa got crippled by a monster blizzard which stopped my excursion cold, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Mercifully, the owners of the inn I planned to visit were gracious enough to let me move my reservation to March so I wouldn’t be out the money plus the good people at Holiday Inn of Cedar Rapids gave me a refund on my nonrefundable rate without my having to ask so it all worked out for the best.  Thus, I finally found myself on the road to Hidden Serenity Bed and Breakfast, owned and operated by Chris and Sally Cochran.

The trip didn’t start off the greatest as I had to listen to my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes make an ignominious first round exit from the NCAA BB tournament due to a combination of ice cold shooting and the refs missing some blatant fouls that would have likely led to us winning in spite of our shooting woes. 

A meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, and a free upgrade to a king suite at the Holiday Inn at Cedar Rapids helped to improve my mood as well as grant me a satisfactory night of rest.

A grim and rainy day met me the next morning and followed me all the way to West Bend.  Hidden Serenity is located on a secluded acreage outside of West Bend and the bright white house shone like a beacon in the gloom.

I pressed the doorbell which chimed out a charming tune and the door was answered by Sally who showed me around the common areas and, to my delight, offered me a free upgrade to the inn’s honeymoon suite, the Kettle Moraine.  After showing me all the ins and outs of my room, she left me to my own devices.

Hidden Serenity isn’t your typical B & B abode.  The Cochrans built the house in 1997 from wood on their acreage and it was their private home where they raised “four extraordinary children”.  The Cochrans also hosted exchange students for years and have a travel bug that might even exceed mine.  But once the children had grown, they decided to start sharing their home with the public, filling the house with fine furniture and they are currently in the process of renovating the basement area into a spa complete with hot tub, sauna, and massage room (this is currently in use).

The house evoked memories of my visit to Otter Creek Inn in Eau Claire, WI in the sense that the house has more of a lodge feel with its massive great room which includes a pool table guests can actually play. The house is also a unique fusion of rustic and luxury.

The Kettle Moraine has the same blend of swank and hominess possessed by the rest of the house.  A soft king-sized bed is the centerpiece of the room, but it also contains a pair of comfortable leather easy chairs with a beautiful view of the forest.  A faux fireplace graces one of the walls and the mirror above it contains a hidden LCD TV.  The bathroom contains heated tiles, a rainfall shower, and a two person slipper tub.

I didn’t have too long to putter because I had a massage scheduled at 4:40pm.  I met my masseuse, Joann, who led me to the basement and the massage room.  As I readied myself for my massage, I noticed the starlit roof which made me feel like I was in a planetarium.  Soon all thoughts fled my brain as Joann worked the kinks out of shoulders and the aches out of my feet.

Jail House

Feeling good and relaxed, I headed out to get some dinner at the Jail House.  Sally had told me that the place might be jumping and right she was.  Luckily, on Fridays, the Jail House only accepts reservations for parties of 5 or more so people can move in and out more quickly.  I was told I’d have to wait 30-40 minutes which I was fully prepared to do as I had a new volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches to read.  However, I only ended up waiting for about 20 minutes before being seated for dinner.

I opted for a Southwest Salmon served with homemade black bean salsa, a bowl of seafood chowder, and a side of steak fries.  The broth of the chowder was a little thin and could have used a bit more seafood, but had a good taste, especially when enhanced with a bit of pepper.  The salsa and salmon were excellent.  The salmon had a sweet chili glaze and was just slightly blackened which made it incredibly flavorful.

After dinner, I returned back to the inn and I advise caution as there are no street lights, but a path of lanterns does light the way to Hidden Serenity once you get close to the inn.

I started watching Cinderella Man, based on the true story of James J. Braddock, a promising boxer who saw his career derailed by injury and descended into poverty due to the Great Depression.  He staged a miraculous comeback which saw him upset the virtually unstoppable Max Baer for the world heavyweight championship.

Slumber beckoned to me throughout the film, so I stopped it and went to bed.

And sleep I did, not awakening until nearly 8am which is practically unheard of for me.  I spent a little time watching the The Price is Right channel before heading to the dining area for breakfast.

I saw the inn’s other guests being entertained by Chris as I took a seat.  Soon a plate of fruit and a small pot of herbal tea was placed before me.  The tea was an amazing blend of rosemary and peppermint which I contentedly sipped while nibbling on kiwi, oranges, strawberries, and blackberries.

Course number two was Polish sausage with peanut butter cream cheese stuffed French Toast served with the inn’s own maple syrup (also available in a peanut butter variety) and a maple vinaigrette salad.  For dessert, there was a concoction of blue Jell-O and Blue Moon ice cream which was a tasty treat of an exclamation point to the meal.

After breakfast, I headed out to West Bend to Blades Barbershop for a bit more pampering.

Blades Barbershop

Blades updates the traditional barbershop experience for the modern times.  I decided to have a shave and a haircut with Julie Kidder.  I was long overdue for a haircut and felt the relief of having a pound of hair cut away from my head.  But the shave was the real joy.  Julie treated my face with some tonic before lathering me and scraping off my beard with a straight razor.  I truly felt clean shaven afterwards and she mentioned I had an extremely thick set of whiskers (no hyperbole as I can grow a full beard in roughly 2 weeks).

For once, I decided not to book any other activities.  I just wanted to relax so I returned to Hidden Serenity where I walked its trail and then returned to my room to finish Cinderella Man.  With the movie over, I drew a bath and added a bottle of peppermint bath salts and just soaked until the heat left the water. 

St Frances Cabrini

With the bath done, I was ready to head off to worship at St Frances Cabrini.  It was a nice service with Father’s sermon focusing on how the time is now to change your heart as the theme of Lent this year is about conversion.  I also found it apropos as the Catholic church is making a concentrated effort to evangelize and St Frances Cabrini seems to be ahead of the game with literature encouraging their parishioners on how to welcome those curious about this branch of Christianity and not to be afraid to explain the ritual parts of the service to those unfamiliar with them.

After getting my praise on, I needed some dinner.  My first choice, Main Street Café, was closed so I went to Omicron Family Restaurant.  There’s nothing fancy about this place.  It’s just good, old-fashioned comfort food and I enjoyed a Gyro sandwich before returning to Hidden Serenity for a bit of writing and beddy-bye.

I was pleased to wake up to a sunny day which would make for a very pleasant drive home.  I really didn’t want to go home, but reality was calling.  But at least I could enjoy one more nourishing breakfast before I started the drive.

Today’s repast started with a bowl of carrot cake oatmeal. So tasty!! This was followed up by a custom made omelet (I had mine with the works. Ham, bacon, cheese, onions, olives, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms) with a bit of fruit and asparagus. Last, but not least, was a pair of chocolate cake/fudge bars drizzled with chocolate and (I believe) caramel. A fine, bracing meal to get me on my way.

This was a fine return to the B & B world and I consider Hidden Serenity to be my own personal Walden. So if you want to get away from it all and I mean REALLY get away from it all, book a stay at Hidden Serenity and enjoy some rustic luxury.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Christmas Lights it Up: Fargo Mansion Inn & Lake Mills, WI

The Fargo Mansion Inn

Today the road has brought me to Lake Mills, WI.

Yes, sir, it’s time once again for my favorite event and, I hope, yours.  It’s the annual Christmas B & B review.

This year’s review brought me to Lake Mills and The Fargo Mansion Inn owned and operated by Tom Boycks and Barry Luce. 

Fargo Mansion Inn is an 1881 Queen Anne mansion which had been bought by E.J. Fargo, son of the founder of Wells Fargo, in 1883.  Fargo was also a bit of an inventor as he created the central vacuuming system still used in homes today.  He lived in the mansion until his death in 1921 and his third wife continued to live there before moving to a nearby nursing home where she passed away at the age of 67.  At that point, the mansion was transformed into apartments for years before falling into disrepair and condemnation.

Boycks and Luce bought the mansion in 1985 and spent two years restoring it and were actually one of, if not the first, B & B proprietors in Wisconsin.  In fact, the partners are the founding members of the Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association.  If the inn and the association don’t keep them busy enough, Boycks and Luce also have several other business interests in the community.

Unlike a great deal of my outings, I was only going to have one day to enjoy the inn and community so I had to hit the ground running.  Once I spotted the mansion, I knew I had hit the jackpot.

One of the inn’s calling cards is that the owners like to decorate it according to a 19th century Victorian Christmas and I felt my Christmas juices flowing when I saw the Christmas tree and pine strings decorating the outside of the inn along with cutouts of toy soldiers.

Tom opened the door before I even had a chance to ring the bell and welcomed me into the home where I also met Barry.  Tom gave me the quarter tour of the home and I marveled at the decorations and period antiques in the common areas.  He then led me to the Enoch J Fargo Suite which was my room for the night.

This is Fargo Mansion’s largest room and dubbed the honeymoon suite containing a queen-sized bed, English writing desk, and a secret.  Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in the dark.  The bathroom has a secret entrance behind one of the bookshelves and is the closest I’ve come to seeing a true secret passage.

Once I got settled, I returned to the commons where I took a really good look around and enjoyed the fresh, piney smell of a real Christmas tree and took a close look at the intricate Christmas decorations and enjoyed some photos of the mansion back in its original heyday.

Before I knew it, it was time to go to church.  I visited St Francis Xavier and this was a mighty small chapel; about on par with my visit to Our Lady of Victory in Limon, CO over the summer.  Father Bob conducted the service and he was a gregarious and entertaining pastor.  This was the third Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday and is represented by the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath.  Rejoice was the key word of the service as Father’s sermon centered around rejoicing that our Savior was coming and our Savior was here and with us.  It was definitely a good one to feel the Spirit moving and I left worship with a flutter in my heart and a rumble in my stomach.

It was indeed dinnertime and I headed over to the nearby town of Johnson Creek to eat at Crawfish Junction.

Crawfish Junction

Crawfish Junction is a bar/restaurant known for its Cajun fare.  Surprisingly it does not seem to serve gumbo (unless it pops up as a soup of the day), but does serve an excellent plate of jambalaya to which I added some delectable shrimp and forewent the hush puppies for homemade mashed potatoes and gravy.  The gravy had a great taste, but was much too thin, but the potatoes were right on the mark.

Satiated, I then headed to Janesville, WI to enjoy one of the region’s premier holiday events:  the Holiday Light Show at the Rotary Botanical Gardens.

I had read of the event prior to my arrival, but, thanks to Sandy, whom I met in my previous review, I learned that the tickets had to be bought in advance and would not be sold at the door.  So keep that in mind if you want to visit.

This truly is a popular event as there was a large line of people still waiting to get into the gardens, but it is well worth it.  A million lights transform the gardens into a Christmas wonderland where you get to see flowers, Christmas trees, old-fashioned lampposts, sea serpents, Old Glory, and many other colorful surprises guaranteed to make your eyes pop.

I could have spent hours there, but had to settle for 40 minutes as plummeting temperatures were turning me into a Chrisicle.  Afterwards, I returned to Fargo Mansion for some article prep and then sunk under the thick quilt for the night.

I wish I could sleep like that all the time.  I closed my eyes and when I opened them it was nearly 6am.  I had some time to write and ablute and then went down to breakfast.

Tom served up some lemon bread with a granola/yogurt/fruit dish and a main course of cheesy scrambled eggs, orange slices, and sausage links.  Tom is easily one of the best conversationalists I’ve had as a host and he may be the future version of myself as we seem to share similar senses of humor and personality traits.  But he is truly a master at the art of hospitality as we talked about the B & B industry and the events of the day.

Alas, I had to start heading the preparations for my drive home.  But if you’re in Lake Mills, especially around Christmas, stay at Fargo Mansion.  You’ll have an excellent pair of hosts, a wonderful mansion to relax in, and a fine feed in the morning. 

And that wraps up this review, join me in about two weeks when I close out the year with a special holiday series when I travel to Orlando, FL to experience Walt Disney World for the holidays.  It’ll be a grand adventure.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

A Magical Holiday Escape: The Roost and Appleton, WI

The Roost Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Appleton, WI.

Oh, what a difference a month or two can make.  Originally, I was going to be doing an earlier than usual Christmas review, but I ended up having to change plans when my selection opted to postpone its signature holiday event.  So I booked a different venue for the annual review and still found myself with an extra day off for the Thanksgiving weekend.  So I thought to myself, “Why waste a good day off?”  Thus, I scheduled a trip to Appleton to visit The Roost Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by De Ann Steffens.

I enjoyed a pleasant drive to Appleton while sitting on pins and needles as I listened to the Iowa Hawkeyes pull off a miraculous comeback against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  I lost the signal for the game’s final few minutes, but heaved a sigh of relief as I saw they had obtained the victory just as I pulled into the Roost.

De Ann greeted me at the door and gave me the nickel tour before leading me to the Tapestry Suite.  True to its name, a large tapestry does adorn one of the walls.  A cheery fire was going which added to the room’s ambiance.  A large two-person jacuzzi sat in corner while a high, four poster queen bed sat in the other.

I got things organized and immediately headed out to my car to experience some of the town.

Though this isn’t a formal Christmas review, I was able to scratch my Christmas itch with visits to Darboy Community Park to enjoy Fox Cities’ Festival of Lights and the nearby Oshkosh Celebration of Lights at Menominee Park.

The Festival of Lights is a half mile self-guided walking tour through a winter wonderland of lights that form elves, dinosaurs, toys, snowmen, and even Santa’s workshop.  It’s completely free and donations are cheerfully accepted.  You can even buy a hot beverage to ward off the chill.

But if you want a heavy shot of Christmas, you definitely need to visit the Celebration of Lights in Oshkosh.  It’s a drive through tour featuring twelve miles of lights and effects while you tune in to a dedicated radio station of Christmas songs to strengthen the magic.  Cost is $10 per car.  Aside from the dazzling display of lights, you can even stop by the workshop to visit that guy in the red suit who likes to say “Ho!  Ho!  Ho!”

Feeling the joy of the holiday, I returned to the inn and gamed a bit before curling up in my bed for the night.

I awoke the next morning and I was starved.  De Ann had prepared a fruit dish along with Baked French Toast that had a crust of brown sugar and cinnamon along with some bacon and eggs.  I was unable to finish the tasty meal and took a half hour walk to burn off some of the calories.  Then I hopped into the car to begin exploring some of Appleton.

First, I decided to get my history on with a visit to The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton.  It’s not terribly huge and, at first, I was mildly disappointed.  The main floor featured an exhibit about famed writer (and Appleton native) Edna Ferber along with some tidbits about Appleton history including the first jukebox, X-ray machine, and new voting machine, but nothing with that wow factor.  I headed upstairs feeling overcharged for the $10 I spent, but then things took a turn.

History Museum at the Castle

The second floor features a little exhibit on social research and the history of toys, but its main attraction is the history of famed magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini, and that was worth the price of admission by itself.

Houdini had claimed Appleton as his hometown and the museum goes into a detailed history of Houdini’s upbringing and rise to fame.  The museum even has a replica of the trick coffin (a new illusion) that Houdini was buried in as well as cuffs he escaped from, one of his straitjackets, a replica of his milk can escape, a representation of his Chinese Water Torture Escape, and you can even perform his famed Metamorphosis trick where he would be locked into a box and then switch places with his wife in 3 seconds. You can also perform one of Houdini’s famed jail cell escapes.  Houdini wasn’t shy about sharing secrets to some of his tricks so be forewarned to skip the backstage part of the exhibit if you want to keep the tricks a mystery.

From there I drove through downtown Appleton and enjoyed the Christmas decorations.  Appleton is actually a happening town with a lot of restaurants and activities and even boasts a pretty impressive performing arts center which I may have to visit at some point in the future.  But, for now, I had a quest.

My older and younger brothers, Brian and Dan, decided to utilize my being in Wisconsin to pick up some regional beverages.  So I began the search for Spotted Cow beer and Sprecher’s Grape Soda.  I went to a Super Target and was denied.  Then I reached a Festival Foods where I found Spotted Cow, but they seemed to have every flavor of Sprecher’s except Grape.  Brian opted for a cherry soda as a Plan B.

Flush with success I returned to The Roost to begin writing.  After a few hours I was off to worship at St Bernadette’s where I enjoyed a pleasant Advent service centering on a sermon telling us that Jesus, our Friend and Teacher, had come, will come again, and had never left us.  A truly blessed thought to warm the soul.

St Bernadette

With services completed, I grabbed an early dinner at Cinder’s.  This restaurant is famed for cooking over charcoal and I enjoyed the cindery goodness of a Northwoods Burger with a side of fries (bottomless, if you feel like more) while I watched the Minnesota Golden Gophers give the Iowa Hawkeyes an early Christmas gift in the form of a trip to the Big 10 title game with a victory over the Wisconsin Badgers.  Then it was back to The Roost to organize some photos, write a bit more, and grab a hot bath in my jetted tub on a frozen night while watching The Karate Kid before retiring.

At breakfast this morning, I met Fred & Sandy who seemed to love B & Bs as much as I do along with sharing a mutual love of theatre. As we conversed, we enjoyed sausage, eggs (over hard for me), granola & yogurt, and more Baked French Toast though with cream cheese and blueberries. I hated to end the conversation, but duty called, not to mention a fairly long drive.

And that wraps up this installment. Appleton is a nice little town with a lot of activities and Christmas cheer and Green Bay is not too far away if you happen to be a Packers fan. If you’re in the area, take some time to rest at the Roost and enjoy a little understated elegance.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

A Castle in the Country: Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn & Belleville, WI

Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn

Today the road has brought me to Belleville, WI.

From the moment I saw Cameo Rose Victorian Country Inn, owned and operated by Gary and Dawn Bahr, I knew it was going to be the next B & B I would visit.  So I took advantage of an unseasonably warm early October to have one of my more enjoyable adventures.

I hit the ground sprinting on this jaunt as I partook of my first activity before I even arrived at the inn.  That activity was Cave of the Mounds located in Blue Mounds, WI.

Cave of the Mounds was discovered in August 1939 when a quarry blast revealed the mammoth caverns.  From that discovery, the caves have now become an educational tourist attraction.

There are more than just the caves to explore.  Several trails are available for hiking as well as a gift shop and a sluice (bags of dirt are available in the gift shop for sluicing).  But the caves are what everybody comes to see.

Tours have resumed at the caves, but they’re a little different from pre-pandemic times.  Now the tours are self-guided, though guides are available at certain points to answer questions and information kiosks are available to educate you throughout your tour.  So, on one hand, you may not get as much information, but you can leisurely enjoy the caves and see the awesome formations of nature.

After enjoying a pleasant walk through the caves, I made my way over to Belleville to check into the inn.

Cameo Rose is located on a secluded acreage just outside of Belleville where one can enjoy true peaceful solitude.  Unlike many B & Bs which were private homes, Cameo Rose was specifically built to be an inn so you get a traditional country inn set in the modern times.

I was greeted at the door by Dawn who has a wealth of information about the area.  She gave me a tour of the home and led me to my base of operations:  Battenburg Lace Whirlpool Room.  It’s a spacious room with a king-sized bed, rose wallpaper, wine-colored carpet, a fireplace, an easy chair, some antique fixtures and a large bathroom with a soaker whirlpool (no soaps, oils, or shampoo).

While I got comfy, Dawn brought me a pumpkin spice bar and a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade.  After drinking that cup, I don’t think I’ll ever drink anything less than the real McCoy again.  I unwound for a bit before heading out to nearby Mt Horeb for a bite to eat.

My dinner would be at Grumpy Troll, a famed local eatery.  Like many businesses, Grumpy Troll is suffering some understaffing due to COVID, so you might need to have a bit of patience.  I opted to sit at the bar to avoid a wait for a table.

I ordered the namesake burger which was nice and juicy, but, surprisingly had no vegetables which was the only thing missing to make it a perfect burger.  However, it did fill the cavity and give me the juice I needed to close out the night at Screamin’ Acres in Stoughton, WI.

Entering Screamin Acres

Screamin’ Acres is a haunted attraction created by Jacob Eugster in 2011.  Originally, it was intended to help Jacob pay off his school loans, but it has morphed into one of the top seasonal attractions in the area.

I started my night getting “disinfected” when I stepped into a machine that buried me in bubbles which felt refreshing on a muggy night.  From there I had a brief wait in line before beginning the attraction.

You will definitely get your money’s worth out of this one as it will take at least an hour to make it through the haunts.  Time clocks are at the start of each attraction so the staff can socially distance groups for an enjoyable experience.  Screamin’ Acres has an impressive attention to detail with each attraction having its own in-depth story and you can read about those at the link provided a few paragraphs ago.  The actual haunted house portion was my favorite due to its properties which made it feel like an old, creaky mansion.

I was surprised by the lack of jump scares, but chalked it up to COVID precautions to keep the actors distanced.  For a truly unique experience, you must try the “superhaunt”, Death Trap.

Death Trap uses natural human fears and reactions to spook you.  This season the title is Shock Therapy, though given the tight squeeze to get through some of the parts of this haunt, claustrophobia is another fear that might plague you.  The title is very true as I got zapped by some chains right off the bat, though the sensation is the full body equivalent of sticking your tongue on a 9 volt.

I truly enjoyed the challenge of attempting to dodge the many jolts waiting for me before escaping.  I then returned to Cameo Rose for the night, but Screamin’ Acres is definitely a fun group activity to get the blood pumping.

I enjoyed a truly restful night on the soft memory foam and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

Due to COVID, the dining room is not currently being used at Cameo Rose so you can enjoy breakfast in your room or outdoors in various spots on the property.  Dawn prepared a 4 course meal with fruit, an apple nut muffin, sausage, and mango stuffed French Toast followed by mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.  The meal is perfectly portioned so you won’t feel overstuffed and the sausage is amazing (it’s organic).  I felt amply fueled to visit The House on the Rock in nearby Spring Green.

If you’re in the region, you must visit the House.  It was built by Alex Jordan as a private home for himself back in in the 1950s.  But it was so original that people clamored to see it and Jordan eventually opened it up to the public and it became his life’s work.

Jordan built the house himself purely out of instinct and a knack for tinkering as he had no knowledge of architecture.  Outside of its fascinating construction which includes a room dubbed the Infinity Room (it looks like it goes on forever), the house also contains some of the most incredible bric a brac you’ll ever lay eyes on. 

Jordan was one of the world’s foremost collectors and his house expanded to huge rooms containing the many items he discovered over his life ranging from rare treasures to the bizarre and fantastical.  You’ll see a suit of armor made for a dog (built by Jordan), radical combinations of instruments that will play for a token, intricate dollhouses, a main street from the turn of the century, a room containing 5 massive organs, the world’s largest carousel (and it has no horses) and so much more.

You could spend the day immersed in this incredible place and still return again and again to find something new.

I spent several hours here myself before returning to Cameo Rose to organize some photos and then I headed off to worship at St Francis of Assisi.

Father gave a pretty poignant sermon about having the faith of a child.  When you’re a child, you instinctively trust your parents and you trust God without question.  But in the process of growing up and learning how to support yourself, that faith wanes.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a way where it becomes harder to “let go, let God” because you train yourself to feel like you have to do something instead of simply trusting and being led to the right spot.  I assuredly have a lot to digest with this sermon.

After worship, I went to Paoli Schoolhouse American Bistro, the favorite restaurant of Gary and Dawn.

This restaurant is actually in an old schoolhouse and provides an intimate gourmet experience.  I had the filet mignon in a marrow demi-glaze with whipped potatoes and Brussel Sprouts.  I had never eaten sprouts before, but they taste like leafy broccoli.  The potatoes were light and fluffy and my filet was cooked to perfection.  This was truly dining.

After dinner, I retired to Cameo Rose for the night.

The trip seemed to end as quickly as it began. At first light, I was writing and editing. Then I got cleaned up for breakfast.

I decided to eat in the gazebo this morning and Dawn had prepared crustless quiche with a cacophany of ingredients, wheat toast, cinnamon scone with raisins, macademia nuts, and white chocolate chips, fruit, and a Neopolitan sundae for dessert.

May be an image of food and indoor

I was so relaxed, but reality beckoned. But if you want to get away from it all and have a lot to get away to, make a reservation with Dawn and Gary to stay at Cameo Rose.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Switzerland in America: Black Bear Manor & Ouray, CO

Black Bear Manor

Today the road has brought me to Ouray, CO.

Ouray (pronounced you-ray) is nicknamed the Switzerland of America and is a quaint, mountain village nestled in the Rocky Mountains.  I was actually led to this trip by a couple (The Jacksons) whom I met when I visited Racine, WI earlier this year.  They told me I had to visit Ouray as it contained the most beautiful B & B they had ever visited:  Black Bear Manor owned and operated by Tom and Cyndi Elliston.

The inn was actually on my list, but on the farther end as Ouray is nearly 13 hours away from Omaha.  But with the country rapidly reopening and the fact that I hadn’t had a proper vacation in nearly two years, I decided to embark on the biggest road trip I had undertaken.

This was truly a tale of two drives.  The first day of the drive was pretty flat as once you get past Lincoln, the state of Nebraska is pretty flat and sightless.  Around Kearney, the route veered off the interstate and became mostly a highway drive which broke up the monotony as I at least was able to drive through small towns.

Around noon, I found myself in the tiny town of Alma, NE and I decided I could use a lunch break to stretch my legs and stopped into KJ’s Café for a bite to eat.

It was a pretty decent little diner where I enjoyed a Special Hamburger (it’s uniquely seasoned) along with some fries while I continued working through my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  After a restful meal, it was back on the road.

The lack of scenery continued to be broken by occasional forays through small towns as I passed from Nebraska into Kansas and eventually into Colorado.

After 7.5 hours, I finally found myself at my stopping point of Limon, CO.  It’s a town of only 1,000 people yet actually has a Holiday Inn.  I was weary and truly grateful for the free upgrade to a suite as I was darn near ready to collapse after the grueling drive.

A couple hours of relaxing did rejuvenate me enough to attend an evening service at Our Lady of Victory.  Most surprising to me was that the service was at 7pm as, historically, most Catholic services tend to be held between 4 to 5:30pm on Saturdays. 

Our Lady of Victory

It was a very nice service as Father shared a great sermon about witnessing and the best way to do it was to tell people about why Jesus was my friend.  After the service I returned to the hotel where I read for a bit before finally answering the calls to the land of Nod.

The next morning, I was out the door by 8am for another long drive.  But the scenery began to change around Colorado Springs when I saw the Rockies looming in the distance.  Soon I was enjoying a picturesque drive through the mountains and forests and I just drank in the scenery as well as watching numerous rafters shoot the rapids.

Around 3pm, I finally arrived in Ouray and felt like I was transported back in time.  The town definitely has the feeling of another era with its older building designs and a Main Street where all the major businesses are located.  And everything is within walking distance.

Soon I found myself at Black Bear Manor which is one of the most interestingly constructed houses I had seen and I suspect the building had been a traditional hotel once upon a time.  Before I could dial the inn’s number, Tom opened the door, introduced me to Cyndi, and gave me the nickel tour of the inn before leading me to lucky number 7, Cliffside King.

The room is small, yet comfortable, with a soft king-sized bed and a private balcony which has a view of the Rockies.  I got settled in, wandered about the inn, and then took a walk through town.

Ouray has a semi-boxed in feeling as it’s surrounded by mountains on all sides and only has two ways in and out.  One from the north and one from the south.  The southern entrance/exit is actually the start of the Million Dollar Highway.  This highway is a 20ish mile stretch of road considered the most beautiful drive in America.  The flip side is that it’s also considered one of the most dangerous with its narrow roads, hairpin turns, and lack of guardrails.  The speed limit never exceeds 25 mph on this road that connects Ouray with Silverton.

Million Dollar Highway

I had a relaxing walk through town (though it is very steep) and stopped in at Ray’s Jerky where I bought some jalapeno jerky for my hikes the next day and snacked on an old-fashioned hot fudge sundae complete with whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry at The Yankee Girl Café & Sweets before going back to the inn.

I decompressed for a bit before heading out to dinner at the Ouray Brewery.  Only rooftop dining is currently available, but it was a cool evening and I supped on a Green Chile Cheeseburger while sipping on a Box Canyon Brown (most beer in Ouray is brewed locally or regionally) which was quite flavorful and tasted closer to a black beer without the bitterness.  After a satisfying meal, I returned to the inn and spent some time in the hot tub where the churning water massaged and soothed aching muscles.  I then went back to my room where I forced myself to stay up late to compel my body to adapt to Mountain Time.

Ouray Brewery

The plan worked as I woke up at 6am.  I then lazed about watching some TV and catching up on the news.  At 9am I headed down to breakfast.

Black Bear Manor is unique in that it offers two breakfasts.  At 7am a continental breakfast is laid out and then a hot meal is served at 9am.

The hot breakfast is served buffet style so you can have as much or as little as you please.  The place was packed as the inn was actually sold out (the first I’ve experienced since starting this project back in 2013).  I filled my plate with a smidge of everything so I was able to enjoy a taste of French Toast Souffle, ham, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, and fruit.  It was such a nice day that I ate outside and enjoyed some conversation before heading off to commune with nature.

A little breakfast buffet

I began my day at Cascade Falls Park and I certainly got my exercise in.  It’s not an extremely difficult trek, but it is steep and one has to take the much higher altitude into consideration so be sure to pace yourself.  Interestingly enough, the trek actually starts at the waterfall and it is an awesome sight, not to mention a quite refreshing one as cool air buffets you from the thundering falls.  I spent nearly two hours hiking around and keeping my strength up with water and jerky.

When I was through with Cascade Falls, I made my way over to Box Canyon Park which included a brief, and I do mean brief, drive on the Million Dollar Highway.  Box Canyon contains two treks.  An easy 500 foot walk to Box Canyon Falls and a difficult trek up to a high bridge overlooking the falls.  With the sun beating down on my head and my protein supply depleted, not to mention the few hours I had just done, I decided to simply visit the falls. 

The roar of the falls in deafening and one wouldn’t even be able to have a shouted conversation.  As I gazed upon this force of nature, I suddenly realized how the battle between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty would have played out in reality.

Box Canyon Falls

I then returned to Black Bear Manor where I organized photos and caught a small nap.  Around 4pm, I took a walk down to Ouray Hot Springs and back and partook of Black Bear Manor’s happy hour where I enjoyed some regionally brewed beer.

About 6pm, I headed over to an Ouray institution, The Outlaw, for dinner.  The restaurant has a rustic feel, but is actually a fine dining establishment.  I entered the restaurant and smiled as I listened to the piano player deal up a bevy of standards and movie tunes.  I was led to a table at the back where I ordered a New York Strip with garlic mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.  I had a side salad added on and the meal came with a small loaf of freshly baked garlic bread.

The Outlaw

In fairness I didn’t think the salad merited the extra $5, but that was countered by the steak which was tender and delicious and seemed a bit bigger than the 10 oz advertised on the menu.  The potatoes were fluffy and light and the vegetables were nice and crisp.

From there it was back to the inn for another session with the hot tub and a quiet, peaceful evening.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of a breakfast casserole, personal quiches, bacon, eggs, and fruit.  I had another round of great conversation with fellow guests before embarking on my day.

As the previous day had been quite active, I decided today would be a relaxing day.  So I decided to visit The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings.  This is a very unassuming hotel, but hides the incredible vapor baths below.

For $25 per two hours, day guests can enjoy a soaking session in the famed caves.  The mineral water that comes from the springs is a constant 104-108 degrees and is not recirculated.  The water is completely chemical free and is known for its restorative and therapeutic properties.  The cave acts as a natural sauna so you’ll really sweat out the impurities.  Sections of the cave also drip much cooler water which helps to cool down the body after a session in the springs.

From there I returned to Cascade Falls where I just admired the waterfall while engaging in a conversation with my best friend.  Afterwards, I headed down to the riverbank by Black Bear Manor where I pondered life for a little while.

In hindsight, I think I made the day too relaxing.  By mid-afternoon, I was itching for another activity, but some nearby museums had not yet reopened and the local historical museum was about ready to close.  Should I ever find myself this way again, I’ll be sure to visit them as well as schedule a jeep tour, another local highlight.

Instead I took a little walk and then enjoyed the happy hour where Tom serenaded the guests with some solo guitar work and songs.  He even takes requests and I joined him for some two man harmony on Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”.

Tom performs for his guests during happy hour.

Then I made my way to The Mineshaft & Tiki Bar.  This completely outdoor restaurant provides a comfortable eating experience under the sun and I enjoyed a Philly Steak for the evening repast before returning to Black Bear Manor for a bit of writing and photo organizing.

The Mineshaft & Tiki Bar

What a way to close the trip! Today I had what is easily one of the best breakfasts I’ve enjoyed since starting this project. This morning I enjoyed Chile Relleno Casserole, breakfast enchilada (with some red and green salsa), country potatoes, and a cinnamon roll that just melted in my mouth. Braced for the long trip, I wrapped up this article and said my good-byes.

If you ever find yourself in Ouray, rest assured you’ll find plenty to do. It’s a popular tourist site with activities for all seasons (famed for ice climbing and skiing in the winter). And if you want some real hospitality, make sure to visit Black Bear Manor. Tom and Cyndi will treat you right and you’ll enjoy comfortable rooms and food that will knock your socks off.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Historic Finery or One Last Blast of Christmas: A.G. Thomson House & Duluth, MN

A.G. Thomson House

Today the road has brought me to Duluth, MN.

I was looking forward to this outing even more than normal.  After getting fully vaccinated, I was ready to experience the most normal adventure I had enjoyed since the pandemic began and I wasn’t let down. 

I started the journey by taking the scenic route through Fort Dodge where I enjoyed a quick bite to eat at Taco Tico before continuing my drive to my stopping point of Northwood, IA.  Cashing in some points, I enjoyed a free night at the Holiday Inn where I was also upgraded to a suite which was much appreciated after a long day of work and driving.  After a full night of uninterrupted sleep, I spent the morning puttering around before hitting the road again at 11:30am.

It was a gray day with sporadic, steady rainfall, but it didn’t dampen my spirits and I found myself in the North Shore town of Duluth and A.G. Thomson Bed & Breakfast, owned by Tim and Angie Allen, before I knew it.

I admit to being wowed when I pulled into the mansion’s parking lot.  A.G. Thomson is a 1909 Dutch Colonial mansion, but looks absolutely pristine and brand new both inside and out.  This property is so meticulously maintained that shoes are left on shelves at the front door.

The inn is absolutely immaculate and has loads of room to spread out with a massive living room, dining room and side porch.  Wine is also sold by the bottle and a room under the staircase contains a refrigerator with water, soft drinks and wine (one complimentary glass per guest) along with a variety of snacks and a large DVD library.

The house had been built for William Ryerson for the sum of $17,000 (roughly $492K today) and passed through the hands of a number of prominent Duluth families.  The name of the house comes from its second owner, Adam G. Thomson, who had a two story addition added to the rear, built the two story carriage house with a four room dwelling on the upper floor and a tool house.

My room was the Mayor’s Chamber, named for John Fedo who owned the house from 1986 to 1989.  Fedo had been the mayor of Duluth and was one of the city’s most controversial figures.  He is credited with the renaissance of Duluth’s lakefront, but was also the only mayor in history to be charged and tried for criminal offenses while in office though he was eventually acquitted.

The room contains the same elegance as found in the rest of the house.  A queen-sized bed takes up a corner of the room.  A tiled gas fireplace is set into one of the walls while the opposite side contains a 2 person whirlpool tub.  The floral wallpaper lends brightness to the room and a leather chair and footstool takes up the center of the room where one can watch the TV set on the wall in comfort.

After getting myself set up, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.  A.G. Thomson is located in the Congdon district AKA the Mansion district.  The area practically shouted wealth as I wandered past the million dollar homes while occasionally communing with nature.  Deer were plentiful and let me get within a few feet for photos before bounding away.  I enjoyed a phone conversation with my best friend, Josh, but eventually called it quits as the late afternoon was becoming a real pea souper and I didn’t need to literally get lost in a fog.

I hopped in the car and made my way to At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Café for some dinner.

At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe

Even without a full vaccination, I would have felt safe visiting this town as Duluth set the bar for social distancing with protocols set in place for local businesses and a strict mask mandate.  At Sara’s Table is certainly no exception as seating is set six feet apart.

The bistro reimagines traditional American food and it is quite tasty.  I was seated in the library and it does have books you can read.  For my dinner I enjoyed a hearty Rachel with fries and tried a cream ale with has the smoothness of a black beer, but lacks the bitterness.  After my fine meal, I returned to the inn where I organized photos and took a long whirlpool bath before collapsing on the softest mattress I have ever lay upon and didn’t crack an eye until morning.

At breakfast I met Chris and Jessie Peterson and enjoyed some conversation with them while enjoying a repast of chocolate chip muffin, warm butternut squash soup, herb and black pepper scrambled eggs, sweet potato mash and French Toast with a blueberry compote.  A truly fine and filling meal which gave me the energy I needed to visit Glensheen.

Glensheen was the home of Chester and Clara Congdon and their family.  Chester was a lawyer and investor who was one of the first millionaires of Duluth.  He had Glensheen built on a 22 acre tract of land located by Lake Superior for the princely sum of $854,000 in 1908 (modern day equivalent of $22 million).  The Jacobean style mansion contains a jaw dropping 39 rooms and the property also contains a boathouse, gardener’s cottage, carriage house, tennis court and a stone arch bridge built over Bent Creek.

Glensheen

In 1968, the property was given to the University of Minnesota-Duluth by Elisabeth Congdon through a life estate and it continues to run the property to this day.  Tragically, Elisabeth Congdon’s life was cut short when she was killed by her son-in-law, Roger Caldwell.  It was theorized that the crime was committed so Elisabeth’s daughter, Marjorie (charged with & acquitted of the murder), could obtain her $8 million inheritance of which he was to receive $2.5 million.  Caldwell would end up accepting a plea deal for second degree murder, but recanted his guilt in his suicide note.  He never received the money.

I was quite fortunate to get a last blast of Christmas as Glensheen was still decorated for the Christmas season.  Twenty-five Christmas trees and a plethora of decorations adorned the mansion.  For social distancing purposes, the tours are self-guided, but placards containing the tour information are present at every stop and an audio tour can be had courtesy of the Glensheen app.

The mansion has been lovingly maintained and I was floored by the luxury in which the family lived. 

The Congdons were also noted for their charity and generosity.  Most notable was that the servants were permitted to enjoy the same menu as that of the family at meal times which was not the tradition of the day.  Chester was also known as a dutiful and loving husband who kept a spare room that he could retire to on nights he worked late so he wouldn’t disturb his wife and gifting her with $14K worth of pearls each Christmas.

All in all, I spent 2 hours at Glensheen before returning to the inn to post photos and begin writing.

For the first time since the pandemic started, I would finally attend worship services instead of taking in an online service.  A six minute walk took me to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The chapel is gorgeous and I enjoyed a pleasant service.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary

Then it was time for a little dinner and I opted for one of the inn’s favorite restaurants, Tavern On the Hill.

Tavern On the Hill is a bar/restaurant and must be quite popular as it was packed to socially distant capacity.  I ended up taking a seat at the bar where I enjoyed a Thai Chicken Tender Melt.  The sandwich is served on sourdough bread with the chicken glazed in a Thai curry sauce and covered with swiss cheese and bacon.  I contentedly nibbled away on the sandwich while reading my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  Once satiated, I returned to the inn for a quiet night of writing, reading and another whirlpool bath.

Sunday morning found me polishing this article a bit before making my way to breakfast. Today’s repast consisted of a dark chocolate raspberry scone with fruit plate and a main course of spinach artichoke baked potato, grape arugula salad and mushroom & asparagus cheese encrusted quiche. I spent a bit conversing with Chris & Jessie who told me about their day and I spoke a bit with Kirsten, the innkeeper, who regaled me with a story of how she and a friend traveled from Alaska to Duluth. I also got to meet with Tim, one of the owners, who had once lived in Omaha when he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.

And all too soon, it was over. But I had an amazing time here in Duluth and it was a much appreciated return to normalcy. Rest assured, I will be back in the area again, possibly for my annual Christmas review. But take the time to experience the peace and tranquility of Duluth and enjoy a night or two at A.G. Thomson House. As an ornament says at the second floor, you’ll enter as a stranger, but leave as a friend and you’ll enjoy some world class dining and luxury.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Christmas in March: Christmas House & Racine, WI

Christmas House Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Racine, WI.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I enjoyed my last normal B & B run when I visited Astor House of Green Bay, WI.  So it seems apropos that my most normal run since the start of the pandemic would also take place in Wisconsin.  My destination for this journey would be Christmas House Bed & Breakfast owned and operated by Pamela Deskins.

The trip couldn’t have started out any better.  The weather was absolutely perfect and I managed to dodge the rush hours of both Omaha, NE and Des Moines, IA.  I got to enjoy a meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, listened as the Iowa Hawkeyes delivered an absolute drubbing to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in basketball and arrived early at my first stop, Davenport, IA.

I had booked a junior suite at the Holiday Inn & Suites, but I didn’t know how good of a room it was going to be.

Holiday Inn & Suites of Davenport, IA

This was a very elegant Holiday Inn.  I’d put it at 4 stars.  Thanks to digital check-in, I was able to check-in the day before and merely had to pick up my key at the front desk.  My room was on the top floor where I had a good view of the city and, while I’m not positive, I think I might have been upgraded to a full suite as I had a spacious living room, bathroom with a double sized shower and a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed.

I had a good rest that night. 

I decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, the J Bar, for breakfast.  Even had my diet not been limited by Lent, the breakfast buffet still would have been overpriced at $10 as it only consisted of a few items.  I had some scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and a granola bar.  The server did bring me a wonderful green salsa that added the perfect kick to the eggs and potatoes and the orange juice was mighty smooth.

At 11:15am I checked out, gassed up and continued the jaunt to Racine.  My journey took me on the toll road that has taken me to Algonquin, IL on several occasions, but I was surprised to learn that all of the toll booths were closed.  To pay, you need to go to the Illinois Tollway website and register your plate. Then the Tollway will eventually charge your credit or debit card.

Around the 2pm hour, I got off the interstate and started passing through small towns.  I smiled as the towns seemed a bit more vibrant and enjoyed the vast farmlands and imagined what the leafless trees would look like in full bloom.  Around 3:20pm, I saw the mint-colored Christmas House looming in the distance.

If this is your first time visiting my blog, you should know that I am a Christmas nut.  It’s my favorite holiday and I feature a Christmas B&B review on my website each year.  Thus, Christmas House called out to me with all the subtlety of the ringing of a chow bell.

I was met by Pamela who gave me a tour of the mansion before leading me to the Glam Suite which would be my base of operations.

The Glam Suite offers one plenty of room to stretch out and relax.  The room’s mint-colored walls and off-white carpeting promote a calming effect.  The room contains a small kitchenette with a fridge that contains complimentary water, a pair of comfortable red leather chairs, a large TV and a comfy king-sized bed with what felt like a memory foam mattress.

Once getting settled in, I started a more detailed exploration of the mansion.

Christmas House had been built in 1893 by Emily Baker, the widow of former Racine mayor Robert H. Baker, and one of the original “Big Four” partners of the J.I. Case Company, nowadays known as Case New Holland.  The mansion has been home to some of the most powerful people in Racine’s history and also served as the women’s dorm for the St Luke School of Nursing for 35 years.  It gained its name in 1987 when it began hosting the Christmas House for Cancer benefit which it did until 1995.

The house is actually a blend of two styles.  It is built in the Colonial Revival Style, but follows the plan of a Queen Anne.  It is also mammoth.  This is easily one of the three biggest inns I’ve visited, yet it only contains 4 suites which allows for plenty of privacy.  A Carriage House is also available for rental for even further seclusion.

And, yes, the theme of Christmas is prevalent in the mansion as the first floor contains Christmas trees, knick-knacks, decorations and a life-sized Santa Claus.

When I finished looking around the mansion, I took a constitutional around the neighborhood and soaked in the view of Lake Michigan.  From there I returned to the inn where I relaxed for a bit before picking up some dinner from Red Lobster in nearby Mount Pleasant.  I enjoyed some Salmon New Orleans with mashed potatoes and a Caesar Salad.  After my meal, I spent a quiet evening watching a little TV and organizing photos.

Breakfast was a grand affair the next morning.  An extra leaf was added to the table for social distancing and I met a truly charming couple, the Jacksons, from Bloomington, IL.  We had some incredible conversation and I thank them for pointing me towards my next major B & B outing, Black Bear Manor of Ouray, CO, which I hope to do this summer after I’ve had a poke or two of COVID vaccine.

Pamela whipped up a delicious skillet of sunny side up eggs, sausage and hash browns along with cornbread crumble and Kringle, the famed danish pastry of Wisconsin.  I also learned that Pamela has almost limitless energy and boundless humor.  Pamela is not only extremely knowledgeable about the Racine area, but she is well known for her entrepreneurship and philanthropy.  Aside from owning Christmas House, she is also a realtor and “Big Sister” for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Kringle, breakfast skillet, and cornbread crumbles

She bought the inn in 2014 after it had been in foreclosure for 7 years and was responsible for over 70% of its restoration into the grand inn it is nowadays.  To give you an idea of its disrepair at the time of Pamela’s purchase, the house literally had no roof.

For the first time in nearly a year, I actually managed to enjoy some local activities.  I began with a long, leisurely walk through Petrifying Springs Park where the gurgling water of the streams provided some succor to the soul.  I also had a phone call with my best friend, Josh, and some childhood memories were triggered as I saw some children enjoying themselves on classic playground equipment of slides, swings and merry-go-rounds.

After my hike, I visited a Kenosha, WI classic:  Mars Cheese Castle.  Admittedly, I originally thought it was a castle made of cheese.  It is actually a store shaped like a castle that sells cheese, meats, clothes and old-fashioned candies and sodas.  It even has a deli, restaurant and bar.

Mars Cheese Castle

From there it was back to Christmas House when I did a little writing and took in an online worship service with Fr. Matt Barone. 

When the service was completed, I was faced with a quandary.  Did I want to have a very early dinner or wait until my normal dinner hour?  Pamela had mentioned a local eatery called Kewpee’s, but it closed at 5pm.  I thought about it and realized I wasn’t in the mood for a regular meal that night, so I went with the extra early dinner.

Kewpee’s is actually a Racine stalwart.  There actually used to be a chain of them, but now only six are left and the Racine location is the only one in Wisconsin and it’s been operating since 1926. 

Kewpee’s Sandwich Shop

The restaurant has the look of a fifties diner and is inspired by the famous kewpie dolls and there is a display case full of them inside.  Being so close to closing time meant that there weren’t a lot of people inside so social distancing was an easy task.  I ordered the double cheeseburger with the works, a side of fries and a Coke. 

Not only does the place look like a fifties diner, it also has portion sizes to match with prices not that far behind.  I personally appreciated the portion sizes as you get a great meal without feeling overstuffed.  These are old fashioned burgers cooked fresh on a flattop grill and the fries are crinkle cut.  Kewpee’s is also noted for its homemade root beer which I’ll make a point of sampling at some future date.

With dinner digesting, I returned to Christmas House for more writing, reading, photo organizing and some classic game shows on BUZZR.

Another great night of sleep led into a new day. Breakfast that day consisted of a pecan Kringle, strawberry waffles with whipped cream and cornbread crumble had sausage and egg added to it for quite the tasty melange. I had another satisfying round of conversation with Pamela and the Jacksons where I was introduced to the dancing skills of Pamela’s dog, Dewey.

Strawberry waffles with whipped cream, cornbread crumble and pecan Kringle

This trip was just what the doctor called for and if you find yourself in Racine, make plans to stay at Christmas House. It’s truly as festive as the name sounds.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Scottish Midwest: Woodstock Inn

Woodstock Inn

Today the road has brought me to Independence, MO.

For the first time ever, I have returned to a city to review a different inn.  A few years ago, I was in the KC area to review The Crucible for the Barn Players and reviewed Silver Heart Inn while I was in the area and you can read that article here.  Today I was back to review Woodstock Inn owned by Kim Morgan.

The inn holds quite a bit of history as it was originally the home of Morris Short and his family in the 1890s.  Within one hundred yards of the inn, one can find a historical marker designating a Confederate line.  So part of the Civil War was fought almost literally at the doorstep of the inn. 

The inn’s most famous resident was Ruby McKim, the daughter of Morris & Viola Short who was famed quilter who turned the home into McKim Studios which later evolved into Kimport’s Dolls.  In the 1980s, the inn was repurposed into a B & B with each room themed to a different country and changed hands several times before Kim Morgan took over ownership.

I had arranged to arrive at 1pm and was greeted at the door by the innkeeper, Debbie Gardner, who led me to the Scottish King Room.  Inside the room one finds hallmarks of bonnie Scotland including a painting of a Scottie, a pair of bagpipes hanging on the wall and a flat cap akin to the style favored in Scotland also adorns a wall with a cane.

The room is quite large and its sky blue walls and thick off-white carpeting instantly began stoking relaxation.  A gas fireplace is present on the far wall while the king bed sits in the centerish of the room.

Normally, I would have used the additional time to visit sites of interest, but due to a combination of the off-season, renovations and COVID I found that the museums and historic homes were closed.  However, I did enjoy a lengthy walk through the historic neighborhood and spent a bit of time admiring the architecture of the headquarters of Community of Christ.

After my walk I returned to the inn where I caught an online church service before heading out for a bit of dinner at A Little BBQ Joint

The sign is very truthful as it is a little BBQ joint.  And with social distancing protocols, it’s even littler.  But it serves a good meal as I enjoyed a bowl of thick Brisket Chili loaded with plenty of vegetables. 

With dinner digesting, I went back to the inn.  Woodstock Inn has a small commons area which also serves as the dining area.  A large, cozy fireplace is the centerpiece of the room and off to the side is a small area where one can find baked goods in the afternoon and a movie library.

I caught up on a couple of TV shows before calling it an early night.  Such a wonderful sleep.  The heavy blankets combined with what felt like a memory foam mattress put my lights out good and proper and I dreamily remember barely waking up once before turning over to sleep on my stomach.

Thanks to a rejuvenating sleep, I awoke energized and ready for breakfast where I enjoyed a Crème Brule French Toast with yogurt topped with fruit and granola, a lemon/cranberry (I think) muffin and a thin slice of ham.

Creme Brule French Toast, lemon/cranberry muffin, ham and yogurt with fruit and granola

With breakfast tucked away, I headed back to Omaha and reality.

Woodstock Inn is a comfortable inn suitable for a romantic night with your loved one and is just a hop, skip and jump from shopping, restaurants, Community of Christ headquarters and a bit of history and is worthy of a visit.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

An Added Dose of Christmas: Fulton, MO & Loganberry Inn

Loganberry Inn

Today the road has brought me to Fulton, MO.

But I did take my sweet time in getting there.  Ultimately my goal was to reach Loganberry Inn for a bonus Christmas review, but I had to stretch my trip out a bit to do it.

Omaha was set to be walloped by a snowstorm the day I originally intended to leave so I rearranged my plans and arranged to do 2 nights in St Joseph, MO at their Holiday Inn so I could get out of its path.  Thanks to my Platinum status, I was upgraded to a free suite so I had plenty of room to stretch out for a few nights.

I didn’t do much in St Joseph though I did get to scratch my Christmas itch a bit as I visited Krug Park on the first night to view their 1.5 mile trek of Christmas lights and displays.  But mostly it was just kicking back in the suite reading, watching TV and especially enjoying watching the Iowa Hawkeyes put a thrashing on the Northwestern Wildcats in basketball.

Wednesday I finally headed off to Fulton.  St Joseph was out of the path of the blizzard that drilled Omaha, but it did get a generous portion of freezing rain that crystallized the trees and power lines as well as wrapped my car in a cocoon of ice.  The ice broke readily off my car and I heard its remnants crack and slough off the car as I continued further south.

By the time I arrived in Fulton, my car had been fully deiced and I found my way to Loganberry Inn.

Loganberry Inn is a Grand Victorian mansion built in 1899 and had been one of my choices for my annual Christmas review back at the start of December.  The inn has actually been graced by quite a few famous people over the years. Margaret Thatcher, Mary Soames (daughter of Winston Churchill) and Polish President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa are just some of the luminaries who have stayed at the inn.

The town itself also packs a bit of history and renown.  Westminster College and William Woods University have their homes here.  The former also has a museum which houses a piece of the Berlin Wall.  Fulton is also close to several major cities including Jefferson City and Columbia as well as being near to the Katy Trail.  The downtown area also houses several antique shops, an old-fashioned soda fountain and the Brick District Playhouse.

I was greeted at the door by Loganberry Inn’s innkeeper, Monique.  She led me to the Garden Room which would be my secluded headquarters and I stress, secluded. 

The Garden Room has its own private entrance at the rear of the mansion and contains a king-sized bed with a memory foam topper, a decorative fireplace and an easy chair couch. 

After settling myself, I headed back into the mansion proper to look around the place.  The inn is still decorated for the holidays and has the feel and look of a traditional Victorian Christmas.  After finishing my explorations, I took a walk over to Westminster College to wander about its campus. 

From there it was back to the inn where I kicked back for a bit before heading out for a bite to eat at Fontenot’s Po’Boys.  This little Cajun eatery is noted for its in-house gumbo and a bowl (or cup) is well worth a taste.  I had a cup of it along with a ½ fried shrimp po’boy. 

With dinner digesting, I made a stop over at Veteran’s Park to experience Fulton’s Festival of Lights.  It’s quite an impressive display of Christmas cheer.  Aside from the festive displays of Santa, elves, snowmen and other Yuletide delights, the park has also its Field of Joy which is a wide array of Christmas trees.  And if you look just past the trees, you can see Santa playing a bit of baseball with one of his elves.

With my heart full of Christmas spirit, I returned to the inn where I posted some photos and then went to bed.

And what a sleep! For me, I slept late, not rising until 7:30am.  I took a bath in my jetted tub and watched the heat escape from the water.  I mean I actually saw the steam float out of the water and hover in the air.  Once cleaned up, I headed to the dining room for breakfast.

The inn alternates between 3 course savory days and 2 course sweet days.  Today was a sweet day.  I had an appetizer of Peach Napoleon followed by an entrée of banana-blueberry pancakes with hot maple syrup and cheddar encrusted sausage balls.  Superb!

After a fine meal, I watched the Robin Williams movie, Man of the Year before taking a walk around the neighborhood and downtown area.

Dinner that night was at the Fulton Diner where one can get some homestyle cooking.  I enjoyed a Patty Melt along with a salad and some fries before returning to the inn for some writing and puttering around before retiring for the night.

For savory day, Monique opened things up with a dessert course of baked apple with brown sugar and ice cream.  That was followed by orange bread and then the main entrée of Southwestern frittata which had tomatoes, sausage, egg, cheese, and tortilla.  Conversation with a lovely couple from Columbia, MO only added to the enjoyment.

And that brings us to the end of this little write-up.  Fulton, MO is a fine little town to visit if you like history and antiques and a visit to Loganberry Inn will make for a thoroughly relaxing stay and a bit of the holiday spirit if you time it right. 

Until the next time. . .happy travels.