I Never Promised You a Victorian Rose Garden: Algonquin, IL and Victorian Rose Garden B & B

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Today the road has brought me to Algonquin, IL.

A trip to this region had been steadily growing in my mind for the past few months.  I had actually been in this area back in 2015 when I stopped in the village of West Dundee, IL en route to a review of Cotton Patch Gospel at the Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall, MI.

I had been talking about the locale with a friend and started to reminisce about the fun I had in West Dundee.  The vintage arcade.  The lovely meal at The Village Squire.  The awesome elegance of The Mansion.  I began to get the itch to revisit the place.

I tried to convince several of my friends to go, but one had just got back from a trip while another was getting ready to take a small family trip and the other simply wasn’t interested in going.  I really didn’t want to go alone. . .unless I could stay at a B & B.

I contacted The Mansion to find out if they had any available rooms towards the end of August, but was out of luck.  Acting on an idle thought, I did a search on B & Bs around the West Dundee area and found one for the Victorian Rose Garden in Algonquin.  Then I checked to see how far Algonquin was from West Dundee.  Hmm, only 4 miles.  Did they have any rooms available?  Yes, they did.  I immediately booked the Presidential Chamber for what I would dub the Decompression Trip.

After the end of a hard month which included beginning rehearsals for my first full scale production in almost 6 years, I was ready for a trip.

Unlike my other trips where I take a day off to make the drive, I actually began this one after work on Friday.  The plan was to drive to the Iowa City region where I would stop to rest for the night before finishing the journey the next day.

I had thought to drive just slightly past Iowa City and find a decent place outside the hubbub of a major city, but fate decided to call my bluff as I had difficulty finding any inn, let alone a decent one.  I ended up driving nearly an hour longer than I planned and ultimately stopped in Walcott, IA, home of the world’s largest truck stop.

As I hoped the world’s largest truck stop held a pair of hotels, one of which was a Comfort Inn (bada book bada boom!).  It was a tiny hotel (only 3 floors), but I got a room on the top floor which I prefer on the rare occasions I stay at a hotel.  For an extra $5, I was able to get a king bed and I heaved a contented sigh as my eyes alighted on a small, but comfortable room.

I still needed to eat, but, as the hour was late, I stopped at a nearby Arby’s for a sandwich before returning to the hotel for a bath and a good night’s sleep.

And it truly was a good night’s sleep.  I awoke truly well rested and even had the benefit of having a hot breakfast at the hotel where I enjoyed a pair of sausage links with a biscuit and gravy and some apple juice before heading off on the road again.

Driving the extra hour ended up being a good decision as it not only got me closer to my destination, but helped me stay on my schedule as this route was still doing construction as they were back in 2015 which slowed me down a bit.

About 1pm, I had arrived in West Dundee and immediately made a beeline for the Underground Retrocade.  For those of you reading my blog for the first time, the Underground Retrocade is a vintage arcade where you pay $15 and get unlimited play for the day.   Some new games had been added since I had last visited including. . .a Dragon’s Lair cabinet!!

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Dragon’s Lair. The greatest video game of all time.

Dragon’s Lair is my all time favorite video game and revolutionized the industry when it came out in 1983.  It was the first interactive animated movie and told the tale of a brave, if slightly clumsy, knight named Dirk the Daring trying to rescue Princess Daphne from the clutches of the dragon, Singe.  Make the right move at the right time and you get one step closer to the dragon’s lair.  Make the wrong move and Dirk meets an untimely demise.

This was not the original game.  Rather, it was the officially licensed 2002 Limited Edition reproduction of which only 400 discs were made.  This version included the deleted opening scene on the drawbridge as well as some slightly different timing and moves.  The cabinet also included the original prototype version which has a slew of deleted scenes as well as the games Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair II:  Timewarp.  I didn’t reach the lair, but had fun playing.

I more than got my money’s worth as I played pinball versions of Ghostbusters and Doctor Who.  I also served drinks in Tapper, fought Bluto and the Sea Hag in Popeye, and conquered Dragon’s Lair II:  Timewarp, Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja, and Altered Beast as well as dabbled with Crystal Castles, Rampage World Tour, Fix it Felix, Jr., and Track & Field.

About 3:30pm I headed for the village of Algonquin.  As I arrived, I was shocked to see the massive amount of construction being done in the little village, but easily worked my way around it until I found the Victorian Rose Garden, owned and operated by Sherry Brewer.

I rang the doorbell of the inn and glanced around the neighborhood.  As I turned back to the door, Sherry’s smiling face had suddenly materialized in the window and the surprise nearly gave me a heart attack.

While my pumper reset itself, Sherry let me into the inn, led me to the Presidential Chamber, and gave me the nickel tour.  I put my normal explorations on hold as I headed for worship at St Margaret Mary.  This was a very nice and quaint church which holds a Polish service at the second Saturday night service.

It was a moving event which brought back memories of going to church back home in Fort Dodge as we sang hymns that I haven’t sung since my childhood.

After worship, I headed to the Colonial Café and I was starved.

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Colonial Cafe

I actually felt the need for a small appetizer so I opened the meal with a small cup of cheddar cheese chowder which had an interesting, but tasty, flavor especially with a dash of pepper.  My main course was a Smokehouse BBQ burger which was hearty and juicy and really hit the spot.  While I ate, I read The House of Brass by Ellery Queen and met an elderly gentleman who liked the fact that I was reading a book as opposed to being glued to a cell phone.

After dinner I headed back to the inn, where I had some chocolate chocolate chip cookies and a cold glass of milk.

With that dessert, Sherry turned down my bed and left me to my devices.  I went around the inn taking pictures (the last set I will take with this camera as it’s falling apart).  The house has an understated elegance not unlike visiting Grandma’s house with a music room, gorgeous dining room, and a living room that is almost like stepping back in time.  It contains an old-fashioned barber’s chair along with a cupboard of shaving mugs, an old-fashioned gumball machine loaded with marbles, and a rocking horse.

The Presidential Chamber, where I stayed, boasts a very comfy king sized bed as well as some nice easy chairs, a fireplace, a mounted flatscreen TV, and a bathroom with a clawfoot tub and shower and even a bidet.  After a long day of driving and activities, I was more than content to simply put my feet up for the night and write and post pictures before drifting off to the land of Nod.

I slept all the way through the night.  When I woke up, I got a shower and a shave and was ready for a good meal.

And that is exactly what I got along with some lovely company in the form of Mike and Sue of Ohio and Tone and Yvonne of Stockholm, Sweden.  For breakfast there was water, orange juice, and coffee along with an appetizer of fresh fruit, cinnamon scones, and banana nut bread.  The main entrée was French Toast croissants with Granny Smith apples, scrambled eggs with home-grown vegetables, and thick slices of bacon along with a heaping side of conversation which Sherry joined in on.

All too soon the conversation and the meal had to come to an end.  In hindsight, I wish I had another day to spend here for there are still activities to partake of, but I suspect I will be back again, hopefully with friends to really expand on the fun.

But if you’re in the Algonquin region, spend a night with Sherry at Victorian Rose Garden B & B.  It’s a inn as pretty as it sounds with fabulous food and company and quite a bit to do in the region as well as being a hop, skip, and a jump from Chicago.

Until the next time, happy travels.

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Cotton Patchin Time Again: Hannibal, MO & Garth Woodside Mansion

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Garth Woodside Mansion

Today the road has brought me to Hannibal, MO.

I had actually had this journey on my mind for quite a while.  When the opportunity arose to review a professional production of Cotton Patch Gospel, I knew I would be making my way to Hannibal and a visit to Garth Woodside Mansion, owned and operated by John and Julie Rolsen.

It was an absolutely perfect day for a road trip.  The sky was sunny and clear and the temperatures were downright springish.  I had a fairly smooth ride into Hannibal, though Google Maps tried to make me take a left turn at Albuquerque.  I ended up finding the road I needed anyway, so neener neener Google!

The inn is located in a secluded area along a gravel road and is of great historical interest as it has a direct connection to the town’s most famous resident, Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain.

The original owners of the inn were John Garth, a successful Hannibal businessman, and his wife, Helen.  The home was built on his farm, Woodside, in the late 1800s.  John and Helen were lifelong friends of Twain who often visited the mansion.  In fact, one of the rooms in the inn is called the Samuel Clemens and Twain actually stayed in the room whenever he visited the Garths.

As I pulled up to the inn, I took a moment to soak in the impressive structure. When you think bed & breakfast, this is the type of building that springs to mind. If the inside was anything like the outside, I knew I was falling into the lap of luxury.  I bumped into another couple on my way to the front door and we were met by Julie Rolsen.  Julie is easily one of the most gregarious innkeepers I have met on my travels and she and her husband have wickedly sharp senses of humor.  If you stay here, read the book on the inn in your room and you’ll agree with me.

After giving us the nickel tour, Julie showed me to the Rosewood, my base of operations for the next few days.  Admittedly, I wanted to stay in the Samuel Clemens to really absorb the inn’s sense of history, but I had been beaten to the punch.  On the other hand, I did get to become a part of a unique piece of inn trivia.

The bed in my room is called the most expensive bed in Missouri.  It’s a hand carved piece of artistry insured for $55K.

After settling in, I did my explorations.  And there is a lot to explore.  Not only is this place one of the most beautiful and luxurious inns I have visited, but it is also one of the largest.  The first floor gives you a sense of history as the furniture is original to the home.  The entire property is remarkably preserved which I attribute to the small number of owners which the property has had.  The Rolsens are only the sixth owners.  Pretty impressive for a 100 plus year old mansion.

I had scheduled a ghost tour for 7pm, so I headed to downtown Hannibal for an early dinner before learning about the haunted history of Hannibal.

I opted to try the Mark Twain Dinette and it was a bit of a mixed bag.  The ambiance is quite nice, but the food was just OK.  I had a Roughin It burger which included pepper jack, chili ranch, and bacon which did fill the cavity.

Afterwards, I explored the main street area.  Though I, to my chagrin, failed to observe them, take a look at the artistic fire hydrants.  They were all painted by Julie.

Downtown Hannibal is pretty compact and most of the interesting sites are all pretty close to one another.  I went down to the Hannibal History Museum and picked up my ticket for the tour.  As the trolley wouldn’t load until 6:50pm, I continued looking around the downtown area and found the Bluff City Theater and City Hall.  Believe it or not, the two buildings are actually connected for my upcoming play review as the theatre is producing the show, but the play is being presented environmentally at City Hall in the council room located on the second floor.

About 6:50, I returned to the museum where I boarded the trolley.  Ghost tours are always an interesting way to learn about a town’s history and Hannibal is reportedly one of the most haunted cities in the country.  The tour consists of traveling to various buildings and hearing about the hauntings and there were some very interesting tales.

One such tale was the story of three boys who disappeared when they went off to explore one of the numerous caves under Hannibal.  In spite of an intense search costing over one million dollars and lasting over a month, the boys were never found as the caves under the town are deep and labyrinthine.

One of the boys reportedly haunts a family, but it is a good haunting.  The ghost is the friend of the family’s little girl, who calls him Shippa.  Our guide showed us a photo of Shippa taken by the little girl on her fake tablet and even I admit that it is a pretty impressive piece of evidence that bears a remarkable similarity to one of the missing boys.

The other tale was a sensitive point in the history of Hannibal.  There was a wealthy businessman named Amos Stillwell who had a younger wife named Fanny who was the belle of the ball.  One winter’s night, Fanny was asleep with her children and her husband came home late from a card party held at the home from his good friend, Captain Munger.  Not wanting to disturb his wife and children, Stillwell retired to his bedroom.

Around midnight, Fanny heard her husband stir in the other room and say, “Fanny?  Is that you?”  At that point a hidden intruder rose out of the darkness and killed Stillwell with a double bladed axe.   Fanny stayed hidden with the children until she was certain the coast was clear, left the children with the maid, and rushed to get their family friend, a doctor, who lived a few blocks away.

The doctor told Fanny he’d be over immediately and that’s when things started getting weird.  Instead of going to the police who were next door to the doctor, Fanny returned home and started cleaning up the gruesome crime scene.  The doctor came over and was shocked at Fanny’s actions and called the police.

The police came with the city physician.  Needless to say, the police were very upset that the crime scene had been tampered with.  Then another strange thing happened.  The city physician refused to let the police question Fanny Stillwell, saying she was too distraught.  This further angered the police as they now had a useless crime scene and a witness whom they couldn’t question.  Even with the help of the Pinkertons, the police were never able to gather much evidence in the mystery.

Nine months later, Fanny married the city physician which was very suspicious and enraged the citizens of Hannibal who literally chased the couple out of town.  The couple would return to visit friends several years later and were arrested for the crime.  However, with the passage of several years, there was even less evidence than before and the city physician was found not guilty and charges against Fanny were dropped.

A book was written about the case and one of the last remaining copies exists at the Hannibal Public Library.  The reason for the book being out of print is that the writer did not get permission from all family members and printing was halted.

Today, it’s reported that the ghost of Amos Stillwell roams the old home of Captain Munger which is now a restaurant known as LaBinnah Bistro.  The reason for this being is that Stillwell spent many happy hours at card parties here and his original home was demolished in the hopes of stopping hauntings there.

Our tour ended in an old Baptist cemetery where we were given dowsing rods to sense paranormal activity.  Allegedly, spirits exude a magnetic field and the rods will be pulled towards it and cross at the point of activity.  Honestly, I did feel the tug and the rods did cross, but dowsing rods also locate water, so while interesting I leave it for the reader to decide if it was science or spirits.

Still, it was a very interesting experience and, as I’ve said, always a good way to learn about local history.

From there it was back to the mansion, where the day’s long drive and activity finally caught up with me.  I drew a bath in the clawfoot tub that was just the perfect temperature, soaked, then curled up in my bed to get a $55K sleep.

I awoke refreshed and hungry.  About 9am, I headed downstairs to breakfast.  John and Julie were clearly born to the B & B business.  Both are natural hosts, chatting with guests and making sure they are provided for.  I sat down to a goblet of Garth Juice.  As John says, “It tastes good and it’s good for you.”  Julie prepared a hot chocolate for me and John also brought me water and milk while I worked through a dish of fruit and a muffin.

The main entrée was a quiche filled with broccoli, cheese, eggs, and ham.  It was a tasty way to start the day and provided needed fuel for a day filled with activities.

I got things going immediately after breakfast with a visit to Mark Twain Cave.

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This name isn’t an attempt to cash in on Twain’s name.  Twain often explored this cave as a boy and he uses this cave in several of his books.  It’s an entertaining and informative little tour, but you may want to bring a jacket as the cave stays at 53 degrees year round.

I really wanted to explore Cameron Cave as well, but the next available tour wasn’t until noon and that tour is 90 minutes and I had an appointment at 1:30.  So, it’s something to look forward to in another visit, especially since you’re provided your own lantern to explore this cave.

From Mark Twain Cave, I headed to the Haunted House on Hill Street.  They were offering a special where for $10 I could tour the house and Karlocks Kars and Pop Culture.  I took them up on the offer.

There isn’t much to the haunted house.  It actually opens with a room filled with 25 intricately sculpted wax figures of Mark Twain, his family, and characters.  Narration is provided giving a history of Mark Twain, his family, and the inspiration for his characters.  Afterwards, you go through a cheesy little haunted house not unlike ones you’d find at a county fair.

Karlocks was a bit more interesting.  It’s a museum filled with vintage cars and sundry pop culture items.  There’s even a bit of a vintage arcade, but playing the games costs quarters.

After my brief tours, I headed over to the Mark Twain Riverboat for a little cruise on the Mississippi.

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The Mark Twain

I took a seat on the top deck outside the pilot house.  Before setting sail, several blasts are made on the whistle and those by the pilot house need to cover your ears.  It was quite a relaxing jaunt as Captain Steve pointed out several points of interests such as Lover’s Leap and Jackson Island which also found its way into the stories of Mark Twain.

During the ride you will actually cross the state line into Illinois and you may just see some wild life.  I saw a couple of alligators silently swimming in the Mississippi and I finally understood just how dangerous they could be as the way they swim do make them seem like sticks or logs.

After a journey on the mighty Mississippi, I returned to Garth Woodside to get cleaned up for church and the show.

I attended services at Holy Family Catholic Church and I would like to clone this church and replicate it for all of my journeys.  This is what worship needs to be like.  Everyone was happy to be there and was ready for Jesus.  You could genuinely feel His presence.  And they were so welcoming.  Father Jim Wheeler asked if there were any visitors and asked us where we were from.  The congregation was so welcoming as I had several brief conversations after church.  Father Jim also gave a great sermon about us needing to be Jesus with skin on which provided a lot of inspiration and food for thought.

Worship certainly prepped me for the faith inspired play, Cotton Patch Gospel, which was being performed at Hannibal City Hall.  It was an interesting and original take on the story and you can read my review here.

After the show, it was back to Garth Woodside and another good night’s sleep.

Somehow the alarm on my clock was turned on and buzzed me up at 6am.  Getting back to sleep wasn’t happening so I wrote my review on the play and got back to work on this article.  I got to this point and went downstairs to breakfast.

OK, I’m back.  Today’s meal consisted of Garth juice, milk, fruit, peach muffin, and breakfast pizza which consisted of egg whites, bacon, sausage, and a pita or sourdough crust.  Julie also made me a mug of English Toffee hot chocolate topped with crushed Heath bits because chocolate makes everything better.

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Breakfast pizza

I ended up having a lively little conversation with the Rolsen family before returning to my room to finish the article and dilly dally until checkout time at Julie’s insistence.  😉

And that about wraps it up for this edition.  If you’re in the Hannibal area, get a room at Garth Woodside Mansion.  It’s a wonderful inn hosted by great people in a private locale and the food is fantastic.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Springtime Snowbird: Red Wing, MN & Golden Lantern

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The travel content in my blood had gotten pretty low so I decided it was time to get away for the weekend.  I booked a getaway in Red Wing, MN, home of the Golden Lantern.

While I love travel immensely, sometimes the travel part of travel can get mighty tedious.  My father has an interesting hobby in that he likes to look at atlases to plan his journeys or simply to learn more about the cities that I visit.  When I told him I was heading to Red Wing, I half jokingly asked him if he could plot a route that would be light on interstate.

Dad rose to the challenge and plotted a route.  I asked him how much time this would add to my trip and he asked what time I had planned on getting there.  When I said 3pm, he said I could leave at 6am.  I didn’t particularly relish the idea of tacking an extra 3 hours onto the drive so I figured it would be back to the interstate for me.

A few days before I left, I realized that the route to Minnesota takes me very close to my old hometown of Fort Dodge, IA.  I checked to see how much more time would be added if I went that route and found it would only add an extra hour to the drive.  I contacted my best friend, Josh Kudron, and asked if he wanted to meet me for lunch.  He said yes and I now had a much more satisfying drive on my hands.

It was a very pleasant drive as I drove the route I knew so well, passing through numerous small towns on my way to Fort Dodge.  It had been quite a while since I had visited the old burg and noticed a lot of changes to these small towns.  Just outside of Rockwell City, I found that they were tearing up the highway and had to take a detour which routed me through the tiny town of Rinard and I appreciated adding a new small town to the journey.

I ended up arriving in Fort Dodge about a half hour before I was to meet Josh.  I decided to take a quick jaunt down memory lane and actually get a picture of my first childhood home.  I still remember every nook and cranny of the place.  The house and property had once fallen into quite a bit of disrepair in the years since my family had moved out.  My dad’s lovingly maintained backyard had transformed into an overgrown jungle due to a dispute between the house owners and the owners of the convenience store next door.  At one point, the house had been condemned until it was bailed out by a new owner.

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My childhood home. It’s seen better days, but it’s also seen worse.

The new owner made the house look a lot better with a new siding job and I was stunned to see the backyard restored to quite a bit of its former glory.  I snapped a photo and drove off to my old elementary school.

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This was my old elementary school

The school had once been a Catholic school and church called Holy Rosary, but had been sold off many years prior.  It had been a rehabilitation center for young girls suffering from drug and alcohol addictions before being bought out by an evangelical church and renamed Community Christian School.  Though I only got one photo, a flood of childhood memories washed over me as a lot of the good times spent there ran through my mind.

Then it was time for lunch.  I met Josh at my favorite fast food joint, Taco Tico.  It’s a pity that there are only 16 of these restaurants in the United States because these are the best tacos ever made.  Josh picked up the tab and we spent a long lunch catching up on old times and filling each other in on recent events.  I ended up having to call an end to lunch as I had to get to Red Wing to check in and bad weather was looming.  Keep that last point in mind.

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Ah, Taco Tico!! Yum!!

Now it was off to the interstate to complete my drive to Red Wing.

I arrived in town about 5pm and made my way to the Golden Lantern.  I was greeted by the inn’s owner, Sioux Christensen, and led to my room, J.R.’s Suite.  The room had an incredible calming quality and is very. . .red from thee burgundy curtains and easy chairs to the red blanket on the king bed to the carpeting to the towels.

 

The Golden Lantern is a Tudor Revival mansion that was originally the home of Jesse R (J.R.) Sweazy who was the president of the famed Red Wing Shoe Company which is still in operation today.  The house remained in the family for several generations before his grandson sold the property in 1992 at which point it was renovated into a B & B.

 

I did my normal explorations and helped myself to some cheese and crackers in the living room.  After settling in, I headed to the main drag to have dinner at Bev’s Café.

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Bev’s Cafe

Bev’s is normally only open for breakfast and lunch, but stays open for dinner on Friday nights.  I ordered an Inferno burger with some crinkle cut French fries and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner as I continued reading Ten Little Aliens, a sci-fi retelling of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians.

I returned to the inn after dinner where I put my Jacuzzi tub through the paces, even adding a splash of pomegranate to the water because. . .why not.  I don’t know if it added to my relaxation, but I felt pretty sedate when the bath was over.

From there I posted pictures before going to sleep for the night.

Earlier I had mentioned that bad weather had been looming.  Well, I woke up the next morning to. . .wait for it. . .A SNOWSTORM. . .IN MID-APRIL.  I’m talking a full blown, wind whipping snowstorm which canceled all of my exploration plans for the day.

There are worse things than being forced to stay indoors in a comfortable inn.  Luckily I had arranged for even more relaxation by opting to have breakfast in bed that first day.  A tray was left outside my door at 9am and I enjoyed a long breakfast of bacon, fruit, orange juice, apple cinnamon roll, and a frittata/omelet entrée.

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Afterwards it was pretty much reading, a little TV, and working on the computer for the day.  I did take my car for a brief spin to keep the engine warm, but the wind was whipping around the snow so much that I was only out for 15-20 minutes.

About 5pm, I walked the block to St Joseph’s Catholic Church to attend worship services.  For a small town, the church was surprisingly big.  Almost as big as the church I attend back in Omaha.  The storm had mushroomed into a full blown blizzard threatening to dump up to a foot of snow by 7am the next day.  Due to the storm, less than 50 people attended the service and the sermon and songs were clipped a bit to get us back home.  Still, it was a good service, if a bit edited.

 

I still needed to eat and ending up finding a Perkins nearby where I started reading a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Red Tower, while I ate a Country Club Melt.  After dinner, I noted with relief that the snow had tapered off which gave the city plenty of time to clean up.  This meant I would be able to head for home tomorrow as extending my stay had been a very serious possibility.

I enjoyed another bath and began writing this article before retiring for the night.

When I woke up the next morning, I peeked out my window and noted that the streets were very clean.  Red Wing only got 5 inches of snow, but had I been just an hour west, I would have been buried.  The Twin Cities received a whopping 10.5” of snow and it was still falling.  At this writing, they are up to 18”.

I joined two other couples for breakfast where we enjoyed strawberries and cream, sausage patties, chocolate crepes, and Eggs Benedict.  A nourishing, tasty breakfast indeed.  Some interesting conversation followed and then I made the long drive home.

I’d like to give the city of Red Wing a redo at some point so I can truly experience the city, but the Golden Lantern is a fabulous inn and definitely gets a recommendation for a visit.  From the large rooms and bathtubs to the gourmet breakfasts, you will certainly have a grand and relaxing time.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

I Went to Disneyland!!

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Sleeping Beauty Castle

I finally got to fulfill an adventure I’d had in my mind for a while now.

Back when I was a lad I really loved the amusement parks.  Some of my best childhood memories were from trips taken to Adventureland, Six Flags, or Worlds of Fun.  When I was between my junior and senior year of high school, my band performed in Orlando, FL at Universal Studios and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.  For my park lovin’ heart, Walt Disney World was the pinnacle of amusement parks due to sheer scope and variety.  I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been back several times over the years.  My love for amusement parks has waned considerably over the years, mostly due to my distaste of waiting in lines, but I still retain an enjoyment of Disney parks.

As a Disney aficionado, I’d long had a hankering to visit the park that started it all:  Disneyland.  However, I really didn’t want to visit it on my own as fun is always better when it’s multiplied by others.  Luckily my old friend, Mat O’Donnell, and his wife, Carolyn Langlois (also a Disney park nut), lived in nearby Tempe, AZ.  I asked Mat if he and Carolyn wanted to join me in Disneyland and it ended up becoming a weeklong visit/road trip.

On Feb 24, I hopped on an American Airlines flight which was delayed a half hour due to deicing the plane.  Eventually we got underway and I soon found myself in Phoenix.  So happy was I to escape the cold and ice of Omaha that I would have hugged a cactus if I’d seen one.

Mat met me at the airport and we drove to his house.  I set my bag and laptop in my room and noted that our mutual friend, John Velasquez, tried to turn a practical joke against me.  John and I had a mock argument about the guest bedroom as each of us “claimed” it as his own.  John visited Mat a few weeks prior so Mat helped me arrange a photo of myself to greet John with a sign that said, “Christopher Elston proudly welcomes you to his room.  Daily rates apply.”  John had added the title of Slumlord to my name.  Well played, John.  Well played.

Shortly afterwards, Mat took me to a little Greek joint called Mika’s where I had a Mediterranean Gyro for dinner.  Mat and I had a long conversation over dinner and then we headed back to his place where we watched a little anime, talked, then went to bed.

The next day, Mat took me to worship services at Our Lady of Mt Carmel and then we had breakfast over at Denny’s.  We had decided to just take it easy since there would be a lot of travel starting the next day.  During his last visit to Omaha, Mat had borrowed Resident Evil 7 from our friend, Jeff Bevirt, so we decided to play through it.

For those of you interested in that particular game series, I found it a return to form and probably the third best in the series.  The series returns to its survival horror roots and I genuinely jumped at several points.  The story was the most tragic of the series and the nearly lifelike graphics (aided by Mat’s 4K TV) were stunning.  The game could have used some more puzzles and it was one of the shortest of the series, especially in this era of epic length games.

Carolyn, who had been on a camping trip, returned in the afternoon and it was gaming and conversation until bedtime.

The next day Mat and I completed Resident Evil and had lunch at Del Taco.  Carolyn came back early from work, packed, and we loaded up Mat’s car before beginning the drive to Thousand Palms, CA.

Mat’s dad, Barry, winters in this desert community so the decision was made to stay overnight at his place and we would continue on to Anaheim the next evening.  This would allow us to hit Disneyland first thing on Wednesday morning.

It was a really pleasant drive and we arrived at Barry’s home at about 7:45pm.  Barry had picked up some excellent brisket sandwiches from a nearby BBQ joint.  This was the best brisket I had ever tasted.  I’m not a particular fan of coleslaw, but the slaw used on these sandwiches was excellent.  A small side of chili filled in the chinks nicely.

We were weary after the drive, not to mention our body clocks were off due to the time zone change (2 in my case), so we called it a night.  I borrowed a box fan for some white noise and collapsed on the air bed in my room.  Such a restful night’s sleep.  The window in the room was darkened so not a trace of light could peek into the room and the bed was so comfy.

Our little group puttered around in the morning before stopping at a pizza joint called Billy Q’s for some lunch.  I give this place a hearty recommendation.  Billy Q’s is famed for a nice thin crust with lots of toppings or a thicker sourdough crust.  I had asked for a personal Cristen’s (taco) pizza and our server arranged for it to be on a sourdough crust despite the fact that the personal is traditionally served on original crust.  Barry had ordered a small Works pizza for himself while Mat and Carolyn were supposed to share a small half Mac N Cheese/Reuben pizza.  Unfortunately they goofed and made the Reuben side a Cristen’s.  To make up for it, they brought out a personal Reuben.  Too many leftovers and not enough time to eat them.

 

 

About 5pm, we said our good-byes to Barry and began driving towards Anaheim.  Anaheim is part of the Los Angeles metro area which is the 2nd largest city in the country.  Six lanes of traffic and we caught a bit of the last of rush hour.  I’m truly glad Mat is an excellent driver because he handled it like a pro.  Things got far more peaceful once we got off the interstate and into Anaheim.

Carolyn had booked a room for us at Portofino Inn and Suites.  This is one of many Good Neighbor hotels for Disneyland.  This means that shuttle service is available and you can buy park tickets at the hotel.  The inn itself is a bit incongruous to its neighbors as it is only about three floors while its fellow hotels are imposing giants.

The walls are a little thin, but the room was comfortable and a bit suiteish as I had my own private sleeping area which also allowed privacy for Mat and Carolyn.

 

 

It was still early so we decided to hit up a mini-golf course nearby called Golfland Camelot.  It touts itself as the biggest mini-golf course in the country though I can’t make a judgment on that as two of its four courses were closed.  On the courses we played, emphasis was placed more on length than obstacles.  These were long holes.  Carolyn claimed not to be a good putter but slaughtered Mat and myself on the second round.  Luckily Mat and I had played solidly on the first round which led to him squeaking out a one stroke victory over me.  When the game was done, we headed back to the hotel.

Mat and Carolyn went out for a late dinner at Subway while I ran out and bought some batteries for my camera.  I went back to the hotel and caught a shower before retiring for the night.

We were up bright and early the next day.  It was a cool day that would top out only at 61 degrees so I found myself wearing a jacket to a Disney park.  We stopped for breakfast at IHOP, then walked to the shuttle area and were zipped to Disneyland.

So there I was at the original.  Disneyland is pretty much the Magic Kingdom at WDW, but a bit bigger with some extra rides.  It was a little strange as the park is so similar to Magic Kingdom, but has its own unique identity.  We walked up Main Street USA and saw the park’s centerpiece, Sleeping Beauty Castle.  I took a moment to soak up the ambiance and then we started exploring.

 

 

We picked a perfect day to visit the park.  The last week of February is, historically, the lowest in park attendance and that proved to be the case as there were not very many people at the park.  This allowed us to hit all of the good rides multiple times and we never waited in line for longer than 30 minutes.  We were also aided by Carolyn’s use of Fastpass Plus.  This meant she was able to use her phone to get our Fastpasses instead of us running all over creation to get them.  Her Disneyland app also let us check wait times on rides so we could plan appropriately.

What an amazing day!!  We enjoyed the classics such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Star Tours, Haunted Mansion (a personal favorite and I especially loved the Southern plantation motif) along with new rides such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye and the Matterhorn (incredibly awesome at night).  I even indulged my inner child and rode on It’s a Small World and Snow White’s Scary Adventures.  We even watched a performance from the Straw Hatters and Carolyn and Mat took a photo with Goofy.  What’s better is that the rides that exist in both Disneyland and WDW are still different enough to have their own identities.

 

 

We closed the night with an amazing dinner at Café Orleans where I had chicken gumbo and shrimp and grits and followed that with Disneyland’s closing show, Fantasmic.  Thirteen straight hours of fun and 10 plus miles walked.

The next day we visited the other park, Disney California Adventure.  Again, we arrived right at opening.  Over a third of the park was closed for refurbishment, but even at full strength, this would be a half day park at best.  It does possess a few classic rides.

The centerpiece of the park has to be Guardians of the Galaxy:  Mission Breakout which used to be the Tower of Terror.  Originally, the ride had a Twilight Zone theme, but has been altered to be a story where the riders help the Guardians escape from the clutches of The Collector.  The ride has 6 different drop patterns based on the song playing from Star Lord’s mix tape.  I loved the Twilight Zone version, but Guardians has a delightful sense of comedy and fun that makes it a must experience ride.

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout

My other favorite ride was Grizzly Rapids.  Being a cool day, the ride never had a long wait though I imagine it can get quite lengthy on hot day.  Admittedly I scoffed at the sign that said “You will get wet.  You may get soaked.”  That is a hallmark of any raft ride and usually isn’t the case.  Well, we did get wet and did get soaked.  Towards the end of the ride, a geyser erupted in front of us and drowned us like rats.  A reconstruction of the event can be seen below.  On the plus side, it woke us up.

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SPLISH!!!

 

 

About 2:30pm, we left the park and began the drive back to Thousand Palms to pick up Mat and Carolyn’s dog, Jojo, before heading back to Tempe.  Having finally experienced Disneyland, I can honestly say it’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t plan an entire trip around it as the two parks can be done in 2 days tops.

It was hard to believe that the trip was nearly done, but there was still fun to be had.  The next day was a gorgeous 75 degree day in Phoenix so Mat and I played mini-golf where he creamed me with a nearly perfect final round.  Wait, I mean the rat jerk cheated beyond belief in order to best me.  Foul!  Foul!  I call a foul!

In the evening, we had dinner at the Angry Crab Shack where Mat supped on steamed king crab legs and vegetables and Carolyn and I had shrimp po’boys.  Then we headed off to Mesa to experience an escape room.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, escape rooms have become extremely popular in recent years.  You and your group get locked in a group for about an hour and need to solve a series of puzzles to escape from the room.

I picked Jack’s Cabin.  The story was that Uncle Jack had been sending you strange messages so you go to his cabin to check up on things.  As Mat, Carolyn, and I searched the room, we found that Jack had become a werewolf and set up a means to stop him in one of his more lucid moments.  His desk had seven locks on it and we had to figure out the combinations to them all.  It was a tough case and we needed to burn all of our clues to solve the puzzles.  But we managed to put a rifle together and located a secret compartment with a silver bullet to escape from the room with less than seven minutes to spare.

For a first escape room, I had a good time especially with the sense of impending doom as precious time ticked away.  Carolyn said it was the weakest she had visited due to the focus simply being on locks.  She shared tales of amazing rooms with secret passages and creative challenges and said we would visit a proper room on my next visit.

The next day it was back to Omaha for me, though the airport was an absolute zoo.  I had never seen so many people for one airline.  It took me nearly 45 minutes to check in.  Thankfully, the security line was low, but I got to my gate just as boarding began.

It was a grand adventure and I look forward to my next visit to Tempe for another classic series of adventures.

A Winter’s Respite: Marshfield, MO & Dickey House Bed & Breakfast

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Taking advantage of a freak warm spell, I answered the call of the road once more.  This time the road would be taking me to Marshfield, MO where I would be visiting the Dickey House Bed and Breakfast.

Getting to Marshfield would prove to be. . .interesting.  Having been burned by Mapquest one time too many, I had recently taken to using Google Maps.  That app plotted a route that would take about 6 hours.  I was delayed from leaving by about 20 minutes, but nothing to worry about.

I enjoyed a pleasant, sunny car ride with surprisingly little traffic for a Friday.  About 3:45, I pulled over to a Hardee’s in Clinton, MO for a very late lunch or an early supper depending on one’s point of view.  With my slight delay and a brief stop for gas and to stretch my legs, I estimated that I should arrive at the inn by about 5:30pm.

However, the reality proved to be quite different.  The next road I was looking for was State Highway CC and I found it shortly after leaving town.  I thought it had come up a little too early, but I took the road as I figured 10 miles out of my way was better than 70.

As you may have guessed, it was the wrong CC.

Five miles in I saw a sign saying that the road would end in water so I know I was on the wrong path.  I turned around and drove back to my original road, probably losing another 20 minutes in the process.  I got back on the right road and found the CC highway I needed about 70 miles later.

I still thought I would be fairly on target until I reached State Highway E.  It was a pitch black road full of twists and turns that required constant adjustments of speed, eating up even more of my time.  I finally rolled into Marshfield and had difficulty locating the street I needed as there weren’t street signs on every corner.

Fortunately, I stopped at a Conoco and found Dickey House was a mere few blocks away and arrived at roughly 6:35.  Now at this point, you may be wondering why I was so focused on the time.

I had reached an agreement with the Springfield Little Theatre to review their production of West Side Story and that started at 7:30 and was about a half hour away from the inn.  Needless to say, I was feeling a bit under the gun.

I grabbed my laptop and luggage and rang the doorbell.  I was greeted by Michaelene Stevens, one of the owners of the inn.  She offered to give me a tour of the inn, but I had to decline due to being rushed.  Originally, I was to have stayed in the Fontaine Room, but Michaelene moved me to the Heritage Room which allowed me a connected bathroom.

I quickly put down my bag and laptop and knew I had to skip shaving and changing into my suit in order to reach the theatre.  On my way downstairs, I met Michaelene’s husband, Larry, and their dog, Miss Taylor.  Michaelene showed me how the door lock worked and I dashed off to my car and headed to Springfield.

The theatre is located in the downtown Springfield area which meant parking was not easily available.  Precious time ticked away as I searched for a spot.

At long last I caught a break when I noticed a sign pointing to parking and I found a free parking garage several blocks away from the theatre.  I parked my car and sprinted and I mean, SPRINTED, to the theatre.  I grabbed my tickets and reached my seat with 7 minutes to spare.

The trials and efforts were worth it as I watched the greatest community theatre musical I have ever seen.  You may read the review here.

After the show, I returned to the inn where I quietly began my explorations (I was the only guest) and took pictures.

Dickey House is a 108 year old Greek Revival mansion built for Sam Dickey around 1908.  Dickey was a lawyer who did a lot of pro-bono work for Confederate soldiers whom he thought were getting a bad deal from the government.  Having a massive interest in politics, Dickey hosted seven MO senators and governors during his lifetime.  This would include the governor who brought the World’s Fair to St Louis.  Dickey was also a friend of William Jennings Bryan of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial.

The home remained the family until the 1970s where it passed through several hands and then lay empty for several years.

In 1987 a couple from California bought the home and turned it into an inn before selling out to the Stevens in 1998.  The Stevens restored the house and grounds to its original glory and then some to become the fine inn it is today.

The Heritage Room was quite comfortable with a canopied queen bed, electric fireplace, and reading porch.  I was so exhausted after the day’s adventures I collapsed into bed and slept.

The next morning I banged out my play review, caught a shave and shower and headed down to breakfast.

I had a long conversation with Larry and Michaelene over orange juice, fruit, cookie, and a puff pastry filled with ham, veggies, and other goodies.  I learned that Larry was a talented artist with a studio on the property.  So if you’re an artist or enjoy paintings, this is the inn for you.  And if you ask really nicely, Larry might show you his sanctum sanctorum (his studio).

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After a long drive the previous day, I didn’t feel like running all over Springfield which I had visited on a previous excursion.  I decided to simply take it easy.  I took a long walk about noon.  Finished a novel.  Watched a little educational TV.  I had forgotten the simple pleasure of really doing nothing.

About 5:40, I headed out for the evening.  I started by attending services at Holy Trinity Parish which has to be the smallest church I have ever visited.  From there, I drove back to the downtown Springfield area where I had dinner at Riad.  This is a Mediterranean restaurant and I enjoyed a gyro with a small side of fries.  As I dined I was surprised to notice that I saw far more cars than I had seen on Friday, but I was seeing fewer people and I wondered how that worked.

After my dinner I went around the corner to 1984 where, for $7.50, I could play all the vintage arcade games I wanted.  I certainly got my money’s worth as it took me twice as much as the entry fee to defeat P.O.W. Prisoners of War.  I also played Tron, Marble Madness, Shinobi, Burgertime, Q-Bert, Rampage, Sinistar, and Tapper.  I did get a great deal of fun out of it, but had hoped for a more varied selection of games as most of these games are available in the vintage arcade in my hometown.

From there it was back to Dickey House and a good night’s sleep.

The next morning featured another great conversation with Larry and Michaelene about movies and travels while I enjoyed a fruit parfait and an oven baked German apple pancake along with my orange juice.  Afterwards I got a quick peek at Larry’s studio before settling my tab and making the drive back home.

Larry and Michaelene have been some of my favorite innkeepers and they are great conversationalists and cooks.  Come to Dickey House.  You’ll stay in a beautiful home, visit with some lovely people, have some great food, and have the benefit of a major city nearby for activities.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Ho Ho Homicide: Mont Rest & Bellevue, IA

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Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast

Ah, Christmas!  Without question it is my favorite time of the year.  I love the feelings of goodwill, the sense of family, the music, the decorations, going to church, the lights, everything.  I also especially enjoy visiting bed and breakfasts during the holiday season just to see how they ring in the holidays.  So, it is with great pleasure that I bring to you the tale of my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.

For this journey, I would be visiting Iowa’s most luxurious inn, Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast of Bellevue, IA, owned by Christine Zraick.  I had been looking forward to this inn for quite a long time due to its penchant for offering nearly weekly murder mystery events.  When I found out the inn also really enjoys going all out for Christmas, I finally booked the trip.

Mont Rest has a very interesting history.  It was built in 1893 by Seth Luellyn Baker, a wealthy land developer for the price of $6,000.  Nicknamed “The Castle”, Mont Rest soon developed a reputation for illegal high stakes poker games.  His passion for poker would end up biting Baker hard as he once put the deed to Mont Rest up against a doctor for a $6,000 pot.  After the hand, Baker went downstairs and told his wife they had 2 weeks to vacate the property.

Fast forward to 1986, when the property, long since dilapidated and falling to pieces, was purchased by its current owner, Christine Zraick.  She began the long arduous process of refurbishing it back to its Victorian glory and opening it as a country inn.  It soon developed a stellar reputation for its murder mystery parties.

On Dec 24, 1996, the tale of Mont Rest almost came to an end when a devastating fire broke out and gutted the house from top to bottom.  Christine almost threw in the towel, but support from the citizens of Bellevue and her own sense of stewardship compelled her to roll up her sleeves and begin the process of rebuilding Mont Rest in the spring of 1997.

Needless to say, it was a massive success and today Mont Rest stands as Iowa’s most luxurious inn.

I was truly blessed with some unseasonably beautiful weather for my long trek to Bellevue.  When I arrived in town, I was immediately struck by its quaintness.  It is a peaceful town right on the coast of the Mississippi River.

I readily found the inn where my eyes confirmed what the photos had suggested.  This was easily the biggest inn I had ever seen.  The nickname of “The Castle” was well suited as the inn stands alone on top of a large hill and takes up the equivalent of a city block or two and holds an astonishing 13 bedrooms.

As I made the way from my car to the large wraparound porch, I smiled at the visage of Jolly old Saint Nick meeting me on the porch.  The inn was already into the spirit of Christmas as tinsel decorated the porch and decorations were being set up in the front yard.

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The kindly staff warmly welcomed me inside and gave me the nickel tour culminating in a stop at the gift shop which holds a representation of the World’s Fair complete with lights, sound, and animation.

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From there, I was led to Ginny’s Woodlawn View, my base of operations for the next few days.

When I think of B & B rooms, Ginny’s Woodlawn View is what springs to mind.  It has an understated elegance with its soft, blue-green carpet, electric wood fireplace, and Jacuzzi bathtub.  With Christmas on the horizon, it even had a lovely little Christmas tree and a stocking hung by the chimney with care.

From there, I did my normal explorations which took a little longer than normal.  As I said, this mansion is huge.  One could easily get lost in here.  I wandered about the house enjoying the numerous Christmas trees and decorations littered throughout the home.  The inn even has an observation deck on the top of the home which holds a hot tub as well as magnificent views of Bellevue and the Mississippi.

I had very little time to get settled in as I had a heavy night of activities planned.  Within an hour of my arrival, I was already back on the road seeking an early dinner.  I opted for a little good old fashioned comfort food as I stopped at Richman’s Café.

Like the name suggests, it’s a quiet little diner, but it dishes up a mean patty melt and shoestring fries.  Having the cavity filled, I was then off to the nearby town of Dubuque, IA to begin my night’s activities.

As I truly love holiday lighting displays, the staff at Mont Rest told me about Reflections in the Park, an elaborate display showcased at Louis Murphy Park.  This event has been a Christmas tradition for over two decades and I would like to thank the staff at the event for giving me a free pass to experience this tradition.

If you are in or near Dubuque during the holidays, visit Reflections in the Park.  It is a truly beautiful and entrancing display of lights and holiday cheer that will brighten your night both literally and emotionally.

From there, I went to the famed Grand Opera House of Dubuque where I took in a production of It’s a Wonderful Life.  For the first time in years, I attended this play purely as a patron, but was so moved and impressed by the production that I decided to review it anyway.  You can read it here.

After the fabulous show, I returned to Mont Rest when I settled into bed with a bone aching weariness where I instantly succumbed to oblivion.

In the morning, I took a long Jacuzzi bath before heading downstairs to breakfast.  There I met Doug & Pamela and Mark & Holly who would also be joining me for the murder mystery dinner later that night.  Breakfast at Mont Rest is served family style so we all enjoyed dishes of fruit along with a repast of blueberry muffins, cherry turnovers, bacon, hash browns, and 2 kinds of omelets along with some conversation.

Normally I like to schedule a lot of activities to get the full experience of the towns I visit.  This time I decided to put the brakes on.  After breakfast, I simply wrote my play review and organized my photos.  Then I took a very long walk along the riverside where I shared a phone conversation with my best friend and stopped in at Grandpa’s Parlor for a vanilla shake.  From there, I went back to inn, sampled some delicious homemade brownies, and caught a quick nap.

When I regained consciousness, I walked the few blocks to attend worship services at St Joseph’s Catholic Church.  After I got my praise on, I returned to the inn for the mystery.

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St Joseph Catholic Church

I went downstairs to the living room where I once again met Mark and Holly and began sharing conversation.  Shortly later, we were joined by Jim and Elizabeth and by Doug and Pamela a little after that.  As we talked, we were treated to some light hors d’ouevres of canapés, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, crackers, cheese, meats, and veggies.

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Mmm!! Hors d’ouevres.

We would take part in the mystery of Where There’s a Will, There’s Away.  We were assigned characters and told that one of us was a murderer, but that the murderer would be unaware of that fact.  A very intriguing twist on the mystery.

I picked the character of Dr. Benjamin Pike.  He was a very successful doctor who had grown bored with his work.  He had been the personal physician of the wealthy businessman for the past 10 years and was preparing to lead a UNICEF group funded by his friend to teach advanced medical techniques to the locals in South America.  Dr. Pike was connected to two other suspects:  the businessman’s widow, Marion, with whom he had an intense and instant dislike and Nurse Freda Moore with whom he’d had a brief fling.  Freda had taken the break-up quite badly and Pike had fired her hoping to put their relationship in the past by keeping her away.

The inn has costumes for the event and I was dressed in a tuxedo dress shirtt, black dress pants, a black vest, gray cravat, and white dinner jacket.  In my room were waiting my personal dress shoes and socks to complete the illusion.  As I read the dossier, I drew on my theatre background and decided Pike should be an arrogant, sharp tongued jerk, but tempered with a powerful sense of morality.

Once downstairs, we were met by Gloria Gottrocks, the queen of accessorizing, who furthered our outfits.  From Ms Gottrocks, I received a gray fedora, stethoscope, and organ transplant bag.  I don’t want to spoil the mystery, but I will say the key is to use your knowledge of the characters and their relationships to ferret out clues that point to the truth.

But the centerpiece of the event is the dinner.  I’d gladly do this again and again simply for the meal.  Our night began with a dinner salad with a berry vinaigrette dressing and some fluffy, buttery croissant rolls.  During the first course, Officer Ima Fuzz joined us and told us of the death of Arthur and to take our preparation orders.  Amazingly, all of us had ordered the Steak Lilli.

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Officer Ima Fuzz

As we discussed the case, the chef brought out the main course of Steak Lilli, butternut squash, and rice pilaf.  As I began to cut my medium steak, I noted how tender it was.  But after that first bite, I was in heaven.  Hands down, the very best steak I have ever tasted.  During the main course, Officer Fuzz came back with the autopsy report and pieces of evidence found at the scene of the crime and to take orders for dessert.

I opted for Death by Chocolate.  As I savored dessert, Officer Fuzz came back one more time to bring Arthur’s will to his lawyer.  We had the reading of the will, a final discussion, and then Officer Fuzz solved the crime.

It was truly a grand evening.  Once done, I got back into my civvies and shared some conversation with Pamela, Doug, Jim, and Elizabeth before retiring to my room for the evening.

This was the best sleep I had enjoyed in ages.  I rose early to begin writing and went down to breakfast at 9am where I met the usual crowd and we were joined by another couple, Steve & Sheryl.

Today’s meal consisted of fried potatoes (perhaps with some rosemary), a dish of fruit, sausage, and a quiche made of eggs, peppers, and mushrooms.  Again it was another fantastic meal made all the more memorable by great conversation.  Sadly, it all had to come to an end and we had to break up the group to go our separate ways.  This was the best group of people I had met at an inn and I hope to stay in touch and, God willing, I hope our paths cross again.

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Quiche, fried potatoes, sausage.

I had a feeling that this particular outing was going to be something special and my instincts were correct.  Mont Rest Inn is a must see experience and it gets my highest recommendation for a visit. If you want to experience a vintage B & B, then you need to go to Mont Rest. Naomi and Company are wonderful cooks and hostesses.  The inn is comfortable and beautiful.  There’s much to do in the area.  And there is a plethora of dining events to be enjoyed at the inn, though I certainly would recommend your taking part in a murder mystery.  This is an inn that I’m going to make a point of returning to at some point in the future.  They also know how to do Christmas right.

Until the next time, happy travels.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 9: A Rainbow in Ireland

The final day had finally arrived.

I awoke to the first truly dreary day we had experienced in Ireland.  It was grim and rainy outside which worried me a bit because our first stop of the day was a visit to the Cliffs of Moher.

After breakfast, we boarded our trusty bus once more and began the trek to the cliffs.  On the drive we experienced some rain and then, miraculously, the sun began to peek through.  How fitting it was to see a beautiful rainbow appear in the sky in Ireland.  Dad quipped my thoughts when he said, “Let’s go find the pot of gold,” to the amusement of our fellow travelers.

The sun began burning off this mist which made the day look a lot better as we approached the cliffs.  Frankly, I thought the mist enhanced the view of the Cliffs of Moher.  It gave it a mysterious, otherworldly quality as I looked upon this awesome spectacle of nature.

We spent a brief period at the cliffs before heading over to the city of Galway.

Galway is another major city in Ireland and its major street of commerce also happens to be named O’Connell Street just like in Dublin.  We were given a few hours to spend on our own before we would meet up for a mini-walking tour of the city.

I wandered up and down the street as I looked at the various businesses and enjoyed the various buskers.  The most interesting busker was a young lady who played a hurdy-gurdy.  It was truly a haunting sounding instrument.

I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, but decided to stop off at a café to enjoy one last bowl of seafood chowder as I knew it would be my last opportunity to taste this local delicacy.  After finishing my soup, I returned to our meeting point where Bill gave us a mini-walking tour of the city.

We walked past St Nicholas’ Cathedral, saw the remnants of the oldest building in Ireland (discovered when ground was broke for a new business), saw the King’s Head Pub which is Ireland’s oldest pub and has operated since 1649, and we also saw the Lynch Point.

The Lynch Point is exactly what it sounds like.  Back in the day, condemned prisoners were hung here.  Its most famed story is that a very just judge once ordered his son to be hung at this spot for the murder of a Spanish sailor who had cuckolded the son.  The son was guilty as sin and the judge refused to recuse himself, insisting that justice had to be served.  So honorable was the judge that he dismissed the executioner and personally placed the noose around the son’s neck so that full responsibility for this decision would lay on his shoulders.

After this little walk through history we boarded the bus and made our way to Rathbaun Farm, the final stop of the trip.

Rathbaun Farm is a working farm that has been in the Connolly family for six generations.  We met Vinton Connolly who led us to the kitchen where our group would get a lesson in scone making.

The cook told us we would be eating the scones we were preparing and she gave us our lesson.  Like a true chef, a lot of the prep work was estimation, but my table managed to prepare 8 scones for baking.  I crossed my fingers hoping that they came out edible.

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Ingredients for scones

From the kitchen we went across to the barn where Vinton showed us some of his sheep and lambs and told us about farming in Ireland.

Then he introduced us to Ted, his sheepdog.

Vinton explained that sheepdogs are not trained.  They learn a few voice commands, but herding sheep is an instinct that dogs either have or they don’t.  Dogs that have a lot of energy and can’t sit still probably have the instinct.  As Vinton said, “If a sheepdog is sitting still for ten minutes, it’s probably dead.”

Vinton then gave us a demonstration of Ted’s skills as he let Ted into an enclosed pasture.  Ted bolted right towards the sheep as Vinton gave a few voice commands simply telling Ted where to direct the sheep.  For such hefty animals, sheep can really run.  Ted never made a peep.  He just stared down the sheep and ran them in the direction he wanted them to go.

When the demo ended, we went to the dining room to partake of an Irish tradition:  Sunday dinner.

On Sundays, Irish people have breakfast and then don’t eat again until about 4 or 4:30pm when they have a large family dinner.  The cooks had prepared a hearty Irish stew full of chunks of beef, potatoes, and vegetables.  They also served our scones.

My team’s scones came out pretty well.  Nice and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

When dinner ended, we said our good-byes to Vinton and boarded the bus to return to our hotel.

Officially that was the end of the trip.  I felt the way one should at the end of a vacation like this:  sad to see it end, but ready to get back home.  The next morning would take us to Shannon Airport which is one of the few cities where you go through U.S. customs there so you don’t have to do it back at in the states.  I looked out the window at the flight that would take us back to America and reflected on the many adventures I had and the new friends I had met.

I was so pleased with Globus that I joined their Journeys Club and began planning a trip to England and Paris which I hope to take in either 2018 or early 2019.  But that will be a story for another time.

But you won’t have long to wait for my next adventure.  On December 1, it will be time for my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.  Mont Rest Inn of Bellevue, IA is the site of my visit and it promises to be something special.  We’ll see you then.