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.

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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.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 8: The Feast of Kings

We had a rather leisurely start to our day as we actually had the first few hours to ourselves.  I decided to take another walk around Killarney.  Specifically, I had wanted to get inside the nearby Church of Ireland to see what it looked like and to get some photos.

Eventually it was back to the bus where we headed to the tiny village of Adare, famed for its thatched cottages.  Again we were given a few hours to explore.  Adare marked the only place where I actually bought an item for myself.  The visitor’s center had a tiny bookstore and I found a book of Irish ghost stories which I bought for myself.

Aside from that I spent the time exploring the small museum inside the visitor’s center, visiting a nearby cathedral and cemetery, walking around the park across the street, and walking along the main street (pretty much the only street) examining the various thatched cottages.  I also bought a small cup of ice cream which was some of the creamiest ice cream I had tasted.

Once our time was up we were off to our final destination of the trip:  Limerick.

We took a little tour of the city and saw St Mary’s Cathedral and King John’s (as in the archenemy of Robin Hood) castle before checking into our last hotel.  We ended up going full circle as we stayed in another Clayton.  The building was actually a unique piece of architecture as it was designed so that every room had a view of the river.

At this point, I needed some time to myself so I ended up going for a walk around the neighborhood.  I stopped at a nearby convenience store where I sampled some chili flavored Doritos.  Ireland appears to be tamer with its spices as these Doritos were actually quite tepid.  After a walk to clear my mind, I went back to the hotel to get ready for the final optional excursion.

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This night found us headed to Knappogue Castle for an authentic medieval banquet.  The performers dress up in authentic period costumes and the evening began with a mead reception in the royal hall.

Mead is fermented apple and honey and it is a very sweet drink.  However, it also tastes very light and tame which disguises the fact that it is a very potent beverage.  Ten minutes after drinking it, I actually felt a buzz coming on.  Our tour director regaled us with a story about a previous tour where an Australian gent drank two jugs of the stuff at the banquet.  He passed out during the dinner and there was real fear that he would have to be taken to the hospital.  The gentleman regained consciousness and managed to get back to the hotel to sleep it off.  According to our tour guide, the gentleman was quite red faced the next morning and his wife didn’t speak to him for the remainder of the tour.

The night’s entertainment was a history of Ireland presented through music, song, and dance.  It was a great performance with a fabulous four course meal consisting of a seasoned tomato and basil soup, homemade bread, salad, chicken, and dessert.  It was a grand night and it seemed to end all too soon.

Once more, it was back to the hotel to ready ourselves for the final day.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 7: Sailing into Mystery

Breakfast at the Trident was the only one that differed from the other hotels.  They did have a continental breakfast buffet with some cold cuts where I sampled smoked salmon, another stalwart of Irish menus.  But at this hotel, we were also permitted to order something off of the menu.  So for this breakfast I ordered Eggs Benedict.  Unlike the American version which is served on an English muffin with ham, this was served on toast with bacon.  But delicious no matter what way you slice it.

This day was the quietest that we had for the trip.  After checking out of the oh so wonderful Trident, we hopped on the bus and headed off to Bantry Bay where we were going to take a ferry ride over to Garinish Island.

Bantry Bay is known for its warm waters.  So warm are the waters that it often attracts seals to the outcroppings and we saw a plethora of these magnificent beasts as we slowly sailed over to the island.

Garinish Island was once the private paradise of an extremely wealthy family called Bryce.  It’s known for its lush gardens and opulent pieces of architecture.  Another fun fact was that the Bryce family was very close friends with Agatha Christie, the acclaimed mystery writer.  In fact, the Bryce House still exists on the island and it holds some of the original editions of Christie’s work.

I spent quite a while simply soaking in the beauty of the island as you can see from the below photos.

I did find the Bryce House, but had just missed the only tour I could have taken.  However, my parents did make it on the tour, so I entertained myself by making goofy faces at them whenever they passed by the windows.  Yes, I admit it.  I’m a big kid at heart.

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Bryce House

After a few hours on the island, we returned to the mainland and continued our bus tour along the Ring of Kerry which featured some of the prettiest scenery I think I’ll see this side of heaven.

We ended up stopping at a place called Ladies View which has some stunning views of the Lakes of Killarney.  Once upon a time, the queen of England and her husband had lunch at this spot.  Not only did we take a group photo here, but Mom and Dad bought some paintings from a local artist.

After our brief stop, we continued journeying to our final stop, but were met with a surprise on the road.  As we drove, we suddenly saw a group of people gathered on the left side of the road.  We all craned our necks to see and we saw a car precariously perched on its front after having gone over a cliff!!

Luckily, nobody was hurt.  The driver and passenger were staring forlornly at their car while the Garda (Ireland’s national police force) drove up to see what they could do.  A story in the next day’s Irish Times told the story that the driver had accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake which sent the car over the cliff.

In the afternoon, we reached the town of Killarney where we checked into the Scotts Hotel.  As fabulous as the Trident was, I rather liked the Scotts as I actually had my own alcove and finally had a bit of privacy for writing, though I was unable to make use of that.

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Scotts Hotel

After an hour of rest, we headed out to the corner where we took a jaunting car ride or a horse and buggy ride as we’d call it here.  These rides are famous for the jarveys (drivers) who provide a witty and entertaining stream of talk on the rides.  Ours was similar to Don Rickles.

We rode through the Killarney National Park and made a brief stop at Ross Castle during the drive.

My dad and I fell into conversation with our jarvey who told us about the education system of Ireland when we spotted some children walking home from school.  School in Ireland begins at 9am and ends at 4pm.  All schools have a uniform code and their students dress very elegantly.

As the drive continued, our jarvey asked us where we were going to eat and I mentioned that our tour guide had mentioned a place called The Meadows.  Our jarvey snorted and said it was a tourist trap that overcharged for its food.  Given my years of travel, I seized on the moment as I know the locals always know the best eateries and asked what he would recommend.  He thought for a moment and said there was a place called the Failte right across the street from our hotel.  It was a family run place and served good food at a good value.

So at dinnertime, we went to the Failte and this was my favorite meal of the entire trip.  We were served shepherd’s pie which is a lamb stew served in a mashed potato crust.  This was so good and so warm and filling and I was so glad to try it once.

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The Failte

With full stomachs, Mom went back to the hotel while Dad and I walked about the town.  We ended up stopping in a grocery store as Dad was looking for some aspirin for Mom’s sore feet while I continued my search for Mountain Dew.

I should explain.

For my regular readers, you may remember that on my trips to Japan, I had a positive knack for locating Mountain Dew for my friend, David Sundberg, who is a Dew junkie.  So I decided that any international trip I now take will now include a search for the beverage as a running gag/challenge.  I learned from our jarvey that Mountain Dew is called Poteen in Ireland, so I went to the soft drinks and began looking for Poteen.  But, lo and behold, I found the honest to goodness real thing, though their Mountain Dew had the qualifier of Citrus Blast and I immediately took a picture for Dave as proof of my victory.

Dad found some aspirin so we went back to the hotel and called it a night.