The Great Swiss Outing, Days 1-2: Smooooooth!!

At long last my latest international excursion was upon me.  After the great experience I’d had on my tour of Ireland last year (see articles entitled When Irish Eyes are Smiling), I was going to utilize the tour’s co-sponsor, Globus Journeys, to take a round the country tour of Switzerland.

Globus did bum me out over a couple of things.  For one thing, if you’re traveling solo, you are not given the option of agreeing to room with another solo traveler, so you have to pay the single supplement up front.  On the other hand, that does guarantee a room for yourself.

The other item is that I had joined the Journeys Club after the Ireland trip which gets tour discounts and, most importantly, absolutely free currency exchange at the top market rate.  However, apparently the Journeys Club is no more and I don’t recall getting notification about it, so there went the currency exchange.

The day of the trip didn’t start out all that rosy either.  My trusty laptop gave up the ghost so I had to borrow one until I returned home.  Then my first flight was experiencing a slight delay and I cringed inside.  My flights didn’t leave me much room for error.  I flew from Omaha to Chicago with a layover of 1 hour, 20 minutes.  Then I was to fly from Chicago to Newark, NJ with an hour layover so I didn’t have much breathing room.

Mercifully, my flight actually made up the delay, arriving earlier than expected.  I also had enough time to grab a quick bite at a McDonald’s before taking off to Newark.  That flight was also early, allowing me to exchange currency at Travelex so I would be ready when I landed.

The flight to Zurich was perfect.  I had a seat at the back of the center section, so I could lean back without disturbing anyone and I was right next to the restroom, if needed.  I spent the flight watching Paranormal Activity and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, eating a surprisingly tasty chicken pasta dinner, and playing Phoenix Wright:  Trials and Tribulations in between a few snatches of sleep.

The flight arrived in Zurich nearly an hour early.  I breezed through customs in a few minutes, grabbed my bag, then met Brane (pronounced Bra Neigh), who would be the tour guide for the trip.  He pointed me towards the shuttle where I met Marty and Val O’Brien of Syracuse, NY who would also be on the tour.  We zipped over to Movenpick Hotel Zurich Aiport, where I was able to check in immediately.

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Movenpick Hotel Airport Zurich

I organized my room and then decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.  I discovered that Zurich is like small town America from yesteryear where everything is still closed on Sunday.  That included the City Centre, so I opted not to take a train down there to explore.

Instead, I darkened my room to relax and took a 2 hour nap to beat off some of the jet lag.  I actually managed to find some episodes of Columbo in English after I woke up so I had that on for a bit before washing up for dinner.

At dinner I sat with Emiline and Dorothy of California and Brane talked over what to expect on the tour.  We drank a toast to the success of the trip where I sampled the “famous Swiss white wine”.  As you may or may not know, I am a borderline teetotaler, but this was rather good.  Just the right amount of sweetness and not dry.

Then we were served a 4 course dinner that included a salad with a creamy vinaigrette dressing, an unbelievably awesome pumpkin soup, Chicken Schitzel Parmegiano, and plum pudding for dessert.

After the meal, I could feel the jet lag setting in, so it was time to bang this article out and get some shuteye, though I also met Bruce and Carol of Australia as we were taking the lift.  Tomorrow the adventure truly begins!!!

A B & B Sojourn

Marsh House

Marsh House

Twas the day before spring

And I had an itch

To travel the road once more

And hoped for no hitch.

Cheesy verse aside, I did once more yield to the call of the road.  This time I was heading to Galena, IL which bills itself as the most beautiful city in America.

Night 1

As I knew this would, more likely than not, be my last B & B outing until the summertime, I wanted to do something special.  So I decided to turn my visit into a B & B sojourn.  In order to have more exploration time in Galena and to kill two birds with one stone, I drove half of the trip on the first day.  I ended up stopping at the town of Grinnell in Iowa so I could visit Marsh House.

Grinnell was actually a surprising little city.  I was expecting a traditional small town, but this place was quite vibrant.  It had a bustling main street, a nice movie theater, a community theatre, and a wide variety of restaurants.  I soaked up the sights of the pleasant little burg and soon found myself at the doorway of Marsh House.

I was greeted by Linda who gave me a brief tour of the place.  I was struck by the elegance of Marsh House.  From the decanter of sherry by the front door to the period furniture throughout the home, I felt transported to a bygone time.  Linda led me to the Prairie Bedroom before leaving me to my own devices.

The Prairie Bedroom.

The Prairie Bedroom.

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That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

I spent a few hours relaxing before heading out to dinner at the Frontier Café.  It was a quaint establishment and I took a seat at the corner where I ordered a Cowboy Burger that came with a cup of chili and French fries.  The burger was quite delicious, flavored with tortilla chips, bacon bits, and fresh jalapenos.  The chili was tasty enough, but was rather thin and watery.

I returned to Marsh House where I prepared and slowly sipped a sherry.  After an afternoon of driving, I was ready for a long, hot bath and a movie.  Unfortunately, Linda had forgotten to include any soap and shampoo in the bathroom, so my hopes for a bath went poof.  Right before turning my phone off for the evening, I received a call from Dave who was one of the owners of the B & B I would be staying at in Galena.  Apparently there had been an emergency and he would not be available for my 1pm check-in the next day, but would be in at 4pm.

With that news, I settled into bed for the night and enjoyed the solitude.  You see, I was literally the only person in the inn as even the owners did not live on property.

Day 1 & Night 2

The next morning I went downstairs for breakfast where Linda had prepared a vegetarian meal for my Lenten sensibilities.  I enjoyed a delicious fruit parfait, followed by a feta cheese omelet with a side of fried potatoes seasoned with garlic, and a blueberry muffin.  Linda apologized for too much garlic on the potatoes, but I assured her there was no such thing.

I read the newspaper as I ate watching my NCAA bracket go down in flames due to the upsets on the first day.  I polished off everything except the muffin which I decided to feed to the birds.  After breakfast, I asked Linda for some soap and shampoo so I could get cleaned up.  I returned Dave’s phone call where he told me that someone would be able to meet me at 1pm so I could have a base of operations while I explored the town.

I performed my ablutions, settled my bill, and got into the Chrismobile to complete my journey to Galena.  However, do get a room at Marsh House if you happen to be in Grinnell as it was a jewel in an oasis.

Bernadine's Stillman Inn

Bernadine’s Stillman Inn

I arrived at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn, owned by Dave and Bernadette at 1pm.  I called Dave who said Christian would meet me at the front door.  Christian gave me the nickel tour and led me to my room, the Royalty II.  After exploring the inn and snapping photos, I began to explore the town.

The Royalty II

The Royalty II

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Galena is an extremely hilly city, so get ready for a workout as you navigate the terrain.  My first stop was the visit the Grant home which happened to be right across the street.  Ulysses S Grant had lived in Galena where he worked for his family’s leather goods store.  Prior to the Civil War, Grant rented a modest two story home for $100 a year.  Due to his service during the Civil War, a group of wealthy citizens got together and gifted him with a permanent home.

Ironically, Grant did not get to spend a lot of time in his home as he had to be away a lot to wind down operations in the aftermath of the Civil War, then spent 8 years in Washington D.C. as President, and toured over 30 countries after his term of office expired.  Grant’s children decided to gift the home back to the city.  Oddly enough, while it is a nice house, it is fairly modest in its own right.

Grant's home.

Grant’s home.

Grant's dining room.  This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

Grant’s dining room. This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

After visiting the home, I began touring the city.  Galena calls itself the most beautiful city in America and there may be some argument for that.  This city is littered with historic homes and bed and breakfasts.  Some of these buildings were shipped into the city just to beautify the place.

Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S Grant

Belvedere Mansion

Belvedere Mansion

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I wandered down to Main Street and discovered they have a rather bustling economy.  Numerous restaurants and shops made up the main drag.  My eye caught a sign called Root Beer Revelry and I decided to visit the establishment.  The sign was quite truthful as the store sold nothing but root beer in all varieties and all shapes and sizes.  I indulged in a root beer float.

I returned to the inn for a little bit, but went back downtown to have dinner at the DeSoto House in the Green Street Tavern.  I enjoyed a grilled salmon sandwich and then went to the lobby where I continued my forays into the supernatural by taking the All About a Ghost Tour, guided by Steven Rupp.

Steven works at the Galena library and has accumulated quite a bit of knowledge about the city.  It ended up being a personally guided tour as I was the only who showed up.  Another couple seemed interested, but left to get some cash and never returned.  Could they have been. . .spirits????  Nah!

It was a pleasant evening for a walk and Steven shared all sorts of tales about the city.  It was more history and less mystery, though there were a few tales about the supernatural peppered throughout the night.  The most interesting tale was when a businesswoman contacted Steven and asked him if he had ever heard about a haunting in a new house.  He had to confess that he had not.

The businesswoman had rented a newly built house in Galena for a weekend so she could do some shopping in town after a seminar.  After the seminar, she was putting her feet up in the rental home when she happened to look towards the bathroom.  She saw a little girl staring into the bathroom, her back to the businesswoman.  Suddenly the girl’s head turned to face the businesswoman and just the head.  The body stayed still.  Then she went into the bathroom where she disappeared.  Steven was unable to discover any stories about the area, but theorized that old homes may have been demolished to make room for these rental homes which is why a ghost could be in a new home.

After the tour, I walked back to the inn where I had the best night’s sleep I’ve experienced in quite a while.  I didn’t wake up during the night and didn’t budge a muscle.

Day 2 & Night 3

In the morning, I was finally able to meet Dave and Bernadette.  Dave and I had been exchanging phone calls over most of Friday, but never had the chance to meet until breakfast that morning.  The repast began with a cream and peach yogurt sprinkled with pumpkin flaxseed granola.  Superb!!  After that, I elected to have a ham and cheese omelet with a side of turkey bacon and some cinnamon swirl toast.  The omelet and bacon were perfect, but they forgot my toast.  But that was okay because I was full from the other items.

Galena Trolley Tour

Galena Trolley Tour

I spent most of the morning writing before heading downtown for a trolley tour.  I was a little taken aback by the $19.50 price tag, but the tour would last for an hour.  I had a good time seeing some more of Galena’s beautiful architecture and learning something of Galena’s unique history.  In its heyday, Galena was the richest city in the country due to a lead rush.  In fact, 90% of the lead used in America is from Galena or the nearby area.

The conductor/tour guide also had a terrific story about how Ulysses S Grant came into the Presidency.  There was a powerful political family known as the Washburnes and Elihu Washburne badly wanted to be President, but would not be elected because his family already held powerful political positions which would make people be unwilling to vote for him.  Instead he and some friends decided to find a quiet, shy man they could propel into the office as a proxy.  They decided to support Grant as he was riding a tidal wave of popularity.  Grant was elected into office and he gave Washburne the position of Secretary of State.  However, Washburne had underestimated Grant’s backbone and integrity as he refused to govern the way Washburne wanted him and bounced him from the post after 11 days, through he did appoint him as a minister to France.

When the tour ended, the group was given a coupon for a free small popcorn at the American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor.  I decided to get a little snack and was hoping I could get an old fashioned ice cream soda, too, but the dispenser was broken.  I ended up returning to Root Beer Revelry and enjoyed another root beer float.

I returned to the inn to relax for a bit and then headed to St Michael’s for worship services.  It was a particularly good sermon from Father Reese who talked removing the “I” or emptying ourselves for Jesus and why the cross offends.

After a nice service, I headed over to Gobbie’s for a bit of dinner.  The food at Gobbie’s must be amazing because the wait was unbelievable.  If I wanted a table, I would have had to wait for 45 minutes as there were 21 people waiting.  I ended up taking a seat at the bar and ordered the gyro platter with a Greek salad.  This was probably the tastiest gyro I have ever eaten so I definitely recommend a visit to this eatery.

Once I had finished eating, I went to the P.T. Murphy magic show where I met two new acquaintances, Ken & Cindy of Davenport, IA.  This was an intimate performance.  The theater can only hold about 24 people, so all of the illusions and tricks are performed up close and personal.  P.T. Murphy is an excellent magician and performer with a sharp sense of humor and a well developed sense of improvisation.

Yours truly even got involved in the act.  At one point, P.T. Murphy asked the audience if anybody had a $50 bill as he was dedicating the trick to Ulysses S Grant.  Nobody had one, though one audience member was reluctant to part with a $100 bill.  I offered up $20 which P.T. Murphy had me sign on Jackson’s forehead.  Then I folded up the bill a number of times and placed it into an envelope.  P.T. Murphy then brought out two other envelopes with similarly folded pieces of paper.  Then he mixed up the envelopes and labeled them 1, 2, and 3.

P.T. Murphy asked me to select an audience member to pick an envelope so I picked my new friend, Cindy, who selected 2.  P.T. Murphy then proceeded to burn the other 2 envelopes.  He opened number 2 and iniside was a white piece of paper.  He carefully unfolded it to reveal the message, “Oops”.

Then P.T. Murphy asked me to bring over a box that was sitting in the corner.  He gave me the key and I unlocked the box and inside. . .was another box.  P.T. Murphy gave me the key to that box which I unlocked and inside. . .was a paper bag.  Inside the paper bag was on orange.  P.T. Murphy cut the orange in half and in the center was my signed $20 bill.

This was truly one of the most enjoyable events of my project.  If you find yourself in the Galena area, get a ticket to this show.  Afterwards, I returned to my room for a well deserved rest.

Last Morning

I had awoken at what I believed to be 6:30am according to the clock in my bedroom.  Since breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30, I just decided to putter around, relax, watch the news, repack,  and take a long shower.  After 90 minutes, I decided to go online to check the news and discovered that it was actually nearly 9am!!  My clock was an hour slow.

I threw on some clothes, quickly cleaned up, and made a speedy appearance in the dining room.  Today’s menus featured lovecakes (heart shaped pancakes) infused with cinnamon, banana, and/or blueberries, cinnamon swirl toast, a spinach quiche (with or without sausage), and linkers (sausages) or turkey bacon.  I opted for cinnamon lovecakes with the sausage and spinach quiche, turkey bacon, and cinnamon swirl toast (which I did get this time).  Once more it was a tasty meal with some delightful conversation.

With the end of breakfast came the end of my little sojourn.  Galena is a fun little town and my only regret was similar to my time in Abilene, KS as I came a little off-season.  There is so much to do here, but you need to come during the May-October season.  But there was more than enough to keep me occupied, interested, and entertained for the weekend.

And if you’re in the Galena area, get a room at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.  You’ll enjoy some great food and a most entertaining host and you just may have a bit of fun, educational or otherwise.

Rivercene Plantation: A Most Mysterious Mansion

Rivercene Plantation

Rivercene Plantation

I started this project to share the incredible tales of inns and their towns, but I think I am going to be hard pressed to find a tale to match that woven by Rivercene Plantation, owned by Donn Upp and Dr. Joe Ely.

It was an atypically warm day in February as I answered the call of the road which would be bringing me to the dual cities of New Franklin and Boonville.  New Franklin is the home of Rivercene Plantation while Boonville (a mere 500 feet away) is a historical town of forgotten significance.

I actually made it into the region much earlier than planned due to basing my drive time on Mapquest’s estimates.  I’ve concluded that Mapquest estimates are clearly made by someone who drives about 30 miles under the limit.  In any event, I puzzled over how to spend my extra time and passed a sign suggesting I visit historic Blackwater.  Why not?

So I made my unexpected side trip and passed through the microscopic town (the population is only 199) and noted that it did have the feel of a bygone era.  The main drag actually seems more like an old west town.  I quickly said hello and good-bye to historic Blackwater and made my way to the historic site of Arrow Rock.

Now I was expecting Arrow Rock to be, well, a rock.  In actuality, it is a pioneer village covering about a mile and a half.  Tours are actually available, but are very limited during the winter months.  But I was able to amuse myself with a little jaunt around the village, snapping a photo here and there until it was nearly time to check in to Rivercene.

As I said earlier, Rivercene Plantation is a hop, skip, and jump from the town of Boonville and is located just beyond the Boonslick Bridge which crosses the mighty Missouri River.  The mansion, itself, is on a very secluded acreage.  I bounded up the stairs and turned the old fashioned doorbell key and was soon greeted by Donn Upp.

Donn is not only one of the owners of the mansion, but he is also an author of horror novels.  He is also, without question, one of the most energetic people I have ever met and a raconteur par excellence.  Donn led me up to Cora’s Room which would serve as my base of operations for the next couple of days.  I was floored by the sheer massiveness of the room.  Easily, the largest room I have ever stayed in.  For an avid reader like myself, I especially appreciated the sitting area by the gas fireplace.

Cora's Room.

Cora’s Room.

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After being left to my own devices, I quickly settled in and discovered a history of the mansion in my room.  And, trust me, this mansion is chock full of history.  The house was paid for by Matilda Clarke Kinney, the second wife of Captain Joseph Kinney (founder of Kinney’s Shoes and a steamboat magnate) after her husband gave her a wedding gift of $50,000 to build her dream home.  Construction of the house began in 1864 and would be completed in 1869.  Rivercene Plantation served as the Kinney’s summer home until Captain Kinney’s retirement, at which point they relocated to the mansion permanently.

Aside from the history of the mansion, the folder also contained Donn’s story of how he became the owner of Rivercene and the many ideas he has for the place over the coming years.  One of his most intriguing plans is what he calls Ridgecliffe Manor.

Ridgecliffe Manor (set to begin in 2016) is going to be a mystery event unlike any other.  Essentially, the guests are going to get to live one of Donn’s novels and the groundwork is actually going to begin next month with YouTube videos, a Facebook page, and a website.  Characters will be introduced and people can get to know the story before getting dropped into the middle of it with Ridgecliffe Manor.  From listening to Donn, Ridgecliffe Manor sounds like it will be a combination of interactive theatre and a top flight Hollywood production and I will certainly do my best to attend one of those events.

Speaking of mysteries, Rivercene Plantation has an unsolved mystery of its own.  In 1895, Nobel Kinney, the son of Joseph and Matilda, died under mysterious circumstances when he fell over the second floor balcony and landed on the 8th and 9th steps of the main staircase.  The truth of what happened never left the house.  Nobel was the favored child of Matilda who mourned herself to death over the next year.

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The mystery of that night hangs over the inn to this day.  When Donn and Joe were preparing Nobel’s room to be rented out, strange things happened from the start.  The shower would spontaneously turn off and on.  Temperatures would go from one extreme to the other.  Donn said there was a sensation that nobody was allowed to use that room.  The room is not available for rent.

The home has been visited by paranormal investigators who say that the place is a hotbed for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena).  So if you are into ghost chasing, chances are you’ll want to visit this place and Donn will have some stories for you.

After Donn’s tour, I made the walk into Boonville to do a little exploring and then decided to get some dinner.  I had read of a restaurant called the 87 Diner which claimed to have “The Best Darn Cooking in the County”.  Well, I certainly had to put that to the test.

I arrived at the diner and it was packed!!  That certainly seemed to be a testament to the cooking.  I managed to find a table in the corner and was soon presented with a menu.  Nothing flashy.  Just good old fashioned comfort food.  I went for a turkey club and got it in an amazingly short amount of time considering how busy things were.

I can officially say there is some credence to the 87 Diner’s claims.  This was the best club sandwich I had ever eaten.  The bread was toasted just right, the bacon was firm, but chewy, and the turkey was the freshest I think I have ever tasted.  Definitely get a meal here.

I returned to the inn where I spent the rest of the evening organizing photos and enjoying the adventures of Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman burglar, Arsene Lupin, on my Kindle.

After a good night’s sleep I made my way downstairs to breakfast and met the other owner and chef, Dr. Joe Ely.  It was a fabulous meal due to both food and the company.  The inn was fully booked, so there was a large group to converse with and the food couldn’t have been better.  Mixed fruit, pecan cinnamon rolls, and a breakfast casserole fleshed out this excellent repast.  After 2 hours and buoyed by a good meal, I headed outside to begin a historical walking tour of Boonville.

The Grand Dining Room

The Grand Dining Room

As I’ve said, Boonville is a city of forgotten historical significance.  The Civil War plays a big role in Boonville’s history.  Heck, one battle was fought in the front yard of Rivercene Plantation.  The city is loaded with historical buildings such as the famed Kemper Military School which became defunct back in 2002.  Part of the campus has now been transformed into State Fair Community College.

Do you enjoy being outdoors?  If so, then take a walk on the Katy Trail.  This is a 225 mile hiking and biking trail.  Given that it was a blustery day and I had no food and water with me, I skipped the trail and settled for the 10 mile historical tour.

About halfway through the tour, my camera batteries died, so I finished the tour and then headed back to the inn, hoping to get back out later to finish my photography.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make it back out as the sharp wind and massive temperature changed caused a whanging headache so I rested in my room until it was time for worship.

I attended Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church which was very elegant, for lack of a better word.  It just seemed to possess a unique quality.  What made it better was that you could feel Jesus’ presence all throughout the service.  The deacon, who was an excellent speaker, gave an awesome sermon about the power of touch (both God’s and actual contact) based off the story in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus heals the leper.  It was the type of service that makes you feel like you’re floating 5 feet off the ground when the service is done.

Once services ended, I headed over to The Palace for some dinner.  Once again I had found a restaurant that was crammed to the rafters which is a good sign.  The place was so full that they actually had to makeshift a table for me behind the salad bar.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich which filled the cavity nicely.

From there, I headed back to Rivercene where I joined other guests and Donn in the parlor where we talked into the night about a variety of subjects.  About 10:30pm, I dragged myself up to my room where I crawled wearily into bed.

Breakfast the next morning featured a fully loaded table of guests as well as a repeat of yesterday’s morning meal though the sausage in yesterday’s soufflé had been replaced with spiral cut ham, plus Joe had prepared some orange rolls.  I chatted amiably with my new acquaintances, Tim and Christina, over the meal and about my future projects.  Donn appeared and announced that snow was set to begin falling, so I polished up my meal so I could finish the article and hit the road.

Due to its history and mystery, I would rate Rivercene Plantation as the most intriguing inn I have visited for this project.  If your journeys should bring you to this region, spend a night here.  You will hear some amazing stories, get some history, enjoy the company of a master storyteller, and taste some excellent cuisine.