Natural Tranquility: Hidden Serenity & West Bend, WI

Hidden Serenity Bed & Breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jail House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blades Barbershop

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

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

St Frances Cabrini

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

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

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

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

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

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

The Great Swiss Outing, Day 3: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Sleep was a little sketchy for me on the first night as my mind was dog tired, but my body still believed itself to be on U.S. time.  I awoke in the dead of night and wondered how long I slept.  Turns out I had only been asleep for two and a half hours, but it felt a great deal longer.  I watched TV until my eyes began to droop and managed to fall asleep again, though I had odd, jet lag dreams.  It was as if my wearied mind couldn’t put together a cogent story for a dream.

I was awoken from a deep sleep by the ringing of the telephone for my wake-up call.  It was a persistent little cuss as I had an auto call, a real person, and another auto call.  I organized my stuff, set my bag in the hall for the porter, and went downstairs for breakfast.

Breakfast was a buffet and I shared a table with Marty and Val as I enjoyed bacon, some incredible seasoned potatoes, smoked salmon, a bit of cheese, orange juice, milk, and a multivitamin drink that was actually pretty tasty.

We proved ourselves an organized bunch as all 43 of us were on the bus for us to leave at 8am on the tick.  First we would head to the Old Town of Zurich for a brief little tour.

Brane proved himself quite well versed in the history of Switzerland as he provided interesting tidbits of information.  We took a small walking tour of the town which was capped off with a visit to the Sprungli Confectionery.  They had assorted delights for a pretty penny.  FYI, Switzerland is the second most expensive country in Europe.  A bottle of pop costs 3.50 CHF (Swiss francs).  We were given a sample box of chocolate to nibble on at our leisure as we boarded a bus to visit the principality of Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is the smallest country on the planet and is ruled by a prince.  The royal palace sits high upon a hill and visitors are not permitted.  We stopped in the city of Vaduz which also doubled as our lunch break.

I wandered around the streets, marveling at the architecture.  I stopped at a convenience store for a Coke Zero.  Prices are much lower in Liechtenstein and I paid 1.60 Swiss francs for this beverage.  I walked back into the main part of town and stopped in at a Catholic church.

I’m not sure if this church actually has services as there was a bar in front of the altar with a sign saying, “Don’t approach.  Alarm in service.”  I did kneel and say a quick prayer that the tour would continue to go well before lighting a votive candle for my grandparents and my friend Kay.

I got back to the bus and we began driving up the mountain to the Julier Pass which has some spectacular views as it stands nearly 3,000 feet above sea level.  During the drive, Brane told us that the optional excursion of a buggy ride through the Roseg Valley was canceled due to inclement weather as it had started snowing hard.  We got a taste of the bad weather as the snow began to fall on us as well.  As Roseg Valley was another 4,000 feet above our current position, I can only imagine how much snow was pummeling them.

We took a brief stop at the top of the Pass for photos and restrooms, but only for a few minutes as the weather had turned mighty cold, mighty quick.  Then it was a speedy drive down to the spa town of St. Moritz.

St Moritz is known for a couple of things.  It has been the site of the Winter Olympics and it is split into 2 sections known as Bath and Dorf.  Bath is the resort/spa area of the town.  Dorf is the village area.  Specifically, it’s a village for the wealthy and I mean the very wealthy.

Tonight’s hotel was the Hotel Laudinella.  Since I would be getting a refund on the canceled carriage ride, I decided to reinvest the money into a massage.  If I’m at a spa hotel, I might as well get the full experience.  Right?

064

Hotel Laudinella

I got the last appointment of the night at 9pm, then proceeded to take a long walk along Lake St. Moritz.  This gave me a great opportunity to test out my new camera as it can take panoramic shots and be adjusted for vista and night shots.

059

I walked along the river as far as I was allowed, then turned back to the hotel.  At 6:15pm, we had dinner at Stuvi where I ate with Marty and Val and Mr. and Mrs. James Bond (not a joke).  Dinner was also buffet style and I had salad, water, turkey, shrimp cocktail, pork steak, rice & corn, potatoes, and a really ripping parfait for dessert.

Afterwards it was back to my room to get cleaned up and begin writing this article until it was time for my massage.

My therapist was the spa manager, Sonja Martocchi, who really worked the kinks out of my back, shoulders, hands, fingers, and especially a tight spot just below the back of my left knee.

I felt like a liquid when I was through and knew I would be guaranteed a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow we get to sleep in for another 15 minutes before going through the drill for another 8am departure.  The road will be taking us through a bit of Italy before our final destination which will feature a cruise on Lake Lugano followed by dinner in a traditional grotto restaurant.

 

Cotton Patch Redux, Days 3 & 4: Cotton Patchless

023

Thornton Inn

I imagine you saw the title and thought, “Huh?”  Unfortunately, it is true.  Have you ever had one of those days where fate seemed to conspire against you?  Well, I had that day on Friday and that conspiracy caused me to miss Cotton Patch Gospel. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The drive to Arlington was a shorter trip though somewhat marred by bumpy roads, construction, and heavy Friday traffic.  After weeding through the obstacles, I finally found myself in the town of Arlington where I would be staying at the Thornton Inn owned and operated by Sunny and Terry Graham.

Thornton Inn is quite unique in the sense that it is actually a renovated fraternity house.  The house is actually one of the oldest homes in Arlington being built in the early 1900s.  Eventually it became a frat house until a ruling by the University of Texas-Arlington decreed that all fraternity and sorority houses had to be located on campus.  The home was bought by the Grahams to be used as an office for Sunny’s real estate brokerage.  A suggestion that the home would make a good B & B inspired the Grahams to restore the house to its former scholarly glory and open it to guests in 2013.

Sunny and Terry are very kind hosts and great conversationalists.  Terry, in particular, is full of many incredible tales.  Terry led me to my room, the Remington, which housed a massive king bed which has been one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in and a beautiful modern bathroom with a shower that reminded me of the “Car Wash” in the now defunct Quill and Quilt of Cannon Falls, MN.

After settling in, Terry was kind enough to print out better directions for the Repertory Company Theatre.  After dressing for the play, I briefly toyed with the idea of arranging for a taxi to take me as I was tired after several days of driving.  In hindsight, I wish I had gone with the idea.

Under the best of circumstances, the drive from Thornton Inn to Repertory Company Theatre is about 40 minutes.  What I had to deal with was anything but the best of circumstances.

The journey must be experienced as it is very difficult to describe the roads used to travel from Arlington to Richardson.  One must use the LBJ Freeway and the George Bush Turnpike which consists of a maze of roads and exits which could easily baffle much better drivers than myself.

I was actually doing pretty well and wasn’t too far from my exit point when I saw an electronic sign flash the message that an accident had occurred right where I needed to exit and traffic ground to a halt.  I managed to get around the accident, breathing a sigh of relief that I had given myself 90 minutes just in case.  Then I faced my second problem.

My directions said one had to stay to the left in order to make the necessary turn.  Well, I followed those instructions to the letter. . .and it put me back on the freeway.  Not a problem, I got off at the next exit and got turned back around as precious minutes ticked away.

I found my road and thought I would make it in time to the show, but then I glanced at the road signs where, to my mounting horror, I suddenly saw I was somehow on a different street.  It turns out that the roads in Richardson are not unlike the roads in Flagstaff, AZ.  In Flagstaff if you turn left, the road is Apple Street.  But if you turn left, it’s Blueberry Street.  In Richardson, you need to be in just the right lane or you may find yourself on a road other than the one you want.

I desperately tried to find my road again, getting directions from a gas station.  I finally got back to my road and found the area where the theatre was located, but knew it was an exercise in futility as the show had already started.  I heaved a frustrated sigh and headed back to the inn.

I debated about whether or not I wanted to try again the next night, but there were problems with that.  I knew that each performance had less than 3 rows of seats still available before starting the trip so I wasn’t sure if I could still get a ticket.  You also cannot buy tickets online once it its 24 hours before showtime.  You can call the theatre for a ticket, but the box office doesn’t open until an hour before curtain.  Assuming I could still get a ticket, I still would have had the 40+ minute journey to re-endure.  It was too much of a gamble.  I wrote a letter to the theatre thanking them for Friday’s ticket and explaining why I was unable to make it.

The stress of the failed trip took a toll on my sleep as I woke up during the night with my body going through symptoms similar to a panic attack.  A few deep breaths brought my twitching body back under control and the comfort of the bed helped me fall back asleep.

Terry and Sunny were very sympathetic about my plight.  Terry felt guilty as he had printed out directions for me, but I assured him he could have done nothing more.  The bad luck was completely beyond his control.  But the delicious breakfast of breakfast tacos, fruit, bacon, and a hash brown helped perk me up.

018

Breakfast tacos

Luckily I had a relaxing activity planned for the day.  I had arranged for a 90 minute massage at the Sanford House Bed and Breakfast and Spa.  Under Margo’s ministrations I felt my body loosen up and unwind and some cheese and water afterwards helped complete the treatment.  The Sanford Spa is definitely worth a visit if you want some pampering.

Afterwards, I headed to the Parks at Arlington mall where I wandered around briefly before returning to the inn where I watched some Elementary, finished a video game, and caught a nap.

I attended worship services at St Maria Goretti Catholic Church.  This was a beautiful church and the people were so welcoming.  It was a nice service with a good sermon from Father.

When worship had ended and under the suggestion from Sunny, I had dinner at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House.  Sunny had raved about their food and the crowd that met me certainly testified to the quality of the meal as it was packed to the rafters.  Even as the dynamic uno, I had to wait 30 minutes for a table.

But it was worth the wait.  Babe’s is better as a group as it is family style dining.  You get your choice of one of 5 meats and sides of corn, biscuits, salad, green beans, gravy, and mashed potatoes are brought on.  I opted for chicken fried steak which I managed to eat half of and helped myself to a little of each of the sides.  The mashed potatoes are the best I’ve ever tasted.  Price is about $15 per person, so it is very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food.

When dinner was done, I did a little work posting photos, but found myself uninspired to write.  I decided to go to bed.

The next morning I had a filling breakfast of French toast, fruit, bacon, and sausage to strengthen me for the drive home.

I truly did enjoy my time at Thornton Inn and you cannot find better hosts than Sunny and Terry.  If you find yourself in Arlington, do yourself a favor and book a room here.