In the Heart of History: Chestnut Charm & Atlantic, IA

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Chestnut Charm Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Atlantic, IA.

I thought I had checked out all of the B & Bs close to my neck of the woods, but imagine my surprise when I was looking over my list and saw that I missed one in the nearby town of Atlantic, IA.  Immediately I booked a visit to Chestnut Charm Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by Barbara.

Truthfully, I badly needed a little getaway.  I’d had an unusually difficult week capped by a Friday the 13th that lived up to its moniker as everything that day went foul and the day ended with a notification that a project I’d hoped to be part of had fallen through.

Saturday the 14th started much better with a bright sunny day making for a pleasant drive to nearby Atlantic, the Coca-Cola capital of Iowa.

I got into town a little bit early as I wanted to do a bit of exploration.  Atlantic is like stepping back in time to a more peaceful era with a quaint downtown area with old-fashioned street lamps and shops that close up early on the weekends.

Coca-Cola is a big part of the town as you will find painted murals of the soft drink all over the downtown area and a bottling plant is in the heart of downtown.  There’s even a Coca-Cola museum and information center that I may visit on a future jaunt to this city.

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Coca-Cola Bottling Companay

I definitely plan to return during the Christmas season because Atlantic prides itself on how it celebrates the Yuletide season with a celebration called Christmas in Atlantic.  This celebration features over six miles of LED lights in the downtown area, a visit from St Nick, fireworks, themed window displays and a lighted parade.

After a brief walkaround, I headed off to Chestnut Charm, a 121 year old Victorian mansion situated on a 2 acre property.  The mansion had been built by a lumber baron named Edward Shaw as a wedding present to his daughter.

I was greeted by Barbara who is a “jane of all trades” as she grows her own fruits and vegetables, built the property’s gazebo, and has done quite a bit of work on the mansion itself, aside from being its resident chef.  She is also a waterfall (fount seems too small a word) of knowledge and an expert on the history of the region.  Barbara told me about all sorts of interesting historical facts about the region and gave me numerous ideas of side/day trips to take on future outings such as St Patrick’s in Imogene, IA and the windmill and Dutch museum of Elk Horn.

Barbara escorted me to the Manson Master Suite which is a very comfortable and spacious area with a fireplace, hardwood floors, a queen sized bed, a private sunroom, and a bathroom with a rather deep tub.  I had just enough time to take in the room before heading over to worship at Sts Peter and Paul.

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Sts Peter and Paul

The service brought a great sense of peace to me and made me more than ready to enjoy dinner at The Redwood Steakhouse in nearby Anita, IA.

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The Redwood

The Redwood prides itself on being an old-fashioned steakhouse.  Back in the day steakhouses would actually bring a relish tray so diners would have something to nosh on before their entrees came and The Redwood continues that practice.  My tray contained pickles, black olives, green olives, carrots, cauliflower, cheese, and pickled herring which was actually quite tasty.  A little French bread and salad and a bit of the items from the relish tray wonderfully tided me over.

For my entrée, I opted for a NY Strip and took Barbara’s suggestion to try the hash browns.  Barbara claimed these were the best hash browns around and she was right on the money.  They were nice and crisp on the outside, but soft and fluffy in the middle and a bit of cheese and onions gave it that extra bit of kick.  My NY Strip was cooked perfectly and I seasoned it with spices at the table and enjoyed a long and pleasant dining experience.

When I returned to Chestnut Charm, Barbara showed me a battalion of Monarch butterflies flying around her neighbor’s yard and introduced me to Concord grapes which I had never tasted before, but found them quite sweet and learned they were the grapes used in Welch’s jelly and probably their soda back when that existed.

From there, Barbara educated me on the history and interesting sights of the area before we called it a night and I went to my room to rest and write.  A nice long soak in the deep bathtub had me ready for a trip to the land of Nod.

I awoke, truly refreshed for the first time in a week and was ready for breakfast.

Barbara greeted me in the kitchen and led me to the sunroom where a glass of water was waiting for me.  Barbara shortly brought me orange juice and an egg frittata with onions, garlic, Italian herbs, and zucchini from her garden along with sweet smoked bacon which was locally produced and magically prepared in her kitchen, and a peach muffin stuffed with raspberry jam with both fruits coming from her garden.

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After picking my plate clean, I finally did a little exploration of the mansion.  At 121 years of age, this home was produced before electricity and plumbing and back when craftsmanship was king.  The woodwork is prepared by hand.  Stained glass windows adorn the property.  Cloth is handpainted.  The lamps on the stairwell are now electric, but were once much bigger Victorian gas lamps.  The property also contains a carriage house where the inn’s two jacuzzi suites reside.  There’s even a 101 year old Victorian piano which can actually be played.

Regrettably reality was calling me back home and I had to pack it in.  But a trip to Chestnut Charm and Atlantic, IA is well worth a visit.  You’ll find a plethora of history in the area, enjoy a fine home cooked meal, meet a hostess with intimate knowledge of the area, and maybe a bit of Christmas cheer if you time it right.

Until the next time, happy travels.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 3: Going Back to School & A Night at the Cabaret

A full night’s sleep did wonders and I was ready to attack a fresh, new day.  But, first, the inner man needed to be restored.

With one exception, all of our breakfasts were the same over in Ireland.  We always ate in the hotel dining room and enjoyed a breakfast buffet.  The food is pretty much the same as you’d find in America except their bacon is closer to ham, puddings (types of sausages) are available, tomatoes and mushrooms are big breakfast staples, a cereal called Wheatabix is common, porridge is common, and baked beans are often served in deference to British guests as that is a staple of an English breakfast menu.

After dining, we boarded our motorcoach and began a driving tour through Dublin.  Bill educated us on the history of the city, pointed out muse houses, directed our attention to the River Liffey which splits the town like Jekyll and Hyde (everything north of it is the bad side of town while the south is the good part of town).  He also pointed out a hotel owned by the group, U2.

We stopped off at St Patrick’s Cathedral where we spent a little time exploring the grounds and church.  Then it was back on the bus to our final stop over at Trinity College which educated luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.

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The rest of the afternoon was ours to spend as we chose.  I decided to take a tour of the college.  Out tour guide was imminent graduate, Alex Gregory, who gave a rather eye opening view to life at Trinity.

For starters, undergraduate college education in the European Union is subsidized by the government which means the students pay no tuition, though Ireland does charge its students a student fee of 3,000 Euros a year.  Alex also showed us the dining hall where all students can eat lunch every day.  Supper is also served, but one has to be a scholar to get that.

Scholar is a designation given to students who score a minimum of 70 on the Scholars’ Exam which takes place each December.  It is an incredibly difficult comprehensive exam given in your major.  It’s a little easier for science and math students as those answers are objective.  As the arts are so subjective the last arts student to get a 70 was Samuel Beckett.  The perks for being a scholar are a dinner every night, a waiver of all fees, and the ability to live on campus for 5 years for free even if you have graduated.

The grounds of the college are immaculate and Alex told us that it is clipped and mowed twice a day every day.  As Ireland prides itself on its grounds, I imagine a good groundskeeper earns a pretty good living in Ireland.

When our tour ended, I visited the Samuel Beckett Theatre and then headed to the library to gaze on the Book of Kells.  It is actually 4 books (the 4 Gospels to be precise) and is the oldest, best preserved Bible in the world believed to have been written about 800 AD.  It is incredibly well preserved and only appears to be a few hundred years old.

I finished up my campus explorations and wandered down O’Connell Street which is a famed shopping district also known for its buskers (street performers).  As I walked down the street, I passed a McDonald’s and decided to stop in for a snack.  I had hoped to try their local sandwich, a Cajun Quarter Pounder, but they were no longer selling it.  I settled for a double cheeseburger and made my way to St Stephen’s Green.

St Stephen’s Green is the Central Park of Dublin and it is a gorgeous property.  The birds there also know no fear.  I could have jumped up and down and shouted, “BLBBBBLBBBB!!!!” and those birds wouldn’t have reacted.

I enjoyed a constitutional and then started hoofing it back to the hotel.  As I walked I made a few observations on Irish drivers and pedestrians.  The drivers seem to be a little hot tempered as I often heard honking horns and jaywalking is the national pastime.  Seriously.  Pedestrians often cross in the middle of a road and raise their arms and the drivers stop for them.

I got back to the hotel and puttered around until early evening as we boarded the motorcoach for our first optional excursion.

We drove to Taylors Three Rock, a famed cabaret restaurant.  This place is a complete sellout 364 days of the year.  The only day it doesn’t sell out is Christmas because it isn’t open that day.  They serve a fabulous meal and I enjoyed Atlantic salmon for my main dish.  The entertainment is also top notch as they use name Irish entertainers.  I chuckled to the jokes of Noel V. Ginnity, Ireland’s cleanest comedian, was enthralled by the harp playing and singing of Rebecca Murphy, swayed to the tunes of Rob Vickers, an Irish tenor who played Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables at London’s West End, and thrilled to the footwork of their world champion Irish stepdancers.

It was a lovely evening that ended much too soon, but we needed to get back to the hotel as we needed our rest as we would travel to a new city the next day.