Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Let's Go To Galena

Hello! My husband suggested one last family excursion before our daughter heads back to school, and I was fine with that. I was a little taken aback when he suggested we go to Galena, IL, but he reminded me that I'd expressed an interest in that town in the past. 

That's true - from reading Midwest Living magazine off and on for years, I'd read several articles about Galena, with most of them highlighting all the shopping one can do there. There's also some history, due to the presence of President Grant's house (now a museum) and the early wealth of the town due to then-flourishing lead mines. 

However, by now I've been to a number of quaint, restored towns that cater to the tourist trade, so I've become a bit immune to such places. It can be a bit of downer to visit a well-known town in a far-off state and discover that it looks just like a well-known town in your own state. 

But since I'd never been to Galena, I was up for a look. The trip began with a Friday night stay in the Chicago area, and then we were up early the next morning for the almost three-hour ride to Galena. 

It takes a little while to get there in part because the last stretch of road is a two-lane. It was very scenic though - the Galena area was spared the land-flattening effects of Ice Age glaciers, so the terrain was much hillier than most of the rest of Illinois. We saw vistas that rival the views seen from many parts of I-80 in Pennsylvania. 

But what would Galena itself look like? As soon as we drove onto Main Street I was charmed. We were on a narrow street bordered by narrow sidewalks and nicely-restored commercial buildings. We snaked our way through downtown and parked at its edge, near the Little Tokyo restaurant. As we walked to Little Tokyo we passed a brick apartment building with a sign identifying it as dating to 1840. 

Since it was such a hot day and we were going to have a hearty dinner elsewhere, we opted for a light lunch of sushi at Little Tokyo. It was decent quality. The restaurant is in an 1890's building that used to house an ice cream parlor, so I took a pic of the tin ceiling:

After lunch we split up to go our separate ways, although the downtown is small enough that we ran into each other a few times. Here's a view of the downtown area as I left the restaurant:

Visible from a side street just off the main drag is the Dowling House:

The plaque in front states that the house dates from 1826, making it the oldest house in Galena. 

We didn't tour the Grant house and I barely had time to glance at the Grant-related displays in the visitor's center. Both are worth more time, I'm sure. I did notice that the Grant family buggy, on display in the latter facility, bore a sign reminding visitors to keep off it or else Grant would be angry. 

What would happen - would Grant's ghost show up to whack the trespasser on the head? Maybe I should have gone here to find out:

Alas, Amelia's Galena Ghost Tours are only offered in the evenings, when we would be long gone, but I'd be up for a tour had we been spending the night in the area. "Amelia" is the name of one of the ghost tour owners, but I don't know if that's her likeness on the sign. 

There are other, more sedate tours one can take of Galena, ranging from a self-guided walk past old buildings, a trolley tour, hot air balloon rides, and more. 

My husband opted to walk along the Galena River Trail, but as it wasn't shaded, he didn't go as far as he would have on a more temperate day. It was sunny, humid and in the low 90's the day of our visit. We've not had much hot weather this summer, so our bodies aren't used to the heat!

Our daughter and I kept cool by ducking in and out of the many  shops downtown. I was happy to see that very few of them were of the tacky variety. True, there were the shops one sees in every tourist town that caters to people with money to burn: stores devoted to flavored popcorn, olive oils, chocolates, upscale clothing, etc. But perhaps the old-fashioned aura made everything seem more interesting. 

For instance, the ice cream parlor where our daughter beat the heat with a dish of blue moon. The space had clearly once housed a hardware store, for a long wall of wooden drawers was still in place:

The bottom photo shows that the drawer had once held shellac. 

A few more pics from downtown Galena:

The Midwest Garlic Festival was being held the same day in nearby Elizabeth, Illinois. Appropriately, this poster was spotted inside the Galena Garlic Company. (Despite that name, it seemed to carry more olive oils and vinegars than garlic-related products). 

My favorite foodie store - or should I say favorite two foodie stores - was Galena Canning Company. The business has two stores, across the street from each other. Store #1 features sweet and savory goodies - jams, jellies, dips, etc. Store #2 is for those who like to pack heat - in their bellies, that is: salsas, barbeque sauces, flavored mustards, pickled jalapenos, spice rubs and so on. All in all, a dizzying variety!

The majority of items in both stores are made by Galena Canning Company, although there were a number of products from other companies in the hot sauce store. And both stores feature ample opportunities to sample the goodies. Unfortunately for me, just about everything I tasted was so good I couldn't make up my mind what to buy - so I left empty-handed.

I would have taken photos in either store, but both were too crowded with other shoppers scooping up sample tastes on tortilla chips, pretzels and baby carrots. I met a friendly, 20-something couple while trying some salsas. They were from the Chicago area and mentioned it was their first visit to Galena too. They said they were really enjoying themselves. 

I do have other interests besides food, so I checked out Ink & Stamp With Sue (rubber stamps, art supplies, scrapbooking), several antique stores, and art galleries. 

A few more photos:

The first two photos show off more of the Main Street architecture, while the bottom photo is from the block above the downtown. A church and the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum are visible.

This post only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in Galena. I'm sorry that I doubted my husband's suggestion to go there, and I'm eager to return some day. Hopefully not when it's 95 in the sun, but it was definitely worth the trip!



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