Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fly/Drive Vacation 2016: #2

Hello! In today's post, I'll recount the 2nd half of our recent summer vacation. (Part 1 was covered in my preceding post). 

Day 5: We were only traveling from Omaha, NE to West Des Moines, IA today, so we lingered in our hotel room long enough to grab an early lunch at Los Portales a couple of miles away. Good tacos and great salsas! (I do enjoy a good, home-style salsa).

Not only did this restaurant get good reviews on Yelp, but it was on the way to Lauritzen Gardens. We like to visit botanical gardens (our daughter, the museum frowner, even likes them) and the 100-acre Lauritzen Gardens didn't disappoint. 

There was a  lot to see, but I managed only a couple of pictures:

Chenille plants inside the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory.

A train on the move in the Model Railroad Garden. I'm a sucker for small-scale installations such as this. I could have watched those trains going around and around the layout all day.

I didn't, of course - I also viewed the Children's Garden, the Garden of Memories, the Herb Garden, the English Perennial Border, and more. If you like botanical gardens, then Laurizten Gardens is a can't-miss if you visit Omaha. 

Next to the Gardens' parking lot is a set of steep stairs that lead up to Kenefick Park. At the top of the steps are two locomotives  and many signs that explain the history of Union Pacific Railroad. There's also a great view of the Missouri River, with the I-80 bridge spanning it. And on that bridge was the state line sign for Iowa, our next stop on the trip. 

Stopped in West Des Moines; we were back to our usual hotel-in-a-strip plaza location. As expected, my husband, the craft beer lover, championed dinner at Draught 50. Since it was a scant block away (if even that) from our hotel, I acquiesced. Wasn't expecting much from the menu, but my Philly Steak flatbread sandwich was better than anticipated, and we had a very friendly waitress too.

There was plenty of shopping in the area, although some stores had already closed for the day (it was Sunday evening). We did find a Trader Joe's, a TJ Maxx and an Orange Leaf fro-yo place open, and purchases were made at each stop.

Day 6: Another day of sightseeing ahead of us! After several previous trips through Iowa, I finally convinced my husband to stop in Pella, settled by the Dutch in 1847. He had never wanted to go there because we also live in a town settled by that same ethnic group, the same year. But I was curious to see how Dutch-American life is interpreted by the folks in Pella. 

The downtown was very quaint, but as we had other stops to make, we ate lunch at the Windmill Cafe (solid diner-style meals) there and  then just looked around a bit. We didn't do the town justice at all, but at least I could say at last I got to go there! 

A few pics:


This looks much like DeZwaan, the windmill on Windmill Island in Holland, MI. There's a difference though: Pella's Vermeer windmill is a reproduction, whereas ours is an actual Dutch windmill, dismantled over there, then shipped and put back together here. Both windmills are working grain mills; one can buy bags of flour produced from them. 

I spied Vermeer's milled flour for sale at the nearby visitor's center where, funnily enough, the woman we talked to had the same opinion about visiting Holland, MI as my husband had about touring Pella: like him, she didn't feel the need to visit another Dutch-oriented town. LOL.

One advantage Pella has over Holland - there are two bakeries downtown; in fact, they are on the same block. One of them, Jaarsma Bakery, is very well-known, and had the crowds to prove it. So I stopped into the other one:

Its offerings weren't as extensive as at Jaarsma, but they had Dutch letters for sale too, so I bought a small one. It was delicious! In case you don't know what they are, Dutch letters are rich pastries with an almond filling. 

Examples of architecture in downtown Pella.

I would have been happy to spend more time in Pella, but my husband wanted to check out Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. I wasn't quite sure why, but he's a college professor and thus likes to see what other campuses look like. So we drove up there and walked around a bit. It's a pretty campus and Grinnell is highly regarded for its liberal arts curriculum. 

The rest of the town didn't look like much, but at least I was rewarded with a purchase at the used book sale room in the town's public library: Richard J. Perry's The Good Home Cookbook. This is the sort of cookbook I enjoy: good old-fashioned cooking, with the history of many of the recipes included. But instead of the vague directions typical with older recipes, more detailed steps are included. I skimmed through it once we got back home and was happy I'd gotten it. 

Speaking of food, we drove on to Iowa City and ate at Augusta, near the edge of downtown. We've eaten at Augusta several times already, but at its former location in the village of Oxford. The owners made the move to Iowa City earlier this year, as it had become a struggle to thrive in Oxford's off-the-beaten-track location.
I missed the charm of the Oxford restaurant decor: mismatched chairs, tables, place settings. Even the salt and pepper shaker sets and flower vases were different from one table to the next. In the Iowa City location, everything matches. But the menu was the same Iowa/New Orleans blend(the owners once lived in the latter city). 

I stuck to the Iowa side and got a pork tenderloin sandwich. It is a huge thing, with the breaded meat sticking way out all around the sandwich bun. I only ate half of it and saved the rest for breakfast the next day. My husband went New Orleans with a shrimp po-boy sandwich, and our daughter ordered the grilled chicken club. The food was just as good as always and I highly recommend Augusta. 

College towns can be sleepy in the summer, but downtown Iowa City was hopping! Since it was after dinnertime on a Monday night, a few businesses were closing, but we had time to browse in Akar Architecture and Design. This is an artsy-style gift shop. I confess, I've yet to buy anything here in a couple of visits, but that doesn't mean I haven't been sorely tempted. In fact, I visited Akar this time to specifically buy something I'd seen there during my last visit. Alas, they no longer carried the item, so I couldn't buy it. 

Our last stop of the day was our hotel in Cedar Rapids. We've yet to do anything in this town other than stay at a hotel; this is due to always spending time in the Iowa City area. But sometime I'd love the visit the National Czech and Slovak Museum there. My husband's ethnic background is 1/4 Czech and 3/4 Slovak, so it'd be interesting to learn more about his heritage. 

Day 7: A return trip to Galena, IL, which we had visited twice last year. Both times we had to deal with very congested Saturday crowds. Galena is an old town with narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks, so navigating in car and on foot was challenging. Today's excursion was on a Tuesday, so we were hoping for lesser crowds.

And that we had - but didn't realize that many of the restaurants are either only open for dinner on Tuesdays, or aren't open at all. We understand that restauranteurs need time off after busy weekends, but had thought Monday would be the day off. One shop owner told us restaurants in one end of town take Monday off, while Tuesdays are for restaurants on the other end of the town to be closed. That may be true, but it seemed like we saw more closed than open places for lunch at both ends of town. But eventually we found the open Victory Cafe and ate there - another solid, diner-style place. 

We didn't have much time to shop in Galena since my husband wanted to get to our hotel in the Chicago area before rush hour hit. This was too bad, since the lack of congestion meant it was much easier to see what was in the stores. (some of the most popular stores get so crowded on peak tourism days, you can barely get in them). I did buy some fun craft supplies at Ink And Stamp With Sue - and had a hard time limiting myself to what I bought! It's a cool place if you're into rubber stamping, scrap booking and many other paper-related creative pursuits. 

Our final night on vacation was spent at a hotel in Hoffman Estates. From there, we headed over to The Lucky Monk for dinner. (my husband always seem to find a local brewpub every place we stay). Although noisy with after-work get-togethers, I liked the artwork that represented the beers made there, and the menu was decent. I got the mini taco plate, which meant I had room to split a very decadent brownie sundae with our daughter. Hey, it's vacation after all!

Of course, it was back to reality the next day when we returned home: dirty laundry to deal with, mail to go through, garden to water (it hadn't rained here while we were out of town), and a very upset cat who didn't appreciate our absence. But we'd had a very good time, and I hope you had a good time "traveling" with us!


  1. My cousin in law, if that's such a thing, graduated from Grinnell College! I wouldn't have known about the place when the boy got mailings from there if it hadn't been for that bit of info. Thanks for another great posting.

  2. My cousin in law, if that's such a thing, graduated from Grinnell College! I wouldn't have known about the place when the boy got mailings from there if it hadn't been for that bit of info. Thanks for another great posting.

  3. Thanks for stopping by!

    Unfortunately, the first time I heard of Grinnell College was in the 1990's. A student there was on her way back to campus at the beginning of the school year and her car broke down on I-80 in Illinois. She disappeared and her body was found several days later. Very sad. Nowadays, she would have been able to phone for help right away.

    I'm glad your knowledge of the school was for a much more positive reason, as it's a very good college.