Spring Green, Wisconsin

Spring Green, Wisconsin

Last month we took an overnight trip to Spring Green, Wisconsin.  Its located just 40 miles west of Madison.  The area is known as the River Valley (the river being the Wisconsin), and there’s a good mix of outdoor activities and culture in the community.

Spring Green has a population of just 1,600, and for a small town, its Main Street business district is varied with a number of quality shops and restaurants.   

Nina’s is a throw-back to the days of Five & Dime Stores.  It has everything from clothes to housewares to classic toys.  We learned from the owner that Nina’s has been included on a list of the Greatest Five & Dime Stores still operating.

Just down the street is Arcadia Books, an independent bookseller with a great inventory. Their coffee shop had “scuffins” – a cross between a scone and a muffin.  I really liked them.

Our hotel for the night was the Spring Valley Inn, a charming place with a Frank Lloyd Wright feel.  The Inn was originally built as a visitor’s center for Taliesin by the architectural firm that Wright founded.  We even had an old-fashioned room key instead of those plastic cards that most places use now.

Wisconsin is famous for its supper clubs so we tried out Arthur’s in Spring Green.  They serve prime rib every day, and it was delicious.

This time of year, orchard and markets are in full swing. We stopped at Peck’s Farm Market on the edge of town to enjoy the pumpkins and other produce.  They also keep animals and offer haunted houses and other Halloween fun.

Our main mission in traveling to Spring Green was to tour Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright.  We opted for the grand 4-hour tour to see all the buildings and learn the complete back story.  Our guide was Bill, and he was excellent.

Taliesin was Wright’s life-long home until his death in 1959.  It was a working farm as well as an architecture school. The property was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019. The landscape around Taliesin features green hills and valleys. Wright’s family, the Lloyd Jones, lived in this area since the mid-1800s.

Taliesin no longer offers an architecture school, but the space and drafting tables are still in place.  The floor is unusual in that it’s plywood turned on end, giving it a stripe effect.  Plywood was just coming into use in the late 1920s, and Wright found several applications for it.

Wright tried out his architectural and engineering skills when he designed the Romeo and Juliet tower.  The tower was built to pump water on the farm.

The milk house was located in the turret with a spire on top.  A series of farm buildings behind the milk house were used to raise cows, chickens, and pigs.

The word Taliesin means “shining brow” and Wright built his home along the “brow” of a hill.

Below is Wright’s studio where he designed some of his most famous buildings, including Falling Water.

The Living Room features art from Wright’s Asian collection.

Taliesin is a worth-while visit on its own, but there’s lots more to see. We look forward to returning and exploring more of the area.

Two Rivers, Wisconsin

After watching an episode of Netflix’s “Amazing Vacation Rentals” that featured a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, we decided to check it out for a fun weekend.  Our oldest son and his wife joined us for the adventure.

Still Bend, back yard

The Bernard Schwartz House, or Still Bend as Wright named it, was built in 1940.  The construction was based on a plan Wright submitted for Life Magazine’s Dream Home.  In his own words . . .  “I think this plan recognizes it for pretty much what it is – a little private club – with special privacies, ultra conveniences and style all the while.”

Today you can rent the house to experience Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and life style first hand like the original owners.  Tours are also available.

As you pull into the driveway, the front of the house is very unassuming.  The front door is hidden so you’re not immediately sure where to go in.  Once inside, it’s definitely Frank Lloyd Wright.  The low entrance area gives way to a grand two story living and recreation room.  Wright used red tidewater cypress board and batten and red brick for the interior that gives the space a warm glow, particularly at night.

Living Room
Living Room
Downstairs Bedroom

The house was designed for middle-class Americans, so instead of stained-glass windows that Wright used in his wealthy clients’ homes, he used wood for his shapes and light.

Wright believed that room size and cost should be given over to the living areas so the upstairs bedrooms tend to be smaller than what we are used to today.

Upstairs Guest Room

The present homeowner encourages guests to cook in the kitchen.  Above the cupboard, there are some great reminders of the past on display.  And to keep the experience more authentic, there is no microwave.  We made coffee in a Chemex carafe. 

Bernard Schwartz was a devoted fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, but Mrs. Schwartz – not so much.  She made two requests of Wright for a linen closet in one of the bathrooms, and he declined both times to put one in the plan.  In the third request, Mrs. Schwartz reminded Wright that he was working for her, and she got the closet.  However, Wright located the closet in such a place that the bathroom door hit the toilet whenever it was opened, plus the door could only be opened half-way.  Don’t mess with this architect.

I enjoy lighthouses, and there’s usually some to visit if you’re around the Great Lakes.

The 1886 Two Rivers Lighthouse is now on display at the local Fishing Village & Museum.  There’s also ships and sculpture that reinforce the area’s maritime heritage.

Two Rivers Lighthouse

Inside Point Beach State Forest, about six miles away, is the Rawley Point Lighthouse.  It dates from 1894.  The steel tower rises 113 feet above the lake to make it the tallest lighthouse on the Wisconsin Shore. The keeper’s house is now a privately owned residence, but the lighthouse itself is still operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Rawley Point Lighthouse

The Lake Michigan beach in front of the lighthouse is excellent for walking.

Over in Manitowoc, the Breakwater Lighthouse stands at the end of a long pier that you can walk out to.  The building is closed but take the stairs up to the next level and enjoy the view.  

Breakwater Lighthouse

Nearby, the S.S. Badger car ferry was preparing to leave at 2:00 p.m.  The Badger, which began service in 1953, is the last coal-burning passenger ship in operation in the U.S.  It crosses Lake Michigan in a four-hour trip and docks at Ludington, Michigan.  The mighty ship can accommodate 600 passengers and 180 vehicles.

S.S. Badger

After all the lighthouses and ship viewing, we stopped at Beerntsen’s Confectionary in downtown Manitowoc.  They’ve been in business since 1932, and inside, it’s a delightful step back in time with the walnut booths and decorative arches. Beerntsen’s has candy, ice cream, and light lunches.  We tried something in all three categories. The egg salad sandwiches were delicious, and we followed that with ice cream sundaes and candy to go.

It was a memorable weekend to stay in a Frank Lloyd Wright home, and I’m looking forward to returning to the Two Rivers area.  There’s a lot to explore on the shores of Lake Michigan.  

Stillwater, Minnesota

On a recent visit to the Twin Cities, we took a day trip to the historic town of Stillwater.  It’s located just thirty minutes east of St. Paul, right on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. 

Stillwater claims the title of the birthplace of Minnesota because the first territorial convention to establish Minnesota as a state was held near the town center. Many of the historic buildings have been preserved, and Main Street is listed on the National Register.

Stillwater sits on the banks of the beautiful St. Croix River. You can board any number of tour boats for some sightseeing from the water, or stay on land and take a trolley ride to view the historic homes.

With son and daughter-in-law and new granddaughter along, we explored the streets and shops on foot.  It was Christmas in July when we stepped into the Kathe Wohlfahrt store. I had been in these stores in Germany and learned that this was the only one in North America.  It was a small shop but had all the familiar glass and wooden Christmas items.  I did some early holiday shopping.

An icon in the community is an historic lift bridge that spans the river. The bridge was completed in 1931, and in a neighborly fashion, the cost was split between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Today the Stillwater Bridge is pedestrian/bicycle rider only. 

Stillwater Lift Bridge
Stillwater Bridge with the mid-section raised

The bridge is somewhat unique in that the midsection raises vertically when a tall boat needs to pass underneath.  According to the information board posted nearby, the boat captain approaches and signals to the lift bridge operator, who is stationed in a little building on the bridge, to raise up the middle section.  Horns honk, lights flash, and gates in front of the moving part close off the area.  After the boat passes, the raised section slowly comes back down, the gates open, and everyone is free to continue.  Once you get across the bridge, you’re in Wisconsin!

There’s plenty of restaurants to enjoy in town, and we chose the Dock Café with its outdoor patio.  The restaurant sits next to the St. Croix so we could take in all the activity on the river while we were eating lunch.  The Dock offers a great view of the lift bridge, too.

Patio at the Deck Cafe

I would highly recommend a visit to Stillwater.  Being from Illinois, it reminded me a lot of Galena, one of my favorite towns in our state.  I’m looking forward to returning to Stillwater at Christmas time – Midwest Living magazine named it a Magical Midwest Main Street during the holidays. 

St. Paul, Minnesota

It was back to St. Paul recently for a family visit and a chance to see more of the city. 

Cathedral of St. Paul

We noticed that the Cathedral of St. Paul offered an Art and Architecture tour at 1:00 in the afternoon, so that was first on the agenda. 

Our tour guide, James, was very knowledgeable and gave an excellent one-hour tour. 

The cathedral was completed in 1915 in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture.  It rivals many of the cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe. There’s lots of imported marble, but also a surprising amount of local materials.  The exterior of the cathedral is granite from St. Cloud, and the interior walls are travertine from Mankato, Minnesota.

The dome reaches 186 feet high

Behind the altar are six chapels dedicated to the patron saints of the ethnic groups that settled in the St. Paul area.  One of my favorites was Cyril and Methodius, patron saints of the Slavic people.

Cyril and Methodius

A reproduction of Michelangelo’s Pieta is on display in a chapel near the cathedral entrance.  It was donated in 2010.

St. Paul Neighborhoods

While driving around the different neighborhoods, we noticed a yard decorating trend of two chairs set on the front lawn.  They were usually Adirondack style chairs, and they were seen in a variety of colors.  I learned they might be a throwback to the Minnesota lake culture; the chairs look like ones you would see at a cabin overlooking the water.  Once you start noticing them, they seem to be everywhere.   By the way, I never saw anyone sitting in the chairs.

Photo by Carrie Lange

This house wins the prize.  Five chairs and a little one.

Even a trip to Menards was an interesting experience.  The business was two-story, and you and your shopping cart, if you have one, travel together on a magnetic escalator to the second floor.

At the top you’re greeted by music from a grand piano.  At a hardware store!  All that, and we saved big money at Menards, too.


During an earlier visit to the city, my daughter-in-law made reservations for afternoon tea at the historic St. Paul Hotel. It was fun to put on a dress and enjoy the tradition.  The sweets were delicious!  The St. Paul is a classic hotel, and we enjoyed looking around afterwards.

St. Paul Hotel lobby

Nearby is the handsome Union Depot that opened in 1917.

Inside is a mural made from 600,000 Lite Brite bulbs, titled “Forever St. Paul.” There are several other public artworks to enjoy as you stroll around the station.

St. Paul has much to offer at any time of the year. Happy Fall!

Twin Cities – Minneapolis/St. Paul

The past year has been unfortunate for those of us who like to travel, and I’m happy to say I’m back on the road again.  This time it’s to Minneapolis-St. Paul.  I’ve never been to the Twin Cities, but I now have a good reason to make frequent visits – son #2 and daughter-in-law, Alex and Carrie, moved there in October 2020.

We started our weekend with a stop at the Nordic Ware Factory Store in the St. Louis Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.  The founder of Nordic Ware, David Dalquist, invented the bundt pan in 1950. As I walked in the store, I noticed an entire wall of these items.  I’ve never seen so many shapes for a bundt pan . . . everything from a castle to an octopus to a tractor.  I opted for the traditional style in a vintage seafoam green color.

After filling up the back of our vehicle with assorted bakeware and a bundt pan, we headed over to St. Paul and Fort Snelling State Park.  The park is undergoing some changes right now – lots of fenced off areas and signage are promising a new visitor center and new visitor experience in 2022.  

Fort Snelling

The fort itself dates back to 1820 when it was built at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.  It served as a military post in some capacity until 1946, and later the area was established as a state park in 1961.  Fort Snelling was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 for its importance as the first military post in the region and its later history in the development of the United States Army.

Currently the fort is closed due to the pandemic so we walked around the outside and then followed the hiking trails to the forest. It’s a nice park to explore.

Summit Avenue 

A not-to-be missed area in St. Paul is Summit Avenue.  The 4.5 mile stretch of road features historic mansions on both sides of the street. Something like 373 of the original 440 homes are still there, and you can see all styles of architecture.

F. Scott Fitzgerald House

Of particular note is 599 Summit Avenue, known as Summit Terrace, and the former home of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his parents. In the summer of 1919, Fitzgerald rewrote the manuscript for his first novel, This Side of Paradise, while he lived there.  The home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971 for its association with the author.

Como Zoo

The Como Zoo can trace its origins back to 1897 when the city of St. Paul received a donation of three deer.  More animals were added through the years and facilities were built for them.  Today the enclosures are roomy and appropriate for the various species, the walkways and areas for humans are pleasant, and it all makes for an agreeable visit.


Right next door to the Como Zoo is the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.  The building is one of the few glass-domed, Victorian style gardens left in the U.S.  This one was built in 1915.  The conservatory is a popular place for weddings and receptions.  They host about 275 weddings a year.  

The building houses some grand tropical plants in its main room with a 64-foot dome. I liked the room where spices are grown –  it had an inviting smell.  I’m only familiar with the finished product in a jar at the supermarket, so it was interesting to see the plants where the spices come from.

Orchid Room
Carrie and Alex in the Tropical Room

A favorite area in the conservatory is the Sunken Garden Room.  It features blooming flowers that are switched out five times a year.

Sunken Garden Room
Spring flowers in the Sunken Garden Room

When you exit the conservatory, you can walk through a lovely Japanese garden.

Minnehaha Falls

Back in Minneapolis, another outdoor place to explore is the Minnehaha Regional Park.  It’s one of the oldest and most popular parks in the city. The main feature is a 53-foot waterfall, but the area also has several historic buildings, as well as plenty of hiking and biking trails and picnic grounds.

Minnehaha Falls
Minnehaha Depot
Minnehaha Depot under the canopy

Right near the falls is the Victorian-era Minnehaha train station.  It’s a charming little building that was completed in 1875 and nicknamed the “Princess Depot” because of its gingerbread trim.  It stood on the first railroad line west of the Mississippi River to connect Minneapolis with Chicago.  Back in the day, when the city was smaller and the depot was considered out in the country, a steady stream of trains also brought local residents from Minneapolis to the park for a day of picnicking and sightseeing. 


John H. Stevens House

The John H. Stevens House (1850) also sits near the falls.  It was moved from the Fort Snelling area to Minnehaha Park in 1896.  The house is important as the first home on the west bank of the Mississippi River in what is now Minneapolis.  There was lots of socializing and planning for the community’s future in the Stevens House.  For that reason, it’s sometimes referred to as the birthplace of Minneapolis. 

Longfellow House

Another home moved to Minnehaha Park is the Longfellow House.  It was built in 1907 to resemble the Cambridge, Massachusetts home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Longfellow died in 1882 so he never saw the house or lived in it.) 

 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow became connected to Minneapolis when, in his poem, The Song of Hiawatha, he gave the young Native American woman the name of Minnehaha. (Longfellow was inspired to use that name after seeing an 1855 photograph of Minnehaha Falls.)  The success of Hiawatha made the Falls a tourist destination.

The owner of Longfellow House was a flamboyant Minneapolis businessman named Robert Jones who built the replica house as a celebration of the famous poem and its author.  The house was deeded to the Minneapolis Park Board in 1934, following Jones’ death.

I enjoyed my first visit to the Twin Cities.  Our activities were geared to the outdoors because of the pandemic, and thankfully it was a beautiful weekend to be outside.  I’m looking forward to returning when museums, shops, and restaurants are safer to visit.  Minneapolis-St. Paul has a lot to offer!

European Holiday

I love Christmas and all the special events that go with the Season.  So this year I decided to do things in grand style with a trip to Europe to see how the Holidays are celebrated in the Old Country.


Mike and I and three of his cousins booked a Rhine River cruise for early December.

Chris and Norm traveled from Oregon, and Jan came from the state of Washington. We all met in Basel, Switzerland.

Our voyage was titled “Rhine Holiday Markets,” and as the name suggests, had an emphasis on the Christmas Markets along the way.  We visited eight cities in as many days.


The origins of the Christmas Markets can be traced back over 500 years ago to Nuremburg, Germany.  They initially offered citizens a chance to stock up on goods for the coming winter months.  These markets of everyday staples eventually evolved into Christmas markets with its decorated stalls. Over the centuries, the markets brought cheer, color and light in the long, cold winter months.

Something I noticed in all the cities we visited – Europeans decorate with white lights, never any of the colored bulbs we see here in the U.S.  This probably goes with the tradition of candles at the early markets.

Lucerne, Switzerland


Our travels began in Basel, Switzerland.  The Swiss are famously independent and stayed neutral in both World Wars.  They declined to join the European Union, and still use the Swiss franc as their currency.  You can make purchases with Euros, but you’ll get francs in return as change.

Switzerland has five official languages – German, French, Italian, English, and Romansh.  Romansh is spoken in the southeastern region of the country and is derived from Latin.

The city of Basel is an industrial and technology center with a high number of foreigners in residence.  Thirty-six percent of the population is not Swiss.  In religious beliefs, it’s about half Catholic and half Protestant.

Basel is known for its fountains.  Over 300 are scattered throughout the city.  On the fountain pictured below is a basilisk which is associated with Basel.  Basilisks are a mythological animal that can be described as a cock with dragon’s wings, having the beak of an eagle, and the tail of a lizard.  If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you read about them in  J.K. Rowling’s books.


Middle Bridge – tower in the middle of the bridge was a chapel

City Building

After our city tour, we enjoyed the market in Basel.



Before leaving Switzerland, we took a bus trip to the central part of the country to visit the beautiful city of Lucerne.  I live in a town with two covered bridges, so I was most looking forward to seeing Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge, a covered footbridge that dates to 1333.  It is the oldest truss bridge in the world and measures 672 feet long.   I walked over the bridge twice and took photos of the wonderful old paintings that can be seen up in the interior triangle of the roof.  The paintings show events from Lucerne’s history.


Lucerne’s Christmas Market


Merchant selling reindeer pelts




After visiting Basel and Lucerne, we set sail up the Rhine to the next city.  We went through a series of locks in rapid succession and completed a total of ten.  1st Captain Menno Van Meerveld was our Dutch captain of the ship.  He ably piloted us on the busy river.

The mighty Rhine has always been a major trade route in Europe. It flows north from the Alps in Switzerland through six countries and eventually drains into the North Sea in the Netherlands. Today there is still a steady stream of barges transporting goods.  We learned that captains need special training and certification to navigate the Rhine.


S.S. Antoinette

Our floating hotel for the next eight days was the S.S. Antoinette, owned by Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.  We shared the longship with 129 other passengers.



The lobby featured a 10-foot blue Strauss Baccarat chandelier that once hung in New York City’s Tavern on the Green.








The ship had a nice lounge, and the five of us spent time there playing cards and dominos.  We also had musical entertainment a couple of nights later in the cruise.  The most enjoyable extra for me was a lecture on European Holiday Traditions that was given by a local historian, Rebecca Hajek.


Mike, Chris, Jan, and Norm

We always had plenty of snacks in the Lounge.

The food was prepared by our executive chef, Peter Magac.  Toward the end of the tour we had a cake decorated with a map of our cruise.


Pam, Chef Magac, and Jan


We spent the third day of our cruise in Strasbourg, France which is located in the historic region of Alsace.  It’s a lovely city known for its well-preserved, half-timber buildings.  It’s also the official seat of the European Parliament, and along with Brussels and Luxembourg, is one of the three main capitals of the European Union.


We took a tour of the Cathedral of our Lady and checked out the astronomical clock.












The stores were beautifully decorated for the Holidays.


Strasbourg Christmas Market

We continued our journey to Heidelberg, Germany.  I liked Heidelberg.  It’s a college town with the oldest university in Germany (1386) and the third oldest in Europe.  The university is well-respected and boasts eleven Nobel Prize winners, with five of them in the field of medicine.  Heidelberg was spared much of the bombing of WWII and has a classic old European feel about it.

Downtown Heidelberg

The first half of our day was spent exploring Heidelberg Castle.  It’s a rambling mix of buildings dating from 1214.  Much of it is in ruins, but overall the castle has great appeal.






Located in the cellars of the castle is the Heidelberg Tun, a giant barrel that held 58,000 gallons of wine.  Supposedly 130 oak trees were used in its construction.


During the Romantic Movement of the 1800s, artists painted the castle ruins and the surrounding landscape.  Mark Twain described Heidelberg Castle in his 1880 travel book, A Tramp Abroad.



Our group took the funicular from the castle hill down to Main Street.


We had lunch at a lovely restaurant called the Golden Falke.


During the afternoon we walked around the Christmas Markets and along the river.


On to Wiesbaden.  This town was made famous by its thermal springs and spas.  In the 1800s, the rich and famous gathered to enjoy the baths and do some gambling, which was also popular.  Among the visitors back then was Fyodor Dostoevsky, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Wagner.


I liked the Christmas market in Wiesbaden.  It had a unique color theme of blue and gold.

Rudesheim was another charming town.  Riesling wine is popular in this area of Germany.





You’ll also want to try Rudesheim coffee when you’re in town.  All the coffee houses serve it.


The drink was invented in 1957 and combines local Asbach Uralt brandy and coffee.  In Rudesheim, it’s served in a special cup.  To make the coffee, flambé brandy and sugar in a cup to dissolve the sugar.  Add hot coffee and top with whipped cream and chocolate flakes.  Delicious!

Rudesheim Coffee Cup and Saucer

On day 6 of our cruise we sailed through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and featured 21 castles perched on steep cliffs.  Down below were picturesque villages and lots of church spires.  This stretch of the river is sometimes called the Romantic Rhine.


During Medieval times, the princes who owned the castles taxed passing merchants on the river.  Ships could only proceed if they paid a duty to this local ruler.  If the merchant refused to pay, the prince confiscated the ship and its cargo.   That’s where the term robber baron comes from.

Pfaltzgrafenstein Castle – toll house

We passed through an area known as the Lorelei.  According to legend, sailors became distracted by a beautiful singing maiden at the top of the cliff and crashed their ships.  In truth, it was a dangerous area of the Rhine with swift currents and rock ledges that caused accidents.


A statue at the bottom of the cliff pays tribute to the mythical Lorelei.


There was some agreement during WWII that historic buildings and sites would not be a target for bombing.  So the Germans set about building historic-looking structures over their railroad tunnels to avoid bombings that would interrupt their transportation system.  You can still see them today.

“Mini-castle” over a railroad tunnel

After the castle viewing, we arrived in Koblenz.  This city is important for its location at the confluence (where two rivers meet) of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers.  It was heavily bombed during WWII and 87% of the city was destroyed.


A major historical site is German Corner – the point of land where the Rhine and Moselle meet.  The space is dominated by a large statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I.  It was dedicated in 1897 as a tribute to the leader for unifying Germany in 1871.  The statue was damaged in WWII and removed.  After the war, when Germany was divided into the communist east and the capitalist west, German Corner became a symbol of the hope for a re-unified country.  That happened in 1990; three years later the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm was reinstalled.  Today visitors can also see three sections of the former Berlin Wall that were dedicated to “the victims of the division.”






The oldest church in Koblenz is St. Castor (1208).






Koblenz had some nice markets and shops, too.




The small windows in the roof of the City Hall building, above, serve as an Advent calendar.  The number of each day is added, and at night they are lit up.

Our final stop was Cologne, Germany.  It’s the country’s fourth largest city after Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin.  Cologne was another city that was heavily bombed in WWII.  Nearly 92 % was destroyed in the war, and that’s because it was a transportation hub.  Today over 1,500 trains per day pass through the railway station.

You can’t miss the majestic Cologne Cathedral in the city center.  Construction began in 1248.  Cologne is still a Catholic stronghold in Germany.  The cathedral is Cologne’s most visited landmark with an average of 20,000 people a day.



The gold sarcophagus is believed to contain the bones of the Three Magi.


Outside the Cathedral were several Christmas markets.  The city had a total of seven markets.  Businesses were nicely decorated, too.



Chocolate, Gingerbread, and Gluhwein

A travel experience isn’t complete unless you try the food specialties of the area.

Switzerland is about chocolate, and we sampled several kinds.  Our guide told us that Lindt makes a chocolate exclusively for Switzerland, and the rest of the world gets another recipe.  But it’s all creamy and delicious no matter what you have.


I like gingerbread and that was easy to find in the markets.  A variation called Lebkuchen became my favorite.

A popular drink at the Christmas markets is gluhwein, a hot spiced wine served in a small, ceramic mug.  Each market has its own unique mug that is decorated and may feature the name of the city and some local landmarks.  I made it a point to purchase one from each town we visited.


I really enjoyed my holiday cruise of the Rhine River.  On one of the last days, the pastry chef made a birthday cake for me.  I also had a chance for a photo with Captain Van Meerveld.




This was a Holiday Season I won’t forget.

Merry Christmas!



Grant Wood Studio Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Grant Wood



Grant Wood is one of my favorite American artists – he’s the fellow who painted American Gothic.  Today, it’s one of the most recognized paintings in the country.

American Gothic

Wood spent most of his life in the state of Iowa.  He was born in Anamosa (east-central Iowa) and lived in nearby Cedar Rapids from 1901-1934.

A few years ago I visited the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa (see June 2016 post) and recently decided it was time to continue on the Grant Wood trail by visiting his studio in Cedar Rapids.

American Gothic House;  Eldon, Iowa

Cedar Rapids

The American Gothic-themed rest stop, just a few minutes outside of Cedar Rapids, lets you know you’re entering Grant Wood territory.  Most rest stops are fairly institutional looking and don’t require much attention, but this one was different.  I wanted to stay and look around.




The Grant Wood Studio is close to downtown and has been open to the public since 2004.  The building was a carriage house on land originally owned by the Douglas family (they were one of the founders of Quaker Oats).  The stately Douglas mansion was completed in the 1890s and is located close to the carriage house.

Grant Wood Studio

Douglas Mansion

In 1923, the property was sold to John Turner and his son, David, and they opened a mortuary in the Douglas mansion.  Grant Wood was commissioned to redesign the home for the funeral business.  The Turners also invited Wood to build a studio and living space on the unused second floor of the adjacent carriage house.  His address became 5 Turner Alley.

The studio is cozy and interesting.  Our guide was very good, and we learned about Grant Wood’s life and his art.  It was here that Wood created his most well-known paintings including American Gothic, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and Daughters of Revolution. He lived at the studio from 1924-1935.







Wood added several unique features to the space – my favorite was a hood over the fireplace made from a galvanized farmer’s basket.


The entrance door is also clever. It’s a copy of the original that is now in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.  Wood had a lot of visitors, so he made the door with a pointer that he could spin to indicate what he was doing at the moment.  The choices were: “In,” “Out of Town,” “Taking a Bath,” or “Having a Party.”

Original door in Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

After touring the studio we stopped at the impressive Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.  It’s a combination building of the old Cedar Rapids Public Library and a 1989 addition.  The exhibit space is still small compared to some art museums, but the galleries and displays are outstanding.


They boast the largest collection of Grant Wood paintings anywhere.  We enjoyed looking at his work and that of other Midwest artists.  I liked Woman with Plants that Wood painted in 1929.  It’s a portrait of his mother, and she’s wearing the same brooch that his sister, Nan, would wear a year later in American Gothic.

Woman with Plants

After looking at the art work, we visited the museum store located in the former public library wing. They have quality merchandise and friendly staff.

Museum store

Bonus Stop: Czech Village

Cedar Rapids is also known for its Czech Village. Immigrants from Eastern Europe began arriving in the 1850s, and today their descendants carry on traditions in a restored section of town.

We had lunch in the neighborhood at a restaurant called the Village Meat Market & Café.  They offer traditional Czech food including goulash made from a very old recipe.  Another popular menu item is beignets (French, not Czech, but very good – the restaurant owner had spent some time in New Orleans.)




Hungarian Goulash


Cedar Rapids is a large city with a small-town feel and interesting attractions throughout the community.  You’ll enjoy a visit!

Downtown Cedar Rapids


Pikes Peak or Bust

Zebulon Pike

Most everyone has heard of Pikes Peak in Colorado, but did you know there’s one in the Midwest?  It’s Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa, about an hour-and-a-half drive north of Dubuque.  The Colorado and Iowa places both have a connection with Zebulon Pike, a U.S. army officer and explorer.

The United States acquired millions of acres through the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, and several expeditions were carried out under the authority of President Thomas Jefferson.  In 1805, Pike was ordered to find the source of the Mississippi River.  Pike’s expedition took him through the present-day park in McGregor.  A year later, his second expedition was to Colorado where he sighted Pikes Peak.   He tried to do a fourteener, but had to give up – it was November and Pike and his men were waist-deep in snow.  Nonetheless, the peak was eventually named for him.

Back in Iowa, Pikes Peak State Park covers nearly a thousand acres.  It’s well known for a high point at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers.  An observation platform offers visitors a splendid view from the 500-foot bluff.

Pikes Peak State Park

One of the recommended hikes took Mike and I to Bridal Veil Falls.  It was lovely.  The delicate flow of water cascaded down the hillside, much like a bride’s veil, and the little canyon was beautiful.

Bridal Veil Falls



Be prepared for a descent to get down to the falls, and a steep climb back up the boardwalk staircase, but the scenery and falls itself are worth the effort.




Our journey took on some international flair before we got to Pikes Peak.  We stopped to look at the glorious St. Boniface church in New Vienna.  Though not as grand as St Stephen’s in Vienna, Austria, I wasn’t expecting to see such a large church in this rural Iowa town of 407 residents.

St. Boniface Church, New Vienna



Just down the road a few miles was Luxemburg with another mighty church, Holy Trinity.  As you would guess, the community was settled by immigrants from Luxembourg, in addition to persons from Germany and Ireland.



The town of Guttenberg came next, and that’s where we took a break for lunch.  It’s an historic river town with storefronts built by German immigrants in the mid 1800s.

We chose the Picket Fence Café for a sandwich.  The restaurant is located in a charming 1846 rock warehouse building.  The staff is friendly there, and the food is excellent.  They are well-known for their homemade pie which did not disappoint.


Picket Fence Cafe

We didn’t take time to visit the town library, but learned that they have a facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible on display.  It was printed in Mainz, Germany in 1913 and brought to the United States in the 1950s.  Some of the pages show fire damage from the Allied bombing of Mainz during World War II.  The bible was purchased by Charles Millham, publisher of The Guttenberg Press.

Bonus stop: Galena, Illinois


After visiting the Pikes Peak area, we spent some time in Galena, one of my favorite Midwest towns. (see November 2016 post)  The shops and homes were decorated for Fall and their upcoming Halloween parade.




As we left town we stopped at an overlook to enjoy a few last views of the area.


Pikes Peak State Park




I’m always ready for a trip to Galena, and this time we also traveled north to see more of the country.  Peaks Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa is a beautiful, well-kept park and definitely worth a visit.


Starved Rock State Park Utica, Illinois

When I was in grade school, a favorite Sunday outing took us to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois, about an hour’s drive from home.  I grew up surrounded by flat land of corn and soybean fields, so in my young mind, Starved Rock was a natural wonder.  The Illinois River flowing by was deep and swift, the canyons looked mighty, and the Rock itself was high and scary.

We’d have a family picnic on the grounds somewhere, or for a special treat, lunch was in the Lodge Dining Room.  Later everyone hiked the trails and climbed to the top of the famous Rock.

A recent get-together with friends Cecille, Sarah, and Judith took me back to Starved Rock on a beautiful fall day.


Starved Rock a
Starved Rock


The park got its name from a Native American legend.  Around 1760, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe was attending a tribal council meeting in the area and was stabbed by an Illini brave.  Pontiac’s followers wanted revenge.  Warfare broke out, and the Illini fled to the top of the Rock.  The Ottawa, along with Potawatomi members, kept watch at the bottom until finally all of the Illini had starved.  The landmark was thereafter known as “Starved Rock.”

In the late 1800s, the area was developed into a vacation resort.  The resort was then acquired by the State of Illinois in 1911 for a state park, which it remains today.

The iconic Lodge was built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC for short. (This agency gave young men jobs during the Depression.)  The Great Hall is decorated for each season and offers a place to relax in rustic charm.


The Dining Room just off the Great Hall serves delicious meals and an excellent Sunday brunch.


One of the favorite activities at Starved Rock is hiking.  There are thirteen miles of well-marked trails and eighteen sandstone canyons to explore.




The climb up to Starved Rock is a must-do.  At the top, the walkway is circular so hikers are rewarded with a 360-degree view of the area.


If you’re not feeling trails and canyons, you can take a self-guided walking tour of Art in the Park.  It’s a collection of wood carvings and modern sculpture surrounding the Lodge, and some pieces can be found inside, too.




Want to spend a few days at the park?  There are rooms available at the Lodge for overnight stays, and these cozy little vintage cabins can also be rented.


Today Starved Rock attracts over two million visitors a year.  It’s a great place to visit anytime, including the Holidays and winter months.

DSC_6720 edit


The Winter Get-Away III

This year the Winter Get-Away is west to the sunny metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona.  In recent years the temperatures have gotten up to 90 degrees in February, so that should be warm enough to make us forget about the frigid Midwest.


A good place to start a visit is the Heard Museum on Central Avenue.  They have exhibits that tell the story of Native Americans in the Southwest and display beautiful American Indian art.



Taliesin West

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t want to spend his winters in the Midwest either so he established Taliesin West in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix.  He lived there during the winters from 1937 until his death in 1959.  The facility was a combination architecture school and home for Wright.


The guides at Taliesin West give an excellent tour.  The building is still functioning as a school of architecture, and you’ll see students at work through the drafting room windows.

As you walk around on your tour, it’s easy to see the usual Frank Lloyd Wright touches.  A highlight is the beautiful reflecting pool on the side of the building.





A worth while side trip is about 100 miles from Phoenix to the quirky town of Jerome.  It was a booming mine town in the 1920s, but eventually the ore deposits ran out and so did most of the townspeople by the mid-1950s.  Today the community is centered on tourism.  You’ll find art galleries, coffee shops, and interesting historic sites.


The Jerome Grand Hotel was once the town’s hospital. 

The House of Joy was a former brothel.  Now it’s a boutique.

Another city not too far away is Sedona with its beautiful rock formations.


Chapel of the Holy Cross was completed in 1956.  It sits in the hills of Sedona and was the idea of a local rancher and sculptor.


If you want to venture even further north from Phoenix, the Grand Canyon is about 3.5 hours away.  It can be cold there in the winter depending on what part of the Canyon you visit, but it’s so spectacular to see, it’s worth the drive and weather.











The Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim offers a good look at the Canyon.  The art on the inside walls is excellent.



Back in Phoenix, the Cubs spring training will start in a few weeks, and it’s always a good time at the ballpark.  The Cubs are part of the Cactus League and play at Sloan Park in Mesa.  (The Cactus League is made up of MLB teams who train in Arizona.  Other teams are part of the Grapefruit League and train in Florida.)


There’s plenty to see and do in the state of Arizona.  Head west for a pleasant break from the Midwest winter!