Tag Archives: DESTINATIONS – Iowa

Sentimental journey back to Des Moines – Botanical Center expansion, Des Moines Art Center special exhibits, Highland Park neighborhood coolness (“The Collective”), Big Grove/Lua breweries, Fresko

Three months after moving to Chicago from Des Moines, we returned to our former home of 32 years for a very busy 3.5 days. It still feels like home, with our daughter there and so many old and dear friends. Iowa’s capitol city looked better than ever – we managed to squeeze in one bike ride on our favorite loop down the river to the Botanical Center, over the Women of Achievement Bridge, past the East Village to Principal Park and then over to Gray’s Lake (alas, the trail from the ballpark to the the lake was closed due to construction, so we rode along MLKing Parkway), to Waterworks Park, then up north on Cumming Parkway through the cemetery and back to Forestdale..

New to the Highland Park neighborhood

We duly noted the construction going on around Captain Roy’s on the river (a new boat rental place, we gather) and the Botanical Center’s expansion of its outdoor gardens caught our eye, for sure. Sadly, no time to visit. Also noted the complete eradication of one of the city’s biggest eyesores – a superfund site south of downtown (the Dyko plant) that is now a grassy field awaiting possible development as a pro soccer field!

Just south of Sherman Hill, the new Big Grove brewpub was packed with people (sadly, it wasn’t open for lunch at 1 p.m. when we tried to go – opens at 3 p.m.). We have enjoyed the one in Iowa City and the original is in Solon, IA. Lua, the smaller one-of-a-kind brewery across the street, proved a perfect patio to hang out on a balmy Friday night. Friends wanted to go to Irina’s – a Russian food-inspired restaurant with an outdoor patio on Hickman. Pleasant enough but pretty heavy food for summer and a dull view of a classically nondescript suburban thoroughfare.

We were more impressed by the new (to us) Fresko on Locust Avenue, which has a large varied menu of shareable items and lighter fare. I “Didn’t you used to work in this building?” I asked our dining partner David. “Yes,” he replied. “We’re sitting in what used to be our conference room.” Excellent margaritas, pork tacos, shrimp. We also ate at our favorite Peruvian place, Panka, which remains excellent (Next trip, we hope to try it’s offshoot near Drake – soon to be opened Peruvian chicken restaurant). Speaking of Drake, friends wanted to go to the Drake Diner for breakfast – we haven’t done that in years. It’s still good! As is La Mie in the Roosevelt Shopping Center.

I didn’t get a chance to wander around the trendy East Village but I did make a quick trip to the Highland Park/Oak Park “emerging” neighborhood. Des Moines Mercantile has well-curated Iowa-produced goods including pricey but oh-so-cozy looking wool blanks from Amana, IA. I chanced upon another new-to-me place called The Collective which specializes in sustainable, eco-friendly, vegan products – the kind of place where you can frefill your reusable containers with bath and kitchen products (“Suds of Love Laundry Soap,” “Charcoal and Mint Tooth power,” Vegan Body Butte,…); plus find metal drinking straws, menstrual caps, non-plastic hair bands and a lot more.

The Des Moines Art Center is as stimulating as ever, with two interesting temporary exhibits – a media-focused exhibit “Images Unbound,” examining the societal impact of images we’ve been bombarded with since the invention of photography (including some Carrie Mae Weems’ evocative, atmospheric “Sea Island Series (Women in White”), photo essays of deep south black communities), and a post-social distancing exhibit in the print gallery of images (print and photo) of intimacy called “Hold Me Closer.” including my favorite Deana Lawson photo “Wanda and daughters”! There’s also been a change-up of artwork in the other galleries that kept me on my toes as a former docent.

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High Trestle Trail with Dog/Madrid (Iowa); Picket Fence Creamery/Woodward (Iowa); Hotel Pattee/Perry (Iowa)

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Selfie overlooking the High Trestle Bridge

For my sister’s final day in Des Moines, we finally got half way decent weather (high 40s!, some sun!) so we took a day trip with our sweet Lab mix rescue dog Millie northwest about 40 miles to the High Trestle Trail. What a treat to have the entire bridge to ourselves on an early spring day — and always a spectacular view and surprising structure to find in the middle of Iowa. (It was recently dubbed by the BBC as one of the world’s eight spectacular foot bridges.)IMG_1109 (2)

The good news is that it’s now easier to walk to the bridge quickly along the trail, thanks to a handy sign along highway 210 just west of Madrid, Iowa that helps you clearly find the dirt road (QF Road) that leads to the trailside parking, which is about a ten-minute walk to the bridge.

We stopped at Picket Fence Creamery in nearby Woodward,Iowa and tried a little tub of ice cream and some chocolate milk (that we earlier saw being bottled in the little shop beside the dairy that is on a largely unpopulated dirt road in the country). From there we drove ten minutes further west to the Hotel Pattee which is still hanging in there (last I heard it was for sale again) and is still incredibly impressive, with one-of-a-kind rooms, each decorated with art and artifacts to honor a specific aspect of small town Iowa life. The desk clerk gave us the key to the 1913 farmhouse room but several other rooms were also open so we wandered in them as well (the southeast Asia room, the Irish room, the Russian room…unfortunately the RAGBRAI room wasn’t open)…

Anyway, the three stops made for a perfect half-day road trip from Des Moines, perfect for visitors.

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Filed under Agritourism, bike trails, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, DINING, LODGING

Provisions – great new place to eat in Ames, albeit in odd location

IMG_1052.jpegI didn’t doubt for a moment that Provisions would be a good place to eat in Ames  because it came recommended by my friend Veronica, a longtime resident, superb cook and discerning diner. But without Veronica’s recommendation, I might have dismissed Provisions out of hand because of its unpromising location in a nondescript land of bland office parks, on the side of Loop Road, no less.

IMG_2332 (2).jpgBut the food was fabulous — and I am already longing to return for the salmon sandwich I had on a dark brown brioche roll. The salmon was lightly grilled but moist, full of flavor, on that gorgeous slightly sweet roll with slices of cucumber and a light dill sour cream sauce. The hamburger  (which the two Iowa State University students we were visiting ordered) also looked superb and the Cuban sandwich was also good. My sister was very happy with her grilled salmon atop greens – which is a go to entree for her but still managed to be special. My only regret is that I could not take home one of the homemade breads (especially cranberry pecan) from the to-go counter which was closed by the time we left. We’ll be back! Thank you Veronica!

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Convivium, Four Mounds, Millwork District, L. May – Dubuque

Impressed, as always, with developments in Dubuque. At the recommendation of our host at Four Mounds, we drove to nearby Convivium a cafe/event space/urban farm headquarters in a somewhat gentrifying north Dubuque neighborhood. Impressive place that opened recently, with a light airy dining area including a coop with fresh chicks, a mural from a world-class artist (part of a broader mural project of murals scattered throughout Dubuque) and artwork by locals on the walls. Convivium, as I understand it, is the headquarters of an urban farm project with an interesting model — the gardens are in borrowed space in the backyards of people living houses neighboring the cafe.

We also stopped at a bakery and shops in wide open space in the Millwork District, a gentrifying warehouse district near the River. Dinner the night before was good at L.May downtown. (Excellent pork shanks).

The weather was gloomy when we woke up at Four Mounds but we had an excellent breakfast and chat with the caretaker (who sent us to Convivium) and I got a chance to walk around the grounds and wander around the other lovely house on the property (the White House…we stayed in the Grey House.) I learned that Four Mounds was part of the “gentleman farmer movement” (1880s to 1930s). The owners were a wealthy Chicago couple who also lived part of the year in California. I’ve heard about gentlemen farmers but not of an actual movement. (And why no mention of gentlewoman farmers?)

On Highway 151 and then 1 to Iowa City (a rare diagonal route!) we stopped briefly in Anamosa to see the famous reformatory there (a prison that was intentionally designed to be attractive with the idea of providing an environment conducive to reforming criminals. Sadly, I don’t believe it worked.) and then drove through Stone City, a tiny hamlet where Grant Wood lived and through pretty Mount Vernon (Home of Cornell College, which is older than my alma mater Cornell U.).

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Antique Archeology/LeClaire, Way of the Cross/St. Donatus, Fenelon Place Elevator, Four Mounds, L. May/Dubuque

Laurie arrives!

As I suspected we are the sole occupants of this arts and crafts mansion on a bluff in the wood high above the Mississippi on the outskirts of Dubuque, which is a little spooky but also kind of fun because we wandered through all the bedrooms, admiring the heavy wood craftsman furniture, the pretty bedspreads and elegant rugs, the little window seats and well-appointed living spaces. I can add the Four Mounds estate in Dubuque to my list of sort of creepy inns where we have been the sole occupants. Others include a b&b in Mendocino with Dirck and an inn in Eureka Springs with Francine. My sister Laurie is being the good sport tonight.

I picked her up at the Quad Cities airport where the Megabus/Windstar from Chicago dropped off and we drove up the Great River Road along the Mississippi, which I haven’t traveled in years.


Dubuque view


Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque

It was grey, chilly and still brown on the ground but there were sights worth seeing including huge barges and riverboats on the river, the hipster Antique Archaeology store in LeClaire (owned by the folks who have the popular American Pickers show on the History Channel); the view of the lock and dam from on high at Bellevue State Park, the old stone church and cemetery and Way of the Cross in the tiny Luxembourger village of St. Donatus and the one of a kind Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque.

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Visiting the Hotel Grinnell – Grinnell, Iowa

Hotel Grinnell: a schoolhouse turned hotel in this Iowa town

In this college town, a boutique hotel holds old schoolhouse charm.

JIM KRUGER • PROVIDED BY HOTEL GRINNELLModern furniture meets old-school charm at Hotel Grinnell, a recently opened schoolhouse-to-hotel conversion in Grinnell, Iowa.

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Here’s my story about the (Iowa) Farm Crawl in the Minneapolis Star Tribune!

Hot off the press (and Internet), here’s the story I wrote last fall about “Farm Crawl 2017” that just squeaked in before the start of 2018.  click here to see the story online.

Midwest Traveler: Iowa’s Farm Crawl, where a farm is a farm

Iowa’s annual Farm Crawl is a quaint detour through some of the state’s smaller farms.


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Filed under Agritourism, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

NYC Ballet at Iowa City’s new Hancher

What a treat to see the NYC Ballet for the first time in ages – and the first time in Iowa. Apparently, this was the company’s first visit to Iowa City, so I’m guessing it’s the first visit to Iowa since Iowa City hosts the state’s best dance performances (although Des Moines is improving!). The company was superb, as always, and it was a particular treat to see Iowa City native Miriam Miller dance – including in a sensational, sensual duet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (who choreographed The Joffrey’s new nutcracker, which we saw last year during our first visit to the new Hancher.) Speaking of which, the new Hancher is stunning —  I like it better than the old one. It feels smaller, more intimate, more vertical than horizontal, more peaceful with calming colors (seafoam green, grey, tan wood) and plush upholstered seats. Having sat in the balcony and on the floor, close to the stage, I’m not sure there is a seat with a bad view. (Our floor seats were way off to the side but we saw the vast majority of the stage.).
Dinner was a Takanami– for sushi and tempura, which was a nice change from all the heavy food we ate in the Deep South. We couldn’t deal with more burgers, ribs or fried chicken. We were tempted to try the new (or new to us) Szechuan Chinese restaurant, Bashu, that opened where the Linn Street Cafe used to be but it looked a little too authentic for a before-theater/meal. Didn’t want to get an upset stomach.  Locals seem to be loyal to Szechuan House.

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Filed under dance, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Iowa City

Gorgeous fall day for a “Farm Crawl” in Southern Iowa

We drove an hour south of Des Moines on what turned out to be a lovely fall day (after a few initial sprinkles) for the 11th annual Farm Crawl — a driving (not crawling) tour rural in Marion, Lucas and Warren counties of five farms plus a local pottery place and a sale on the grounds of an 1850’s country church, where FFA (Future Farmers of America) kids set up shop, selling their iron works and meat from their “Cattle Project.”

Such a great way to see the Iowa count side and out-of-the-way small family farms, driving up and down hilly gravel roads, tire wheels kicking up dust, flocks of birds suddenly flying in formation from a telephone line, lots of open land and then suddenly, a rare round barn or a tidy red barn or a ramshackle farmstead or the sun-dappled  lawn of an old country church at a rural crossroads.

The Iowa we love.

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Check out my story in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s magazine: the Raccoon River Valley Trail

Here it is!  Click here! (This is the photo taken by my friend Denise…that was used below. And yes, that’s me riding….)

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Filed under bike trails, biking, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa