Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Stay in a Historic Train Car at Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Union Station

When we travel, we always like to find unique out-of-the-box lodging when we can. There's always the comfort of predictability in staying at a well-known hotel chain, but when you venture out and look beyond the box, you can find some wonderful historic gems and places with awesome personality. Sometimes you're lucky to find a perfect balance of both the traditional and unique in one place - and that's what you get with the Crown Plaza Downtown Indianapolis at Union Station.


Originally the country's first Union Station built in 1888, each space has been converted into upscale accommodations and the station's grand hall now serves as a ballroom with 60-foot ceilings and 3,200 square feet of original stained glass. Among those who have walked through the grand hall are Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Abraham Lincoln also passed through Union Station twice. Once as he traveled to Washington D.C. for his inauguration and the other to lie in state after his asassination.


On a visit this past spring to Indianapolis I was able to stay in one of the train car rooms - The Rudolph Valentino car. I loved the accommodations, which had all of the amenities of the other rooms. There are 13 train cars were converted into guest rooms (2 rooms in each car), which is just so cool. Throughout the hotel are statues or "ghosts" of the past.

The hotel is also conveniently located downtown with a connecting skywalk that takes you to the Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. For more information, visit www.crowneplazaindydowntown.com.





Thursday, May 16, 2019

See All-Star Pitcher Carlos Zambrano at Chicago Dogs Game at Impact Field

I'm such a fan of the game of baseball. I grew up loving the game thanks to my dad. From the time my boys were born I couldn't wait to sign them up for little league. I spent many hours at fields watching t-ball games and then peewees and then little league. I'm a huge die-hard Cubs fan, just like my dad. And I enjoy visiting other Major League ballparks to see a game. I also love going to see minor league and independent league baseball games.

I recently learned about the newest team in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, the Chicago Dogs, when I attended the Travel and Adventure Show in January. The team began last year and they play in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont in the state-of-the-art Impact Field. Minor League and Independent League games are always a lot of fun. The stadiums are smaller than MLB stadiums, but still full of excitement for a smaller price tag.

And when I heard the awesome news that they signed Carlos "Big Z" Zambrano, I knew I'd have to get a game on my summer itinerary. Big Z is one of my favorite Cubs of all time. I liked his passion and thought he was a lot of fun to watch. He was also an outstanding player whose career highlights include being the National League leader in 2006, a three-time Silver Slugger and three-time All Star, being the starting pitcher in game one of the NLCS in 2003, starting pitcher in game one of the 2007 NLDS and pitching a no-hitter in 2008.



I have three fun memories of his time as a Cub. One was after a game and at the time, you could line up along the player's parking lot and sometimes get autographs. So my son and I would always head out to that area after the games and he'd try to get baseball cards or balls or his ball cap signed by different players. We were surprised to be standing on the sidewalk outside the parking lot and here comes Big Z walking down the sidewalk to his car that he had parked outside of the lot next to a garage. Fans swarmed him asking for autographs, but he was carrying his little girl and said, "Sorry, my hands are full" or something close to that.

My sister is a season ticket holder so we had an opportunity one year to attend a special day for season tickets holders where they would get to see some of the parts of the ballpark that the general public normally wouldn't get to visit like the dugout, locker rooms, batting cages, press box. As we made our way through the locker room most of the lockers were pretty bare with just uniforms in them. One locker had pictures of kids taped up at the top. It was Big Z's locker.

The other memory of Big Z was the last game of the season in 2009. My oldest son, who is a huge die-hard fan just like his grandpa, had won a contest run by Walgreen's to be celebrity bat kid. My son got to enter the park early and sit in the dugout before and during batting practice. When we first arrived there was no one there. The place was pretty much empty. Some of the employees were starting to stream in and there weren't any players on the field yet. My son and the other girl who'd won the contest were led down to the dugout and we had to stay in the stands. All of a sudden I look down into the dugout and standing next to my son is Zambrano. He was friendly to the kids and later on my son admitted he was trying to eavesdrop on Zambrano's cell phone conversation, but he couldn't understand any of it because he was speaking Spanish. It was an incredible experience for him to be able to hang out in the dugout and actually talk to some of the players and get a few autographs. It was unfortunately the days before smart phones were common and I think he had an old cell phone with a querty keypad or maybe a flip phone, but nothing good for taking pics and now that I think about it they probably weren't allowed to take photos anyway. But it is for sure a day neither my son or I will ever forget. 

So anyway, Big Z has always been one of my favorites and I'm so happy to see him returning to the game. I remember how exciting it was to see his no-hitter (on TV anyway - I wasn't lucky enough to be there for that game). This year you'll have the opportunity to see the three-time All-Star on the mound again. It's opening weekend and the start of an exciting season. The first series is against another Chicago-area team, the Gary RailCats. Click here to get your tickets.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tours at Blaum Brothers Distilling Co.

Blaum Bros. Distilling Company in Galena opened just over five years ago and a tour is a must-do if you're visiting this charming historic area in Western Illinois.

On a recent visit I had the opportunity to sit down with Matt Blaum and hear a little about how he and his brother, Mike, got started and how the distillery has grown.


"When we started, we didn't do it to make vodka or gin," he said. "We were whiskey nerds who wanted to make whiskey."

Blaum said some distilleries try to speed up the process by using smaller barrels, "but people who drink whiskey can tell the difference," he said. They're using big barrels and aging their whiskey for a long time - the old fashioned way. It takes a lot of patience.  He noted that they could rush through making something easier to sell to tourists, like a flavored moonshine, but that they're more interested in making a reputable product.

Matt Blaum

It seems to be working for them. Last year they sold the maximum amount of their product that they could under current liquor laws. In Illinois, you can't sell more than 2500 gallons at the distillery where it's produced (they are able to produce more than is available through distributors). In December, they hit that limit. In the midst of the holiday season, they could still do tours and had held back enough to make cocktails in their tasting room, but the shelves in the store were bare.  They're the only Illinois distillery to hit that limit so far.

One of their most popular sellers is a vodka infused with peppers called Hellfire Vodka. Blaum explained that it was something that was really just intended as a one-time experiment to make Bloody Marys. Again, they could go an easier route, but they prefer to do it the hard way, cutting and de-seeding half of the peppers to infuse the flavor. "We could order a chemical and be done in an hour, but we didn't do this to make a buck overnight," said Blaum. "We're looking for longevity."

So, what are the Blaum Brothers the most proud of? Whiskey, of course. Their 4-year Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the oldest Illinois distilled bourbon that is ready available. That's out of 31 distillery licenses in the state. "As two guys were were bourbon nerds, that's our baby," said Blaum. Their 4-year rye will be release soon, as well.



Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. products can be found at Binny's and Mariano's stores and many of Chicago's trendy restaurants, including Girl and the Goat and RPM Steak.



If you are in the Galena area, stop by to visit the gift shop, have a drink in the tasting room and take a tour. Tours are done every day at 3 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, there's also an 11 a.m. and a 1 p.m. tour and on Sundays, there's also a 1 p.m. tour. Tours take about 45-minutes. They start in the tasting room and take you through the distillery floor where you get a little history on the company and on distilling. You end back in the tasting room where you get to try some of the spirits. The tour is $10 and kids under 14 are free. For more information, visit blaumbros.com.

**I was hosted with a complimentary tour. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.

9830 W. US Highway 20
Galena
(815) 777-1000
bluambros.com













Story, Indiana: Population 3 Humans, 4 Dogs

In the spring of 2018, I took a trip down to Indianapolis for the Indiana Media Marketplace and the opening of a new outdoor sports exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. I decided to tack on one more night to the trip and head toward Nashville, Indiana since I'd heard so much about it. In researching Brown County, I stumbled upon the story of Story, Indiana. It seemed the this little town had a fabulous farm-to-table restaurant. So, I worked in dinner at the Story Inn to my itinerary.


It was a long out-of-the-way drive to get there, but that's what I love most about it. There's one road going into town that dead ends just past town. It's isolated and peaceful and historic and tranquil. The entire town is an inn. Fourteen structures exist in Story. There's a former general store that houses a restaurant, tavern and has rooms on the second floor and there are also several rental cottages and a century-plus old barn that is a setting for weddings.


The community dates back to 1851. The lumber town was founded by Dr. George Stay and had a church, grain mill, blacksmith shop, two general stores, butcher shop and post office. After the Great Depression there weren't many people left in Story and the county lost half its population between 1930 and 1940. When the road leading out of the area was cut off and the town became surrounded on three sides by state and national forest, it became pretty much a ghost town. A "hippie" couple later opened a bed and breakfast there, but by the early 1990s it had closed and Story Inn sat empty until it was purchased by Rick Hofstetter in 1999. He purchased not used the former general store, but the rest of the town, too. 

When I visited I was greeted by Hofstetter who told me that the current population was three humans and four dogs. Yes, the dogs outnumber the people there. It's totally frozen in time and such a unique place to visit and stay.

You can now rent the entire town for a wedding, visit for brunch or dinner or enjoy cocktails at the Story Still. Read more about the dinner I had at the Story Inn hereThe co-owners of the Story Inn (and the other two residents of the town) are Jacob and Kate Ebel, both chefs who met when working in Alaska. 

Kate Ebel
I've seen posts online this past week about the town being for sale. It sounds like the inn/restaurant is there to stay, though. So, put it on your travel list for this year. It's a getaway like no other that will provide lasting memories. For more info, visit storyinn.com.


Friday, March 1, 2019

A Wisconsin Road Trip with Betty the Mazda6

We are in the season of restaurant weeks, where many cities and counties are holding events with special menus and pricing to draw in customers during a slow time of the year and introduce them to dishes they may not have tried before.


I was invited up to Kenosha, Wisconsin to preview some restaurants that were participating in their restaurant week. We planned to be there for two days and visit six eateries, So, yeah, a trip to do nothing but eat. How could I pass that up?

For the trip, Mazda provided a 2018 Madza6 Signature for me to use for the trip. We've had a lot of snow or really cold temps and despite the slick roads, Betty made it through like a champ. Yes, I called her Betty. I've decided that when I get a car to drive, it must have a name. This car was the epitome of cool and Betty White came to mind when I looked at it because - who wouldn't want to be as cool as her? Another really nice feature of driving Betty in the winter is that she had heated seats AND a heated steering wheel. One day the high was 8 degrees and i was so glad to warm my hands up on the steering wheel. She had heated side mirrors, too - another convenient feature.


I loved Betty's color. It was a blueish gray hue called Blue Reflex Mica. That color along with the sleek design made her look pretty sharp and it made me smile each time I walked toward her to get in the driver's seat.


With a touchscreen, back-up camera, moonroof, Apple CarPlay and keyless entry, it had all the bells and whistles that help ensure an easy, luxurious driving experience. Safety features included the lane keep assist, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring. 


Betty was comfortable and roomy and I really didn't want to let her go. I could absolutely see myself driving this everyday and loving every minute of it. For more information, visit mazdausa.com.

And just in case you were wondering what we at on our trip. Here's a little bit of what we enjoyed.







Saturday, February 2, 2019

No One Celebrates Groundhog Day Like Woodstock, IL

Groundhog Day is here and outside of Punxsutawney, PA, there's another place where this ritual is a really big deal. Woodstock, Illinois is where much of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray was filmed. They go all out with a four-day festival dedicated to this furry rodent, his weather prediction and the movie that has become a classic and is still well-loved more than 25 years after its release.

Throughout Woodstock, there are many filming sites that are marked letting you know that they are the spots where scenes took place, including a sidewalk marker showing the scene where Murray repeatedly schleps through slushy snow. During the festival guided tours take visitors through many of those filming spots.


The Cherry Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast
On a media visit I took last year with the county's convention and visitor bureau, we got to see some of those sites - including the town square which served as Gobbler's Knob in the movie and the Public House where the toast to world peace took place. I also had the pleasure of staying at the Cherry Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast. It's the inn that was featured in the movie at 344 Fremont St. The lovely victorian home has four rooms and you wake up to a gourmet meal the next day.




This year's Groundhog Days also included an opportunity to meet Stephen Tolowsky, who played Woodstock’s favorite insurance agent, Ned Ryerson, in the movie.



The event involves a prognostication ceremony early on Groundhog Day complete with a polka band and an appearance by Woodstock Willie, the town's own weather-predicting groundhog. Even if you aren't there visiting for the Groundhog Day events, it's a lovely place to visit any time of year. The downtown square is lined with quaint shops and eateries and you'll find Bill Murray's face on a large mural just off the square. For more info on the fest, go to woodstockgroundhog.com and for more on the area to to visitmchenrycounty.com. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

From the inbox: Wilderness Resort adds new attractions and activities

This year I wanted to bring back my "From the Inbox" series of posts on here and on my food blog, ChicagoFoodieSisters.com.

I get so much great information in my inbox, but don't have time to write about it all. Each week, I'll share something from my inbox and let you get a peek at a press release about something really cool and exciting. Here's the first one for the year. It's been quite a while since we've been to Wisconsin Dells, but it's definitely been one of our favorite destinations that we have visited as a family. We have stayed at Wilderness Resort before and they're adding more fun this year. Read on..



Experience New Attractions and Activities
This Winter at the Wilderness Resort




WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. — Waterpark enthusiasts looking for a break from winter and a chance to try some new things need to head to Wilderness Resort, America’s Largest Waterpark Resort located in Wisconsin Dells.
During the week of January 21 the resort will be adding three climbing walls to its Timberland Playhouse area.
According to Chris Ebben, the resort’s attractions director, “Each of the walls will vary in difficulty and appearance, and all are certain to provide a memorable experience for participants by offering a wide variety of challenges.”
Wall options will include: The Circuit Breaker, which has a tech feel with lights featured throughout connection lines and handholds. Participants may choose either the round flashing holds or solid square holds to reach the top. The Speed Climb, which is intended for the naturally competitive and encourages climbers to race to the top as fast as possible. The LED lights in the corners and timer help create a fast-paced, high-energy experience for participants. And, The Time Traveler, which offers a fast challenge, participants must reach the top before the countdown clock runs out. The adjustable clock and optical sensors task participants with trying to gain points by "capturing" the sensors on the interchange symbols.
Each wall will be 24 feet tall. It will cost $5 to climb one wall or $12 for three climbs. In order to set up the new climbing walls, some hours will be adjusted in this portion of the hotel from January 22-25. This information is listed on the resort’s blog at https://www.wildernessresort.com/blog/new-climbing-walls-coming-in-january/
  Also new at the Wilderness, The Wild Kids Club is now offering family yoga and family dance parties. The family yoga classes are held from 8-8:30 am on Saturday mornings in the Wild WaterDome and include avariety of stretches and poses to help increase flexibility, muscle strength and tone. The Wilderness supplies the yoga mats so all families need to do is show up in comfy workout clothes.  The family dance parties are held on Friday and Saturday evenings from 8-8:30 pm in the Wild West lobby. They feature popular music for littles to get their groove on. It’s a great way to get the last of the wiggles out of the kids before they head off to bed. 
Those with a sweet tooth will love the other new attraction at the resort: the Candy Cabin, in the Wild West lobby. It features all sorts of heavenly hand-dipped delights including homemade turtles and sea salt caramels. There is also an area where guests can watch candy makers in action whipping up amazing treats like Frogs, Bears and Moose that are made just for kids!
Finally, those with an eye on springtime will be happy to hear that the Wilderness Resort’s Wild Rock Golf Club just found it has been selected by the United States Golf Association (USGA) to host a qualifying round for the 2019 US Open on May 8, 2019. The course will also be hosting WSGA’s Net Partners 2- Man Championship on September 15 and 16, WSGA Net Partners Championship September 18 and WSGA’s Senior Championship September 19. For more information on any of these events visit WSGA.org
            The Wilderness Resort consists of over 600 wooded acres in Wisconsin Dells and is home to Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort, which features 444 guest rooms, 40 Vacation Villas, 76 Frontier Condominiums and 35 cabins. It is also home to Wilderness on the Lake which features 108 luxurious two and three bedroom condominium units overlooking Lake Delton; and Glacier Canyon Lodge, which features 460 upscale condominium units. 
            Combined, these three properties offer four indoor and four outdoor waterparks that total nearly 500,000 square feet – that’s over 12 football fields of extreme water fun! The Resort is also home to Wild Rock Golf Club; The Woods 9-Hole Executive Course; Dodge ‘Em City; Timberland Play Park, a 35,000 square-foot, four story adventure with ball blasters, slides and crawl spaces; the OK Corral Lazer Tag Arena; Marshall Training Lazer Maze; The Wild Abyss and Wild Buccaneer indoor 3-D black light mini golf courses; bumper boats; indoor and outdoor go-karts and kiddy-karts; Wisconsin’s first canopy zip line tour; Northern Lights Sky Ropes Course, three room escapes and outdoor Jurassic mini golf. 

Stay in a Historic Train Car at Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Union Station

When we travel, we always like to find unique out-of-the-box lodging when we can. There's always the comfort of predictability in stay...