Friday, June 16, 2017

Old State Capitol in Springfield

No matter how many times I visit Springfield, one thing I always love to do is visit the State Capitol and gaze up at the amazing interior of the dome. It is absolutely breathtaking. Not quite as impressive in size and design, but stunning on its own is the Old State Capitol. In fact, I like to visit one and then the other just to examine the contrast between the two.

Built in the Greek Revival Style between 1837 and 1840, the structure was the fifth capitol building in the state. It served as the statehouse from 1840 to 1876. It was the first state house to be located in Springfield. It is where Abraham Lincoln presented his famous "House Divided" speech in 1858 and it was where he spend much time doing research and work as both a lawyer and a politician.

The Old State Capitol is open daily from 9 - 5 p.m. (with the exception of some holidays) and there is no admission fee, but donations are welcome. For more information, visit

Keep an eye out for special events. One of my favorite memories of 2016 was sitting with my son on the lawn of the Old State Capitol last October watching the World Series on a big screen as they played the Indians in the World Series. I will cherish that memory forever and I'm glad Springfield and the Old State Capitol were part of it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

LeClaire, Iowa

On a recent media visit to the Quad Cities, we did a day trip to LeClaire, Iowa. It's a river town just north of the Davenport that was about a 20 minute drive for our hotel. The main street through town runs adjacent to the river, divided by a railroad with several blocks of eateries, shopping and other attractions.

Dotted with specialty shops, you'll find clothing boutiques, salvage/antique stores and gourmet shops galore, most notably Antique Archeology, which is the store that spurred the "American Pickers" show on the History Channel. You'll find a canning company, olive oil company, popcorn shop and chocolate store.

If you like wine, beer and spirits, you can try all three within a three block area. The Mississippi River Distilling Co. has been in business for 7 years and you can find their products in more than 20 states. As the Iowa liquor laws will change starting July 1, they'll finally be able to offer more than just tastings and products sales and will be adding a cocktail menu and you'll be able to enjoy your drink on a patio overlooking the river. Next door is the Green Tree Brewing, where you'll find more than a dozen beer varieties on tap and can watch the game on the big screen or take your drink outside for more nice river views. The Wide River Winery Tasting Room is just a couple blocks south in an 1840s building with a patio and live music on Friday nights. Above the tasting room is a guest house that can be rented by the night or by the week. They also have tasting rooms in Clinton and East Davenport. You can also sample wine at the Captain's Spirit Cellar in Grasshopper's.

The Buffalo Bill Museum covers the life of LeClaire native William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and the only surviving example of a wooden-hulled boat in the US built in the traditional Western Rivers fashion.

LeClaire is also the departing location for the Riverboat Twiglight, which does overnight trips to Dubuque and also 1 1/2 hour sightseeing excursions on some weekends.

For lodging, there are three chain hotels, a bed and breakfast and eight guest houses, including some larger homes that sleep up to 8 and some smaller spaces atop the businesses. The small town is bursting with charm and so appealing to history geeks like me. Keep an eye on the blog for more posts on the attractions in LeClaire and also follow the food blog, for posts on what we ate and drank while we were there. For more information, go to

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lagomarcino's in Moline, IL

Dating back to 1908, Lagomarcino's is a classic, nostalgic ice cream parlor and soda fountain where you can enjoy a big delicious overdose of sugar. With homemade ice cream, handcrafted chocolates and the best hot fudge you can imagine, "Lago's" as it is also known has been featured in Midwest Living and National Geographic Traveler and earned a James Beard "America's Classic" Award.

Have a seat at one of the mahogany booths or a barstool at the counter in this charming old-school place that is also a deli, serving up sandwiches on their own freshly made soft rye bread. The hot fudge that is served on the ice cream is from a special recipe that Angelo Lagomarcino, an immigrant from Northern Italy, purchased from a peddler in 1918 for $25. The man promised him and exclusive recipe for the perfect hot fudge. He seems to have been a man of his word. The recipe proved to be popular and is still used nearly a century later.

The ice cream selections span three pages of the menu with sundaes, shakes, malts and other treats. The beverages, fresh from the soda fountain, come in a variety of flavors - orange, pineapple, root beer, homemade chocolate, lime, cherry, vanilla, strawberry and black raspberry. You can also get a green river or a "Lago," which is a fruit flavored soda pop created by Charlie Lagomarcino in the 1930s that is similar to Dr. Pepper.

We visited the location in Moline (there's another across the river in Davenport, Iowa) and the place is one of those destinations that is just frozen in time and somewhere to definitely add to the itinerary of a visit to the Quad Cities or for a lunch stop when traveling I-80.

I tried out both an egg salad and a white albacore tuna salad on the homemade bread - a recipe that the Lagomarcino family bought from a Moline woman about 70 years ago. It's got such a soft texture and a good aroma. I paired it with a Vanilla Coke and there's just no comparison to one from a soda fountain versus one out of a can or two-liter bottle. I also tried a sip of my husband's "Lago" soda, which was unique and refreshing.

For dessert, I got a massive Bachelor's Kiss, with sliced bananas under generous scoops of vanilla and Dutch chocolate ice cream with hot fudge topping and marshmallow topping with whipped cream and pecans. Perfect for a chocoholic like me - and even better than a banana split.

Don't leave without trying some truffles, caramels, creams, English Toffee or other mouthwatering handmade candy. For more information, visit

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rock Island Arsenal Museum

Being a mom of five sons who are all interested in military history and as someone who has several military veterans in my family, the Rock Island Arsenal was one of the places I most wanted to see when we planned a trip to the Quad Cities (made up of the towns of Rock Island and Moline, Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa.) I knew it was something my boys would be fascinated by. My husband and I were on a solo trip, but I'm already making plans for a trip back there with the kids this summer.

Rock Island Arsenal is an active military facility and I'll write more on it in another blog post. It was a really interesting place to visit. The Rock Island Arsenal Museum is one of the spots we stopped at while on Arsenal Island. The museum is the Army's second oldest museum, which first opened to the public on July 4, 1905. The only Army museum that dates back earlier is the one at West Point.

This article on the Army's website gives more detail on what is in the collection of the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, including five weapons present at the Battle of Little Bighorn and what they are doing to preserve them - 

The museum encompasses one floor of the building with one entire wall covered with military guns that are arranged in a color coded chronological system. Among the items on display in the museum are uniforms, machining equipment used at the arsenal and other weaponry with background on the wars our nation has been involved in and the arsenal's role in them.

Allow about about an hour to walk through and read the information within the displays. It will only deepen your feelings of respect of those who have committed to serving their country and protecting its citizens. There are several additional points of interest to see at the arsenal - enough to fill an entire afternoon.

Be aware that you will need to obtain a visitors pass to enter the grounds of this working military installation. A photo ID is required to receive a pass at the visitors center. Allow a little extra time to fill out paperwork, answer questions and get a photo taken. More details can be found at

Rock Island Arsenal Museum
1 Rock Island Arsenal
Building 60 - 3500 North Avenue
Rock Island, IL
(309) 782-5021

Monday, June 12, 2017

Have a "Gold Bar" in a historic bank turned hotel and bistro

One of the best things to happen to Homewood, Illinois in recent years was the conversion of an old bank building in the downtown area into a luxury boutique hotel with a magnificent bistro in 2015. The hotel was named La Banque, which in French means "The Bank."

The former bank looks like a bank no more, but some special little touches to the building give hint to its former occupants - including plate covers from the safe deposit boxes that were used for room numbers and to decorate the bar area. In the restaurant, a vault serves as a private dining room with the inspection labels still intact showing the signature of J. Edgar Hoover, then the head of the F.B.I. A vault in the basement serves as a workout room in the gym.

There's so much charm and history to this building and so much to love. The restaurant, La Voute (French for "The Vault") is a bistro serving all the best French cuisine and also their signature dessert, the "Gold Bar," which has a bit of edible gold shavings added for good measure.

Located just a block from the Homewood Metra station, the hotel is easily accessible by train. Click here for more on the hotel and to view the page for the bistro, click here. By the way, they have a great wine list, some of the best scallops I have ever eaten, al fresco dining and fun monthly beer pairing dinners. If you live in the Chicago area, make sure you put this place on your foodie bucket list - and if you are ever traveling to Chicago, make plans to stay at La Banque and enjoy some delicious dinner and a gold bar at the bistro.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Galien River County Park

On one of our visits to Southwest Michigan, we were driving along Red Arrow Highway and stumbled upon the Galien River County Park. And wow, was I glad we did. A short walk down a wooded trail and we came to the New Buffalo March and the scenic overlook tower that offers a beautiful view of the Galien River. It's a nice spot to take photos, watch the kayakers below or just relax to the sounds of nature.

It's just a little off the beaten path, something we'd been near and driven right by on a few occasions. Sometimes when you slow down and take time to explore, the results are quite beautiful.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Being the huge Cubs fan I am, a visit to Wrigley Field is something I always recommend for visitors to the Windy City. Even if you're not a Cubs fan, but are a baseball fan, you'll be able to appreciate the charm and tradition and history of the country's second oldest ball park. 

But, if you head to a game (or even if you don't), there's just something magical about the neighborhood and it's a fun place to be on game day - or even stroll around on a non-game day. There are some lively bars and awesome eateries in the neighborhood for a bite (I love Cubby Bear and Rockit Burger Bar.) It's also worth taking a walk all the way around the ball park to see the statues erected to some Cubs legends. Stop in the Wrigleyville Firehouse and meet the friendly crew.

This past year more changes were made and I have mixed feelings. I'll always long for the Wrigleyville of my youth, when we parked at a nearby convent and walked over to our day game (they were all day games back then in the early 1980's!!!) to watch from the bleachers (for like $6 a ticket!) A new park and plaza have been constructed and a new hotel is being built on Addison St. However, it's progress and in the end will enhance the offerings to visitors even if I will miss the Wrigleyville of the old days.

Wrigley Field is located right next to the red line station, so if you're staying in a downtown hotel, you can hop on and take the "El" train that will stop right next to the ball park. Here's a few shots from last October as we visited the neighborhood right after the Cubs were FINALLY named World Series Champs!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Lincoln's Tomb

A cemetery may seem an odd place to put on a travel itinerary, but Oak Ridge Cemetery is not a typical cemetery. It's the final resting place of our beloved 16th president and his family (minus one son.)

This solemn spot is well worth stopping and walking through. The monument is an impressive structure with several infantry and calvary statues on the exterior. Inside you'll find statues of Lincoln and other symbolic pieces as you walk the halls to the burial room with marble walls and gold leaf celling.

A bust is situated outside the entrance that most visitors get up close to, rubbing the nose for good luck.

The tomb can visited for free from 7 a.m. - 8 p.m. from April - August and 7 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. September through March. For more information, visit

Thursday, June 8, 2017

New Buffalo Public Beach in New Buffalo, Michigan

From our home in the Chicago suburbs we can get the Michigan state line in about an hour. It's one of our favorite day-trip destinations. Several times a year we make our way up to Southwest Michigan for shopping and festivals and dining and picking our own fruit at farms and visiting wineries and breweries and distilleries and watching parades. There's so much to do and see.

Often we end our day with a stop at the New Buffalo Public Beach. Sometimes we go earlier in the day and spend a few hours there, but we discovered that after 8 p.m., you don't have to pay to park in the lot...and there's still a bit of daylight to come after 8 p.m. So, you have a little time to lay on the beach or swim or build a sandcastle or fly a kite - and you can do it all as you watch the sun set over Lake Michigan. It's really breathtaking. And you can't beat the price tag.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Thunderbay Falls in Galena Territory

I absolutely love waterfalls and could sit in front of one all day long just watching and listening to water flow. If you happen to be a guest of Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena, a luxury resorting with lodging at their inn or in villas and homes throughout the property, you can take advantage of the beautiful Thunderbay Falls that are situated within the Galena Territory.

The falls are just off a marked road, but easy to miss. However, they are well worth seeking out. Here's a peek.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fort Mackinac

On our first visit to Mackinac Island, we had been encouraged to visit Fort Mackinac. It was a great recommendation for our family of boys, all of whom are into military history. As part of Mackinac State Historic Parks, this well preserved piece of American history makes for a fascinating visit for any age.

Our visit was part of a tour via horse carriage and we explored over a dozen historic structures. It also includes the oldest building in the state.

With interesting exhibits and some period furnishings, taking a walk through transports you to a different place in time. From soldier barracks to the post hospital to the officers' quarters, you're able to get a sense of what life was like for those who resided on this island fort in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A big hit with my kids were the weapons firing and the cannon firing. The costumed interpreters are full of knowledge of the time period, staying in character as they convey the history of Fort Mackinac to guests.

Even if history isn't your thing, it's worth hanging out and taking in the spectacular views from this high vantage point. For more information, visit

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, IL

Designed in 1902 for Susan Lawrence Dana, and independent and wealthy socialite, the Dana-Thomas House was the 72nd building designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It holds the largest collection of site-specific original art glass and furniture. The mind-boggling 16 varying levels have 35 rooms and have a total of 12,000 square feet of living space. 

The home is a stunning example of Wright's "Prairie-style" architecture and the home contains many customized pieces that he also designed for Dana, including lamps, wood pieces and stained glass.

The home's next owner was Charles Thomas, a medical publisher, who preserved much of the home throughout the 31 years it was owned by him - and later his wife following his death. In 1981, the state of Illinois bought the home in 1981. The home was restored between 1987 and 1990.

Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last tour out at 3:45) and also Monday and Tuesday during the travel season from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The tour lasts about an hour. On my most recent visit to Springfield this was definitely one of the highlights and something I highly recommend when visiting the area. While there isn't an age restriction for tours, it might not hold interest of younger ones and the priceless pieces, that obviously can't be touched, could be temping for little hands (and thus stressful for parents trying to enjoy the tour.) I'd hold off on a tour with kids until age 8 or so. And for those with limited mobility, be prepared for many steps and several different levels to navigate. Suggested donations are $10 for adults, $5 for kids, $15 for families. For more information, visit

Here's a look at the introduction video that is shown to guests before the tour of the majestic property. 

White River State Park

Eiteljorg Museum (photo:
We are finally into the official summer season, even though the calendar indicates that there are a few weeks left of spring. The temperature is rising, schools are finishing up for the year and soon families will be heading to outdoor destinations for a little fun.

You'd have a hard time finding a better outdoor space than the White River State Park in Indianapolis. Actually, it's not just the outdoor spaces that make Indiana's only urban state park so great, it's the combination of outdoor attractions paired with some great indoor museums and attractions.

Located in the heart of downtown Indy, the spectacular waterfront walkway, river promenade and central canal provide for a beautiful view and ideal spot for a walk or to just sit and relax and reflect. An outdoor amphitheater overlooks the water and allows for lawn seating for 6,000. Also part of the landscape is the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial celebrating 3,410 Americans who have received the award, the highest bestowed for military valor.

The park encompasses 250 acres of green space and several other attractions, including the minor league ballpark, Victory Field, the Indianapolis Zoo, the Indiana State Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, IMAX Theater and NCAA Hall of Champions. Visit

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Galena, IL

Galena, Illinois is situated in Northwest Illinois along the banks of the Galena River (and not far from the banks of the Mississippi River.) The downtown area seems to be frozen in time, with a lengthy main street business district full of 19th century buildings that are loaded with charm.

It was home to Ulysses S. Grant and his home can be toured, as well as several other historic structures and sites. With art galleries, boutiques and cafes, it's a lovely place for a leisurely getaway with many opportunities to shop and dine.

For those who love outdoor recreation, there's plenty to do in the way of hiking, kayaking, fishing and more. For those who are guests of Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, there are four on-site golf courses and an inviting spa.

Within the area are spots to enjoy Galena wines and spirits, including Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery and Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.

For more information on the area, go to

Thursday, June 1, 2017

30 Places in 30 Days: Factory Tour - Jelly Belly Center

I'm participating in a 30 places in 30 days blogger project and the topic with several different bloggers sharing travel spots. I was to focus on was a factory tour. I've done a few factory tours over the years that I really enjoyed, like the National Corvette Museum and the Pierce Firetruck Factory. I remember touring the Jay's Potato Chip factory on a field trip in 2nd grade and I was fascinated. It's still my favorite field trip from childhood.

The place I selected to write about is a little different than a factory tour. It's actually the tour of a distribution facility, but it's a fun stop where you learn a lot and get some yummy samples. It's the Jelly Belly Center in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, which is in the southeast corner of the state, just above the Illinois border.

Jelly Belly Beans are not produced there, so you can't see them made first hand, but though video screens that show the process you can see how it's done as you take a train ride through the warehouse wearing a complimentary Jelly Belly cap. There's also some cool jelly belly art and some equipment on display. On the ride through the distribution center, you get to hear the company history through a recorded narrated recording. At the end, you get a sample bag of Jelly Belly beans and you can head into the retail store where there's a tasting bar and you can try out hundreds of flavors and buy treats to take home. We love to buy the Belly

Flops. They are bags of beans that are a bit misshapen, but that taste just as good and they are deeply discounted.

This has been one of our regular stops any time we head into the state of Wisconsin. For those in the Chicago area, it's a perfect day trip. Hit the Jelly Belly Center then go into Kenosha to and spend some time at one of the free beaches, snap pics of the lighthouses, ride the streetcar and visit a free museum or two. Do some shopping at the outlet mall or Mars Cheese Castle and it makes for a fun day that is very inexpensive. For more information, visit

Prairie Guest House, Fishers Indiana

On a recent media trip in Indianapolis, I spent a little time in Hamilton County, staying at the Prairie Guest House Bed & Breakfast in ...