Friday, September 6, 2013


Sometimes when packing your bags is a spur of the moment decision there can be an accompanying exhilaration that wipes the worry from your forehead and pulls an unexpected grin across your heart. Emmy was off to an overnight swim team sleepover at an upstate camp the Friday night of Labor Day weekend. There had been so much turmoil since our return from our summer vacation with filling client needs and trying to get our own house in order we felt justified in giving ourselves permission to turn our computers off, ignore our emails and leave our cellphones in the off position for two whole days.
We spent about two hours looking at maps and contemplating the pros and cons of various locals and lodgings before we stuck a pushpin in Galena, Illinois. It was far enough away from home to feel as if we were getting away yet close enough we could make the drive there and back without devoting too much of our forty-eight hour allotment to travel. Galena offered what we were looking for in a getaway tailored to our needs.
We spent the rest of the evening before we were going to leave checking out hotels that might still have vacancies. We kept looking until we found Allen's Log Cabin Guest Houses, a collection of five log cabins encircling a Manor House that we realized on arrival might have had a little photoshopped facelift for its online beauty shot. With a vacancy for both nights we were set. The drive from Madison to Galena traverses some of Wisconsin's most beautiful rolling hills and farmlands. The only problem with our Friday departure was the heat, a sweltering ninety-degree plus. How people did this before air-conditioning is a mystery to me and mystery is what met us when we arrived at Allen's.
The cabins turned out to be more authentic than I had anticipated, quaintly decorated, the perfect size for a couple looking to relax, and delightfully haunted. On our first night sometime after the witching hour the sky burst into light. I hadn't seen such a display of heat lightening since I was a kid.  God's paparazzi had surrounded Galena and a million flashes of white-hot light danced around and around. By morning the sky had cleared.
The couple, staying in the cabin next to us, was coming out from their cabin as we sat on our porch in our bent willow chairs sipping orange juice and savoring our host's peach bunt cake. Their first words were, "Did any ghosts visit you last night?' Here's where we hadn't done our homework. We hadn't read the fine print about Galena's history of paranormal activity.
They went on to say they had slept right through the storm but woke up in the morning to find their cast-iron, three-hundred pound bed with them in it had somehow moved three feet away from the wall where it had been when they went to sleep. I say if a ghost wants to do some redecorating they could have come to us for some advice rather than trying to scare the bejeezus out of that young couple.
There's an abundance of history in the town itself beyond the ghostly kind. It's a town that grew up prior to the railroads, surpassing Chicago in population before the railroad bypassed them giving back the title of Illinois' largest metropolis to the Windy City. It is also the birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant. Signs leading in and out of town will not let you forget that fact.
Architecturally the Main Street and municipal buildings possess a small town grandeur unequaled by most other towns of its size. The scrubbed red brick and pristine awnings give it a prosperous quality much different from its early twentieth century depression.
Shopping and eating has always been our passion and forte and we found plenty to covet. Emmy got lucky with a boho star light fixture for her room and a tie-dyed tank top from Beyong the Horizon, this Main Street bohemian boutique. Antique shopping bookended our visit.
We bought a beautiful quilt at the first shop we went into and on our way out we stopped at another antique shop with a photo op outside where I picked up a black globe and Rick identified a couple of salesman's sample furniture pieces the shopkeeper had marked as doll furniture.
We even saw Mark Twain walking the streets and greeting the visitors along Main Street. He actually performs his one man show evenings at a dinner theater at One Eleven Main.
But by far my favorite stop was at Root Beer Revelry. The man behind the soda fountain had a passion and his passion was root beer. He had it on tap, he had it in bottles, he served it in frosted mugs and he mixed it into root beer floats. He was foaming with as much enthusiasm as the heads on his frosty mugs.
When walking the streets of Galena you'll find some of grandest homes this side of the Mississippi. The Belvedere is one of the most distinguished homes in the region giving tours of the home and gardens on regular basis
Even the lowly miner's cabins that survived the neglect of the previous century are now polished and highly desirable especially by people like us. We came this close to seriously looking at this one.
Despite the unprecedented heat, the threat of ghostly encounters, and an amazing number of motorcycles and their accompanying tattooed mamas we'd go back to Galena in a minute especially if we could grab one of those tidy little miner shacks.

On the drive back from Galena you can take one of several routes. We chose to take the road through Monroe, Wisconsin. Monroe is a picture perfect American hometown built around a central square. The crown of Monroe's central square is its courthouse. On the National Registry of Historical Sites this towering brick and marble structure also pumps out classical music all day on Sunday. Who else does that? Since we planned this trip on a whim there were certain things we had to deal with that wouldn't have been on our agenda if we had made some of our plans in advance. One issue was our dog. All our reservations and most of our dining decisions had to be made around the encumbrance of traveling with a blind and crippled dog.
By the time we reached Monroe we were famished. We thought we would have to settle for the golden arches but as we did a slow turn around the square we spotted Baumgartner's and a few outdoor tables we thought we could hide the dog under. Little did we know what a find Baumgartner's would turn out to be.
Steeped in Swiss culture this tavern and cheese store has changed little since it opened in 1931. Put on your lederhosen and start to yodel we couldn't have found a more perfect place for lunch.
Local beers by the bottle and as many varieties of cheese as you could imagine lined the counters behind the amazing murals adorning the walls, but if you looked up you'd see another unique attribute of  Baumgartner's - the ceiling.
At first glance it looked like a colony of albino bats hanging by their feet but if you squinted your eyes you could see that it was paper money pinned at random to the ceiling. Then came the question of how it got there. No one tells you for free. You have to pay your dollar and then the secret is revealed. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone but I will tell you that at the end of the year all the money attached to the ceiling is brought down and given to local charities. Last year it was over $8000. If you get to Monroe, Baumgartner's is a must. Get out your dollar bills

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