Thursday, March 19, 2015


Here's what to do when you need a vacation from your vacation. You come home. You unpack and while you're looking at your dirty underwear spread on the floor around your ankles you turn around, gather up what might pass as clean and find the nearest spa that will still accept a reservation.
We grabbed Emmy; our anti-diarrhea pills (we were still a little queasy) packed up the dog and his diarrhea pills and headed off to Galena, Illinois.  We checked out about three resorts with spas until we found one that would take all of us on such short notice. The one willing to take us on was the Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa in Galena, Illinois. The entire upper Midwest was still in the grips of an extreme cold spell. We weren't looking for sun. All we wanted was a good massage and facial. Emmy's expectations were a little less defined. She hadn't had a massage before. Her only experience with this kind of pampering was my kneading her shoulders and I'm apparently not a very good masseuse.
The drive to Galena from Madison is a little less than two hours. We decided to pass on the antique tour on the way down. We'd leave that to the trip back. The resort isn't exactly located in Galena proper. You have to drive through Galena and then back into the woods into an area called the Galena Territory.
This is a rather exclusive area built around a manmade lake with an amazing waterfall that freezes into a massive ice sculpture in winter. Ownership here requires membership.
The homes here aren't shabby. Custom-built cottages dot the lake; Adirondack style but newer. The homes need a good fifty years to season into that feel you get when visiting the lake communities of Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota but it's still quite stunning. There was a homeowners convention going on the weekend we showed up. Booths of high-end builders, banks offering mortgage information, and a very persuasive fireman who tried his hardest to get us to sign up for the volunteer fire department were all mingled together on the floor of the convention space located in the lower level of the lodge.
The resort offered an assortment of accommodations. You could stay in one of the lodges' eighty rooms or rent one of the outlying villas. Since we were only there for two days we chose one of the rooms, a room on the bottom floor that accepted pets.
We couldn't leave our paraplegic blind dog home by himself and we're over hiring dogs-sitters to come and deal with his many quirks.
Our plan didn't include spending much time exploring the hiking trails, a dip in the indoor pool, getting out the golf clubs or looking into taking a hot-air balloon ride, but all our time there wasn't spent relaxing and being non-productive.
Emmy had a photo assignment she was supposed to have completed by the following Monday. The assignment was to photograph a sports event. Time was running out but even here the resort came to the rescue. Saturday was the re-running of their first annual snowshoe race.
It had originally been scheduled for January but January temperatures had topped the freezing marking leaving the course without enough snow to trek over. What little snow they had wouldn't support a race unless they changed it to a mud roll.
The February temperatures and snowfall improved substantially and frigidly. So Saturday morning as unprepared as either Emmy or I were (I only had a pair of dress shoes and she left her Restoration Hardware faux fur hat back home) we trudged out with determination to the Nordic Center to shoot the snowshoers.
Luckily most of our time was spent in the Club House while the more prepared competitors were lacing up and getting the rules of the race.
The added benefit to our showing up was the organizer of the event had forgotten to hire a photographer. Emmy got the job.
Back at the lodge we decided we'd try as many of the food offerings as we could squeeze into two and a half days and there were plenty to choose from. On Friday night we went all out and ate at their premier restaurant, The Woodlands. I'm a big fan of menus with an edited selection. Menus that read like novels are usually a cover-up for pretty tasteless food. We ate well that night.
From there we tried Piasanos for our morning Starbucks coffee, room service for a Saturday night movie in the room and the General Store for snacks.
If we had more time I'm sure we would have tried the Woodlands Lounge or the outdoor ice bar.
But the reason we went to Eagle Ridge wasn't the resort but the spa part of their name. It was called the Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa. The Stonedrift Spa was the highlight and reason for the entire adventure and made everything that transpired in Mexico a thing of the past if not a distant memory. I went for the signature Swedish massage minutes after we arrived. It was life changing. Rick and Emmy went for pedicures knowing they were going to sign up for a more extensive menu of treatments on the following day.
This was Emmy's first time. She was a little weary of having some stranger touching her but she agreed to try a special package they offer for teens. All I can say is we created a monster.
It was a splurge. It was decadent. It was worth it. I'm giving this weekend four stars.

Bikini Queen, Sun City, Arizona, 2001
Peter Granser, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

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