Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moms Just Wanna Have Fun!

.......and I have found just the place to fit the bill! This past weekend the the Convention & Visitors Bureau of Galena, IL hosted myself and 7 other bloggers overnight to showcase their vacation destination town yes, on their dime, in return for an honest review.

Galena is located in Northwest Illinois and just a 3 hour drive from Chicago. I have friends who occasionally slip away for a romantic weekend there, but I had never been there myself. Nor had I any idea just how much Galena had to offer. I had heard about fantastic dining, cozy cabins and an incredible Main Street shopping in a quaint little town. That wasn't even 10% of the story!

We all met at 10am in the Visitors & Information Center. I personally think they should change the name to the Super-Duper-Extremely Welcoming and Helpful Visitor and Must Know Town Tips & Information Center. I'm not sure all that would fit on the front door, though. We were welcomed by Jess and Kathie Yes, we are now on a first name basis. (CVB Board Chair and Chamber of Commerce Board President, respectively) and our Hosts/guides Celestino and Dorian who quickly realized that they had their hands full with 8 anything but shy and timid women. The poor guys could hardly get a word in edgewise as we all hit it off immediately, giving the impression that we had all known each other for years.

We started on our walking tour up and down mostly up. Go figure? the picturesque town. The views were incredible! and I am not easily impressed by such details. We toured the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant so up close and personal that it all came to life. Our tour guide, Terry (Miller), did a fantastic job of giving interesting facts and tidbits that made the history lesson so enjoyable that children would never even suspect that you were tricking them into doing something that was educational would enjoy the tour also.

As we walked the streets between stops, there was a level of friendliness and hospitality that you just can't fake. The Old Blacksmith Shop (a real working shop, how often do you see one of those?) was not yet open for the season, yet when we peaked through the windows, the volunteer gentleman(whose name that I forget- pretty sure it was Rich) that was preparing for this coming weekends opening waved and came to open the door spontaneously. He invited us in unannounced, before he even knew that we were not just there for a girls weekend. We took pictures and he showed us what he was making and how it was done and let us know that the shop is non-profit and volunteer run. Every penny they make from the sale of their wares, from childrens puzzles, to door knockers, goes back into keeping the shop up and running.

We laughed and enjoyed the town and each others company nonstop as we enjoyed lunch at the family friendly priced Cannova's on Main Street. By happenstance last weekend was the celebration of President Grant's birthday. Poor Dorian and Celestino had to pick up their chins off the table when all 8 of us women made a sprint for the door after spotting Civil War re-en actors walking down the street and assaulted them wanted to get some pics with them. The fellas recovered quickly and adopted a 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' attitude for the rest of our stay.

Continuing our walking tour we were greeted at the Galena History Museum for an amazing experience that once again would pull the wool over any child's eyes. Set in an historic home and filled with 10,000 artifacts on 2 floors from the Civil War that you could see up close and personal was amazing. A husband and wife team of Actors in character played the role of President and Mrs. Grant, beautifully and believably as they gave us information and answered our questions about the couple and the time period with a husband and wife banter that was glorious to watch. The Cherry On Top came in the form of being invited by Nancy (Breed), the Executive Director, to the 3rd floor storage rooms for the white glove treatment, literally. We were given white gloves to don and allowed to root through the artifacts in the storage areas (that are on constant rotation in the museum exhibits). We picked up and held pieces of American history in our own hands. Simply amazing and I was awe struck. I could have spent 12 more hours there and I am not even a civil war buff. The rain cloud on the silver lining that is this this museum, is that they are fighting to keep their lights on and their doors open. They need the tourism to keep this precious public trust museum open. When you go visit Galena, be sure to stop in and enjoy all that the Galena History Museum has to offer for the bargain price of a $7.00 admission.

And were walking, and were walking.... We continued our scenic walk and blogger bonding time as we headed for The Seal House. A private home of historic value,That you too can tour by appointment built in 1871 by Judge Seal. Currently owned, renovated and historically preserved by two of the most fantabulous decorators and welcoming hosts that you will ever meet, Roth Weaver and Brad Davis opened their home to us for a wonderful tour and a history of the gorgeous home. I'm sure that if we hadn't already been running late for our wine tasting next appointment, we would have soon found ourselves hanging out in the kitchen, drinking wine, laughing and joking with Brad and Roth. Their hospitality was overwhelming. Thanks fellas.

We moved onto Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery for a tasting and even more laughs as we had a chance to relax and enjoy numerous wines and have some time off of our feet. After sampling 10 different wines and spending damn near $100 on a very large goodie box to bring home. Yes there were that many that I loved. Get off my back. It was time to head for our accommodations to freshen up and drop off bags in 10 minutes time because were running so late due to enjoying all of our stops so much and staying longer than was scheduled at each and every one to get ready for dinner on Main Street.

The Eagle Ridge Resort has accommodations of every style and budget. As a group we stayed in 2 beautiful luxury homes with 5 massive bedrooms, 5 1/2 baths, a kitchen fitting of a culinary champion, living space pouring out all around and a private indoor pool and hot tub. Yes, it would make your eyes pop and 4 bloggers in each. These beautiful homes rent for $700/nt, but easily and comfortably could accommodate 3 families or 4 bloggers per home.

Off to dinner we went. Fried Green Tomatoes was a delectable culinary experience with an Italian menu. Whouda thunk it? The food was superb. The fried green tomatoes appetizer were incredible as was everything else, including the Naked Filet. Our company was equally as enjoyable as we ran into Roth and Brad on their way out and our way in and were joined for dinner by Mike Scholz (interim CVB board director) and his lovely wife Linda and later on spotted and joined by the Farrows (remember them from the welcome center?) after they had enjoyed their own dinner.

The next morning we were up bright and early in reality dark and sleepily to meet Andy, the pilot/owner of Galena on the Fly at 6am for a hot air balloon ride above Jo Daviess County. Like everyone else that we had met, Andy was welcoming, fun and a wonderful guide. The flight was amazingly beautiful and the laughter plentiful as Andy was hysterical and then add 8 women who are punchy after so much activity and so little sleep. Our hour long adventure was topped of with Mimosas and chocolates for breakfast in the field where we landed.

Soon thereafter we headed out to a working alpaca farm/log cabin getaway where we had the opportunity to walk and feed the alpacas. Seriously, how many places do you know that offer alpaca interaction. Galena has it all.

After bonding with our mammal friends we headed for the premier skiing destination in Illinois, The Chestnut Mountain Resort for a tour of their property and facilities along with lunch in their restaurant. Sitting alongside the Mighty Mississippi River, with breathtaking views, numerous activities such as hiking and biking in the off season and family friendly pricing for large, comfortable rooms ($89/nt,-off season- including breakfast & sleeps 6), you can't go wrong.

Galena basically has not just something for everyone, but lots for everyone to enjoy. Whether a romantic getaway, a girls weekend trip or a family vacation for all ages, it's there. There are beautiful parks along the Galena River for picnic lunches, the sculpture park with kid friendly sculptures for climbing, shopping, vineyards (complete with private vacation cabins), delectable restaurants in every price range, overnight accommodations in every form and price range from hotels, cabins, B&Bs, to resorts and luxury homes.

I apologize if I got a little bit long winded on this one folks. I'm just that excited about it. Oh and by the way, we did manage to hit the main street shopping that I had heard friends raving about, on our way out of town. It was chuck full of lovely shops with a wonderful feel and great pricing to boot. I enjoyed it and bought a few gifts for the Weasels and the Mr, but when thinking about what Galena has to offer, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

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