Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Galena Getaway Recap Part III

You can find Galena Getaway Recap Part One here and Part Two here.

It's about time for me to wear myself out again.  I left off with my fourteen hour day in Galena ending with a great dinner at Fried Green Tomatoes after a wine tasting at Galena Cellars and a tour of the Seal House.  The Galena/Jo Daviess CVB packed a ton into our short stay!

On Sunday, we woke up extra early from our lovely homes in Eagle Ridge to go for a sunrise hot air balloon rise.  Now... I'm not a morning person.  In fact, I don't believe I've ever consciously seen the sun rise.  Ever.  And I didn't get into my room (where I promptly face planted into the pillow) until almost midnight the night before, but I was not about to miss out on a sunrise hot air balloon ride, even if it did mean being at the launch site by 5:45am.

Lucky for us, the launch site just happened to be on the Eagle Ridge Territories, just outside the Inn.  Galena On The Fly, Inc met us there bright and early, with our cheery (and highly entertainig) skipper Andy ready and waiting for us.

The balloon we rode in holds 14 (I say holds because you stand during the whole thing - which works out well).  There is a separate little area for Andy and his stuff, and the remainder of us stood the rest of the basket with a small wall creating two chambers.  It was cozy - but that's good because it is cold that high up in the air that early in the morning in mid April! 

Again, I'm a details geek, so I loved watching the balloon being inflated.  The basket was turned on its side, and the balloon spread out alongside it.  Giant fans (and I do mean giant) were turned on to begin the inflation process, along with some heaters.  Once it was slightly inflated, Andy walked through the entire balloon to ensure there were no issues with the ballon; not that I had any worries, but that definitely made me feel better.  As the balloon continued to inflate, it pulled the basket upright, and we quickly hopped in.

We started out not flying too high - which I'll admit was not my favorite part, since I don't do well with heights - and we coasted over the Galena River.  This was one of my favorite pictures - looking down into the water at an upsidedown balloon tugging on its basket.  We quickly went higher after the river, and all my height issues simply disappeared, and I was as comfortable as I would have been in an airplane (phew!)

The sunrise was wonderful - and yes, I did finally see a sunrise, although I almost missed it because I was so fascinated with everything else that was going on at the time!  What a great way to experience one, though.

There was tons to see while up high in the air.  I didn't even realize that there was a waterfall until our great guide Andy pointed it out.  He's done enough flights in this area to know where everything is and how to spot all the little things from this waterfall to deer and more.  He even saw turkeys - although I missed them.

WeaselMomma and I had a great time, although apparently I'm even less a morning person than I thought.

See - the promised horses.  This was zoomed in as much as my camera goes, so you can imagine how high we were.  Andy said we were over 1,000 feet at one point, and we went higher than that by a decent amount.

As we began to descend, we could see the shadow of our balloon across the landscape, which I thought was pretty cool.  I actually took ummm several pictures across various terrain and such, but this was my favorite.  Yes, Andy just looks for an open spot in farmland and lands.  Whoever owns the field where he lands gets two free balloon ride tickets, so it's a pretty good deal for them to have random people tramping about.  Apparently there are only a few landowners who don't want the balloon to land - and some who chase it, telling it to land on their property!

After we land, the balloon itself needs to be deflated properly and stored.  There is a huge rope attached to the top of the 110 foot tall balloon, and the worker has the fun job of being dragged across the ground as he tries to pull the balloon to the ground to fully deflate it.

The best part (ok, not completely, but it was a great touch) was the mimosas provided after the flight by Andy.  Apparently serving before the flight isnt' the greatest idea!  And yes, they eventually learned not to use traditional glasses but instead invest in stainless steel ones.  He hasn't broken any of those ones yet.

Brandie was smart and brought her blanket along.  Tracey and Brandie offer cheers to all!

We all received certificates stating that we survived errr had a great first flight, signed by Andy.  Again - just a neat touch and keepsake for the day.  Val was thrilled with hers!

As was Tracey....

The whole crew posed in front of the van that returned us to our vehicles.  Thankfully, we weren't simply abandoned at that field where we landed - miles and miles and miles from where we started!

From that excitement, we moved on to a whole new kind of entertainment.  This is one place I'll be bringing the wee ones this summer.  The Galena Log Cabins Getaway & Adventure Creek Alpaca Farm (umm the alpaca farm) is, well, an alpaca farm.  We went there to walk the alpacas, which was a hoot.  Frank and Ruth Netzel (along with their son Johnathon) own the farm where they raise and show alpacas, in addition to operating a sort of bed and breakfast with their seven cabins.

The alpacas had just been shorn the day before we arrived, so they weren't as fluffy as they normally are.

Ruth works the fleece to make it to the point where she can send it offsite to have it made into yarn that she then uses to creat products from sweaters to scarves and more.  She also sells the skeins of yarn and the cutest little teddy bears made from alpaca hide (not her own, obviously).  I almost took one of those home, but then she mentioned that animals - including cats - are attracted to them and will destroy them.  Bummer!

They were the sweetest little creatures, and we were told that they love children (in addition to being hypoallergenic, for those with allergies!).  Watching them in action, that doesn't surprise me.  Five are currently halter trained to go for walks on the property - with more in progress.  Among the eight of us, five started out with walking, and we quickly discovered how much of the truth Ruth was telling us when she mentioned that they love being fed grass from your hand (orrrr simply stopping to eat the grass on their own in some cases).

We all chose alpacas - accidentally, we swear - that matched what we were wearing.  Meet Ulysses, the adorable and oh so sweet alpaca who joined me on the march.

And yep, Kris is wearing brown, too!

This grey alpaca (see, he does match Brandie) apparently provides unusually high quality wool to the point where someone in the yarn making factory had to come see him to meet the alpaca who provided such great wool.  This was perfect for Brandie, who knits, as she bought three skeins of his wool to make a scarf and hat.  So cool!

WeaselMomma's alpaca was one of the ones who preferred eating to walking.  She's nice enough to let him!

As Frank and Ruth are raising alpacas, there is also a separate pen with the babies and females down the road and near the cabins - yep cabins.

There are seven log cabins on site that they rent out.  Four of them even allow dogs, which is pretty cool - and unusual.  The cabins are all situated in a semi-circle around the pen where the babies and females live.  What a fun way to wake up!  They are somewhat rustic looking from the outside, but inside was a completely different story.

The cabins are one bedrooms with a loft, and they're surprisingly roomy (650 square feet), sleeping four very comfortably. 

The bathroom was also a pleasant surprise, with its Kohler whirlpool tub.  Go fig!  Oh, and each cabin also has a refrigerator for any leftovers you need to keep (or wine bottle chilling or formula containing).  I adore rooms that have fridges, especially when I'm traveling with the wee ones.

We never could get all our alpacas to line up together, but this was one of my favorite pics of Kris with her alpaca.  He was such a friendly guy!  Alpaca walks?  About twenty minutes and $10 - definitely something to experience with kids.

Our last official stop was at Chestnut Mountain Resort that offers snow skiing in the winter - told you Galena was hilly! - and features Alpine slides in the summer.  I love that they have ski school for the little kids to teach them in an appropriate manner - e.g., not by adults who just sorta ski.

Although Chestnut Mountain has a large number of snow machines and can get the resort up and running in two days once it's cold enough, it is closed to skiing in April.  That doesn't mean that all the snow has melted, however!

There is more than just the bunny slope.  They actually have a terrain hill and a black diamond in addition to several blue squares.  While this isn't Rocky Mountain skiing, it's definitely pretty decent skiing for the midwest.

I've never been to Alpine slides before, but this sounded so cool.  You have a little sled that you sit on (with brakes) and spend three minutes riding down the concrete slide.  There is a chair lift - from the skiing - that then brings you back up the hill in twelve minutes.  You can purchase one ride passes or all day unlimited passes.  If it were me, I know which one I'd choose - espcially since six and under are free!

We had a lovely lunch at Chestnut Mountain in their new restaurant, Sunset Grill.  The entire resort is undergoing a facelift that is expected to be complete by October.  The grill was one of the first to be completed, and they did a great job.  In the meantime, you can still stay at the resort with amenities ranging from dorm-like rooms with rows of bunkbeds for Girl Scouts and the like to traditional rooms to suites with whirlpool tubs.

That was the end of our official visit, but I had to get back to Main Street.  We hadn't had any free time on our visit, and my mom had sent me with a list of things to bring back to her from the Galena Canning Company.  I'm very familiar with them - as are my parents - since they appear every year at all the Long Grove festivals, which was also try to patronize.

So I got in my car and drove back to Main Street, whre I spent an enjoyable couple hours wandering the streets with many of the women from the weekend.  I did my best to restrain myself, knowing that my house is already filled with more items than I need - although there were some really cute fairy and Disney items in one store and some old fashioned toys in another.... and this really cute little froggy windchime arty thing in yet another.  He came home with me.

After that, I made a beeline to the Galena Canning Company (after spending some time - but luckily no money - in the Galena Kandy Kitchen).  The canning company cans just about everything from barbeque sauce to jellies to vinegar and pickles to salsas and everything in between.

Most items are available for sampling right there in the store so that you can ensure you have made the right choice.  I've had experience with a number of their products (ahem), and they're definitely among our favorites.  The black bean and corn salsa is definitely my all time favorite salsa.  And their chocolate cherry sauce?  Ummm yum - especially with the cherry chunks throughout.

I also decided that something from here would make the perfect gift for the wee ones (and my husband!).  They'd get something special just for themselves without having anything else to clutter up my house or that they'd stop loving after fifteen minutes.  I carefully sampled all sorts of different preserves and jellies to find just the right ones.

In the end, I came home with a strawberry spread (with no sugar added) for Mister Man and a peach butter (ummm yum!) for Little Miss.  They've been generously sharing their bounties with each other, and I am not looking forward to the day when we're completely out of their new favorite treat.

Oh, and there were some really neat cherry preserves in a European style jar that begged me to come home.  And I thought my husband would enjoy the chocolate amaretto sauce.  Annnnd we're sort of our of the black bean and corn salsa.

Fortunately, I also remembered my mom's strawberry hot pepper jelly!

By the time I arrived home, I was exhausted.  But I know we're definitely coming back to Galena soon, maybe for the hot air balloon race or another special weekend.  A huge thank you again to the Galena/Jo Daviess CVB for their great hospitality and to Sotaventure and Momimpact for coordinating the weekend.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received no compensation other than the hospitality provided, as described above.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Galena Getaway Recap Part II

You can view Part One of my recap here and Part Three here.

Yesterday, I discussed the first portion of the trip to Galena, where we focused on a lot of the historical activities available in Galena from a working blacksmith shop to the former home of US President Ulysses S Grant. Now we move on to the next set of our adventures, as we explored more of Galena.

One thing I loved about Galena was the walking and the beauty of it. As we went from Main Street area of downtown where the Galena History Musuem is located towards our next stop, we began climbing stairs, as the downtown (and the river) is in a valley amongst hills. We didn't go up the main steps, which are steep and plentiful, but our own steps to get us closer to where they have public garden tours were just fine.

Near the top, we discovered that one of the private gardens (that offers tours) is built around the foundation of the oldest African church in Illinois. You can see some of the old stone structure below (and part of the house owning the land next to it), which I've been told is a glorious riot of colors when it moves into season.

Our real stop in this area was the Seal House, which was built by a retired judge in 1871 who lived there with his "niece." The home has remained a private residence since then, and was most recently restored by Roth Weaver and Brad Davis who have spent much of the past few years bringing both the inside and outside to life.

They were able to save the curliques around the columns, but the remainder of the outside porch has been rebuilt to appear as close as possible to how it did when built. With the historical registry, any visible changes to the exterior have to fit with the period and be approved before they can be made.

Inside was simply gorgeous - and yes, this is their actual home. With their three cats. And their houseguest who gamely put up with strangers tramping through the house. Galena hospitality at its best! It was fascinating to see the details of the home and how Brad and Roth managed to create a space that pays homage to the origins of the house without making it feel like a museum.

I didn't take a ton of pictures inside because ... it felt *weird* taking pictures inside someone's house. They were both wonderful hosts and gave us a lot of information on what they've done (painting the blue room five times to get the right color) and plan to do (replace the shutters this summer).

Next up was a stop we all could appreciate after wandering Galena for so long. It involved sitting and relaxing, something our group did quite well. We visited the Galena Cellars in-town store (they have their actual winery out of town, but we didn't have time to get there - my aunt and uncle who have been simply rave about the views you have while there, in addition to the fantastic wines).

Here we were able to have our own tasting with a number of great wines - although we didn't get to keep the way fun glasses. Then again, mine probably would have ended up broken before I arrived home!

With our first wine, our sommelier of the day gave us instructions on how to properly sample the win - swirl, smell, sip. She also showed us the really funky sip it through your teeth maneuver that we enjoyed trying to replicate. Val did a great demonstration to begin. I will admit that we may not have been quite so proper as we made our way through the bottom half of the tasting list.

Tracey enjoyed her wines, both the reds and whites. I know she bought some to bring home with her (as did I), but I can't remember what she ended up choosing. Tracey also graciously volunteered to be our bottle model for many of the wines presented.

Our sommelier of the day may have looked as though she shouldn't be drinking any wine herself (she's 22, we asked), but she certainly knew her wines here. It was a great touch to have someone who could provide the background on the wines before we tasted them - and she did a great job helping us find the wines we "needed" to buy at the end of our tasting.

This was one of my favorite wines that we tasted - it is Oktoberfest, a lovely fruity white made in a German style from Muscat grapes. For $10.50, it was a really great wine - which won a silver medal in the Illinois State Fair in 2008. (And yes, I brought home two bottles of it, plus two bottles of other wines.)

As promised, Tracey made a great bottle model. The 2009 Nouveau was a red I could drink - which is a rarity - made from the Gamay Noir grape and a really nice young wine. Plus, who can turn down the oh so cool label at $11.99?

One of the later wines we tasted came with chocolate provided. Shame on me for not remembering which wine this was. It was really interesting to see the difference between the wine with and without the chocolate - it almost didn't taste like the same glass (and yes, WeaselMomma enjoyed her wine and chocolate!). I loved the touch from the Galena Cellars of actually providing that nuance for us so that we could more completely experience the wine.

Back in the store, they offered all sorts of items from the wine "glass"es (picture beer goggles) to wine themed t-shirts to wine glasses to wine accoutrements and more. WeaselMomma, Brandie, Val, me, and Tracey were big fans of the Sisterhood of W.I.N.E. (blow it up to see the acronym).

After the wine tasting, it was finally time for us to head to our humble abode. We were put up in a home in the Eagle Ridge Territories, which is located just outside Galena proper. This is a huge golf resort (five courses on site, I believe?) with all sorts of amenities from spas to kids' play areas and restaurants and more. There is an inn onsite, but those who live in the territories - either full time or with a vacation home - can rent out their homes, great for families or multiple couples vacationing together. Our group split into two homes where we each had our own bedroom. Mine was ... far larger than the bedroom I had at home.

We weren't done for the night, however! Once we dumped out bags, it was back out of the house to head to dinner at Fried Green Tomatoes. This popular restaurant used to be located outside town at a prison work camp, and the new building has no less character than the previous one. The brickwork is left exposed, and the history of the building can be felt throughout, including wall stencils that were applied when the building was a theater.

When you go to a restaurant, though, that isn't necessarily your focus. We rather enjoyed our drinks, which were poured with flair by our very friendly bartenders!

Brandie was one of the few who didn't have the bartender recommended drink, but her strawberry daquiri was top notch nonetheless (she who claims she never drinks!).

Fried Green Tomatoes of course serves... fried green tomatoes. But ohhh they so weren't what I was expecting when they were ordered. In fact, when this arrived in front of me, I wasn't sure what the order was. However, under that deliciously creamy thick layer of melted cheese lay the promised fried green tomatoes. I could have made a meal just of them.

When it came to my main course, I dithered. There were simply too many things on the menu that were unique and sounded delicious for the expresso encrusted fillet to lobster ravioli to sicilian beef and more. I finally settled on the special for the evening, a fillet oscar, one of my favorites.

At the end of the meal, we were encouraged to have dessert. And they all sounded delicious from the creme brulee to the chocolate mousse ice cream to the tiramisu (you can't be an Italian restaurant without it, can you?) to the molten chocolate cake. We were so full from the rest of the delicious meal that we did what any sane woman would do - we ordered some to share!

And share we did! They were great.

Finally after dinner, we headed back to our homes after 11pm. It had been a very long and full day, and we had to get up early for a 5:45am sunrise hot air balloon ride. More on our Sunday part of the trip soon! You wonder why it took us all so long to recover from this trip. It was a nonstop whirlwind. Thank you again to the Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitor's Bureau for arranging this weekend, along with MomImpact and Sotaventure.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I received no compensation of any kind other than the experiences as described on this weekend. All opinions expressed are my own.