Thursday, November 3, 2016

Postcard from Galena, Illinois

I'm weirdly untraveled in the area of the Midwest where I grew up--Iowa and surrounding states. My childhood experience didn't include much travel at all, and then I lived elsewhere--Seattle and Detroit--for most of my adult life. So in many ways I'm more familiar with the Pacific Northwest and Michigan than the place that's supposed to be home. 

Like I said. Weird. But also, I've discovered, a fun and unique perspective. I get to be a tourist and make discoveries in a place that has already long been home to me. Best of both worlds. 

Tom and I had planned a long summer weekend trip away months before July, but I'd set aside the vacation days and almost completely forgot about it. And then my aunt passed away, and I just didn't have any enthusiasm for anything for awhile. I didn't realize that we'd forgotten to make reservations until the week before. 

Oops. Since Galena, Illinois is a huge tourist destination, that was nearly a deal-breaking oversight. I lucked out with a room at a local B&B, though, and it turned out to be a happy accident. It was uncharacteristic of my usual over-planning self, though. 

To me the best part of vacation is not the destination so much as it is just being pried away from my usual routines and obligations. I need that, because I get too attached to them. And even though I'm as big of a homebody as anyone, sometimes I just want to get gone, you know? Besides, if I never get outside my own city limits and never hit the highways, I miss stuff like this: 

Yep. That's a plastic life-sized skeleton torso (with eyeballs) mounted to the back of a semi-cab. I have no idea. Mascot? Warning? Joke?

Galena, Illinois is a river town that used to be a major steamboat port before the railroad expanded west, and now has a large downtown historic district, boutiques, restaurants, B&Bs, other words, a touristy tourist trap tricked out in Victorian-era gingerbread trim. 

Which I don't mind if you see it for what it is, eyes open. Also, tourist trap or not, I'm a huge history geek. It doesn't matter where I go, I'm gonna pry some history lesson out of it. And Galena's are pretty good as history lessons go. It includes a former home of a U.S. President, Ulysses S. Grant. 

I'm a reader of presidential biography, I'm always keenly interested in visiting presidential historic sites, and this one was one I honestly didn't know about. Grant lived in many states over his lifetime, and this home in Galena was gifted to him by the community after he became a civilian again, post-Civil War. His family lived in it for only a very short time before he became President, and afterwards returned only rarely. 

I liked Grant's taste in chairs. The green velvet armchair was so beloved it traveled with him on tours. 

The day we toured the Grant home was broiling hot and humid, the house was only open on guided tours, timed every 15 minutes, and packed full every group. I was annoyed that we were pushed along, and annoyed at having to look at everything over the shoulders of other tour group members. I'm arrogant enough to not want to be one of the unwashed masses, and unwilling to admit that I'm just as unwashed as the next person. Sigh. Also, I just don't like crowds. 

We took a selfie while we waited for our turn at the guided tour. We bought hats in downtown Galena because it was so hot. Our children were not amused by this development as shared on social media. We, however, thought we were stinkin' adorable. 

One of the saving graces of the downtown area on this hot weekend was Galena Brewing Company. 

I wish I could say the same for the rest of the restaurants and bars in the area. They were high-priced, mediocre mostly, and getting away with it because, well, lots of tourists packed in a small town with few choices. 

If the eats weren't the best, I could have easily spent an entire afternoon photographing all the architectural interest.

There is a lovely city park on the Galena River, named after their presidential citizen. 

With a restored Victorian fountain....

And a pedestrian bridge over the river to the downtown area. 

The historic neighborhoods were intensely pretty

Our B&B ended up being a perfect choice, even if it was last minute. I had a serious case of garden envy. 

The breakfasts there were large and excellent, and made up a great deal for the less-than-great restaurant situation elsewhere. (Readers can find the B&B's website here.)

Did any of my readers and friends take get-away weekends this summer? Where? What are some favorite places in your area? 

1 comment:

  1. We've been to Galena a couple of times. Once as a couple, and then we brought our girls one year who attended college in Peoria and the other in Beloit....we had a ball! Locals from Beloit go there often for winter sports, too. Now that we've retired, we take off on a whim much more often. That's more my nature anyway than my hubby's. He's a planner, too, but I'm working on changing him. It was a bit difficult when we both worked and the kids had school activities, that's for sure, but its nice to be footloose now. Recently went to Roanoke and leisurely drove the Blue Ridge Parkway for awhile since the leaves were turning and the weather was perfect. We jumped off the Parkway near the Roanoke Star that sits on a nearby mountain.

    Glad you took that selfie...I think you guys were adorable, too. :)