Springtime differs according to two groundhogs

 

Woodstock Willie predicts and early spring (J Jacobs photo.)
Woodstock Willie predicts and early spring (J Jacobs photo.)

Of course, the US boasts different temps and climates but just looking at the east and central part of the country, spring was predicted differently by two famous groundhogs on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day.

Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania saw his shadow so predicted six more weeks of winter.

But Woodstock Willy in Illinois, though reluctant to leave his home at first, didn’t see his shadow so whispered to his handler that spring will come early.

Both groundhogs (woodchucks) drew large crowds for their predictions and the activities their towns are hosting.

For more on Punxsutawney Phil, visit Groundhog Club.  For Woodstock Willie visit Prognostication and for more on the movie filmed there see Groundhog Day.

Three fun winter happenings

Wisconsin Team 2 of Sculptora Borealis won the National Snow Sculpting Championship in 2021 with “Inoculation”
Wisconsin Team 2 of Sculptora Borealis won the National Snow Sculpting Championship in 2021 with “Inoculation”

See snow sculptures. Ice skate, Explore an ice village with illuminated caves or a Nordic village with downhill and cross-country skiing. Put Wisconsin and Michigan on the travel excursion list to catch these events and ideas before winter ends.

 

Ice castle kingdom

Stay at Geneva National Resort and Club’s The Ridge in Lake Geneva, WI where guests can now explore an illuminated ice kingdom complete with caves, fountains and frozen slides. Opened Jan. 22, 2022. The Ridge guests get the best available tickets to the ice kingdom, including the difficult-to-get Saturday times.

Call ahead about tickets if driving over to Lake Geneva and not staying at Geneva National. Current expectation is that it will remain open through February depending on the weather. The resort also features ice skating, cross-country skiing and fine dining.

For more information visit Geneva National Ice Castles

 

Winterfest
Walk around and judge for yourself amazing snow sculptures created by 15 state teams from across the county at the US National Snow Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva.

Held Wednesday when snow arrives through Saturday for the judging, the annual Snow Sculpting Championship takes place at Riviera Plaza and flat Iron Park during the city’s Winterfest, Feb. 2-6, 2022.

Wisconsin Team 2 of Sculptora Borealis won with “Inoculation” last year and Florida’s Less Latitutde, more attitude,” took second with “the Power of the Mind’s Eye.”

Winterfest also includes ice sculptures and entertainment. For more information visit Winterfest 2022.

 

Crystal Mountain

Downhill ski at award-winning Crystal Mountain that controls snow quality with its own machines, has good cross-country trails and an excellent ski school. Located in Thomsonville, MI, Crystal Mountain is a scenic, Nordic style resort village with several accommodation choices, spa and large, indoor pool.

For more information visit Crystal Mountain.

Four top ideas for a fun and different holiday gift

Long Grove Confectionery. ( JJacobs photo)
Long Grove Confectionery. ( JJacobs photo)

Shopping on-line makes holiday gift-choices COVID safe and fun. Just try to do the shopping now while orders have a good chance to make it to their destinations by Christmas. You also are likely to find some things you would like. Hey, give yourself a gift.

For the traveler or travel wannabe National Geographic has a holiday special –   for $39/year that includes immediate digital access, 12 print issues, and a tote bag. Find the details at NationalGeographicHolidayGift.

Find the perfect gift online at a historical or landmark site such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Wisconsin or Taliesin West in Arizona. Both of Wright’s famous homes have books, home décor items, ties, clever socks and jewelry. Visit Shop – Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for Arizona and Shop – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin (taliesinpreservation.org) for Wisconsin.

Check out the giftshop on-line at a favorite museum such as the Art Institute of Chicago. The shop has great scarves, books, calendars, jewelry and home décor items. Look for gifts at MuseumShopartic.

Share your love of fine foods. Order from a favorite coffee or candy store. A couple of examples are Door County Coffee and Tea which is the go-to place in a Wisconsin vacation spot and Long Grove Confectionery in a historic Chicago suburb.

Visit them at Door County Coffee & Tea Co.  and at Long Grove Confectionery Co. and Chicagoland Favorite! Decadent chocolate gifts for business & beyond! – Long Grove Confectionery Co

 

 

Chicago International Film Festival

 

After cancelling shows and closing theaters due to COVID last year, Chicago has reopened this fall.

The Lyric Opera is back as well as Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman Theatre and Broadway in Chicago. So come enjoy live theater.

But while in town check out the Chicago International Film Festival Oct 13-24.

Begun in 1964 by filmmaker and graphic artist Michael Kutza it promotes diverse subjects and filmmakers.

If in town Oct. 13 try to snag a ticket for the 7 p.m. showing of the French Dispatch or Halloween Kills at 10 p.m., both at the Music Box Theatre.

Or at 7 p.m. go to the Chitown Movies drive-in  to see The Velvet Underground.  For more film-fest showings visit the presenting organization’s Cinema Chicago – Upcoming Events Calendar and look at the Filmfestt Guide for kickoff ideas.

 

Wisconsin fall color to peak mid October

 

Take a fall-color getaway. (J Jacobs photo)
Take a fall-color getaway. (J Jacobs photo)

Take a fall color break. Green is a fine summer color but to celebrate the change of season to autumn, drive to northern Wisconsin now or wait a couple of weeks to mid October. That’s when the scenery in southeast Wisconsin blends gold with copper and ruby reds.

But you need to make room or camp reservations now because places such as Door County and even Bay Field further north that are both only beginning to change, are  already putting up “sold out” signs. Another popular destination is Eagle River.

The Iron River area Three Lakes show Land O Lakes and Minocqua already have high color

Check Wisconsin Fall Color Report and Travel Wisconsin for updates.

 

Michigan is bursting with color

 

Driving in the Traverse City area. (J Jacobs photo)
Driving in the Traverse City area. (J Jacobs photo)

Don’t wait until you can’t reserve a room or camp site in Michigan. The state’s fall color map is already showing blazing color in the UP and rapidly changing leaves from the middle of the state north.

Here are just a couple of ideas to get you started.

The state, in itself, is a travel destination so you hardly can go wrong no matter where you decide to go but consider where you want to headquarter and when you can go.

The Traverse City area, Leelanau Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes are so popular that you should  schedule them for weekdays.

North and slightly east of Traverse City is the beautiful  Petoskey -Harbor Springs Boyne area.

Driving along the west coast of Michigan south and slightly west of Traverse City is Frankfort down to Manistee.

Use Michigan’s Destination Finder for more choices

 

Do a fun visit to a Chicago tourist site

 

Chicago's Picasso ( J Jacobs photo)
Chicago’s Picasso ( J Jacobs photo)

Local volunteers have been taking visitors and residents through neighborhoods, popular tour sites and lesser known gem locations since 2002.

To celebrate them on the 6th Annual International Greeter Day the city is inviting the public to Explore Chicago Sept 18, 2021 with any of three personalized guided classic tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT.

The tours: The Loop, Historic Chinatown and Chicago Riverwalk, will meet at Millennium Park at the southwest tent that borders the great lawn. Scavenger hunt experiences will be included at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m.  Tours are free and pre-registration is not required. Walk-ups are welcome.

In addition to the International Greeters Day event, Chicago Greeters have launched three new initiatives  2021.

Welcome to Our Neighborhood Walks

Led by diverse groups and organizations, the tours highlight community’s unique stories, top attractions and under-the-radar finds.

Instagreeter Downtown Meet Ups

Designed to offer visitors a quick, flexible tour option, these one-hour tours of Chicago’s downtown Loop neighborhood depart from the Chicago Cultural Center’s Welcome Center on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with no reservation required.

Self-Guided Greeter Tours

Presented by Bank of America, these self-guided itineraries provide visitors and locals with curated, virtual tours designed by local experts to showcase each neighborhood’s unique history, culture and hidden gems. Through video, blog, and social content, this series spotlights six Chicago neighborhoods.

For more information about the Chicago Greeters program, visit Chicago Greeter.

Take a staycation or vacation with great room views and where food and entertainment lies steps outside

 

Navy Pier fireworks (Photo courtesy of Navy Pier)
Navy Pier fireworks (Photo courtesy of Navy Pier)

If not interested in flying or taking a long driving trip this Labor Day Weekend, consider making Navy Pier your destination.

Now that Hilton has built The Sable Hotel on Navy Pier, it makes sense to stay where fireworks fill the sky Wednesdays and Saturdays through Labor Day Weekend, delicious dishes please all ages, music and entertainment is free on the Lake Stage and the Beer Garden, movies are shown at the Lake Stage Lawn in Polk Park across the Pier’s entrance through \August, and the Centennial Wheel is a ride you’ll want to take each day of the stay.

After dining at Harry Carey’s Tavern or Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Bar and Grill, take in the views and while sipping well-crafted cocktails at the Offshore Rooftop and Bar, possibly the country’s larges rooftop terrace.

If there Aug. 28, 2021 spend the evening at Navy Pier’s Lake Stage to watch Resurgence, a program showcasing Chicago’s black dance companies. Look for times, tickets and other entertainment options at Cultural Attractions & Public Spaces.

If getting out on the water that lies just outside your door is too tempting to miss while staying so close, check the cruises that pull right up to the Pier.

 

 

 

Illinois State Fair still a summer getaway

 

Illinois State Fair. (photo courtesy of Illinois.gov)
Illinois State Fair. (photo courtesy of Illinois.gov)

It’s not too late to go to the  Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Think food, carnival rides, food, free entertainment, food, a twilight parade harness, tech exhibits, auto racing and food.

An easy three-hour drive south from Chicago, it’s about two miles in from Interstate 55 at the Sangamon Ave. exit 100 B.

Even though the 2021 fair started Aug. 12, it continues through Aug. 22 with  daily special events and a new, must check-out, Tech Prairie STEAM Expo that opens Aug. 18 in the Orr Building.

The STEAM (like STEM) Expo features drone racing, interactive exhibits, Esport competitions and demonstrations. Go to the STEAM Expo website for drone racing and Esports competition registration links,  exhibitors, livestreaming links and schedule of events at www.illinois.gov/steamexpo.

What you should know

Bring a mask for indoor exhibits

Find general information at General Info (illinois.gov.

Look for the Daily schedule illinois.gov to find events during your visit.

Hours: The Fairgrounds are open from 7 a.m. to Midnight.

General admission is Children (0-12) , free; Adults (13-59)   $10 (Fridays & Saturdays) and  Adults (13-59)  $5 (other days) and Seniors (60+)  $3.

Parking is $5 daily.

The State fairgrounds are at 801 E. Sangamon Ave.,  Springfield, IL.(

(The ramps to exit Sangamon Ave to I-55 are closed for construction so  detour to Sherman or Clear Lake Ave. exits for I-55. For ideas on what to do and what you will see go to  Rides and Attractions – Rides and Attractions (illinois.gov)

Visit the STEAM Expo website for drone racing and Esports competition registration links, a list of exhibitors, livestreaming links and schedule of events at www.illinois.gov/steamexpo.

A Galena getaway

Main Street downtown Galena. (J Jacobs photo)
Main Street downtown Galena. (J Jacobs photo)

Tucked into the northwest corner of Illinois is the historic Mississippi hillside town of Galena. Its gorgeous fall color draws visitors from mid-September to Halloween, so if going then, book your stay now (weekdays are better).

But the shops, the mid-to late 1800’s structures, charming inns and good food make Galena a fun break in the routine pretty much any time of year. (Folks come here to ski Chestnut Mountain even if not every shop is open)

An easy three-hour drive from Chicago on I 90, the vacation begins when turning before Rockford onto US 20, General Ulysses S. Grant Highway when the four-lane expressway becomes a scenic two-lane road.

The historic hillside town of Galena, IL (J Jacobs photo)
The historic hillside town of Galena, IL (J Jacobs photo)

As you wind through the hills of Stephenson and Jo Davies Counties, you may realize you are on a ridge with grand vistas of lush valleys.

Although you can continue north through Galena to cross the Mississippi at East Dubuque into Iowa (and go the The Field of Dreams baseball movie destination), Galena is a getaway destination, itself.

Go back in time

Indian tribes roamed the area. then it was settled by French traders and explorers. However, the town flourished in the early 1800s when galena ore (lead) boats plied the Mississippi River. It then became a gateway west when Ulysses S. Grant’s family lived and worked here in the mid-1800s.

Historic staircase in the Desoto House Hotel. (J Jacobs photo)
Historic staircase in the Desoto House Hotel. (J Jacobs photo)

Galena was on the stage coach route (there still are some stage coach signs). Then by 1854, the rail line went through making it a natural stop for Abraham Lincoln who used the balcony of the Desoto House Hotel on Main Street to campaign for John Fremont in 1856. The Desoto House was also the campaign headquarters for Grant. Go in to see its staircase and ask about a tour.

A couple of other good stops are the old  railroad depot on the south side of the Galena River. It houses the Galena Area Tourism Bureau. Also on that side of the river is Gen US Grant’s home built for him as the town’s favorite son.

Ask about walking tours when at the depot. The Galena Historic District covers about 85 percent of the city and includes some 800 properties that were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

Birdhouses at Red's in Galena (J Jacobs photo)
Birdhouses at Red’s in Galena (J Jacobs photo)

Shop

Think food, boutiques and quirky shops when strolling downtown Galena’s Main Street.

When pulling onto the street from US 20 I spied the cheese and wine store that I knew was there. But the unknown treasure was Red’s Iron Yard and Wholesale Barn a few stores down. I loved the roosters and birdhouses in front. My husband was drawn to the antique toy trucks in back.

Another fun store was Celebrity Hats on the other side of the street. Go in. Find your style.

Celebrity Hats (J Jacobs photo)
Celebrity Hats (J Jacobs photo)

Among the taste treats on the street were two chocolate stores and a patisserie that also did cocktails and sandwiches. Really. Called Bread & Vine, it did good macarons, lovely desserts and yummy sandwiches including a Croque Monsieur and savory croissant with smoked salmon.

There are a couple of chains but most of the stores are unique.

Dine

Outside Fried Green Tomatoes. (J Jacobs photo)
Outside Fried Green Tomatoes. (J Jacobs photo)

Some folks journey to Galena just for the Fried Green Tomatoes restaurant. You do need a reservation. The place is that popular. I made ours before leaving town. It is known for its steaks but we chose seafood because we know everything there is well prepared and we had meat before we left.  The front of the restaurant is on Main Street but its outdoor space is behind it where people park. This end of the street is blocked off for outdoor, curb and street side tables.

Also good is the historic Desoto House. It has three restaurants that are  open at different times of the day. For lunch we did the Green Street Tavern where I had the best garlic French fries ever tasted with a delish pulled pork sandwich. My husband had an apple and mixed berry salad  with walnuts and a raspberry vinaigrette .

Our dinner the night before we left was at Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub & Grill at the Irish Cottage where we were staying. I liked their beer battered cod and seasoned Irish chips. My husband liked the traditional corned beef.

The snug at O'Dowd's Pub and Grill (J Jacobs photo)
The snug at O’Dowd’s Pub and Grill (J Jacobs photo)

Stay

Galena has several B and Bs. Check the Galena Country tourism  stay/site for ideas. We liked the Irish cottage for its first-floor patio suites but there were several other places that also looked good including the Goldmoor Inn which is a Select Registry on the road to Chestnut Mountain and the Chestnut Mountain Resort.  Both have good views and friendly service.

Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa about six miles outside town has now reopened for golf, events and regular tourist traffic.

Enjoy