Although Cedar Rock State Park is certainly a gorgeous setting, what actually drew me to The Lowell and Agnes Walter Estate - and this Iowa park - was the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. A fan of his architecture for decades and fresh off a trip along Wisconsin's Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, I made a detour, here, during my return trip to the Kansas City area. Boy, am I glad I did!
Wright designed almost every aspect of this estate, which reflects his Usonian architectural style - from his signature red tile mounted on an outside wall, to furnishings throughout the house. Today, mature trees dot the property, and a long flight of stairs leads to a boathouse.
With light streaming in through several skylights, and plush stools beside one wall, the narrow front hallway ended near the stunning living room. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrapped this space in natural views. Additional light poured through wide narrow windows above indoor planter boxes. Multiple seating areas paired low white upholstered chairs and benches, with wood-grain tabletops. A grand piano stood near the fireplace and a cozy couch.
Another long, narrow hallway led to the bathroom and bedrooms. In the hall, a brick wall stood opposite of tall built-in, wood-faced cabinets. Large and transom windows flooded each bedroom with light. A horizontal wood plank wall stood behind each bed too. This was my favorite bedroom, of the two. In the spacious, fully-equipped kitchen, open shelves displayed a gorgeous collection of copper, and sunlight streamed in from above the stove.
Tours are available at the Walter Estate, May to October and on Thursday through Sunday. Make your reservation by email or by phone (319-934-3572). Suggested donations for tours are $5 per person.
Please note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour, for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
If you appreciate classic architecture, then be sure to schedule a historic tour at Flagler College when you're in St. Augustine. Built as Hotel Ponce de Leon by railroad magnate, Henry M. Flagler in 1888, it is also a designated National Historic Landmark. On a campus full of tall palms, this once highly exclusive resort exemplifies Spanish Renaissance architecture at its finest. It's also one of .my favorite architectural styles.
From the moment I arrived, for our complimentary tour, the buildings' pale walls, red roofs and ornately decorated towers captivated me. The view from one rooftop (see top photo) took my breath away, too.
Inside we saw incredible artistry at every turn. Strategically placed lighting and stunning painted design covered a 68-foot domed ceiling inside the rotunda, above carved wood railings and decorative posts.
In the dining room, ornately painted arches visually 'framed' 79 luminescent Tiffany stained glass windows that illuminated the space with broad streams of natural light. Stunning wall and ceiling murals also punctuated this enormous room.
Our tour ended in the Flagler Room, once christened the Women's Grand Parlor. This was quintessential elegance, punctuated by handcrafted Austrian crystal chandeliers and original hotel furnishings. Ornate fireplaces and crown molding complemented thick, full-length curtains and yet another gorgeous ceiling mural. A modern podium and desk chair were the only incongruous elements in this beautiful space.
The entire city of St. Augustine is steeped in history - including Flagler College. Find updates regarding tour availability amid the coronavirus pandemic, here.
Note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour, for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
My friends and family also know I'm CRAZY about chocolate (see previous post :). So any time I have a chance to visit a chocolate shop, it's a no-brainer for me. Such was the case during an Appleton, Wisconsin press trip, which included a stop at Wilmar Chocolates.
This bright and spacious shop has offered chocolates and confections for more than 60 years, with no signs of slowing down. And the list of awards garnered by these chocolatiers is incredibly impressive. They have won nineteen “Seal of Excellence” awards from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, in addition to multiple national and local awards.
Whether you prefer a milk chocolate confection with vanilla crunch (above), a truffle treat, dark chocolate caramels, or chocolates with creamy centers, there are plenty of choices available. During our visit a long hallway full of chocolate-related memorabilia showcased a Chocolat CD, enormous rich brown cups with Chocolate in bold white letters, and even chocolate-themed wall signs.
At the end of the hall we found the surprisingly small production area and the Mix It Up! Chocolate Bar Station. A draw for kids of all ages, this is the ultimate in chocolate customization. The process pairs one-part personal flavor preferences with one-part handcrafted genius.
It starts with molten milk, semi-sweet or blended chocolate, so I chose semi-sweet. After that there's a dizzying array of flavors and textures available. I picked cherries, coconut, pistachios, espresso and cinnamon as add-ins. And then I watched my bar in the making. I couldn't wait to taste it!
Alas, there's only one downside to creating a custom treat at the Mix It Up! Chocolate Bar Station. These bars take some time to 'set' from their melt-y character. So if you order a custom bar, at Wilmar Chocolates, just make sure you can pick it up a little later - or ask to have it shipped.(During the coronavirus pandemic, the Mix It Up! station is closed, but you may order a custom bar, online).
And skip visiting in July; that's the month when this shop always closes.
Note: As a writer associated with the travel industry, I received a complimentary tour and bar, for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this post, I wish to disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
Anyone who knows me well also knows that I'm addicted to Mexican food. Add brightly colored, tropically-inspired decor and a Mexican restaurant gets more big points. Incorporate a broad range of fresh seafood and place an eatery within blocks of 'big water' - in this case, an estuary of Monterey Bay, California - and it's no wonder The Whole Enchilada stole my heart and taste buds several years ago (The restaurant recently reopened following temporary closure due to COVID-19. Check for current hours).
Amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, my travel has been put on hold - as is the case for many people. But more time at home has provided a great opportunity to 'revisit' some of my favorite spots across the U.S.
At Henschel's Indian Museum & Trout Farm, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, fishing enthusiasts enjoy a quiet, peaceful environment at their Hidden Springs Trout Farm. Two spring-fed ponds are full of fish, which the family sells by the pound. They also offer filet services and will package caught fish, on ice.
However, our group of history buffs focused on the museum and adjacent grounds. A fifth generation of the Henschel family currently runs the operation, and members of the family's 7th generation have also lived here. Earlier generations of the family lived with members of the Ojibwe, Potawatomie, Winnebago, Menominee and Ottawa tribes for approximately two decades.
Today the Henschel collection is one of the most complete in Wisconsin, demonstrating evidence of more than 10,000 years of human presence. From chipped, bone and ground stone tools to projectile points, to copper implements, and pottery this tiny museum is packed with treasures - many of which were found loose on the property. Other items come from the immediate vicinity and/or loan.
During our visit a glass case displayed turquoise and sterling jewelry alongside small pieces of pottery and a massive dream catcher hung beside the window. Across the room open trays displayed animal bones beside stone chips and flakes from making arrowheads.
Tutorial signs described the healing benefits of holding raw stones and seven distinct historical periods related to indigenous peoples. Another sign stated, "The most important thing in life is your relationship with the Great Spirit."
The owner’s great-grandfather once stumbled upon 2 ½ feet of skeletons, when his horse fell into what looked like a ‘hole.’ Actually an Indian mound that is likely 2,000 years old, it housed 45 skeletons 'sitting' around an enormous conch shell that measured 21 inches long and 29 inches in circumference. Stone walls and white oak logs are in the lower chamber, which may date back more than 2,000 years.
The family has since built a representation of this ancient mound, to share with visitors. After a Native American named Rolling Thunder blessed the site, a 1996 dig uncovered the state's oldest Red Ochre burial site here, too. The team also found two cremation pits and a ‘turkey tail’ used to fan smoke in blessing.
Located near the resort area of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Henschel's was a completely unexpected and intriguing spot to spend an afternoon. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children.
out and Rainbow Trout.
Fish anytime of the year—without a license. You won’t go away empty handed from here.
Because I DO believe in spirits
Ever since childhood I've been sensitive to 'energy,' although I didn't realize it at the time. Always intensely impacted by other people's emotions, and fascinated by the so-called 'occult,' I conducted seances before high school and even tried levitation once. Decades later I learned the benefits of massage and energy healing, eventually training to do the latter.
My connection to energy manifested in a new way about 10 years ago. I was driving through Kansas & doing research for a state travel guide. I entered the office of a renovated historic theater in Salina, explained my project, and asked to take photos in the auditorium. The room captivated me, from its carved wood and gold leaf paint to heavy crimson drapes on a private balcony.
But it wasn't until I checked all of my images that I saw a large ball of light hovering to the left of the balcony. Neither I - nor a gal from the office - could find a light source that would explain this. When I asked if the theater was haunted they assured me it was.
Since that time I've photographed what I now know are light 'orbs' in at least five additional U.S. locations - from Weston, MO. to a St. Augustine lighthouse and a vintage hotel porch at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs
But my most remarkable experience occurred several years ago, in Ferrara, Italy. My mother's family ruled the city during the Renaissance while occupying a castle and several smaller palaces - and visiting the city fulfilled a four-decade dream.
It seemed the spirits knew this. During my brief, 2 1/2-day stay, I photographed no fewer than SIX orbs throughout the city. Since then I've smelled perfume wafting across a haunted jail and captured a ghostly apparition in a vintage home in the Kansas City area; and seen a sliver of unexplained red light in a haunted St. Augustine lighthouse. And as the most recent complete eclipse approached, I could have sworn I literally saw our beloved deceased pooch sitting in his favorite chair.
For me, evidence of spirits has become commonplace. And you?
2 of my must-have personal care travel items
Anyone who travels frequently has learned the value of toting ear plugs and eye masks along. But there are two other items that have long been part of travel must-haves.
I took my first flight to Europe about five years ago (I know...I know...late bloomer). Excited yet nervous, I set out to learn the best ways to maximize my comfort on long-haul flights. In addition to hydration with beverages, it appeared skin hydration was important too. So I filled a TSA-approved spray bottle with rose water. Those mid-air spritzes were so refreshing. Before long I carried rose water on all flights and even began spritzing my face daily. It's become something I 'can't live without.'
My other must-have has helped me escape nicks or cuts when rummaging around in my toiletries bag. If I'm toting a razor, I've learned to secure a binder clip (is that the right name?) over the blade. Voila - quick and easy protection from injury!
What are your must-have personal care items when traveling?
Today I return to blogging after a very long hiatus.
I'm excited to have a place where I can immediately share dishes I have savored, destinations I can't forget and people who have inspired me during my travels. No waiting for edits, here - just a candid glimpse at my life as a travel and food writer.
Welcome to my travel blog, PACKED!