A sense of serenity came over me as I strolled the paths of Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois. Walking through landscapes of meticulously manicured trees and flowing water, relaxation replaced my stress. What is it about a Japanese garden that differs from other gardens? Why does it feel tranquil? It’s because each element—every rock, every plant, every pond— is carefully placed to inspire calm and renewal.
I’ve felt that that sense of tranquility in every Japanese garden I’ve visited. However, it was intensified at Anderson Japanese Gardens because of the garden’s size and extensive use of water. The garden’s twelve acres includes two large ponds, a creek that winds through the property, and a tall waterfall. Read more
I went to my first state fair in 2015. I had been to county fairs many times but had never gotten around to going to the larger Illinois State Fair—or for that matter, any other state fair. I knew the gist of what to expect—farm animals, carnival rides, entertainment and such. What surprised me was the size of the fair. There was so much to see and do. We spent two days at the fair and didn’t get a chance to see everything. Here is a list of 25 things to do at the Illinois State Fair, and it is not all-encompassing. Read more
Large zoos are a fun all-day adventure. But there are times that you don’t have all day. Or perhaps you have little ones in tow who can’t yet handle a full day outing. You hate to pay the full price for a major zoo, deal with the hassle of a large parking lot, and leave after a few hours. Here are six Midwest zoos that are great for short visits. Read more
Since the first year Matt and Mike Blaum opened Blaum Bros Distilling Co, it’s been Galena’s top attraction, according to Trip Advisor. The craft distillery is so popular that just three years after opening their doors in 2014, they are having to expand. Although it was quiet on the single-digit day we toured the distillery this winter, Matt told us, “During the summer and fall months it’s just shoulder-to-shoulder in here.” Read more
Historic Galena, tucked away in the northwest Illinois rolling hills, is the quintessential romantic getaway. During the day, guests visit historic sites or browse small shops housed in Main Street’s nineteenth century buildings. In the evening, after dining in one of Galena’s trendy restaurants, they retreat to romantic B&Bs and inns. We were recently invited to the Goldmoor Inn, located just minutes from downtown, to experience the inn’s first Artists in Residents program. One look at the inn, and I fell in love. Read more
I’ve mentioned here before that if I could have only one snack food for the rest of my life, it would be cheese popcorn. But not just any cheese popcorn. The supermarket stuff won’t do. It must be super cheesy, the kind you can only find in a gourmet popcorn shop. So every time I stumble upon a popcorn shop in my travels, I must go in and buy some. Here are 11 Midwest popcorn shops I’ve come across in the past few years that offer rich gourmet cheese popcorn—and caramel corn in lots of flavors if you prefer your popcorn sweet. Read more
I had never touched watercolors in my life—besides the eight-color Crayola® trays that I used in kindergarten. Yet, in only two hours, I created a watercolor painting that I was proud of, during the inaugural session of the Goldmoor Inn Artists in Residence program. The luxury bed-and-breakfast Goldmoor Inn, located in Galena, Illinois, is sponsoring the program for four consecutive weeks during January. Award-winning Chicago watercolor painter Carol Luc taught me and several others basic watercolor techniques during this past weekend’s session. Read more
At Midwest Wanderer we write about a variety of article topics. We like to include a mix of restaurants, attractions, festivals, and accommodations. So I was pleasantly surprised when I ran the list of the Midwest Wanderer 2016 Top 10 (most viewed) posts and the top four were a bakery, an attraction, a hotel, and a festival. Apparently you, our readers, like a variety of topics, too. Here is the list of Midwest Wanderer 2016 Top 10 posts: Read more
October is the month for ghouls and ghosts and all things spooky. What better way to get into the Halloween mood than to take a ghost tour? I’m talking real ghosts, in places where people claim to have experienced apparitions. We’ve dug into our archives and found three ghost tours that we’ve taken over the past few years in Midwest cities. Although we haven’t seen or heard any ghosts, the stories we heard on the tours have me believing. Read more
During Lent, the time from Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before Easter, Christians often retrace the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion by following the Stations of the Cross. Stations of the Cross are a series of fourteen devotions that depict Christ’s last day. Stations of the Cross are commonly found in Catholic churches but can also be set in larger outdoor spaces, oftentimes at Shrines. Following the path of the Stations of the Cross is a prayerful and meditative experience. I have visited three Midwest shrines in the past few years that include outdoor Stations of the Cross and have written about them previously. Here is a summary and links to the original articles.