Category: Bed and Breakfast (page 1 of 2)

Contented Cottage Bed & Breakfast: Northfield, Minnesota

This Minne-RoadTrip series of posts is sponsored by Visit Owatonna, Visit Faribault and Visiting Northfield. A special thanks to Visiting Northfield for hosting this chapter. 

Bed and Breakfasts are my favorite places to stay on trips. Jake likes the complete anonymity of staying in a hotel. I prefer feeling like I’m staying in someone’s home. Bed and breakfast hosts have always gone out of their way to share hospitality and travel advice. I’ve also met some really interesting people around the breakfast table ranging from a pair of retirees chasing Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, a couple who just returned from serving in the Peace Corps, and an aircraft engineer.

During this Northfield leg of my fall Minne-RoadTrip, I spent one evening at the Contented Cottage Bed and Breakfast.

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Northern California Redwood Country: The Benbow Historic Inn

“Do you feel like you’re in a Bob Ross painting?” I asked Jake as he steered our vehicle up and down steep mountains thick with towering trees. “I feel like I’m trapped in a Bob Ross painting on drugs,” he replied, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. “I bet the woods are full of bears, too,” he added as we passed a Rock Slide Area sign followed by another featuring a truck tumbling off the side of a mountain.

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My First St. Louis & St. Charles, Missouri Adventures

The thought running through my head is that I’m leaving my homeland of Minnesotafell.

So, I currently live in Iowa, but typically identify myself as being born and raised in Minnesota. When I throw in the fact that I was actually born in South Korea, it adds another complication to the whole “Where are you from?” question. I’ll have arrived in St. Louis, MO via South Korea via Minnesota via Fargo, ND via North Iowa to be exact.

“Is St. Louis even still in the Midwest?” I asked Jake. As we entered the city, we saw signs welcoming us to the gateway to the Midwest, so technically, we still are. A four-hour drive has always taken us to Upper Midwestern destinations such as Eau Claire, WI, Grand Forks, ND or Des Moines, IA. Now, a four-hour drive will take us to cities like Memphis, Louisville, and Indianapolis. It feels exciting and strange.

My bones are only used to living in states where winter lasts six months and looks like this.

Snow Car

The drive from Mason City to St. Louis is 6.5 hours. Once you pass Cedar Falls, the drive isn’t very scenic, though there are some hills and rock ledges lining the freeway as you get closer to St. Louis. I was surprised at how few cities we could see from the highway, except for of Palmyra and Hannibal.

We stayed in St. Charles at the Frenchtown Inn that just came under new ownership. The bed and breakfast was located within a relatively easy commute to Jake’s work and I could easily walk to coffee shops and restaurants since Jake took the car. Christine, a retired critical care nurse, and Larry, a retired firefighter bought the inn from the previous owner and worked hard to update it by repainting the interior and adding furnishings. When we arrived, they had only been open for a few weeks but were busy each night. They mentioned visitors had even made reservations before they had officially opened.

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We stayed in the Fleur-de-Lis room. Chris and Larry had this stained glass window specially made for the room.

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Our room included a queen sized bed, large closet, couch, and private bathroom. Business travelers might want to inquire about accommodations with a desk. We were too busy driving around the city house hunting after work to miss an office set-up.

Bed and breakfasts are truly my favorite way to travel.

bread pudding

One morning Christine served bread pudding with sautéed fruit and caramel sauce + sausage patties.

When I travel solo, I feel safer and cozier at a bed and breakfast setting that seems more like staying in a home as opposed to a large hotel. Plus, I meet the coolest people at B & B’s. Who would have imagined I’d meet Frank Lloyd Wright and Abraham Lincoln history enthusiasts? For an introvert, the thought of dining with strangers at a set time for breakfast can feel intimidating. Believe I get this, but it’s worth it because I’ve had most incredible conversations with strangers at B & B’s.

Larry and Christine were gracious hosts and I felt very much at home at the Frenchtown Inn. The first morning, I remarked to Jake that they must already think we’re crazy. We had scrambled to drive to St. Louis after work and forgot an embarrassing number of items. Larry caught me sneaking out of the house at 5:30 a.m. in search of a drug store to purchase toothpaste and a razor. He kindly provided both.

I loved sitting on the big porch listening to the wind chimes. One afternoon, Christine prepared plates of warm cheese crisps.

cheese puffs

The bed and breakfast is located in the quiet Frenchtown neighborhood. I enjoyed the ten-minute walk from the inn to the historic St. Charles area.

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The walks were peaceful. I passed by several bridal boutiques and homes that reminded me of New Orleans. Having lived in Fargo and North Iowa for the past four years, I forget how flat our landscape is. “There are hills here!” I kept exclaiming to myself.

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I spent several afternoons at Picasso’s Coffee House.

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When I heard Sufjan Stevens, I knew I found the right place to chill.

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Ok!

I walked the uneven brick cobblestone sidewalk along the main street and curiously popped into many of the shops. I found thrift shops, a Polish pottery shop, Italian bakery, and a specialty soap boutique.

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This British shop sold a wide variety of pantry items and chilled British sodas.

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I admired this interesting statue and unusual sign about babies.

PicMonkey Collage

Other St. Louis adventures included getting stuck in a Cardinals traffic jam downtown, viewing homes in different neighborhoods, curiously drinking a beer in New Town while people went for evening strolls and whizzed by on golf carts (I even saw a man doing yoga on a platform in the middle of a small lake) and eating our first Jumbo Jacks.

jumbo jack

Jake’s coworkers suggested we visited Sugarfire Smoke House. The man carving the meat hid an extra rib under others so he’s basically my new best friend. I also loved their self-serve pickle, jalapeno and sliced bread station. The ribs were tender and lean. I had a grand time sampling all of their seasoning blends and squirt bottles of sauces.

sugar fire

There’s so much to explore and to eat in St. Louis. I’ll miss my friends in North Iowa, but have the feeling that STL and I will get along just fine. Bring on the Provel!

Coming Up Next: Jake and I just signed a lease on a home we visited during this trip. We’re busy coordinating the details of our move and listing our house for sale. The big summer auction school session begins today. You can catch a glimpse into what my next nine days will look in this post: 10 Things I Learned In Auction College

Chicagoland Aventure Part II: Villa D’Citta, Taco Joint, Homeslice, Grace’s African Restaurant, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Book the cheapest room in the most luxurious bed & breakfast.

This is what I did at Villa D’Citta, an Italian-themed bed and breakfast located in Lincoln Park across the street from De Paul University.

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The villa did not have conspicuous signage and even its neighbors might never know it’s there. I chose it based upon its Tripadvisor rating and culinary amenities.

Mmmm Food
Freshly baked cookies every day. They even rotate the flavors. Chocolate chip on the first day and chocolate-chocolate chip on the second.

The fridge was stocked for guests’ snacky needs. We were invited to make our own paninis at any time from a variety of Italian meats, cheeses and condiments like pickled peppers. There were also bottles of chilled water with fancy stoppers to take to our room, lemonade, iced tea, plus a drawer full of tea bags and Intelligentsia coffee.

We checked out early on our last morning to beat the morning’s rush hour traffic, but enjoyed sausage eggbake with a crunchy crouton top and warm blueberry muffins on the first. The kitchen also stocks granola and milk and the giant bowls of fresh fruit aren’t just for decoration.

Accommodations
Our room was the least expensive because it’s only large enough to fit a queen-sized bed and nightstand and the bathroom is located next door. But we did not mind these things. The bathroom was private (we were given a key to lock it) and contained a fancy glass shower with stone tiling. We were out so often that we only needed our room to sleep and watch television in the evenings.

Other Likes
I was amused by the villa’s combination of extravagant and quirky decor like the rock face in the courtyard (pictured above) and a pair of glass skull pen holders at the check-in table.

The Villa’s manager Cathy worked especially hard to make sure everyone was welcomed and settled.

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Jake and I stumbled into the Taco Joint out of hunger. We realized we hadn’t eaten all day and it was there.

The Poc-Chuc taco was the best thing we ate during the whole trip, and we ate a lot of delicious food. It’s listed as the special taco of the day for Mondays and is filled with marinated pork loin and habanero salsa. Jake tried his taco first and made such a dramatically happy noise the moment it hit his tongue that I thought he was over-exaggerating. I know there are countless places to eat tacos in Chicago and can’t speak for the rest of the Taco Joint’s offerings, but the Poc-Chuc was the best taco I’ve eaten since my trip to Puebla. Yup. 

I ordered their Happy Hour/Lunch Deal. For $12 you choose two tacos, guacamole or rice & beans + a margarita or Modelo. For me, two tacos was enough and the guacamole came with a generous basket of corn and fried plantain chips. They’re made with small corn tortillas but don’t skimp on the meat. My margarita was hella strong. Jake liked his grapefruit margarita lined with a spicy salt. It took a while to walk these off.

The ceviche made us happy. Fresh and limey. Speaking of Limes, I hear there’s a lime shortage, but would have never known here as I saw the bartender peeling and juicing piles of them.

Home Slice

Jake and I visited Chicago before we were engaged. It was Jake’s first time and we did more touristy activities like stay downtown, wander Michigan Ave. and go to the Hancock Observatory.

We had discovered more of the Dahlens were also in Chicago, so we had an impromptu family reunion at Gino’s East. Later, we visited Portillo’s for beef sandwiches with hot peppers, our first Chicago dog and chocolate cake. Jake was slightly bummed that it looked like we weren’t going to have time to return on this visit so he embarked on an evening pizza run.

He chose Homeslice and ordered a small Cheese Burglar ($8), simply topped with mozzarella, provolone, parmesan and marinara. It was cheesy, greasy goodness on a thin, airy crust. The service was memorably friendly all around and a server offered us ice waters during our short wait.

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Cousin Brian returns! This time, he and his friend took us to Grace’s African Restaurant (Interesting review from 2011) to try Ghanaian food

Brian’s friend Stephen is originally from Ghana and attended college in Chicago where he met his wife. Both of them traveled to Ghana for work last year and Stephen will lead a trip again soon. He thinks this restaurant prepares food most closely to his mothers’ and was excited to introduce us to some of his favorite dishes.

I found it interesting when they described how Americans and Ghanaians talk about food differently. Brian said in Ghana, people considered it strange when he asked them questions about the food, such as asking about name of a sauce or the ingredients in a dish. On the flip side, Stephen said he thought it was strange seemed to ask him so many questions about his food in America, such as how he wanted a food item cooked or served.

At Grace’s, we left our meals in his Stephen’s hands. He recommended the peanut soup with fufu, a pounded mixture of plantains and yams with the texture of bread dough. We learned how to cut small pieces of fufu with our fingers and use it to scoop up the soup and goat which tasted like lamb. The peanut soup was spicy enough to induce a sweat and the fufu didn’t have a strong flavor.

Brian ordered a dish that came with Waakye, a dish made of rice and beans covered in a spicy red sauce, fried chicken legs, spaghetti, salad, and a dark red sauce. The red sauce reminded me of berbere while the darker sauce was spicier, sweeter and funkier. We learned it’s often made with ground fish.

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I could say Ba-Ba-Reeba all day. Before we went to Chicago, I read about Ba-Ba-Reeba on My Name is Yeh and we were tickled to see that it was down the street. One glance and Jake was dead-set on going. How could you forget a name like that?

At the B&B, we enjoyed breakfast with a couple of gentlemen celebrating their marriage. They described their reception at Ba-Ba-Reeba and praised the food. This sealed the deal.

Sangria is $6/glass, red or white. And it’s not poured into small glasses, but substantial glasses with tiny, floating cubes of fruit. You can also buy $2 Pintxos instead of whole appetizers. I tried a chorizo-wrapped date stuffed with cheese which arrived on a skewer.

Jake ordered the shaved brussel sprout salad with toasted marcona almonds and manchego cheese. It was a big portion for $6. The slightly sweet dressing reminded us of fancy coleslaw. Marcona almonds are the best.

I still had a belly full of fufu and wasn’t as enthusiastic as Jake about ordering paella. A server scraped it from a shallow paella pan onto two plates with a flourish and each contained a mountain of it. The menu offers paella by the serving and our seafood version cost $15/each. I wouldn’t want to eat that much rice in one sitting so I’d hypothesize that two servings would more accurately feed three. The bay scallops and shrimp were plentiful and tasted fresh. There was less monkfish, but the small pieces that were there were delicate in texture and flavor.

Our first paella experience was a win. I can’t describe exactly what seasonings I tasted, but they were complex. We never got tired of the flavor and it was far from one-note. Plus, the paella is garnished with lemon wedges and aoli. I dunked everything into the aioli, considering the experience a wonderful excuse to eat garlicky mayonnaise. Is this how you are supposed to eat it?

The End
And thus ends our mini[honey]moon a year late to Chicago. We loved connecting with old friends and family in this larger-than-life city and eating lots of new foods.

Our First Week In Mason City: The Decker House B & B

We spent our first week in Mason City at The Decker House, a bed and breakfast located near downtown. During this first week, we wanted a cozy place to land.

Sally, the innkeeper, graciously accommodated our unusual schedule and gave us a business rate for the week. Because we made our reservation on short notice during the 4th of July weekend, we had to switch rooms on our last evening, but we weren’t bothered by that.

My favorite room was the aptly-named Rose Room. It’s tall ceilings made the room feel spacious and I enjoyed sitting on its private balcony.

We also spent a couple evenings in the Magnolia Suite, the inn’s most expensive room. It’s equipped with a king-sized bed, small sitting area, and fancy bathroom with two sinks. There’s a large whirlpool but no shower, so keep this in mind in case you like to bathe quickly. We found the Internet connection strongest near the sitting area.

The suite was only accessible through a series of stairs in the back of the house. It was quite a hike with large suitcases, but we enjoyed the location’s privacy.

The house includes other perks like central air conditioning and the “endless cookie jar” by the stairs to which guests can help themselves. We enjoyed freshly-baked oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. Guests can also purchase beer and wine from the bar in the basement according to the honor code. There’s a price list near the refrigerator.

For those who enjoy walking, The Decker House is located near the downtown area and Music Man square. It’s next door to the public library, across the street from a not-too-lively mall, and minutes from the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel.

Parfait with freshly-picked strawberries

My husband had to leave for work early in the mornings, so he missed several of the breakfasts but the ladies left out muffins and fruit. I enjoyed everything they prepared: Blueberry pancakes, waffles with a cornmeal crunch, scrambled eggs, and a frittata filled with caramelized onions and potatoes. The meals always began with hot coffee, fresh fruit, and a different type of muffin.

Mid-way through the week, the staff picked strawberries and incorporated them into rest of the meals.

All in all, we had a relaxing stay at The Decker House. Rooms range in price. They’re more expensive than the area’s motels, similar to a regular hotel room (or maybe slightly less) and less than the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel.

Unlike a hotel, the bed and breakfast does not have certain amenities like flat screen televisions (cable is available) and a fitness center, though guests can request daily passes to the city’s two YMCA locations, the larger of which has a pool.

Most of all, I appreciate that I never had to worry about cleanliness or safety, and the three course breakfasts, of course. I prefer bed and breakfasts over hotels, especially when traveling solo, because I like feeling like I’m staying in someone’s home, but with additional privacy.

If you find yourself spending the evening in Mason City or Clear Lake, IA, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Decker House. We felt warmly welcomed to the community.

*One night for dinner, The Quarry, located in the courtyard of the mall, packed us bowls of homemade split pea and ham soup and charred bread to go for only $6 each. It’s a five minute walk from the inn. 
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