Here's the thing about travel: do it. That doesn't mean that you need to spend a case full of doubloons on an exotic transcontinental trek. Just go where they don't know your name and they don't know your friends. Get some perspective. Embrace adventure. Explore. That's exactly what I set out to do this weekend.
I was in town for just over 24 hours. Dubuque has a lot to offer.
Getting There: First of all, Greyhound blows. Seriously. I was unable to book via web or phone and was told that I would have to go to the actual station to get my ticket. Then, I waited in line for a self-service kiosk, where I was still unable to book. I waited in line for a customer representative and only then was able to buy my $85 roundtrip ticket. I'm surprised I wasn't asked to answer a riddle before being allowed to pass. Considering that I can online book a MegaBus to Des Moines for $25, this is clearly a bunch of crap. It's not like the coach is super luxe and, therefore, worth the extra moolah. Seriously. How is this a business? The bus leaves at 6:00 a.m. and they tell you to be there an hour early. Why? There is literally no reason for it. HOWEVER, getting my keester out of the city was completely and totally worth every second of eye rolling.
Food: Holy crap. I have not eaten this much in a very, very long time.
- It started with hand-tossed artisan pizza at Park Farm Winery. We choose white sauce, goat cheese and spinach. I recommend that you do too. Each pizza also comes with mozzarella, so I would maybe ask them to hold that next time in order to really enjoy the goat cheese. The winery was easily the highlight of the trip. We sat on the sunny deck overlooking the green hilly landscape, drank a bottle of wine, tasted a slew of house-made varietals and chomped away. The wines were very drinkable and I even took home a bottle of a super juicy red vintage that is fermented in a combination of French and American casks. Grand Total (minus the bottle I took home): Less than $30.
- From there, we ate grilled baby calamari and pesto chicken bruschetta at the tres chic Pepper Sprout. Although the calamari reminded me a little too much of a fried egg in consistency and taste, the pesto chicken bruschetta was mind-numbing with that perfect bitable bread that most restaurants overlook in their bruschetta.
- For a late night wind-down, we stopped into the local Perkins where my fancy pants ordered the $12 sirloin steak dinner with side salad and mashed potatoes. I'm prrrrretty sure it was actually rump roast and I'm prrrrretty sure they only cook it to one level of rareness, ie. "done," but it felt hilarious and was, therefore, totally awesome. Plus, the mashed potatoes were really on-point: super buttery and smooth.
- The next day, we nursed our hangovers on the patio at Crust, where each table gets a complimentary basket of pizza crust twists and marinara. The $5 (!!!!) Bloody Mary's here were incredible and made with thick, peppery and fresh tomato juice. While chatting outside, an old wandering man with mutton chops straight out of a western asked me if my sunglasses were polarized and said that I looked like I ride a bicycle. So...I guess, there's that! Whatever. Mutton chops are still better than a soul patch.
- No trip to Dubuque is complete without a trip to Betty Jane Homemade Candies. As my friend's mom said, "I would hope that I could be so lucky to choke and die on a Betty Jane chocolate. " Half of the store is dedicated to decadent, homemade ice creams and the other is filled with a large selection of chocolates. Since it was hot, my friend and I indulged in a scoop each of ice cream. I went for the peppermint-chocolate chip, while she had a mocha fudge. They store is known for their "gremlin" ice cream, which is a mix of pecan, caramel and fudge in either a chocolate or vanilla base. And each scoop is more than generous.
Drinks: There are a lot of options and we tried mooooost of them. Many places serve up your average martini or mixed drink in a setting that is pretty much indecipherable from the next. They were very fun, but not quite enough for me to remember or want to write about.
- As I said above, the Park Farm Winery is awesome. The wines are authentic and so very drinkable. The Midwest wine scene offers plenty of room for interpretation as they continue to forge their way as a genuine presence in the world of enology. On the plus side, this means they can experiment more and take greater risks in trying to determine their identity and the influences of their wine. On the more challenging side, they don't have the easy knowledge associated with a Merlot, Chardonnay or Malbec. I tried five different reds while my friend drank sweet whites. Each was completely and totally delicious. I drink a lot of wine and it is very rare that I enjoy everything at a tasting as much as I did. Plus, the grounds surrounding the winery are gorgeous and they let us walk around in the vineyard.
- After the winery, we decided to just set out on an adventure and set out on the country roads looking for something different. I was obviously too firmly set in my city girl brain, because you can't just make a turn in the country and expect something to pop up. Most roads just lead to more roads. We called my friend's brother and he told us about one of his favorite places in Centralia, IL. Sure enough, the sassy and lively bartender recognized my friend as a relative of a regular just by looking at her eyes. When a wedding party came in and started doing shots on shots on shots...we figured it might be time to move out.
- This led us to Rhody's, a roadside dive bar with a packed parking lot at 2 p.m. It was one of those movie scenes where two strangers who clearly don't fit walk into a room and the whole place goes silent, swiveling around in their barstools to size up the newbies. This is what I always forget about any place that is not a city: people are so freaking friendly. We immediately made friends with our neighbors and the bartender, who let me play with the various trinkets behind the bar. I even convinced him to give me one as a souvenir.
The Great Outdoors: I am not the outdoorsy type. I prefer stilettos to boots and not getting mauled by a bear to everything else. Or so I've always thought. The landscape around Dubuque is incredibly rolling with thickly wooded slopes and steep cliffs that were chiseled away by the bordering Mississippi River. We checked out the Mines of Spain and it's breathtaking...which is totally okay, because the air is so fresh! Out with my stress, anxiety, heartache, whatever and in with something healthier, better and eye-opening.
Nightlife: Well...the nightlife sucks. I'm from Chicago. Any given night, I can go to a bar/club and listen to some of the world's top DJs or live music. Drinking well vodka and fighting for space while the top 40 plays is just not my flute of Moet. I made fun of REO Speedwagon and a handsome man immediately stopped talking to me...for real. Maybe this isn't entirely fair as this was a weekend night. Even as a nine-to-fiver, I tend to prefer the mischief you can find Sunday - Thursday, when the non-traditional types celebrate their own nights off.
NOTE: I don't know why the pictures of Jenny and I are upside down. It seems to be a system glitch. Or maybe I'm a vampire?