Saturday, August 11, 2012

#271: East Race Rafting

The clouds have cleared, and once again, it feels like summer here in the Bend.  Good thing, because we're on the cusp of the start of a new school year.  Next week, students from IUSB, Notre Dame, Saint Mary's, etc will return.  Enjoy your last weekend of congestion-free Grape Road, and celebrate with a popular summer activity distinctive to South Bend: rafting on the East Race waterway.

Part of the South Bend Parks system, the East Race opened in 1984 after two years of construction, and more than 200,000 have enjoyed its almost 2000 ft stretch of whitewater.  While you can find expert paddlers testing their skills on the East Race any day of the week, on the weekend the Parks Department opens it to the larger public with basic equipment for rent.  For $5 a 'ride', you receive an inflatable kayak or raft, paddle, helmet and life jacket to brave the rapids.  If you have no experience on whitewater, don't worry -- the rapids are only class 2, enough to provide a bit of thrill but not strong to toss anyone out of the raft.

This is the last weekend that the rentals are available -- don't let another year go by without experiencing one of South Bend's greatest attractions!


When: Saturday, 12-5pm; Sunday, 1-5pm
Where: Park and buy your tickets in the parking lot opposite Seitz Park, between The Emporium and AM General Building
Cost: $5/ride.  Rides generally take about 5 minutes.
Website: http://sbpark.org/parks/east-race-waterway/ 

TIPS:  Cash only.  You must wear close-toed shoes (no flip-flops), and although no one actually goes into the river, you will get soaked.  Dress appropriately.

Kids are welcome -- the first ride might be intimidating, but they'll be hooked after it! -- but must be at least 4'6".

There's an ice cream truck and sometimes a climbing wall on site, but Corby's and the Emporium are probably your best bets to dry off and cool down afterward.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#270: A South Bend RV Trip


The RV industry is very important to the economy of northern Indiana.  Ever wonder what the region looks like from the perspective of "recreational vehicle"?  Check out today's guest post featuring  someone who knows a thing or two about RVs, Joe Laing, Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals.  He also contributes to Monty's Musings RV Travel Blog.


Take an RV trip to South Bend, Indiana for a vacation filled with outdoor fun. You will discover so many activities for the whole family to make it a getaway worth remembering. This will be an appealing trip, especially in an RV. You will have your "home" right along with you so in between adventures you can relax surrounded by the familiar and comfortable things you love.

If coming from Chicago, enter Indiana on Interstate 80 heading east. Follow I-80 and after passing Gary, Indiana, you can take a short side-trip on the Dunes Highway. This will take you to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. An amazing and enchanting time awaits you here, with a sandy beach, miles and miles of trails to hike and wetlands and forests to explore. The visitor center is open from 8 am to 6 pm in the summer and from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm in winter months.  Be sure to visit the West Beach with only a fee of $6 per car per day.

Further on, you will find a great golf course so you can perfect your game. At Michigan City Golf Course you'll discover a lovely 18-hole course in a beautiful wooded setting. Any level of skill is welcome. Browse the pro shop for a full choice of equipment. If you don't play golf, now is surely the time to take it up as a thrilling hobby.

Cut back over to Interstate 80 and on your route to South Bend, stop at Hudson Lake. Get out on the lake on your personal watercraft, and go fishing. You'll catch some largemouth bass or bluegill or both. You can also make this spot your home base for your trip to South Bend. Find RV camping at Lakeside RV Resort. Here you will find a boat launch, horseshoe pits, a swimming pool and much more. You're right on the lake with great views.

Next stop is South Bend, Indiana, your actual destination on this RV vacation. Tour the downtown area by enjoying a horse drawn carriage ride. Catch a ride any Friday evening from 7 to 10 pm. Another popular stop is the East Race Waterway, an artificial whitewater course. Here on the east side of the St. Joseph River, you can ride the rapids. If you are visiting South Bend anytime between 9 June and 12 August, don't miss this special adventure. It is open on weekends only from 12 to 5 pm on Saturdays and 1 to 5 pm on Sundays.

Throughout South Bend you'll find many parks where you can get out into the sunshine. Go to Wheelock Park or Merrifield Park in town. This latter one has a number of sports fields and an Olympic size swimming pool with water slide. If kids are with you (or even if there aren't children on this trip), you will love this park.

Thirty minutes to the west, you will find Bendix Woods County Park. Here is a popular place to go to see wildflowers in bloom during the springtime. Hike the trails and stretch your legs. Enjoy the historic sites available to visit too, such as the original clubhouse and the famous Studebaker pine tree sign. If there in March, stop by the Sugar Camp Days Festival (see 365-SB post #150). Hours vary for this park so call when planning your trip. The number is 574-654-3155.

Other places of interest are the Chamberlain Lake Nature Preserve in South Bend and Potato Creek State Park about twenty-minute drive to the southwest. But you can't neglect the many festivals that are held in and around South Bend all year round. Events in and around South Bend can fill in the times when you need a little change from all that physical activity. In June there are two favorites, Notre Dame's Cleveland Shakespeare Festival and the South Bend Blues & Ribs Festival (see 365-SB post #202).

If coming to South Bend in August, you simply must include the South Bend Reggae Festival on your itinerary. Held annually at the Saint Joe County Fairgrounds, this fest is the best for live entertainment and great food. Gates usually open around 2 pm, and kids under 12 are free.

A South Bend, Indiana RV trip will prove to be quite an entertaining excursion, with all the outdoor recreation you can imagine as well as some history and festivals thrown in. The time will be memorable and you are sure to have experiences that you will share with future generations.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

#269: The Oliver Gardens and the Center for History


Many kids read the story of “The Secret Garden”. Mary, an orphan, moves from India to England to live with her distant relatives. She is unhappy, but soon she befriends her crippled cousin and a local farmboy and together they discover the aforementioned secret garden, a wild place full of flowers, broken swings, and imagination. I remember loving the book and subsequently loving the idea of a formal, flowery garden just around the corner.

Part of the formal gardens (plus cameo on the left!)
This might be a heavy-handed segue, forgive me, but I thought of “The Secret Garden” when visiting the Center for History last month. We’ve written about Copshaholm and the West Washington Historic District as a whole previously on this blog, but I have to confess that I, personally, had never spent much time on the Center’s campus. And lo and behold, I found my own secret (or rather unknown) garden. I had been scouting locations for my upcoming South Bend wedding and someone suggested the Oliver Gardens adjacent to the Center for History and attached to Copshaholm. When I visited, it was one of the hottest days in June (we’ve had many more since), and I was immediately charmed by the lush loveliness of the gardens. A green lawn spreads until it reaches a gazebo followed by a stretch of roses in a formal, sunken flowerbed and then the open lawn in front of the mansion. The gardens are in the process of being restored to the original landscaping from 1915 when they were used by the Oliver family for entertaining and relaxing. I can see how enjoyable they must have been as a wealthy family’s backyard. In my opinion, they, themselves, are a reason to make the trip out to West Washington.

The front lawn
And if you do choose to visit, you’ll find yourself with the ability to view much more than the gardens. The Center for History is currently hosting several interesting exhibitions (one called “Gizmos, Corsets, and Concoctions caught my eye) alongside their more permanent ones such as “Girls Who Played Hard Ball” focused on the women’s baseball league that inspired the movie “A League of Their Own”. You’ll also have access to the mansion itself (which we have featured previously). Just make sure to spend some of your summer afternoon in the gardens.

For directions click here.

For more information about the Center for History click here.

For ticket information click here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

#268: Into the Woods


We grow up with the comforting narratives of fairy tales. The frog becomes a prince. The glass slipper fits. Hansel and Gretel find their way out of the forest. It’s easy to be convinced that these are merely children’s stories, full of songs and happy endings without any bearing on an adult reality. Yet, upon closer examination, many of these stories are not very childlike at all. They are full of fear and shame and indecision, of violence, disappointment, and struggle. It was these components of fairy tales that Stephen Sondheim drew upon to construct what many consider his magnum opus, Into the Woods, a musical theater compendium of fractured fairy tales.

In his creation, elements of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood are brought together. Characters from different stories run into each other; their own wishes and dreams quickly getting in each other’s way. The show’s multiple storylines are fascinating and the music, composed by Sondheim, is, by turns, light-hearted, heart-rending, and thrilling. The show plays with our traditional ideas of fairy tales and leaves many wondering if these beloved characters, and by proxy, ourselves, will actually make it out of the woods.

It must be theater week here at 365 South Bend because in addition to LangLab's fantastic theatrical offerings, the South Bend Civic Theater, which we have featured many times before, is currently producing their version of Sondheim’s Into the Woods.  The Civic is a community treasure, and this show is a highlight of their current season. Into the Woods will run through August 12th at the Civic and features local talent in both its actors and its crew. Take a(nother) night to experience the joy of live theater and a dark twist on “happy endings”.

For more information, showtimes, and ticket information visit the South Bend Civic Theater website here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

#267: TheatreLanglab's 24 Hour Play


Today features a special guest post by Yael, a west coast-turned-midwesterner who understands all things theater and theatre...

If you think you have to go to Chicago to see eclectic theatre, think again. TheatreLanglab is once again at “play”, in their home near the South Bend Farmer’s Market. Langlab itself inspires invention. What was once an abandoned factory building has become a local hotspot for the arts, education, and community organizations. TheatreLanglab did its first 24-hour production, The Jacket (see video below), at the Lab last summer and will head back into their gigantic playground at the end of July for another round of raucous fun.
 This year’s farcical tragicomedy is called Burned! It’s a loose adaptation of Frisch’s The Firebugs and is about what happens when politeness usurps honesty in a city threatened by arsonists. The catch is that TheatreLanglab will create the entire play in 24 hours: they’ll stay up late to design lights, costumes, sets, and sound. They’ll play, workshop, rehearse and attempt to memorize lines overnight. And then they’ll share their artistic handiwork, in whatever form it takes, with an audience. For one night only. The event, more about process than product, will be suitable for all children (although not crafted for those under 10) with a suggested donation of $10 at the door. 

Burned! will serve as the first fundraiser for ULTREIA, a new independent non-profit established to support the arts and arts education in South Bend. ULTREIA, meaning ‘onward’ or ‘forward’, will sponsor more art with the money it raises at this performance - a win-win for patrons and for the city.

Langlab will also mark the closing of its first gallery exhibition, Cuba Inside/Out, on July 29. This thoughtful show, with stunning photographs of Havana and Santiago de Cuba by local artist Christopher Stackowicz, wrestles with theatre in Cuba and the drama of everyday Cuban street life.  The gallery will be open for its final night of viewing and a small reception will follow the performance of Burned! Where else in town can you enjoy a boisterous performance, intriguing photos, and a social gathering all in one evening out? 

THE ESSENTIALS:  

TheatreLanglab concocts play in 24 hours:
Burned! A morality play without a moral.

Sunday night, July 29 at 7:30 p.m.
$10 suggested donation

Langlab South Bend
1302 High Street
South Bend, IN 46601

Sunday, July 15, 2012

#266: Rose Quest Organic Food Store


The South Bend Tribune recently lauded what they termed the “hipster appeal” of South Bend defining the hipster aesthetic as an affinity for “vintage and thrift-store-inspired fashions, fixed-gear bicycles…strong coffee, craft beers and local food.” The piece in the Tribune encouraged young Chicagoans to relocate to South Bend because of the ability to live the “hipster” life at a lower price than neighborhoods with a similar appeal in Chicago. They’re right. South Bend is affordable and offers many, underrated cultural amenities of the style that are currently in vogue. I would like to argue that there’s even more that South Bend has to offer than just an alternate version of trendy urban life.  Unlike in hipster 'hoods like Brooklyn, Wicker Park and the whole of Austin, TX and Portland, OR, you won’t get lost in South Bend's scene.  You have the ability to know the entirety of the local area, and your presence and your contributions to the community hold weight.  There are no masses to follow here (except on ND football game days).  South Bend's approachable size allows for discovery as well as community involvement.  Such a lifestyle goes beyond any trends.


And now on to the local find of the day! Speaking of hipsters, one of their affinities is for “local food”. To that I would add “organic food”. Organic food, for those not intimately familiar, is food that has not been grown or processed in any synthetic way. No pesticides. No fertilizers. No chemical additives. Many stores carry organic (next to their non-organic selections) and many local farmers do as well (just ask when you’re at the Farmer’s Market). But in the event that you would like an all-organic selection of produce and miscellaneous dry goods, there’s a store in Mishawaka just for you! Rose Quest Organic Food Store is one part of the Rose Quest Nutrition Centre. The owner of the Nutrition Centre curates a small and delightful selection of all-organic food housed in a Victorian style home on Lincolnway East as you’re headed to Osceola. We popped in one day early in June and walked out with some organic avocados and strawberries. If you sign up for their email newsletter, you can receive emails indicating when certain items go on sale and what type of produce is in season. While the store might not be able to supply all of your grocery needs, it happily fills a small niche within the local food scene of the area.

Location:
410 Lincolnway East
(574) 259-5653

Hours:
Mon/Tues/Fri         8:00am-5:00pm
Sat                          9:00am-noon

For more information visit the website here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

#265: Dari Fair

Even after a big meal, I say, there's always room for ice cream. And in the hot summer months, it's always time for ice cream. With all this room and time for ice cream, it's good to know all the options available. It took me much too long to add this to my list of regular stops, but Dari Fair is an ideal spot for getting for your ice cream fix.

Dari Fair offers an incredible variety of food, not just ice cream. It opens for breakfast in the morning with typical drive-in fare. As for dairy side of the menu, there are over 100 flavors available, many novelty treats (eg. homemade brownie and cookie ice cream sandwiches), and my personal favorite, "Razzles" (see the photo below). In a long life of ice cream consumption, I have never ever found a place that offers puppy chow (or muddy-buddies, for the southerners) as a mix-in. This alone made me a devoted fan of Dari Fair.

They also offer something not found at every ice cream stand: a strong local flavor. Dari Fair regularly hosts blood drive vehicles in the parking lot, and signs for local camps and events are plastered alongside the menu. Don't expect anything fancy here -- there's a handful of picnic tables and a shaded side patio, handwritten notes on the menus, and a crowded jumble of food and machines inside -- but during this sticky and sweaty summer, it will hit the sweet spot.

When: Seven days a week, 4:30 am-10:00 pm, except for Mondays, when it opens at 11:00 am
Where: 4012 Lincolnway East (Mishawaka/Elkhart side of town)
Website: http://www.facebook.com/DariFair/info - frequently feature specials/coupons on Facebook
I hope the pina colada doesn't actually come out that color green.

"Razzles" = soft serve with mix-in (cf: Dairy Queen Blizzard)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Wine Walk Teaser

Tonight is a summer DTSB Wine Walk. We have already highlighted the holiday walk, but I thought I would share a few snapshots from the June walk to show you what you might be in for.

This month, the wines featured are primarily from France, in celebration of Bastille Day. Bon fete!

For more information about cost and participating restaurants, click here.
Tippecanoe's bar takes you back to the Golden Age.  Between its high classiness factor and its heavy appetizers (steak??), this is a good place to begin drinking. 
Sunny Italy, although crowded, is informal and a great place to linger and catch up with friends.
To everyone's delight, yes, the SB Chocolate Company DID pair their chocolates with the featured wines.
Ending the night on the river at the Emporium.

Friday, July 6, 2012

#264: Movies on the Gridiron - The Dark Side of Oz

Today is a First Friday, which means Downtown South Bend (and Goshen, but more on that next month) is all that DTSB normally is but more.  Its stores and art galleries are open later (until 9 PM), and free food and wine is available at many of them.  There are street performers and music playing, odd sights of carriages and clowns and zombies and BMX bikers.  There is always something unusual to see or do.
I'd say the highlight of this month's FF is an outdoor movie screening on the College Football Hall of Fame.  Tonight, there will be a free screening of The Wizard of Oz around 9:30 PM in this 'living on the edge...of E.S.T.' town.  This movie is obviously family-friendly, but if you want to add a twist to a film that you might have watched innumerable times, try it Pink Floyd style.  

Grab a lawn chair and your ipod/walkman and start playing The Dark Side of the Moon album as soon on the third roar of the MGM lion, and you will be amazed at how the visuals of the movie seem to match the music.  If you don't believe me (which I wouldn't blame you for), check out this article about  The Dark Side of Oz/Dark Side of the Rainbow or start watching:


Restaurant Week is still continuing, so I recommend fueling up on a good meal or one of the cocktail specials beforehand.  ArtPost is having an event that celebrates street art of all forms that looks AWESOME, so check that out too.  Finally, Marigold's is celebrating its two-year anniversary, so Happy Anniversary to them!  For details on all events happening, check out http://www.dtsbfirstfridays.com/events.htm.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

#263: How to Celebrate Independence in the Bend

With the fourth of July right around the corner, you might be in the mood to celebrate.  The beauty of this holiday is that it celebrates independence, so you should do whatever you want, within the confines of the law, of course.  (Although, Thomas Jefferson did say, "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.")  Whether you choose to grill out with family, sleep in until noon and avoid the sun at all costs, consider it within your civil rights.

If you want to do something a bit more traditional/out-of-the-ordinary, here are few suggestions -- feel free to leave your own!
  • Baseball game at Coveleski stadium: Celebrate America with its Favorite Pastime.   Happening tonight. Perk: You can buy hot dogs and beer and burgers and all the cookout favorites with none of the prep time involved.  Double perk: FIREWORKS that have not been canceled!
  • Listen to patriotic music:  There were several opportunities this past weekend, but there are several performances in the coming days that give you a chance to break out the lawn chairs or blankets.
    • Volunteers of the U.S. Army Field Band on the Irish Green at Notre Dame  - 7 p.m. tonight.  Perk: It's servicemen play patriotic tunes.
    • Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra - 9 p.m. tonight at Lions Pavilion Park (New Buffalo, MI) and 9 p.m. Wednesday at Shadowland Pavilion (St. Joseph, MI).  Perk: There are fireworks afterward.  Double perk: the beach is close by!
  • Eat a lot (of pancakes): The South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society Sanctuary is hosting a pancake breakfast from 7:30-10 a.m. Wednesday at the wildlife sanctuary (59395 Clover Road, Mishawaka).  Please bring your own serving utensils and a 'free-will' donation.  Perk: Unlike fireworks, this event will not hurt those with sensitive ears.  Double perk: Patriotically, they will be serving BLUEberry pancakes. 
  • Bring out your inner farmer: The St. Joseph County 4-H has been going on for the past week and continues through this one.  You can see the multitude of exhibits, including the popular duck races, and fair rides are only $1.00 on Wednesday.  Midway opens at 2:00pm.  At 7pm, Doug Church/"The Voice of Elvis" performs.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

#262: Beer Is Good Craft Brew Fest

So it's already started (and perhaps some of the beers have already run out), but this event is too good to ignore.

People lined up for the 11 AM opening of Fiddler's Hearth, where more than thirty unusual craft beers are available for a on-day event.   Organized by 'The Beer is Good!' blogger, Andy, today you can find beers on tap not available elsewhere -- including five beers from cult favorite Three Floyds and Flat 12's Haggard Jo.   You can check out the full list here.

Going forward, there is no set schedule for when each beer will tapped, except for Bell's Black Note (at 6pm), but just head on over to Fiddler's and enjoy trying something new.

There is also a special food menu coordinated with the event.  AKA good drinking food, but foodie style. Think frog legs and bacon-wrapped goodies.  Perhaps the food alone is worth checking out.

When: Saturday, 11 AM - midnight
Where: Fiddler's Hearth, DTSB

TIP: If it gets crowded, don't forget that Fiddler's has a biergarten at the rear of the restaurant!  Look for the inside alley leading back next to the bar.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

#261: Jazz vs. Blues ...vs. Ska?

Today, you have to make a decision: blues or jazz.*
vs.


This weekend features both the South Bend Ribs and Blues Festival and the Elkhart Jazz Festival.  Which will it be?  Lots of barbecue vendors and  bands at the newly-renovated Coveleski Stadium?  Or an established and nationally-acclaimed jazz festival that features six stages scattered around downtown Elkhart? 

Or how about something completely different?  Slalom skateboarding -- the first (and perhaps first in Michiana ever) Pinhook Slalom Open, a time-based competition features 22 skaters from several states.  Perhaps most importantly, it's a fundraiser for charity:water. 

For more information about performers, ticket prices and parking: 

Elkhart Jazz Festival:
Now - Sunday afternoon
Tip: Don't have the dough to shell out?  Check the student pricing and/or the free concert at 5:00pm by Jenna Mammima and Robin Lewis at the Ruthmere Museum.

South Bend Ribs Festival: 
First act begins at 12:15 pm - last band goes on at 8:00 pm
(and check our profile of it last year here)

2012 Pinhook Slalom Open:


*Actually, you can experience them both -- the Elkhart Jazz Festival continues on Sunday.  Whew.

Friday, June 15, 2012

#260: Old 2 Gold

I find it interesting to think about the things that bring out 'the crazy' in different people.  For some, it might be their beloved sports teams; for others, their cats.  Some people drive hundreds of miles for a comic book convention...or a road race.   And for some, a good bargain is worth waking up for, worth fighting crowds and inclement weather. 

Tomorrow morning marks the annual Old 2 Gold sale, a sort of Black Friday for second-hand goods in the area.  Notre Dame collects and sells off unwanted and forgotten goods gathered from its students at the end of the academic year.  The piles and piles of stuff are then sold off at rock bottom prices.  Like $5 bike and $15 TV cheap.  Goofy college t-shirts?  Four for a buck. 

The perk is that this stuff is usually of decent quality.* Students (and as a ND alum, I know) are often too busy or luggage-restricted to deal with the stuff, so they donate it, and it's often high-quality and completely functional.  That's what makes Old 2 Gold such an event.

In years past, the sale was held in the ND football stadium, and people could line up at 5 AM for the Early Bird sale.  This year, things are being done a bit differently due to construction in the stadium.  It will be held at the old Target building near Double T's.  The sale starts at 9 AM, and there will be no Early Bird admittance. 

There is a fee to enter, but at $5, it's still a bargain.  And besides, I think the people-watching will be well worth the entry fee.

When: Saturday, June 16, 9 AM - Noon
Where: Target Building (has Steve & Barry's signage) at Hickory and McKinley Avenues
Cost: $5.00
Website: http://old2gold.nd.edu/

Tip: You can scope out the site map early to formulate a plan of attack for optimal bargain hunting.


*Although I would be careful of college student bedding and cooking stuff. Who knows what happened there.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

#259: A Single Rose Florist


We here at 365 South Bend are big fans of the East Bank Village. Across the river from downtown, this area boasts some of our favorite shops and restaurants. Junk Evolution. Just Goods. Barnaby’s. Marigold's. The East Bank Emporium.  The list could go on and on. These places are staples of the South Bend community and evidence of the lively, energizing, enterprising spirit that currently pervades South Bend business. 

But as I was biking through the area on yesterday’s sunny afternoon, I managed to stop at a store that I had not previously visited. On the stretch of Niles between Colfax and Jefferson, the sign from “A Single Rose Florist” caught my eye. I’m recently engaged and so the advertisement for “Exquisite Weddings” convinced me to stop in. The small house in which the florist shop resides was surrounded by blooming flowers; a good indication of things to come. Inside, the owner was friendly and the shop was filled with a variety of wildflowers, roses, hydrangeas, and snapdragons. I only had time to quickly browse, but as I investigated the website later, I realized that this local florist is quite well known around the area for her lovely floral designs.

So whether you just want fresh-cut flowers on your dining room table or you’re leisurely planning your wedding or special event, A Single Rose Florist seems to be the local choice for you.

For more information visit the website here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

#258: Red Table Plaza Lunchtime Concert Series


It had already been quite a South Bend day when I stumbled upon the Red Table Concert Series at the corner of Jefferson and Michigan Streets in downtown South Bend. In the morning, I had biked to the Farmer’s Market along the Riverwalk accompanied by a cool breeze, several fishermen, and a group of children playing in Howard Park. After the return trip, I quickly dropped my recently procured asparagus and strawberries off at home and made my way down the library to get a good summer book.

It was after this stop that I decided to take a walk through downtown, thus giving myself the opportunity to haphazardly stumble upon live acoustic music during the lunch hour. I stopped and sat, not at one of the red tables (they were pretty much all full), but at a bench nearby. Today’s performer was a solo act and peppered his songs with interjections of his family, evidently longtime South Bend residents.  It was an exceedingly pleasant way to spend half an hour.

Perhaps I was particularly primed to enjoy the scene or the day. I recently moved back to South Bend after a year-long hiatus, and I’ve been enjoying rediscovering or revisiting some of my favorite places. Even though I’m not originally from South Bend, it has felt like a homecoming.

If you too want to enjoy the Red Table Concert Series, it will continue all summer long, every day until August 31st.  On Friday’s, the concerts will move to the Jon Hunt Plaza in a partnership with the Morris Performing Arts Center’s “Friday’s by the Fountain”. All concerts feature local artists performing from 11:45-1:15. I encourage you to take a walk, listen to some music, and enjoy downtown South Bend. I didn’t realize how much I would miss it until I moved away.

For more information, visit here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

#257: Adventure Racing

Looking to challenge yourself this summer?  Get 'off the beaten track' and train for one of the adventure races happening around the area.

These competitions generally have unusual obstacles, ranging from belly-crawling through mud to stacking kegs -- not your typical 5k.  They have been mainstays in areas where extreme sports are more popular, but the local area has plenty of opportunities to demonstrate how hardcore you are.  Here are some of our suggestions.  Make sure to pay attention to whether you need any special gear (eg. mountain bike and helmet), early registration dates to avoid price hikes, and whether it's team or individual.

Looks like fun, right?

Monday, June 4, 2012

#256: [Planet]-gazing

Tomorrow marks your last chance to observe the "Transit of Venus."  (That is, unless you plan to plan to live for another 121 years.) 

You might have heard or read about this event, but like me, don't really understand what 'transit' they're referring to.  A bit of Google-ing can make you a quick expert.  Essentially, once every 125 years, the planet Venus passes in front of the sun (during daylight hours) so we can watch its silhouette cross over the sun.  Scientists in the 19th century used this event to estimate the distance between the Earth and the sun, and this event is still very important to astrological research.  For a much better scientific explanation, click here.
For everyone looking for a reason to celebrate the gorgeous weather, this event also gives you an excuse to take off work and get outside.  In the local area, Univ. of Notre Dame is hosting a telescope viewing at which you can watch the whole scene play out.  They will have protective eyeglasses so you can watch without burning your corneas. Yay.  There will also be concessions for sale and streaming video from locations around the world.

You can also celebrate the usual way: with food.  Victorian Pantry (Black Drop Effect coffee), the Livery (Venusian beer), and Pizza Transit (Transit of Venus pizza) have limited edition items inspired by the Transit.

When: Tuesday, June 5 - event at ND begins at 5:00pm, Transit begins around 6:00pm and will last until 8:00pm
Where: Lawn in between the Jordan Hall of Science and the Joyce Center, Univ. of Notre Dame 
Cost: Free
Website: http://transitofvenus.org/ or http://blogs.nd.edu/physicsengage/2012/05/21/transit-of-venus-activities/


Sunday, June 3, 2012

#255: Niles Bluegrass Festival

I'm happy to report that one of the "365 South Bend" founders will be moving back to the Bend in a week's time, and as such, from here on out, this blog will be updated on a regular basis until we reach our goal of 365 posts about all the wonderful things to do in the community. 

Last summer, as all bloggers were away, we didn't really highlight much around the community. Yet summer is, in my opinion, the best time to be here.  (And yes, summer includes the first ND football of the season.)

Being on the very edge of the Eastern Standard Time zone blesses St. Joe County with incredibly long hours of daylight.  And simple math here: more hours of daylight = more fun outside = more fun.

Some of the most fun to be had in the summertime are the unplanned events -- those impromptu pick-up soccer games, or lazy afternoons wasted out on the nearest patch of grass or beach, or just hanging out on the deck until someone realizes the beer's gone and it's way past midnight.  However, just in case some boredom sets in, this blog might give you some suggestions how to shake up your summer.  And of course, feel free to send your suggestions in as well!

Not ready for the work week yet?  How about closing out the weekend with a free music festival?
Today marks the last day of a festival that's been going on all weekend - the Niles Bluegrass Festival.  And I think bluegrass goes with summer almost as well as lemonade does.  Now in its tenth year, the festival hosts more than 20 bands to jam from morning (10am) till night (9pm).  There are two stages, both on St. Joseph River -- the perfect place to sit back, relax, and listen to some music. 

When: Thursday, May 31 -Sunday, June 3, 10am - 9pm
Where: Riverfront Park, Wayne Street, Niles, Michigan  (Niles is only about 20 minutes north on Route 31 for most residents of the 574 code)
Website: http://www.nilesbluegrass.com/
Cost: Free!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

#254: Cira's Restaurant


I grew up in the 90’s. That decade of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Spice Girls, and Titanic.  Maybe then it’s apparent why I am afflicted, like so many others in my generation, with nostalgia for times I never experienced. The television show Mad Men is perhaps the biggest and best example of this phenomenon. Without ever having experienced the 1950’s and 60’s, we are enthralled, and alternately horrified, by the fashions, the music, the attitudes, and by Don Draper himself.


I felt something similar when I walked into Cira’s Restaurant right here in South Bend. For 58 years, the restaurant has served breakfast and lunch from its cozy location on Miami Street.  The d├ęcor appears to have never been changed. There are mint-green booths along the side and orange stools facing a counter you can imagine has served many a South Bend resident. The waitress welcomed us cheerfully and continued to serve us, cheerfully, even as we proceeded to request breakfast items after the breakfast window had closed. The ambiance is homey and distinctly old-fashioned, if what we mean by that is simply that it was created in an older time. The menu features an extensive list of diner fare and there are always several specials of the day. And as it typically goes in South Bend, you can get the food for very cheap.

Yet there’s an important distinction to make. Unlike Mad Men or other forms of nostalgia, Cira’s isn’t merely a relic. It’s a functioning restaurant that has survived to bring us not only a retro charm, but eggs and toast, hot, on a Saturday morning.

Location:
2007 Miami Street

Contact:
574-288-1077

Tip: It’s cash only. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#253: City-Wide Liquors

You must think I'm scraping the bottle of the barrel if I'm highlighting a liquor store as one the top "things to do in South Bend." 

Au contraire, mon amie -- City-Wide is more than a liquor store: it's a destination.  They have arguably* the best selection of beer and wine in town, and unless you know what you want ahead of time, plan to spend 10, 15, 30 minutes browsing their selection.  Peruse the extraordinarily expensive beer in their beer cellar. (Dear, how about we try the 2008 Behemoth Blonde Barleywine tonight? Only $39!**)  On Thursday nights at their downtown location, they offer tastings -- last week it was of specialty spirits and cocktails, but primarily beer and wine distributors offer samples.  From my description, this place might scream pretentious snob to you, but happily, the atmosphere is truly the polar opposite -- the staff is always at hand, willing to help and offer a pointer or two.  Plus there's always a sale on cases of  popular brands.

So for a complete Mardi Gras, after you pick up paczkis at Dainty Maid or king cake at Chicory Cafe, walk just down the block to City-Wide, where you can find Abita, Lousiana's finest brew, in stock and waiting for you to try out!

Where: There are four locations city-wide, but head downtown (109 E. Jefferson) for their tastings.
When: Monday-Thursday, 9 AM - 10 PM; Friday-Saturday, 9AM - 11 AM
Website: http://citywideliquors.com/home/
Tip: Are you interested in specialty/limited release microbrews?  Get on their newsletter to hear when the stock will be arriving -- often, there is a purchasing list for the in-demand stock!

*The side story behind this claim: There is a wine, whose imports are limited to one distributer in North Carolina, a wine which I had only seen in Italy and on the menu of a single restaurant in Richmond, VA.  A wine so special that my 90-year-old grandmother smuggled out a bottle from this restaurant to send me one of their bottles for my birthday.  Yet there it was, at City-Wide, sitting amongst the Chardonnays and the Pinot Grigios.  That sealed my allegiance to them.
**Totally fictional price estimate and choice of beer.  We can begin a discussion about the journalistic responsibilities of bloggers, but please consider this creative license.

Monday, February 13, 2012

#252: Cooking Class with Chef Laurent

Thanks to 'Chef' C. for contributing this culinary-minded post!

Still looking for something special for your Valentine? Here’s your chance to save your Valentine’s heart – and your chivalrous character– with a fun idea for a quaint night out on the town. You’ll get to learn how to make a few delicious dishes, and sample them in the meantime. What could be better?

There are a number of establishments in the South Bend area that offer cooking classes, but one particularly fun spot is Chef Laurent’s kitchen in the basement of Villa Macri near Heritage Square, just two blocks north of Target on Main Street.

With a heavy French accent and a flair for culinary deliciousness, Chef Laurent Robic keeps his audiences entertained throughout his 1.5 to 2 hour cooking lessons. Born in northwest France and a  student of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris, Chef Laurent came to South Bend after working in Chicago and Southwest Michigan. His specialties are seafood and desserts, but his upcoming menus feature everything from Chicken with Mango Sauce, to Quiche Lorraine or baked Italian frittata.
Can't take the heat? Get outta tha kitchen...and into his class.
Classes vary in price but generally cost around $50 per person. Keep in mind that this price includes the cost of instruction for three to four great dishes along with very generous samples of all the menu items. (The word generous is to be taken seriously - don’t eat dinner if you take an evening class). Another plus, of course, is that you don’t have to clean up or even do the dishes once class is over!

Students at the class are also invited to purchase a glass of wine (or two!) upstairs at Villa Macri prior to dinner – the bartenders can recommend a drink selection based on the evening’s menu. Glasses generally range in from $6-15.

When: Classes are normally held in the evenings (5:30-7:00) with a few on the weekend.  Check teh website for specific times.
Where: 225 Toscana Park, Granger
Website: http://cheflaurentinc.com/
Call: 574.993.2772 for reservations and gift certificates

Tip: Cooking classes are great for more than just dates. Next time you can’t figure out what to get mom, Uncle Fred, or Grandma Ginny for their birthday, consider an “experience” like a cooking class rather than a token gift. Chances are that your gift will either end up in next year’s white elephant exchange or the local goodwill box anyway!

Friday, February 10, 2012

#251: South Bend Studebreakers

Last year, we made a few (tongue-in-cheek) suggestions for blind/first date ideas.  One suggestion was a South Bend roller derby event, and we haven't elaborated on this great group since.  Since it's rolling round to Cupid's special day, appropriately, perhaps it is timely to highlight "Heartbreaks and Beatdowns," this Saturday's match-up between the South Bend Studebreakers and Naptown Roller Girls Third Alarm.

The movie "Whip It" might be have brought roller derby into semi-mainstream culture, but it's really something you must see (experience?) for yourself.  From Afro Disiac to Twiggy Tormentor, the skaters will impress with their skills, hilarious names, and of course, bad ass-ery.

The group also hosts fundraisers for the community with regular frequency.  They're not all about dealing and taking hits -- a motto of theirs is: Northern Indiana has a taken a beating and we want to give everyone something to be excited about!  (Aww.  But don't let their kind motives fool you into false expectations about their ferocity.)  If you're not a girl, or a skater, you can still get involved by attending events like these.


Although they were accepted into the Women's Flat Track Derby Association just six month ago (July '11), the South Bend Roller Girls have a huge following, and previous events have sold out.  You can buy tickets for tomorrow match-up online here, but online sales stop at noon, FYI. (Tickets available at USA Skate Center and Orbit Music as well.)

When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 8:30 PM (doors at 8:00 PM)
Where: USA Skate Center, 3909 N. Main St., Mishawaka
Cost: $10/advance, $12/door
Event Website: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/222314 or https://www.facebook.com/events/211652435594456/


Tip: Can't make it Saturday?  They host free public scrimmages the first Thursday of every month at USA Skate Center.




Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In Memoriam: Bonnie Doon Drive In

Yesterday, en route to Mishawaka, passing by the comfortably familiar sights of Club Landing and the Wooden Indian on Lincolnway, I noticed, to my deep disappointment, that a well-known landmark was not readily apparent: the italicized letters spelling out Bonnie Doon, usually glowing a soft neon blue and pink, were dark.  In a vague recollection, I remembered an article a couple weeks ago about it closing soon... but I foolishly thought we had at least until April, or May...at least one spring day left to enjoy a chocolate malt/IUSB sundae/mini-scoop sampler.    But the windows are papered; the parking lot, empty.
And so I call, just like I have done countless times before.  I have often called to find out when they close for the evening in the hope I can make it in time to that perfect place to end a day's adventures.  It's happened before that my luck ran thin, and I headed to the Dairy Queen instead.  But it wasn't the same.  It wasn't just the ice cream -- it was the red vinyl and jukebox, or the indestructible poured concrete tables and Harleys outside.  It's that intangible feeling one gets visiting somewhere unique, where the experience can't be found anywhere else. 

I guess it didn't use to be this way.  I have passed former Bonnie Doon drive in's, still standing like skeletal remains in the desert surrounding downtown South Bend and Mishawaka... yet I naively assumed that the location I grew so fond of over the past two years was safe, a timeless local institution, somewhere that had such essence of the community that it would remain forever.  I should have paid closer attention to the seemingly unavoidable consequences of bypassing old Lincoln [high]Way with US-31 and the Toll Road. 

Honestly and undeservedly, this post is more of an apology than elegy.  It wasn't the price, or the customer satisfaction.  There simply wasn't enough traffic, one might say.

Friday, February 3, 2012

#250: East Bank Emporium

Highlighting the celebration for First Friday in downtown South Bend is a monthly favorite.  It's truly an event not be missed, and there always seems to be one stand-out event (or a few) that distinguish one month's festivities from another. 

For February 2012, the theme is "Shiver on the River" and it features fireworks over the river at 8:30.  The Howard Park Ice Rink is open, and around downtown, there will be free hot chocolate around the area.  Lucky for us, unlike last year's blizzard, the weather forecast will be more forgiving for roaming around between spots.  Less fortunately, it also marks the second-to-last night of Winter Restaurant Week (bummer). 

With these factors in mind, I recommend making a stop at the East Bank Emporium.  This restaurant, right on the East Bank Trail, is on the other side of the river from downtown and might seem a little distant from the action.  Quite the opposite.
 
1) It's located between the downtown art galleries and stories and the Jefferson row shops, not to mention the nearby ice rink.
2) You will have the ideal vantage point for watching the fireworks. 
3) The Emporium is participating in restaurant week, so you can get a 4 course meal (app, salad/soup, entree, and dessert -- per person!) for $25.

[I took advantage of this deal last week --and I emphasize deal.  The crab cake appetizer was delicious, and the BBQ salmon portion generous.  I was too full for dessert, but our waitress kindly gave us each a slice of cake to-go instead of insisting we forgo what we couldn't eat.]

In addition to its food, its ambiance is worth the trip across the river.  The light woodwork and antique light fixtures give this place a nostalgic feel.  The tiered eating levels break up the large space, so it is a comfortable place for a couple or a party of 12 to go. 
It's hard to articulate how unique the interior is.  See it to believe it.
For First Fridays, it will be especially lively because of Chicago rocker Don Savoie, who will be playing will be live music from 5:30-8:30 PM.  At the end of his set, you will be in a perfect position to watch the fireworks go off over the river. 

Where: 121 S Niles Ave
Call (574) 234-9000 for reservations and hours.
Website: http://www.eastbankemporium.com/


Tip: Huge parking lot!  Don't worry about that. 
Tip 2 (for later): They have a spacious deck that is perfect for an outdoor drink or meal, right on the river!  I don't know of any restaurants closer to the river's edge than this one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#249: Winter Restaurant Week in South Bend

I am a day late, but it's Restaurant Week in downtown South Bend!

If you like food, or hate to cook, this event is for you.  If T.G.I.Friday's commercials about its 3/2/$20 deal entice you, this is your event.

Thirteen restaurants -- with a wide range of ambiance, cuisine, sophistication -- give you a reason to try them out, whether for the first or fifteenth time.  They have set special menus to highlight their best dishes and to lure you (if you need luring) downtown to eat. 

Most of these multiple course meals cost $25/person for 3 courses, with several restaurants offering meals for $25/couple.  Some two-person lunches run for $15.  Restaurants are featuring New Belgium beers for $3, Finlandia mixed drinks for $5, and Guernoc Lake County wines for $6/glass ($25/bottle).

In less words: a wonderful blend of big city extravagent with small town prices. The website www.eatdrinkdtsb.com has all the information you need -- parking, menus, participating restaurants.

Those who lack the ability to indulge a litte are not forgotten.  Diners can opt to pay $5 for 'an extra helping,' not for themselves, but for the Northern Indiana Food Bank.  These donations contribute to its task to nourish more than 10,000 people in the community.

Don't forget to make reservations to guarantee a spot.  Restaurant Week runs until February 4.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#248: LaSalle Grill


Since I left South Bend, I’ve become an infrequent guest visitor to this blog and the city itself. I made it back for the recent holidays and re-visited many of my favorite South Bend spots along with a few new ones. One of those new ones happened to be one of the most renowned dining establishments in the city, the LaSalle Grill.


Since 1991, the restaurant has been a focal point of the city’s dining scene. AAA, the national travel organization, has awarded the restaurant 4 diamonds out of 5 for a dining experience described as:

“A distinctive fine-dining experience. Often an executive chef and accomplished staff. Menus reflect high degree of creativity and complexity using imaginative presentations to enhance market-fresh ingredients. Proficient service staff meets or exceeds guest expectations. Wine steward typically available. Ambiance is highly refined, comfortable and well-coordinated, incorporating quality materials and upscale design enhancements for a first-class impression. Typically expensive.”

Our visit only confirmed all of the above. We ordered a first course of the house salad and bison soup followed by entrees, Amish chicken with potatoes and asparagus and a New York strip steak, respectively, and dessert, a chocolate cake with peppermint ice cream, all accompanied by wine selections recommended by the wait staff. The food is simply classic, and the atmosphere is warm and friendly. If you’re looking for drinks after dinner, visit Club LaSalle (on the third floor of the building) which we’ve featured previously. If you’re a South Bend resident or just passing through, this is a restaurant you don’t want to miss. For me, it was a wonderful welcome home.

For more information and a menu, visit their website here.

Location:
115 West Colfax Avenue

Tip #1: Their stated attire is “Coats and ties for gentleman preferred but not required”. Go fancy or go home.

Tip #2: The owner, Mark McDonnell, is a huge supporter of the South Bend food scene, and, in particular, the upcoming Winter Restaurant Week from January 23-February 4. This might be the perfect time to visit!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

#247: MLK National Day of Service

"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although it feels so nice to laze around on a day off, consider the reason why you have the day off.  I encourage you to participate, in whatever you can, in a national act of giving -- you will feel great.  Tomorrow is the only federal holiday designated as  a day of service, a fitting tribute to our nation's great civil rights activist.
Although mlkday.gov lists only one serve event for the South Bend area, there are multiple MLK-related activities around town -- South Bend Tribune has compiled a thorough list, and we highlighted the annual concert for Post #107 -- but any act of kindness honors his legacy of non-violent activism.  "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Dr. King wrote in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail."  Even if you donate some canned food (Ivy Tech is holding a drive) or that extra pair of gloves you have, you will be doing something for justice.

If you have to work tomorrow,  you could take a lunch break for a long-standing South Bend tradition: the annual MLK march.  Join city leaders in government and in religious groups at 12 Noon for a non-denominational prayer service outside the County-City Building, the seat of the government for South Bend and St. Joseph County.  Afterward, march with great fanfare to the Century Center, where various events are happening all day long. 

For those who work at Notre Dame, there is another non-denominational prayer service happening right on campus.  University president Fr. John Jenkins will lead the service, which starts at 11:30 AM in the Main Building.

"More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will," Dr. King also wrote in his famous letter.  If we were lucky enough to have him still with us today, let us hope that he would think differently.

Friday, January 13, 2012

#246: Cocoa and Candlelight Ski

Think you have to drive miles away from South Bend to ski?  You need to drive (approximately) five miles away from the heart of downtown to reach St. Patrick's Park, where there are groomed cross-country trails.

Last year, we highlighted their tubing hill (which isn't open yet this season!), but for this post, I'm going to highlight an event that occurs only a few times each season.  Tonight, thanks to a well-timed snowstorm, "Cocoa and Candlelight Ski" will be taking place.

Full disclosure: I am vouching for this activity without ever having participated -- never skied before in my life! -- but I do love the way snow reflects light, brightening the night.  The routes at St. Pat's will be lined with luminaries to guide your way to Marion Cabin, where a fire and hot cocoa will be ready.  Dress in warm layers, but once moving, you'll heat up fast -- cross-country skiing is a top calorie-burner.

The park is normally closed after sunset, so this is rare opportunity to see it by night.  I am sure it will a unique, gorgeous, and romantic (if you're not a huge klutz on skies) way to spend your evening.

If tonight's cold warning makes you leery of heading outdoors, you have two more chances.   The event will repeat on Jan. 27 and Feb. 10.

Where: St. Patrick's Park on Laurel Road, north of Auten Rd.
When: 6:00 - 9:00 PM, Friday
Cost: $5 for the event; $10 for a skis, boots, and poles
Website: http://www.sjcparks.org/leisure.html
Phone: 574.277.4828

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

#245: Trio's Restaurant

With a lot of buzz going on about the opening of Cafe Navarre, the new upscale restaurant in downtown South Bend, it's easy to forget the other fine dining establishments DTSB, some even in the same block.  I was fortunate enough to try Cafe Navarre tonight -- the food was excellent, and the decor spot on -- but on my way in, I could not help but think of its neighbor just down the street, Trio's.
Trio's, opened in 2007, is distinguished from other restaurants in the area by its Cajun twist.  The menu serves quality steaks, a decent wine list (at least to my limited knowledge), and some interesting ingredients to spice up the dishes.  My favorite meals have been pasta-based, but they have gumbo, house made Cajun ribs and--unexpected but quite welcome--fried green tomatoes, although prepared fancy-like.  For a sit-down business lunch, there is also a nice menu, with options ranging from a grilled vegetable sandwich to fried macaroni and cheese (food coma alert). 

A unique feature about Trio's is the jazz club next door, which features live acts several nights a week.  There's a separate menu for this place, but you can "Eat steak even late," to borrow a Wendy's jingle.  When I came in for food on a weekday night after 9:00 PM, a time at which most DTSB restaurants have closed for the night, they were happy to serve me from the regular menu as well.  The chef was also happy to accommodate my quirky requests (eg. the time I wanted the wild mushroom risotto as my main dish...too good to be an accompaniment, okay?) and go above and beyond to make it a quality dining experience.  The quality of the service is a big factor in feeling like you get what you pay for, and in this case, I was not disappointed.


We have highlighted Trio's Jazz Club before, so I won't go into great detail, but as a heads up, this weekend, you can hear such performers like regulars William Cole Quartet, internationally-playing Bill Boris Group, and the 24-year-old Chicago sensation Marquis Hill.  No charge for admittance into the Jazz Club for most events.

I hope the addition of a new restaurant in downtown South Bend is not seen at the expense of the restaurants, but rather as an addition to the family.  I hope it will be a draw for people into the city, a 'foodie' district.  Even without organized events like the Holiday Wine Walk, it would be so easily to hop from one place to another, sampling the mussels parisienne there, the Cajun crab cakes here.

Where: 129 N. Michigan St. (you can park in the lot across the street after hours)
When: Lunch--11 AM - 2 PM (M-F); Dinner--5 - 10 PM (M-Th); 5 - 11 PM (F, Sa) and the Jazz Club is open two hours later than the restaurant
Website: http://www.triossb.com/

Monday, January 9, 2012

#244: Niles Frigid 5K

If you want to get going on your New Year's Resolution to work out more, here is the thing to do for you this weekend: the Niles Frigid 5K.  Finishing a race, especially one with such a hardcore name, gives you such a feeling of accomplishment, no matter what place you finish.  (Eg. See the excellent guest post recap of the Sunburst races.)  Age group awards, a forgiving start time (9 AM) and the appeal of hot chili afterward make this race an even better way to start an exercise regimen. 
It's rare to have a race mid-winter and rarer that we don't have significant snow cover, so take advantage of this opportunity, and you will have of being on your way to meet your fitness goals.

And you're waiting until the Chinese New Year to make your resolution, come to pique your appetite for the Hunter Ice Festival, which we featured last year (#105).

Where: Niles Amphitheater, Niles, MI
When: Saturday, Jan. 14, 9:00 start time
Cost: $20 w/o shirt; $25 with shirt (quantities limited)
Register at the website http://www.nilesf5k.com/ or on the day of.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

#243: New York Central Railroad Museum

It started off as a trip to Amish Acres.  I have never visited this popular Nappanee tourist attraction, so I thought today, on this lazy, sunny Sunday, it would be a great brunch destination.  With thoughts of homebaked pies and pastries in mind, my cohort and I jumped in the car, and the 28 miles to Nappanee passed in a flash.  Following the signs, we arrived at Amish Acres...where there was only an empty parking lot to greet us.

A phone call confirmed that they were closed until March (disputing the hours listed online).  We decided that playing one round of 'the ring game' on the deserted grounds did not suffice for an adventure, and we got back into the car determined to find an alternate destination.

I admit that sometimes I hold local businesses to a double-standard.  I want the charm and authenticity of a place whose owner seems to be part of the community, a real person; on the other hand, I want convenience --why aren't most restaurants open in DTSB past 9PM!?!-- and clarity--why hasn't the website been updated in months?!?  Yet I must place my frustrations aside and remember that just as I cannot work 24/7, I cannot expect businesses to.  Owners need vacations and days home with the family just like I do.

We kept this in mind as we drove around looking for a local restaurant open on a Sunday.  Soon enough, somewhere near Bremen, we spotted a restaurant with a parking lot filled with American-made cars and a 'OPEN' sign in the window: Country Cafe.  The special was chicken and noodles, and the regulars were eating it up.  I myself was delighted by the hush puppies and sweet tea on the menu.  We filled up on the downhome cooking, so much so, no room for homemade pie was left.  But the day was still young, and we were still hungry for adventure.


We took the long way home, through Elkhart, and thanks to smartphones, we realized that the National New York Central Railroad Museum was nearby, just across from the Amtrak station downtown.  I didn't know any more than that, but that was enough reason to drive past.  And I am so glad we did.  Although the parking lot was rather empty, this time, the neon 'OPEN' sign was on to welcome us inside. 

The museum recounts the history of railroads, both in the region and nationwide, and appropriately, is housed in 1915 passenger coach.  The gift shop is in 100 year old freight house.  There are artifacts and photos in a timeline sequence that show how railroads were built and operated, what it was like to travel via rail, and when and where trains went.
The South Shore

I found this museum wonderfully interactive, and to be honest, I was more excited by the Brio set and functioning conductor's bell as much as the historical displays.  The indoor museum ends in a wonderful model train room, which features models of the trains displayed outdoors.

If one enjoys playing around inside, the outside holds even greater fun.  The "rolling stock" consists of (at least?) five trains.  First is the Mohawk, #3001, the only one remaining in the world, which is the largest piece of steam equipment this line featured.  It is jaw-dropping.  The wheels are taller than an average adult.

There are boxcars, the lead car of the last east-bound 20th Century route, a 150-ton crane, and an old South Shore train car.  (I found that South Shore's interior design hasn't changed much in the years.)  The best part?  You can hoist yourself up onto the decks and explore inside.  If you've ever been to a ghost town out west, you know what I'm talking about.  Passing trains add to the ambiance.

We drove back to South Bend a little more knowledgeable about railroad history.  It was only appropriate that the route home paralleled the tracks.  The museum was a true delight and the perfect way to spend a snowless, wintry Sunday. 


Where:  721 S. Main Street, Elkhart, IN
Phone: 574.294.3001
When: Sundays, noon - 4 PM; closed Mondays; Tuesday-Saturday, 10 AM - 4PM
Cost: $5/adult; $4 for children and seniors
Website: http://www.nycrrmuseum.org/

Did I mention you can climb on them?  (I think...) Of course, I couldn't resist striking my best conductor pose.
One cool fact I remember: Elkhart once had the largest railyard in the world...and is still second overall.  This picture helps:

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