Sunday, October 5, 2014

Traveling the Wine Trail

One of the best things my husband and I did this summer was take a two night trip by ourselves.  For us, this was a big deal.  Actually, it was the first time this has happened since we had children.  Just to give you some perspective, our kids are nine and eleven.  They've both spent the night places on their own, but never two nights in a row.

I'd been wanting to do something like this for about a year.  When you only have two nights for a getaway, it limits you when you factor in travel time.  So I didn't really know what we could do that would be worth the time and money and still feel like a mini vacation for us.  I turned to Google and typed in romantic getaways in Illinois.  One of the first links to come up was the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois.

My older brother lives in Southern Illinois, so I knew the wine trail was there.  It's about a two and a half hour drive for us - perfect timewise.  The problem was, my husband and I don't consider ourselves to be "wine people".  We are much more "beer people" (and while you're at it, consider us Miller or Budweiser "beer people").  So while the photographs of the wine trail looked wonderful, I wasn't sure this would be a trip for us.  But with the summer days burning away and the approach of back to school looming in the near distance, I decided that if nothing else, we could find a nice place to stay and relax for a couple of days.  That meant my first order of business was to find a "nice place" - not always as easy as it sounds.

This time I sought out my old friend  VRBO stands for Vacation Rental By Owner, in case you were wondering.  I'd used the site before for family vacations to Tennessee and Michigan.   You can search for the area you want on the website, so I typed in Carbondale, IL and several nice looking cabins popped up.  What was even better was how affordable they were.  $150 a night for a two bedroom cabin with a living room, full kitchen, dining area, and hot tub?  Hotel rooms are usually priced higher than that!

This is probably a good time to mention that I was searching a cabin available that week.  I had a window of time when my parents could watch the kids, so I didn't have a lot of lead time.  I found a cabin (billed as "Secluded with Hot Tub" - I was sold!) with good reviews and beautiful pictures, contacted the owner (who seemed a little surprised I was looking at a date that was four days in the future, but very accommodating being that the days were open and in the middle of the week), and booked it. 

At this point, I called my brother to let him know we were going to be there for a couple of days to see if he wanted to get together for dinner.  His alter ego life is a musician and it turned out he was playing at one of the local vineyards on their BEER NIGHT.  This was on the evening we drove down, so we went straight there to meet him and his lovely girlfriend before we even dropped off our things at our cabin.

But first, let me take a on our way down to the Wine Trail

Tim Crosby playing his original music at Rustle Hill Vineyard...

...and Tim Crosby photo bombing a beer pic.

After sampling some local brews and listening to some wonderful music, we followed the directions to our cabin.  I had handwritten directions because I was afraid our GPS wouldn't work in such a remote location.  We found it with no problem, especially considering that it was very dark and waaaaay out  in the country. The cabin and the location were BEAUTIFUL!  I'm always so relieved  when we get to a vacation destination and the pictures on the internet match the actual place.  Just like internet dating, this doesn't always happen.  But it did in this case. 

Even though it was the later part of July, the weather was extremely mild.  After bringing our bags in, we stepped outside to check out the hot tub on the deck.  My breath was taken away by the stars we could see.  I guess I've lived in a neighborhood for so long, I've forgotten what the sky looks like out in the country on a clear night.  As I type that, I realize that's kind of sad. We hadn't been outside five minutes when we both spotted a shooting star. 

The next day we still weren't sure of our itinerary.  I like to be spontaneous, but sometimes that can bite you in the butt because you haven't planned things out exactly.  But no worries!  I had seen one of the vineyards made their own hard cider, so I knew I wanted to check that out at some point.  I had also seen a state park that had easy hiking trails and a waterfall.  We decided that since the weather was so nice, we'd do that first.  The waterfall wasn't flowing that day, but we did hike some of the trails.  I'm so much of a city girl (as you can probably tell from my "hiking (tennis) shoes" in these pictures) that this was an adventure for me.  It was so peaceful, not to mention free!

 We drove around for a while, just enjoying the scenery, and checking places out.  We had a nice dinner out that night, did a little shopping, and then returned to the cabin to hit the hot tub again.

A few shots of our day...

Our morning view...

And a few other spots along the way...

I have to mention here one of my favorite things about this trip.  You know how when you go some place new, you want to know where to get the good "local" stuff?  In our cabin there was a flier for a service that delivered all local goods for a "fresh for you to prepare" breakfast.  For what we would have easily spent at a restaurant, we had local eggs, bacon, milk, fresh peaches, pastries, and coffee delivered in a cooler to our cabin before we woke up that morning.  My husband is the breakfast chef, so he whipped us up the most wonderful breakfast I had all summer with the goodies delivered to our doorstep.  And I got to eat breakfast in my pajamas!

I think I would be in heaven if someone delivered groceries like this to my door every morning. I fell in love with the glass milk bottle.  Crazy?  I know.

After gorging ourselves on breakfast, we set out to hit two of the vineyards several people had told us we must check out before leaving.  First, a trip to Blue Sky Vineyard was on the agenda. The people there were very nice to novices like us.  They let us sample a few of their wares.  We ended up purchasing, ahem, a few bottles. Here are two...

Next, we hit Owl Creek Vineyard,  home of the hard cider sampler.  For $5 each we got to sample five of their hard ciders.  Oh, and they threw in the cute owl wineglasses. 

This was my favorite of all the tasting we did on the trail.  They had three mainstays and two specialty ciders that they rotate seasonally for us to try.  We bought some Bad Apple Cider and a half gallon of Sweet Knocker Hard Cider.  My husband and I finished of the Sweet Knocker half gallon one evening a few weeks ago.  My only regret is that we didn't buy more.

We headed home next.  This was such a great couple of days for us to just hang out with each other. There was a lot of great conversation, laughter, and comfortable quiet.  When you get married, everyone tells you to make time for each other without the kids.  It sounds good and the people who tell you that are right.  It's just not always possible, particularly when your kids are really young.  We have always tried to grab a night here and there, but a multiple night trip had eluded us until this summer.  I'm so happy we finally caught up with it.  I was already planning another trip on our drive back.