Wednesday, July 05, 2017

USA 2017 / Iowa Part 1

I made the trip down to Canton the day before our Iowa trip so I could visit the Calico Skies Winery which looked good on paper. It was more than a hobby vineyard/winery which seems to be predominant in SD.
I picked the niece up at the retreat and drove the few miles into Iowa to the winery. It was a very nice set up. The production equipment was very modern and the vineyards nicely set out. They grow mainly American French hybrids as well as bring in grapes from other vineyards. Their wine list covers a selection of sweet and dry whites and reds with a few sweet 'fizzies' thrown in. They also market a number of fruit wines.
It was their 6th Anniversary celebration so there was a big crowd there enjoying music and the festivities.

They were far too busy for an individual tasting so we enjoyed a glass each of their Chambourcin and Marquette which is an inter-specific hybrid red wine grape variety. It was developed at the University of Minnesota and is a cross between two other hybrids, MN 1094 and Ravat 262.
The former is the 'signature wine' of our local area and it always tastes pretty ordinary to us. This one was completely different and enjoyable. The latter is said to have some a Pinot Noir in its DNA and was also pretty good.
I was amazed at the number of people, mainly men, who were drinking beer in the tasting room.
The niece thought that was pretty normal for this part of the world.
I would like to return there some day.
The quilt retreat was in a building that was previously a bank. Three huge safes are still a feature of the sewing a room.

I hung out there with the ladies for the evening and then we headed for Cedar Rapids early the next morning, again along state and county highways. Our first stop was Le Mars for coffee and a snack and to pay homage at the 'Temple of the Bunny'.
The city is home to the Blue Bunny ice cream factory and claims to be the Ice Cream Capital of the World. They produce more than 150 million gallons of ice cream a year and have a tasting parlour in town. A one scoop turned out to be a mega cup but I managed to devour mine and what was left of the co drivers.

Further on, we stopped at a small town (can't tell you the name, they tend to all look the same) for a very yummy Mexican lunch.
After seven hours driving, we arrived at our destination, met up with our friends from Chicago, had drinks and dinner and then hit the sack.
Next morning we drove the 45 minutes to the Amana Colony.
The Amana Colony is seven villages on 11,000 ha which were built and settled by German Pietists, who were persecuted in their homeland by the German state government and the Lutheran Church. Calling themselves the Community of True Inspiration (Die Gemeinde der wahren Inspiration), they first settled in New York near Buffalo in what is now the town of West Seneca. However, seeking more isolated surroundings, they moved to Iowa in 1856.
They lived a communal life there until 1932.

Now the colonies are a tourist center relying on their "Germanness' as the attraction. This can be a bit of a stretch at times. From a previous visit there, we realized the only German thing about the restaurant food were the names on the menus. Whirlpool's Amana appliance factory is there and would have to be a big employer also.
At the main centre, Amana, the ladies were interested in a quilt shop so Roger and I just wandered, ending up in a furniture and wood working shop which was a fascinating place as well as the home of sticker shock.

Meeting up again, the four of us explored the main street with its many touristy shops. I particularly liked the Christmas shop but couldn't imagine working there and listening to carols 8 hours a day.

Then we drove to South Amana where, according to the co driver, was the quilt shop find of the entire 5 week USA visit, Fern Hill Gifts and Quilts. The CC got some damage done to it there.

After lunch we said out goodbyes to the Chicagoans who were heading for Texas for a few weeks and we made our way, again on the back roads via Norway (of baseball fame) and Nevada (scene of a fruitless quilt shop search) to Ames and our hotel.
There we had a really nice dinner at the Texas Roadhouse. Good cold beer, tender steak done  to perfection and exceptional service. The latter spawned a discussion on tipping.
We don't tip in Australia. Minimum wage for permanent employees here is the equivalent of around $US14/hr with benefits (superannuation (401K) payments, sick leave, up to 4 weeks vacation leave, long service leave, maternity or paternity leave, bereavement leave and penalty rates for weekend and holiday work). For casual employees the benefits are replaced by a minimum 25% basic wage supplement.

Our server told us she was earning $US4.35/hr plus tips. Australians who complain about tipping in the USA should really be made aware of the minimal wages some people, particularly in the hospitality and service industries, are earning there.
It was an early night in preparation for the next day's adventures.

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