Driving to Galena—a great getaway, part one

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Feel like a little getaway? Going west on Route 20, a nonstop drive from Rockford to Galena takes about an hour and 45 minutes.

Although a Saturday or Sunday daytrip will be very enjoyable, plan to spend a series of weekends; we all need a getaway more often and never seem to have enough time to see all we want to once we finally get on the road.

With gas prices speeding into the land of the gone, short, leisurely trips are also much more economical. Prices in our own back yard are also much more reasonable.

Here are a few tips for the trip. A full tank of gas will take you to Galena and back, with some to spare. Make sure your brakes are in good shape because you’re going to some beautiful hill country with many unique stops around the many steep bends of Route 20. Check those tires. Bring binoculars. The vistas stretch out for miles, and the eagles are back! Also, empty the trunk and go on an empty stomach because you’ll definitely need room for the results of the excellent shopping and eating.

Start simple with legendary cheeseburgers. Head out on West State Street and just before Freeport, look for Ridott Corners; it’s on a rise in the road on the right. Monster burgers at a great price. Although the place has been remodeled, it’s been a “must go to” road-trip stop for decades. You’ll probably see someone you know.

Next, just a little bit down 20, again on the right, is the Freeport Stephenson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, at the intersection with Browns Mill Road. That’s the place to learn about this historic county.

One of my favorite stops is the Freeport Art Museum with its fine collection of local art, plus an amazing collection of early American, European, Asian, Egyptian and Native American works. Go into the back hallway, there’s some statuary there, too.

If it’s dinnertime, go to Cannova’s, just past Burchard Avenue on Empire Street. The piano player sings good songs, right in the middle of the dining room! Food is also served in the lounge upstairs, for us smokers. Deciding between their award-winning pizza and their seafood is a difficult choice. For affectionate fans of Loves Park’s Cannova’s (no relation), Freeport’s offers a kindred atmosphere of family warmth and good art.

Just north of Freeport, on Highway 26, is Cedarville and the childhood home of Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams. The area and home are lovely with a great museum complex. The Jane Addams Trail (biking and walking) is under construction all the way up to Madison!

Getting back on Route 20, right before you enter Lena, is a cluster of businesses that demand attention and enjoyment. Roughing It By Design features log cabin and rustic home outfitting. Just down the way is the amazing complex of the Red Barn, the Mill and The Rafters, consisting of two barns they moved on site and the old Purina mill—now these buildings are a 400-plus-seating restaurant with a great bar (say hello to “Miss Smarty,” Melody Henson), a gift shop and a 20,000-square-foot upscale furniture and interior design showroom. Share a story and a laugh with the staff, owners Gary and Sylvia Vehmeier, and enjoy their professionalism.

Darn, we’re out of time for this road-trip, see you in part two, next week. By the way, try counting antique malls and stores on the way to and in Galena. Add in all the cheese stores, ’60s and ’70s era A-frame homes, plus log cabins on the way, and you’ll need a calculator. Count yourselves some “time-out” on a “Points West” getaway this weekend!

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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