A Brit on holiday in Iowa

One of the things we really enjoy about working at the Iowa Tourism Office is hearing about someone’s trip to Iowa and all the things they loved. We recently received a letter from a British man who described his desire to come to Iowa and his experience once he finally made it. Please join us in meeting (and enjoying), Neil and his visit to Iowa:

It was reading the novel The Bridges of Madison County (bought in California) in late 1993 that triggered my interest in this particular state; an interest that did become more perversely obsessive the more Americans of my acquaintance tried to put me off.

After many hours and a few travel speed-bumps, Neil arrived in Iowa and this was his initial reaction to our state:

I thought Iowa looked beautiful from the air, the lovely swirls and curls in the fields below a veritable work of art from thousands of feet above the ground – the art actually a design of necessity caused by tractor tracks for access amongst the fields of corn and soybean. Welcome to Iowa.

After a good night’s rest, it was off to the Bridges of Madison County to explore:

I can’t fully explain why, but I actually cherished walking through and around each one, perhaps it was the length of time I’d imagined actually being there.  Yet, it was also something more.  More than the book.  Actually and simply what they are. The simplicity, the pleasing to the eye, the solidity of the wood? I had made it to The Bridges of Madison County. 

Bridges of Madison County

Here are some more of his highlights from the road:

Iowa’s great lakes area is spectacular, and I can well imagine it thronged in the summer. The drive around the shores of the various lakes was very scenic, autumn colours quite resplendent against clear blue skies. Yet the highlight from this particular portion of Iowa was meeting Herman Richter the founder (along with his brother Emil and Roger Stolley) of the University of Okoboji at their Three Sons store in Milford no less. I loved the idea of this fictitious university founded in 1878 and the merchandise surrounding it, as well as the university’s philanthropic side.  And their logo makes me laugh out loud– In God we trust, Everyone else – Cash.  

The Three Sons

We were astounded by all the places he visited: Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Le Mars, Clarinda, Okoboji, Burlington, Muscatine, Clear Lake, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Des Moines and Eldon. He stayed at B&Bs along the way and had this to say about them:

Four Mounds was the hardest of the B&Bs to actually locate yet once found it is truly a hidden gem of the state, sitting as it does on its own Mississippi bluff, the mansion itself is something else, let alone its almost toy cottages within the grounds.  

Four Mounds

The Larch Pine Inn in Clear Lake is almost like taking a step or five back some years – enchanting. The whole little town of Clear Lake is a sheer delight. In some ways it is hard to get one’s head around Clear Lake’s size and the importance of its prime venue. I was momentarily overcome as I stood on stage at the Surf Ballroom … Buddy Holly was here the day before the music died. How fantastic that this music hall (of fame) has been preserved as was yet is so very alive as is. The booths, the coat-check, the toilets, the background music, the memorabilia all tug one gently back to a gentler time. Visiting the Surf Ballroom is free of charge (donations appreciated) with volunteers available to show one around and answer questions.

Neil spent some time on some of Iowa’s Scenic Byways, one of which led him to one of his intended destinations for his trip to the United States. 

Western Skies was along the top of a ridge, with swooping and sweeping fields disappearing into the blue yonder on either side, often with the cornfields beautifully terraced, and with the corn itself either about to be or already harvested.

The Historic Hills byway goes through the picturesque villages of Bonaparte and Bentonsport as well as the town of Keosauqua, all on the banks of the Des Moines River. As well as being scenic it was my chosen route towards Eldon, my intended initial destination that day, site of the house used in Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic. At the welcome centre you are encouraged to dress up as one of the paintings two characters and the staff are more than willing to take your photograph. Who was I to let them down? 

American Gothic

I loved Iowa and the Iowans I met on my trip. They were all so, so delighted that I was spending all my holiday in their state and that I was loving it and them. Bless. I will recommend your state to everyone. Your genuine surprise and delight that I was only holidaying in your state made me feel so good. Thank you all so much.

Thank you, Neil for letting us experience Iowa through your eyes – we hope you’ll come back soon!

About the author: Neil Raffan is a self-publish author from England. His works can be found through Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. NOTE: This is a collection of excerpts from the original letter sent to the Iowa Tourism Office – His complete Iowa adventure will be published in his new collection next year titled, BEAR CHEEK next autumn.

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