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Kicking Off Spring Festival Season in Iowa
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Kicking Off Spring Festival Season in Iowa

It’s one of the best times of the year when the weather warms up. The snow disappears, and people start walking, running, biking/, and playing outdoors again. In our household, getting outdoors more is a welcome treat after feeling like we were stuck inside for most of the winter.

Obviously, we’re not alone, evidenced by community calendars filling up with town festivals and other outdoor events. 

Last year, we luckily hit three small-town Iowa festivals in one day without even trying. One sunny Saturday in early May we needed to get from Point A (by Dubuque) to Point B (south of Des Moines). 

We headed southwest and decided to start off with breakfast at the Skillet Café and Bakery in Mount Vernon.  It was a warm morning that afforded us the opportunity to enjoy breakfast on their back porch.  Noticing a lot of activity on “Main Street” (1st Street) for a Saturday morning, we soon learned it happened to be “Chalk the Walk” day.

Mt Vernon start of 2018 Chalk the Walk

We were there early.  Artists were just beginning to lay down the grids on their approximately 12’ x 12’ pieces of pavement that would later contain their multi-colored temporary masterpieces.  Catching glimpses of the smaller versions of the images they were going to produce large-scale was exciting—and humbling—and the artists were extraordinarily talented. 

2018 Chalk The Walk finished masterpiece 1 2018 Mt Vernon Chalk the Walk finished materpiece 2

When my kids were toddlers, I could draw a decent outline of a fat cat with its tail wrapped around its front feet in sidewalk chalk. Pink or blue. They were impressed. Then. That was a long time ago.

Needing to keep making our way southwest, we next headed toward/through Cedar Rapids and decided to cut cross-country to the Amana Colonies where Maifest was taking place.  We’ve been to the Amana Colonies before, but not during Maifest.  We, along with hundreds, if not thousands, of people were enjoying walking through the gaily decorated village.  Brightly colored flags and streamers hung from every historic light pole, flapped in the gentle spring breeze like kite tails.  My husband and I set our sights on the Millstream Brau Haus. 

Amana Colonies 2018 Maifest pamphlet cover Maypole decoration Amana Colonies 2018 Maypole dance

As we approached, we could see costumed dancers begin the traditional May Pole dance across the street.  It was a beautiful day to sit on the deck and watch. Then, we headed inside and saddled up to the bar.  My husband tried one of their ales while I tried a glass of their made-on-the-premises cream soda.  This was one of three flavored sodas they had on tap.  The other two flavors were Black Cherry and Watermelon.  Millstream root beer is a favorite in our household, so a quick visit to the gift shop produced two signature glasses for the kids.

Millhouse Brau Haus sign Millhouse cream soda 

Continuing our southwest meander through the scenic Iowa countryside, we decided to lunch at one of our favorite foodie spots: the Prairie Canary Restaurant & Bar in Grinnell.  We always try something different when we’re there, but make sure to order a side of their fabulous truffle fries (French fries with white truffle oil, parmesan, and garlic aioli).  After lunch, we strolled down the sidewalk for a sweet treat from Sunrise Bakery.  Another favorite stop of ours in Grinnell is the Saints Rest Coffee House, but we saved that stop for another time.  We needed to keep moving.

Prairie Canary sign Prairie Canary truffle fries Sunrise bakery chocolate chip cookie

The piece de resistance was the Tulip Festival in Pella.  Tulips are one of my all-time favorite flowers.  Having attended the festival before, I eagerly looked forward to feasting my eyes on the large variety of shapes and colors of tulips showcased throughout the downtown area.  We parked and made our way to their main street in time to hear the children’s band approaching in their wooden shoes.  It’s a sound like no other.  While the throngs were captivated by the parade, we snaked our way through the crowd and behind the downtown stores to take in the multitude of patches of vivid tulips, each one more striking than the last. 

Pella wooden shoes marching band  Pella parade float   

Pella tulips pink Pella tulips orange and yellow Pella tulips white orange and yellow

Having basically eaten our way through the festivals, we bypassed the line at Jaarsma Bakery for Dutch letters and the lines at the sidewalk grills for fried ring bologna.  We had dinner plans in Des Moines.  And I knew I’d be back in Pella in a couple months when it was less busy and I could grab some Dutch letters then.

We hadn’t set out that day intending to hopscotch our way through festivals, but that’s how it happened.  Sometimes, it’s the unplanned luck of the draw happenings that become our favorite memories.  Not having any predetermined “must-dos” or “must-sees” leaves us open to experience the goodness of things as they happen.  We also scored some pretty good parking spots along the way and you know that never happens when you’re trying to stick to a plan/timetable. 

We could have easily spent an entire day at each festival. I’m looking forward to accidentally running into more Iowa festivals as the weather warms up.

Image credit: Janet Steinbach

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