The towns of Champaign and Urbana can often feel a bit stifling to students, particularly as their world is contained to somewhere between the blocks of University and Kirby (oops, I mean Florida) and somewhere between the blocks of Lincoln and Neil.
Given that this teeny tiny area is what most students view as Champaign-Urbana’s boundaries, it’s easy to just sit back in your cramped little (totally bitchin’) apartment and count down the days until you get to leave “Southern Illinois,” which has absolutely nothing to do and never anything going on.
Well, here’s the deal, kiddos. You’re right. That area? Oh, there are gems. There’s bubble tea at Evo or countless movies at Rentertainment or the yellow curry at Siam or the Sinfonia de Camera at Krannert or the ampitheatre, lit up at midnight, ready for you and your friends to sit with a white mint hot chocolate from Espresso right before it closed and a pack of cigarettes to discuss the crazy book you just saw in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. There are events like Pygmalion at different venues in this area, and sometimes you can venture out to the wilds of North Prospect for Meijer and the Beverly. (Which, by the way, is the poorest of the four possible theatres to use for movie-viewing.) There are things to do and things to see, but man, it gets old fast.
To quote Avenue Q, which I happily got to see a few months ago at our Assembly Hall, “There is life outside your apartment.” So get the hell out of there and see what else there is in these towns!
Here’s a day of suggestions for the end of winter. (And may it pass quickly. I love this weather, but it needs to stop snowing.)
Get Up In Time for Breakfast
Wake up with your favorite cuddle buddy, hangover partner, or just your own sparkling self. Try to avoid the sucky weather by wearing your latest trendy hat and gloves from Art Mart and head out to breakfast. Seriously, guys. Dress appropriately. The time for seeing how long you can go without a coat is long past, but layers and gloves and a hat will help you survive.
Head over to La Gourmandise Bistro, which has dollar mimosas on Sundays (awesome) and an amazing dish of oatmeal and apples, along with plenty of parking in the garage next door. Be sure to check out the local artists and photographers on display. I believe currently, it is Cheri Manrique, a local photographer. Don’t forget to order some strong, tasty coffee, which they also have.
Last time I was there, I asked the owner, Pete, why he chose the name. “Not to be stupid, but that is a French word, right? And, you’re mainly German-influenced, right? I mean, I get the haferflocken every time I’m here.” He assured me that I wasn’t a complete moron, and yes, it’s a French word. According to him, here in America, we’re unusually dependent on the titles to exactly describe a place. He, however, preferred something that was more evocative, more aesthetically pleasing. La Gourmandise? It means the act of feasting, the pleasure of eating. From the owners of a place like Bayernstube? Seems like a worthy title. I definitely have “an appreciation of food and drink” when I’m there.
Browse Some Art and Books
From there, cross the street and find the Cinema Gallery, featuring many local artists, as well as artists all over the world. Occasionally, I’ve run into local artists selling jewelry and other products, like glass work or fused beads outside of the gallery, and I’ve been assured that this will take place again this summer, if all goes well. It’s fun to peruse and buy, and the art on sale is beautiful. The owner is patient to answer my questions every time I go there and ignorantly ask about the paintings I find most beautiful. Various artists have new shows featured all year long.
After filling your stomach and your soul, there’s browsing at the Urbana Free library, and inside, you can receive your next caffeine fix from Latte Da!, a wonderful innovation in our libraries and clinics, which you can read about here. Urbana Free, like the Champaign Public Library, might not rival the University’s libraries in volume of books, but is comfortable and full of books to read and check out, and the request system is fantastic.
Finally, having gorged stomach, soul, and mind, not to mention buzzing from your caffeine overdose between Latte Da! and La Gourmandise, it’s time to:
Give Something Back
Having completed the volunteer training course (check the calendar! Usually they’re at the Champaign Public Library, like the one I attended a few years ago), go to the Humane Society in Urbana. You can find it by going east on Springfield St. (it becomes Main) as far as you can go. Then five blocks after you think you’ve gone too far, you’ll see a sign on the right hand side for the Humane Society. Socialize with some cats; walk some dogs (trust me, you’ll warm up pretty fast walking some of those frisky guys who want to play fetch); and check out the cute smaller animals.
Event to Check Out
As far as a one-shot activity goes, be sure to check out the Edible Book Festival, with information found here. It’s April 6, and pretty fun, with books for the children (Harry (Flower) Potter and the Order of the Cupcakes,) and books for the adults (Watchmen) represented in last year’s gallery.
If you find that a Tuesday from 11–1 is inconvenient (because let’s face it, a lot of us work during the weekday), there is a spin-off event on Sunday, April 11, from 1–5 at the Urbana Free Library. This second event will be aimed more towards children and teens. Be sure to check it out.