Smile Politely

C-U through outside lenses

sushiIndianapolis is a popular subject around our house these days. It’s always been there, just sitting due east of us like a kindly but apparently uninteresting neighbor. This summer, however, we took a mini family trip there, and it was like stepping inside that neighbor’s house and finding a soda shop, indoor swimming pool, and classic car collection fitted inside its unassuming exterior.

All we did was spend a couple of nights and go to the zoo and the children’s museum, but the hotel-with-a-pool factor makes any destination that much more exciting to the little ones. My kids still think Indianapolis is the coolest of cool places.

On the drive home, my husband and I were wondering if any area with a decent selection of hotels (with indoor pools, of course) could make a pretty good family trip spot. Specifically, we thought about Champaign-Urbana, and what we would suggest people do if they were to try to make a vacation destination out of our modest little twin cities.

Here are my top five suggestions for families (or couples, or individuals for that matter) who want to get not-too-far away:

1. Visit Amish country. I love stumbling into a little pocket of our nation and feeling as if I’ve been transported to a different part of the world altogether. A few such areas stand out in my mind: Olvera St. in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Illinois Amish country.

BuggyWhen my husband and I first traveled there in an attempt to find an out-of-the-way furniture shop (I believe it was near Arthur), we wound up in the heart of a residential district. It was clear from the look of the houses and the sudden upswing in buggy traffic that we were Someplace Else. We felt, for a little while anyway, like outsiders. I love that feeling. It’s a fresh perspective, a reminder that other people do live a little bit differently, and there’s always a good lesson there.

If you go, I would recommend picking a town such as Arthur or Arcola as a starting point and letting the country roads take you away from the center of town (also very worth seeing) in order to get an idea of what the area is really like. Just be sure to keep track of how to get back…

2. U of I football tailgating. This is camping as it should be — that is, with no sleeping in tents involved. Regardless of how you feel about football, it’s hard to miss the appeal of  draining out the season’s last warm days by grilling, listening to the radio, and hanging out with friends in the glorious sunshine surrounded by revelers of all ages.

I’m going to go out on a big limb and say that Memorial Stadium tailgating is probably the best in the state, and, therefore, worthy of planning an entire trip around.

3. Dining extravaganza. I would have a hard time moving away from the Champaign-Urbana area because of the food. I can’t imagine getting bored with the dining choices here, or running out of new offerings to discover. I think anyone could make a destination trip to our area based on the restaurants alone, but of course dining can always be combined with other pursuits to enhance the trip experience.

A few suggestions: KoFusion is a great place to get introduced (or re-introduced) to sushi. Kids will undoubtedly enjoy design elements such as a fish tank that runs the length of the restaurant and ambient lighting that constantly, fluidly changes colors. The food is impeccably fresh and tasty.

I would also recommend a trip to Silvercreek for Sunday brunch. Alongside the typical mid-morning offerings are sophisticated salads, entrees, casseroles, side dishes, and the most decadent display of pastries I’ve ever seen.
4. Pick a festival, any festival. We don’t seem to have a shortage of them in this area, and whether the theme is art or sweetcorn, they seem to be pretty popular.

Personally, I’m drawn to the Urbana Sweetcorn festival. Corn is something I’ll never take for granted again, having lived for a short period in a part of the country that has none. It was a little unsettling not being surrounded by a sea of green in the summertime (as you can imagine, I’m pretty content right about now). I also just love the fact that there’s a little something for everyone at the festival, and all the action takes place on one of the busiest streets in town. There’s something about shutting down a major thoroughfare for a party that really appeals to me.

I’ll admit, I’ve never been to Ebertfest or any of the other arts festivals, so I can’t speak intelligently about those. However, if you’re so inclined, I’m sure any of them would make a great centerpiece for a special trip to the area. We just don’t do such events shoddily here.

5. Shopping. I will get a little more specific here and point out a few places I think make our area a good choice for destination shopping.

I volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages, and have to plug it as a really fun place to spend and hour or so. Free coffee and chocolate is available for customers to sample while they peruse all of the fair trade wares (the artisans who produce our goods live in developing nations and are guaranteed a living wage for the work they do). Kids can bang and toot on the ever-popular assortment of musical instruments.

Another good place to spend some time and dollars is the Habitat for Humanity Restore. All of the goods there are resale (which promotes reusing, good for the environment) and, of course, the proceeds go to benefit Habitat for Humanity. But besides that, they’ve got really cool stuff, very reasonably priced. The furniture is especially nice and affordable.

Finally — what the heck — the mall. Comparatively speaking, we’ve got a really nice one; on a winter’s day it can be a lifesaver to load up the kids for a ride on the carousel and a trip to the candy store. 

 I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of stuff. Feel free to write and point out any area attractions, festivals, etc., that are not to be missed. Let’s see if we can give Indianapolis a run for its money.

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