Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Galena at Christmastime

Night of Luminaria & Living Windows

It was always going to be the ultimate mother-daughter weekend — what we didn't know is that the stars would align to turn "ultimate" into something even better: unforgettable. My mom and I planned a two-night stay at the Queen Anne Guest House (a bed & breakfast) in Galena, Illinois, over the town's most festive weekend of the year.

Every December, Galena lights up with luminaria (small paper lanterns) for one night, and the town glows. Galena is set in a hillside along a river, so it's picturesque even without the extra dose of holiday cheer. Main Street really does look like one of those porcelain Christmas villages come to life. 

We arrived on Friday evening, joined the other guests in the parlor of the Queen Anne for some refreshments (people sure love to talk!), then ventured out for some dinner. We settled on Fritz and Frites — a European bistro with a menu split between German and French food. It was heavenly. The ambience was wonderfully snug and set to the tune of Bing Crosby's crooning. Love.  

Then it was back to the Queen Anne to relax in our cozy little room. It really was a charming place to stay. We had an electric fireplace, a DVD player (good thing we packed Holiday Inn and White Christmas!), and a coffee and tea tray just outside our room. There was also a fluffy cat named Princess who made an occasional appearance for a belly rub. The owners were super nice — though, I'm sorry to say, the didn't serve my favorite breakfasts. Nicely presented, and parts were scrumptious (that bruléed oatmeal!), but overall... Just not my favorite. Still, certainly a nice place to stay.

On Saturday, the day of the Luminaria, my mom and I bummed around town, taking in the shops. Some of the stores are absolutely lovely — and others are a strange mix of nice-enough and super-tacky. We didn't get much Christmas shopping done. But we did stop at Devour Café for hot chocolate, and this place is definitely worth a trip if you're in Galena. The ambience is part antique coziness, part rock n' roll. We were enjoying our cocoa, sitting on two velvet chairs in this old, tin-ceiling café, next to a Grateful Dead poster. Amazing. 

At 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, the festivities started on Main Street. First up, it's the Living Windows. That's where some of the shops set up living displays in their front windows — in one, there was even a wedding! As we walked toward the wedding window, it started to snow. It was the kind of snow that falls softly — no blustery wind, just that perfect snow globe feeling.  

Anyway, we watched a happy couple say "I do" in a window, the ceremony broadcast over a speaker system in the street. The crowd cheered, the couple kissed and waved — it was unreal! Like something you'd expect in Stars Hollow, not a real-life town. But it actually happened! 

For the other Living Windows, there were magicians, cute kids dressed as Santa's helpers and toy soldiers, artists at work, and a whole rock band streaming Christmas jams into the streets. Eventually Mom and I stopped for dinner at Fried Green Tomatoes — huge place, pretty tasty, great service. But after being spoiled by the ambiance at Fritz and Frites the night before, we decided that we'd probably try to find an alternate spot to dine if we come back next year. 

When it was finally dark enough for the luminaria to glow, we walked up hill and down, over bridges and across train tracks. All the while, we followed the luminaria through the snow-globe snow. We couldn't believe our eyes — or our luck. If ever there was a Christmas card scene, this was it. We eventually ended up back at Fritz and Frites for coffee and cake to cap off the evening. 

As we were finishing up our sweets, just two other tables occupied in the place, a troop of about a dozen carolers burst through the door. They sang "Joy to the World" and "Winter Wonderland" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" with clear, harmonious voices. Then they left as quickly as they arrived, to the tune of "We Wish you a Merry Christmas." Mom and I beamed and sighed. Unforgettable indeed. 

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