Favorite Journey Jaunts: Pella Tulip Festival 2016

Journey travel is temporarily cancelled, so join us on a walk down Memory Lane with highlights from past trips.

July 22, 2020
Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad

It’s July and we’re still grounded, travel-wise, so we’re staying at a safe distance and doing our traveling retrospectively. That’s why we started a new blog series highlighting Favorite Journey Jaunts, with tales and photos of past expeditions that have been the topic of much discussion in the last handful of years. 

For our second installment, we’re looking back on our Pella Tulip Festival Trip of 2016, an enjoyable (and colorful) three-day tour consisting of a full day at the Pella Tulip Festival, bookended by one day in Boone, Iowa, and one in wonderful Winterset. 

The trip officially started on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, as we experienced first-class service during a lunch excursion — just like in the golden age of railroad! The historic “City of San Francisco” dining car provided ambiance and climate-controlled comfort as we traveled by rail through the breathtaking Des Moines River Valley (yes, that’s straight out of one of the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad’s retro ads, doesn’t it sound divine?). After exploring 9,000(!) square feet of interactive displays of railroading history at the James H. Andrew Railroad Museum, we were off to meet Ike and Mamie. 

The pristine birthplace of Mamie Doud Eisenhower is a step back in time, offering glimpses of the Doud family, their relatives in Boone, and the Eisenhower years. After soaking up history in the family home, library, summer kitchen, gardens, and carriage house, we had a blast posing with cardboard cutouts and Mamie’s 1962 Valiant and perusing the campaign memorabilia. Oh, and the cookies — Mamie’s sugar cookie recipe is quite famous, and the gracious ladies from the historical society had the foresight to make several per person.

Photo op with Ike and Mamie in Boone, Iowa

The evening found us at Wildwood Lodge in Clive, Iowa, just outside of Des Moines. This rustic setting came complete with ducks who ventured inside, right alongside the baggage, on more than one occasion. As a group, we enjoyed happy hour and board games (Bananagrams, anyone?) before heading to a leisurely dinner.  

Our day at the tulip festival started early, and it was obvious that the little town of Pella had been awake for hours. You might say they have had some practice setting up; the year we attended was the 81st anniversary of the festival! The exquisite Pella sunken gardens were showing off for the visitors, and we admired the splendor in those early morning hours before taking off for the square, on foot or by shuttle, to celebrate this little town that is so very proud of its Dutch heritage. From the Dutch Masters antique auto and implement display to the Wyatt Earp House and Vermeer Windmill tour to the Dutch craft market, quilt show, bakeries, and smokehouse, there was plenty in the historical village area for those not kicky about tulips (seriously, this is just the tip of the iceberg, attraction-wise). However, if you came to tiptoe through, you couldn’t possibly be disappointed — the entire town was abloom, and everywhere you went, there were displays and competitions, exhibits, tours, and Joseph Hall, Elvis impersonator (hey, somehow it worked)!

Pella's tulips in bloom

After a deliciously authentic Dutch lunch in the Pella Memorial Building, we took our seats on the bleachers for the highlight of the afternoon, the Grandstand Show and Volks Parade. The afternoon show — which features dancing and singing, a Dutch costume show (Parade of Provinces), cheese market demonstration, presentation of the queen and her court, and the famous street scrubbing and presentation of the colors — was a quaint and colorful look at old-world tradition from a town that takes its heritage seriously but it isn’t afraid to laugh at itself.  The parade consisted of floats, baby carriages, cars, bands, and lots of specialty attractions, many covered with colorful tulips and other adornments. Dressed in traditional regalia, residents of all ages took part in this well-orchestrated and enchanting procession. 

Street sweeping before volks parade

Back at the hotel, we had time to freshen up before heading out for a traditional Iowa steakhouse dinner. Those of us who hadn’t spent the day bellying up to the Dutch bakery case really enjoyed it, I’m sure. 

Winterset, Iowa, is a beautiful little town that’s every bit as picturesque as depicted in The Bridges of Madison County. We made a stop at Howell’s Greenhouse and Pumpkin Patch in Cumming (15 acres of flowers and more dried florals than you have ever seen — worth the climb to the top of the barn), then embarked on our guided covered bridges tour. The bridges themselves are certainly noteworthy, but any fans of the movie (or the book) will appreciate the related sights, like the local Pheasant Run lounge (known in the movie as The Blue Note) and the famous Northside Café, where many of our group gladly waited for a spot at the counter.

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, Winterset, IA

Winterset is full of fabulous quilt shops, and many of our group dispersed on fabric acquisition missions after lunch while the rest of us checked out the courthouse and historical society. Winterset residents sure make a visitor feel welcome. 

John Wayne’s birthplace and museum, complete with state-of-the-art theatre, offers an inside look at America’s favorite cowboy. We were back to posing with cardboard cutouts, which we thoroughly enjoyed, before boarding the coach for home after a lovely and lively little trip. 

To those of you who are finding the last leg of this trip a bit familiar-sounding, we had scheduled a trip to Winterset for October 2020 and had planned on having a lunchtime Q&A with quilter extraordinaire Marianne Fons, visiting the relatively new Iowa Quilt Museum, and touring Bare Bison Ranch in addition to some of the destinations mentioned here. We are thinking positive thoughts for the future, and we hope you are, too, as we’re hoping you can join us when we reschedule. We’ll have our picture taken with the Duke yet!

Posing with John Wayne

We hope you can join us on our next adventure. Please continue to watch the Journey web page for updates on our travel program.

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