Up until my recent trip to Iowa, I only had one memory of the state. My friends and I pulled an all-nighter in college. It was 5:30 a.m. and we all knew that if we fell asleep, we would sleep through our morning classes. This wouldn’t have been an issue if it weren’t for the fact that two of us had tests in said classes.
We went to school in a small town in Missouri, about 45 minutes away from the Iowa border, so we decided to take an adventure and see how quickly we could get to the state line and back. This resulted in us racing up and down the two lane highway that led to Iowa. We were met with corn fields and nothing more.
So, when one of me friends asked me to visit her at grad school in Ames, IA, I was skeptical. However, I am always willing to try out a new city no matter where it is, so I agreed and made the six-hour trek up north for a long weekend away.
My first day and a half were spent in Ames. Our first night was laid back, eating pizza, binge-watching The Office, and catching up in person. It was an evening reminiscent of our college days.
That Friday we explored Iowa State’s campus. My friend is getting her masters in Student Affairs, so she has spent the last year learning the ins and outs of the school. She gave me my own personal tour and showed me some of the sights on the school’s campus that hold their biggest traditions and legends. One of these locations was the Campanile on the university’s quad.
The Campanile is the school’s bell tower. There’s a professor that goes up into the tower every weekday at noon and plays a song of the students’ choice on the 50 plus bells. My friend said it can range from the Mario Brothers theme song to Ed Sheeran. The Campanile is also the iconic site of an Iowa State tradition. According to legend, an Iowa Stater isn’t truly an Iowa Stater until they’ve “campaniled” or kissed someone under the Campanile at midnight. Every homecoming, the university hosts a mass campaniling to ensure everyone gets their chance at the tradition.
My favorite location by far, however, was the school’s public gardens. It was like a mini botanical garden, but Iowa State has one special garden ornament that you just can’t miss (literally). Their public gardens are home to the largest concrete gnome in the world. Lovingly named Elwood, the gigantic gnome is 15 feet tall and weighs 3,500 pounds. I think gnomes are ridiculously awesome, so when my friend brought up the spectacle I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check it out. If you get super attached to Elwood you can buy a smaller replica of him at the gift shop (it weights about 40 pounds).
That evening, we decided to venture out on to the Main Street of Ames. We ended up at Della Viti, a wine bar with a quirky-cool set up. When you first enter the bar, you are given the option of taking a seat at their standard bar or you can put some money on a re-loadable card given to you by the bartender and exploring their array of wines.
The walls of the bar are lined with coolers filled with Della Viti’s wine collection. Each bottle is attached to an automated tap that gives you three options. You can either get a taste of wine, half a glass, or a full glass. You put your preloaded card into the machine, decided what amount you want, and the charge is taken off your card once your glass has been filled with your choice. The bartender holds your debit or credit card at the bar until you are finished, but you can pay by card or cash when you leave.
For only $10.00, I was able to try four different wines and had a great time playing some card games with my friend.
We spent all of Saturday in Des Moines. We left Ames early so we could go and explore the Des Moines farmer’s market. There were treats from coffee and breakfast sandwiches to smoothies and kettle corn. Piles of produce from farms all over Iowa waited to go home with the many shoppers. A lot of stands sold handmade items like soaps, coasters, and artwork. I’ve always loved farmer’s markets with their family friendly atmosphere and live music. There were ton of adorable puppies walking around too, which made the experience 10x better.
As my friend told me, the best room in the building was the library. I felt as if I had walked into the library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The library is specifically filled with law books that are used by law students throughout Des Moines. You can take a self-guided tour around the building if you choose, but I highly suggest taking one of the tours put on by the staff of the building. You have access to more rooms (aka the library) when you go on the tour and your guide is sure to know more about the many rooms you’re exploring.
The restaurant was busy but we were seated faster than either of us expected. The restaurant looks like the zombie apocalypse movie of your dreams (or nightmares if apocalyses aren’t your thing). The menus look like newspapers with each menu section displayed like a feature headline. My friend stuck with the classic Zombie Burger, a burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and Zombie Sauce. I went with the They’re Coming to Get You Barbara, a burger on two grilled-cheese-sandwich buns (literally two grilled cheeses) and topped with grilled onion, American cheese, bacon, and Zombie sauce. If you are lactose intolerant, I suggest you avoid this burger.
Upon our waitress’s suggestion, we split a basket of fries, which ended up being cheaper in the long-run. Each of us only managed to finish half of our burgers but this didn’t stop us from ordering milkshakes to go. My friend went with the s’more shake (chocolate ice cream, graham cracker, and marshmallow cream) and I went with the Zombie Unicorn (vanilla ice cream, marshmallow cream, and Fruity Pebbles). I was so content after thta meal I couldn’t help but hum The Cranberries “Zombie” under my breath as we left.
I had to leave early Sunday morning, but made sure to have enough time for one last meal with my friend before heading out. We went to one of her favorite spots in all of Ames, Provisions. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve had a meal quite that delicious in a long time. I ordered the bagel and salmon, an inovative interpretation of a bagel and lox. The dish included pickled red onion, tomatoes, capers, soft scrambled eggs, an herbatious cream cheese, a perfectly toasted bagel, and smoked samlon. If Provisions was closer by, I think I could easily become a breakfast person simply because of this meal.
While driving home, my GPS decided to take me down a handful of backroads. As I was driving through one of the many tiny towns Google Maps decided I needed to see, I saw a sign I didn’t expect. It read, “American Gothic House: 1 block“. I made a snap decision in that moment. I could continue along my way or I could have one last adventure. I decided on the later. I got to the American Gothic house 15 minutes before the one-roomed museum opened. It gave me enough time to read the informative signs outside of the house and take a solo pic in front of the American Gothic house. It was my own modern rendition of the American Gothic painting featuring yours truly. My time there was a pleasant, although quick, stop on my way home and probably the best way I could have ended my trip.
All in all, my time in Iowa was filled with one of my best friends, awesome food, a little bit of education, and a concrete gnome! If anything, this trip has confirmed my belief that flyover states have so much more to offer than anyone ever gives them credit for. My time in Iowa led to memories I wouldn’t trade for anything. If you have the chance, give the Hawkeye State a visit. You’ll leave with more stories than you’d ever expect.