I pretty much just got details fed to me "as I needed them", but in that info flow I seemed to have gotten a better "fix" on the area than The Wife did. I still don't have a clue what she was expecting to find there, but she was obviously not encountering same, as she was extremely cranky about everything almost the whole time.
Now, we were staying at a Holiday Inn (with the "Wasserbahn" mini-waterpark) down in "Little Amana", on the south side of I-80, which was a bit removed from the main Amana Colonies area, and the RV park. There were "outreach" versions of old Amana "family restaurants" (most of which are up in Amana proper), down by us there, and we went to this one on our first night (Wednesday). Had The Wife actually read about the history, she'd have known that these were the "museum pieces" reflecting the old communal Kitchen Houses where the Amana settlers would go to have their meals in their communal period. It was pretty obvious that she didn't "get" this aspect and was trying to order like a "regular" restaurant at a place that is a) geared to doing "family style" on a fixed menu, b) closing about the time we arrived, and c) priced to fleece the tourists. Needless to say, dinner on the first night was an on-going conflict between expectations, which set the tone for the whole week.
Fortunately, most of the next couple of days was spent between indulging The Girls in the "waterpark" and arcade and spending time at the RV park. We actually cooked out in one of those firepit things on Thursday, doing flank steaks over a fire fueled by cast-off wood bits from one of the Amana furniture factories! As my Girls are "city kids", the whole "being outside" experience was novel for them, especially stuff like getting to make 'smores over real-live embers:
My jeans still smell like campfire from trying to manage that all night! By Friday we were pretty much "Amana-ed out" and the in-laws wanted to take The Girls shopping, so we drove on up to Cedar Rapids to hit the malls (yes, the trip was that exciting). Needless to say, my father-in-law and I were less than thrilled with the 2 hours or so spent standing around in various "Girls" departments while the kids were trying stuff on in the dressing rooms. The one good thing of that was that we hit a 70% off sale ... damn, I do love a bargain (even when somebody else is buying).
We were going to be dining out in the Amana area on Friday, but found at the last minute that the place we'd been planning on going to had closed the day before (due to a death in the family), so we had to jump onto the web to check out where we might find food. This was not an idle concern, as we operate on that urban schedule which has us thinking about going out at about 8pm, while most of the stuff out there closes at 9! Due to my "restaurant radar" we ended up finding the Iowa River Power Restaurant in Coralville (about 20 minutes east), which was a very nice fine dining establishment (that they themselves claim to be "what you would expect to find in a major metropolitan city"), which being pricier than we had been planning for, was a nice bit of "civilization" to end the trip with.
Aside from the "family style" place that we started out with, I did get to sample some "local cuisine" on Saturday, grabbing a Maid-Rite "loose meat sandwich" over by our hotel. My father-in-law's wife (who grew up in Iowa) insisted that this was a "classic", and according to the Made-Rite corporate web site, they do seem to be something of an Iowa institution (which, through the magic of being able to franchise anything these days, is now slowly creeping into surrounding states). While not vile or anything, the "Made-Rite" is pretty much a sloppy joe that somebody neglected to add sauce to (or perhaps taco filling that somebody neglected to spice), and tastes somewhat unfinished with a rather jarring sour note courtesy of pickle slices, which, along with mustard, seem to be the sole condiments approved for this item. Again, I've eaten far worse things in my travels, but I doubt that I'm going to find myself having wistful hankerings for this particular piece of Iowan culture!
One pleasant surprise was to find that "Super Unleaded" was running 10¢ per gallon less than "Regular Unleaded" around there as the former had a significant Ethanol contribution in the mix, which (being a local Iowa product) was creating a certain level of discount (it was going for $2.89/gal) compare this to about $3.89/gal for "Regular" around my neighborhood. It seemed odd to "upgrade" to get the cheaper gas, but I wasn't complaining.
For being a near-holiday weekend, I was very pleased with the drive back to Chicago. I'm not sure what bit of pork-barrel politics created I-88, but it's a nice modern toll road linking Chicago's western suburbs to the Quad Cities, with almost zero traffic (well, pretty much up to the point when it merges into I-290 and picks up all the suburban congestion ... even then, it was moving along just fine). All-in-all, though, I think I'd have to agree with lefin1's comment to a previous post that IOWA stands for "I oughtta went around"!