November/December 2015 Issue
Cedar Rapids decks out more than its halls for the holidays.
Named for the rapids along the wide Cedar River that travels through the heart of this northeast Iowa community, Cedar Rapids is Iowa's second-largest city. Its adopted slogan is the City of Five Seasons, where the fifth season is the time to enjoy life and all that the other seasons have to offer.
There are few better times to appreciate this philosophy firsthand than during the weekend of Dec. 4–6. Visitors can set their own itinerary or check out these suggestions for a memorable getaway.
Dec. 4 in Marion
The weekend kicks off with Christmas in the Park and Peppermint Walk from 4–8 p.m. in nearby Marion, on the northeast rim of Cedar Rapids. The central commercial district and City Square Park, near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 10th Street, bustle with activity starting with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus at 4 pm. The line for Santa wraps around the block as horse-drawn carriages circle around the square.
Within the park, a small enclosure of reindeer makes for a delightfully season-appropriate petting zoo, and the sound of a brass band playing in the city park shelter fills the night air. Across the street south of the park, the Marion Public Library hosts a book and music sale, as well as craft activities for children.
Many of the small shops in the surrounding commercial district–trendy boutiques, antique stores, galleries, and eateries–stay open late for the event. Inside the Iowa Popcorn Company, the air is infused with the aroma of freshly popped cheese popcorn. The store sells 20 flavors of popcorn and snack items, from traditional buttered popcorn to more exotic flavors, like dill pickle or caramel apple, and pack the treat in bags, gift boxes, or tins.
Another stop for the snack-minded is The Chocolate Shop, the production and retail location for a decadent array of toffees, truffles, nut clusters, and creams, as well as one-of-a-kind jewelry and wine covers. Pick up a box or two of Sicilian sea salt caramels covered in dark chocolate or double dark chocolate before continuing with the shopping journey.
Ready for a warm-up? Stop in Wit's End Coffeehouse for a Blizzard Brule Latte or a Red Hot Reindeer Mocha. Built in a renovated red brick Victorian, it has the comfort of stepping into a good friend's home.
Around the corner, the Kettel House Bakery and Café sells cinnamon rolls the size of grapefruit. The café, which makes most items from scratch, serves lunch Monday–Saturday. Gluten-free options are available, but for diners free of restrictions, sampling the peppermint bread pudding is a must.
Dec. 5–6 in Cedar Rapids
Deck the District is series of a holiday events straddling the Cedar River at several key sites in the Czech Village and New Bohemia, an area once the home of a thriving Czechoslovakian community. Don't be daunted by distance; a free trolley service is offered during the two-day event making travel between stops a breeze, and most stops are a short walk away.
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library celebrates an Old World Christmas Dec. 5 and 6. Cookie fans should arrive by 9:30 a.m. on Saturday for the cookie walk that's now in its 17th year. When the doors open, visitors are greeted with a large ring of tables filled with a wide selection of enticing cookies, sold by the pound. Tables empty within the first few minutes.
The Old World Christmas Market harkens back to the traditional European holiday markets, featuring sweets, handcrafted jewelry, and more. It's also an opportunity for children to meet Svatý Mikuláš (St. Nicholas). More can be found in the museum's gift shop: blown glass ornaments, jewelry, puppets, cookware, books, and language resources.
Admission to the museum is free during the Christmas market. Permanent exhibits detail the complex history of Czech and Slovak peoples in Europe, their journey to America, and integration into American society. Kroje, or traditional folk costumes, are displayed.
Special activities and entertainment are scheduled at the museum throughout the weekend, including dance and musical performances, story time, and juggling. Outside, horse and wagon rides are offered on Saturday through the nearby Czech Village.
The Czech Village is home of the Sykora Bakery, purveyor of traditional kolaches, a slightly sweet and yeasty roll topped with a variety of fillings like cottage cheese and raisin, traditional poppy seed, as well as fruit jam fillings. The bakery also sells baked bread and other goodies.
The NewBo City Market is an eclectic assortment of small vendors selling everything from flax-fed beef to coffees and cheese to baked goods. The market holds a Holiday Market all three days of the weekend. Saturday includes a visit by Santa and Kids Christmas Cookie Decorating.
Next door is the Cherry Building. Originally built in 1919 to house a dairy equipment manufacturer, it is divided into airy loft-style artist studios. During a Very Cherry Holiday, Dec. 5 and 6, many of the small businesses open their doors to the public, displaying ceramics, home décor, two- and three-dimensional fine art, and art prints, as well as fiber art.
All this shopping may leave a person feeling peckish. BATA's Restaurant is a short walk away in New Bohemia.
With events and activities across the metro, it's important to find a hotel that's conveniently located, with the services a busy family needs. The Marriott Cedar Rapids (AAA Three Diamonds) at 1200 Collins Road, is a short hop off state Highway 27 midway between Marion and downtown Cedar Rapids. Amenities include a pool and smartly outfitted fitness center, and a restaurant and lounge for convenient and tasty meals morning, noon, and night.
Cedar Rapids, a city for all seasons, shines bright during the holidays.
Sally and Michael Snell are contributors from Lawrence, Kan.
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