Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Warm up The Silver Hornet

Of course, my "Silver Hornet" is a little nicer than Clouseau's... :)

Saturday morning I hopped in The Silver Hornet and headed east into Wisconsin for yet another adventure. I would be going to Appleton to run in the Fox Cities Marathon.

The drive across the central part of Wisconsin on Highway 29 was most pleasant. It was a sunny day, perfect for driving. The fall colors actually appeared to be more vibrant here than they were back in the Twin Cities, so the scenery was quite beautiful as well.

I stopped in rural Curtiss, WI, at the Abbyland Restaurant for breakfast. As I entered the restaurant, the hostess asked me a question I haven't heard in ages; "Smoking, or non-smoking?" (Apparently a statewide smoking ban has not hit Wisconsin as it has in Minnesota.) As I waited for my food, I also realized that much like Bob's Country Bunker (the bar that Jake and Elwood Blues performed at in "The Blues Brothers" movie), the restaurant played both kinds of music on the radio; country and western. ;-) Hey, we were in farm country after all, and the size of my breakfast was testament to that. An enormous "Western Skillet" later (made with yummy, locally produced Abbyland sausage) and I was on my way.

Welcome to Marathon City! Population: 26.2

About 10 miles west of Wausau, I made a detour. I figure if you are driving somewhere to run a marathon and you pass a town named Marathon City, you really need to stop and look around, if for no other reason than to hopefully generate some good karma. I was glad I stopped, because it was a really charming and scenic little community. Highway 29 runs right by it on the north side, so you would never know what you are missing unless you left the main road.

After successfully negotiating some confusing detours and road construction around Wausau (I swear this same area was under construction more than two years ago when I went to Green Bay) AND around Steven Point, I made it to Appleton. Packet pickup was at the Fox Valley Technical College, and I was pretty much in and out of there. Actually, I was quite interested what was occurring next to the packet pickup in the neighboring parking lot; a Porsche driving event! There were a whole bunch of Porsche 911's squealing their tires around a makeshift driving course. I thought about heading over there with The Silver Hornet to see if they would let me play, but I think that would have been a lost cause. Looked like fun, however!

The old city hall clock tower in Neenah

I stayed at the Holiday Inn in downtown Neenah, which would be within walking (crawling?) distance from the race finish line. Neenah is a very old industrial town. They have done a lot of nice things with parks, the riverwalk, and keeping up the historic downtown area. My hotel room was nice and quiet (as they tend to be at races, since most of the people staying there keep the same hours!).

The park along the Riverwalk in Neenah

For dinner, I stumbled upon a gem. I dined at Big Tomatoes, a cute, dimly lit Italian restaurant, which was about a block and a half from the hotel in downtown Neenah.

Everything was made fresh and cooked to order, and I found the menu creative and interesting. I had a house salad (fresh greens and tomatoes tossed with a light lemon-garlic vinaigrette) and munched on the complimentary basket of assorted small breads to start. This included crusty Italian bread, a fluffy and delicate focaccia, and mini cornbread muffins laced with bacon (mmmm...bacon!). The bread alone was worth coming here.

Dinner at Big Tomatoes. Mama mia!

For my entree, I had pasta. "Shrimp Cavatappi," to be precise; curly cavatappi noodles tossed in a tomato and basil cream sauce with chunks of sun-dried tomatoes and topped with some beautiful grilled shrimp. Wow! The shrimp were perfectly cooked, and the sauce was flavorful and fresh, lightly dressing the nicely al dente pasta.

Great stuff! This was one of the better restaurant meals I have had in some time. I guess what I am saying is if you are ever in Neenah (or Green Bay, as they have an outpost there, too), by all means, go to Big Tomatoes.

Upon returning to the hotel, the was a wedding reception underway. The bride was out in the lobby with all of her bridesmaids. And the dresses of the bridesmaids were perhaps the most unbelievable things I have ever seen; black and turquoise, and the turquoise was made of extremely shiny satin material. Yikes! Thoughts of Phyllis' wedding on the TV show "The Office" came to mind, as her bridesmaids dresses were not much better.

Anyhow, that gave me good chuckle to end my evening. I retired to the hotel room for some relaxation and college football. Tomorrow would be a busy day, as there was a marathon to be run!

To be continued...
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