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27 Festival of Fruit

Rows of strawberries Photo courtesy of Mr. T in DC

Summer has officially arrived, bringing with it warmer temperatures, fun outdoor activities, and some of the tastiest fruit of any season (think: watermelon, peaches, nectarines!).  Cities across the country celebrate the return of such delicious and healthy treats.  Strawberries, high in Vitamin C and flavanoids, serve as the inspiration for the Long Grove Strawberry Festival on June 25-27.  The three-day event showcases these little fruits in almost all of the culinary offerings.  What better way to usher in the official beginning of summer than by snacking on chocolate-covered strawberries, strawberry ice cream, strawberry doughnuts?

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28 A day trip through railroad history

Old Caboose

Looking for a fun family excursion just outside Chicago? You won’t even need your car for this trip to the Homewood Railroad Park on the Metra Electric Line out of Millennium Station in downtown Chicago at Randolph and Michigan (schedules at www.metrarail.com).

The Homewood Railroad Park offers visitors a safe, raised train-viewing platform for watching train operations near the working Canadian National Railroad switching yard. The platform includes a live audio feed to the switchyard, and is wheelchair accessible. Across the tracks (via an underground walkway), visitors can get up close to a retired and restored Illinois Central locomotive and caboose.

Visitors can also walk through the architecturally significant Homewood Train Station (built 1923), probably the only Spanish Revival train station in the Midwest. The Homewood Station is modeled after the clubhouse of a nearby public country club, Ravisloe, founded in 1901.

The Homewood Railroad Park is unique because visitors can view three distinct train types operating along the tracks: freight, regional commuter rail (Metra) and intercity rail (Amtrak). Works by noted muralist Richard Haas are also located on the rear of buildings along the south side of Ridge Road, just steps from the park, and a host of restaurants and shops are within walking distance of the park.

Homewood Trains

The next stop south on the Metra Electric Line is Flossmoor, home of Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery, located in the village’s original Illinois Central station, which was later converted into a restaurant and brewpub. Flossmoor Station, known across the U.S. as one of America’s finest brewpubs, offers a great selection of handcrafted brews and food. Photographs of the region’s railroad past adorn the walls of the brewpub, and trains roll by as guests enjoy lunch, dinner or a cold beverage. On the south side of the property, the brewpub operates an ice cream shop in a completely restored IC caboose (1035 Sterling Ave., 708-957-2739, www.flossmoorstation.com).

Learn more about the Chicago area’s rich railroad past on this fun day trip!

– Bob Lukens

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29 the mother of all bike rides
30 The cross at the crossroads

The Cross at the Crossroads

In a field near the interstate, in Effingham, at the intersections of I-70 and I-57, stands the world’s largest cross. Dedicated in the fall of 2001, this 198 foot tall structure has become a city symbol, inspiration to thousands and a beacon seen by some 50,000 travelers daily.

Although an obvious religious symbol, the ‘Cross at the Crossroads‘ as it has come to be known, is a non-denominational landmark and even in the visitors center there is no evangelizing. Visitors are simply welcome to come, observe and rest for a bit if they wish in the comfortable visitors center located on the grounds.

Surrounding the giant, white steel structure are monuments with the Ten Commandments accompanied by push button audio recordings about each commandment.

Inspired by another giant cross in Groom, Texas, the Effingham community put together a non-denominational foundation which raised more than $1 million in donations and private funding to construct the monument.

To reach the Cross, take exit 159 off I-57/I-70. Turn right onto Raney Street (second light) and after 1 mile, turn right onto Pike St.  Map

– Ed Baumgarten

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31 Snap a photo win a trip

Summer kicks off today, and so does our first ever summer photo contest!

This time around, we want to know where you go to clear your mind when life gets a little crazy. Is it a park? A museum? Maybe a spot with a gorgeous view that never gets old? Chances are there is a place in Illinois that has a special meaning to you. So take a photo of it and send it to us at enjoyillinois@gmail.com!

Saint Charles, IL - Photo credit: phigonggoi

The winner gets a weekend getaway to the Pride of the Fox,
St. Charles, Illinois.

All entries are due by July 21. At that time, a panel of our photobloggers will choose their favorites. Then we’ll put it up for a public vote on the blog to decide the winner.

For more information on the contest, just hop over to the “Photo Contest” tab at the top of the page. Can’t wait to see where your special place is in Illinois.

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