Rediscovering Ourselves in Independence

An affordable weekend getaway awaits those who want ease

By Trysta Herzog

What on earth were we going to do with ourselves? Our oldest, Sarah, is already in college and Parker's about to start, and that leaves John and I with a whole lot of free time. But free time could be a good time. In fact, the more I thought about it, the brighter "just the two of us" sounded. A getaway was definitely in order. Hawthorn Bed and Breakfast We chose Independence, Missouri, because it's close to home, but far enough away to feel like we're getting away. We came once on a daytrip when we were dating, long before the kids and our hectic lives took over. The history fascinated us, the scenery moved us and we laughed. Like really laughed. As we pulled into town and the Hawthorn Bed and Breakfast came into view, the excitement started to take hold. It immediately felt like vacation-like we'd been transported to an old-world chateau-the dusky sky beautiful against the house's stonework and soft lawn lighting. John grabbed my hand and gave me that familiar goofy sideways grin. Jim and Wendy Allen's warm welcome to their home made us feel at ease, and our room was just as promising as the exterior with its rich tones and stately fixtures. But I was ready to eat and get a peek at what the fourth-largest city in Missouri has to offer. Vaile Mansion Armed with directions to downtown Independence and a few pre-researched dinner ideas, we jumped in the car to continue our adventure. It soon became clear why history buffs come here. Around every corner there are examples of the town's careful preservation of its history, including the Vaile Mansion. We realized we had just enough time for a tour before they closed for the day. The 31-room, Gothic-style mansion was breathtaking. Its rich 135-year history radiated from every corner, from its Victorian artifacts to its 48,000-gallon wine cellar. Luxury was evident throughout, from the limestone trim outside to the nine marble fireplaces within. Our tour guide gave us plenty of time to take it all in. It was an extraordinary way to begin our time in Independence.

Easing into vacation mode at Diamond Bowl

Diamond Bowl As soon as we passed the fantastically funky and huge bowling pin in the sky, I yelled out, "Here! This is the place!" We went bowling on one of our first dates, and had enjoyed bowling with our kids while they were growing up. Recently we had vowed to go again, just the two of us. The Diamond Bowl seemed like the perfect place for it. With just eight bowling lanes flanked by plush couches, it was a cozy place to relax. The conversation came easily, only veering toward the kids every once in a while. When he saw a young boy almost wipe out on the slippery lane, John chuckled. "Remember when Parker was three, Sarah was five, and Parker fell into the mud and couldn't get up because he just kept slipping back in?" "Barely! Sarah was in the middle of a totally unrelated breakdown because she couldn't quite line up the tabs on her new Velcro shoes perfectly straight," I said. As we laughed, I marveled at how we survived those days.

Stepping back in time with a wagon ride

Jail The next morning I woke up to the smells of a home-cooked breakfast. John was already enjoying his coffee out in the gardens, relishing the warmth of late spring and I hopped out of bed to join him. No time for sleeping in on our only full day of vacation. Our first stop of the day would be downtown at the 1859 Jail & Marshal's Home. We toured the grounds, which not only housed several marshals and their families, but also many prisoners behind the thick limestone walls and iron doors, including Frank James, brother to the infamous Jesse James. When we came out of the jail, we noticed something we certainly didn't have in our local downtown: Pioneer Trails Adventures' covered wagon ride, which picks up right outside the jail. We decided our legs needed a rest anyway, so we gave it a shot. We were not disappointed! Pioneer Trails Adventures The mules pulled our wagon around historic Independence Square, passing boutiques for men and women, charming shops, the Truman courthouse and log frontier courthouse, and restaurants, while our guide taught us more about the jail, told stories about Wild Bill Hickok's time in Independence and more. By the end of the ride, we were ready to eat. I pulled up our list of dinner ideas and read them aloud. When I said "Ophelia's" our guide couldn't resist sharing that it was one of his personal favorites. Ophelia's He wasn't alone-it quickly became one of our favorites, too. My filet mignon was perfectly prepared with an outstanding cranberry Cabernet jus and grilled asparagus. John couldn't resist the five-spice Chilean sea bass, which was pan seared and served with wasabi whipped potatoes and topped with a scrumptious lemon-ginger vinaigrette. The sleek, dark wood and dim lighting added a touch of romance to our evening, and we left feeling completely satisfied.

Planning our next visit

Breakfast and Blooms at the Bingham Our second morning came more quickly than we would have liked. After another delicious breakfast, we chatted about the things we weren't able to see on this trip, like the Truman sites, the beautiful 19th century Bingham-Waggoner Estate and the National Frontier Trails Museum, focusing on Independence's unique position located on the Santa Fe, Oregon and California pioneer trails. I joked that we would need a whole week to fit it all in. "We do have vacation time this summer before Parker starts college in the fall." I smiled as I remembered my initial panic about filling our free time. Looks like there would be a lot of Independence in our future. Request a visitors guide and start planning your own.