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Beyond the Hilltop

  By Blake Rasmussen '05  

Gwen’s in Lisbon

For a break from the food at Sodexho, and at a price students can afford, Gwen’s in Lisbon is a must. Serving American food like hamburgers and sandwiches, Gwen’s is a quintessential small-town eatery.

Gwen’s is probably best known for its Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch, filled with eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, waffles, fruit, and an assortment of other salivation-inducing brunch foods.

Gwen's in Lisbon has been operating since 1981.

Reservations aren’t needed or taken, though often you can find entire teams of Cornell athletes on a Sunday morning ingesting as much as they burned off the day before.

Gwen’s is named after the co-owner who opened the restaurant in 1981 with her husband, Gary Drahos. They’ve been running the restaurant themselves for the quarter century since then.

“I was in the restaurant business, and I was already cooking,” said Gwen on why she opened the Lisbon mainstay. “And I enjoy people.”

Local sports

Even in a state devoid of top-flight professional teams, this part of Iowa offers a number of entertaining, even championship-caliber, sports teams.

For baseball fans, there’s the Cedar Rapids Kernels, a Class A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels (or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or whatever they call themselves these days). Tickets range from $5 for lawn seats all the way up to $8 for individual premier seats. The novelty of a minor-league baseball game is not to be missed.

If hockey’s more your style, or if you just like seeing grown men hurt each other, check out the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, the 2005 U.S. Hockey League Clark Cup Champions. Though tickets are affordable, you can usually get them at a discount at the Info Desk several nights a year. Don’t be surprised if the stands are filled with Cornellians on those nights.

And of course, Iowa does boast one of the best Division I football teams in the country at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Iowa City

Despite all Mount Vernon has to offer, sometimes it’s good to get out of town. For those days and nights when you crave a taste of city life or a touch of big university living, Iowa City has a little bit of everything.

Downtown Iowa City offers an array of stores and restaurants around the Ped Mall. The Brown Bottle has been a favorite date spot for Cornellians for years, and Buffalo Wild Wings is a great place to sit and watch a game on TV. The Ped Mall is also a great place to just hang out and people-watch or play Frisbee. On any given day you can find a random assortment of strangers sitting on the benches talking on any number of topics. Don’t be surprised to run into other Cornellians there either.

Of course, if people-watching is your thing, you might also try the Java House, a favorite coffee house of University of Iowa students. Open late so students can study, the Java House is almost always packed and offers free wireless Internet service.

The Black Angel haunts Iowa City's Oakland Cemetery.

For a cultural experience, check out Hancher Auditorium, where you can experience national theater, music, and dance tours.

And if you do nothing else in Iowa City, make sure to spend an early Saturday morning in the fall tailgating before a Hawkeye football game. Thousands of students, residents, and alumni pack the streets around Kinnick Stadium during every home game at the crack of dawn, and oftentimes earlier than that. You don’t need tickets, or to even be a Hawkeye fan, to enjoy tailgating.

Finally, for the truly strange, the Black Angel in Oakland Cemetery offers up a scare. The myth surrounding the statue says that anyone who kisses the angel will die instantly, that a girl kissed near it in the moonlight will die in six months, and that every Halloween the angel gets darker for every person it’s killed. Approach with care.

Walks around town

Recruiters often cite Mount Vernon’s location as a drawing point to prospective students: equidistant between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, with easy access to both.

In a way, that’s code for saying Mount Vernon is out in the countryside, away from, well, just about anything. But that isolation produces some of the most beautiful nights in Iowa.


A patriotic and picturesque Mount Vernon neighborhood.

Every student absolutely must brave the cold on a winter night and walk around outside. There are many spots around town where the stars can be seen as clear as any other part of the state. On crisp nights, just after a snowfall, when your breath turns to fog, the sky is crystal clear and dotted with stars.

The days can be equally enchanting. Like something out of Norman Rockwell, the streets of Mount Vernon are lined with Victorian homes, children screeching as they run through the many parks and playgrounds, and grassy areas with just the right amount of shade. Main Street, Mount Vernon might as well be Main Street, USA.

Take a significant other, take a friend, or go by yourself and take it all in, the distance from the cities can be more than a boon sometimes. It can be breathtaking.

 

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