Sometimes friends scatter to the four winds because of careers, family obligations, or retirement. Although there’s Facebook, email, Skype, and the U.S. Postal Service to help keep us connected, occasionally we just have to get together in person. Geographically and financially that’s easier said than done, but girlfriend getaways can take place anywhere. No need for a cruise ship or a big city — they can take place in Topeka, Kansas.
My high school best friend, Dawn Lindsey, and I met up in this Midwestern city for just such a getaway. What we found was the perfect Recipe for Fun in Topeka.
Start with an art project
Seated at a long table at Prairie Glass Studio (110 SE 8th Street in downtown Topeka), I survey thousands of glass fragments. In every conceivable shape, color, and texture, they are jumbled on a table top waiting to be used to a create a one-of-a-kind necklace pendant. Across from me, perched on another stool, my friend Dawn looks as perplexed as I feel. Although the art classes can be as small as one person or include a dozen or more participants, it’s just the two of us.
Studio owner Kymm Hughes smiles at us in a knowing way and begins to explain how to cut the glass and assemble the pieces — with tiny dots of white glue — and what it will look like after she fires it in her kiln. Following her advice, and cutting, piecing, and arranging the tiny shards of glass, I finally come up with a design I think is beautiful and that is something I will wear. Hughes says she will fire our tiny works of art and that we can either pick them up the next day or she will mail them to us.
The gallery is filled with items Hughes has made including jewelry, figurines, and Christmas tree ornaments, all at reasonable prices. Throughout the year Hughes holds special events and also schedules private classes.
Value Luxury Priced: $16 for the pendant, along with a whole lot of fun that goes with it.
Right around the corner from the glass studio is Hazel Hill Chocolate (724 S Kansas Street). Here, chocolatier Gypsy Del Real introduced us to the world of tempting chocolate creations. A storefront operation, Del Real conducts a brief educational summary as customers come and go, peering through the showcase at the many delectable offerings and making their purchases.
She provides us with an introduction to chocolate, explaining the process – from cocoa bean to its arrival in the store — and as she does so, she places warmed chocolate in the palm of her gloved hand, adding almonds, and then carefully placing the molten candy on a pan. The glorious smell of chocolate permeates the air and I can’t help but glance at that showcase again and those beautiful, tempting pieces of confectionary art!
At the end of the presentation, she invites us to dip pretzels into the swirling chocolate. While the chocolate set, I had my chance to purchase several samples; content as sometimes only chocolate has the power to do.
Value Luxury Priced: Tour are complimentary, call in advance to arrange. Your on own when it comes to shopping.
Blend in scent
Dawn and I found another way to indulge our creativity, this time at Marion Lane Candles (situated in a strip shopping center, 2827 SW 29th Street). When we entered the shop we are engulfed in the erotic scent of a thousand candles — different shapes, sizes, colors, and those heavenly smells!
Alex Scearce, an energetic young woman, shows us how to choose a mold, scent, and color. We filled the mold with small pieces of wax. The mold is then filled with hot wax by a staff member and left to harden before a wick is added. Anyone can stop in at any time to make a candle. Said Scearce, “Because we add the hot wax, there’s no danger, so children can participate.”
The whole process took no more than 10 minutes from start to finish. It was fun to pick a shape (I chose a butterfly, Dawn a flower), and figure out if I wanted to stick to one scent or mix it up. I mixed it up.
While the candle was setting, we wandered around the shop which, in addition to the candles, has a nice variety of not-your-usual fare tasteful gift items and clothing in particular.
My butterfly serves as a nice reminder of my Topeka adventure and I can imagine all manner of groups making candles: children’s birthday parties, women’s club groups, even families, and, like us, friends on a weekend away.
Value Luxury Priced: $5 to make a candle, what a bargain.
Swirl in shopping
NOTO – North Topeka Arts District – is another fun shopping area. Buildings fronting North Kansas Avenue house art studios, galleries, and antique shops. An up and coming area of the city, NOTO is growing into a thriving artists’ community.
The Saturday Farmer’s Market, located at 12th and Harrison Streets, is a sprawling collection of growers with their colorful produce, florists, crafters, and artists. Row after row, friendly folks stand at their booths and sell their wares at affordable prices.
Downtown Topeka is another great place to shop. Unique, locally owned specialty shops include jewelry stores, gift shops, and clothing stores.
Add a dash of local entertainment
Topeka Civic Theatre (3028 SW 8th Avenue) offers productions with dinner before the show as well as non-dinner performances. The talent pool comes from Topeka and the surrounding area, including Kansas City, making the productions Broadway quality.
If you decide to try this recipe
We stayed at the budget friendly Ramada Inn (420 SE 6th Avenue , I-70 and 6th Avenue). Rates start at $67/night.
The complete “cookbook” for this and other weekend recipes for fun can be found at Visit Topeka.
Photo credits: All courtesy of the author
NOTE: My getaway weekend to Topeka was sponsored by Visit Topeka and their partners.
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Marilyn Jones has been a journalist and photographer for more than 30 years. Specializing in travel and features, her articles have appeared in major newspapers and magazines, and on several websites. She is the mother of three grown children, lives in East Texas, and, in addition to traveling and writing, enjoys gardening and scrapbooking