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Heather under a waterfall at the Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens

To folks on the coasts, Indiana doesn't seem like the most romantic place to visit but in reality, this is a pretty amazing state with a surprising amount of diversity - from rural towns to big cities and best of all, a bunch of mid-sized cities that are a perfect road-trip destination. Fort Wayne is one of these and is an easy drive from Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Toledo, and of course, Indianapolis. Those same roads and central location that made it an industrial city also make it easy to get to. Heather and I have been there several times in the past for the Vera Bradley Outlet Sale, but we never had a chance to actually stop and spend some time exploring ... until now. Here are some of the awesome things we did together and why we can't wait to come back again soon!

I want to share a special thanks to the folks at Visit Fort Wayne who invited us down here to show us how great their city really is. We had a great time and they hooked us up with the perfect hotel for a romantic getaway ... especially one for anybody who loves Vera Bradley. The Bradley Hotel features a chic aesthetic that is approachable for guys like myself who like boutique hotels but aren't necessarily looking to have an explosion of flower patterns everywhere I look. However, with some unique Vera Bradley patterns and designs throughout the property as well as the roof-top bar Birdie's that is named in honor of Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara 'Birdie' Baekgaard.

Explore Car Museums

Ok, so I'll start this one off ... Heather and I don't always love the same things but we both love to find things we enjoy in different environments. I suspect that's true for most couples with a strong relationship built on mutual respect. Communication is key here ... as is trust that the other won't be offended if one party decides to bow out early and go back to the car while the other geeks out.  That's certainly true for us and on this trip we toured three of the coolest car and truck museums that I've been to in a long while.

james at fort wayne firefighters museum

Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum

We started our day off with a trip to the Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum and for me, my inner school boy took over and I needed out over all the cool fire engines and other equipment here. Heather had a good time exploring as well and this gave us the opportunity to share some stories. One example was that they had an antique hand pump truck that was similar to the one I got to use during a competition in high school and so I was able to share that story with her ... something that I probably would not have brought up otherwise. That's part of the fun of taking trips like this.

auburn cord dusenburg museum

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

Heading north a bit from Fort Wayne, in Auburn, Indiana, is the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum ... affectionately referred to by some simply as the ACD museum. Here both of us were just completely overwhelmed by what we found. While there were some aspects of the museum such as the Hollywood glitz and glam and oppulant luxury cars that she'd seen in movies that were more exciting to her, the fact that this museum was more than just a collection of cool cars excited me as well. 

This was particularly true in that while the first floor is decorated like a 1930s-era dealership with beautiful art deco designs, the museum itself covers the history of automobile production in the State of Indiana. Most folks look at Michigan as being an automotive powerhouse - and it is - but I never realized just how many vehicles had been produced in Indiana as well. Not only the fact that they have a rich history of building cars ... but that there were several brands of electric and steam-powered cars that evolved here from the coach builders and horse-drawn buggy companies that predated the modern auto industry.

white super power national auto truck museum

National Auto & Truck Museum

Though it was located directly next to the ACD museum, Heather bowed out ... just as I would hit my limit a few days later at the Vera Bradley Outlet Sale, she was done looking at cars and trucks that day. Frankly, I was too - it was a long day, but I couldn't say no to a chance to do a quick run-through of one of the nation's top auto museums. With over 150 classic cars and trucks, the National Auto & Truck Museum has a bit fo something for everyone. Truthfully, I think she would have had fun checking out some of the stuff inside such as the huge GM Futureliner and some of the hot rods as well.

Just like the Auburn Cord Duesenberg museum, this one was extremely vast, too ... just the first floor would have been exciting to visit, but in the basement, it was a whole different ball game. There were dozens and dozens of classic trucks - delivery trucks, package trucks, racing trucks, construction vehicles and everything in between. I was literally the only person in the museum that day, but the guide on duty that day was an incredible source of knowledge.

I could have easily spent another hour here but it was time to get back in the car and return to Fort Wayne to get some dinner.

 cocktails at birdys fort wayne

Try Something New To Eat and Drink

Heather and I are pretty adventurous but anytime we go out it is a great opportunity to learn about each other and share an experience. This is especially true in settings like Asian restaurants where it is easy to order multiple things and share a meal together. The same is true for walking through a food market like the new Union Street Market at the Electric Works (former home of a huge GE plant).

union food hall fort wayne

Here we tried a variety of different bites from Middle Eastern to Amish to Thai as well as some hard cider made from Indiana apples. You can eat here food court style or grab something for take away so you can enjoy a picnic in one of the parks along the Riverfront too.

chapmans brewing co fort wayne

Chapman's Brewing Co is located just a few feet away and also offers great food and some excellent beers ... we ate way too much that day.

Fort Wayne also has some great options right downtown, and it's a very walkable city. If you are looking for Asian-inspired food, Nawa has some great drinks and good food that are great for building a conversation around. The same could be said for Birdie's at the top of The Bradley Hotel, where we stayed.

Of course, if you are looking for something more classic American, Fort Wayne's Famous Coney Island was located right across from our hotel as well and is said to be the oldest Coney dog stand in the United States.

Take A Romantic Walk Together

 For a city built on the back of hard-working men (and women) in factories and fields surrounding the city, Fort Wayne is surprisingly walkable and has abundant green space for parks as well as its famous botanic garden. Even outside of the "attractions" that you can visit, simply walking around town is a great way to point out interesting architectural details and talk about some of the murals painted on downtown buildings.

desert biome fort wayne botanical garden

Explore The Botanical Conservatory

The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is a do-not-miss attraction for any couple that enjoys plants, flowers, and even just exploring different biomes around the country. While we were there they also had the butterfly exhibit going on and this was an amazing experience where you walk into the protected tent (so that the butterflies can't escape and cause issues with the existing environment in Indiana) and we were literally surrounded by some of the most beautiful flying creatures that you could imagine.

Beyond that exhibit we had a blast walking through the jungle and desert, taking photos together and then stepping outside to walk through the gardens there before just relaxing on a bench together and enjoying a moment of peace and quiet while looking at the clouds.

Promenade Park Skyline Tree Canopy Trail Sweet Breeze  - photo provided by Visit Fort Wayne

Take A Stroll Through Riverfront Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne was built on a river (three of them actually) and at one point this was the site of busy river boats and barges but they've now reclaimed it to be a crown jewel of urban life and activity for the city. Whether you are planning a visit around concerts and cultural events or just a walk along the river to get some exercise before visiting more breweries and cideries together, this is a great place for a romantic walk.

Seriously, Fort Wayne has done a fantastic job installing easy walking paths that are paved, steps that you can use to go down to the edge of the river, and plenty of spots to just sit down and take a pause to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

 vera bradley outlet sale entrance line

Vera Bradley Outlet Sale

And so we reach the main event ... or what had been our reason for visiting the city several times over the past decade or so. However, after spending a few days exploring all the other stuff to do here ... Fort Wayne is absolutely on top of our list for a year-round destination to visit as well. 

Regardless, the annual Vera Bradley Outlet Sale has been an important part of our relationship almost from the beginning. Not only is Heather a huge fan, but I love seeing her excited about doing something she is passionate about. Whether that involves me carrying her bags or offering my feedback on various pieces that she can't decide to keep or toss, attending a big outlet sale like this is something that will test any relationship.

For us, I'm lucky, Heather is a huge bargain shopper and while she may fill her bags with dozens of items that she likes ... most of those are returned to the sorting bins and we only buy stuff that is a truly great deal or makes a great present for family and friends. Of course she also sometimes simply finds something she falls in love with and that's great too.

vera bradley outlet sale shopping

Unlike a lot of outlet sales and mall stores that claim to be outlets - this is an annual event over several days each May and it is a gauntlet. Guys, if you feel intimidated byeing surrounded by thousands of deal hungry women packed into a sports arena with only a handful of other dudes among the acres of women ... this is not your place. There's no chairs and you gotta keep moving or you'll find hands and arms pushing through you to grab a particular pattern or product that someone has their eyes on.

One pro tip for making it out more quickly - pay the $20 donation to get into the VIP line at the checkout area. It's a donation to their Breast Cancer charity and it has saved our marriage. Instead of waiting in line with tired feet, sore arms, and fading adrenaline, you can check out and get back to the car far more quickly than waiting in the long line.

bed the bradley hotel

It's a lot of fun here. Especially being able to complete the full Vera Bradley fan experience by staying at the Bradlye Hotel. We'll be back again next year for the sale of course. However, while this has been our reason to come to Fort Wayne for more than a decade, now that we know the area better ... it is far from our only excuse to plan a weekend getaway here!

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With more than 20 years in corporate marketing, including serving as Social Media Director for e-commerce brands such as ProFlowers and Shari's Berries where his focus was on engaging with customers looking to maintain strong relationships, passionate romances, and celebrate special occasions. 

After leaving the corporate world, James launched a series of websites promoting men's lifestyle and travel topics. He knew though that there was something missing ...

As a happily married man who loves to travel with his wife and share incredible experiences with those around them, he realized that there needed to be something else in their portfolio of websites.