From the UK to the UK via IL, WI, MI, KY and IN
London / Chicago
A painless trip to London's Heathrow airport sees us with enough time to have a quick bite in the lounge before boarding the plane to Chicago.
I pass the entire flight by sleeping, Mum goes for the book option.
Eventually we land in Chi-town and, wonders will never cease, the luggage all arrives correctly and we head out to Alamo to pick up our hire car.
Sadly no 350z this trip, we're given a Hyundai SUV... it's completely bland, but it has Sirius satellite radio which is a first for me... what a great system.
We program the Sat Nav to take us straight to the hotel and check in is painless.
There's a great Italian restaurant within the Embassy Suites, so we go there for dinner before retiring to bed.
Woo Hooo !
Hi Dangermouse, glad to see you back.
Looking forward to this, even without the 350Z !
Day 2 - Chicago
We’re up early thanks to a bit of jet lag and head down to the breakfast buffet to fill up for the day.
Heading out of the hotel, we make for the Marshall Fields building.
Marshall Fields was a landmark Chicago store, taken over a few years ago by Macys and locals are still sore about it.
The famous clocks have been left as-is though and they provide an excellent photo opportunity.
The store contains a fabulous example of a Tiffany dome, it appears though that the store planners for Macys have a sense of humour, the best viewing is from the ladies lingerie department… as I have Mum with me, I’m not concerned about heading there!
As we leave the store and walk down the street we’re treated to our first view of Chicago’s famous eL train… this elevated metro system runs in a loop around Chicago’s downtown and riding it is one of the things that Mum’s looking forward to the most about this trip…… that’s tomorrow though!
Walking down the street, we intend to board the trolley tour, however Millenium park is only a block away, so we head there to see the famous Chicago Bean.
This 100 tonne, Anish Kapoor designed sculpture is amazing up close, completely smooth and looking closely at it confuses the eye, in the 4 years since its completion it’s become one of Chicago’s main attractions and deservedly so.
Walking through the park, we find the BP bridge, the first of its kind in the world, the design means it takes a long time to walk across one road though!
It’s interesting to note that this entire area is built on the wreckage of the city following the big fire of 1871, the detritus was buldozed into the lake to create a bigger city!
Once over the bridge, it’s a short stroll to the Chicago yacht club and then on to Navy Pier where we stop for a spot of Chicago pizza for lunch.
After eating our fill, we board one of the Chicago architecture cruises.. these one hour long circular tours are docent lead and offer a fascinating insight into the architecture of Chicago and the various periods of building that have made downtown what it is today.
Somehow I manage to take over 100 photos of the various buildings, but I’ll just upload a couple here.
This is the second biggest building in the USA (second to the Pentagon) and houses the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, it has over 4 million square feet of space and is a miniature city inside.
This building (excuse the poor photo) has two tall towers joined in the middle by a low rise. The interesting thing is that the towers were built leaning slightly outwards…. When the low rise was completed, it anchored the project and pulled the two towers into a vertical position. Cool!
Boat trip finished, we board the open top bus to start our city tour, unfortunately the audio on the bus is faulty, so much of the information is missed.
The tour stops at the Willis Tower, so off we hop and we ascend to the 103rd floor for the skydeck.
As everyone knows, the Willis building has always been called the Sears Tower, and much of the giftware available in the shop still calls it such.
Along the way we also learn that there’s 25,000 miles of plumbing in the building and over 16,000 windows.
The observation platform provides amazing views of up to 50 miles, it’s a little hazy today, but still amazing.
The most popular feature here though is the Skywalk… these 3 glass boxes are suspended 103 floors above the street and the river, the whole idea makes a lot of people nervous, but most summon up the courage to step out over the street!
Back onto the bus and out towards “The Mistake on the Lake”… the new stadium is universally unpopular here in Chicago due to the massive reduction in capacity and the way that one side of the stands has been turned into entirely corporate boxes.
We ride the bus all the way to the Hancock building as there’s a Best Buy there and I need to buy a new laptop!!
Back to the hotel then and a quick change before heading out for dinner at the Chicago location of my favourite US steakhouse, Smith and Wollensky.
After an excellent meal and a lovely glass of Pinot Grigio, I abandon Mum at the hotel and head out again to the world famous House of Blues to sample some of the live music that Chicago is famous for.
It’s an excellent night and I stay a little longer than planned, retiring to bed shortly before 1am!
Like everyone else on the RTA roadtrip community, I look forward to seeing your photo trips each Fall! Looks like another great example.
Day 3 – Chicago / Spring Green Wi
Up and out relatively early again this morning, first stop was to be the John Hancock tower, however I spot a traditional barber shop on the way and nip in for a haircut…. This is anything but fast though and means that it’s just gone ten when we arrive at the Hancock building.
The Hancock was built in 1970 and was the world’s first mixed used skyscraper with 711 apartments and 812,000 sq ft of office space.
The designers have always wanted to show the building off though and tourists have been catered for here since its opening.
The views from the observation deck are amazing, and really give a sense of how flat Illinois is and how large the city of Chicago has become.
The David Schwimmer narrated audio tour notes that the best address in Chicago is “anything” Lakeshore Drive…. With views like the one above, it’s easy to see why!
Leaving the Hancock tower, we opt to walk down Magnificent Mile to the river.
At the bottom of Mag Mile we find the Wrigley building… there are no tours here, but it’s an architectural delight and, despite the traffic congestion I manage to get a photo!
Since we started planning this trip, Mum’s been looking forward to riding the famous eL, and, having seen it up close yesterday, she can’t wait to board!
We ride the brown line, which stays elevated continually as it loops around Chicago’s downtown district (called the loop, thanks to the train) it’s much the same as a normal subway, but running between the building is pretty cool.
It also produces photo opportunities such as this!
Hopping off the eL, we take another walk to Union Station
Union station is absolutely huge and whilst not as nice inside as Grand Central in NYC or Union in DC, it’s still a very pleasant place to grab a spot of lunch.
After lunch, it’s back on the open top bus to travel to the Adler Planetarium.
The Adler is an amazing facility, very child friendly it takes visitors through the eras of space exploration and makes you think about what may / may not be out there.
It also has a sample of moon rock…. This must be the 50th such “sample” I’ve seen over the years….. wonder if they’re all genuine!!
Originally we’d planned to hire bicycles to travel to the Shedd Aquarium and then on to Navy Pier, however the bike location doesn’t have any to hire, so we walk to Shedd.
Call off the search…….. we’ve found Nemo!
The Shedd is a complete surprise, it’s amazing. A fabulous tour through all different kinds of marine animals and wildlife.
From strange looking, unidentifiable fish, to Beluga whales and the obligatory Dolphins (kept in the largest tank I’ve ever seen!
It’s coming close to the end of the day now and we decide to take the water taxi over to Navy Pier.
Along the way, we’re afforded views like this, a fitting end to our time in Chicago.
We can’t leave town without riding the famous Navy Pier Ferris Wheel though, this is a smaller recreation of the original wheel, placed here for the Chicago World Fair, and intended to upstage the Eiffel Tower in Paris (itself erected for the World Fair 2 years previously)
The winds are starting to increase, and it’s a vaguely blowy ride, but fun none the less!
Back to the hotel to collect the car then, and on our way to Spring Green Wi……… the weather, which has been lovely since we arrived into the USA deteriorates on the trip, and by the time we get to Spring Green the edges of a serious storm are battering us, and it’s a relief to stop for the night.
Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 09-25-2010 at 08:24 AM.
Reason: restored missing photo
Day 4 – Madison
From our overnight stop in Spring Green, it’s a short distance to Cedar Grove Cheese, our first stop of today.
Wisconsin is known throughout the US for its cheese and Cedar Grove gives us a chance to see up close how it is made.
The curds are separated to allow the whey and the water product to drain off…… Cedar Grove is environmentally friendly and all of this waste is used in different processes, nothing is wasted.
After draining, the curds are mixed together again and salt is added. After a few hours of mixing, the result will be packed into the metal trays visible to the left and will become 32Lb blocks of cheese.
We spend slightly more than intended on cheese in the farm shop, but we’re assured it will travel fine.
Back down some wonderful rural roads, through tiny little villages to our next destination, Cave of the Mounds. This natural cave was discovered in the 1930s during rock blasting for the quarry that used to be here.
The hour long tour isn’t for the claustrophobic, but is full of sights like the stalagtite gallery above. These stalagtites grow one inch every hundred years, meaning several here can be dated as 20,000 years old….. impressive!
We head an hour down the road to Madison itself next, aiming for the State Capitol, we see it on the skyline long before getting anywhere close!
There’s a tour at 1pm and we make it…. Just!
The capitol has a granite rotunda, and this building is a replacement for one that burned down early last century, unfortunately the city had just installed a sprinkler system at the time… believing that this would put out any fire, they neglected to renew their fire insurance…… oops!
The interior of the building is opulent to say the least, with almost every surface being covered in marble and different stone from all over the world. It’s open to the public 365 days a year and is regularly used for weddings etc.
Sadly, just like all of my other State Capitol trips, the legislature isn’t in session today, so I can’t watch a court appeal……. I’ll get to see one someday!
The lack of legislature does mean that we get to see the bill reading room though, this is where the laws are made and the ceiling contains several works of art, including the motto depicted above.
We also get to sit in the senate chamber, all the seats are named, sadly I can’t remember whose seat I sat in, it was extremely comfy though!
It’s incredibly windy on the roof, but the views make up for it.
Madison is proving to be a lovely little place, compact and very suited to walking around, it has a friendly vibe and we both like it a great deal.
Our final stop in Madison is the University.
I checked online before coming out here and they offer tours of the campus (which is so big that it’s almost a tour of Madison itself)
It seems that we’ve arrived in town at the same time as the students, we are the only tourists on the tour, the other guests are all high school students considering where to go to college.
Despite this, the tour is good fun.
Having read so many books and seen so many movies set in American colleges it’s great to set foot on a campus and be shown around….. Madison U is huge, with 42,000 students and countless buildings.
The tour is a bit of a sales pitch really, but I wish my Uni in the UK had had as many facilities as the students here get to enjoy.
Just time for a quick photo stop by the side of the lake before we hit the roads toward Oshkosh.
We’ve decided to stop overnight in Fond Du Lac to allow us to drive the lakeside highway (SR42) in daylight.
A successful day overall then, albeit one with a lot of walking!
Day 5 – Oshkosh
A relatively lazy start to the day today, with breakfast taken in the hotel again before we head off to the centre of Oshkosh to visit the Oshkosh museum.
The museum is very well designed and presents an interesting view of the history of Oshkosh and some of its premier residents, including the man whose house (pictured above) was given to the city to house the museum.
Inside the museum the history of Oshkosh is traced from the early settlers who farmed wild rice all the way to the lumber mills that made the town what it is today.
Along the way are strange artifacts like the Apostles Clock above……. This piece was hand made by an Oshkosh resident over the course of 6 years and features music on the hour, angels banging a gong, decorative lights and a doll-like figure of Christ which appears to bless the apostles who pass before him.
It’s something else!!
Further into the museum Mum finally gets to ride a bike on this holiday, albeit a penny farthing!
It’s surprisingly easy to pedal, but not quite so good with the brakes.
Deer hunting season starts today and the museum have devoted 2 large rooms to a celebration of the history of the sport, they even have a competition to win a pink Mossburg shotgun!
We have a browse around this section which is interesting and a bit of an insight into rural American traditions.
Back into the museum itself and there’s a faithful recreation of an early settlers cabin, it’s quite comfortable actually – I’ve lived in smaller houses!
The museum trip finished, we head down the road to Menemsha Park for a photo opportunity, it’s very pretty and we’re both surprised by the fact that the lake gives the appearance of being tidal… it’s so large that the wind whips up a decent wave.
The last intended stop of the day is the Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, and we head there for lunch.
The reserve is completely free and contains more than 18 miles of trails, we opt to walk the longest and it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon, spotting birds and other native wildlife.
The trails are wooden pathways laid through the marshy boggy ground and they have no handrails…. Perhaps not the best place for the unstable of foot then!
Some of the ponds have no water movement at all, leading to the development of serious algae, there’s no smell to any of this water, just an abundance of small creatures making their home a scant few feet from the main road into town.
Having finished walking the reserve, we were going to head straight for Manitowoc, however it’s still early and we both fancy doing something else.
A quick look at the map and we both notice there’s a State Park on our route, we head there.
This turns out to be an excellent decision, the park has some lovely trails and is a great place to end the day.
One of the trails takes us through various Indian burial mounds, small plaques tell the history of the site and the knowledge that modern techniques have allowed us to gain. It’s fascinating.
The highlight of the park though is the viewing tower built atop the hill, affording views of Wisconsin and further afield to those prepared to walk up 100 steps or so.
Our final stroll takes us to this statue of Red Bird, the Native American figure that appears in so many ways in this area, looking out to the lake she cuts an impressive figure.
Day 6 – Manitowoc
Our overnight stay in Manitowoc means a very short journey this morning to get to the Pinecrest Historical Village.
Much like Old Sturbridge that we visited a couple of years ago, this is a semi-faithful recreation of the lives and times of the original settlers to the area.
The inside of some of the houses are not too far removed from what we live in today, in fact, this house was lived in until the 1950s before being donated to the museum.
Pinecrest is set amongst beautiful countryside and we really enjoy walking amongst the old buildings and learning the stories of the early settlers.
Each building has a story attached to it which is related by the use of a self-guided audio tour.
The audio tour makes no mention of what I should do when I find a golf buggy with the keys in it…… I’m sorely tempted to take it for a spin, but Mum reins me in and I walk away!
I’m only too happy to walk away from the dentist’s office though, I have a morbid fear of dentists and listening to the stories of teeth being extracted without anesthetic is enough to turn me cold!
The final stop on the tour is a fully restored rail caboose… neither Mum nor I have ever seen one of these before, and walking through it brings thoughts of Jack Kerouac to mind for some reason!
Leaving the village behind we have 90 minutes before we need to be at the ferry port to catch the SS Badger across to Michigan. We head for the Maritime Museum.
Not expecting to be able to complete the museum, we are pleasantly surprised when we manage to see all of its attractions with time to spare. They even have a periscope built into the building which allows you to look at some of downtown Manitowoc in greater detail.
The model boat pictured above is one of many they have on display at the museum, they are all incredibly intricate, with one or two really standing out and works of art.
From the roof terrace we watch the SS Badger arriving from Michigan, Mum’s really looking forward to the crossing, it seems amazing that we can cross from the UK to France in 40 minutes and yet it’s going to take us 4hrs + to cross a lake!
Having finished the museum we head to, and board the SS Badger…. Waving goodbye to Wisconsin
And Hello to Michigan.
We’ve enjoyed our time in Wisconsin and Michigan has started well with a nice hotel in downtown Ludington and a great Italian meal at a restaurant recommended by the check-in clerk.
Day 7 – Grand Rapids
Thanks to staying in town last night, we’re at the Meijer sculpture gardens early this morning.
These gardens occupy some 130 acres of land and offer a narrated highlights tour and then the ability to walk around in your own time.
This month the gardens also feature Chihuly glass sculptures……. Dale Chihuly was exhibiting at Popango Park in Arizona when I was there a couple of years ago, so I’ve seen some of the work before. It doesn’t lose its impact though.
From the museum we head into Grand Rapids itself, aiming for the Gerald Ford museum.
Grand Rapids proves to be a pleasant place, it’s a little bigger than we’ve become used to over the last few days, but it’s still a manageable place on foot.
The museum is deceptively large and takes us a few hours to go around, it’s an interesting insight into the US political process and the upheaval that Nixon’s impeachment-avoiding resignation caused in the 1970s
With Mum and I both being huge fans of the TV series The West Wing, it’s interesting to walk into this full scale replica, complete with an audio sample of a typical day. Great stuff.
Nearing the end of the day now, we head into the Heritage Hill district and park the car.
Some of the homes in this district are open to the public on 2 days each year, sadly today isn’t one of them, so we have to make do with the self guided tour sheet.
This 1880 interpretation of a Scottish baronial castle was designed and built for lumber barons, on most streets it would look completely out of place, but in Heritage Hill there are so many different styles of architecture that it just seems to blend in.
The house that I was really interested in seeing is this one though, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was his first Michigan commission in 1906.
Having spent time at Taliesin West and some other FLW sites recently, it was easily identifiable as his work and I’m annoyed not to be able to go inside (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays only)
This house is the most “normal” looking, and is still a single family residence, it’s well kept and fits into its surroundings nicely.
With only a short distance to cover to tonight’s stop, we decide to head for Grand Haven and watch the sunset over the lake and lighthouse.
It takes a while (in fact we’ve all but given up) but eventually the clouds light up from the inside and produce a spectacular sunset, well worth the drive to see.
In order to see it though, it’s time to ignore the fatalistic warnings!
The fisherman ignore it as well, this is a 20Lb Salmon that was landed by a local fisherman with the help of a tourist! Apparently it will be dinner tonight!
That’s the end of our planned day, we stop for a great Mexican dinner though before heading to Lansing.
Stopping at the Days Inn there, we have our first negative hotel experience…. We’re initially given keys to 2 rooms with no doors (they’re remodeling) then keys to 4 separate rooms that haven’t been cleaned, before finally getting one room sorted out.
Eventually I manage to get a second room, but this hassle, combined with the fact that the Interstate off-ramp we needed was closed has cost us 90 minutes!
Day 8 – Lansing
The breakfast in this Days Inn lives up to our experiences the night before, so we don’t hang around and we’re at the Michigan State Capitol by shortly after 9.30
This Capitol (unlike the last one we toured) was designed and built on something of a budget at the tail end of the 19th century, by the 1960s it was hopelessly small for the needs of the State and it had been allowed to fall into disrepair.
Rather than knock it down and build a new Capitol, the city decided to spend 3 years refurbishing it, bringing it back to how it looked when it was built.
There are no fancy marbles or imported tiles here, pretty much everything is wood, painted to look like marble etc…… very clever!
We get to peak into the Governor’s office (she’s closing in on the end of her final term in office and was nowhere to be seen!
A real treat for me now, I’ve been to perhaps a dozen state Capitols over the years, including Washington twice and I’ve never managed to be there when the Senate or House are in session….. today, here, both are in session debating budget bills, and although they stand in recess for our time there, it’s enough for me to see people in the chambers.
As we’ve joined on to a local school tour group, we also have to stand up when a motion is tabled by their Senator welcoming the school party to the house – it’s a new experience for me and one that was very cool!
Eventually we leave the Capitol and walk a few blocks to the Michigan Historical Museum, this is a huge building charting the history of Michigan from Civil War days.
Through home life in the 1950s
To the experiences of Michigan residents during the Vietnam conflict.
It’s an interesting place, and teaches both Mum and I a fair amount about the 3rd State on our road trip.
We take about 3 hours to see it all.
Final stop of the day is the University of Michigan planetarium….. this is something of a disappointment after the previous planetarium that we visited.
There’s no show here, just a few exhibits to walk around and so we had out for an unplanned walk along the river, through one of the University’s wild nature areas.
This proves to be a lovely way to end the day before getting on the road to our overnight stop in Maunee, OH