Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I visited Iowa with two friends as part of a  week long, Midwest road trip from Texas to Minnesota a few years ago. From Nebraska, we crossed into Iowa and spent the night near the border in Council Bluffs.  The next day, I was surprised by how much I liked Iowa.  It was just really pretty.

Two travel tips for Iowa: 1) never drive a white vehicle in Iowa. The state has many dirt roads.  We flew into the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in Texas and rented a white car.  When we returned the car to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport in Minnesota, I was so ashamed at how our nasty BROWN car looked. 
Our brown car in Iowa.
2) Pack an ice scrapper.  In early October, we woke up to snow and ice in Iowa and we had nothing but our sweatshirt sleeves to wipe it off with.  We did have a nice snow ball fight though.
Our drive in Iowa
The main thing we wanted to see in Iowa was the Madison County Covered Bridges Festival.  Madison County Covered Bridges were made famous in the romantic novel and movie titled, The Bridges of Madison County.  In downtown Winterset, you can hop on a school bus and take a guided tour of the covered bridges.  We thought it would be more fun to visit them on our own using a map similar to this one.  We drove to the six bridges and the school house. 
My friends and I at Hogback Bridge.
Cedar Bridge
Cutler-Donahoe Bridge
Roseman Bridge
Holiway Bridge
Imes Bridge
One of the bridges is located in the Winterset City Park which also has a cool tower. 
Winterset City Park Tower
From there it was on to the festival, also in Winterset.  They had music, food (mostly different kinds of meat), crafts, alpacas, and a few cowboys too, which was a really nice surprise.  If you’re into old cowboy movies, Winterset is also John Wayne’s birthplace.  We didn’t visit that though.  After touring the county all morning, it was time to head on to our next destination.

From Madison County, we drove to Des Moines, the state capital.  We visited the outside of the state capital building, but I would love to go inside next time. 
My friend in front of the Iowa State Capital Building
Near the state capital is the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.  This park was kind of cool.  It has 27 pieces of artwork contributed by John and Mary Pappajohn.  The park stretches from  13th to 15th streets between Locus Street and Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines.  On the website, they now have a podcast tour of the pieces of artwork that you can download and listen to while you’re walking around the park.
My favorite sculpture at the sculpture park 
If I was to go back to Iowa, there are a few things I’d like to do.

President Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Library and Museum is in West Branch.  He was our 31st President of the United States, and took the oath of office just 10 months before the stock market crashed in 1929.  It had to have been an interesting time to live in.  My grandparents were just babies.  The grounds of this presidential library and museum include his birthplace cottage, a reconstructed blacksmith shop, a one-room school house, a tall grass prairie, his gravesite, and a visitor center.
President Hoover.  Picture found online.
My grandfather and dad taught me what good music is.  When it comes to Christmas music and some amazing dance music, I don’t think you can get better than Glenn Miller – a Big Band leader and popular musician of the Swing Era.  I’d love to attend the festival in his honor and visit his birthplace and museum in Clarinda.  I think I would have a swinging good time!
Glenn Miller. Picture found online.
One of Iowa’s most famous travel destinations is the Amana Colonies. 
Amana Colonies Welcome Sign.  Picture found online.
These seven authentic German villages were founded as a religious commune in the mid 1800s.  The religious group from Germany that built this commune is called the Community of True Inspiration.  They first immigrated to an area outside of Buffalo, New York but later expanded to the Amana colonies in Iowa in 1855.  They were virtually self-sustaining but by the 1920s, influence of improved communications and transportation and finally, the Great Depression made the isolated communal life socially and economically impossible.  In 1932, the members of the Amana Society voted to abandon the communal system.  Having never heard of this religious group before my research, and the fact that people have preserved this village for that long, I’d love to go see it in person.  For more information on the Amana Heritage Society, check out this website.  This culture reminds me of the Amish communities that I mentioned about in my post on Indiana.  I’m not exactly sure of the differences between the two orders other than the Amish are still going strong.  Iowa does have their own Amish communities in Kalona about 50 miles from the Amana Colonies.  Within Kalona, you’ll find shops selling quilts and furniture, and you’ll be able to view the Amish traditions just like in Indiana.

The Cordova Observation Tower is in the Cordova Park near Lake Red Rock in the town of Otley.  It is the tallest observation tower in a public park in the Midwest at 106-feet tall with 170 steps to the top.  It also has the longest continuous fiberglass staircase in the world.  The view from the top looks beautiful!

Near Otley is the town of Pella, which has a festival for one of my favorite flowers – tulips.  Their annual Tulip Time Festival is the 1st weekend in May every year.  It has brought Dutch traditions to life among the tulips in Iowa for more than 75 years.  They have six parades and two shows during their three-day festival that features Dutch dancing and singing, Dutch costumes, Dutch treats, a craft market, a tractor rodeo, a quilt show, cheese market demonstrations, and “street scrubbing.”  You can’t miss them scrubbing the street because supposedly the festival is famous for this event. 

Pella Tulip Time Festival.  Picture found online.
Also, Orange City has their own Dutch Tulip Festival downtown next to their windmill the 3rd weekend in May- .  If you have a Dutch background, then you should also check out the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn while you’re in Iowa.  It was founded in 1983 and opened in 1994 to preserve the history of Danish immigration to America.  The museum has over 35,000 artifacts ranging from needlework to lawn tools.  Many of the items have been passed down through the generations in Danish families who immigrated to Iowa.

If you have a German background, you should visit the town of Manning and visit the Manning Heritage Park and German Hausbarn.  The town was founded by immigrants from Schleswig-Holstein, Germany in the late 1800s.  The town of Manning spoke German in their schools, churches, and homes, and the town’s newspaper was written in German until 1918, when World War I was declared and a bill was passed in Iowa that no foreign language would be spoken in public gatherings in the state.  One of the interesting pieces in the park is the German Hausbarn, built in 1660 in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and reconstructed in Manning in 1999.
German Hausbarn.  Picture found online.
Two more countries represented in Iowa are the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is in Cedar Rapids.  The museum and library were severely damaged in a 2008 flood, and will reopen on July 14th, 2012.  They will have exhibits of children’s books, jewelry, textiles, paintings, as well as one on the flood and how that impacted the Czechs and Slovaks in the area.  It looks really interesting and very well done.

The scoop is that we should chill out in the Ice Cream Capital of the World, Le Mars, Iowa during their Ice Cream Days activities the 2nd weekend in June.  DAYS of ice cream sound good to me.  Le Mars got this title in 1994 from the state of Iowa because more ice cream is produced in this town by a single company, Wells, than in any other town in the world.  Wells is the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream.  While in town, be sure to visit Wells’s Ice Cream Parlor and Museum.

Lastly, while in Iowa, I’d like to visit the Grotto of the Redemption in Westbend because it is an interesting composite of nine separate grottos portraying scenes from the life of Christ using stories and gems from around the world.  I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it and it makes me wonder what the story is behind the building of the grottos.
Grotto of the Redemption.  Picture found online.
These are just the places I’d like to go to in Iowa.  If you know of anywhere else in Iowa we should check out, please leave a comment below.  See you later this week, when we’ll explore what’s just round the corner in Kansas.

**Pictures were taken by my friends and I unless noted. **

Friday, April 13, 2012


As I stated last week, I visited Illinois and Indiana on a road trip around Lake Michigan a few years go with three of my friends.

While in Indiana, we visited the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, specifically Mount Baldy.  At 126 feet high, it was a real workout to get up to the top of this mountain of sand, but, my friends had a good time running up and down this mountain (I did not). 
On the way up! (I took the pic)
From the top of Mt. Baldy (I took the pic)
Me at the top (A friend took the pic)
Also, the view of Lake Michigan from the top of the mountain was beautiful long as you didn’t look down the beach to see the power plant with the plume of smoke. 
Down the beach (I took the pic)
They don’t show that on the website!  After getting back to our car, we headed to the next state on our road trip, Michigan.

When in Indiana, you have to know what counties you’ll be traveling in and what time it is there.  It’s not as simple as you might think.  Some Indianan counties use to not recognize Daylight Savings Time, some recognized it and followed Central Time, and the rest recognized it and followed Eastern Time.  As of 2012, all counties recognize Daylight Savings Time now, however, 12 counties in the northwest and southwest parts of the state have decided to follow the Central Time and the rest of the state has decided to follow the Eastern Time.  You’ll want to check out what county you want to visit and what time zone they have decided on before making any appointments.  You wouldn’t want to be an hour early or late.

In researching for this post, I found a lot of rare, quirky, interesting and possibly weird areas/towns in Indiana I’d like to go back and see.

Within Indiana there is a rare group of people called the Amish people.  If you’re unfamiliar with them, they have Amish people in a few northeast / midwest states.  They’re Christians that do not use power, have horse drawn buggies instead of automobiles, and they dress very plainly.  They also speak English and either Pennsylvania Dutch and/or Swiss German.  They call those that are not Amish - English people.  They settled on land just east of the towns of Goshen and Middlebury, Indiana.  You can visit the Menno-Hof in Shipshewana for the history of the Amish/Mennonite/Anabaptists or you can check out this website for more about the Amish culture.  While in this area of Indiana, if you’ve never taken an Amish buggy ride before, you definitely need to.  There are many companies in this area that offer buggy rides at reasonable prices such as Buggy Lane Tours in Shipshewana.  I’ve taken two buggy rides near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where there are Amish communities, and really enjoyed learning more about their culture.
Indiana Amish Buggy
A town that is all their own is the town of Peru, which claims they are the Circus Capital of the World.  The circus has been a part of the town of Peru for over 100 years!  Every July for nine days (July 14-21, 2012), the downtown converts to an amusement park filed with rides, games, food, and entertainment including a circus parade for the Circus City Festival!  Don’t fear if you’re not in Indiana in July.  They have a Circus City Museum and Gift Shop open year round downtown.  It’s filled with photos, miniatures, displays, and costumes from circus past.
Peru, Indiana's Circus City Festival Parade
Yet another interesting town is called Santa Claus and yes, you can celebrate Christmas every day of the year there.  The town’s website states that the town was named on Christmas Eve of 1852.  The sound of bells made a jubilant child ring out “Its Santa Claus,” to which a town elder asked “Why not call it (the town) Santa Claus?”  The residents all agreed and the town of Santa Claus was born.  Within town there are many Christmas-ish named stores and attractions.  Also, there is a 22-foot tall Santa in the Santa Claus Park.  It’s looking toward both the original settlement of Santa Claus, Indiana and the town of Bethlehem (Bethlehem, Indiana that is).
The Welcome sign in Santa Clau, IN
The biggest resort that I know of has got to be the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Indiana, which is a 3,000-acre resort with two hotels, two spas, three golf courses, one casino, two conference centers, indoor/outdoor pools, indoor tennis courts, indoor basketball courts, stables, bowling alley, arcade, concerts, and they host a slew of special events.  This resort’s history goes back to 1832, when the first hotel was constructed.  One of the hotels in the resort, the West Baden Springs Hotel, had the largest free-spanning dome in the United States at the time and kept that record for 10 years. 
West Baden Springs Hotel's lobby
Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intention to run for president at a National Governors' Convention held at the French Lick Springs Hotel which is now the second hotel in the resort.  But, the town has been best known for being the hometown of the National Basketball Association (NBA) great Larry Bird ever since his professional basketball career took off.  He was given the nickname "the Hick from French Lick.”  That’s an awful nickname.

For those Nascar fans, you’ll want to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The first Indianapolis 500-mile race was held in May 1911.  The Speedway boasts that it is now the world’s largest spectator sporting facility, with more than 250,000 permanent seats.  They also note on their website that the Churchill Downs Horse Racing Track, the Yankee Baseball Stadium, the Rose Bowl Football Stadium, the Roman Coliseum, and Vatican City ALL can fit inside the Speedway’s oval, which covers 253 acres.  WOW!
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis is also Indiana’s state capital, so stop by and visit the capital building.  No matter how long you have or what day you’re in town during the week, the statehouse tour office offers various tours that are 15, 30, 45, or 90-minutes long – you choose.
Indiana State Capital Building
While in Indianapolis, check out the Indiana Historical Society.  They have a really exciting looking building full of interesting exhibits.  They use a lot of innovative technology with touch screens, 3-D pictures, digital grand piano playing Cole Porter music (Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana) and within the building is something about all 92 counties in Indiana.
The Cole Porter Room at the Indiana Historical Society
Another awesome looking museum in Indianapolis is their Children’s Museum.  You can even have your birthday party there!  Right now they have dinosaur exhibit, a Lego Travel Adventure exhibit, a Mr. Potato Head exhibit, a hall of mirrors, and a carousel.  I had fun just exploring their website!
The Carousel at the Children's Museum
Towns and counties across the United States have various fairs and festivals paying homage to various fruits, vegetables, plants, and trees.  Parke County is no different.  In February and March, when maple syrup producers begin tapping the maple trees that provide sugar water for making maple syrup, it’s time for the Parke County Maple Syrup Fair!  You can tour maple syrup camps, see how maple syrup is made, and sample its wonderful flavor. 
Maple Syrup
In October, Parke County also hosts Indiana’s largest festival, the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival.  Parke County, with 31 historic covered bridges, claims to be the Covered Bridge Capital of the World.  I think they’re so quaint and beautiful.  I’d love to go to this festival.
Red Covered Bridge in Rockville, IN
As always, these are just the places I’d like to go to in Indiana.  If you know of anywhere else in Indiana we should check out, please leave a comment below.  See you next week when we’ll explore what’s just round the corner in Iowa and their covered bridge festival.

**Photos were found online if not noted**

Friday, April 6, 2012

Illinois - Outside of Chicago

In my last post, we discussed Chicago, Illinois.  Despite there being a lot to do in Chicago and that city having the largest population in the state, that’s not all there is to do in Illinois.

Illinois claims to be the home of four US presidents: Abraham Lincoln (16th US President), Ulysses Grant (18th), Ronald Regan (40th), and Barrack Obama (44th).  You can go see various sites that show how they lived in Illinois prior to them moving into the White House in Washington, DC to serve as the US President.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky, chose to make Illinois home and it was where he raised his family from 1837 until 1861.  Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Museum in Springfield holds the original signed Emancipation Proclamation, a hand-written copy of his Gettysburg Address, and the evening gloves that he tucked in his pocket the night of his assassination.  His home in Springfield is the only house he ever owned.  A visitors’ center next door to the home tells the story of Lincoln’s time spent with his wife, children and friends in Springfield.  Also, in Springfield, is the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office where Lincoln launched his legal career.  It includes a visitors’ center, federal courtrooms and attorney offices.  In Petersburg, there is a village of timber shops and homes Lincoln worked at doing various jobs called Lincoln’s New Salem.  There you’ll find interpreters portraying pioneers and a theater in the park.  You can also find Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield.

Ulysses Grant
Ulysses Grant, born in Ohio, moved to Galena, Illinois in 1860.  He lived there till his presidency in 1869.  You can visit his home which was given to Grant by the townspeople of Galena in honor of his Civil War heroics upon his return in 1865.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico in 1911 and moved to Dixon for school and church.  You can visit both places to learn more about his childhood.

Barack Obama

Although born and raised in Hawaii, Barrack Obama did most of his work getting to the presidency in Illinois.  This is where he taught law, at the University of Chicago, met and married his wife, and they had two daughters here.  If looking for sites that Obama has visited, the state of Illinois has published their own Obama Trail to the Presidency that has all kinds of locations he’s been to.  

Not only did presidents journey through Illinois in their trail to the presidency, but other Americans journey through Illinois on two old historic highways.  As I stated in my last post, one of the original US highways, the famous Route 66 starts at the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago, and ends 2,448 miles later in Los Angeles, California.

Along Route 66 within Illinois, I found such cool places as the Route 66 Drive-In that has two drive-in screens playing at once, the town of Atlanta (in Illinois) that has a 19 ft tall statue of a man with a hot dog plus a Route 66 walking tour, and the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle with it’s own festival in Collinsville. 

The other major historic highway is the Lincoln Highway which was established in the early 1900s and was the country’s first coast-to-coast automobile highway.  It begins in New York City and ends in San Francisco (The Lincoln Highway Association, and The Illinois Lincoln Highway Association). 

Along both of these highways, you really come to find the true hometowns of the U.S. of A that might have been forgotten over the years due to the building of the major interstates.

Three other great places to check out in Illinois are:

1. Starved Rock State Park - bring your cameras so that you can capture the waterfalls and the bald eagles that nest in this area which is along the Illinois River.  There is also a cute lodge at the state park so you don’t have to stay far away.
Starved Rock State Park
2. John Deere FactoryJohn Deere has their world headquarters, a factory, and a pavilion museum in the town of Moline.  Also, an hour northeast of Moline is the John Deere Historic Site in the town of Grand Detour where you can see what it was like when John Deere worked in his blacksmith shop here and you can stroll through his home and the grounds.
John Deere Headquarters

3. Popeye and Friends Character Trailthe town of Chester is full of characters, Popeye character statues that is.

Other Great Informative Links:

These are just the places I’d like to go to in Illinois.  If you know of anywhere else in Illinois we should check out, please leave a comment below.  See you next week when we’ll explore what’s just round the corner in Indiana.

*All photos were found online*

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Illinois - Chicago

A few years back, three friends and I visited Chicago as part of a road trip around Lake Michigan.  It was cheaper for us to spend the night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, spend the whole day in Chicago, and then spend that night in Indiana.  You can see Chicago in a day if you really want to.  We didn’t take their subway system because it was so easy to walk around Chicago and see everything we wanted to see.  We did take a taxi back to our car at the very end of the day and it was pretty cheap.
We started our sight-seeing at the Buckingham Fountain.  It might look familiar if you ever watched the TV show – Married with Children.  It was in the introduction to the show.  It is a beautiful fountain along Lake Michigan that used to be the start of the famous highway - Route 66. 
Buckingham Fountain
Across the street is the Millennium Park.  It’s huge!  They have a reflective sculpture that is called “The Bean.”  It was pretty cool to take my own picture in front of “The Bean.” 
The Bean
My Reflection in The Bean
They also have a multimedia Crown Fountain where projected faces of Chicagoans playfully spurt water into shallow pools.  The kids there loved it. 
Crown Fountain
Walking down the edge of Lake Michigan, you’ll come to the Navy Pier, which has spectacular free fireworks on Wednesday and Saturday nights during the summer.  There is a carnival on the pier with a huge ferris wheel that I was just too chicken to go on and now regret it.  From the pier, you have a great view of the Chicago skyline.

After that, it was time to go find lunch.  Ever heard of the Billy Goat Curse on the Chicago Cubs (one of Chicago’s baseball teams)?  The man who put that curse on the team was Mr. William Sianis, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern.  Mr. Wrigley (Wrigley Field’s name sake) told Mr. Sianis that he couldn’t bring his billy goat into game four of the 1945 World Series because the billy goat stunk.  Mr. Sianis officially cursed the team and said they’d never win another World Series.  After the Cubs lost that game, Mr. Sianis asked “who stinks now?”  That was the last time the Cubs reached the World Series.  Do you believe in the curse?  Whether you do or do not, go check out the tavern that has a lot of history and order a “cheeseborger and some cheeps.”  By the way, it’s literally in the basement of the Chicago Tribune!  You’ve got to look for it.
The Billy Goat Tavern
We didn’t visit Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs) because it wasn’t near the other sites we wanted to see, but it’s a place with a lot of history too so if you’re into baseball, you should visit it.

A cute photo opportunity we saw was the Chicago Theater with their marquee being “Chicago”.  You might want to take your picture here as well.
Chicago Theater Sign
Next was the Sears Tower, now known as the Willis Tower.  At one time it was the tallest building in the world, and is still the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.  We rode the elevator up the 103 floors to see the spectacular views of Chicago and we weren’t disappointed.  You can also visit the John Hancock Observatory down the street which has the highest open-air viewing area in the world at 94 flights up.
View from the Sears Tower
It was then time for dinner and we were told that Gino’s East is the best place for Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza.  It was awesome but filled me up so fast.  The restaurant was kind of cool because people had left their names everywhere – on the furniture and on the wall.  
Gino's East
Afterward, it was time to head to the next state and go to sleep for the night so we hopped onto the interstate and headed just over the border into Indiana, which we’ll talk about next week.

In my research for this post, I found four sites in Chicago that I’d like to visit if I ever went back:

1.  Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry800 hands-on exhibits including a submarine, underground coal mine, and an airplane.  It looks like kids of all ages would have a great time exploring this place.
Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry
Photo found online
2.  Shedd Aquariumfeatures a Beluga whale encounter that lets visitors wade in and meet these gentle giants up close, and kids can dress like penguins.  How cool?!
Photo from the Facebook Page of Miki, a Beluga Whale
3 and 4.  I have some people in my family tree from both Lithuania and Poland.  I don’t know much about the culture in those countries so I would love to go visit the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture and the Polish Museum of America to learn more about them.

These are just the places I’ve visited or would like to visit in Chicago.  If you know of anywhere else in Chicago we should check out, please leave a comment below.  Later this week, we’ll explore Illinois outside of Chicago.  Then, next week we’ll discover what’s just round the corner in Indiana.

** Photos taken by my friends and I unless noted