Tuesday, August 30, 2011

American Adventures: Part 5 (day 2)

Part 5: The Windy City (day 2)

Our Tuesday was spent finding as many things to do before we had to catch our evening train. It was a full and fantastic day. We were blessed with beautiful sunshine from the get-go and it really made for a great day.

Stop one: The Skydeck. Regardless of "naming rights" and name changes, this building will always be The Sears Tower to me (even if it's officially The Willis Tower these days). I hadn't been up to the 103rd floor in a long time. I think since high school. So this was a fun trip. It is, of course, completely overpriced. But places like this know they have a captive audience and that we'll pay whatever they ask. And we did. Alas...


I enjoyed some more Ferris Bueller moments while checking out the city from on high.

sky high scrapers

The Scot was brave and stepped into the newish addition to the building: The Ledge. They have a few of these boxes that are completely glass and see-through and completely 103 stories up. Have I mentioned I'm afraid of heights?

boy in a box!

While the views of the city and Lake Michigan were fabulous, my favorite part of the excursion took place just beyond the main gift shop. We rounded a corner and my nose perked up to a particular smell and my eyes lit up at a mid-century bit of styling. Is that? Could it be? Maybe? YES!


Injection Molded Abe Lincoln and I enjoyed some time together. Though he later became a gift for my sister (and both she and her husband did the same thing I did upon touching him - sniffed. Because nothing says Mold-a-Rama quite as much as that perfect smell. It's the smell of childhood).

The other plan for the day was a boat tour. This trip really had a lot of boats involved (and there are more to come!). If you're ever in Chicago, I can't recommend this enough. Led by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the boat tour is 90 minutes of cruising along the Chicago River (all branches) and learning about the city's buildings from a really unique perspective.

The views were amazing.
architecture tour highlights

As far as tours go, this one was a bit pricey. And if I were to go again in a dead-of-summer heatwave, I would've brought a hat and perhaps a little fan. But it was totally worth it. I hope to do it again at some point in the future!

a long way up


iris and the tower

After an afternoon in direct sunshine on the water, we headed for shade. And found it in a sweet little riverside park. While we relaxed, the boy snapped what may be one of my favorite photos of the trip:

up there

And we got in the obligatory self-portrait. (They always make me smile).

obligatory self-portrait on a tuesday

After a nice rest in the park, we ate dinner at the historic Berghoff Restaurant (Berghoff's beers have long since been brewed in Wisconsin - just in the back of my last American apartment, actually). I forgot to snap pics, though.

The adventures shall continue with tales of rails. Nearly a whole day on them...

Monday, August 29, 2011

American Adventures: Part 5 (day 1)

Part 5: The Windy City (day 1)

The US isn't noted for its convenient rail travel. Not many lines and long ones at that. Our train from near home in Wisconsin to Chicago had a bit of a delay which started our trip to Chicago with some stress. And by a bit of a delay I mean that some construction detours on the rails left it more than 24 hours behind. Yep. You read that right. 24 hours. The Empire Builder normally takes about 46 hours to run its length. So since we were to be getting on toward the end of the line, a delay that started the previous afternoon wasn't helping. Thankfully they hopped us on a bus to Milwaukee and we caught a train there. Yay!

on the train - finally!

While in Chicago, we stayed with my cousin, her husband and their adorable 3 1/2 year old daughter. I got to read bedtime stories. It was pretty great (although I apparently forgot to get any photos of the family...oops). We played tourists to the max. I hadn't been to Chicago in a few years. And rarely as a tourist (past trips were for visiting college friends or as a teacher on a field trip). We arrived on Sunday night, but had all of Monday and most of Tuesday to play tourists.

First touristy stop: Millennium Park. And "the bean" (aka: Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor). We had a lot of fun playing with reflections.
the bean!!

the boy and the bean

fortuna reflects

I really think Cloud Gate is a gorgeous piece of public art. It reflects the city and the sky and the people and the interactive nature of such a piece is, to me, part of what makes a piece of public art really work. The more people can connect with it, the more they'll enjoy it.

Next stop: The Art Institute of Chicago. Now, though we visited Chicago and its great museums about once a year or so while I was a kid, I somehow had never been to the Art Institute. And I minored in Art History - I love art museums! But it wasn't someplace I wanted to trek to Chicago on a day trip to see alone. So the post-college years in Wisconsin just never saw me get there. I was really glad to finally get to tick this one off my to-do list (and I hope to go back sooner than later and see the bits we didn't have time for!).

Seeing Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte was such a treat. It's been a favorite piece of art for ages. I really wanted to find a field trip group of kids, grab The Scot, and run around a la Ferris Bueller (sadly, it wasn't really field trip season).

FINALLY! in person!

the boy and the art

Chagall's America Windows were simply stunning.

Fortuna tried to make a new friend (*wink*wink*nudge*nudge*)

well, hello there.

We ended our Monday with some classic Chicago deep dish pizza from Pizano's - which turns out to be a top pizza place which we happened to stumble across. What luck! (But we should've ordered a small pizza instead of a medium!)


After lots of museuming, and wandering, and general touristing, we slept quite well! I'll be back tomorrow with tales of our Tuesday in Chi Town.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

American Adventures: Part 4

Part 4: Our State Fair is a Great State Fair

our state fair...

You know what I'm talking about, right? Maybe not? Oh then, watch this and revel in the glory of Rodgers and Hammerstein:

Now then, back to my adventures. Friday, August 12th was spent at one of my favorite summer destinations: The Wisconsin State Fair. We never went every year when I was growing up, but when we did go it was special. Later, as a teenager, I participated in the WI FFA Honors Choir and we got to stay in the youth dorms and perform for the last few days of the fair (it's a multi-week event). Being as the idea of a state fair in general is a rather American convention, I was quite stoked to take The Scot. We had a blast.

While I was pretty sad that the Biggest Boar competition was done and the mammoth daddy hogs had already gone home, I took solace in the beautiful cows, pretty horses, and adorable goats. Some of the goats were even pet-able. Which is always a good thing. I came home wanting not only tiny chickens, but also a pygmy goat. (No such luck, however).

i heart tiny goats

My favorite thing to do - an absolute Wisconsin tradition - is to have a cream puff. We were at the fair the day after they set a world record for the largest one ever. But the regular sized puffs are still pretty massive.

Even though I'm afraid of heights, I always like to go on the Skyride and see the fair from on high. It's just a fun view. Plus, it's a good way to sit down for a while after walking around on pavement for a few hours on a hot day! There's always so much to see, and we even found one place that had eluded us on the ground!

flying feet

It was a long day. And a hot one. So our last fair "to-do" list item came in the early evening: the pig races. These things are hilarious. The group that runs them actually comes from Missouri, but that's ok. We like them anyhow. The last time I went to the fair they had warm-up races with birds and goats. This year, however, it was strictly swine. And it was a hoot!

iris and the piggies

pig racing!!!

Before we headed home for the night, we stopped in to see the beginnings of the world's largest cheese sculpture. It was just getting started. But it was still pretty cool.

world's largest cheese sculpture

Oh, State Fair. How I love you. And what a great way to wrap up our time in Wisconsin. Maybe I'll see you again next year - who knows?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

American Adventures: Part 3

Part 3: Close to Home

I grew up near Madison, Wisconsin. A few miles outside of a small town (in American terms - in British terms it's most definitely a village) of less than 1000 people. But Madison has always been my playground. A mere 25 minute drive (to the edge nearest my parents' house, anyhow). My high school and college summer and winter break jobs were there. While I went to grad school in Milwaukee and moved back home I still found a great part-time gig to provide spending cash in Madison (albeit in the complete opposite end to the one I grew up near). It's one of the great Midwestern college towns and overall just has a great vibe. In December, I took The Scot for a wander around town and down State Street (one of the best quirky shopping streets in the world, in my opinion). Now that the summer was in full force, we went for other adventures. The type with lions and tigers and bears.

sad penguin

mmmm, fingers

The Henry Vilas Zoo is a great little zoo. And it's free! It was nice when I was a kid and has moved from nice to nicer to "wow - they can do that at a free zoo??" The children's zoo area got a total re-do in the past 5 years or so, including an awesome carousel (which I wanted to visit, but kindly agreed not to as the hoardes of screaming kids didn't really endear my dear boy to the idea).

nearly as tall as a vulture.

They've got a great rainforest house with birds and plants and even piranhas, an amazing little area featuring animals and wildlife (or lack thereof) from the great plains, and are currently working on creating a new area for arctic animals. This meant that my favorites, the mountain goats, weren't around. Vilas Zoo is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. I can't wait to see what else is new (and to see how the little lion cub {born in December} is doing!) the next time I have the chance to go. It'll be even shnazzier, I'm sure.


After the zoo, we had a little driving wander and ended up at Brittingham Park along Lake Monona. It's a lovely little park and as the sun was just starting to head toward the horizon, the light was gorgeous for picture taking.

a little windy

Additionally, they have a great swingset...



Our last stop en route home was at Ella's Deli. Now, if you've never been to Ella's before, it's a bit hard to describe. The building is shaped like a carousel (they also have a carousel you can ride outside) and the inside is decorated with every kind of animatronic gadget and colorful bauble you can imagine. And even a few you can't.

ella's deli

The food is alright, but we just went for the ice cream. Our table had a model railroad inside. Electrified. This was the place of dreams when I was a little girl. And it's still pretty awesome these days.

ice cream noms!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

American Adventures: Part 2

Part 2: Washington Island, Door County, WI

I've been going to Washington Island since I was an infant. A visit by my parents when I was a few months old inspired them to buy some property. We camped for years and then, about 18 years ago or so, they had 2 former motel a-frames moved to the land. Slowly, slowly, the buildings have been remodeled. Joined, shag carpet ripped out, kitchen added (they were just bedrooms + bathrooms), etc. The cabin is definitely still a work-in-progress. And far less than perfect. But still one of my favorite places in the world. No tv. No internet. Cell service if your lucky. There's a little radio and a landline (installed only after my uncle fell off the roof and broke his leg about 15 years ago). While I was there with The Scot we played a lot of Scrabble.

the cabin

To get to the island, you have to take a ferry. The ride takes about 30 minutes. We lucked out as it was a gorgeous, sunny day. Little wind. No big waves. It was a perfect ride. I hadn't been up in 2 years (since, sadly, I didn't get to visit the US last summer) and it was really like coming home. This is the place I spent much of my summertime growing up. Between trips in the family motorhome across the US and Canada, weeks spent at my grandparents', and the island, my childhood summers were always full and fun. It meant a lot to bring The Scot to this place. To me, it's a bit full of magic.

testing the waters

We visited Schoolhouse Beach, along the Northern shores, for a swim in the clear Lake Michigan waters. I don't think I've gone swimming there since high school! Such fun! It was a bit brisk, but still lovely. Iris came along, too. She looked every bit the beach babe! ;)

iris dips her toes in

A climb up a tall staircase and another winding up a lookout tower, and we were treated to the beautiful "mountain tower" views of not only Washington Island, but looking further to Rock Island and beautiful Lake Michigan.

the mountain tower

fortuna doesn't mind the height

I had a great time taking photos, and the boy had fun taking photos of me taking photos!

{in progress}

Of the many beautiful places, we also visited the Norwegian stavkirke. This lovely little chapel was created by local craftspeople and is owned by the Lutheran church. I've seen it from it's beginnings and as it's developed into a finished building with gorgeous gardens. I always find a sense of calm there.


fortuna and the kirk

We only stayed a couple short days on Washington Island, but it meant so much to include this visit as a part of our larger vacation. It's as much home to me as my parents' house is. I already can't wait til my next chance to visit.

our beach