Saturday, June 30, 2007

A day in Minnesota...

Minnesota was pretty much a travel day. We didn't really stop, but we saw a lot of beautiful scenery along the way.

There were rows of orchards...

And fields...

Since they named a city after Saint Paul, it seemed only fair that they also named a town after Saint Peter!

But mostly it was fields and fields of corn...

and more corn...

and even more corn.

We even found a newly paved road or two. Very nice!

Of course there were more farms...

and lakes...

and road for as far as the eye could see.

We even saw fields of windmills, scattered over miles of rolling hills.

It was a great day to ride.

Even the horses were having a good day.

This railroad track would look a lot better with a train, don't you think?

Now take a look at this picture...

Wall Drug is a store in western part of South Dakota, and the best example of marketing the world has ever seen. For the next three hundred miles, there are hundreds of billboards describing the wonders of Wall Drug. I'll go into greater detail in a future blog. Just keep in mind, this billboard is deep in Minnesota, and a long way from Wall, SD!

And now back to the road.

We had decided to end the day in Sioux Falls, SD, and call it an early day. Maybe I'd catch up on blogs, or catch a movie. Alas, the fates were working against us. The entire town was booked up for a softball tournament, so we'd have to drive deeper into South Dakota in order to find a place for the night.

As you can see, there isn't much to look at in Eastern South Dakota. As we drove down the road, Paul used his old helmet phone and got us a reservation in Mitchell, SD, at a place called the Thunderbird Lodge.

We drove the freeway towards Mitchell, and I was amused by the plethora of billboards along the road. Not only for Wall Drug, but for many other attractions in South Dakota. My favorite had to be the one for the Thunderbird Lodge. It said "Thunderbird Lodge - Free breakfast, cheap liquor". What had we gotten ourselves into?

We arrived, checked in, and because this was the only room left in town, we got the special suite. Not too bad. Although I never did find the cheap liquor. ;)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Wisconsin: The land of cheese and iPhones...

The next morning in Appleton, it was time to swap one friend for another. Larry was ready to head back to Michigan, and Paul's friend Fred was ready to join us for a little while.

Paul, Larry, Fred, his wife Bonnie, and I head over to a restaurant called "The Machine Shed" for breakfast. I don't know if the Machine Shed violates my friend Shreeshes "no chain restaurants" rule. They apparently have quite a few restaurants, but they are all family owned. So is this still a chain? I don't know, but they make a wonderful breakfast.

We had a great time, talking about this trip and trips we've all taken. Fred and Bonnie had recently made a trip to Gettysburg and had an amazing time. It's a shame we didn't know about all the cool things before we went, because it sounds like they saw some great stuff.

As we finished breakfast, Larry headed off to his ferry, Bonnie headed home, and Fred, Paul and I hit the road.

Not surprising, we saw many more miles of rolling green hills and farm land...

And even the occasional lake...

As you can see, it was a gorgeous day!

I love days like this!

Fred had to leave us way too early, but he gave Paul a lot of advice on good things to see along the way.

One of the his recommendations was a place in Osseo, WI called the "Norske Nook", where he assured us we'd find great pie. Since pie is one of my favorite motivations, we were definitely going to Norke Nook.

We arrive! We both order pie, apple for me, rhubarb for Paul.

I guess I've been spoiled by years of Julian pies, but theirs was okay. As we enjoyed our pie we discussed the most important topic of our journey so far. How do we each get an iPhone?

We were only a hundred or so miles from Saint Paul, MN. If we got on the interstate right now, we'd make it before their big rollout at 6:00pm. Obviously, we got on the interstate!

We arrived at the mall at 5:40pm. Would anyone in Minnesota buy a $600 phone? Take a look...

There were over two hundred people ahead of us in line. We waited patiently and hoped there would be enough for everyone.

Almost there...

I have to say, Apple really knows how to run a railroad. They were processing sales at an incredible rate, and within fifteen minutes of them opening the doors, Paul and I had our new toys!!!

I'll post a special "iPhone" blog later. It's pretty darn cool!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wandering in Wisconsin...

After an enjoyable stay in Chicago, it was time to head up to Wisconsin.

It was a perfect day to ride. It was a bit overcast and not too hot. It was going to be a relaxing day.

As you would expect, when you drive down Wisconsin's country roads, you see a lot of beautiful farm land.

And farms...

There is something really comforting about seeing rolling green hills for as far as the eye can see.

Today we were going to drive around Lake Geneva, WI. Oddly enough, the sixth grade summer camp I went to is on Lake Geneva. I was really looking forward to seeing it again, but there weren't a lot of places to actually see it. The lake is surrounded by properties, so we had to settle for these brief glimses of its sparkling waters.

We did stop for a tasty lunch at Harpoon Willies in Williams Bay, WI. If we can't see much of the lake, at least I can get a tasty burger!

Then back to our jaunt around the lake...

It didn't take very long to get here, so we decided to head into Milwaukee to see the Harley Davidson plant.

Well we found it... kinda. It turns out that the Harley Plant we went to is no longer a Harley factory. Its now offices for the company, so there was nothing for us to see. I guess we'll just head North to Appleton to see Paul's niece, Stephanie.

But first, another trip into the urban blight of Milwaukee. Larry and I have decided that we won't let Paul navigate in cities any more. Its just too scary!

Other than a homeless guy with a bedroll and a bizarre love of passing ambulances, we escape Milwaukee unharmed. So we head North.

We arrive in Appleton, Wisconsin, check into the Hampton Inn, and wait for Stephanie to arrive.

Stephanie arrives and we head off to dinner. Stephanie's husband Dan can't join us, since he's off playing golf, but we have a wonderful time having dinner without him. Then he does head over, but goes to the wrong brew pub. Appleton has to be a pretty cool place if there are so many brew pubs that you can go to the wrong one!

Shortly after dessert, Dan arrives. Dan is as nice and friendly as his wife, and so we all end up talking for awhile. All and all, it's been a good day!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town...

We're off to Chicago!

We have a few miles to go to get there, so for the most part we take the major freeways.

It was an uneventful drive through Michigan, but when we got to Indiana it was another story. It started to rain pretty hard and we quickly pulled over and put on all our rain gear.

Going through Gary Indiana was a bit of an adventure, with roads filled with ponds full of water. We managed to avoid the hazards, but it made for some slow going.

Larry and I have discovered that Paul is a great navigator on cool country roads. But when it comes to cities, he has a gift for driving into... questionable areas. That and his GPS loves to take surface streets, so it literally took us three and a half hours to drive from one side of Chicago to the other! It took so long, and it went so slowly, that Larry's bike actually overheated.

Finally, we made it to the North side of Chicago, and our humble home for the next two nights, the Super 8 Hotel near Loyola University.

Paul got the three of us tickets to the Cubs game the next day, so we decided to walk to the EL station (an "EL" is an elevated train, for those of you who've never lived in Chicago) and take the train to Wrigley Field.

On our way there we saw quite an unusual sight...

Yes, that's a car that drove through the front of a video rental store. According to the police on the scene, the driver thought she was putting her car in reverse, stepped on it, and drove through the front door. The impressive part is that by the time we get back from the Cubs game, the car will be gone, and the window will be replaced. Makes you wonder if this happens all the time. ;)

After our brief detour, we finally get on the train and head into the city.

Oddly enough, we got to the game three hours early, so we found a nearby pub, Sluggers, and stopped for a couple of beers and a lot of fried appetizers.

Oh, I mean, I had lots fried appetizers... Paul and Larry ate celery sticks and carrots.

Now it was time for the game. It almost didn't matter how the Cubs played or who they were playing. Wrigley Field is the best baseball park in the entire world. I swear, I'd see English Cricket there if they played it. Thank God they play baseball, because I enjoy it a lot better.

There is just something wonderful about sitting in those stands and watching a ball game. And as much as I appreciate all the parks that emulate the great ball parks, there's nothing like the real thing.

And here's the first pitch! Okay, the first of four or five first pitches. Very bizarre. And I am not kidding, the second, first pitch, was pitched by Tony the Tiger. Okay, a guy in a Tony the Tiger suit, but still, quite weird. And I only had two beers, I didn't imagine it!

Speaking of which, take a look at this next picture very carefully. Yes, that is a beer vendor walking the aisles. Old Sytle isn't my cup of tea, but I have to love a baseball park that brings you beer to your seat.

The Cubbies were on fire! They were on top of their game today, and it was clear they would win easily. Paul chose a great game for us to see.

The interesting part about Chicago is that if you lived across the street from Wrigley Field, you got to watch the games for free. At least as well as you could from across the street. A couple of years back they decided to add more seats to the park which blocked the view.

In any other city, that would be that. However, in Chicago, all the buildings affected were allowed to build bleachers on their roofs, so that people across the street could still see the game. This picture shows a couple of buildings with bleechers on their roof. Pretty cool, eh?

The Cubs won the game, 6 to 4, just as the clouds rolled in the lightning lit the sky. As we walked to the EL station the rain began to pour.

And pour it did. Here is a picture of Wrigley from our EL platform. In minutes we were in gale force winds and torrential rain. Time to get on the train and head back to the room to get ready for dinner.

The three of us had all been on the Chicago leg of the Route 66 trip we took a couple years ago. On that trip we went to Lawry's for prime rib, and it was really good. This time around we decided to try someplace new, and Larry had a place in mind. A steakhouse called Smith and Wollensky, which has twenty years of reviews saying that they are the best steakhouse on earth. Well with reviews like that, we had to give them a try.

We went to our rooms, changed, then after a break got back on the EL and headed back on the EL to Smith and Wollensky. They had a special, bone in filet mignon that none of us could resist. So we ordered three, as well some tasty crab cakes and a couple of really good side dishes.

The crab cakes were amazing, and here Larry demonstrates what it would look like if he did eat the delicious and completely unhealthy, four cheese Macaroni and Cheese with truffle oil.

As you can see, the special looks pretty amazing!

The food was really good, although the service was a bit spotty. Our original waiter didn't bring me a menu for ten minutes. Then another ten minutes passed before another waitress decided to take over. Fortunately for us she did. We had some amazing cow!

Then it was time for dessert. Once again, Paul will demonstrate what it would look like, if, he actually ate the delicious and unhealthy dessert. Of course, Larry and Paul ate nothign but healthy dishes, and I was forced to eat the Mac and Cheese and the monster chocolate cake all by myself.

It was another wonderful visit to Chicago, one of my favorite cities in the world.

Tomorrow we will bid Chicago goodbye, and make our way into Wisconsin.