ALL I want for Christmas is a Segway!
Hi folks, sorry about the long delay in blogging: but this time we have a legit excuse. We were actually *travelling* the US of A in the Ford Explorer. Apt huh?
Okay okay, the real story is that Gene had a conference in Chicago - and Chicago was rather fun the last time I went courtesy of ST a few months ago but I didn't get much chance to really really explore. Plus, this time G was able to claim 1/2 his hotel bill off from his training funds, so why not? It meant that we could stay on the Magnificent Mile - which is the expensive downtown shopping stretch with all the big name hotels...
The thing was, his program ended mid week, so we decided that we'd do a driving thing and go from Chicago, anticlockwise around Lake Michigan - literally. Dunno how familiar you are with the area, but essentially, we drove from Southeastern end of MN, across Wisconsin, into Illinois and Chicago, then took a long drive from a suburb called Aurora where the outlet malls were and then, across northern bit of Indiana, up into Michigan, and then into the upper peninsula, then all the way down back to Rochester. Sounds complicated? Should try driving it!
Back to my looooong and tiresome narrative: two fridays ago, armed with some beer, a bottle of wine and two big backpacks - in the Ford Explorer because we figured the Porsche simply could not fit all the shopping we were planning to do - we drove the five hours to Chicago.
But halfway through we saw the signs to the Iron Skillet
Now this is a real roadster diner, it has HUGE portions catering to the truckers.
There are outlets on most major highways in the US, but there's not a single one in the Minnesotan state, so to our glee (we first ate at an Iron Skillet during our Arizona trip keryonks ago) we stopped and ordered Chicken Fried Steak. Let's just say the slabs that arrived were bigger than my face - couldn't finish mine but G managed to wallop all of his.
Anyway, we arrived in Chicago, and this is where G had to readjust to city life.
Real culture shock for bumpkins like us who have been living the quiet life for so many months.
But after a few drinks, G was right as rain and he was going "the city! the city!" with real glee.
In fact, he was deploring the fact that he *chose* to come to Rochester, as opposed to a city like Chicago.
That said, like all cities, Chicago does have bad traffic but we were fairly lucky.
Only caught once in a jam - people in the know will say this is well nigh incredulous.
We did all the touristy things - had drinks at the top of the John Hancock Building, had more drinks at The Peninsula Hotel's bar, ate deep dish pizza and ribs, and went to a Jazz club where the chaps were playing acid jazz live. They were REAL good.
PS, note to fellow drinkers: Chicago's bartenders make real mean Martinis, we had two one afternoon and was completely knocked out by 9 pm.
We of course had to go to Chinatown and despite having had lunch just an hour earlier, attempted to eat chinese food. Gene polished off his wanton mee ... and mine.
As for me, I lopped off my hair (did NOT want to step into nay Rochesteran hair salon after we smelled burnt hair at the supposedly top salon here) went shopping (my gosh, I spent sooo much moolah at H&M) and walked the entire magnificent mile, the beachfront and more.
Chicago has amazing parks and a great Art Institute. We spent an entire afternoon just looking at the Monets, Van Goghs, Matisses and a multitude of artists - the names of which I forget!
Am gonna break up the text with a photo now: That is what the Chicago-ites affectionately call the Bean. Its polished surface somehow condenses the entire skyline so you feel as if you're right in the middle of all the buildings - you don't wanna know how much it costs... think millions!!!
The Bean is in this magnificent place they call Millennium Park. And while I was walking the town, looking like a tourist with my lonely planet book (which had the map), native Chicago-ites came up to offer this poor sod some advice, and on the two separate occasions, both insisted that I visit the park. And they weren't wrong - its a great place; but better in summer cos they have free (!) music festivals and stars like Sheryl Crow will headline the event! Amazing.
But THE major highlight of the Chicago leg of the trip has to be our Segway tour.
Convinced Dr G to skip one day of the conference and I booked us this tour here.
Am not kidding when I say this is a serious must-do (!) if you're in the city.
It is SO much fun!!! The Segway must be one of the best things ever invented, except its so darned expensive I'll never be able to afford one.
The gyroscope in it makes it almost impossible to fall off, as long as you remember not to pull on the handlebars - just like wakeboarding.
And you simply tilt your weight forward and it goes!!!! It's brilliant.
The weather was pretty cruddy so Dr G didn't bother with too many photos of the city, but we do have a couple of corny ones from the Segway tour.
Like this one.
But here's a great stitch of the Chicago skyline...
But a real important part of the tour was our great guide, Steve. You could really tell that he loves his city. Ask for him if you guys are going on the Chicago Segway tour. He knows his stuff, and makes sure you have a safe ride. Ladies: A real plus is that he looks a lot like Richard Gere!
That's him! I wasn't kidding was I?
He was also nice enough to invite G and I out to his party later that with free beer! Now, how could we say no to that?!?
But all too soon, it was time for us to leave Chicago and our incredible hotel bill - and get going to Michigan.
Our first stop in MI (after a three plus hour drive in POURING rain and little visibility) was this charming little laskeside town called Saugatuck, which was chock full of galleries and stuff.
Unfortunately, we arrived at 8 pm - only to find out that MI runs on Eastern time, meaning that it was 9 pm, we had lost and entire hour. So it was off to dinner, and one of the best gumbos I've ever had, and bed soon after.
The next morning, we explored the town and guess what we found? Singapore, MI!
It was a port but it since has been covered by the silt in the bay... so its kinda like a Singapore ghost town of sorts... but there are signs to tell you where it stood. There's even a Singapore Yacht Club. heheheh.
We charged up to the North tip of Michigan, driving through a couple of seaside towns like Holland, MI (!) (told ya we were on a massive trip heh) up to Traverse city. There on either side are two peninsulas where there are a couple of wineries.
The scenery was suitably breathtaking... and of course, we did the de riguer stop, taste, swirl etc etc at at least nine wineries - i lost count to be honest... but we did mark them on the map as we toured.
G's extremely arty shots at one of them.
This old schoolhouse was refurbished and stands as a wine tasting room now.
Piling in the wine - yes, we ended up with 24 bottles...
At one of the wineries we also met this super sweet dog: Its a Bernese Mountain dog, its huge,, has wonderfully charming eyebrows and Cooper (yes, like in a barrell cooper) has a wine named after him and he greets each and every visitor to the vineyard.
Ain't he huge?
Another one of G's great shots of the Lake...
All too soon however we had to make our way home - and we decided to do an almost suicidal 12 hour drive from Traverse City, MI to Rochester, MN in one go. Think about it - its like being on a plane long enough to get from Singapore to Europe!
But enroute, we stopped briefly for breakfast at Petosky, MI, which is supposed to be Hemmingway's Birthplace.
The breakfast place - nice right?
With baked goods nicely arrayed:
And Nat and Gene rekatively fresh (this is two hours into the 12 hour thing)
The coffee was pathetic but the pot pies were yummmy!!
This would be the Mackinac Bridge that links the lower MI landmass to the upper peninsula...
After that it was a solid 11 hours of more driving.... let's just say we arrived but were totally zonked out!!!!