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All Around The Country (2011)

a travel blog by shoshtrvls

A road trip around the country in July, 2011

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Getting Going

Philadelphia, United States

I hoped it wasn’t an omen. The first car Hertz gave me had no gas – not a drop. I barely made it around the block and back to the counter. The second car they gave me had a huge flashing “SERVICE” light going off on the dashboard. But the third time was the charm; the red Chevy Matrix definitely fit the bill – big, comfortable, and with an iPod adaptor. Things were looking up.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 11, 2011 from Philadelphia, United States
from the travel blog: All Around The Country (2011)
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Getting Going - Part II

Lake Harmony, United States

At midnight, Ellery and I took our places just past security and waited for Jordan to arrive. And waited. The screen said her plane had landed, but there was no Jordan. Evidently, the screen did not say what had actually happened … “the plane is delayed pulling into the gate.” But, eventually, this tiny pixie of a person emerged through the doors. She saw us before we saw her and there she was. Ellery whispered, “no one looks like they do on Facebook, do they?” Jordan did, but I think both Ellery and I were surprised that she was no taller than us. Those height genes that their biological father had – definitely recessive.

Driving home, Jordan kept remarking, “this is so cool!” She eyed Java on Christian as we neared home so Tuesday morning that’s where we headed for breakfast.

As I still hadn’t packed, and had several errands to run, and because I thought the girls should get to know each other without motherly intervention, off they went for a brief intro to Philadelphia’s history, walking to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Constitution Center, with a stop back a Rita’s on South Street for the obligatory Philly water ice. (As a vegetarian, cheesesteaks were not on the list for Jordan).

So, it was time to go. After brief introductions between Jordan and Tanya, we headed to the next neighborhood watering hole for lunch – where else but the New Wave. Somehow it was fitting – the Wave was where I ate every Monday when I was pregnant; it was the first place I went to after Ellery was born, it was probably the first place I had taken Ellery as an infant, so now it was Jordan’s turn.

We eventually hit the road around 1:30, at which time Jordan piped up from the back seat, “I’ve never seen mountains. We don’t have them in Florida.” Well, actually, we don’t have them in Eastern Pennsylvania either, notwithstanding the fact that they call the Poconos “mountains.” No worries though – there will be plenty of awe-inspiring mountains on this trip. In any event, we made it to Lake Harmony just after 3. Unfortunately, they were treating the lake so we couldn’t take the boat out. Instead, after a brief tour of our house and the meadow behind, the girls put on their bathing suits, and hopped into the lake, first and then, with a bit of instruction from Ellery, kayaking. Given how little Ellery kayaks, it was an interesting choice of diversions.

After that brief interlude, it was dinner at home (a pizza that we had picked up at New Wave) and then the two of them made the obligatory evening stroll to Hog Heaven for ice cream.

The evening ended with me upstairs reading, while the two of them played monopoly in the living room. There was something very cool about that – as only children, neither probably played many board games. But here they were, doing what siblings do.

It was a very cool first day.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 12, 2011 from Lake Harmony, United States
from the travel blog: All Around The Country (2011)
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Pittsburgh Through A Soup Can

Pittsburgh, United States

Really, did you expect to find us anywhere else for breakfast? Piggy’s it is.

Some observations. Jordan eats virtually nothing. Jordan has a sharp, sarcastic sense, but in a very quiet way. It’s nice to see someone give it back to Ellery every now and again. And Jordan texts constantly – really, how much is there to say and how many people are there to say it to? Ugh, I’m old; this is the comment of an old person who just doesn’t “get it.”

So, after Piggy’s the journey really began. We hit the road just before 9, heading to our first stop – Pittsburgh. To be honest, this was much of Pennsylvania that I had never seen before – there are some mountains here, and lots of rolling farmland, and some beautiful views. Unfortunately, Jordan slept through much of it; Ellery read through much of it. We passed through State College, near Altoon and Johnston, past Nanty Glo. We stopped at the side of the road for peaches and sweet corn, and then we came into Pittsburgh. I had never been here before, and driving into the city is a pretty awesome sight. Just through a tunnel, just as you curve around a bend, the city appears, all towers and Bridges.

I had decided that the Andy Warhol Museum would be a good focal point for this first day; little did I know that Jordan loves Andy Warhol. So, she and Ellery lingered long in rooms of pictures and videos that, to be honest, I just didn’t get. If a museum is supposed to increase your appreciation of an artist, for me, the Andy Warhol Museum failed. But not for the two of them, so the stop, including a brief walk around Pittsburgh, was a success.

Another interesting note; Jordan is so unfamiliar with cities, and particularly northeast cities, that I think she’s rather taken aback by the age, the grime, the small houses. In her mind, it all looks like ghetto, when in reality, it’s just a city.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 13, 2011 from Pittsburgh, United States
from the travel blog: All Around The Country (2011)
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The Road To Cleveland

Cleveland, United States

From Pittsburgh, it was on to Cleveland, our planned stop for the evening. It was a relatively short drive, punctuated by the usual Pennsylvania highway road construction (indeed, the drive from Lake Harmony to Pittsburgh had no less than 5 construction areas). Arrival was relatively uneventful, but dinner was comical, as we arrived at the small cafe across the street just as it was closing. Still, we were served and ate as quickly as possible while the waitress did her best not to push us out the door while, effectively, pushing us out the door.

After, the girls headed down to the hotel swimming pool, while I headed to the hotel bar to meet up with Jay, a friend I hadn’t seen in a year. It was wonderful catching up with him and we talked for a quite a bit before I returned to the room, instructed the girls to turn off the electronics that were occupying their time, and get some sleep.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 13, 2011 from Cleveland, United States
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Rock Around The Clock

Cleveland, United States

It’s pretty amazing how much can be packed into one day. After a brief hotel breakfast, we headed to the 9th Street Pier (I think that’s what it is called) on Lake Erie and The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

I expected this to be at most a two hour diversion, but the museum is overwhelming and we spend nearly four hours there. It’s sensory overload, but well worth it. Really, the only disappointment was that someone decided that Taylor Swift deserved to be included in the “Women of Rock” exhibit. (Oh, and someone tell me, what do they have against Elton John? He’s nowhere to be found).

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 14, 2011 from Cleveland, United States
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Go Blue!

Ann Arbor, United States

Eventually, we got back on the road and headed toward Chicago. As we drove through the beautiful farm country of Ohio, a small voice from the back seat asked, “Will we be going through Michigan?” And all of a sudden, I remembered one of the first things Ellery told me about Jordan – she was a huge U of Michigan fan and wanted to go to college there. “Nope, sorry, it isn’t on the way.” An hour later, and there was the exit sign “Ann Arbor – Rte 22 – next left.” Well, what would a road trip be without a detour? So, to Ann Arbor we went.

It was only an hour out of the way, and we spent only an hour there – most of it with Jordan shopping for GO BLUE wear, but it was all worth it. I think she was momentarily the happiest person on earth.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 14, 2011 from Ann Arbor, United States
from the travel blog: All Around The Country (2011)
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The Big City

Chicago, United States

Then it was back on the road – through the wine country of Michigan (who knew there was so much of it?), through Indiana, and eventually to Chicago, where we ended the night with a stroll down the Magnificent Mile and ice cream at Ghirardelli. (Um, no, there’s no “Welcome to Illinois” picture, because we cross the border after dark – best I got is the Chicago sign at sunset).

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 14, 2011 from Chicago, United States
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Did We Really Do All That?

Chicago, United States

A packed day, in every sense of the word. First, we had to pack – yes, the one place where I had planned to spend more than one night in a hotel room. Because when we arrived last night, they did not have a room with two double beds, resulting in very cramped quarters for the three of us. But we were promised a new, “upgraded” room for tonight, so we had to pack our bags and leave them with the bellman as we headed out for the day.

We walked down Michigan Avenue, stopping briefly for breakfast, then over the river, eventually arriving at Millennium Park, where we dutifully visited the Cloud Gate and the Pritzker Pavilion.

Then it was on to the main attraction of the day, the Art Institute. I had forgotten just how much amazing art is there. Trying to do it in a few hours is impossible, but try we did. We may even have succeeded (as long as you ignore the fact that we skipped everything but the highlights).

By the time we left the museum, somewhat after 1 p.m., life in the park and along Michigan Avenue was in full swing.

Jordan was dazed by it all, ready to pack her bags and move to Chicago. And I have to say, I don’t blame her. It was a beautiful Chicago day – sunny and bright, but not to hot. People were lively, musicians were everywhere, and everyone had a spring in their step. (By the way, have I mentioned that Jordan is a slow walker? She is, or maybe the Schillers are fast walkers).

Much as we wanted to saunter, there was no rest for the weary (which I was) because we had tickets for a 3 p.m. architectural boat tour. Unfortunately, our docent was less than thrilling, and the girls were bored by the narration, but as always, the amazing buildings of Chicago were enough to keep us going.

After such a busy day, then, it was nice to return to the hotel and find that, yes, they really did give us a nicer room. Not just two beds, but a mini-suite, which was a welcome respite before dinner and a movie. Yes, indeed, I had the poor judgment to schedule our vacation for the very same week that the last installment of the Harry Potter series was released. We couldn’t get tickets to see it last night, but I managed to get what I believe was the next best thing – tickets for tonight, so the girls can at least say that they saw the movie on the day it was released. (This seems to be important, but I know not why).

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 15, 2011 from Chicago, United States
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Boring and Mundane, Punctuated By The Mighty

Sioux Falls, United States

A day of driving. Though cornfields. And more cornfields. Who knew there were so many cornfields in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota? Congress, I guess. ADM, I guess. It’s a lot of corn out there. And wind farms, plenty of wind farms. Which at least answered a question from earlier in the trip as we passed several trucks hauling massive wing-like things that clearly were not airplane parts. Now we know what they are, at least. Despite the picturesque Andrew Wyeth-like farmhouses on hills, there’s really not much between Chicago and Sioux Falls. Jordan mostly slept; Ellery mostly read, and we managed to get through it no worse for wear.

There was one truly amazing site that we passed, though, and that’s the Mississippi River. It is really awe-inspiring coming upon it – it is huge, and I did not expect it go be so vast, and so populated with lush, green islands, Huck Finn’s Story notwithstanding. It is definitely a mighty River.

Unfortunately, Jordan was the only one able to get a shot of it, which doesn’t do it any justice. You see, we expected to be able to take photos at the Tourist Info Center just over the Minnesota Border but … thanks to the budget impass and MN government shut-down, all the rest areas in MN were closed.

Oh, one other unexpected adventure – the bottom of the car fell off! Well, almost off. Fortunately, we made it to Sioux Falls with a bit of assistance from some duct tape (the wonder invention), where a wonderful hotel clerk, seeing our bedraggled faces, gave us a beautiful room and directions to the Hertz car rental location where, after a few hours of exasperation while the girls went swimming at the hotel, I finally got a replacement vehicle.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 16, 2011 from Sioux Falls, United States
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Keystone, United States

Leaving Sioux Falls, South Dakota at first did not appear to be much different than Minnesota. Or Wisconsin. Or Illinois. To me, it was all one long bug-splattered highway ahead.

But very quickly, we realized that it wasn’t the same because, unlike those other states, South Dakota has … WALL DRUGSTORE! And not just Wall Drugstore, although that was the most ubiquitous of the road signs, but also Reptile World! 1880 Town! Old MacDonald’s Farm! Petrified Forest! In short, we had come upon a portion of I-90 that has more roadside attractions per square mile than any other place in the world, or so I’m guessing. And there’s a reason for that – the number of families doing this drive through South Dakota to Yellowstone as a summer roadtrip is astounding. From packed tiny Toyotas, to SUV’s, to pickups hauling airstreams, to truly massive tour buses, there are hundreds of them … thousands of them. And squished in between are bikers, many of them on their way to Sturgis. But, there’s a good reason they are all here. There’s amazing stuff here.

First, a brief turn-off in the middle of the Grasslands National Park. Who knew there was such a thing?

Then, not much further ahead, we got our first glimpse of a few bluffs, but there was no doubt that we were arriving at the Badlands. Another hour or so and there it was, the turn off for the Badlands National Park. And it was spectacular – first, from a distance, the wall of jagged mountains and then, closer and closer, until we were upon them.

The drive was spectacular, and we stopped a few places along the way, but not too often because we were driving through the hottest part of the country during one of the hottest heat waves ever.

Immediately after the Badlands we finally arrived … 250 miles of road signs couldn’t be wrong – Wall Drug! Free Ice Water! Lots of people! Many things to buy! OK, it was cheesy, but fun.

Motoring along, our next stop was Mt. Rushmore, which we reached around 4:00. It was still over 108 degrees out, so I confess, we didn’t take the interpretive walking tour, or ohh and ahh over it for long. Rather, we came, we saw, we ate ice cream, and we looked for a hotel in Keystone to spend the night.

But the day was not over yet. First a stroll around Keystone where we ran into the one person at the Hertz counter in Sioux Falls who stood up for me during my struggles, and then,after one of the worst meals I have ever had in my life (always beware of the buffet), at dusk we headed to Crazy Horse to see the monument that’s been more than 50 years in the making, and will most likely be another 100 before it is done. That was followed by a cheezy laser show which became absurd when it ended with Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be An American" (somehow, I don't think the native americans would appreciate much of the lyrics) and a quick trip back by Rushmore to see it lit up at night.

permalink written by  shoshtrvls on July 17, 2011 from Keystone, United States
from the travel blog: All Around The Country (2011)
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Welcome to my travels. On this site you'll find recent trips and some very old trips. You'll note that for some trips I wrote very detailed reports (at least in the beginning), for others, I didn't even take notes of where I was on what dates. Nevertheless, I've done my best to document, to...

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