Friday, September 24, 2010

LATEST TRICKS: From High Brow to Low Brow

Southern Wisconsin
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Today, after years of saying "we've got to go there,” we toured Taliesin--Frank Lloyd Wright's home, architecture school, farm and estate in Spring Green, WI.  Cindy, our tour guide, did an outstanding job.  The 4-hour tour was fascinating, informative, and relaxing at the same time.  Walking the grounds, as well as touring the buildings, helped give us a good sense of the "bigger picture” of Wright’s life and work.  Plus we had an opportunity to meet Sherpa, Taliesin's cat-in-residence and tour guide extraordinaire.

Afterward, we had a delicious and scenic lunch at the Riverview Terrace Café in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.  It was the perfect conclusion to our tour--a delicious lunch in a glorious setting overlooking the Wisconsin River--plus fortification for browsing the center's superb bookstore.

With our heads full of art and architecture, we wandered the country roads through Spring Green, Sauk City, Prairie du Sac, Devil's Lake State Park and Baraboo.  Devil's Lake was beautiful and surrounded by forest bluffs filled with rock outcroppings. 

Baraboo was the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. Circus.  It is home to both the Circus World Museum and the gorgeous Al. Ringling Theatre, which is being restored to its full glory.  It was a gift from Ringling to the community for its support.

We continued north to Wisconsin Dells for a look-see.  Wow!  This was a retro tourist mecca, complete with all the “requirements”—amusement parks, neon motel signs, two-story cowboy statues…you get the idea.  We discovered that Sinclair gas stations still exist when we spotted a giant Sinclair dinosaur.  Of course, we took advantage of the photo op with “Dino”. 

Other interesting drive-bys included the Ho-Chunk Casino and Wally's House of Embers--a classic 1959 supper club and cocktail lounge. 

As night settled in, we marveled at the amazing wooden rollercoasters at Mount Olympus theme park.  They certainly seemed worthy of a return trip!  Lastly, we grabbed a Mushroom-Swiss ButterBurger and a Sliced Prime Rib Sandwich at Culver's, a local fast-food chain that cooks up some tasty but naughty fare. 

Ready for our cozy bed in Verona, we headed back for a good night’s rest.
--Ted and Laura

Monday, September 20, 2010

LATEST TRICKS: Trolls, Norwegians and Swiss--Oh My!

Southern Wisconsin
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We were delighted to find that our motel’s continental breakfast included make-your-own waffles.  That was the perfect re-introduction to food after our bout with food poisoning.  We took it slow for the first part of the day, hanging out in our room, doing some blogging, and taking care of other details that had gone by the wayside while in Chicago.

In the afternoon, we set out to get acquainted with a bit of the surrounding area.  We headed west with our first stop being Mount Horeb, a lovely little community that has an interesting theme: trolls.  Apparently, there was a tree blight some years ago and they lost a lot of their trees.  What to do with all the wood and all the tree stumps?  Carve trolls and perch them on the tree stumps, of course!  Now, Mount Horeb is known as the Troll Capital of the World.  Mind you, the town is not overrun with trolls but you will come across the urchins regularly.

Down the road from Mount Horeb we stopped by Little Norway, a pioneer homestead which perpetuates the culture of our Norwegian immigrants.  A beautiful wooded drive led to the prettiest assemblage of Norwegian buildings.  The crowning jewel was the Norway Building.  Built in Norway for Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, it is a fine example of ancient Norse church architecture.  It was too late in the day for a tour but we were grateful for the chance to see this treasure.

We then headed off on some rural county roads through lush farmland. Endless fields of straw-colored corn surrounded us on both sides, often fringed with fields of soy that had turned a brilliant yellow in anticipation of harvest. The contrast of these colors against the green rolling hills was a sight to behold.

Soon we found ourselves in America’s Little Switzerland, New Glarus. This delightful town was bursting in Alpine character, from the chalet-style buildings to the many Swiss heritage shops.  Our drive around town also revealed another delight…cows!  Not of the dairy variety, but whimsically-painted fiberglass cows in front of various businesses.

All this Swiss-ness made us hungry, so we headed to the New Glarus Hotel, favorably reviewed for its Swiss-German cuisine.  It was darling! 

The atmosphere was true to the character of the town, and the food…Oh my.  Five different local cheeses on the salad bar, the best Split Pea and Ham Soup and Spaetzli we’ve ever had, and several things we’ve never had such as Roesti, Piccata Schnitzel and Filet Goulash Stroganoff.  It was impossible to pick a favorite—or to finish an entire entrée!  We took half of our dinner back to the motel, along with homemade German Chocolate Cake and Apple Kuchen.  Thank goodness for in-room refrigerators! 
--Ted and Laura

Sunday, September 19, 2010

LATEST TRICKS: Wright At The Beginning

Chicago, Illinois
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We checked out of our motel this morning and headed to Oak Park, a lovely Chicago suburb that was Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace and houses the world’s largest collection of residential properties designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  It was a dream-come-true to tour Wright’s home and studio.  Pam, our tour guide, was fantastic.  She used the features of the home and studio to illustrate the guiding design principles and evolution of Wright's work from 1889 to 1909, the period of time when he lived in Oak Park.  Much of what we saw was breathtaking in both its simplicity and its complexity. 

We then took the audio tour of the surrounding neighborhood to see many of the other homes that Wright designed and built.

Our audio tour was cut short by an unexpected circumstance—his and hers nausea and migraines.  We just couldn’t complete the tour.  Pondering what might have suddenly struck both of us at once, we realized that the symptoms started about six hours after eating breakfast sandwiches that morning.  As time passed, there was no doubt about it—we both had food poisoning.  All we wanted to do was get out of the city and on to our motel in Wisconsin.  At that point, it was rush hour in Chicago so we crept along in traffic for about forty-five minutes before getting up to cruising speed.  The highway became monotonous so we exited for a more interesting rural road.


We crossed the border into Wisconsin and took a drive through Lake Geneva—a gorgeous town surrounded by palatial estates and lovely houses.  This spot would definitely be worth a future visit.

We drove along local roads until dark and then hopped on the highway, skirting around Madison—the capital of Wisconsin—and eagerly arrived at our motel, the Super 8 in the Madison suburb of Verona

We were in the door, in bed, and asleep in record time. 
-- Ted and Laura

Friday, September 17, 2010

LATEST TRICKS: Touring Chicago

Chicago, Illinois
September 13, 2010

It was another picture-perfect day in Chicago.  We hopped the “L” into the city and boarded the Double Decker Bus for an extensive tour of downtown Chicago. 

We marveled at the vast array of architecture and enjoyed learning more about the history of this unique city.

After all that sight-seeing, we thought that cocktails at the lavish Palmer House sounded like just the ticket.

We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with bartender Shaunda and manager Lauren while sipping Goose Island Honker’s Ale--a beer brewed in Chicago--and chardonnay at the lobby bar.  The Palmer's lobby is a sight to behold. 

For dinner, we headed to another Chicago classic—The Berghoff, a family-owned German restaurant that has been in business since 1898. 

Laura had been there back in the late 1980s and loved the place.  It wasn’t the same quality and character that it was back in the ‘80s but it was still an enjoyable dinner.  Ted had never been there so he was glad for the chance to see and taste the history.

We caught the “L” back to the Pulaski station, shuttled back to our motel, and turned in with our heads full of images and information and our bellies full of tasty German food.
-- Laura

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

LATEST TRICKS: Lakefront Chicago

Chicago, Illinois
September 12, 2010

On this picture perfect day, we gave Rover a rest and hopped the Orange line of the “L” (elevated train) into downtown Chicago. 

Our original intention was to take the Chicago Trolley tour around the city but the Chicago Bears had other ideas for us.  As we strolled toward the museum campus to catch the trolley, a mass of humanity dressed in navy and orange were headed directly toward us.

We had unknowingly stumbled into the first of several waves of exodus from the season opener of the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.  We heard several critiques of how the Bears won by the hair of their chinny, chin, chin.  With transit buses consuming the museum campus, the trolley doesn’t go near there on game day and the chance of catching a cab to another trolley stop was less likely than being hit by a meteor.  So, we turned our attention to the magnificent views of the city and massive museums all around us.

We immersed ourselves in the Old Kingdom tomb of Unis-ankh at the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit at the Field Museum.  It was a profound experience to be able to touch Egyptian carved stone that was 5,000 years old. 

We paid homage to our beloved, recently departed kitty, King Tut, at the shrine of Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess. 

Sue--the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur fossil discovered so far--also made quite an impression.  The Field Museum is massive and we resolved to make this a primary destination the next time we travel to Chicago. 

We also managed to slip into the Shed Aquarium to visit the ethereal Beluga whales shortly before closing. 

Then, there was the “Man with a Fish” fountain—pretty spiffy. 

We caught the Shoreline Water Taxi from the museum campus across the harbor (Lake Michigan) to Navy Pier, marveling at the stunning Chicago skyline along the way.   

Navy Pier was such fun on a Sunday evening!  It was bustling with families and travelers.  We met some nice folks along the way, including members of the German band, Seaside Stars, who were shooting a promotional video.  They were asking for tongue-in-cheek quotes about the band from passers-by and we happily obliged.  A stop at the legendary Billy Goat Tavern provided refreshing beverages of Billy Goat Ale and Laura’s favorite, chardonnay.  Remember “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! No fries, cheaps!  No Pepsi, Coke!” from Saturday Night Live?  This is the place.

The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at the pier was quite a surprise.  We were expecting a few pretty specimens but were awed by the corridor after corridor of stunning examples of stained glass art ranging from Tiffany’s landscapes to religious icons to an homage to Michael Jordan. 

Next stop: the retro-marvel Shaw’s Crab House.  Ted’s jaw was on the floor in this 1930s reproduction blast-from-the-past bursting at the seams with period atmosphere, succulent seafood and hometown service.  We felt that we had traveled back in time as we sat in the Oyster Bar, listening to the 4-piece jazz ensemble BMR4 crank out some fantastic 30s swing.  We sampled everything: shrimp-adorned Bloody Mary’s, oyster shooters, a martini made with regional favorite Hum liquor (organic rum infused with fair-trade hibiscus, organic ginger, green cardamom, and kaffir lime), appetizer chasers of chilled crab, and unique house specialty sushi.  The salad loaded with seafood and the crab cakes were the savory icing-on-the-cake. Our bartender and waiter, Mauricio, was a doll (see photo below) and Maitre D', Louis, generously showed us around the restaurant and shared some interesting history. 

Well, we’d say that’s enough for one day!  We hopped the “L” back to our Pulaski stop and tumbled into bed for a well-earned rest. 
-- Laura