Chicago, Lake Michigan & The House on The Rock

14 August, 2005

My father developed, through experience, a theory for holidays. He reckoned that a proper holiday had to get off to a bad start. We put that theory to the test in January on a short trip to Budapest when we discovered, 36 hours before travelling, that the boys' passports were out of date. Despair, panic, a day wasted at the passport office, and we had a fantastic holiday! British Airways obliged with the potential disaster for our fifth trip to America, when, a couple of days before our scheduled departure, the baggage handlers went on strike in support of sacked catering staff and Heathrow rapidly came to a complete standstill.

Normally, this would not have affected us. After all, we fly Continental from Birmingham right? Wrong!!! This time, some bright spark decided that the best way to see a different part of America would be to fly to ... say Chicago. British Airways, from Heathrow? Why not?

At that point, things started to improve. Our flight left on time, we took our own food on board, the inflight entertainment was good and it was as comfortable as you can expect from an 8-hour trip on a plane! On arrival at O'Hare, we expected the usual bad-tempered welcome from immigration, and were pleasantly surprised by smiling staff, who processed us as quickly as possible. The next surprise came at the car rental. We were done in minutes!!! Even more surprising was that once the paperwork was complete, we were told the location of the SUV parking lot and that we could chose whichever vehicle took our fancy!

The vague plan for the rest of the day was to find a motel then possibly see some of Chicago's sights. Central Chicago itself wasn't difficult to find, but a motel was harder to come by, and we ended up a good hour south of the city. By then the journey was catching up with us and we decided to stay put, have a swim in the motel pool, a meal and an early night.

Fully expecting hideous rush hour Monday morning traffic, Chicago once again gave us a pleasant surprise with an easy run in and cheap parking right by the Planetarium for "early birds". Being too early for any of the tourist-tour buses to be running, we took a leisurely walk around the Planetarium to take in the view of early morning Chicago from the lake. Whatever preconceptions we may have had, they soon vanished. Chicago in 2005 is one of the cleanest cities we've ever been to; the water in the lake is crystal clear with no rubbish at all.

With plenty of time for a day's sightseeing, we headed for Sear's Tower and spent the day seeing Chicago from the top of the tower and ground level from a tour bus, finishing up with the unusual - a visit to the Federal Reserve. Here's Tom and Chris, with a million dollars! Chicago was great, with friendly people, clean streets and colourful flowers everywhere and we thoroughly enjoyed our taste of the city.

Tuesday was planned for being as close as we ever get to being an easy day, somewhere close to the water. We spent the night near Saukville, north of Milwaukee, and started the day with a look round a fantastic motorcycle showroom we just happened to be close to! It also seemed a bit pointless to drive a long way, when there was plenty of shoreline close by. Harrington Beach State Park seemed like it would fit all our requirements! The beach itself was a mile or so off the highway, so our number 3 driver took a turn in the Jeep!

We pride ourselves on being able to track down unusual old iron in a variety of places, and this was no exception - a hand pump drinking fountain, made by Monitor. The beach was a delight, and for the first couple of hours we had it to ourselves. Admittedly, the water was a bit cold, but we've been trained in the waters off North Cornwall in October so it was no real hardship!

After a truly relaxing day, we headed west, finishing the day on the outskirts of Madison. The best way to round off a day in the sun is with a long, cold alcoholic drink. Now, good beer is not always easy to track down in the USA, but on finding a liquor store, I worked out the correct inquiry resulting in the best beer. "We'd like some beer which is the opposite of Bud Lite!". The understanding assistant came forth with a selection of Wisconsin local brews from the New Glarus Brewing Company - Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel and Uff-da.

One object the modern motel frequently provides in every room is an ironing board. It's a standing joke in our family that the iron and I don't cross paths very often, so, as a joke, one of my dear sons set up the ironing board as a treat for me while I was in the bathroom. The joke was on him when I invited him to put it away!!! Suffice to say, I took an excellent series of photographs of both Jim and Tom struggling with such an engineering masterpiece, culminating in the final achievement!!!!

Wednesday was a treat planned for us by Curt and Becky Andree - a visit to the House on the Rock. Our route there took us through Black Earth, and there, as we drove into the town was a huge boot, right outside a shop which claims to be the biggest shoe store in the mid-west. Of course, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check it out, but, as we were early, it wasn't open and we killed time by taking a drive along a side road, past some incredible yard art. The spines on the dinosaurs were inspired. After a successful mission in the shoe shop (score: 2 pairs of boots!) we headed towards Spring Green, stopping at a viewpoint for the best view of the House on the Rock above the trees. Also took a few family photos to send back home - Chris, and Jim and Tom.

The House on the Rock is unlike anything else we'd ever been to, but there was a definate feeling of affinity with the creator and his various collections ... how easily they get out of hand! This stunning display of glass was actually in the Ladies toilet! The most amazing part of the building itself is the Infinity Room, projecting 218 feet out over the valley below, with glass walls to appreciate the wonderful scenery.

At the end of an exhausting day, we were close to Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo, ready for the next stage of the adventure!

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©Dolly French 2005