Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Everyplace has something to experience!

We ended up in Cedar Falls Iowa because it was about a day's journey from Rock Island IL, and it was coming up on Father's Day weekend and we needed to find a place to stay that wouldn't be the "typical go-to" type places for Father's Day.  Big Woods Lake Campground in Cedar Falls seemed to fit that bill...and as it turned out, they had the space (two left!).  We booked 4 days to just sit back and relax, read a book and "do nothing". 

After all, we thought, we are out in the middle of "nowhere", nothing but corn fields as far as the eye can see, "what's there to see or do, anyway, right?"  Well, one thing we keep learning is that everyplace has something to experience...

We found some brochures (everyplace has brochures!) that told us that just an hour away in Dyersville, the movie site for the Field of Dreams was still there.  It seems that the Lansing family have kept it up all these years and have it available for people to come see, and to use the ball field.  In July & August on every other Sundays they host "ghost ballplayers" to come out and play in old time uniforms just like in the movie.  Cool.  They had a "Family Day" going for Father's Day with music and cart to purchase sodas, etc. and souvenirs.  Kids and parents were playing ball on the field, while others were just tossing a ball on the grass, or having a picnic, or watching in the bleachers.  The Lansing's still live in the house and stay to themselves.  They don't charge for anything, they just want to "share the dream" with people.  It cost them money from their own pocket to keep the fields up, but they do it out of love, and to keep the "dream" going.  They pay a royalty to the movie people on everything they sell (not the other way around).  (They may get some help from the city because it's a draw for them, who knows, but I doubt much.)  It left you with a really good feeling about people...that there are still some out there.

On our way out of town, we drove through the tiny "downtown" of Dyersville to see their other "famous" building, the Basilica of St. Xavier.  An 1860 Ruskinian Gothic Revival Basilica, featuring two steeples that are 212 feet tall with 14 feet crosses that cap the spires.  It also has 64 cathedral glass windows.  Now that was something to go see!  It didn't disappoint.  We had the place to ourselves.  It was amazing.  The colors on the cathedral glass were so vivid with the sun shining through them, it was truly beautiful to see.  The Main Alter with the two Side Alters were carved with such detail, no picture could do them justice.  Who would have ever thought a tiny little town, in the middle of "nowhere" would have had such a thing of grandeur?  See...you just never know what you will find.

The one thing Iowa does have is barns!  And you give the ladies enough time and they are going to "make them pretty" one way or another, right?  So, somewhere along the way, someone came up with the idea of painting "wooden quilts" and putting them up on the barns to make them "prettier".  Now, I've read several different stories on how these got started, and you can go with which ever story you want, but the bottom line is, now a days, people are putting them up because they make the barn look prettier!  I certainly like them!  Towns like them too, and don't hesitate to "advertise" them, printing brochures, maps & web sites to show you how to find them. 

Our little area that we settled into for the weekend was no exception, so off we went on Monday, driving around to check out a few!  They were up on barns, machine shops, garages, shops and even over a couple of houses.  Some were easy to see, some not so much.  Some had one, some had 3 or more!  All were fun to see.  One web site I went to had the background stories of why the people chose the pattern they did, which was fun to read too.  Made it personal.

On our way out of town, we continued to keep our eyes open for more of the barn quilts as we were traveling out on a back road, staying off the Interstate. Then I remembered that "somewhere" near here there was a Winnebago Manufacturing facility.  I quickly looked it up, and found that I was right.  If we quickly changed direction, we could make their 1PM tour!  So, we pulled into the nearest gas station, checked our map, read the info, and decided, yup, let's do it!  So, off we went!  (the fun of having a steering wheel and no deadlines you have to meet!)  We got there a little after noon, checked in at their Visitor's Center and found out that there was plenty of space on the tour, so we settled in and had a bite to eat and changed our shoes ("close-toed shoes required"). 

The tour lasted about an hour and a half and was quite interesting.  No pictures allowed, so I've nothing to show you.  I have to say tho, that it did change my mind about Winnebago, they do look like they make a very good product (no, I'm not interested in trading our sweet rig in, thank you very much!).   We met some really nice people afterwards that are planning on "going full-time" in about 2 years and had heard me say that we were full-timers for almost 5 years, so they asked us what we thought about a Class A vs a 5th Wheel.  We shared our thoughts, and ended up chatting with them for quite a while.   That's one of my favorite parts of being out here, meeting nice people!

All this just goes to show you, this crazy life style of ours is full of surprises, wonderful ones most of the time!  Around every corner is something new, someone new...life is good!

...on the road in Iowa,   Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Relaxing in Rock Island Illinois...

After weeks of almost non-stop sight-seeing, a week of just sitting back and relaxing, sure sounded good.  Jack has been wanting to see the Rock Island Arsenal for a couple of years, and this was the first time we've been close enough for him to get to it, so I booked us into the KOA for a week...a couple of days for him to enjoy himself at the Arsenal and a few days for me to just sit back and relax, read a book or two and do nothing....ahhh

That first night however, the town was celebrating the weekend with what they called their annual "Gumbo Ya Ya Festival" a Mardi Gras themed event.  They were having several bands playing Zydeco, Jazz, and Cajun along with the spiced food to go with it.  That's just my kind of fun!  So, off we went.  It wasn't to bad, I mean it was in Illinois after all!  There was one Cajun band that was quite good that had a washboard player who had brought his grandson with him that was quite the showman!  He was such a hoot!  Probably around 7 or 8 years old, but boy could he move!  The band, Creole Stomp, made me really miss New Orleans...

Jack was out the door first thing the next morning, ready for his day at the long anticipated Arsenal.  I had the day all to myself!  Phone calls to family...then the dreaded defrosting of the freezer before settling down to read.  "Chores before fun" I was always taught growing up, makes for guilt-free pleasures!  ;-)

Jack came back that afternoon "happy as a clam", filled with pictures and stories to share.  He was able to see the whole museum all in one trip tho, so no return trip needed.  The rest of the week was 'wide open'.
We learned that John Deere Harvester Works gave tours of their plant near by (and we love plant tours!) we made a quick call to make a reservation.  What fun!  They take you in a John Deere-style tram with head phones to be able to hear the tour guide (a retired worker) for an hour and a half tour through their plant.  It was really complete, from nuts & bolts to seeing the painting to the completed harvester being driven out, and let me tell you those things are HUGE!! Wow!!  Afterward we went over to their Pavilion which is like a museum, showing the history of John Deere, including his original plow, his early tractors, on up to the current ones.  They let us climb aboard the new ones and there were even videos to "drive" them as if you were harvesting.  Really cool stuff in there!

The days turned hot, hot, hot and the pool was full!  Kids and their parents were having a great time, filling the pool, the Jacuzzi, the fountain, the bounce, playing miniature golf...me, I just found some shade and settled in and read a great book!

A few days passed and someone said, "have you been over to LeClaire to see Antique Archaeology yet?"  "You mean the place the Picker's from the TV show?"  "Yes!"  Well, guess where we headed?  ;-)  

We'd been to their other store in Nashville TN, but this is their "home store".   It's not that much bigger, actually, but still really cool.  Fun to see a lot of the stuff that they collect from their show, to see their van too.  I have to say, I kind of hoped to see Danielle at the store...but of course she wasn't there (maybe upstairs in the office?).  I did overhear one of the staff talk with a couple about restoring a picture that she had just talked to Mike on the phone about... kind of cool... It was just fun to be there.  Of course most of everything was out of our price range, and...we really don't have room for a giant old "Phillip Morris Boy" anyway...

Afterward we wandered the town a bit and ended up at the Buffalo Bill Museum.  Seems he was born in LeClaire.   They had some interesting pieces from his past, along with a variety of other local collections to look at.

All in all a nice outing.  By the time we got back, the pool was empty...the sky was black and the rain drops were starting to come down hard.  It wasn't long before lightening and thunder soon followed.  Cleaned everything off nice and pretty, cooled the temperatures down a bit too and that was nice a change.

We'll be off in the morning.  Moving into Iowa, heading west for awhile...

...on the road, Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Land of Lincoln...

I have long been a big fan of our 16th President.  He, along with a few others, had a very tough presidency, and in my personal opinion, handled it as best as any human being could.  I admire that he went into his presidency with the agenda to do his best "to free all men, and make them equal".  No easy task, not then, not now.  It cost him his life, but I doubt that if he had known it then, it wouldn't have changed his mind.  His personal life was just as tough, loosing two of his children while they were so young.

Spending time in Springfield IL was enlightening because it mostly concentrated on the 27 years before he went off to Washington.  It was nice to see when he arrived and first met Mary, their courtship, their first home together, raising their children.  Learning more about the boys (and how "unruly" they were!)  There are statues all over town of not only Abe, but of the family as well.  The interesting thing was seeing his progression in age.  Like all our presidents, especially those with troubling terms, you can really see his face change through the years.

They have even turned his home into a National Historic Site, which is nice.  They have preserved several blocks surrounding it, recreating and protecting (as much as they can) his neighborhood.  It was nice to be able to tour not only his home, but the area as well...a little "step into the past"...

We were super lucky and were there for the first night of the 114th Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Civil War performing a Flag Lowering Ceremony at Lincoln's Tomb each Tuesday during the summer.  They perform Civil War drills, firing of muskets and a cannon.  It was quite moving.  Afterward,  they opened the tomb for viewing, which was very impressive with 8 bronze statues depicting various phases of Lincoln's life.  As you enter the memorial it contains a rotunda, a burial room, and connecting corridors that lead you to the burial room.  At its center stands a 7-ton block of reddish marble inscribed with Lincoln's name and the years he lived.  It marks the approximate location of the burial vault, which is 30 inches behind and 10 feet below.  Along the south wall of the burial room are four crypts containing the remains of Mrs. Lincoln and three of Lincoln's four sons, Edward, Willie, and Tad (the eldest, Robert is buried at Arlington).

I had read that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum was extraordinary and not to be missed...and they weren't wrong.  They pull out all the stops here, using holographic and special effects theaters, live actors, life-like statues, historic displays, replicas from his boyhood home through to the Presidency and on through the Civil War.  40,000 sq. ft.  It took us hours to go through it all!  It was not only educational, it was entertaining, which was nice for a change in a museum!  ;-) 

Not everything in Springfield was about Lincoln... they do have a beautiful park called Washington (yup, just about everything does have a President's name tho!)  And in it is a lovely carillon, the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon.  Once again, we were in the "right place at the right time" and were able to catch their first weekend in June concert.  Lovely.  While the carillonneur played, I roamed the gardens and smelled the flowers and took pictures...what a lovely way to spend a summer's evening!

Springfield is also the State Capitol of Illinois (so of course we had to add it to our list to go visit).  Actually, like many others, they have two...old and new.  First up, was the new...
They give tours, and we were so glad they did, because, I have to say, this was the most beautiful and most ornate State Capitol we've been in thus far!  Wow!  They even give you a lovely 30 page color souvenir booklet, they are so proud of their Capitol.  (and can you believe, they don't even have a gift shop?)

A few blocks away was the "Old Capitol" (c1837-1876), the one Lincoln served in, and was laid in state after he was shot, was nice for the times.  Generals Sherman and Grant and one of their Majors met us in the Senate Chamber and shared how they got into the service.  It was a fun and interesting look into their history. 

The Union Train Station, where Lincoln left for his campaign, where he left Springfield for Washington...now houses memorabilia from the movie "Lincoln" by Steven Spielberg.

We enjoyed our visit to Springfield.  They, like St. Louis have their own "special food" item, it's called a Horseshoe.  It starts with a thick slice of bread, then a meat choice (traditionally, I was told, a hamburger patty, so that's what I got) then a special cheese sauce poured over that, then the whole thing is covered with French fries!  Well, I had to try it of course ( I ordered a "pony" which is half the size)!  Not bad!  It actually gets addicting once you get started...

After two very busy weeks of "sight-seeing" we are off to Rock Island IL where Jack can go see their Arsenal that he's been wanting to see  for a long time, and I can spend some time just sitting back and relaxing!  Ahhh...

...kicking back in Illinois,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Gateway to the West!

As we've traveled back and forth across country these past four plus years, we've gone through St. Louis more than once, but never stopped.  I've waved at the Arch, promising myself that some day "I'd be back"...that someday finally came.  For the longest time, I never knew you could actually go up inside the Gateway Arch...then, I found out you could...that's when I told Jack we were definitely going to visit St. Louis!  ;-) 

We found a campground right downtown, and boy was I glad we did!  We soon found out that there was so much more to see here than just the Arch!  Wow, tons actually, that we ended up extending our stay!  But first, the Gateway Arch...

Just our luck, we came one year to early...you see, they are in the midst of a huge remodel that will be completed this time next year.  It should really be beautiful too.  It will include a pass-over bridge from the Old Courthouse over the freeway to the Gateway Arch which will be nice too.  Lots of greenery, trees, flowers, fountains, all that kind of stuff.  But for now, you still get to go up inside, take the cute little (and I mean little!) cars up into the Arch and wander around the top at 630' high and enjoy the fantastic view.  Loved every minute of it.

Our timing was perfect that we were able to catch the Becky Thatcher Riverboat afterward for a one hour tour along the Mississippi to further see the two states (Missouri on one side and Illinois on the other).  Interesting to see the progression of bridges over the years, from old stone & iron to the more modern style.  We even saw the old Union Light & Power Co that was build for the World's Fair in 1904, and is still operating today.

Back on land, we stopped in to see the Historic Old Courthouse.  It looks like a capitol building, and is often mistaken for one in pictures.  It's as pretty as many we've seen inside too!  It's where the famous case of Dred & Harriet Scott filed suit for their freedom in 1846.  The court ruled that they were not citizens of the US because they were black.  Opposition to the decision was one of the causes of the civil war and led to the 13, 14, & 15th amendments to the constitution.  The Scotts' struggle for freedom stands as a defining moment in the history of the civil rights movement.

Driving around St. Louis was so much fun!  They gave us a great map of the area that showed all the various "neighborhoods" pointing out each area's distinction (there were 19!).  For instance, there is "The Loop" where St. Louis' Walk of Fame is, stars all along the sidewalk of all the famous people who were born here (Hollywood eat your heart out!).  They also have a life-size statue and a whole area set aside for Chuck Berry!   Then, there's Lafayette Square, where there are blocks and block of Victorian-era "painted ladies", along with other beautiful historic homes.  The Hill is "Little Italy" where even the fire hydrants are painted green, white and red!

Downtown manages to tuck in the most though.  One thing they all have in common, is churches.  I've never seen so many, and huge!  It seemed like a cathedral was on every corner, but the biggest by far was the The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis (c1907-1982).  It was mind boggling.  The whole inside was covered in over  83,000 sq ft of mosaic art that took 75 years to complete.  The word "beautiful" just doesn't do it justice.

Another mind blowing experience with the City Museum.  Now, this is nothing like any museum you have ever been to, trust me on this!  It's more like a jungle gym on steroids that has a few museum pieces thrown in for the grown-ups to enjoy while the "kids" enjoy themselves!  WOW!  Is more like it!  It's like they raided every junkyard in every city and hired the best welders around to put it all together in the best mazes a kid could possibly enjoy, then added some wonderful decorations, great imagination, and kept building from there!  Did I say WOW?  If you've got kids, it's worth a trip to St. Louis just for this!

What's a trip to such a historical city without a visit to their cemeteries?  They have two huge ones The Bellefontaine and Calvary.  The Bellefontaine was where the most famous and wealthy were buried.  Such well known as Sara Teasdale (1st Pulitzer Prize winning poet), Adolphus Bush (founder of Anheuser-Busch Brewery),William Clark (Co-captain of Lewis & Clark expedition), and many St. Louisianans.  The Calvary Cemetery was more difficult to get around as no one was there to get a map from, and it was over 470 acres.  We were able to locate Tennessee Williams (poet & playwright) though.

St. Louis even had it's own food style too!  Of course most places do, but not to the extent that we found in St. Louis, we had to try a couple.  Now, we are big fans of frozen custard, so first up was a place called Ted Drewes.  When we got there, there was a long line...good indication.  The list of flavors and "specialties" was long.  I don't usually go into all that stuff, but the day was hot and muggy, so I tried the "Hawaiian"...OMG!  I fell in love...I should say, WE fell in love...Best ever!!!   Next up was pizza.  Now, Jack's a real picky pizza eater, so this was going to be tricky.  But...St. Louis style calls for a "an unforgettable cheese called Provel. It's flat, crispy and is served cut into squares instead of wedges.  So, worth a try, right?  Well, turned out to be pretty good!  Different!  So, I went for 3...what they call "Gooey Butter Cake". The name says it all.  It's "gooey" and it's "buttery" and it almost comes in the consistency of a "cake".  Seems it was an undercooked mistake in one of the area's old German bakeries, now a hip confection.  When we got there, they were almost sold out for the day, only two left!  Not bad!  So, 3 for 3!  I left it at that, why ruin a good thing?  ;-)

St. Louis may be the "Gateway to the West", but before one heads out, there is so much to see and do in that wonderful city, one needs to "stay awhile and enjoy", I'm so glad we did!

...on the road to Illinois,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/