Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Experience at the Archway

This post is made possible in part by Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

Driving home from the previous Utah road trip proved to be quite an adventure. First plug, my wife and I stayed at the same hotel as the trip out west. The recommendation still stands. When we woke up, we awoke to a winter weather warning, so we quickly hit the road again after breakfast as to try and get ahead of the storm.

We failed at that.

The drive from North Platte all the way to the Mississippi River (roughly 580 miles) was terrible. Ice and wind prevented me from driving faster than 60 MPH the entire way. The speed limit on I-80 in most of rural Nebraska is 80 MPH, and when we were pushed to drive slower than 40, I knew it was time to get off the highway.

We got off the highway just east of Kearney, NE, and stopped at the Archway. Boy, are we glad we did. With all the times I have driven west and back and passing under the Archway that goes over the highway, I have always wanted to stop and give it a look, and the poor weather provided us that time. I am extremely grateful for their hospitality.



The Archway is a museum that tells the story of the westward expansion of the American people, and also the growth of technology that connected the East to the West. It is a self-guided audio tour showcasing 1830's through 1950's.

When you first walk in, you are greeted with an escalator that led up through a mural of the western landscape. The escalator was flanked on both sides by faux rocks and ground, and mannequins of people also "climbing" towards the top of the stairs.



Note on the mannequins found throughout the museum: the faces are recreated off of photographs from the era they portray, so they are actual people. They were built by the Disney animatronics builders, and throughout the stay, I half expected them to move like the Disney animatronics. This was confirmed by one of the volunteers after I had gone through the archway.

Past the mural was a recreation of Fort Kearny, an important stop on the voyage west, and the conjunction of the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails. Here, the emigrants rested and restocked before taking off towards the western wilderness.



Next room consists of three stories, one story for each of the three trails as they converge, heading towards their respective destinations.


Left: Prospective prospectors (49ers) on the California trail
Right: Mormons on the Mormon trail
Oregon trail emigrants were on a mural.
After that, you pass into a room portraying the building of the trans-continental railroad, the Pony Express, and the telegraph. Also, you hear of the telegraph that told the West of the Civil War.

Up the stairs, and you are greeted with the passing of technology to automobiles, and an introduction to the Lincoln Highway. Here, you see tourist camp grounds, drive-ins, and a diner.



After this exhibit, you take the escalator back down to the lobby, where you can buy from the gift shop or pick up information on even more Nebraska tourist information.

This is a gem hidden in plain sight. I am quite happy that the weather forced us in. It has given me inspiration for future trips that I wish to report. Give yourself the much needed rest from driving, take an hour or more (we were there for almost 2 hours), and enjoy this treasure.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Chillin' at the Holiday Inn

This post is made possible in part by Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

My wife and I had to take a last minute trip back to Salt Lake City, and since that is a 22+ hour drive from our home, we had to stay in a hotel overnight half way between. We chose to stay at a Holiday Inn Express in Ogallala, Nebraska.

It was a new hotel, and built in a modern ascetic. Outside, it looked like a regular Holiday Inn Express, but the lobby definitely did not. The desk, and most the lobby, had minimalist lines and designs.



View of the lobby from the front door. Above: to the left, and the front desk. Below: to the right, and the public seating area


The room was sleek and modern. I especially enjoyed that there was a lounge in the room.

Standard 1 king size bedroom. Lounge in the background. View from the room door.
The staff was friendly, the breakfast was much needed, the rest provided was amazing. This stay was exactly the quality I expect from a Holiday Inn, and the convenience I expect from a Holiday Inn Express.


I look forward to staying again next week heading back home, and I recommend it to any I-80 traveller.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Great American Eclipse

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.


Before and after totality
For those who did not hear, or see, there was a total solar eclipse visible from North American soil on August 21st. It was the first solar eclipse total total solar eclipse visible in the Lower 48 since February 26, 1979, and the first total solar eclipse visible from one coast to the other since June 8, 1918. It will not be visible here again until April 8, 2024. For many American astronomers, and amateur astronomers, it was a spectacular event. It drew large crowds in those places where the total eclipse will be completely visible.

Such as Carbondale, IL. NASA, the Adler Planetarium, and SIU-C held a joint event to view the eclipse at the SIU campus. With my need to see new things, and my past as a physics student, I naturally had to see this event for myself.

My wife and I took the 4 hour trip south to see it. We were joined by one of my former IWU professors, and two of his students.

Leaving early in the morning so that we can find a place to park and stand, we arrived to find Carbondale crawling with people from all over the region to view the moon crossing the sun. Luckily we did not hit traffic too badly heading south. We parked, and hopped on the shuttle to campus.

Once we got there, Professor Perera set up his telescope and camera, and we waited for the main event. I handed out shaded glasses to everyone, and we were all able to look up at the sun and watch the moon pass over. It was a cool looking sight.

It was a clear, sunny day all day, despite concerns from the weatherman that it was going to be rainy and cloudy in the afternoon. However, once totality was nearing, the one cloud in the sky covered the sun and would not go away.


Poorly timed cloud cover.
Totality lasted just under 2 minutes and 40 seconds. That cloud hovered for more than a minute into totality. Luckily, right as I was about to give up hope for being able to see it for myself, the cloud cleared, and totality was visible. Everybody cheered. It was stunning.


Totality. Credit to Ms. Lopez, one of the group members
After it was over, we stayed to watch the moon completely clear the sun, then got dinner at a local Chile's. My wife thought she was clever (yeah, it was clever).

You can see the Corona peaking from behind the (Blue) Moon

Another 4 hour drive home, traffic being heavier than heading south, and we were home by midnight. It was a long and fulfilling day.

The total eclipse next year will be February 15, and would only be visible in southern South America. Who wants to come with?!

Or we can wait until 2024, and go back to Carbondale.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois

As my wife was driving to Peoria today with me in the car, we both mentioned that we do not understand how people can say that everywhere else in the world is so beautiful, and Illinois is so boring and lacks beauty. Clearly, these people have never been here. Ironically, the people who say this are those who have been born and raised here in Illinois.

Bloomington-Normal to Peoria is a short drive, and a common commute distance. Yet the shades of green in just the short drive are phenomenal and very diverse. Not to mention the yellow prairie flowers that occasionally break through the green background.

Being a mostly rural state, there is a lot of agriculture that dominates the landscaping. So, yes, hours of hours of corn and beans as far as the eye can see definitely gets boring to look at. Yet, the ground is hilly, providing shadows and contrast. No, we are not as hilly as the mountain lands, but we are not as flat as say Nebraska and Kansas, etc. The land is criss-crossed with rivers and streams, not to mention bordered by the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. There is also a fair number of lakes and ponds peppered throughout, also bordered to the northeast by Lake Michigan (not just Chicago and suburbs!). With water means trees and flora. With flora means deer, large birds, and other megafauna.

Outside of Chicago, there are a number of small towns. No, I do not mean Bloomington-Normal or Peoria. I do not even mean Pontiac! There are a lot of towns with no more than a couple thousand people. These are the towns where the bars are going to be the go to places. They may only have a bar to visit, other than a post office. The bars are going to have a "dive" feel to them, and are going to be patroned by farmers or other blue collar workers. If you ever want to know what is going on in small town America, these bars are the place to be.

The architecture here is 100% Americana. Small farm houses painted with muted colours, surrounded by picket fences. Water towers in the distance. Downtowns with rows of two story buildings, dating to the 1800s, early 1900s. Time moves slowly here. It would be similar to Missouri and Iowa, and other cornbelt states. 

This song as good shots of what I mean:



I never except Central Illinois to be a touristy location, not by a long shot. But just because it is not the busy urban life, nor the majestic mountains, nor the beautiful sea, does not mean that it does not have beauty. For those who do not live in small town Illinois, or even small town America, go out and spend a day in a town no larger than 10,000 people. Enjoy the small shops, the diners and bars where every patron and staff member know each other. Enjoy the Americana for what it is, and not the idealised caricature of it at Disneyland or Broadway. For those who do live here, spend a day to enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. I am well aware of how boring it can get, but a lot of that boredom stems not actually seeing the surroundings because we are blinded by being surrounded by it.




Thursday, June 15, 2017

To Wake Up In a City That Never Sleeps



This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.




What does one do when he enjoyed a weekend in Florida, and wanted to spend a week to fully explore an area? Go to New York, of course! However, a week still was not enough to even scratch the surface of what NYC has to offer.

My wife and I met up with my family to take a trip together to NYC at Midway International Airport in Chicago (they flew from out west), and we flew together into LaGuardia Airport. LaGuardia sucks! It is one of the worst airports I have ever been to. It is falling apart and seems poorly maintained. I am not alone in this opinion either. We flew on Southwest Airlines, which I am also not a fan of, but I seem to be in the minority on this opinion.

Right away, I found an English pub, Jones Wood Foundry, in the neighbourhood that we stayed at. It was even on the same block. I liked it so much, that my wife and I went almost every night. The highlight there was that they offer actual cask ale.

Also a daily experience for us was a French café found a couple doors down called La Moulin à Café. The owner was from France, and most employees were as well. Even most customers were French, and I seemed like I was in the minority as an Anglophone there. It was great. I do wish that I could have gotten to order in French, as I do not get many opportunities to use the French I have learned in Central Illinois, but alas, they knew I was an Anglophone.

Also next door was Gotham Pizza (no website). It was here that I got to experience the famed pizza-by-the-slice to-go. I never needed to leave the block that we were staying at if I did not want to.

First full day, we all went to Central Park. Our apartment was on York Ave, so it was only a short walk away. Central Park hits you like a ton of bricks, because it is a location that is suddenly without a ton a bricks (ha ha). We spent all afternoon here, walking around and taking pictures. We even had lunch at the Loeb Boathouse. We took a quick jaunt to the MET, but they were about to close, so we never actually went in that day. Instead we went to the Guggenheim Museum. That museum is actually pretty small, and you do not need more than 90 minutes to see everything, in at least minimal detail.


View of Central Park from the Loeb Boathouse patio seating
On the second day, we actually explored the MET. The place is so large, that we split up our group into two to cover more ground, and still could not see everything collectively. Something I definitely need to go back to. After the museum, we went to Yankee Stadium to watch a ball game, Yankees verses the Boston Red Sox. I am a Cubs fan, but have an affinity for the Red Sox, so I was happy to see them win that night, though it was very close, only 5-4.



The third day, we went to see Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre. I have loved it since high school, and it was also both my wife’s and youngest sister’s first time seeing it on stage. Then we checked out Time Square, Rockefeller Plaza, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We followed up the evening with a drink at McGee’s Pub, one of four bars, and the only remaining, that inspired MacLaren’s from How I Met Your Mother.



Thursday, we first went to the Empire State Building. I am a huge fan of art deco architecture, so was happy to see one of the most famous examples of it. Afterwards, we went to the see the New York Philharmonic season finale. Yo-Yo Ma was there, as it was also the tenure finale of head conductor Alan Gilbert.



The next day, we took the subway to Battery Park to catch the ferry to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty, and then to Ellis Island. We then went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.



Now that I am home and able to reflect on the trip, New York is not one of my favourite cities to visit. I love urban cities, so that was not it. I am not exactly sure why I enjoy cities like Chicago and Toronto, but I am not a fan of New York. However, I still want to go back and explore more fully. We saw a Broadway musical and the Philharmonic, but we were not able to see the opera or the ballet. I would like to go see those. I would like to get more out of the MET and Central Park. I would also want to visit One World Trade Centre, the Bryant Park Hotel, and the Chrysler Building. Just as two days is not enough for Clearwater, one week is just not enough for New York. I will just avoid Southwest if I can, and absolutely stay away from the armpit that is LaGuardia Airport.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Clear skies at Clearwater


This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

A group and I went to Clearwater Beach, Florida. There is so much to see and do on the island of Clearwater Beach that leaving the mainland is unnecessary. We drove down, spent two nights there, and then drove back. Overall, it was a successful trip.




We stayed at a yacht on the south end of the island, which was walkable to everything we wanted to see. That was fantastic.

The first day, we spent all day at the beach. The beaches are of white sand, and stretch for a little more than 2 miles. The water is clear and blue. It is no wonder than resorts line the beaches of the island. We spent a few hours at the beach that day, and then went to dinner at Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill. I highly recommend getting dinner there at least one evening. It is a great place to listen to great live music while having a cold drink and watching the ocean.



Day 2, we spent all day walking up and down the storefront part of town, and engaged in touristy things. After breakfast, some of us went to do parasailing and jet ski. Others found a speed boat tour, and enjoyed a time viewing Clearwater at 40+ knots. Regardless, there is a sizeable dolphin population, so everyone got to encounter a dolphin at least once.

Being on the Gulf of Mexico, the cuisine is heavy on the seafood. It is not hard to find a restaurant with freshly caught seafood. The fresh seafood includes: grouper, mahi mahi, shrimp, and then some. Seriously, it does not matter where you go, you will find fresh seafood. Or just stay at Palm Pavilion. That works too. (No, they are not paying me to write this article.)



Clearwater Beach is renowned most for its famous sunsets. When the conditions are just right, there is even a green flash as the sun sets. Almost everywhere you look, there is a countdown to the sunset. Almost every bar has a sunset special (or specials), and there is even a specific dinner cruise for viewing the sunset. We went to a rooftop bar on Night 2 to watch it.



My only regret for this tour was that it was too short. There is so much to see on Clearwater Beach, and the surrounding area, that 2 days is simply not enough. Not only is there Clearwater Beach, but also Clearwater on the mainland, which has a number of theatres, museums, and an aquarium, and the headquarters of the Church of Scientology, but also Tampa, which is only 20 miles away, is also full of things to see. The next time we go, it would have to be a week, minimum. And I do want to go back soon.

Friday, April 7, 2017

"Six by nine. Forty two."

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.




One day, my lovely wife came up to me wanting to try out a bar in Milwaukee called 42 Lounge. We were free that weekend, booked an Airbnb, and drove up almost immediately. That Saturday was a bit rainy, damp, and chilly (which seems to be the majority of days we take off randomly like this), but the Sunday morning was bright and sunny, but still rather chilly. Otherwise known as Wisconsin in March.

Upon arrival in the late afternoon, and checking into our room, we needed dinner before hitting up the bar. We took to an Ale Asylum location on the riverfront (Milwaukee River) downtown.



After dinner, despite the cold and the rain, we walked to 42 Lounge. It was amazing. More details below.

After a good few hours at 42 Lounge, we took an Uber back to our room, and the Uber driver told us to go to Café Benelux in the Third Ward. Here we found one of the few restaurants in the States that serves poutine! Any long time reader of this blog will know that my wife and I love our poutine! Also, they serve beer during breakfast hours, even on a Sunday! If I was not already impressed with Milwaukee before, I sure was then. Seriously, beer for breakfast in a public location! Now there is a liquor law I can get behind.



The main purpose of the trip was to try out 42 Lounge;. Both my wife and I fully embrace the “geek” or “nerd” culture, and this bar caters to this crowd. The name of the bar itself is “nerdy.” 42 comes from the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The logo is written in pixels. The cocktails are themed, such as the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a drink so strong, that it “is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.” Plus mead. So much mead. That alone made my night finding that out. Their nights are themed, such as D & D Sundays and Hearthstone Mondays. Not only can you drink there, but you can also play games, both the video and board varieties. After ordering a drink, you get to pick a game out of a binder, and you get to play it. They have Xbox 1 games, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and more. Be sure to keep your drinks coming.



The night we made it to 42 Lounge they were hosting a Beauty and the Beast themed party in response to the new movie starring Emma Watson that had released earlier that week. Patrons, or guests, were to either cosplay as a character, or come dressed in (semi-)formal attire (no one was dressed in formal white tie, but there were plenty of semi-formal black tie). The drinks were themed, with my favourites being rose champagne garnished with rose petals, or the Gaston’s No Belle Prize shot (whatever was in that shot was delicious). Thank God for Uber after that evening.



We enjoyed ourselves immensely, and when we go explore Milwaukee fuller in the future, we will make sure that we make it back to 42 Lounge multiple times.