I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Heading home




We always want to make the best use of every moment of our time in a distant place, especially one we love.  So, with flights not leaving until late afternoon/evening, we had a morning to play with.  What should we do?  Go to the beach? hardly the weather for that.  Go for a jog?  Ha!

The challenge was to find somewhere close-ish to the airport, where we could relax and not worry about traffic conditions later in the day.  The thing is, having been here on several previous occasions, there wasn’t that much we felt we hadn’t seen before.  We wanted a simple, neatly packaged, worthwhile “experience” to keep us occupied for half a day or so.

But internet searches proved fruitless.  My Hero identified a couple of small towns which might be interesting, but we didn’t want to shop and in our experience, aimless walks at this stage of our trip prove frustrating and not that enjoyable.   More by luck than skill (though I’m going to claim the credit anyway) I hit upon the Chicago Botanic Garden which met all our criteria and fitted the bill perfectly.




Just 45 minutes from O’Hare airport, I can’t understand why it doesn’t show up in any lists of suggestions about what to do on a long layover there.  The lists are full of casinos, bowling alleys, shopping centres…and yet an hour or two in a gorgeous, year-round garden seems to me to be the perfect pre- post- or inter-flight activity.




We began with an orientation tour of the whole site on board a trolley, which made stops by the highlighted areas.  We had no time to see everything.  Really, I doubt that anyone could on a single visit.  Suffice to say that it whetted our appetite.




The garden is huge and features a couple of large lakes and several distinct areas, including this Japanese garden.  Our guide emphasized how different it looks as the seasons change, especially when the snow falls.




A large area of the park is a natural prairie through which there are pathways cut and guides to follow.




Non-native plants have been removed and what remains is the natural landscape as the settlers would have seen when they travelled through this region.




It wasn’t at all how I expected.  I think of “prairie” as grassland, but this was so much more.  Gorgeous!




The next stop was near the bridge to Evening Island.




There’s a bell tower over there and occasionally, there are evening concerts when people are invited to come, bring a blanket and sit on the grassy slopes opposite to listen.  Nice idea.




Our tour returned us to the visitors centre, from where we set out on foot to explore the gardens closer to hand.  It was warming up, the earlier rain shower had passed through and we were enjoying our morning.




The water gardens were just lovely.  We are having ongoing problems with our pond at home and were so envious of the immaculate presentation and gorgeous flowers in this one.  Mind you, we don’t have a chap in waders to maintain it by removing individual leaves…




I loved these peculiarly textured leaves!




All around the garden, there are sculptures.  I’d have walked right past this one had there not been a couple of people taking a photograph.  It conveys movement really well, don’t you agree?




I’m not a gardener by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew immediately that this was not an English garden!  Isn’t it lovely, though?




The waterfall area was a popular (and cool) place to be.  Interesting to note that this garden is affected by blanketweed too.




My Hero was rather envious of the means of dealing with it!




There was time for a closer look at the Japanese garden, then, so we crossed the Zigzag bridge and followed the pathway.




Occasionally, it’s reassuring to discover that we don’t have the exclusive rights to hooligans on this side of the Atlantic.  I always think of American people as being more “up front” than we British, so it was interesting to see that although there was a distinct air of disapproval, just like us, no-one said anything.  We tutted and moved on!




There remained one distinct area of the garden which we had not seen.




Sitting by the entrance was a chap wearing a fun T shirt. I think my Hero needs something similar, don’t you agree?




The landmarks of America in the Model Railway garden were all created from natural resources and I was especially impressed by the accuracy of the lettering on the Seattle market sign.




We enjoyed spotting a variety of features from previous road trips!




One of us might just have felt a little homesick Winking smile




It was getting near to the time we ought to leave.  The planes flying overheard were a reminder of the rest of our schedule and with the “just one more photograph” thought, we made our way to the car.  We’ll certainly be back here, possibly in similar circumstances, for it was an ideal place to spend our last few hours of our time in Chicago.




Mary’s flight was leaving a few hours before ours, so we said our farewells at the Departures drop off and waved goodbye.  Sad smile




On our way out of the airport area, look what we passed.  No, we did not stop!




My hero and I mooched around a local mall for an hour or two, people watching and trying hard not to buy anything.  OK, so the $10 Gap T shirt was simply too much of a bargain to leave behind, especially as I’d looked at it at full price ($29.99) just a day or so ago!




But it was soon time for us to leave as well.  We returned the car to the AVIS lot, marvelling as always how people arrive there with a car still stuffed full of all kinds of things (bedding, groceries, clothes) and proceed to empty what looks like their life out onto the car park.  Those who know my hero will not be surprised that we simply take out our suitcases and walk away, leaving an empty car Winking smile

So ended our tenth road trip.  1743 miles through four US states (no new ones this time!).  What fun we’ve had.  What stories we have to tell!

How lucky we are.


We are home




Lest you think we are stuck somewhere mid-Atlantic, we made it to the airport last evening and flew home without any unexpected events.  Not on that plane, of course!




Washing machines are humming away in California and Gloucestershire right now and tomorrow, when I’ve got my brain into gear, I’ll share the details of our last morning in Chicago.    It got off to a great start with that stack of blueberry pancakes.

I even finished every last bite.


Last day in Chicago




Not our last morning, though, so it was a difficult decision: Banana-Nut Waffle or Blueberry Pancake.  I guess the pancakes will be tomorrow’s choice Winking smile   Needless to say, the Corned Beef Hash fan has no such dilemma.




The hotel usually has a large flower arrangement in the lobby, but right now, there’s a Gauguin-inspired display.




Alongside the large vases of (real) mangoes and leaves, there are some interesting painty plates.  This is my favourite.




Closely followed by this one.

Don’t ask how I know they are “real” mangoes*




Just opposite here, there were some lovely reflections this morning.  Far more interesting than a party, even if there was a hummus dip on offer Winking smile




We had a clear plan for this morning.  As usual, though, it involved a walk along the Magnificent Mile.  Lovely!  (though actually, that photograph is of the view down Rush Street and not of the Magnificent mile at all…just thought I’d better admit to that <g>)




The Architecture Tour boats on the river were full on this warm Sunday morning.




Our target for this morning was the American Writers Museum (no apostrophe!)




Brand new for this season, Mary had read an article and thought it worth following up.




First stop was the Children’s Room, where displays of Charlotte’s Web and Little Women proved great reminders that some of our favourite books were written by American authors.




Around the corner was a lengthy timeline, with almost too much information to take in on a single visit.  Opposite was a wall of a hundred authors, highlighting their principal works.  The museum was almost completely interactive, so these boards were there to be turned to find out further information.  Above is the “box” labelled Dale Carnegie, How to Make Friends and Influence People 1936.   Some boxes played music when opened, others had a short video or a photograph to illustrate a point.  Of course, there wasn’t time to open every box, so we chose those which piqued our interest most and thanked heavens that there was only a few other people there, so we could do as we liked.




Thankfully, I had one or two favourite American authors and didn’t feel too ignorant!




So I focused on those I knew and did my best to extend my knowledge as I went along!




As we went long the timeline, we kept hearing a rousing chorus but couldn’t work out where it was coming from until we came across this.  So we stopped and listened a couple of times!




We enjoyed a diversion in the form of a display about Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and thought we should write our own Road Trip novel.




Actually, there might have been inspiration in some form here?




The photographs certainly had a ring of familiarity about them!




Perhaps the most fun was on the interactive screens, one of which was an electronic version of the magnetic poetry. 




My challenge was a preponderance of prepositions and one, single adverb (carefully)




In particular, I liked the display of local authors, hanging on a kind of clothes rail.  I made a note of that one as a potential starting point for a future exhibition!




Having done with the museum (which we enjoyed and felt able to linger as long as we wanted) we crossed over to the park and joined the crowds in the sunshine.




I was the only one brave enough to venture under the Bean, since it was shoulder to shoulder under there, as you can see.




Enough of the crowds and the heat, then, we escaped the park and headed into the Loop, in the hope of finding a cold drink in a cool place.  Thank you Dunkin Donuts.




It was a slow stroll back to the hotel then, past the old Marshall Fields department store on State Street.




We found amusement in the windows of the hotel with the window seats and matching cushions in every window.




We joined the crowd by the tall building bearing the President’s name and the “Real/Fake” installation in front of it, taking a picture along with them all.




I made a short detour to check out Guppy Bags at the Patagonia Store** a little further up Michigan Avenue and returning to the hotel, reflected on our days in Chicago.  We love this city!

Tomorrow at this time, we’ll be at the airport, going our separate ways after another ace trip.  But hey, there’s still one more breakfast at Tempo to look forward to and who knows what we might find to do tomorrow?!


* I might have given one a squeeze

** As a means of following through the NFWI resolution agreed in Liverpool last month


Right back where we started




Almost three weeks of road tripping and we’re headed back to where we began.  Green Bay has been a real joy.  The people are delightful and there’s a real sense of place here, even if it does come dressed in green and yellow!




We hit the interstate this morning, aiming to make the journey as trouble-free and uneventful as we could.  We’ve driven part of it before, when we began our road trip in Milwaukee, so from time to time we spotted a familiar landmark.




After four hours or thereabouts, we were approaching the city.  We’ve driven this route once or twice before, knowing which exit to take and best of all, that we’d soon be there.




There it was again, the Murakami sign which started it all three weeks ago.  Can it really be so long?




Gazing through our windows on the 18th floor this time, we smiled and felt glad to be here in Chicago again, even if it does mean our road trip is almost over.  I spotted some folks on the roof opposite having a bit of a party, it being the 4th July weekend and all of that.




I couldn’t resist zooming in to see what was going on!  (naughty….I know)




I kept my finger on the zoom button and snapped again – Mmmmmm, hummus!  Winking smile;-)




Dragging myself away from voyeuristic activities, I got my act together and we made our way down to Michigan Avenue, where things were a little busy.




We took a look in the American Girl Place, interested to see the doll of the year and her companion, which Mary had heard about but not seen yet.  Sure enough, there was Tenney, a musician and her friend Logan, together with a variety of instruments and music cartridges to play in the amplifier.




Personally, I preferred Z-Yang, imaginative film maker with a slightly geeky vibe.  Much more interesting and characterful!  But this is no shop for those with mere pocket money – we’re talking considerable investment here!




Speaking of investment, we mooched over to Eileen Fisher, who had sent me an email this morning with news of extra special offers and additional discounts this weekend.  But I’d already looked around last time we were here and more or less knew that this season’s style wasn’t for me.  As we sat in Starbucks opposite, I thought how dull their offering looked.  I mean, those olive green jersey trousers in the window, with a plain white T shirt and cropped denim jacket?  No thanks – and a 15% discount on investment level prices leaves them way too expensive for this time.




So we headed for our favourite popcorn shop!




I took the same photographs I always take when I’m here and still loved looking at the view.




On the way back, feeling the heat a little, we took a look in Crate and Barrel, where the Inspired Kitchen was themed in copper and marble.  I love Crate and Barrel, even if the copper/marble vibe isn’t for me.




We were really spinning it out a bit, so we’d be hungry enough to drop into Giordanos on our way back.  Having had no lunch and no snacks, we were hungry.




But we still couldn’t finish.

So lovely to be here again!


Go Pack Go


I know, it could be the theme of our road trip and as soon as I saw it on a T shirt in the window of the Green Bay Packers shop, I knew it’d make a great souvenir.




We know nothing about American Football.  We knew nothing about the Green Bay Packers beyond the story I shared yesterday about Edward’s friend Seb and the year of the Superbowl.  But arriving in the city yesterday afternoon, passing the huge Lambeau Field and noticing almost everyone sporting a Green Bay Packers logo in some form or other (no exaggeration, i promise) we realised that this is an important feature of life in this city.  This morning, we planned a visit to the field to find out more.




The statues in front would soon become known to us.  Vince Lombardi (after whom the road was named) and Curly Lambeau.  Two heroes in Packers history.




As soon as we stepped inside, we knew we were to hear a very special story.




We were very fortunate indeed to be part of Candy’s group.  She was a great guide, full of energy and information.  She explained how the Packers had been started by Curly Lambeau in 1919 and how Vince Lombardi had inspired them to huge success.




She told how the club is owned by its fans – or by the people of the city, which appear to be one and the same group of people, because just as we suspected, everyone here is a Packers supporter.  The picture above shows the walkway between the stadium and the training ground, where each year, a tradition takes place.




As we stood in the stands high above the pitch, we learned how the games have been fully sold out since 1960.  After a rocky few years, the Packers regained their status as one of the major football teams and a visionary President, Bob Harlan extended the stadium and consolidated operations here at Lambeau Field.  The stadium holds 81k spectators and there are 81k season ticket holders (even though there are only 104k inhabitants of Green Bay).




Moving up further, to the very classy seats high above the pitch, we learned they cost $395 per game, but of course, are all sold by season ticket.  An “ordinary” ticket down on the benches costs $129 per match, with the most expensive terrace seats costing $550 per match.  We knew the waiting list was long, but hearing there are 130k names on the list right now came as a surprise.  With just 80 or 90 places becoming available each year, it’s estimated that it will take over 900 years for the last names on the list to get a season ticket!

Good grief.   Season tickets can be passed to close relatives, but not sold on privately.  These are rare and extraordinarily valuable (and, at hundreds of dollars per match, expensive!) commodities.




Whilst we were reeling from such statistics, wondering how on earth the average person ever affords such things  (whilst knowing that there are 81k people who can and do) we continued our tour.  It was a gorgeous morning and the views were spectacular, right over to the lake and with a fine view of the city.




But in the winter?  Brrrr!   Candy told me they can get 70” of snow here and that people are paid $10 an hour to clear snow from the seats before a match.  The pitch itself is heated by warm water pipes underneath.




By now, we were at the most expensive level of seating; the best of both worlds.  Outside, for the atmosphere but with an indoor area for when it gets really cold and access to a club in the stand too.




“Ordinary” seating was closest to the pitch and was formed of simple benches with 18” placements.

(In the lift, Candy warned us that as we arrived at the next floor, the (rival) Bears’ anthem would be played.  “Listen out”, she advised, as the doors opened and the announcement “Going Down” was heard.   Much tittering in the audience, then!)




Our stadium tour complete, we did a quick tour of the Hall of Fame/Packers Museum.  I learned that I wouldn’t cut the mustard when it comes to hand size!




It was all rather interesting, though we didn’t really have the knowledge to make the most of the exhibits.




And I never did find out what the white “hanky” the players tuck into their waistband is for.




But I did find my souvenir T shirt in the shop!




After a basket of parmesan fried cheese curds (well, we are in Wisconsin!) we left Lambeau Field and the Packers behind and moved on to the Railroad Museum.




My Hero had done his homework and knew what to expect here, looking forward especially to seeing the electric GG1 engine and the Union Pacific “Big Boy” next door.




We’d seen the huge Allegheny engine in the Ford collection, but this was even bigger. Enormous!




Alongside, rather small in comparison, was the Dwight D Eisenhower.  Familiar to us as the Mallard or Sir Nigel Gresley, I was a little irritated by the lampstand which spoiled the pictures we tried to take of it.




One of the first model engines we came across was this Aerotrain, designed to appeal to a car owning generation during the 1950s.




Out in the shed was the sad reality.  An Aerotrain and two carriages was there, looking rather shabby and the carriages in particular in pretty poor shape. 




Our here were other engines, some indoors, others outside but all looking rather sorry and uncared for.




I appreciate that it’s an enormous task to bring everything into first class order, but couldn’t help but feel that it’d be better to keep these things under wraps and not have them on general view.




It’s hardly inspiring to see such a jumble of steel and rust and those for whom these engines would provide important research resources could be given special access if necessary.




It was hard to imagine how any small boy would feel inspired to learn more by most of these “works in progress” and without my hero on hand to explain what was what, I think we’d have given up and left, once we’d seen the first three engines.




Green Bay has proved to be more of a railway city than I imagined, though, for we returned to Titletown for dinner this evening, sitting beneath this fun clock, even if my hero did comment that the engine was not originally painted in Packers colours!




And though I’ve tried to scrub it off, I appear to have another lasting souvenir of the Packers to take to Chicago with me tomorrow  Winking smile