After four days of meeting people in Toronto it was time to head back to the US. I had two choices: either cross in Detroit (the busiest crossing between the US and Canada) on a Monday morning or cross at a much smaller crossing a bit further north on a Sunday afternoon. Obviously I went for option two. It took me 10 minutes this time and the questions were a bit harder (how do you pay for all this? How do we know you will leave in time?), but I got back to the US.
The next day I crossed Michigan. The speed limits in the Midwest are 70 MPH (112 km/h) instead of 65. Whoohoo! However the roads are in a terrible condition. I will never complain about the state of Belgian roads ever again. These roads had pot holes so big that I was afraid that if I would hit one I would snap of a wheel. Everyone else still drives 75 MPH here and just zigzags between the potholes (explains why everyone has either a SUV or a pickup truck). Since it was almost on the way I had to make a stop at Holland, Michigan. It has a tiny island with an original Dutch windmill (the last one to leave the Netherlands, apparently that is illegal now), loads of tulips, a little canal with a suspension bridge and people in ridiculous outfits. Looks like it was hosted by actual Dutch people too because they didn’t care about me being there with an actual Dutch car and did not let me bring it up close for pictures. I did learn something about Dutch stuff: apparently the pointy klompen (wooden shoes) were for fisherman so they could pick up the nets with it… I did not know that. The evening I spend at Van Buren State Park which is at Lake Michigan with some big sand dunes. Great for an evening walk. There was no office but a phone I could pick up that would forward me to a call center who told me to fill in the self registration form. Very complicated…
I drove through a bit of Indiana into Illinois. My goal for the day: Chicago. In my great preparation I had found a campsite in a park close to the city with a train station at a 5 minute drive. The website listed the campsite as open all year round with a shop also open year round. When I got there, there was only a guy doing some maintenance. He told me that they are indeed open year round but only when you call at least 48 hours before arriving… An interesting definition of all year round. He called some other parks but none of them were open. Backup solution: a campsite a 30 min drive from a station 1 hour by train from downtown Chicago. Not ideal but quite doable (and cheaper too!).
Chicago is a great city: the lake, the parks and the beautiful buildings. Compared to New York and Toronto they have way more “classical” sky scrapers. I spend a few hours in the Art Institute of Chicago. They had some curious sections: paperweights, miniature house and yes, once again, furniture. I spend the rest of the day walking around town: the Millennium Park at the lake with the awesome Cloud Gate (Big reflecting sausage shaped art thing, great for photos); loads of cool skyscrapers, the magnificent mile and I ended at the Hancock Tower for a view over the city.
Chicago Skyline from the Hancock Tower
Since I made it around Lake Michigan I could head up north again. Next stop: Milwaukee. I wasn’t really planning to go to Milwaukee but when I saw pictures of the Milwaukee Art Museum, I knew I had to go for a visit. But first I could have a look at Chicago in the sun with blue skies… From the famous 10 am Chicago rush hour traffic jams. The Milwaukee museum was great for pictures (no clue about the art, didn’t go further than the lobby). A walk through downtown and at the river front makes me think Milwaukee is a nice town, but there is not much to do on a Thursday early afternoon. I headed of in the direction of Madison. But because of the famous 3 pm Milwaukee rush hour I did not get further than the campsite outside of town (next to a highway, noisy but cheap!)
How to not park your car as shown at the Milwaukee Art Museum
Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and has a nice capitol building with a huge dome. The city is located between two lakes which gives some really nice views. From Madison I drove the scenic byway along the Wisconsin river. Loads of farms, grassy hills, the river with wetlands and barely any traffic. First stop Taliesin: the home and playground of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Sadly enough you can only vist more than the visitor center with a guided tour. When I got there they only had a two hour tour for 60 dollars left and I would have to wait an hour for it to begin. So I skipped that. There was supposed to be another “interesting” architectural home just down the road: the House on the Rock. It’s some kind of labyrinth with low ceilings (I’m not that tall) build around a rock column. It was weird… and I’m used to weird stuff. You drive up the driveway and everywhere there are 2 meter tall flower pots with dragons on them. Inside the building you first get to a room with 20+ displays/videos saying how great/visionary the guy who build it was. You then get to the actual house which in my opinion just looks bits and pieces of other buildings glued to the rock with spit and duct tape. There is loads of stained glass windows, Asian sculptures, waterfalls, self playing musical instruments (some rooms would do perfectly fine for a haunted house ride in a theme park). It had an infinity room hanging out on the side of the rock. According to the description it was extremely well designed. It looked cheap and ugly. But overal it was a fun attraction that I would not have wanted to miss. If you paid more you get to see more stuff like the world’s largest carousel (inside a room in the house), a life size classical street with shops and houses (inside a room), and so on and so on. The guy who designed/made this clearly had some issues. I continued the drive along the Wisconsin river until it meets up with the Mississippi. There a found a campsite in Wyalusing state park (another very complicated self registration process. Luckily the other guests had no clue how it worked either (There are other guests!)). The camp spot I have has the best view so far: from my van I look over the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers below joining each other in a forest with a beautiful sunset.
Me at Wyalusing State Park
From the campsite I started following the scenic road along the Mississippi river, great views and loads of big birds flying by. I ended up just South of Minneapolis. The weather is nice but I’m pretty tired. The last week I drove more than 2000 km and at least an hour per day so it’s time for a day off. No driving, enjoy the sun and do some planning.
Thanks to Kathy for being my Midwest expert and my dad for the tips for Chicago.