Leaving the East coast, we headed West with the aim of reaching Chicago in 3 days. Our first stop was for lunch at a McDonalds in Pennsylvania – but this wasn’t just any old McDonalds, it was the famous Big Mac Museum. The Big Mac was created back in 1967 by Jim Delligatti (an early McDonalds franchisee owner) who had several McDonalds restaurants in the area. In 2007 McDonald’s opened the Big Mac Museum at this location to celebrate the Big Mac’s 40th anniversary. The restaurant / museum features the world’s largest Big Mac statue (measuring 14 feet high and 12 feet wide) and has hundreds of historic artifacts and exhibits that celebrate the Big Mac. I was so excited! Brooke not so much. Nearby, we also visited the crash site of Flight 93 – the plane that crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania on September the 11th 2001. A beautiful memorial now exists where the plane went down.
Our next destination was Detroit, Michigan… well not Detroit itself but Dearborn (a township just south of Detroit famous for its Ford Rouge Factory). The Ford Rouge Factory was Henry Ford’s crown jewel. An end-to-end vehicle assembly plant where raw materials (iron ore, coal, rubber, sand) were magically turned into fully assembled cars – all in the one location. These days the factory still produces Ford F-150’s (Pickup Trucks) but it is not end-to-end anymore. Parts are produced cheaper elsewhere, so they mainly just assemble the trucks here now. We went on a factory tour to see the F-150’s being assembled. It was quite impressive, but unfortunately no photos were allowed. There was also a pretty good Museum right next to the factory where you can see a Model-T Ford, the car Kennedy was assassinated in and the bus where Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat to a white man. All pretty interesting vehicles in history.
On to Chicago – the windy city! Well, it was not that windy when we were there; it was actually very nice weather. Chicago’s highlights were mainly its food. We had some amazing Italian on the first night at Osteria Via Stato. We consumed two very large deep dish pizza’s one afternoon at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. And we even managed to sample some good old fashioned Pierogi at Flo & Santos and Pierogi Heaven. I have to say though that they were not as good as the ones we make at home!
We checked out a few museums in the city as well. The Field Museum of Natural History was actually one of our favourites. It had several very impressive yet succinct exhibits that allowed you to get a taste of everything without being too overwhelmed. The highlight was a T-Rex fossil named Sue, which is the largest, most extensive and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever found at over 90%. It was auctioned in October 1997, for $7.6 million USD – the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil. We also zipped through the Shedd Aquarium and Art Institute of Chicago. It was great to see Whistler’s Mother in real life rather than in a Mr Bean movie!
Being a major city, Chicago has many tall buildings and we managed to visit a couple of them. The famous Sear’s tower (or as it is now called – the Willis Tower) was the tallest building in the world for almost 25 years. We also went up the John Hancock building, which had better views of the city and Lake Michigan. Otherwise we mainly just walked around the streets of Chicago, taking a few elevated trains, looking at reflections in the Cloud Gate and relaxing around Millennium Park and Navy Pier. Overall, we loved the relaxed vibe that Chicago has, but it somewhat lacked the excitement and variety of somewhere like New York. Would definitely come back though!
On to Wisconsin to visit our good friends who live in De Pere, right next to Green Bay. On the way up we stopped off at the Mars Cheese Castle to pick up some cheese curds. Although quite squeaky and tasteless when raw, they are amazing deep fried! We also stopped off at the Historic Third Ward in Milwaukee for lunch to sample some of the state’s finest beer. Our friends kindly hosted us in De Pere for a couple of nights and we managed to see and do quite a lot. The highlight was the chance to fire some real guns at a shooting range – how American is that? We shot .22 calibre rifles and pistols. I even got the chance to try out a .45 cal hand gun which almost flew out of my hands! We were also introduced to Smores – a traditional campfire treat consisting of a fire-roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham crackers. Delicious! And lastly, we did a tour of the Green Bay Packers stadium – Lambeau Field. It’s a shame we were not visiting the US during NFL season because it would have been great to see a live American football game!
Down south we then went to St Louis to see the magnificent Gateway Arch – a 630-foot (192 m) monument in St. Louis which is the world’s tallest arch. It is rather huge and can be seen from quite some distance. We also swung by the world’s largest baseball bat in Louisville, Kentucky – a carbon steel baseball bat leans against a five-story building on West Main Street. Our last stop was Harland Sanders Café and Museum – the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. We saw the actual kitchen where Colonel Harland Sanders created his world famous 11 herbs and spices. Again, I was so excited! Brooke not so much.
There ends our adventures in the Mid-west. Next stop… the South!