Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 2: Joliet, IL to Cuba, MO

Miles Traveled: 361
Travel Time: 12 hours, 15 minutes
Pictures Taken: 98

Today began the stereotypical, small-town kitsch part of Route 66.  Lots of small towns with quirky signs and roadside "attractions".  Unfortunately, it was exceedingly gray and drizzly until about 1 pm.

Heading south out of Joliet, we found the first "giant" of Route 66 - a huge fiberglass astronaut at the Launching Pad Drive-In.  He's known as the Gemini Giant.

A little further down the road in Braidwood was the Polka Dot Diner - complete with fiberglass replicas (life size, this time) of a few iconic Americans from the 50's and 60's.

The next stop was Pontiac - a place I vaguely remembered from childhood visits to my grandparents who lived in nearby Streator.  (To them, Pontiac was the "big town" to go shopping in.)  Pontiac is home to the Route 66 museum - complete with a replica of an interior of a Steak-n-Shake restaurant and countless other memorabilia.

Onward to Atlanta!  Atlanta had another giant - this time it was Paul Bunyan holding a giant hot dog (of course). 

Across the street from the giant was the Palm Tree Inn where we had lunch and I learned a new word.  The word is "ponyshoe", which, despite our waitress seeming put out we had never heard of it, is, in fact, a very regional foodstuff.  It's essentially cheese fries on bread with your choice of meat - even bacon is an option.  Needless to say, we passed on the ponyshoe. The restaurant (not an Inn,despite the name) did have a palm tree in it - a very tiny, anemic-looking palm tree in a pot.   But the fish was phenomenally good!

Atlanta also had a very old, stone library in the shape of an octagon...

a clock tower that requires hand winding three times a day (done by a team of volunteers - their schedule was posted on the door)...

and a grain elevator "museum".  Good stuff!

Then it was back on the road through towns like Lincoln and Broadwell and Sherman (alas, no Wayback Machine to be found).  Lots of things like restored filling stations along the way.

Next up was the Illinois state capital, Springfield! (Disappointingly, only saw one reference to The Simpson's in the entire town.)  The capital building looked pretty cool, but was surrounded by construction. 

The only real stop we made in Springfield was a visit to Lincoln's tomb.  Very impressive monument in the middle of a largish cemetery. 

 (Abe doesn't look too pleased about everyone rubbing his nose for luck.)

 (Lincoln is actually buried just behind and ten feet below this monument.)

Despite being tempted at the gift shop just outside the cemetery, I did not purchase a stick-on Lincoln beard for $4.50.

At this point, we were running a bit later than we wanted to be, so we decided to "cheat" a little and hop on the Interstate.  Where we promptly sat in a traffic jam for 30 minutes.

So, it was back on Route 66 for a while longer.  We meandered through the town of Staunton and eventually found Henry's Rabbit Ranch and Route 66 Emporium.  Some interesting "lawn art" made a great photo op. 

Despite the closed sign on the door, the proprietor came out from his house and opened the "Emporium" for us for a few minutes.  There were, in fact, three large rabbits living inside!  Coffee, Blackie, and Big Red who enjoyed having his picture taken.

After that, it was a fairly quick trip over the Mighty Mississippi River and into Missouri.  Our one and only goal for St. Louis, MO was to see the Gateway Arch and ride to the top.  Unfortunately, our frequent stops earlier in the day put us in St. Louis a bit later than we'd planned and we had to compete for the road with thousands of Cardinals fans heading to the game.  Adding to the traffic and parking woes was the fact that the Mississippi is apparently running very high at the moment and has flooded entire parking lots that normally line the river!

We finally snagged a free parking spot on the roof of the casino's parking garage and walked (mostly uphill) the ten blocks or so to the arch.  By the time we got there and stood in line for a few minutes, the ranger came out and said all the tickets for today's rides to the top were sold out.  Boo!  So we settled for looking at it from the outside and also looked at the barges and helicopters and riverboat casinos on the water and the horse drawn carriages.

By this time, we were hot, sweaty, tired, and hungry so of course, we headed to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard Stand.  Totally worth the hype.  Incredible stuff!

We headed out of town into the setting sun and drove about an hour to Cuba, MO for the night.  Before we got to the hotel, we decided we really should have something more substantial for dinner than frozen custard, so we decided to try a new-to-us fast food place called Lion's Choice.  I was hoping to see things like zebra and gazelle on the menu, but alas, it was more pedestrian fare.  They did apparently throw in a complimentary salt lick with my roast beef sandwich!

Tomorrow it's off to see more small-town Americana and take a side trip to Branson, MO.  Not planning on seeing any shows - we just want to take in the sights.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 1: Chicago, Illinois to Joliet, Illinois

Miles Traveled: 44
Travel Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Pictures Taken: 88 (don't worry, they're not all here in this post!)

The day actually started in Detroit, where we picked up the rental car.  At first, they gave us a Versa, which only had a hatchback.  After pointing out that stopping at countless tourist traps over the next 12 days with laptop bags and suitcases in plain view was probably not a very smart idea, they upgraded us to a Camry.

We then drove back to Ann Arbor to stash my car safely in the garage, and hit the road.  We started by meeting up with friends in Evanston for a late lunch at a local middle-eastern restaurant called Olive Mountain (not to be confused with it's Italian sound-alike cousin).  Then it was off to do a bit of the tourist thing in Chicago.

It was hazy, gray, and rained intermittently, but we stopped at Millennium Park anyway.

The first thing we saw was the splash park area.  There was the usual assortment of little kids squealing, bigger kids wrestling, and parents snapping pics and trying not to get the cameras wet.  HOWEVER... anchoring the splash area at either end are large (50 ft tall) rectangles made of smaller rectangles upon which are projected images of faces of a variety of people.  Water cascades out from these monoliths and contributes to the splash park experience.  Personally, I found them creepy and disturbing - especially the face of the girl that winked and smiled (the rest were static images).

Next stop - The Bean! It's real name is Cloud Gate, but everyone calls it The Bean as it resembles a giant, reflective legume.  There's an additional photo of The Bean over at my other blog HERE.

This is a shot from directly underneath, shooting up.

We then wandered up a bridge to nowhere (OK, it actually led to the upper level of the Museum of Modern Art) where we got some decent views of the surrounding skyscrapers.

As well as the amphitheater that looks like a giant bow.  Apparently it was a gift from Frank Gehry? There was a free classical concert scheduled for later in the evening but we did not stay for that.

Next stop - the sculptures from China!  There was a giant red dinosaur....


A very disturbing car hoisting a giant pig and two dangling fat men on it's tongue...

And a large wad of tinfoil sacred rock.

After all that culture, we decided it was time to actually start driving Route 66.  Woo! 

(Random shot of the El and some buildings.)

Chicago DID have a very small sign to denote the official eastern end of the route.

We crossed over the Chicago River and were officially on our way!

After winding through some....interesting....neighborhoods of Chicago, we found ourselves in Cicero, home of the first quirky/cheesy sighting of the trip!  Henry's Hot Dog where, "It's a meal in itself"!  (We did not stop.)

The next town was Berwyn, which is EXTREMELY proud to have Route 66 running through it.  They not only have banners on their light posts, they have this lighted sign!  The picture is a bit blurry as we only stopped long enough for me to lean out the car window and shoot quickly.

After that, it was a fairly uneventful drive to Joliet.  We detoured slightly from Route 66 to get to our hotel, but should be back on track tomorrow and on our way to the Land of Lincoln and beyond!