Southern Illinois/Kentucky: Part 4

On our final day in Southern Illinois, we opted to go ziplining in the Shawnee Forest in the morning. We saw a fridge magnet at our B&B and decided to try it out. I had tried ziplining once or twice. At my old job, they’d have a block party for the students, faculty and staff twice a year. A few times, they hired a company that would set up a zipline in the middle of the street in downtown Chicago. Of course, I had to do it. It was always terrifying stepping off the platform to zipline down the street but it was fun.

The ziplining place was not very far away from where we were staying. It was a bit further in the forest; the roads turned from pavement to gravel very quickly. It was astonishingly beautiful at the site. It was a perfect hot day.

We loved it. We had tour fantastic guides who led us through the course. Safety was always their number one priority; we always had two clasps to wires to keep us from falling even when we were just standing on the platform. The guides were funny and knowledgeable too. There were 7 courses where the largest was over 1000 feet! I’ll admit that I was super nervous on the first two lines (the shorter ones). But then when I did the third one, which was over 300 feet, I had enough time to actually relax and enjoy the ride. Needless to say, I was hooked. That feeling of rushing through the air was astonishing. The last line was the longest and it had a radar gun to determine your speed. My husband and I tied at 42 mph. What a rush! I can’t wait to do it again!

Then we had a long drive back home to Chicago. We stopped at a Steak & Shake on the way, which was nice. I’ve only been three or four times. I try to avoid fast food places as a rule but that’s a bit hard on road trips. We ordered a birthday cake shake which wasn’t bad but the Oreo Cheesecake place from Sonic was better. On the way home, we briefly stopped at Lincoln Log  Cabin Historic State Park. It’s not exactly well marked from the highway. Google was yet again on “Adventure Mode” so we were on some gravel roads frequented by golf carts.

The park was pretty neat. Unfortunately, we got there after it closed but so the visitor center was not open. Alas. We could wander the grounds and see this cabin and the farm. There were real animals housed in the farm including sheep and a cow. At one point when I was focused on the disgruntled cow, my husband called out to me. I turned around and on the path was a black snake making his way to the cabin behind me. With a healthy distance between us, I was fascinated by the snake. We watched as the snake crossed the sidewalk, got to the cabin wall and found a little hole inside. (The cabin looks closed off so I think it’s a good place for the snake).

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Lincoln’s cabin

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Snake friend

Near the park was a cemetery where Lincoln’s father and stepmother, Thomas and Susan Lincoln, were buried. We made our respects, leaving a penny each.

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The rest of the trip home was most uneventful despite watching a thunderstorm erupt around us at one point.

What a wonderful trip!

That’s all for now!

 

Southern IL/Kentucky Part 1

For Memorial Day weekend, we tried a different kind of trip. We booked a B&B in Buscombe, IL, about 30 miles north of the IL border for a weekend of hiking in downstate IL and parts of KY. We wanted to check out Shawnee National Forest. I’ve mentioned before how I grew very fond of hiking at a late age. Hiking wasn’t something I did as a kid, save a trip to Saguaro National Park in Tucson and maybe an occasional school trip. But I learned that despite being a city girl, I do enjoy wandering in the wilderness for short periods of time (I have yet to try camping – that might be trickier for me).

We began our drive in the afternoon. Once we left the city, the highway was lined with farm after farm. We had dinner in Amish Country in the town of Arcola, IL. We drove to the historic Main Street, which looked like what you imagine. Cute painted buildings. They had these murals talking about the history of the city. Apparently, the creator of Raggedy Ann & Andy, John Barton Gruelle, was born there. However, the town was empty. All the stores, save one restaurant, were closed for the day. The restaurant, the Dutch Oven, was open and hopping. We had some nice hearty food there; I had a wonderful brisket with amazing stuffing. My husband got fish and chips. It was a nice pit stop on our drive. The place mats had a map of the area showing all the Amish businesses, which was cool. We still had a long drive ahead of us so we didn’t explore further.

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Mural at Arcola

Nearby, we passed this place of business. Best name for a place I never want to go to.13266036_10100849383814850_7178358884516574381_n.jpg

And then we had some unexpected adventure. About 45 minutes from our B&B, we were sideswiped by a semi. We were in the right lane and he tried to merge into our lane. The lug nuts on his tire hit the car, taking out the driver’s side mirror. Thankfully, the driver realized the impact and pulled out. We got into the shoulder to assess ourselves. Neither of us were hurt at all. The windows were fine and the airbags were not deployed.. However, the driver’s door wouldn’t open. The truck driver stopped and ascertained we were okay. Waiting in the car in the shoulder was really terrifying actually. We decided to head to the next exit so we could exchange insurance, etc. But all in all, we were fine. We got the door open. The car was driveable. So we got our police report and drove on to our B&B. That was an experience. But at the end of the day, we were fine. Thank goodness.

By the time we got to the B&B, it was well after dark. The B&B was situated amongst farms so there was little electric light. Once we pulled up to the house, we were greeted by a firework display of lightening bugs. I hadn’t seen so many in years. They were all hanging out in the woods behind the house and lighting up the night. So beautiful. We had all this amazing animal sounds, crickets, a bull frog, and so much more. What incredible beauty.

The following morning, we woke up and greeted our hosts at the B&B. We had a nice hearty breakfast of biscuits and eggs. Our first stop was Ferne Clyffe State Park. It was about a 7 minute drive from where we were staying. In the daylight, the area was so beautiful. The farms of Illinois had given way to forests. At Ferne Clyffe, we took two hikes. The first was an easy hike to the waterfall. It was a flat path with a few little creeks that had overflowed their banks but nothing too bad. The path was in a canyon with a waterfall at the end.

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However, we wanted to get closer. Some fellow hikers told us that we could hike up to the waterfall using a side path. That proved a bit more adventurous than anticipated. We had to climb up the side on muddy paths, climb over logs and rocks, and balance on rocks in pools from secondary waterfalls. And I saw some of the largest spiders I’ve ever seen. (All were Daddy Long Legs, so I knew I would be okay). We got to the waterfall area but the rocks looked slick. I stuck back while my husband explored a little bit more. It was a neat view.

We climbed back down and headed back to the parking area to go our second hike. This was a bit more challenging since the path wound its way up. It was a bit steeper. We had some decent views of the area around. It eventually finished at the bottom of the hill near the lake near the entrance of the park. We opted to just walk to the car from the road. On the way we saw these beautiful black, orange, and blue butterflies. It was perfect for hiking.

 

13312745_10100851734184690_2076347710949742228_n.jpgNext post, I’ll talk about our adventures at Garden of the Gods and Cave in the Rock. That’s all for now!

Wisconsin Adventures: Part 1

Now to regularly scheduled programming: In early April, my bf and I decided to take a little trip to Madison/Milwaukee. We drove up on Saturday morning on one of those classic crazy Midwest weather days. For the entire drive to Madison, it alternatively hailed, snowed, then cleared to a wonderful sunny day. We were staying at a friend’s who said that the snow accumulated and melted on his lawn three times in the morning.Sometimes visibility was no more than 10 feet. And as we neared Madison, Google decided to direct us off the road onto side roads for fun and giggles. We still don’t know why; I claim there is an adventurous setting on Google Maps (and no the “Avoid highways” wasn’t selected). But we did see some wild turkeys, which was pretty cool.

Once we got to Madison, we decided to head to Babcock Hall to cheese and ice cream. UWisconsin-Madison, my alma mater, has a giant agricultural school and part of it includes a store that sells cheese and ice cream made there. I picked up some aged cheddar (only about a year) and some delicious ice cream. We then decided to take a little stroll down memory lane— we walked up State street so I could see my old haunts. It’s amazing how much hasn’t changed. Some of my old haunts are still around while others are gone or moved. It’s been eight years since I graduated so it makes sense. At this point, the weather had finally settled on sunny and a bit cold. We walked the entire length of the street, ending up at the Capitol, impressive and imposing as normal.

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The Capitol

Since the day had cleared, we decided to go on a short hike at Blue Mounds State Park, about forty minutes away. Google again decided to take us on a tiny adventure, off the highway in the backroads, but we eventually got there. We choose the Flint Rock Hiking Trial that was around a mile and hopefully would be scenic. We mostly wandered through the woods where it was a mix of dirt and snow. These giant stones, the flint rocks, appeared at various points that were multi-colored and imposing. Despite the mud, it was a lovely hike; it was nice to get away from the city and the human made world for a little bit. Before we got back to the car, we climbed one of the nearby observation decks to see the landscape just as the sun began to set. (We wanted to make sure we were done hiking before sunset). The landscape was astonishing: farmlands and distant radio towers.

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Flint Rock Hiking Trail

On the way out, we saw a curious deer. Unlike most deers, she didn’t run away when we stopped. She stared at us, twitched her ears, and then eventually ran off. It was really a lovely moment.

For dinner, we went to a Laotian restaurant on Willie Street that was rather hoping. We ended up putting three people at a two person table, which worked! I had some tea and a curry dish with mango, squash, and chicken. It was pretty good. I found some pieces of tofu in it and I actually preferred the tofu to the chicken. Go figure.

That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 8

Good day readers! I’m back. I’ve been on a lovely trip to France and England, which I will recount shortly. However, I’m still writing on the adventures of our honeymoon. I’ll start up where I took off on the Isle of Skye. It’s been a busy couple of months so posting has been less frequent of late. However, now things are a little less calmer (crosses finger) and I’ll get back to more regular posting per week.

So to return to our honeymoon in October:

On our day on Skye, we wanted to undertake some more hikes. The guidebook recommended the Old Man of Storr, which was relatively close to Portree, where we were staying. So we drove to the hike location, awed by the continual hills/mountains, blue skies with wispy clouds, and reflective lakes. We parked off the side of the road near the entrance and began our hike. Once again, our guidebook had said that it would be an easy hour and fifteen minutes. It had neglected to mention that it was a steep walking path that lead to a steep climbing path. But we soldiered on, gazing at the spectacular view behind us. Our goal was a series of rock formations that were named the Old Man of Storr. It was a glorious hike on a perfect day!

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View on the hike from the Old Man of Storr

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Old Man of Storr

After the hike, we felt our appetite whetted for another castle. So we drove off to Dunvegan Castle, a more modern castle than some of the others we had previously seen. It appears that the castle is still being used by the clan so we saw many well furnished rooms. We did see the famous Faire Flag, a prize for the family, that gave victory to those who wielded it in battle. There is also a drinking horn with the legend (if I recall correctly) that the bearer must drink it in one gulp. Eep!

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Dunvegan Castle

We also wandered the truly spectacular gardens surrounding the castle. There were several themed gardens; it was like a little Chicago Botanic garden. There was a walled garden, a rose garden, among others. The castle, like many, is also on the edge of a loch. So we clambered down the rocks nearby. I had seen a couple gazing with significant interest into the water. In my experience, this usually signified something of note. And there were two seals just swimming around at the loch next to the castle. Spectacular!

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Dunvegan Seals

Sadly, our time on Skye was coming to an end since we had a long drive back to Edinburgh. We would break up the drive by spending the night in Dalmunzie Castle, another treat from our groomsmen. It’s about an hour and a half from Edinburgh. The drive from Skye took about 5 and a half hours. It was incredible to see how the terrain changed so much from the hills/mountains of Skye, to the forests on the mainland, to the highways.

One feature did stick out: the lack of rest stops. We spent about 3 hours looking for a gas station to fill up the car and to use the restrooms. Finally, we found a little hotel in the middle of nowhere that would allow me to use their facilities. So something to keep in mind in the future.

We finished the drive to Dalmunzie on  dark and windy roads. At one point we were passing through someone’s farm on either side of the road. We saw pitiful handwritten signs imploring people not to hit the sheep. Thankfully that was not an issue for us. But in the dark, we felt worlds away from the rest of humanity!

By the time we got to Dalmunzie, we were famished and exhausted. We were a bit nervous that the place wouldn’t have food since it would require a fairly decent drive to find an open food establishment. As we breathlessly hauled in our luggage, we inquired about food and found out that we had two food options: 5 course meal or bar food. We opted for the latter since we weren’t in the mood for such a long (and expensive) dinner. Later on, I would learn that the place had a Michelin floret or two…alas. The bar food was perfect for that evening. The castle appeared to be a kind of hunting lodge, surrounded by many acres of countryside. Our room was rather impressive: a canopy bed, a bottle of port, a washbasin at one corner, wooden furniture of one’s dreams, and other odds and ends. It was stunning. A perfect place to end the day.

That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 7

Then it was finally time to head to Skye. The advantage of Eilean Donan was that it was nearish to the bridge of Isle of Skye. Then the day really cleared up. We even had blue skies!

We stopped at the tiny town of Kyleakin, which is just over the bridge. Already, we could tell that Skye was one of the prettiest places in Scotland. Mountains framed the area on Skye and across on the mainland. In the small town, we spotted a ruined castle nearby. It was what the Romantics would have wanted. A castle in pieces on a hill next to the water. We decided that would be our first hike on the island. We followed a series of signs promising a castle only 200 meters. This would prove misleading.

At the beginning of this hike, there was a stone path between fields of tall grasses. That was good and fine. But then the path went onto the beach and disappeared. So did we turn around and give up? No, we went up the grassy hill…

Now, normally, this would have been fine. But I had not changed into hiking boots. Critical error. The ground was extraordinarily muddy. While it was grassy, there was bog like mud; I nearly lost my shoes a couple times. I even recognized a specific type of moss, chartreuse color, that seemed to live in the particularly bog like areas.

But the landscape was extraordinary. Hills of grass weaving in the breeze with blue skies above! It was magnificent. Across our hill was the ruined castle, perfection for fawning romantics. But then we realized that we had a deep gully between our hill and the castle’s. There was no way to get around it so we turned back. My shoes haven’t been the same but it was totally worth the trek.

We think that if the tide had been out, there was an easier (and less muddy path) to the foot of the hill with the castle. But 200 m? By the crow flying!

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Ruined Castle of the Muddy Sneakers

We decided to move on to our next place for hiking. I had read in our guidebook that just three miles from Kyleakin, near Kylerhea, there was an otter hide, a place that otters might hang out. So we ventured off to Kylerhea surrounded by the most magnificent landscape. We saw many more hills covered in shrubs and grass, much of it red and orange. It was astonishingly beautiful.

The road to Kylerhea was not as much fun. The guidebook’s three miles was to the entrance of a seven mile stretch of road that fit only one car. You had little areas to pull over into if a car came in the other direction. Inaddition, the road was curvy and windy in a way that reminded me of the Amalfi Coast. There were some hills that you had to drive up that you couldn’t see the other side. You kinda had to hope no one was gunning the engine on the other side. There was a tense moment with an ambulance but it was fine.

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Landscape of the Isle of Skye

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View from the hike near Kylerhea

When we got there, we were on an elevated area near the water that had a view of another landmass (island? mainland?). Pines and other trees surrounded us . We wandered on a gravel path to the otter hide. There were some signs along the way talking about other animals that you might see including birds and seals. At the end of the relatively short hike, there was a little house with a bunch of binoculars bolted to the tables.

Unfortunately, there were no otters. But…there were seals. Holy cow, we saw wild seals. One rather fat seal was  lounging on the bank while another one swam around. It was amazing. I think I’ll take the wild seals over the otters (There are otters in Illinois but there are not  seals in the wild!).

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Wild seal

With that final hike, we decided to make our way to our destination for the night: Portree. We passed by numerous lakes and waterfalls. Such beautiful country on the isle of Skye! Our B&B was a decent walk to the center of town where we found dinner. We ended up in this little restaurant/ice cream bar. For an appetizer, I ordered a seafood combo, which was quite tasty. Even the salmon was good! For my main course, I accidentally ended up ordering venison jerky. I thought it was a venison dish but didn’t realized that it took the word “smoked” seriously. I generally don’t like dried meats but this dish was extraordinary. No way I would have ordered it if I had known what it was. But it was quite delicious so it was a happy mistake!

We ended the evening having a shot of Drambuie, which was the liquor of the region. It was okay; I’m not too fond of liquors but it was better than pastis and ouzo. I preferred the tasty Scottish cider. We had it once in Chicago where it was very pricey. Here in its native country, it was really quite inexpensive. It’s called Thistly Cross Cider that was aged in whiskey barrels. Very tasty! Prince among ciders!

The walk home was brisk as the rains decided to come down.

What a wonderful day!

Honeymoon: Part 6

Then it was time to go to the Isle of Skye. The guidebook actually lists Isle of Skye as the most recommended place to go in Scotland. Yes, Edinburgh is number two.

But before we got to the Isle of Skye, we decided to take a detour to the Black Isle to hike in the Faire Glen. Yep, those are all real things. However, this detour ended up being a bit more of a bargain than we had anticipated. To get there, we knew that we had retrace our steps from the night prior. So we followed the instructions of the GPS. At one point, it told us to take the left exit on a roundabout instead of a right. And we trusted it. The road got smaller, fewer cars, and the area around us got more and more industrial. Then at a final roundabout with a bunch of gates, the GPS informed us, “Take next left and take ferry.” The gate indicated was closed and led to water. Both of us just started laughing at the absurdity of it. No ferry was there. So we immediately turned around to drive the way we knew to get back to the main road. Our GPS kept trying to send us back there but we knew better. Eventually, we got far enough away that the GPS rerouted and stopped trying to get us to take the ferry. But the GPS would have her revenge. When we got to the Black Isle (more of a peninsula), the GPS took us on the smallest roads where we had the long grass hitting our car as we drove by. Fields and fields. Things got even more exciting when we had to pull over for a double-decker bus!

Eventually the GPS led us to the Faire Glen car park. By this time, the rain (first real rain of the trip) had taken hold. But we carried on since it wasn’t terrible. And I had hiking boots, which makes most things palatable.

The hike itself had a touch of magic. We wandered through this vibrant colorful forest in the rain. Along the way, we followed a stream that took us to several waterfalls. Scott and I presented each other to the Fairyfolk, since it is essential to get their blessing. It went well.

It was clear that there was an easier way to get to the Faire Glen as we left the Black Isle. Larger roads and small towns instead of fields and half roads. Ada, our GPS, had had a temper tantrum on the way there. We put her in time out for awhile.

On our way to the Isle of Skye, we decided to take another detour. This time, we stopped at the castle Eilean Donan. This has to be the prettiest of castles, or at least the ones we went to.  It’s set on a tiny island where three lochs meet with a bridge connecting the banks to the castle. It looks the least defensible but it’s pretty sitting out on the loch. As we drove up, the rain started to abate. We got treated to a little rainbow in behind the castle.

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Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh?

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Rainbow

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Eilean Donan

The castle appears to still be used by its clan family. Many of the rooms are furnished for use. Sadly, photos were not permitted.  But it was fun to wander the rooms, and even the outdoor walls to see the world around us. We also could walk on the banks below that clearly are covered by the high tide. We saw evidence of crabs and fish.

And then it was time to go to the Isle of Skye…

That’s all for now!