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Love your Laxative

and other slogans from the TV ads

semi-overcast 17 °C

Friday 16th May, 2014: Room 313, Ramada Inn, Pincher Creek, Alberta

This weekend is the "Long Weekend" because on Monday, all Canadians have a day off to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday. This seems to involve getting your pickup truck and camper out and driving it along Crowsnest Highway, despite the fact the it is cloudy and not looking like a good weekend weatherwise. Anyway, each to their own.

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This truck seems to be giving us the wink?

This meant that there was an awful lot of traffic, most of it going in the opposite direction to us. And also, the cloud masked some of the Rocky Mountains from us.

We did stop for a very nice home-cooked breakfast in a little coffee place on the way.

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And an Alberta Tourist information bureau which had opened today for the Summer season and staffed by 5 university students who had only us to deal with. We were "almost" their first customers of the season.

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Arthur had been looking forward to seeing the biggest dumper truck in the world. He was not diappointed and is going to buy one. However, he thought the town was a big dump! Hence, big dumper truck.

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Looking at these pictures, the weather wasn't that bad!

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Pincher Creek is an OK little town, out of the mountains and on the edge of wheat farming land. So it's more a farming town than a tourist town. There is a gift shop (note, shop, not shoppe). But it fails to stock the map of Alberta fridge magnet we require. We have collected a fridge magnet map for very state/province we have visited but still need Alberta after this first visit.

There was I thinking gas prices were cheap here but it just dawned that's per litre, not per US Gallon. And it's Canadian $ not US $. Have just had a bit of a breakdown trying to compare what we were paying in the US. Yes, it's more expensive here apart from in LA. I think. And Lin may like to note that Alberta is the only province with no provincial sales tax.

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On our last visit to Canada, I moaned about Canadian drivers and this trip has confirmed my misgivings. Their worst trait is their desire to sit on your tail even though they have no desire to overtake you. We have found that, in a stream of traffic all doing the speed limit, or just over it, American drivers allow plenty of space behind your tail. Canadians? Nope, no such space allowed.

Also, Canadians are not so chatty as Americans. In the elevator at the hotel, for instance, if you say "hi" as we have become accustomed to, you are greeted with eyes swivelling and beads of sweat appearing on the brow as they can't wait to get out of that elevator! Best to keep quiet, we have found!

As you may have gathered, today was a bit of a disappointment, mainly down to the weather. Which is something I've been meaning to mention before. We have been soooo lucky on this trip. Eg, when we arrived in Oregon, we were told it had been raining the whole of the week before, and we have certainly been following behind the weather as it swept across the continent.

Tomorrow we skirt Waterton Park (the Canadian section of what is the marvellous and previously visited Glacier National Park in the US), then past Glacier NP, and on to Great Falls, Montana, provided the US authorities re-admit us! We hope the weather is kinder than forecast and that we see some of the snowy peaks.

So to the amusing ads we have been saving for a thin day, like today. Apart from MiraLax, love your laxative, we saw an ad for vasectomies where you could visit their website, EZ-Snip.com.

The many TV ads for various prescription drugs, are followed by streams of warnings about possible side-effects (to avoid litigation) and often warn about "possible death". One for a viagra-like drug (and those of a nervous or timid constitution should close their eyes now), included all sorts of dire warnings, and advised that if an er***ion lasted for more than 4 hours, you should call for emergency medical help. It's a wonder that anyone in their right mind would want to try any of these products.

A million $$s to be won on Jeopardy tonight so must go eat early.

Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda.......
Wait a minute, it stopped hailing,
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing,
Playing baseball, gee that's better,
Muddah Fadduh please disregard this letter

Yes the sun has just come out and we can see from our hotel window the snowy peaks of the Rockies at Waterton Park. Gee that's bedda.

Oh and here's a RCMP pinup:

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They are in the hotel and we are not sure what they are up to!

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Posted by Johnash 20:16 Archived in Canada Comments (8)

Completed:- Los Angeles-Great Forks-Great Falls

And we beat the bad weather in the process!

semi-overcast 16 °C

Saturday, 17th May 2014: Room 405, Hilton Garden Inn, Great Falls, Montana, USA

One of our songs from The Highway XM to get you in the mood:

We have now completed 3,052 miles in our trusty GMC Yukon XL and tomorrow will be reluctantly returning it to Hertz.

Last night we found there was a limited choice of places for dinner. We had to time it to get back to see someone win $1m on Jeopardy. Bob's "hairstylist" - he got his hair cut for $CAN21! - recommended the "Swiss Chalet" which was neither Swiss nor a chalet. We allowed ourselves a couple of hours, but after a 45 minute wait, we were beginning to wonder if we'd make it.

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But eventually our meals arrived (everyone had got to the restaurant just before us!):-

Bob's Pork Cutlet with Baked Potato

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and John's delicious Cajun Chicken Salad (with Caesars dressing)

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Rain was forecast for today so we did not hold out much hope for our drive alongside Waterton Park, then across the border, and on skirting Glacier Park. In between getting up and getting dressed there was quite a downpour

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Down for our "free breakfast" we found the two Mounties whose vehicle we showed you yesterday. Arthur wanted to know where their horse, red tunics and big hats were?

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Although not raining, it did not look great when we left

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but, encouragingly, there was some sun on the snowy Rockies peaks.

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Every time we stopped for a picture or "other reason" (too much coffee!), the cloud would catch us up.

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That last peak is "Chief Mountain" after which the border crossing was named. This extremely remote point only opened after the Winter on Thursday and then only from 9-8. We had no idea how busy it would be, given it's a holiday weekend in Canada, we thought there may be masses of campers going to Glacier NP. But the road was all but empty and we got to the border 5 minutes before it opened, with two cars (both Albertans) waiting in front of us.

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A very pleasant and chatty female US border official checked us out and after a few pleasantries about our trip, waved us through, entering the USA at 9.04am! We even learned that she had been brought up in Germany....

We found the recently opened road to be piled high at the sides with snow, and we encountered zero traffic until we got away from the wonderful, marvellous, fabulous, Glacier Park.

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We hit a "town" which seemed vaguely familiar. Then we realised that there was plastic strewn everywhere and much of it caught up in the fences. Aaah, just like home! As coffee withdrawal symptoms had set in, we stopped at the local gas station and general store. We then realised the reason for the mess (so sorry to have to acknowledge this, but we have seen it so often before) this town is home to a Blackfoot indian tribe. Arthur said they were very dangerous and were having a pow-wow about doing some scalpings. Stan ensured the doors were locked. However, Bob emerged unscathed from the shop bearing 2 cups of very good coffee!

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We have seen election posters all over the US, but here, it also seems to involve elections to the tribal council and it looked as if every brave, and his squaw, were standing:-

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The drive down US89 to Great Falls was pretty uneventful, all the time, accompanied by the Rockies on our right, including the Grand Tetons, which Arthur kindly translated from the French for an embarrassed Stan.

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Bob often gets the short straw when he takes over the driving. This time, the road was being rebuilt and he had 8 miles of gravel road to deal with.

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We arrived in Great Falls without further ado. A strange, larger-than-expected city which we doubt we will have time to get to grips with. An early start in the morning to catch the 7am Alaska Airways shuttle flight to Seattle, then our American Airlines flight to Chicago for the next exciting leg of our trip.

At the moment, Bob is forensically packing while John bashes this out, Bob also having completed another load in the guest laundry.

Thanks for sticking with us Bloggers!

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Posted by Johnash 16:39 Archived in USA Comments (7)

GTF-SEA-ORD

An early start for a great flight

sunny 20 °C

Sunday, 18th May 2014, Alaska Airlines "Boardroom" Lounge, Seattle-Tacoma Airport

Not sure how we got in here but there is some strange arrangement with American Airlines that not even the lady on the desk understood.

Anyway, up early, 4.15, to finish packing and get our Hertz car to Great Falls airport for 7am (Mountain Time) flight to Seattle (Pacific Time, so we gained an hour). Our flight to Chicago is at 11.25, (Pacific Time), landing at Chicago at 5.35pm (Eastern Time), so we lose that hour plus another one. These are all daylight savings times which is important to note as some states, like Arizona, do not observe daylight savings. However, some tribal regions within those states (eg the Navajo Nation) do (observe daylight daving) which means it could get nasty later on in this trip. Are you following this?

Last night we did a practice run from the airport, a bare 5 minutes away, and which we could see from our bedroom window. It was worth doing as it was not clear where the rental car had to be returned to. It always saves a lot of hassle if we know in advance where we are going.

We then returned our car to the hotel, having overfilled it at the nearest gas station, and walked to a nice looking restaurant next door (Moonshine) which had excellent food at really low prices. There is a lot of competition in the area and our night at the Hilton Garden Inn proved to be one of the cheaper stays. Bob had grilled salmon with baked sweet potato

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and John had a steak sandwich, no fries, just a small bowl of mushrooms as a side. Bob had a beer and John a 7-up, we had hot bread and honey butter to start and the bill (sorry, check) came to $30.

Last glimpse of our sturdy Yukon, from the bedroom window

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Great Falls (GTF) is very nice little airport. We like little airports. And somehow our boarding passes bore the inscription "TSA Precheck". We thought this was only available to US citizens who are well known to the airline and who apply for it. Somehow, we have both qualified for it. At the security check, we were each given a yellow card which meant we had less stringent checks. No shoes or belts off, no need to remove jackets etc. At bigger airports there are special lines. Every little helps!

A large-ish prop aircraft from Great Falls, a Bombadier G400. You do feel as if your travelling when you walk across the tarmac to the plane and climb the steps.

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Nice leather seats and bags of legroom and free refreshments and a bag of "cranberry snacks" which, oddly, did not seem to have any cranberries in it.

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We have been so lucky with the weather and it was clear, with blue skies, so we got the most fantastic views of the Rockies, then the Cascades and Mount Rainier, (pronounced Raneeer, of course) standing on its own above a few clouds. On a previous trip when we drove round Washington state, we went to see Mt Rainier but it was raining a lot of the time and we could not see it for low cloud. Suddenly, the clouds parted and for 4 magical seconds we could see it, then it went again, only to enter our lives again today. It looked inspirational.

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Mount Rainier

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The wonderful flight was only slightly marred by a woman sitting behind John who spent the whole of the 90 minute flight duration telling her seat companion and his wife over the aisle her entire life history and that of her church, photos of gargoyles included. I don't think she paused for breath once. They exchanged Email addresses but I then spotted the guy tearing it into a thousand shreds (no, not really, but I bet he felt like it!).

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More, from Chicago, in due course. See ya pardners.

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Posted by Johnash 10:32 Archived in USA Comments (10)

"Chicago, Chicago.... on State Street, that great street"

A great city

sunny 27 °C

Tuesday, 20th May, Room 23265, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL

We pick up where we left off in Seattle waiting for our 3¾ hr flight to Chicago.

Once boarded, we watched bags being loaded by this young man and his buddy, ours not amongst them. Did this bode badly for our arrival at O'Hare? We have experienced before our bags being loaded on an earlier flight, then just sitting around in the baggage hall.

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Oddly, it was cloudy virtually all the way, given we had such a clear flight into Seattle. But we had a great flight attendant, Laurie, and John & her became quite a double act! We agreed that John should wear an airline blanket with a hole cut in it for the head, whenever he eats. All those clothes being ruined.

BEEP BEEP BEEP, Severe storm warning just came on the TV. Not sure what we are supposed to do??

Managed to eat these, though, without too much mess, thanks to the clever device of a buttonhole in the American Airlines napkins which you can use to fit to your top shirt button:-

Bob's Teriyaki Beef

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John's "Chicken Hot Pot Pie" Crepe with pureed sweet potato.

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We could just glimpse downtown as we approached O'Hare airport.

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We waited, and waited for our bags. John went and checked at the baggage desk and they confirmed that our bags were on our flight. As he walked away, Bob was waving to say they had arrived, last but one bags off. Phew!

We bought 3-day transit passes, assisted by a pleasant young man, then caught the Blue Train to the nearest station to the hotel with elevators to street level. A couple of cops on the train offered reassurance that was not really necessary.

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We had requested a room with a view but this is difficult in the 1920s city centre hotel. But we got a nice, huge room, with two bathrooms, with this view..

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We are on the top (23rd) floor and we can also glimpse the "El" - elevated railway or "Loop". We can use the "Executive Floor" express elevators which can only be called with your room card. And much of the floor consists of the "Executive Lounge" with free drinks and breakfast and, if you so fancy, "canapes" and "cocktails" at happy hour. All thanks to Bob's Hilton Gold card. We also get free Internet, otherwise charged at $14.99. So we have done well out of that card.

Bob in one of the "executive" elevators

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For the next couple of days, we joined all the other tourists enjoying this wonderful city. Not much commentary necessary, really.

Under the "El" by our hotel

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Bob in the Palmer House lounge

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First morning, we "skip" the free breakfast in favour of one in the diner next door. "Beef & Brandy Diner"

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We took a great tour of the fabulous Chicago Theatre, photos of chandeliers especially for Paul

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We then had a mosey round the "Selfridges" of Chicago. Still known as "Marshall Field" by Chicagoans who refuse to accept that is now a Macy's. We went to the luggage dept. to confirm we had made a good buy in Las Vegas (we had!) and had a long chat with the assistant who asked us to describe the Las Vegas Macy's. Think he had always wanted to visit it, but in his 50 or so years, has not gone to Las Vegas.

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We took a water taxi from near there to Union station and spotted this guide dog being chatted up...

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We had dinner in an incredibly busy bar, Millers, which had been there since 1950. It felt like "Cheers".

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John had delicious roast lamb with spinach (& ricotta) pie and oven browned potatoes (unusual to find lamb on a menu)

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and Bob had griddled veal liver and bacon with mashed potatoes and carrots

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This morning, we spotted a couple of nice hats...

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We paid $7 each for 24 hours bike usage. Each trip has to be limited to 30 minutes, so we used these to get from Milennium Park to Navy Pier. A nice quiet bike lane turned into a busy road bridge over the river, but we got there safe and sound.

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Navy Pier was inundated by school kids and others slightly older doing Zumba

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and, spookily, see that guy again with the fez

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and then again when we are queuing to get on our boat for a lake trip. We had a long chat with him. His parents were from Morocco though he was born in USA. He was fascinated to hear about our Moroccan neighbours in Spain!

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We then caught a bus to the Hyatt Regency where there is a Hertz agency to collect our car for the next leg of our trip.

We had taken TomTom to guide us back to the Palmer House but could not get it to boot up. So, head down, and out into the swirling lunchtime Chicago traffic. Bob map read and we made it without incident (phew) back to the hotel. Then the valet said valet parking was "full" and we would have to self park. We did not want to go through all the aggro of getting our car back then suitcases in. A couple of dollars magically found us a space in the valet parking.

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Suddenly, we have a new view! They are repairing the stonework. This guy outside our window on 23rd floor.

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Shortly, we are going back to "Marshall Field" for early dinner in their wonderfully dated dining room.

More soon from the Mississippi.

PS Dancing with the Stars (US Strictly Come Dancing, made by BBC World Enterprises) final is on at the moment and has been for the last 2 hours, and the finalists haven't danced yet.... And you think SCD has too much padding!

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Posted by Johnash 18:47 Archived in USA Comments (7)

"Drove my Chevy to the Levee....

but the levee was dry!"

sunny 28 °C

Wednesday 21st May, Room 325, Hilton Garden Inn, Dubuque, Iowa

Sitting on my office chair, I can swivel right and see "Old Muddy" with barges being pushed up and down the river. To the right, bizarrely, is a greyhound race track and in front of the building, a casino. We assumed this must be owned by a native American tribe as, in most states, such gambling is forbidden. Normal state laws do not apply in Indian "reservations". However, we now find out that it's owned by the city of Dubuque. Pronounced Doobook.

This river road is absolutely splendid. We spent an hour crawling in traffic to get out of Chicago but then, before we knew it, we were in bucolic Illinois farm land. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Last night, we got the "El" to State & Lake, the nearest station to Marshall Field (aka Macy's). The "El" stations are not for the unfit (wheezes John) as there are steep staircases to get, first to the ticket office level, then more up to the platform. Until a nice young station attendant gave us his own CTA (transport) map, we kept going the wrong way. These maps seem to be like gold dust and we are lucky to have got this one. At last we understand the arcane system, or think we do.

We were disappointed to find that, at 6.30, the store was almost empty with similar assistant to customer ratios as Corte Ingles in Cartagena. Bob has had a sore toe for most of the trip but tried on some shoes. None could be found the right size. Again John and the wonderful black lady assistant hit if off and we were in hysterics over Bob's toe. Bob was not laughing, however.

The Chandelier Department - prices not marked. Sorry Paul

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We made our way up to the 7th floor and the wonderful formal dining room, the Walnut Room, opened in 1905. Back then ladies shopping downtown returned home for lunch; having lunch at a downtown restaurant unescorted by a gentleman was not considered ladylike. But after a Marshall Field's clerk shared her lunch with a tired shopper (a chicken pot pie), Mr Marhall Field hit on the idea of opening a department store tea room, so that women shoppers would not feel the need to make two trips to complete their shopping. To this day, the Walnut Room serves the traditional Mrs. Herring's chicken pot pie. And we sat sit by the 17-foot marble fountain, amid the original Circassian Walnut panelling and Austrian chandeliers

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It is unfortunate that, on this occasion, this huge room was very sparsely populated with customers. The Hispanic waiter, looking most uncomfortable in his penguin suit, was trying to make himself appear busy. However, the food was good and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal here. We do hope they manage to keep it going after all these years.

Bob's Fish & Chips

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John's Meatloaf

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By the time we emerged from the all-but empty store, it was dark (and a bit rainy) so the three theatres we could see were lit up with dazzling neon displays.

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Then the "El" back to the Palmer House to complete packing and watch "Dancing with the Stars" and they still had not started dancing so we turned off the TV and listened to another Paul Temple episode (we've been falling asleep during these every night).

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Front of the Palmer House; strangely tranquil last night, which it wasn't when we arrived in our Chevy!

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This morning, we were up quite early and called down to the valet who brought our Chevrolet Equinox round to the side entrance, right by the elevators, so no real hassle in getting the cases round. But we could not understand why the valet had a problem getting the suitcases in the"trunk". There was tons of space for them...... in the other car. Doh! A much smaller car so we eventually put one of the back seats down and it all fitted in nicely.

As mentioned, the traffic out of Chicago on the Reagan Memorial Highway was grim. How do people do this every day? Why do people do this everyday when, for most of them, there is a perfectly good rail and subway system?

Out in the Illinois farmland we really enjoyed the spectacle of neat houses, cut grass and tidy farms (mowing seems to be an obsession in these parts and half the population seemed to be out on their mowers, er.... mowing). This is in stark contrast to the other areas we have been where most people live in trailers with piles of junk and old cars surrounding them. Here, small towns were proper towns with houses and streets. Very nice indeed. Off the Freeway, we were on the "historic" Lincoln Highway.

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We stopped in the small and very neat and tidy town of Shabbona, desperate for coffee and a snack. and enjoyed the best home-cooked breakfast we have had, involving fried red-skinned potatoes. (Arthur assumed they were Iroquois potatoes, if he could spell it) The waitress/owner was Swedish as were most of her fellow townsfolk we would guess. However, on the menu was a "Swedish Breakfast: two swedes with eggs". We had images of people sitting with two large root vegetables on their plate with egg running down the side. But no, they are Swedish pancakes and she had never heard of the Swedes we know and love. She was going to Google it.

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Then we reached the Mississippi River Road. The part we are doing is from almost the top of Illinois, then into Wisconsin (not reached yet) and we have just crossed the river into Iowa (first time in this state) for our overnight stay.

The first town (Fulton) we came to was Dutch and had an original Dutch windmill. And, having climbed the dry levee, got our first view of this almighty river.

Drove our Chevy to the levee, AND the levee was dry!

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Then on through Savannah Palisades State Park, a narrow lane which climbed over bluffs above the river, very wooded with glimpses through the trees of the Mississippi.

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Both Fulton and Palisades Park we had to ourselves but then the scenic road joined US20 which brought more traffic and travellers. (Tomorrow we leave US20 again).

We then stopped at Galina. An amazing town where lead was the "gold" of its time. The town was abandoned when the lead ran out but has since all been restored and the main street is full of high quality stores, restaurants and one ice cream parlor. Just what we were looking for on this very hot and sunny day (how can we be so lucky. Last night was cloudy and there was a thunderstorm).

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Arriving in Dubuque came as a bit of shock. A big town of some 50,000 citizens with river related industry and trade. It was a thriving port before Chicago or Minneapolis had even been thought of. Once Bob has done the laundry and the Blog is complete, we plan to go and explore the town when it will be a bit cooler we hope.

When we stopped in Palisades park, we could only hear the birds and insects and looking down on the treelined river (it seems to be on the point of flooding at the moment) it almost felt as if we were in the Amazon basin. Odd!

Now, why did Don Mclean sing about the levee being dry? If it was not dry, we would all be in trouble!!

Oh, and for cartographers, here is our route on this part of our trip, "The Great River Road" (part of).

large_MapRiverRoad.jpg
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Posted by Johnash 19:38 Archived in USA Comments (7)

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