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Post 102 - Part A: Back in the Midwest, 9/3 thru 10/31

We've been very busy since Labor Day.  We spent about 7 weeks in the Midwest and 10 days on a bike/barge trip in Europe.  We also had some interesting issues with our rig.  And, sadly, we had to put Maddie down - she was 16 years old and had a good life.  She really seemed to enjoy our travels.

Rest In Peace Maddie
I'm doing three posts, one for the Midwest, one regarding the rig and one for our bike trip.  This is the Midwest Portion

Traveling back to Chicago (with a slight detour)
Our campsite at Babler State Park - this is a really nice park
After spending Labor Day weekend at Lithia Springs Campground on Lake Shelbyville we drove about 2 1/2 hours west to St. Louis (Dr. Edmund Babler State Park) to visit my niece Katie and her family. We had so much fun with them!  Emily is 3 1/2 and Ethan is 1 1/2 and they are super sweet kids with lots of energy.  On Wednesday (9/5) we met up with Katie at the community center for Ethan's first mom/tot's music playgroup; that was fun to watch.



On Saturday (9/8) Katie was working so we volunteered to take the kids to the "Magic House"which is an awesome children's museum in St. Louis.  Unfortunately it was a rainy Saturday and everyone else in St. Louis had the same idea so the place was packed!  We lasted about two hours (maybe) and then dropped them off with their daddy and we spent the rest of the day relaxing (recuperating) in the rig.

We found the quietest area and, bonus, it had seats













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We drove by the Arch on Friday (9/7) and realized that the best place to take a picture would be from the Illinois side.  We walked around the outside of the Arch with plans to come back for the inside later.

From the Arch we drove to the International Photography Museum.  They had a baseball stadium exhibit and the museum is free on the first Friday of the month - that was a win for both of us!

Monday, we drove across the river into Illinois to East St. Louis and discovered a park with a platform for viewing the Arch.  Marty did his photography thing and then, since it was right next door, we visited the Casino Queen.  We broke even so we had a fun morning.


View of the Arch from the Illinois side of the Mississippi River
 From East St. Louis, IL we drove back to St. Louis and actually toured the Arch.  We've been in St. Louis many times but had never been inside the Arch - it's pretty amazing.  There is a museum with exhibits about the Lewis and Clark expedition and the importance of St. Louis to the Westward Expansion.  There are also exhibits about the building of the Arch and the design competition to build it.  We wandered through the exhibits and then viewed the movie about the construction of the Arch.  The movie was very interesting.  There were no OSHA regulations back in the early-mid 1960's and watching the men walk the beams without safety harnesses was pretty scary. Amazingly no one was killed during the construction.  There were also a lot of workers smoking which is something you don't see much of anymore (thank goodness).


View from the top
After the movie it was time to get into a five person pod and ride to the top.  These pods are tiny and you wouldn't want to ride up with anyone too chubby.  Once at the top they have tiny "slit" windows to look out, you can look eastward across the Mississippi River into Illinois or Westward and imagine the pioneers leaving St. Louis and traveling across the country.


Five people in this tiny pod?  Very tight quarters!


We made it to the top

On Tuesday (9/11) it was back to the Simmons house to hang out with Katie and the kids.  We had hoped to visit Grant's Farm but discovered that it's closed on Tuesdays after Labor Day.  Luckily, Grant's House was open and we caught up with a tour group and walked around and learned a little history.  There is just so much history you can learn when you're with a one and three year old so our next stop was at a park near their house.  We stopped back at their house for a little while, the kids ate lunch and went down for their naps and then we headed back to the rig to take care of Maddie.




Parks are way more fun than museums!

















Katie and the kids came by our rig after nap time so Emily and Ethan could see our house with wheels.  They liked it but what they really liked was the nearby camp playground.  After a little bit of playtime we headed over to Dewey's Pizza to meet Paul and have some pizza - yay!  This is a fun pizza place, when you walk in there is a window into the kitchen and you get to watch them make the pizzas.  The pizza-makers love an audience and were quite entertaining - they made a dough circle, stuck peppers for the eyes and mouth and then threw it at the window where it stuck, the kids loved it!
Paul, Ethan, and Emily - they loved watching the pizza guys

After dinner we stopped at Dairy Queen for dessert.  I tried to take a video of Ethan when he saw the case of ice cream cakes - he was so excited, pointing and jumping around.  Very adorable, too bad I'm not any good at video taping.

We were at Katie's bright and early on Wednesday.  She had an appointment to get her boot removed (did I mention that she had a broken ankle?) and we drove Emily to preschool and went back with Katie to pick her up.  We stayed at their house until the kids went down for their naps and then it was time to say good-bye to the Simmons Family.

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We left St. Louis Thursday morning (9/13) and headed northeast to Comlara County Park in Hudson, IL.  It's near Bloomington-Normal and is also pretty close to Peoria.  This was a very nice park!  It's on a lake and there were lots of trails.  There were lots of things to see an do in the area. We visited Eureka College and checked out their Ronald Reagan Museum.  After the museum we stopped at Uncle Bob's Ice Cream Shop and discovered that a very popular Cub player grew up in Eureka, Ben Zobrist.  There was a bobblehead of him in his Eureka HS uniform on the counter.  After some really good ice cream we drove to Peoria and discovered the Dan Fogelberg Memorial which is on a beautiful site overlooking the Illinois River.





















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We left Comlara Campground on Monday (9/17) headed up to the Chicago area.  We spent the end of September and the last two weeks of October in the Paul Woolf Campground in Elgin. We come back in the fall hoping for a lot of October baseball.  I was hoping for a better year for the Cubs - it was exhausting watching them this year - 95 wins and yet it never felt like they'd go very far in the playoffs (and they didn't).  I went to three games the last week of the season and they lost two :(  and went on to lose the Wild card


First Game - Monday, 9/24 - Lost

Game 2 - Saturday,  9/29 - Lost


Game 3 - Sunday, 9/30 - WIN






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We're always happy to be back in the Midwest.   It's great to catch up with our family and friends and  visit our favorite Midwest restaurants and it's also very nice to eat good pizza!  We get to meet any new babies (and there are always new babies in my family!).
Lunch with my sisters at Portillo's
One new baby (Madison, 4 months) with an old baby (Grace, 17 months)



















At Barone's:  Tom, Judy, Sue, Mary, Jeanne, Donna and Joe - 7 out of 8, not bad!
 
We are leaving Elgin on 10/31 because that's the day they close for the season.  We are heading to Mesa, Arizona from here with six weeks to get there; we have reservations from 12/19 thru 3/19.  Not quite sure of our route but do know that we will be going through Kansas since that is the ONLY state west of the Mississippi River that we haven't visited.

Walking our trail on a very misty Sunday afternoon






Post 102 - Part C: Bike and Barge Trip, 10/4 thru 10/14/18


Biking and Barging through Belgium and The Netherlands

About the Barge and Bikes
Our very tiny cabin
We joined the Mitchell Family (Terry, Linn, and Krissy) for another amazing bicycle trip in Europe.  This was our fourth bike trip in Europe with them but the first for all of us on a barge.  We loved this trip, sleeping in the same bed every night and being able to unpack all your stuff was a nice perk.  On our previous bike trips we packed up every night and our luggage was transported to our next hotel.



 

Dining Room

The barge (Fiep, named for the owner's daughter) was much nicer than we expected.  The rooms were tiny but manageable.  The lounge area was plenty big enough for our group of 21, the dining area was downstairs from the lounge and was very comfortable with three tables.






There was a small crew on the barge - Captain Cuba (pronounced koyba), Chef Frank, Karin (Jill of all Trades) and Tomik (deck hand).  They did an amazing job all week keeping everyone happy and well fed.

Lia and Stefanie, our fearless leaders
Our bike guides were Stefanie and Lia.  They did an awesome job keeping us well informed about our daily rides.  One guide would stay with the van meeting up with us for water and snack breaks.  The other guide rode with the group making sure everyone was doing ok and that no one got lost.









This was a trip planned through Vermont Bike Tours and everyone in our group was from the United States.  6 people were from Virginia, 2 from Florida, 1 from New Hampshire, 1 from Minnesota, 2 from Washington State, 2 from Califorina, 3 from New York, 2 from Michigan and 2 from Chicago.

E-Bikes (electronic bikes) were an available option and 7 people chose them.  Since we were riding in the "Low Countries" we chose regular road bikes with 27 speeds.


Biking and Touring 
We left Chicago on Thursday, 10/4 on a 5:50 PM flight and arrived in Brussels at 9:00 the next morning.  We were met and driven into Bruges, Belgium and arrived at our hotel around 12:00 noon on Friday (5:00 AM Chicago time and we did not sleep on the airplane due to their very fine selection of movies)  I was very happy when our room became available at 2:30 (7:30 AM Chicago time so we were up 24 hours straight, I'm getting too old for this)  We took a short nap and then walked over to the main square for dinner.  It was nice enough to eat outside. 

We started our trip on Saturday from Bruges.  We were meeting our bike leaders at 12:30 in the hotel lobby so we had a little bit of time to walk around.  We decided to visit the St. John Hospital Museum.  This Hospital opened in the 1100's!  We walked through what had been the hospital and the pharmacy.  The hospital was an open room where nuns attended all the patients.  It was pretty interesting but there was very little signage in English.
 
Once back at the hotel we met up with the our group and our group leaders and walked about a mile and a half to where our barge was docked.  As we walked thru Bruges, Group Leader Lia pointed out interesting sites and explained what we were seeing.

Linn, Krissy, and Terry in Bruges, Belgium
When we got to the barge, we found our assigned cabin and changed into bike gear for a short 12 mile ride mostly along the Ghent-Bruges Canal.  The barge met us where we finished the ride and we got cleaned up and met in the dininig room for dinner.  Chef Frank was amazing!  The first night's dinner was a pasta dish with Tiramisu for dessert - yum!

We woke up Sunday to a very windy day with temperatures in the 60's.  We started the day with a guided boat tour through the city canals of Ghent, Belgium. We got off the boat in the old section of Ghent and walked over to the flower market with Linn, Terry and Krissy.  Then it was time for a snack break (waffles and hot chocolate - it was chilly outside).  We walked back to the meeting place and took a taxi to our bikes.  We rode 18 miles from Melle to Dendermonde on flat ground but the wind blowing at us from the north made it feel like we were riding uphill.  The first half of the ride was rough but once we had a water and snack break it felt easier.  We were back on the barge by 4:00 and up on deck for a beer tasting at 5:30.  Our dinner was at 6:30 with pork tenderloin for me and baked cod for Marty.
Misty morning biking
Monday was another chilly day but there was very little wind.  We rode 36.5 miles mostly through farm land. We ended the ride in Antwerp where we met our barge.  36 miles sounds like a lot but it was broken into 3 segments and was very "do-able".  After the first 23 miles we stopped and picked up some sandwiches and ate outside near Wisserkerke Castle.  Our last 13 miles included a ride down an elevator with all our bikes, through a long tunnel under the river, and then back up the elevator.  Europe is very bike-friendly!

 
A little Antwerp history


Google means the same thing in any language
Tuesday was a "no-biking" day.  We walked to the old section of town with our group and toured the Cathedral.  We were then on our own and off we went looking for chocolate shops.  We stopped to take a break in the main square and were approached by some students (4th grade?) on a field trip.  They had a sheet of paper with questions to be answered.  They asked us if we knew how many clocks were on the cathedral - we didn't but boy did their eyes light up when we said the word google!  We looked it up for them and off they went, I hope the information we gave them was correct.









From the main square it was a short walk back to the barge.  It was also a very interesting walk as we realized that we had wandered into the "Red-Light District" of Antwerp.  How did we realize this?  Well the very scantily clad ladies in each of the store front windows was a pretty good clue.  Did I mention that it was only noon?  I wonder what it's like it there in the evening.

Once on the barge it was time to sail out of Belgium and into The Netherlands.  It's interesting being on the barge - the captain has to synchronize with bridges to be raised and locks to be gone through.  Our stop for this night was in Tholen, Netherlands.

Our barge going through the raised bridge in Antwerp
Antwerp is Europe's largest harbor (after Rotterdam) and it was fascinating seeing all the cargo ships traveling the waterways.

Our dinner on Tuesday was the most spectacular of all the evenings.  Chef Frank prepared an Indonesian smorgasbord.  I didn't write down the name of any of the dishes but it was all really good!

Dry Ingredients

Add a little chicken broth

And you get a delicious soup
Marty, Marco, Mary and Petra
After dinner we were invited in groups of 2-4 to visit a local family.  I was a bit apprehensive about this, we were tired and I wasn't sure how it would go.  We met Marco who walked up over to his house where his wife, Petra was waiting to meet us.  They offered us some cheese and some Ketel (vodka?).  With a little alcohol in us the evening was quite pleasant.  They both spoke English very well, Petra works for a company based in London and has an English accent and Marco works for a company based in Scotland and can put on a Scottish brogue when the mood strikes him.  They were delightful.  They gave us a tour of their whole house, it was built in the early 1900's so not as old as many of their neighbors.  Up in the attic they took us through a door which led out to a small deck overlooking the neighborhood.    My favorite part of the evening was discovering that Petra was a reader and belonged to a book club and they had just finished reading a book about Barack Obama.  Europeans that we talked to throughout our trip loved President Obama and can't figure out how Trump happened (neither can we).

On Wednesday it was back on the bikes for a total of 28 miles.  It was a very pleasant day for riding, temperatures were in the 60's and 70's and we had sunny skies.

The first part of our ride took us to the village of Oud-Vossemeer, the ancestral home of the Roosevelt Family.  We stopped at the local museum and learned about the Dutch Roosevelts.   We continued riding and ended up in the town of Willemstad around 1:30.  We ate lunch on the barge as it sailed through the canals to the town of Dordrecht (oldest city in Holland).

Once we docked, Marty and I took a stroll through the town and then headed back to the barge.  I stayed on the barge to read and Marty went back out with a few other people.  He came back with a hair cut!


If the shoe fits......

Thursday started out overcast and a little cooler.  As we ate breakfast the barge sailed to the UNESCO site Kinderdijk.  We started our ride on the western corner of the "Alblasserwaard Polder" (diked-in-land) which is surrounded by 19 traditional windmills.  We went inside one and were able to climb up, it was pretty steep going up the ladder so I only went up to the first landing.  The windmill we were in was built in the 1700's but a few kilometers down the path we saw some from the 1500's.  We continued the morning ride of 17.5 miles and met up with the barge for lunch.  I elected to stay on the barge for the afternoon (after all it is a BARGE and bike trip).  It was very relaxing sitting on the deck reading and watching the world go by.
This windmill was built in the 1500's
A more modern windmill (from the 1700's)



The afternoon ride was 16.25 miles with two ferry crossings.  Marty did that and gets bragging rights that he did all the miles.

Our barge docked in the town of Vianen and after another delicious dinner we strolled through the town and visited the local carnival.  Looked like fun but our carnival ride days are over.

Friday was our last riding day and the weather was perfect!  The barge sailed us to the town of Breukelen.  We crossed the original Brooklyn Bridge and rode into Breukelen town the home of the first settlers to New Amsterdam (New York).  We stopped at a cheese farm, toured the factory and sampled many different cheeses, it was hard to leave without buying something. I was tempted but didn't want to deal with lugging a round of cheese home on the airplane.

Lunch break
 We continued our ride to our lunch spot between two windmills near the town of Weesp.  After lunch it was time to get back on the bikes for the ride I had been dreading - the ride into Amsterdam.  There are more bikes in Amsterdam than cars and it's scary to ride with all those bikes and not be sure of where you're going.  Our ride leader, Stefanie, assured us we'd be fine and had everyone wait at the last break spot (McDonalds) so that we could ride in to Amstedam together.  She was a really good guide, always checking to make sure everyone was there; her motto was "Stand your ground", don't worry about anybody but yourself - they are very used to bicycles in the Netherlands.


We did survive the last few miles into Amsterdam with only one slight issue (we stopped for a light and unwittingly blocked the path for the people going right and one man was not happy with us - oh well).  We were happy to see our docked barge in Amsterdam but sad that our biking was over.   We had one last dinner on the barge (Steak and potatoes with chocolate mousse for dessert).  Marty presented everyone with a polaroid of themselves and Jackie and Chuch made up awards and gave us each a piece of chocolate.  Then it was time to pack up our bags to be ready to leave the barge at 9:00 AM on Satuday.

Last night on the barge, time for a group photo
We had a final breakfast and then Stefanie walked us to our Amsterdam hotel and we said our goodbyes.

Our luggage was dropped off at the hotel for us but it was too early to check in so some of us (Linn, Terry, Krissy, Jackie, Chuch, Marty and I) walked around and found an outdoor cafe right on a canal that served crepes.  We hung around there for a while watching the canal traffice and then checked in at the hotel. 

Kirsi and Tukka flew in from Finland to meet up with us.  Kirsi was an exchange student who stayed at the Mitchell's while she was in high school. Marty and I met them when they did the bike trip with us back in 2008.  It was very nice to see them again.

We had reservations for the Anne Frank House at 3:45.  It was overwhelming to see the "Annex" where the Franks and the four others lived for over two years.  It's a very well done museum and you actually walk upstairs to where they lived.  I bought the book just to say that it came from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam (I did the same thing in Monroeville, AL when I bought "To Kill a Mockingbird", I think I've found a new thing to collect).

Anne Frank House Museum
When we left the museum we were getting hungry so Krissy looked up "Dutch" places to eat.  The first one we stopped at wasn't big enough for our group of 7 but right across the street was a very nice place and we had our Dutch Dinner.  All three men ordered mussels which came in a very large pot, they all seemed to enjoy it.  I think Kirsi, Krissy and I all had the "Stamppot" which was basically meat and potatoes and was very good.  Sorry, Linn, I can't remember what you ordered.

800,000 people and 1.2 million bikes in Amsterdam
      
We "ran" into Tukka and Kirsi as we were leaving for the airport
We were being picked up at 8:00 the next morning (Sunday, 10/14) for our 11:00 flight so we said our good-byes.  We had a wonderful time biking and barging and meeting new friends and catching up with family. What great memories we have of Europe.

Sunday happened to be my birthday and since we left Amsterdam at 11:00 AM and arrived in Chicago at 1:00 PM but flew for 8 hours I had a 30 hour birthday!  I thought that was kind of neat.  I also enjoyed the ticket agent and the security agent both telling me congratulations.  I guess when you're my age they don't say Happy Birthday anymore just congratulations for making it to my age?? 






Here's a link to a few more pictures:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/konopacki/sets/72157701027627421



And here are our biking totals for the week:

Saturday:  12 miles
Sunday:  18 miles
Monday: 36 miles
Tuesday: no biking
Wednesday: 28 miles
Thursday: 18 miles for Mary and 33 for Marty
Friday: 26 miles
138 miles for Mary and 153 miles for Marty

Post 102 - Part B: Rig Issues, 10/1 thru 10/31/2018

Our first stop in the Chicago area was General RV in Huntley to make an appointment to have some work on our rig done.  Our grey water tank (shower water) was leaking due to a crack and we were hoping it could be repaired.  Unfortunately when we brought it in on 10/1 they couldn't repair the crack and a new tank had to be ordered. They agreed to keep the rig in the shop while we were out of the country (did I mention that we went on a bike/barge trip to Belgium and The Netherlands?).

Defective tank :(
Having them keep the rig in the shop was a big help to us since we now didn't need to drive it to Rick and Celeste's property in Indiana (3 hours each way).  The rig would be fixed while we were gone and we would pick it up on Monday, 10/15 and spend two more weeks back in Elgin.  Ahhhh, if only that had worked.  We drove back to General RV on Monday (10/15) to pick up our rig and found out that nothing had been done.  The new tank had just come in and they weren't sure when they'd get it put on - yikes!  Luckily, the Schmidt Hotel (thanks Judy and Don) had a room available and that's where we spent the next four nights.

We expected the tank to be installed and ready for pick-up by Wednesday (10/17).  On Wednesday morning we received a phone call from the service department telling us that the new tank had a crack in it and another one would need to be ordered.  They had no idea how long it would take to get the new tank.  We asked where it was being ordered from and when we realized it was coming from Goshen, IN told them we'd pick it up.  Great idea but we got the call from the Service Department at noon and the place in Goshen closes at 3:00 and it's a three hour drive and they're an hour ahead!  Oh no, what do we do?  We call Brother Rick's family in Walkerton, IN and see if there is someone available who can go pick it up.  Very lucky for us, Adam was willing to drive the hour northeast and pick up the tank.  We then got in our car and headed to Indiana to pick it up from him and had a nice visit with Rick, Celeste, Sharon and Adam.  Thanks Adam!!

We were back at General RV by 9:00 Thursday morning with the tank and handed it over to our repair guy.  We finally picked up our rig on Friday and got set up in the Elgin campground.

Another Issue
Oh, No!!
I was in the shower one morning and heard a loud thunk.  Marty went to check it out and discovered that the support bar for our new tank had fallen and hit the ground.  We also found that our grey water tank handle was loose and we were unable to use it.  We got in the truck and headed back to General RV to make an appointment to get these two items taken care of.  Our appointment is at 9:00 on Wednesday, 10/31 - our fingers are crossed that these are easy fixes and that we'll be on the road by noon.









With these latest problems we thought it would be fun to look at new rigs.  We sat down with a sales rep and told him what we had and what we like.  He drove us in his golf cart to look at some Grand Design rigs. They're very nice but we really like our layout and it's still less expensive to fix and maintain ours.  It was nice to see what was out there, it really made us appreciate what we have.