We finished up our time in the Northeast and did something a bit inefficient and traveled south and then back up north in a big ‘U’ shape. The reason: there is much to see in the middle of America!
Admittedly, we missed much of it (nearly all of it, actually) but we tried to fit in what we could to hit a few places we were looking forward to seeing and friends and family we wanted to visit.
From Niagara Falls, we made the long drive through New York and Ohio down into Kentucky.
Lexington, Kentucky is gor-geous.
It’s horse country, so there are expansive green grass pastures with simple fences (dark brown, not white as I expected! And it is so subtle and pretty that way), with old stone walls, tall old-growth trees and stately thoroughbreds. We loved driving through the countryside.
Horseracing season was not happening while we were there but we popped by the Keeneland track just to see what its all about.
Keeneland opened in 1936 and one of the prettiest tracks in America. It has remained largely as it was originally built which gives it a sense of history and grandeur.
The kids and I sat in the stadium and I played a horse race on my phone so we could get the visual of what it looks like on a race day.
Next we visited the Woodford Reserve for a famed bourbon tour.
Going into the tour, I was 100% clueless about the making of fine bourbon and the tour was both very informative and actually quite entertaining – even for the kids. It felt a little bit like when Mr. Rogers took us on factory tours where you see the machines and bottling and storing.
And while we were supposed to be super interested in the bourbon, I was a bit more taken with this darling house on the property :)
One of my best college friends had just moved to Louisville and another best college friend flew out the night before from Colorado to visit and help her unpack. They were so sweet to drive over an hour to come hang out with us for the afternoon.
Great story: my friend Kelsey (on the left) did a mini tasting at the distillery and when she took her first sip she yelled out, “Whew!” without really meaning to. Everyone laughed and then realized that’s what they secretly wanted to respond with as well. Bourbon is not for the faint of heart.
The following morning on our way out of town, we stopped for breakfast sandwiches at Windy Corner Market. Best biscuit/egg/ham sandwich ever.
We drove from Lexington into Nashville to stay with our friends just outside of Franklin, Tennessee.
There is something so refreshing about staying with friends in a real house. There is space to move around, people to chat with and get to know, a full kitchen to cook and clean and just the slow pace of real life.
It gave the kids a chance to spread out and meet new friends as well – something we’ve been so proud of how well they do. I know Raechel (we went to Rwanda together two summers ago and have continued our friendship) and have chatted with her husband Ryan on She Reads Truth matters (they run She Reads Truth along with Amanda who you’ll see below) but my Ryan and the kids had not met any of them. It was both strange and wonderful to just pull up to their house, walk in and become instant friends.
The girls clearly had no problem connecting.
And the boys hit it off from the start when their son told them about the pond down the street that he loves to fish at.
We had great intentions of going into Nashville and doing the Nashville things, but all the kids wanted to do was play like normal with their new friends. And so, we skipped the Grand Ole Opry and instead spent our time around the house and the nearby charming town of Franklin.
I have mentioned She Reads Truth a million times before and I truly love this ministry and the ladies behind it. It was great to visit their office in real life and see all the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that women and men (did you know there is a He Reads Truth?!) have the resources and encouragement to open our bibles everyday.
Those girls look like they are up to no good!
While we didn’t do a ton of sight-seeing, it was really nice to spend time with new friends and have a few days of semi-normal life doing things like swimming in the neighborhood pool, cooking a delicious summer asian salad (try it!), fishing, playing barbies, going for a run, sitting in a church service, going out to brunch, dropping the kids off at the gymnastics place so we could go on a grown-up date. All of it was just what we needed to recover from our whirlwind the few weeks before. And we’re so happy to have made great friends in the process!
It was hard to pull away – the kids were all so sad to leave and can’t wait to see each other again soon! – but we loaded up and made our way back up north through St. Louis.
Ryan’s aunt, uncle and cousins live in St. Louis and they hosted us for our overnight. Again, it was another wonderful night of connecting with people, eating homemade barbecue and watching a cardinals baseball game on tv.
From St. Louis, we drove north stopping in Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln spent much of his political career.
The Old Capitol Building is a beautiful old stone structure with tall windows, gorgeous woodwork and history galore.
Our stay was cut short by the massive rainstorm that came through town. You guys, I did not know how hard it rains in the summer in so much of the country! We get drizzly rain all the time in Seattle … this stuff is different. Thick, warm drops that come pouring down out of nowhere and drench you in seconds. Fun times.
Now on to Chicago …
When planning, we had a hard time finding a campground to stay at near the city. All of the rv parks were about 1 1/2 hours away and that is not a fun commute to see the city. A reader reached out months ago and offered for us to stay at their home in Chicago. At first I dismissed the idea – that is crazy to just stay with someone you’ve never met! And then we decided to just go for it.
So that night, we pulled up to a darling house in a charming neighborhood just outside of the city, knocked on the door and overtook their peaceful evening with our big family. Kacie and Patrick were the most gracious of hosts. We enjoyed getting to know them, learning more about their jobs and family and life in Chicago. They fed us Chicago-style pizza, were so hospitable to us and even let us leave the airstream in their driveway for the next few days while we stayed in the city. Such kindness!
Again, the weather was a little dicey but that didn’t stop us from thoroughly enjoying Chicago.
In fact, of all the cities we visited, I think Chicago was a favorite of all of ours. We were so surprised! It is like the perfect mix of big NYC-style city, with a smaller, cleaner feel.
From our hotel room, we walked across the river to Millennium Park and came upon the best urban park ever – the Maggie Daley Park.
We took a walk through Millennium park and enjoyed the skyline before the clouds came in and rain started. Lollapalooza was happening just down the way so the music was going and there were tons of people out and about. The atmosphere was super fun.
Of course we had to capture ourselves in the reflection of ‘The Bean’.
Our hotel room looked out on the city – we loved the view.
Later that night, while laying in bed watching tv, two magical things happened:
- Fireworks over Lake Michigan started and we had a perfect straight-shot to enjoy the whole show.
- While clicking through the channels, we happened upon Nickelodeon’s Double Dare with Marc Summers. Please tell me you remember this show. It was awesome. I may or may not have watched three episodes and smiled the whole time through.
While in Chicago, we visited the Field Museum where we saw Sue, the most intact T-Rex fossil ever found.
We have been to a couple of really great natural history museums and this one was wonderful.
The kids wanted to go back to the park to play, so we did that for a bit and then ate one of our best meals of the trip at The Purple Pig. This was one of the only times of the trip that Ryan and I wished we could dine kid-less. The restaurant and food were worth really savoring and the kids sped us up more than we would have liked.
On our way out of town, we drove by historic Wrigley Field. It would have been so fun to go to a game! Next time …
We all definitely want to visit Chicago again. There were a handful of activities that we didn’t get to do because of the weather, so we hope to make it back again soon!
Been in Chicago nine years and I love to see it through your eyes :) also my good friend is in Lexington … Now I’m planning a visit!
Ah, the Purple Pig! My son and his wife lived in Chicago while he was doing his PhD at the University of Chicago, and we had great meals at the Purple Pig. And I know what you mean about the rain in the midwest–crazy hard rain that goes on and on! We live in Colorado and get big thunderstorms in the summer, but the rain rarely lasts more than 10 minutes or so. Rain east of the Mississippi is a whole different thing!
Double Dare – and Family Double Dare! I always dreamed my family would be on it, or my bestie. Ha! Classic!
Thank you for finishing up your trip stories even though you are home. I have read every post so far and one summer, I plan to take this route!
I loved Double Dare! Did you ever watch “You can’t do that on television”? Sometimes when someone says something ridiculous I think to myself “this is just the introduction to the opposites…”
Also, I love Chicago pizza!!!
The middle-ish of America looks like an awesome part of your trip to me! This definitely made me want to make it over to Kentucky :)
This trip has been so much fun to live through with you all! Lexington is my place! Beautiful cities in our beautiful country. We did a much-abbreviated version of this a few years ago, and it just makes me want to do it some more!
I’d love to hear in a recap sort of thing about your clothes. You let us know what you were taking with you. I’d love to know what held up and what you kept wearing that you’re not absolutely sick of! Those are the true classics!
Glad to see you visited and enjoyed our beautiful town of Lexington! From a follower of your blog for years from the horse Capitol of the World!
I’m a reader from Springfield, Il and was so happy to see that your family was able to make a quick stop here! It’s been fun to follow your travels this summer!
The City Museum in St. Louis is amazing! Add it to your list for next time!
Chicago is “my kind of town” … I grew up 30 minutes from the loop … definitely need to go back to hit up more of Chi town!
Thank you so much for sharing your vacation with all of us. We didn’t get to vacation this summer……..so reading your blog brought me back to my childhood road trips. We traveled pretty much the same places you did and to relive it in todays world was such fun. I’m a Chicago native and still love living in the area…..always something new to explore. Just curious what hotel you stayed in downtown? Sounded like a great location!
How much fun are you guys? I grew up in St. Louis (go Cardinals!) + now live by Chicago. I love them both. Next time in St. Louis, visit the Zoo + check out the City Museum, which is this crazy cool place that kids + their parents love!
Oh my goodness!! YES to the City Museum. We live in Peoria, IL and took our kids last summer. We had heard for years how fun it is, but we were BLOWN AWAY at how crazy fun it really is!!
I’ve been following along with your trip from the start. I was so looking forward to your visit to TN since that is where I live. I was sad to not see much about it since you spent it visiting friends and enjoying some downtime. I hope you’ll make another trip here sometime and see more of it than Franklin. While charming, there are so many other things you missed! Put the little town of Linnville on your future plans. There is also an artsy little town right outside of Franklin called Leiper’s Fork that is not to be missed. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.
How exciting that you were in my very own town of Lexington, KY! I laughed when I read your title of “middle-ish” America because KY is often categorized in different geographical groupings. Sometimes we’re the south, sometimes we’re the midwest, sometimes the state is divided – it’s interesting. I feel like a southerner, so that’s what I stick with!
So glad you thought our city/state was as beautiful as we do. Lexington is such the perfect little city and I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised here. I tried to venture away, but ultimately it drew me back.
Your summer travels have looked and sounded so fun! Makes me want to take a road trip!
You’ve shared such beautiful pictures. Ok, give us your secret! You have to tell us how you are able to get pictures without people in them! I wait and wait, but someone always seems to wander by.
Oh I *totally* remember those old Nickelodeon shows! A few years back I got to work on the set of the mashup dual-episode of “Restaurant Impossible” and “Kitchen Cousins” that Summers was Producer on. At the very end of production I had to go up and gush a little about how I loved his shows as a kid. He knowingly smiled, “’80s baby?” and thanked me for the good job I was doing and for letting him know I enjoyed the shows, etc. He was super nice. I was stoked. Grinned all night too. ;D