There’s No Place Like Home

It’s official.  Post-Vacation depression has finally set in.

I found out how I was missed when I went back to work.  I went down to the cafeteria and the guy behind the counter ringing me up for a Snapple asked where I had been.  I told him I was on vacation in California.

“Connecticut?” he asked.

“No, California,” I repeated because he doesn’t speak English well.  He then pointed to my T-shirt which had Connecticut on it.  I smiled and told him that was last year’s trip and that I hadn’t gotten around to doing laundry yet.  It reminded me that I am sort of like a walking billboard sometimes.

I love being on the train almost as much as my vacation destinations.  When you go to the dining car, they seat you with other people so they have full tables and there is room for everyone.   It’s interesting to discuss with the other passengers where they are headed, their experiences and, almost as if it’s required, why they are traveling by train.

Sometimes conversation starts slow. During dinner my 2nd night on the train trip home, I was seated at a table across from an elderly gentleman and next to a middle aged woman.  The southwest chief Amtrak train was actually heading northeast at this point.

“You must be going to Milwaukee,” the man said finally breaking the ice.  It also broke a wide smile across my face as I thought about home.

“I am.  I was on vacation in California,” I replied.  The train originated in Los Angeles so a lot of us had boarded in Cali.

“I was in San Francisco for a reunion of my ship’s crew.  I served on the USS LITTLE ROCK,” he told us.

“The LITTLE ROCK?  The one that’s in Buffalo?” I asked and was correct.  He was impressed and a little proud that someone of my generation would know that particular ship.  I explained my interest in all things Maritime.

Once our meals arrived and after a brief hiatus in conversation the man asked me if I knew what the best part of being on vacation was.  I was a little puzzled and thought since we were at dinner it might have been the fact that you didn’t have to cook or do dishes.

“The best part of vacation,” he clarified, “is coming home.”

I smiled again.  I had been away from my family for 2 weeks and was missing them terribly.  It made me a little teary as I agreed.  I love to vacation in California and other places I’ve been, but I would never choose any of those places over Milwaukee.

“I’ve never been to Milwaukee really.  Took a plane through there,” the man said and then he asked me what made Milwaukee so great that I’d leave sunny California for it.

“I love Milwaukee,” I looked down at my shirt.  It was black with the image of a Godess-like woman leaning on a globe that says Milwaukee Feeds and supplies the World.  It may have at one time, but even me as Milwaukee’s biggest bolster, would have to admit that it doesn’t anymore.  To me the shirt always emitted a tone of Socialism

“If I were a tourist there where should I go?” he asked.

I explained how our art museum “The Calatrava” is known throughout the country, as well as our Summerfest, which is the largest music festival.

I was asked if those were my favorite since I mentioned them first.  I admitted they weren’t but that it was something that was supposed to make Milwaukee popular.  I said I would choose the Milwaukee Symphony or the Milwaukee Repertory Theater over the art museum. 

“Then what makes you smile about Milwaukee, the way you did when I first mentioned it?” he asked.  

I love Milwaukee’s architecture.  It has an old world charm in that many of the buildings are still in use from the 1800’s having survived the urban blight when industrialization when out the window (or should I say to China).  So many of our old buildings have been given a new life in the form of condos and office buildings such as the Pabst and Schlitz breweries.  It’s neat to see an expertly built brick building butted up against a clearly modern structure.  Old meets new.  That’s what Milwaukee is about.

But if looking for free things, Wisconsin is so pretty in every season that if I moved I would miss hiking and biking through the State Parks and along the lake front.  We’re lucky to have 2 Great Lakes for our borders.  My personal favorite is finding historical landmarks and it’s so easy to travel around Wisconsin compared to California.   I said I like to vacation in Wisconsin and go to places like Holy Hill, The Dells, Cave of the Mounds, Apostle Islands and The House On The Rock.   

The man was really intrigued until I started telling him that there were once pyramids in Wisconsin in Aztalan (A.D. 1000 and 1300. The people who settled Aztalan built large, flat-topped pyramidal mounds and a stockade around their village. )

Wisconsin DNR photo of Aztalan

I thought I needed to reel the man in again so he knew I wasn’t just telling wild tales because he had never been there before so I began to tell him the story of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company and the 28 submarines that were built on Lake Michigan during WWII.  I figured bringing it back to the Navy side of things would get him back into the conversation. 

The lady who had been quiet til now decided to mention the trouble with the police shootings.  I think she was tired of hearing me go on and on (She was from Chicago…. I think there might have been a rivalry there) so it ended my Chamber of Commerce lecture. But just because she stopped me from talking, it doesn’t mean I won’t go on and on if you want me to 🙂



Buffalo, New York

I love to travel and see new places. When I plan a vacation it’s usually around something historical that I want to see. I either get to my destination by train or driving. I don’t know how people got around before GPS. It’s the one modern invention I couldn’t live without. I remember the horrors of Mapquest directions and having to be told to turn on “un-named road” or just not knowing where to go as was the case when I got lost returning from Niagara Falls. I have a friend who is like a human GPS and has a strong sense of direction.

My first train trip was in 1997 and I have been on the train 1-2 times a year since then. I love keeping the tickets as souvenirs. Over the years as society attempts to go paperless, Amtrak has followed as well and gone to using smart phone screens or computer paper print-at-home tickets. They do still have machines at the station where you can purchase on the spot and a ticket will print out. Alas, they don’t have any fancy logos or color ink anymore. I’ve toyed with the idea of designing my own ticket that I can print out to use as a memory of my trip in place of these generic tickets.

Here are a few ticket stubs from some of my favorite trips. You can also see the steady increase in the cost of long distance passenger travel.

amtrak tickets

I always travel 1st class or in sleeper accommodations as it’s referred to these days. That means I get my own private room with a bed and a window, as well as access to a shower facility and free meals. I traveled coach on a long distance train twice and that was more than enough for me. That was from Chicago to Charlottesville, Virginia and another time from Chicago to Memphis, Tennessee.

I’ve had people tell me that I should go into the travel and tourism business because of the interesting attractions I find to go to. Travelpod website ( is great to blog your trips via photographs. I have already made up a few trips on that site as well.

I have made trips to places more than once, but this isn’t always the case.  In 2005, I persuaded a co-worker to travel with me to the Buffalo, New York area to visit President Millard Fillmore’s grave. The vacation planning stages are as follows.

  1. Find a location
  2. Determine if there is an Amtrak route to that place
  3. Search for attractions in the same area
  4. (Optional) Enlist travel buddies

I saw Millard Fillmore’s grave in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY and then his home in East Aurora. Millard Fillmore is one of my favorite Past (Passed) Presidents. While the information out there on Fillmore swings from him being labeled as one of the worst presidents to basically no information because he didn’t want any of his papers preserved. He was a private man, who worked hard to overcome a harsh childhood. He did so by serving the people of New York in the State Government. He was humble and said he would serve (Vice-President) because the people wanted him too; not for his own selfish reasons. Gee, I kind of made him out to sound like a superhero there. J

The next day we took a boat trip on part of the Erie Canal through the locks in it city of Lockport. That was exciting to experience how a lock actually works. Construction on the Erie Canal began in 1814 and was completed in 1825. It connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Also in Buffalo was a military park where I toured my first submarine- the USS Croaker as well as the Little Rock and Sullivan cruiser ships. The Croaker was manufactured by the Electric Boat company in Groton, Connecticut during WWII. Information on the USS Sullivans directly from the website, “USS The Sullivans, named for five brothers who lost their lives in the Battle of the Solomon Islands when their ship sunk, is an excellent example of the Fletcher class, the largest and most important class of U.S. destroyers in World War II. The Sullivans served with distinction in WWII, took part in intense combat in the Marshalls, Carolines, Mariannas, and Philippines, rescued many survivors from downed planes and damaged or sinking ships, and earned nine battle stars for her service. The Sullivans also served in the Korean War, the Cuban Blockade and assisted in the rescue efforts for the nuclear submarine USS Thresher.”

I toured the (Ansley) Wilcox mansion where Teddy Roosevelt was inaugurated on 9/14/1901 at 3:30 pm in the library, following President McKinley’s assassination. The house where McKinley died no longer stands, but we drove past the site where the Milburn home was.

Next we traveled to Jamestown, NY where Lucille Ball was born. There is a small Lucy-Desi Museum which also has replicas of the Ricardo’s apartment rooms as well as the Tropicana TV show sets. I Love Lucy has been one of my favorite TV shows since I was a little kid. It was actually the 2nd time that I got to see the apartment sets, as they had been on a traveling tour.

The last location was Niagara Falls. It was in the middle of a bad rain storm so I only got to see Canada for about 15 min before we ran back to the United States. We parked in America and walked across the border (a bridge over Niagara Falls) into Canada. That’s when it began to rain again so I didn’t get to see hardly anything. However, considering everything that I just listed above, this trip was pretty full.

I guess that just means, I’ll have to put it on my list as a place I would like to visit again.  Here is a slideshow of a select photographs from the 4-day whirlwind tour of Buffalo

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