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Experience the True America: Travel ‘off the beaten path’

May 8th, 2008

Having a few international friends, I often consider where I would recommend they travel to have a TRUE American experience. With the current economic situation, some of these off-the-beaten-path destinations are looking better than ever. Here’s proof that the Mid-West should no longer be called the ‘fly-over-states.’


Madison, Wisconsin:

A gorgeous college town of 200,000+ situated between 2 lakes. Imagine a white capitol building and 5 blocks from its 3 and 9 o’clock positions are lakes and at the 6 o’clock position is State Street: a pedestrian-only street with bohemian shops (and the Gap), local bars and international restaurants (E. African, Afghani, etc). These 10 blocks lead straight to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Experience America in Madison:

  1. Go in the Fall for colorful leaves and the amazingly large farmers market around the capitol square every Saturday.
  2. Madison Wisconsin

    Madison Wisconsin

  3. Get there in time for the Halloween bash (Saturday before the holiday). Voted the #1 Halloween party by Playboy several years, it’s not really a family-friendly event.
  4. Madison Wisconsin Halloween Bash

    Madison Wisconsin Halloween Bash

  5. In the summer, the capitol square hosts Concert on the Square (free) every Wednesday night, bring a blanket, picnic and wine.
  6. Check out the Kohl center for concerts and sporting events
  7. Eat and Drink! Around the capitol is typically more upscale then on State Street.
  1. State Street and Campus

i. The Memorial Union – that’s right, the student union. Sit on the famous Terrace and have a beer (you might have to have a student order for you from the Ratskeller as you need to be a member or student!)

ii. Himal Chuli – Great Nepalese food

iii. Chautra – Hole in the wall Himalayan food, don’t get scared off by the wild plants in the entrance.

iv. State Street Brats – so wisco! Have a brat and stay for the bar atmosphere. Be sure to try a ‘Spotted Cow,’ a great local brew.

Now drive around Madison:

  1. Visit the many wineries and breweries such as Capital Brewery (www.capital-brewery.com or www.wollersheim.com).
  2. Head to the American Players Theatre in Spring Green for Shakespeare under the stars! (www.americanplayers.org)
  3. Also in Spring Green is Frank Llyod Wright’s famed home and studio, Taliesin (www.taliesinpreservation.org).

Budget Travel (www.budgettravel.com) had an article about Wisconsin in their May issue. Before you go, learn more about the Wisco-basics: http://www.youmightbe.com/pages/wisconsin.html


Chicago, Illinois

This is the city I recommend all foreigners visit (over New York) if they really want to experience the America not found in movies. Stay a few nights in the downtown area and a few in one of the neighborhoods like Wrigleyville or Lakeside. I will only add 2 notes about downtown as the sites are quite well known: try it before Christmas; cold yes, but also beautiful and, second, music lovers check out: www.lollapalooza.com. Now, more on the neighborhoods:

  1. Go to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field (Wrigleyville)
  2. Before the game, have a few at one of the designated ‘Cubs bars’ near the stadium. (Wrigleyville)
  3. Every neighborhood has unique, local bars and restaurants. Some worth mentioning: Sheffield’s just off Belmont for a drink, Orange for amazing brunch, Joey’s Brickhouse for a great burger (all in Lakeshore)
  4. Go to the Weiner’s Circle late night (post bars), the busty lady behind the counter will verbally abuse you like its going out of style. (Lincoln Park)
  5. The shopping is great down town, but check out the boutique stores tucked inside the neighborhoods.

Louisville & Lexington, Kentucky

Known as the blue grass state, Kentucky is rich in history, beauty and Southern hospitality. All of Kentucky can get behind a 2 things – horses and basketball (if you are in Louisville cheer for the Cardinals, in Lexington, you are a UK fan!). The two cities are only 1.5 hours away by car.

  1. Lexington
    1. Keeneland – this small but beautiful horse track is only open in April and October. Although all walks of life are in attendance, I suggest dressing up (no hat required) and bringing $2 for a bet and $4 for a drink. www.keeneland.com.
    2. Keeneland Horse Track

    3. Afterwards head to Murray’s (www.murrays-merrick.com) for a drink on the patio and the food is great too (upscale southern food in an old Horse Manor). Go to Dudley’s downtown for brunch. www.dudleysrestaurant.com
    4. Wineries – have lunch and a tasting at Chrisman Mill, then at night, head to Talon Winery for its Summer Concert Series (tickets in advance for dinner and a concert: 859-971-3214).
    5. Bourbon! You can order a glass anywhere or tour the many distilleries such as Makers Mark. Dip your own bottle in the famous red wax.
    6. Right outside of Lexington you can’t miss the Shaker Village.
    7. Visit the Liquor Barn (I would live there if I could) the only thing to rival its selection of booze is the selection of amazing foods.
    8. Liquor Barn

  2. Louisville
    1. The Kentucky Derby – start with Keeneland then finish with the Derby. Unless you are young and stupid (and drunk), don’t opt for the infield. Be sure to wear a hat and order a mint julep.
    2. Don’t miss the Mohammed Ali Center, is interactive and really more about life and about a boxer. www.alicenter.org. There is also a Children’s museum in the area.
    3. Mohammed Ali Center

    1. 21c Museum Hotel – whether you stay here or just visit for an hour the art is too cool, and free. Visit the bathroom before you leave. www.21cmuseumhotel.com
    2. Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a must for any sports fan. All these museums are within walking distance too each other too. www.sluggermuseum.org
    3. Fourth Street Live – This is a street of bars and restaurants that is a lot of fun to eat during the day and drink during the night.

Before you leave this great state, be sure to ask someone what ‘corn hole’ is. Don’t worry, its not dirty. Your kids will even like it!

Traveling is all about your experiences, so whether you head off-the-beaten-path in Wisconsin, Illinois or Kentucky, you will be able to experience the beauty, culture, tradition . . . and various accents of the TRUE America.

i. Great Dane Pub- the best and most eclectic bar food and great beer! Get the beer sampler and sit in the outdoor beer garden. (www.greatdanepub.com)

ii. Restaurant Muramoto is a favorite – atypical Asian fusion with a very unassuming entrance.

iii. Marigold for breakfast or brunch. Café Continental is solid too.

iv. Harvest and L’Etoile are fine dining but worth it - the seasonal menus use local foods from local farms.

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