We Finally Made It

Has there ever been somewhere you wanted to go but just never made it happen? I don’t mean a big trip. I mean a little place somewhere you wanted to visit when you were in the area, but circumstances kept you from going?

A few years ago, I embarked on a road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, along with her three kids and my daughter. We started in Charlotte and drove al through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania…and straight home from there. We saw most of the things we wanted to see, but we missed a couple.

The first one we missed was Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. You can see the website here. It’s a giant cheese store about 45 minutes from Chicago. It’s actually more than a cheese store…it’s a gift shop, an ice cream parlor, a restaurant, and a big photo op! Of course, it’s shaped like a castle, but it’s not made of cheese. We found out about it when we were looking at information about something that might be fun to visit just over the Wisconsin border from Chicago…it would be a way to make a quick visit to Wisconsin so our kids could add it to their lists of states they had visited.

Alas, we didn’t get to go while we were on that trip. There was so much fun to be had in Chicago on that trip that we never made it to Mars Cheese Castle…never even crossed the border into Wisconsin. And I’ve always regretted it. I used to go to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, all the time, and I loved it. The people were always so nice, and well…the cheese! So I especially hated my daughter didn’t get to go. She, of course, didn’t care. She was 11 years old when we took that road trip, and Mars Cheese Castle just didn’t sound that interesting to her.

Yesterday, we flew into Chicago…me, my daughter, and her friend. The girls are going to a small concert early today, and then we are going to Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago. We are staying in Schaumburg, because the early event is near here. We will Uber into downtown later.

But when we landed yesterday and got our rental car, I told the girls I wanted to make a quick trip up to Mars Cheese Castle. They grimaced. They moaned. They complained. Actually, only my daughter complained, grimaced, and moaned. Her friend was very polite about it. My daughter asked if I could drop them at the hotel and go by myself? I almost agreed to it, but then I said, “Come on. You’ve never been to Wisconsin, and it won’t take long.” She rolled her eyes but gave in, asking only if I would stop and get them food on the way.

After a quick stop for food and a 45-minute drive north, we found Mars Cheese Castle! It was everything I had hoped and more! Seriously, I had wondered if we would get there and just see shelves of cheese curds, but whoever built it knew what they were doing. Of course, it looks like a castle on the exterior, and there is a big electric sign out front. I made the girls take pictures of me in front of the sign and the building when we got out of the car, and to my surprise, they wanted pics too! Winning!

We walked in with a family who had visited many times before. They were practically giddy! They had lived nearby at one time but had moved away, so they were there for a visit…and they were stocking up on the cheese curds! Of course, I grabbed some cheese curds and put them in my cart too. The girls disappeared as soon as we walked in, but in a few minutes, they came back to me, eating ice cream cones and wearing paper crowns with the Mars Cheese Castle logo on the front. We shopped a little; I grabbed a hoodie for me and some t-shirts for all of us, and we took some photos inside the store. I also got myself a cup of Superman ice cream and a paper crown.

As we walked to the car, we were laughing and taking more pictures. As soon as we started to drive away, my daughter said, “That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be!” Whew! One day, they will learn that I do my research ahead of time.

So I was able to mark Mars Cheese Castle off my list of places to visit, and my daughter has now been to Wisconsin! She has the paper crown to prove it! But don’t get me wrong…given the opportunity to visit again, I will be going back to Mars Cheese Castle!

The other place we didn’t get to visit on that road trip in 2015 with Mary Ann? Oram’s Donuts in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. See their website here. We made it to Beaver Falls, but we didn’t go to Oram’s because we had a car full of cranky kids that day…well, mine was cranky. It was the last leg of our big road trip of 2015, and we were all tired. But one thing I know for sure is that Mary Ann and I will get to Oram’s Donuts…without our kids.

So if you find yourself in Chicagoland or southern Wisconsin, visit Mars Cheese Castle. Think of me as you walk around eating your ice cream cone and squeaky cheese (cheese curds) while wearing your paper crown (they’re free at the ice cream counter).

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Observations In An Airport

My daughter and I traveled to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks recently, and we had some travel “snafus” on the way home with some flight cancellations. We originally were supposed to fly nonstop from LA to Charlotte. Long story short, we ultimately ended up being booked on a connecting flight through Columbus, Ohio, with a five hour overnight-ish layover in the Columbus airport. We made some new friends, and I made some observations.

I’ve spent lots of time in airports. When I first graduated from college, I was a flight attendant for a while. I worked in the travel industry till I was married in 2000, and we are still pretty regular fliers. We aren’t flying every week, but we fly pretty regularly. This last trip was a new experience for me. First, I always book nonstop flights, so I haven’t had the inconvenience of having to connect in a long time. We are very fortunate that Charlotte is a hub airport for American Airlines. Secondly, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had to spend five hours in an airport from about midnight to 5am…until last night. And those five hours gave me some time to make some observations.

  • When you’re in a less-than-ideal situation, you bond with others in the same boat. It’s true. Three ladies in the airport with us had been traveling for 36 hours because of cancellations. They didn’t have any food, but I had a bag full of snacks. I offered them a turkey sandwich and some chips, and they were grateful. I was happy I could help. One of them said the turkey sandwich tasted like Thanksgiving! I hope they’ve made it to the Cayman Islands by now.
  • Some folks can sleep anywhere. It was impressive how some of the other people who were waiting could sleep! I didn’t even think about sleep. In fact, I just strolled around the airport taking silly pictures…walking a few miles while I waited. But folks were sleeping with their heads on carry-on luggage. Some slept on the floor, and some slept in chairs. Some were even snoring! They were really asleep.
  • Connecting is a pain in the butt. I’ve known this for years. My husband always gets miffed with me when we discuss retiring and moving. He wants to move to a beach. I want to live in a city that’s a hub airport. Give me Charlotte, Atlanta, or even Houston or Dallas…but please don’t make me live somewhere that requires connecting flights to everywhere.
  • All airports are not created equal. I knew this too, but as we landed in Columbus, I expected to go to our gate and wait out the five hours till our next flight. Nope. After we had been sitting in the gate for about an hour, two security type personnel came over and rudely told us (there were about seven passengers waiting for the next flight), “You have to move outside the security barrier now. Let’s go.” What?!?! Was it really necessary to approach us so rudely? Trust me, our layover wasn’t long enough to get a hotel room, or I’d have gotten us one. We were not happy about having to hang out in the airport, but honestly, I was trying to make the best of it. They were just rude, rude, rude. And one of them, the female, appeared to need a visit to a doctor about an eye infection of some sort…ick. To add insult to injury, there were quite a few vending options inside the security barrier but very few outside the barrier. It seems as though they could have come to us earlier and said, “I’m sorry, but in about 30 minutes, we’re going to need you to move to the lobby area outside security. If you need to get anything from vending, you might want to do it now.” But nope…rude, rude, rude. ***I know several lovely people who live in Columbus…I think most folks there are great!***
  • All vending machines are not created equal. Kudos to Columbus for having a Jeni’s Ice Cream vending machine/kiosk in the terminal. I wish they were in every airport! Heck, I wish they were on every street corner! I would have loved to have gotten some for my daughter and her friend. It looked delicious. Too bad security didn’t give me the option of going to get it before they hustled us out of the terminal area like cattle. Also, on the outside of the machine, it said, “Welcome to Columbus, home of the best ice creams (and the nicest people) in the world!” I guess those security folks didn’t get the “nicest people” memo.
  • The smell of bacon is stronger at 5am when you’re boarding a flight. No joke, just as we started to board, I guess a restaurant opened and put some bacon on to cook. Does anything smell more yummy than bacon in the morning?
  • Little noises are enhanced when you’re in an airport and running on no sleep. Squishing plastic water bottles? Flip flops on sweaty feet? Cracking knuckles? Those noises don’t normally bother me, but in the last five minutes before we boarded the plane, my ears were sensitive to all those little noises that normally go unnoticed. I wanted to snatch water bottles out of people’s hands. I wanted to throw powder at people’s feet to stop the sweaty flip flop sound. And I wanted to pass out gloves to stop the knuckle cracking. Clearly, I was nearing my limit.
  • Attitude is everything…really. I was not thrilled about the cancellations/re-routing situation. I was unhappy. But I didn’t take it out on the American Airlines reservation agent. It wasn’t her fault. I’m sure she was having a terrible day with all the cancellations. And when we landed in Columbus, I decided I wasn’t going to try to sleep. I was going to walk around taking goofy pictures to entertain myself. I wasn’t going to be unhappy. I made that decision. And despite the rude security personnel (bless their hearts!), I was pretty darn happy.
  • Small acts of kindness mean a lot. During our flight from LA to Columbus, I was talking with the flight attendant about our predicament…I was laughing about it. But she felt terrible and made sure the girls had plenty of snacks for our layover. Kudos to her for her kindness.
  • Shiny airport floors would be great for running and sliding. I considered it. I wanted to do it. But would I break a hip? Or an arm? Besides, my daughter would have been horrified. I kept my cool. I didn’t run and slide…but it would have been fun!
  • An alarming number of people walk around barefoot in airports. I have TSA Pre-check. One of the main reasons I wanted pre-check was so I wouldn’t have to remove my shoes at security. It totally grosses me out to walk barefoot where all those other sweaty feet have walked. Yuck. But I noticed quite a few people walking through the airport lobby with no shoes last night. That’s almost as bad as the ones who go to the airport lav with no shoes…ick.

That’s my wisdom from the airport. If you’ve made other observations, I’d love to hear them. And for the record, we love American Airlines. I think they are experiencing some labor issues right now, but I certainly hope it all gets resolved soon…for my sake, but especially for the sake of the airline. Labor disputes can cripple an airline, inconveniencing passengers and employees too. My hope is that everyone involved will realize there is a better way to do things.