Last known location: London, England

Route 50: Through the Mid-West

Following our custard breakfast we left St Louis via the Bridge and almost immediately entered Illinois. Once we were out of town the 50 took us across miles of pancake flat farmlands, acres of corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see, with a small town dotting the roadside every 10 miles or so.  The flat prairie immediately east of St Louis is known as Little Egypt, because of its fertile alluvial soil, hence the vast number of farms. One of the first significant towns we passed through (after inadvertently going the wrong way for about 10 miles!) was Lebanon, which had lots of Victorian-era buildings and antique shops. We stopped for a picnic lunch by Carlyle Lake, which was a picturesque spot. There’s a big dam towards the west part of the lake, and a posh looking boat club.

Salem was the next town, but it has nothing to do with the place north of Boston that held the witch trials in the late 17th century. A lot of the states have towns with the same names, we’ve seen lots of Eureka’s, Williams’ and Delta’s, especially. About 50 miles east of Salem we arrived at Olney. It’s an attractive enough place but our main interest was the albino squirrels, which were set loose in town around the turn of the 20th century. So, we headed straight to the city park to see if we could spot any. We parked up and wandered around for ages and were just about to give up and move on when I finally spotted one. It was very white, and also very quick, hence the less than perfect photo, left. I was thrilled to have actually seen one, I think they’re much less common than they used to be. We’d decided to stay the night in Olney; after a disappointing quote from the usually reliable Super 8 we found a cheap motel, the Travellers Inn, on the edge of town, and settled in for the night. We did a lot of blog-related stuff and got a takeaway pizza (Dan’s first ever Pizza Hut!) and a few beers for sustenance.

The next day we left Olney and drove through Lawrenceville and into Indiana. This meant we jumped an hour ahead and are now officially on New York time so won’t be changing our watches again until we get back to London.  We made our first Indiana stop in Vincennes.  First settled by the French in 1732, and intensely fought over during the Revolutionary War, Vincennes remained a lawless frontier until 1803 when it was named the territorial capital. A handful of early buildings have been restored in the downtown area which were pleasant to look at. And overlooking the Wabash River, the George Rogers Clark National Historic Park is a pretty classical dome monument honouring George Rogers Clark who led locals in the capture of Vincennes from the British in 1779. We had a wander round before climbing back into the car.

From Vincennes we continued on to Loogootee through very flat farming country, apparently notable for its large Amish communities. I was keen to spot some genuine Amish, or at least a horse and cart, but despite several detours to middle of nowhere villages we failed to see anything worth noting! At one point we were thoroughly lost and and driving down a dirt track, but we managed to get back out of the wilderness alive! After our disappointing lack of Amish sightings we headed over to Bedford. It’s nicknamed ‘Stone City’ because it holds some of the largest and most famous limestone quarries in the country. The quarries are still in use, producing the stone that has clad many high profile structures, including the Empire State Building. Our reason for stopping there was to visit the Bluespring Caverns, where we took an hour-long boat tour along the largest underground river in the USA. The river was only discovered in the 1940’s when a storm collapsed a lake and revealed the cave entrance. The boats were made out of aluminium and we were punted along quite slowly because it was pitch black save for the light on the boat. In fact our tour guide informed us that when the light was off it was probably the darkest we’d ever “see” in our lifetimes. Because of the conditions there is little life within the caves but we did spot a few blind white fish and crayfish who have never known any kind of light. We also saw a tiny little bat sleeping on the ceiling of the cave. They look quite cute when they’re curled up!

From Bedford we drove to Brownstown where we stopped once again. This time it was to have a look at the central square shaded by 100 year old maple trees. The square also housed a war surplus tank for some reason! We popped to Big Daddy’s diner for a bite to eat; despite Dan claiming he was sick of BBQ flavour he opted for some sort of BBQ burger! We then left the 50 and headed south, toward the Ohio River. The riverside is rich in history and passes by modest tobacco farms and timeless small towns. One such place is Madison, a well preserved river settlement from the mid-19th century. It’s a really lovely little town, with some gorgeous older buildings. We arrived on a Friday night and there was some amateur band thing going on in town. After finding a place to stay – the Hillside Inn we walked back into town to explore. There were a few musicians still strumming but because we arrived quite late we missed most of band-night. We stopped at the Broadway tavern and hotel, claiming to be the oldest licensed tavern in Indiana, for a drink in the fairy-light lit patio area. There was a class of 66 reunion going on which looked great fun, some of the revellers were still going when we left! And so it was back to the hotel for one of our best night’s sleep to date – the luxury of having a duvet!

The next morning we drove over the Ohio River into Kentucky, just so we could say we’d been there! We filled up the car with cheap petrol and crossed back over the bridge to continue on our way in Indiana. Stopping at a pharmacy to stock up on some essentials, some local kids were doing car washing so we asked them to give ours a once over. It was especially grotty around the bumper, with about a million dead bugs (mainly from Nevada), but the kids did a good job and we drove away with a shiny car! The road curves along the north bank of the Ohio River, and it’s a picturesque drive, save for a few unsightly power stations on the Kentucky side. We stopped in the village of Rising Sun which holds a handful of frontier-era buildings and one of the state’s biggest riverboat casino’s, the Grand Victoria. There’s a lovely riverfront promenade, too, which we took a stroll along.

Onward, towards our 3rd state of the day, Ohio, and the city of Cincinnati. Spreading along the north of the Ohio River, Cincinnati was once the largest and busiest city on the western frontier. During the heyday of steamboat travel in the 19th century the city’s riverside location made it a prime transportation centre, but as the railroad networks converged on Chicago, Cincinnati was eclipsed as the prime gateway to the western United States. To us, it was a chance to stretch our legs, and we headed up to Mount Adams, the area where the hip young things hang out. We walked to the top of the hill for some great views of the downtown area, and then stopped for a drink. Because it was a lovely sunny day Dan treated himself to a cider. I stuck to ice-tea!

Our next mission was to find some of the city’s famous chilli. Cincinnati style chilli is poured over spaghetti and served either 3-Way with spaghetti, chilli and cheese, 4-Way with onions added, or 5-Way with onions and kidney beans added. There’s a big rivalry between two chains; Skyline and Gold Star. We went downtown to try to find one of the many branches of either, and after finding one Skyline closed because it was a Sunday, we found another a couple of blocks down. We both opted for the 5-Way and it promptly arrived, with mounds of cheese. Dan was quite a fan but I was less impressed to be honest. Still, it had to be done. After our short stop in “Cinci” we carried on east and passed through pretty Mariemont and Milford, with it’s Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant and a sizeable ‘Big Boy’ model, straight off of Austin Powers! Before we knew it it was time to find somewhere to stay. We ended up at a Days Inn in Hillsboro, a fairly busy town. But for us it was a quiet night in, catching up with the blog and doing a bit of washing. Less than a week to go before we’re in Washington!

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