A Wee Scottish Tease!

What do you get in Scotland in May?

I'll tell you what you get!

You get cold rain, wind, and fog (and a bit of sun now and then), and haggis, neeps, and tatties, and train rides and boat trips, along with single-track "road," potholes and other surprises! More importantly, you always get friendly people to help you along the way!

Sorry, but you're just going to have to wait for the full report ... coming soon.

The bonus prize for your patience?

How about a personal tour of Dublin courtesy of TourAlongWithTodd! 

Stock your cabinet with Scottish whiskeys, gins, and beer NOW so you're well prepared for my Tales of Scotland!

Until then ... Slàinte mhath!*

(*Ciao! in Gaelic!)

Yes! I am Scotland's choice! Vote Todd!*
(*or vote for a woman named Maree Todd, of Ardival house, Strathpeffer, IV14 9DS! Go Maree! Go Scotland!) 


Like the TourAlongWithTodd blog and want to keep up to date? Email me at todd@toddchavez.com and I’ll add you to the list!


It's Freezing and Windy! ... And a Blonde Goddess Named Sigyn Caught a Cold!

The August promotional email from Icelandair made us an offer we couldn't refuse: A taste of the land of fire and ice ... in winter!


  • A plane ride and five nights hotel
  • Icy waterfalls
  • Northern lights
  • Geothermal pools
  • Geezers!
  • Phood!
  • Nice weather
  • Bad weather
  • Cold
  • Windy
  • Mostly nighttime

Maybe it was summer's heat that made winter's cold seem so attractive ... but Natalie and I agreed: Let's do this thing!

An hour later Icelandair's Iceland Bucket List Escape! was booked.

And, not to leave others out of the 50-50 chance of a horrible winter weather experience, son Simon, sister Andrea, and sister-in-law Anne were on board for what had become a family affair.

It's time to roll the weather dice!

Slide on that new Christmas sweater you love so much, grab a cup of your favorite fireside beverage, and come along on this brief winter odyssey to the land of Thor and Sigyn ... 

Presented in traditional picture and caption format!

Let's begin ... shall we?


Hose Me Down!

Nothing shouted, "Let's go!" more than sitting in the plane—parked at the gate—for 30 minutes because of a runway traffic jam as uncommon snow flurries rolled around the Seattle area. Our departure was much more reassured when this guy showed up to spray the plane down with deicer.

And then we sat in the plane, at the gate, for another 30 minutes.

And then I wondered: How long is that deicer effective? 

A Steamy Start

*I could write on and on about the in-air luxuries Icelandair provides, but I won't.

Instead, let's move on to the best way to ease into Iceland's winter: The Blue Lagoon. This massive, manmade, outdoor geothermal pool is filled by the excess hot water discharged by the adjacent Svartsengi geothermal power plant. According to the Interwebs, around one million people visit the lagoon every year. I'll do the math for you ... That's about 2,700 people a day. This is not the kind of attraction we usually go for.

However ... If you travel to Iceland in winter—and arrive at the lagoon on the early morning bus from the airport—there's no better way to ease into your first day on the island after the red-eye flight. It was soothing, relaxing, and a spectacular way to witness the two-hour long sunrise.  

*Like many airlines today, Icelandair provides a narrow place to sit, coffee/water/pop, mediocre in-flight movies (bring your own earbuds) and toilets during the 7-hour flight to Reykjavik. But if you want food, pack your own or get out your credit card. We packed our own ... but that didn't lessen the blow when I saw the flight attendants heating up their food on trays! You know ... the kind of food on trays we all used enjoy on long flights?

On the other hand, the flight attendants were great throughout the trip. And I absolutely loved it when one attendant shushed two oblivious, loudly chatting passengers during the safety talk before departing Seattle. Way to go, Icelandair flight attendants! Thank you!!

Proof of Point!

Natalie is all smiles at The Blue Lagoon. The lagoon's base ticket includes a beverage and a silica mud face mask. What really blew us away was the spectacular weather: Cold, yes, but clear skies and no wind. 

The Harbor Has Frosty Rocks!

Maybe there's a better way to word that. In any case, the molar-like basalt boulders lining Reykjavik's harbor had a crazy coat of frost creating a surreal visual effect in midafternoon's fading light.

Our first day had turned cloudy, but still no wind!

Get Your Phood On!

Want to fast track acclimatizing to Reykjavik? Try the Reykjavik Food Walk. It isn't just a good idea; it's a must! 

But first, let's get introductions out of the way.

Around the table from left to right, sister-in-law Anne, then Natalie, followed by the two brothers from North Carolina. Next up, sister Andrea and then Kathryn and Nancy from New York, followed by Brittany from Minnesota, son Simon, and the three Brits! Notably absent in this shot, our guide, Sindri! ... but you'll meet him later on.

This small-group tour moves from restaurant to restaurant over the course of three hours, and it delivers the goods: Enjoying great Icelandic food accompanied by great narrative. We had never taken a food tour before and for us, the Reykjavik Food Walk set the bar high. 
It makes sense that it's the #1 rated food tour on TripAdvisor ... worldwide!

Phood Photo!

I've been accused of not posting enough phood photos in my TourAlongs! OMG! Let me get started remedying that!

Pictured here is the pan-fried arctic char cooked in honey and butter at Messinn. It was super good!

It was also here that Britanny ordered another glass of wine, only to be matched by Natalie!

And thus, the new game show ...Keeping Up With Britanny! ... was launched! 

There were four other stops along the tour, each featuring multiple dishes. At Íslenski Barinn, we had a tiny taste of the infamous kæstur hákar (fermented shark) that's so feared by visitors. The milder version of this ammonia-reeking delicacy we were served was ... OK ... mostly.

Let a Sleeping Baby Lie

Nope! That's NOT just a baby stroller. That's a baby stroller with a sleeping baby in it! This is commonplace in Iceland. Just park the pram w/baby outside the store and do your shopping. Icelanders say the cold, fresh air is good for their babies. Who knows? ... But Iceland is one of the safest and happiest countries on the planet, and maybe that begins in a stroller on the street.

In this case, our entire food tour group walked by, chatting all the while, and there wasn't a peep out of the tiny humanoid!

Photographing the Northern Lights: TourAlong Pro Photo Tips!

So how do you capture the brilliance of the Aurora Borealis?

Here's what I did ... and you should too!
  1. Plan your photo shoot for the night of the full moon.
  2. Be near a city to maximize the flood of light reflecting off low clouds.
  3. Climb aboard a boat and venture into the undulating waters of the harbor.
If you follow these three simple, experience proven TourAlong Pro Photo Tips, I guarantee you will not get a good photo of the northern lights!

You're welcome!

In our case, the Northern Lights by Boat tour was included in our package and operated by Special Tours. Try as we might, the aurora gods didn't cooperate. Wha wha whaaaa ...

It's Warmer Inside

When the northern lights don't appear, something that DOES appear is the thought that it's warmer inside the boat than outside on the deck. And so here we areAndrea, Simon, Natalie, and Anne—enjoying the ride back to the harbor.

Wait! Is that a ghostly figure presenting a cross directly above Natalie? Does that foretell things to come?

Though our night was a bust, Special Tours makes a great offer: If you don't see the northern lights, you can rebook for another night to try again ... no charge!

The Lake in the Park

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park along the Golden Circle tour route is home to a visual example of the Mid-Atlantic Rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart and continue to create Iceland.

Within the park, Iceland's largest natural lakeThingvallavatn—is sourced by rainwater as well as glacial melt water that takes 20-30 years to travel through an underground labyrinth of basalt fissures from the distant Langjökull glacier. The result? Super clear and cold water!

Go Ahead! Leave the Hot Water Running!

Here, Iceland's version of Old Faithful—*Geysir—puts on its show every few minutes. It doesn't last long, but it's reliable! Pictured above is the instant a Geysir eruption gets underway.

Living on a cold and very wet island that sits atop a geologic hot spot in the North Atlantic has disadvantages—like earthquakes, erupting volcanos, and terrible weather. But those disadvantages are advantages too!

With vast geothermal resources, as well as lots of rain and snow (and ice caps covering 11% of the island), Iceland is the home of cheap electricity and hot water. 100% of the electricity grid is derived from renewable resources (hydro and geothermal) and 90% of the hot water is geothermal. And of all energy resources, only 15% is derived from fossil fuelsused mostly for transportationand even then, Iceland is quickly embracing EV transportation.

In the end, Iceland leads the world in renewable energy use! How hot is that!

Yep! In Iceland, you can take the longest hot shower ever!

*The word Geysir is derived from the Old Norse word "geysa" meaning "to gush" or "to rush forth." Iceland's Geysir is also referred to as "Geysir Geyser" and "Great Geysir." This should not be confused with the word "geezer" which was derived from the word "guise" meaning the practice of disguising oneself, often with a mask. So! Now you know! And if a busload of geezers wearing creepy masks arrives at Geysir Geyser during your visit, run for your life!

A Frosty Gullfoss! 

Located in the Hvítá river canyon and fed by the nearby Langjökull glacier, Gullfoss is the largest waterfall in Europe by volume!

That we enjoy Gullfoss today was less than assured when, in 1907, investors wanted to rent the falls and convert them into a hydroelectric power plant. A nearby farm ownerSigríður Tómasdóttir—led the fight to save the falls and became one of Iceland's first environmentalists in the process. Her lawyer in the case—Sveinn Björnsson—later became Iceland's first president in 1944 when Icelanders established a republic separate of Denmark!

Pastels Anyone?

The cool thing about sunrises and sunsets in the far north in winter is that you don't have to rush to get the photo. Like the Energizer Bunny, Iceland's spectacular winter light show keeps going and going. 

Northern Lights!

Yes! ... We boarded the boat a second night to see the aurora and were rewarded with fleeting glimpses of the lights. In this case, my camera was able to capture the faint curtains of green light much better than my eyes could. So, it wasn't a total bust.

But! ... the Special Tours crew still didn't consider this a successful sighting and extended their offer to try again on our next visit to the island!

How can this business model possibly work? Well, maybe because of the brisk sales of beverages and snacks on nights when the lights don't come out. It's called a captive audience!

WHAAAT!?? Sigyn Caught a Cold!

By Wednesday afternoon, Natalie was feeling a bit under the weather and missed our second northern lights harbor cruise that evening. By Thursday morning, she was done and spent the trip's last two days self-sequestered in our hotel room—as evidenced by this selfie.

Damn you ghostly figure presenting a cross directly above Natalie six images ago!

At least it was just a cold ... right?


Eyjafjallajökull—pronounced eiːjaˌfjatlaˌjœːkʏtl̥ and more commonly referred to as E15 (the letter "E" followed by 15 letters)was the first volcano/ice cap encountered traveling east along the south coast of the Ring Road ... courtesy of Arctic Adventures and our guide, Anna. 

Famously, this volcano last erupted in the spring of 2010, spewing ash high into the atmosphere causing chaos in cross-Atlantic air traffic for weeks.

It's only a matter of time before E15 performs an encore! 


The lagoon at the terminus of Sólheimajökull is significant. It's not crazy big or deep. No. Rather, it's significant because it didn't even exist until 2007!

Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier—or glacial tongue—branching off the parent and larger glacier/ice cap, Mýrdalsjökull. With global warming accelerating the current retreat, and the fact that it's located in close proximity to the active Eyjafjallajökull and Katla volcanos, Sólheimajökull is living in a tough neighborhood!

Note the tiny people hiking on top of the glacier!

Simon's Superhuman Strength!

Simon comes across as a mild-mannered computer animation visualist ... And that's exactly what he WANTS you to believe!

Secretly, Simon is DC Comic's new superhero—Pusher!

Exhibit A: Photographic evidence of Simon in the act of, singlehandedly, PUSHING the Sólheimajökull glacier to a halt ... in any direction ... at least for now!

How About a Little Sandblasting?

The cold wind at Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach had a way of telling us who's the boss ... as in ... "Don't look at me or I'll etch your eyeballs into oblivion by whipping up EVEN MORE gritty black volcanic sand!"

Iceland's car rental companies strongly suggest purchasing the sand damage insurance. Here's a 30-second video demonstrating why that's a good idea.


Víkurkirkja—or Vik churchsits on a hill overlooking the tiny town of Vik (Vík í Mýrdal). Not only is Vik Iceland's warmest spot, with an annual mean temperature of 41.5F, it's also the wettest place on the island, receiving nearly 90 inches of rainfall annually!

Vik also has the dubious distinction of being located directly south of the volcano, Katla. Katla last erupted in 1918 and is now considered overdue for its next eruption. The residents of Vik hope that when this happens, it's not on the south side of the volcano because catastrophic flooding from ice melt could obliterate the entire village—and that's where the church comes in.

The church is the designated gathering location in case the worst happens.

Next time Katla blows, join us at the Exploding Volcano Church Camp Retreat! Fun times for everyone! Bring cookies!

On a related note, the 2022 Netflix slow-burn mystery series "Katla" is an Icelandic production that was shot in Vik (and the Reykjavik area) with the church featured prominently.

Putting it in Perspective

Sometimes it's nice to add a touch of perspective to a landscape photo by adding a person, like here at Skogafoss. With Natalie down and out at the hotel, there was only one thing to do: Stand by a guy taking of shot of his better half posing ... and then take my shot in tandem!

Mission accomplished!

A Land of Little Glass Globules!

Skogafoss blasts visitors with its spray throughout the year. Add in the south coast's persistent wind and subfreezing winter temperatures and it's no wonder people don't venture as close to the falls as they do in summer.

Simon and I made it far enough to enter a world of rock and moss covered in tiny glassy globules of ice! We thought it was pretty cool.

No Need to Lollygag Around!

Our last stop along the south coast was Seljalandsfoss. When it's not winter, you can walk behind the falls and venture along a path to a slot canyon waterfall. But on this windy cold winter day, we thought it was much better to take a photo or two ... and get back on the tour van where sweet, sweet warmth awaited us.

OK is Not OK

Reykjavik's Perlan is a contemporary museum dedicated to Iceland's geology, geography, and environment. A small wall plaque offers an ominous dedication to OkjökullIceland's first glacier to succumb to global warming. Today, it's referred to as OK, having lost the jökull—Icelandic for glacier—part of its name.

Another Phood Photo!

This time it's at the Perlan's upper terrace cafe. Coffee and a super chocolate fudge brownie with whipped cream was just about right for a morning energy boost!


In Iceland, when a man and woman love each other very, very much ... they snyrt ... off to the left!!

A Cannibalistic Cat!

According to Iceland En Route, Icelanders don't rely on Santa Clause because they have something better!

First, they have the Yule Cat ... a feline monster who lurks around and eats anyone who doesn't get a piece of new clothing for Christmas!

How awesome is that! (Said every Icelander who owns a clothing store)

Second, they have 13 mischievous trolls—the Yule Ladswith colorful names like Doorway SnifferWindow Peeper, Sausage Swiper, and Spoon Licker. As Christmas nears, the lads descend from their mountainside cave—leaving their evil troll mother and lazy troll father behind—and generally wreak havoc and freak children out!

How awesome is that! (Said every Icelander trying to contain their kids' Christmas adrenalin rush!)

Today, the lads have mellowed and are more like 13 little Santas who, during the run up to Christmas, bring kids small gifts—as long as they fall on the "nice" side of naughty and nice.

I think I like the old version of the Yule Lads better ...


Meet Sindri, our guide for the Reykjavik Food Walk tour earlier in the week!

Four days later, at Kaffi LokiSindri was just finishing up another food tour when he noticed us dining and stopped by to say "hello!" He was a fun, knowledgeable, and a perfect tour host.

If you visit Iceland, just ask for Sindri. I'm pretty sure they'll be able to find him for you!

OMG! There's a long-haired mustached pirate racing into view! OH NO!

Simon Completes the Photo Bomb!

Simon—referred to as "Moustache Guy" by at least one Icelander—completed his photo bomb of Sindri! Note that Sindri's expression has not changed from the previous photo. Simon moved fast ... Well done, Simon!

A Better Northern Lights?

Who needs to see the northern lights in person when you can have your picture taken at FlyOver Iceland and have the lights added digitally for just $9.00?

And the answer is? No one!

Besides, it was WAY warmer in the FlyOver pavilion and there was no need to fiddle with a camera in the cold. On top of that, it's really hard to tell that this photo is anything but authentic, don't you think? The lighting is spot on and so natural!


And It's a Wrap!

There you have it! Five days and nights experiencing the land of fire and ice in winter. Sure, Natalie suffered a cold, but ... umm ... It wasn't a cold.

Back in Boise, Natalie tested positive for COVID, as did Anne after arriving home in Seattle. I caught a cold but never tested positive.

What are the odds that I only caught a cold?

The odds are I have 100% awesome superpowers! ... OR ... home tests are not always accurate.

I'm going with awesome superpowers!


On a different note, we avoided the first major storm of the winter that clobbered the island just days after we departed!

Reports of general mayhemairport chaos, closed roads, and people stranded everywhere—made us realize:

We rolled the weather dice and got lucky!


Will we go to Iceland again? Indeed, we will!

Will we go to Iceland in winter again? Yes! We think it would be fun experience the holidays there ... they have a kickin' fireworks show on New Year's Eve!

Thanks for coming along!

More TourAlongs are on the way!

Until then ... Ciao! ~ Todd


A photogenic history of this Icelandic adventure has been 
carefully curated just for you!

Click here to view the photos! You'll feel like you were right there with us!

To view in slideshow format:

    • Once at the album, click the right-facing arrow in the upper right corner to start the slideshow.
    • Use the slideshow controls in lower middle of the screen to navigate as the show plays (go back, go forward, pause).

Like the TourAlongWithTodd blog and want to keep up to date? Email me at todd@toddchavez.com and I’ll add you to the list!


On Seasoning a Traveler

Ah! Optimism at the beginning of every adventure springs eternal.

The TSA agent at Boise's security area welcoming us couldn't have been nicer. I think he actually likes his job. A short while later, we boarded our United Airlines flight ... right on time.

Buckled in and with my seat back and tray table placed in their upright and locked positions, I thought to myself, "This trip's going to be perfect!"

Hang on! There's a wait for the ground crew to push the plane onto the tarmac; this morning, only one crew is available for pushes.

20 minutes later, we're rolling down the tarmac ... "It's all good. It's going to be perfect!" ... just as the pilot swerves the plane from taxiing into a parking spot because they still had paperwork to do.


Did your airline dog eat your airline paperwork?


Despite thinking we were "seasoned travelers" who had dealt with most situations, we discovered more "seasoning" would come our way on this adventure! 

Come along and join us!

... on our journey to Chicago and the upper Midwest as we explore the mysteries of car rentals, visit friends and family, meander through a bizarre grocery store, take tours, pay too much for food and beverages, and deal with a crazy lady!

What could go wrong?

Take a moment to grab a giant spiked-pumpkin-spiced latte and settle in!

Presented to you in the ever-popular picture-n-caption format, it's time for the ... Autumn TourAlong Tale


You Can't Drive Our Car in Ohio!

Finally, we were on our way—45 minutes late from the gate in Boise. Still, snow-dusted peaks and valley fog offered a nice view on the way to Chicago. No worries. We had plenty of time to grab our rental car and drive the four hours to southern Indiana and our first stop.

The car rental pavilion at O'Hare had some very long lines. Man-o-man! It's lucky the line at the Fox Rent-a-Car counter was mercifully short.

The nice woman at the counter asked, "Where are you driving?" I told her we'd be driving in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

She replied, "Oh, I'm sorry, we don't allow our cars to be taken into Ohio."


No fine print on the Booking.com website warned me of this oddity of Fox Rent-a-Car.

With nothing left do to, we managed to book a car from Thrifty that we
actually could drive in Ohio ... at twice the price!

OH NOOOOO! The Thrifty rental counter was one of those with a very long line. Why? Well, it was because they didn't have enough people to clean returned cars.

Our wait? Four hours. With no food service in the car rental pavilion, the sandwiches we packed the night before came in quite deliciously handy! Had we been thinking clearly, we could have sold them at airport food prices and recoup some of our now inflated car rental cost.

About the time we were supposed to arrive in Columbus, Indiana, for dinner with our friends, we finally left O'Hare.

And so the travel seasoning continues!

We Made It!

Columbus, Indiana and its historic Bartholomew County Courthouse! Columbus delivers on the scenic smalltown Midwest vibe. Neat and tidy, Columbus is home to the Cummins corporation as well as the hometown to none other than former VP, Mike Pence. More importantly, just up the road is Seymour
where rocker John Cougar Mellencamp went to high school!

In case you need a refresher on just what made Johnny Cougar a sensation, come along on this brief diversion: The 10 Best John Cougar Mellencamp Songs of All Time! Trust me, your ears will hurt so good.

Our Indiana Hosts!

Longtime friends and our hosts for the first leg of our Midwestern odyssey, David and Karen served as tour directors for the sights of southern Indiana including Columbus, Nashville (Indiana), Madison (Indiana) and points between!

Hey, Can I Throw You a Bone?

We saw many elaborate displays proving that Halloween is a BIG DEAL in the Midwest! Take this happy dog in Madison, for example. He's so anxious for the holiday that he hasn't eaten a thing in months and is saving room for all that candy!

Who's a skeleton dog? Who's a skeleton dog?

Kind of a Sports Town

Cincinnati! Home of the Reds, the Bengals, and 2.2 million other people! Natalie visited the city years ago and had been itching to show me the sites. While not on my bucket list, Cincinnati
—as it turns out—really does have a groovy downtown and spectacular riverside stadiums! We walked (a lot) and intentionally walked across one of many bridges spanning the Ohio River to make our claim to the territory of Kentucky!

Kentucky denied our claim, but we did take a nice boat ride on the river while we were there!

Beware of the Bill!

And then there's food and beverages. This trip was reminder that not all food and drink are created equal. At one fancy hotel bar (not to name names, but it's this one) we each enjoyed a drink and then received the $30 "happy hour" bill.


Later we enjoyed a fine Italian dinner at Sotto. It was super delicious! The bill was not super delicious! For my money, the spicy quesadilla I had at Americano was the tastiest treat and best value
of the entire trip.

Drum Roll Please!

Join the TourAlongWithTodd Blog in welcoming ... all the way from downtown Cincinnati!  ... THE CRAZY LADY!

The story goes something like this:

It was a fine Wednesday morning to stroll along the city streets before our riverboat cruise. Just a block from our hotel, we paused at a crosswalk and noticed a young woman across the street conversing loudly with someone. The light changed and we crossed the street ...  where the woman was continuing her oratory. By this time, we realized she was talking to herself and/or anyone who would listen.

Then she set her sights on us.

Noticing my Iceland t-shirt, she addressed me as "Mr. Iceland!," but this quickly turned into something about Ireland. Natalie worked around her, but I was caught in her path as she proceeded to dance, in her words, "a jig" kicking directly at my legs. I managed to avoid any significant contact and got past her ... only to see her coming back as us for more.

This time she went after Natalie by grabbing her ponytail, violently jerking down on it. Natalie nearly fell backwards. Not knowing what else to do, I shouted something like "FLIBERTY-FLIPPING-FLEW THE FLIAL OFF!" That did the trick. She decided to move on up the sidewalk.

Seconds later, we learned that she assaulted two women around the corner just before engaging with us and that the police had already been called. Within a minute of the ponytail pull, Cincinnati police started arriving on foot, bike, and electric scooter.

The Crazy Lady was handcuffed and brought back down the sidewalk shouting something about Black lives mattering. That seemed like a bit of a dodge given her morning melee randomly assaulting passersby.

We gave our statements and were on our way when Natalie said something she NEVER thought she would EVER have to say when we're traveling ... "Todd, you should really take a picture of this!" And so I did.

Will the woman get the help she clearly needs? I don't know, but I'm not optimistic.

Well, that was quite a dramatic dose of travel seasoning, don't you think?

Over the Rhine

The Over the Rhine area of downtown Cincinnati is a blend of old and new with funky shops and building walls adorned in art. Our walkabout of the area was a great way to cap an event-filled day.

Originally settled by 19th century German immigrants, Over the Rhine is a 
historic urban district that has seen dramatic change since riots took place there in 2001, and by 2009, it was one of the city's most dangerous areas. Today, gentrification is gradually introducing the area to its next chapter.

Jungle Jim's!

Though Cincinnati is home to the expanding Kroger empire of grocery stores, on the north edge of Cincinnati along the Dixie Highway there's a grocery store unlike any other
—Jungle Jim's International Market.

Is it international? Yes, it really is! With extensive food sections devoted to goods from 70 countries, you can probably find what you're looking for at Jungle Jim's. Durian anyone? Yes, they've got it!

But Jungle Jim's is more than that.

Today, it's a destination
—kind of like grocery store meets weird fun park. Pictured above is a boat featuring odd caricatures of the Gilligan Island crew along with the Cereal Bowl Band! Other displays include Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest and Marilyn Monroe in her billowing dress in the wine section. And yes, there's an actual fan blowing up her dress so ... well, you get the idea.

While we didn't have time, there are tour guides available to lead you through the Jungle Jim's experience. Can you imagine? A grocery store tour guides? Awesome!

The Jungle Jim's Way

Kids love having their photo taken sitting on the infamous privy. We opted to not immortalize our stay (publicly). However, just beyond the two doors are well-appointed bathrooms with plenty of images of Jungle Jim on the walls to keep you entertained and remind you just exactly where you are.

Wooster, Ohio! Whoo! Whoo!

Natalie's relatives, Uncle Dale and Aunt Coby, moved to Wooster a few years ago to be closer to their son, Reed, and his family. Reed's a bee scientist at The Ohio State University. These family connections made Wooster a must-stop on this TourAlong.

Wooster's not a big place, but it hosts a surprising number of industries from agriculture to Wooster Brush (paint brushes), Rubbermaid, Gojo Industries (Purell hand sanitizer), and FritoLay!

Meet Uncle Dale, the Stripper!

An afternoon outing to the Mishler Weaving Mill in Smithville, Ohio. Coby and Dale both volunteer at this living museum that continues producing a wide variety of handwoven products. Dale has the distinction of being the mill's stripper! That's quite an honor at his age, don't you think?

Oh! I should add, being the stripper means he uses a machine to cut fabric into strips of cloth for use in rugs and such. Still, Uncle Dale's a stripper!

Countryside Sunrise

The sunrise lights up another tidy Ohio farm! I can only imagine how vivid the colors became within a week or two.

How About a Taxi?

How we did NOT catch COVID after our journey into and around Chicago I'll never know. Being adventurous travelers, we elected to spend $10 and 45 minutes in the "L" train from O'Hare into Chicago's downtown. Yep! That was fun ... all the smelly charm Chicago has to offer!

Two days later we reflected on the idea of taking the L back to O'Hare at 6:00 a.m. for our flight home. We decided a $55 taxicab ride would be just fine. And it was.

I'll Take a DAWG, Mister J!

Our evening tour
—the Bikes, Bites, and Brews tour—had us biking nine miles around the downtown and along the lakeshore. Along the way we tasted Chicago deep dish pizza, Chicago hot dogs, Chicago gelato, and Chicago brews. It was a fun way to see the city in the evening, and Mister J's DAWG 'n BURGER was my favorite (though I think the Yelp reviews are hilarious!). Still, I'm not making a special trip back to Chicago for any of these treats. Sorry Chicago :( 

45,000 of My Best Running Friends

We wondered why our hotel cost for two nights was so stratospheric. And the answer is: Perfect timing! We arrived the same day 45,000 others arrived. The big difference was that we forgot to pay the entry fees to run in the Chicago Marathon! Otherwise, we certainly would have competed in it ... without doubt ... yep, we can't think of anything else we'd rather do!

The Chicago Marathon is the 3rd largest in the world (or 4th, or 5th, or whatever depending on who's numbers you want to go with) and it goes on for hours! In fact, one has to finish the 26 miles within 6.5 hours to receive an official time. Otherwise, you're banished to Mister J's and have to eat 26 Chicago DAWGS in 6.5 minutes!

Chicago Has Some Buildings Along a River!

By far the best way to take in the historic architecture of Chicago is in an open-air tour boat. With scenes like this one, my camera was doing overtime. The buildings and bridges truly are spectacular!

One prominent building is owned by ex-president Voldemort. He's widely known for his real estate ... prowess? It turns out he may be in hot water over his Chicago skyscraper's financial history. Now, who would have guessed that?

No Natalie, You Can't Take Lily Home!

More relatives! This time, it was a trip out to Naperville, just west of downtown Chicago, to visit Gudrun and her family (Myat and kids Lily and Samuel). Without going into the convoluted detail of how Natalie is related to Gudrun, it's easiest just to say Gudrun is one of the Austrian relatives!

Here, Lily turns on her over-the-top cute factor. She knows what to do when a camera is on her!


Well, there you have it!

Travel seems a bit tipped on its head these days, and this trip was no different: Airline paperwork on the runway, car rental oddities, restaurant and bar costs, and even a crazy lady who needs help.

We came away from it all more seasoned than ever. And just to cap it off, our return United Airlines flight reminded me of what travel can be again: From beginning to end, it was flawless ... landing 15 minutes early ... and we even got entire cans of cranberry juice cocktail to enjoy at 35,000 feet!

In the end, this trip really was perfect ... because of the visits with friends and family, the new sights we saw, and the bumps along the way.

More TourAlongs?


Until then ... Ciao!

~ Todd



How about a carefully curated photo album showing so much more of our Midwestern trip?

Click here to view the photos! You'll be Midwestern-glad you did!

To view in slideshow format:

    • Once at the album, click the right-facing arrow in the upper right corner to start the slideshow.
    • Use the slideshow controls in lower middle of the screen to navigate as the show plays (go back, go forward, pause).

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