My Mount Horeb story in Minneapolis Star Tribune

If you are looking for a Wisconsin road trip….Read this:

Midwest Traveler: Small-town museum in southwest Wisconsin has big vision

The Driftless Historium in Mount Horeb, Wis., is an impressive tribute.

Most small-town history museums I’ve visited have been cramped and cluttered places with haphazard displays of local castoffs. Wandering through them reminded me of rummaging through my grandparents’ attic as a kid.


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Filed under museum exhibit, THE ARTS, Wisconsin

Chicago history museum/noninna/riverwalk — Chicago 


Back on the megabus/windstar bus and so far so good despite some initial chaos at the bus stop when crowds of riders were trying to figure out which of several buses were theirs.

74ED114A-14D5-4B30-B5F7-0C03587F05444B5D59C8-9CB8-4045-B541-1A0B329805CBWe ended up at the Chicago history museum yesterday- we were eager to beat the heat and opted against the Singer Sargent  show at the Art Institute for fear it would be too crowded and close to the lollapalooza throngs. The museum had some cool things including a temporary exhibit on Chicago blues with fun interactive elements. We made our own record covers, sang karaoke on stage with Koko Taylor (who I saw live several times) and worked a sound engineer booth.  I learned that Crate and Barrel started in Chicago and had an early partnership with Marimekko, the Finnish textile design company that I learned more about in Helsinki.



14D3C01D-F8FC-43E6-B109-B3AC2FC7527EDinner at Nonnina was enjoyed by all, which was a relief since ours can be a discerning crowd. Surprised by how packed it was at 6 pm on Saturday night. Excellent Italian. We walked along the new-ish river walk and were impressed by all the hubbub, people everywhere on and off the water,  at cafes, restaurants and  public spaces, hanging out on docked or moving boats. The city was all lit up at night and looked great. The one potential issue is all the private boat traffic. The river is pretty narrow and there seemed to be a lot of traffic from kayakers  to boat tours and public water taxis to fancy cruisers and little dinghies. Very democratic but chaotic.

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Lakeview fish house Falstrom’s and Southport stroll – Chicago 

The birthday girl, Heather, wanted fresh oysters so we tried a fish house in the North Chicago neighborhood of Lakeview that turned out to be a keeper. Heather liked her oysters and everyone else liked their picks (lightly battered perch, a salad with Cajun-seasoned shrimp, my tuna tartare).

Then we walked along nearby Southport street which as forewarned has gotten more “bougie” (as in bourgeois or what was once called yuppie) than when I was there last, several years ago. Some pricey name store (bonobos, free people, Hanna Anderson) but also some small boutiques with reasonable (sale) prices.

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American Girl Doll Cafe – Chicago 

I successfully avoided going here when my daughter was little but must admit it was fun to tag along with my 6-year-old niece Lucy, her AGDoll Christina and our amazing aunt Mary Ann for lunch at the cafe in the Water Tower building. It was fun to see all the mostly little girls and their dolls (we did meet a 13-year-old Betsy who was celebrating her bday), so excited and enjoying themselves. The food wasn’t bad either (steep prices) and the service was by sweet women skilled in being kind to kids. There are worse things. The two floors of merchandise was unavoidable, of course. 


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Another megabus (aka windstar bus) ride and Portillos dog — Dsm to Chicago

Elevating my arm as the dr ordered/ aka my weirdest selfie

I know, I know. I swore I’d never ride the megabus after my last hellish experience (the one with the alleged burglary of a passenger’s diamond ring…no joke.)

But I’ve got some extenuating circumstances– namely a broken arm that ruled out driving to Chicago as planned to see Chicago family plus my LA brother and his family. Gotta say, the ride hasn’t been bad. Helps that we have a very no nonsense driver who runs a tight ship, err bus. He has twice warned the male riders not to pee on the toilet seat in the bus bathroom, I.e. lift up the damn seat before you wee. And he has started each leg of the trip with a walk down the aisle, looking sternly (bordering on disdainfully) at us passengers.

The college kid next to me who boarded in Iowa City (replacing a rougher character with a cane that had a handle. wrapped in electrical tape) said he prefers the windstar buses that replaced the old megabus double deckers. More comfortable, he says. I have no complaints although I am glad I wore long pants and brought a scarf. The AC is intense.

The two stops we made to drop off or pick up passengers ( coralville and the quad cities airport in moline) were quick and everyone returned promptly after mr. no nonsense stated clearly the time he would be leaving and warned “don’t get left behind.” There is no meal stop, as there has been in the past at some god forsaken fast food joint. And for this I am also thankful. (My first seat mate did show up with some smelly McDonald’s.)

Emma kindly picked me up at 9 pm at the bus stop in downtown Chicago, conveniently located near a Portillos, where we had a late dinner of classic Chi-town hotdogs.(They really do squeak when you bite thru the casing.)

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Story in Minneapolis Star on Iowa’s Mississippi River Coast

VARIETY 489274361

Midwest Traveler: Exploring small towns along the Great River Road in Iowa

Antiques, small towns and beautiful views define one 72-mile stretch along the Mississippi.

JULY 26, 2018 — 6:00PM


The hamlet of St. Donatus, Iowa, features a hike along one of the nation’s oldest outdoor Stations of the Cross.

By Betsy Rubiner Special to the Star Tribune

On a spring day in the Mississippi River town of LeClaire, Iowa, a few visitors explored the tourist-bait antique and gift shops in the small downtown. Nearby, in the wide river, a tug pushed huge barges past an old-fashioned cruise riverboat docked on the levee.

But on a side street off Cody Road — the main drag, named after William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was born in LeClaire in 1846 — Antique Archeology buzzed with browsers. Part quirky junk shop, part hipster mercantile, the business is owned by a more recent famous local, Mike Wolfe, co-host of “American Pickers,” the History Channel reality series/antiques show.

Full of vintage finds picked from barns and garages across the country, Antique Archeology was among the highlights of an afternoon drive along a 73-mile stretch of the Great River Road in eastern Iowa, exploring small river towns between the bigger cities of Davenport and Dubuque.

As an Iowa transplant, I have long enjoyed exploring this (mostly) scenic stretch of my adopted home state, with its charming river towns and expansive Mississippi views from grassy levees and limestone bluffs. But I hadn’t driven it in years, and this time I was showing it off to my sister, who lives in Los Angeles. Here are picks from our trip.

LeClaire (pop. 3,974): A rusty Nash car is parked in the brick alley of Antique Archeology, which includes a blue-painted former fabrication shop and a newer brick building. Both display “American Pickers” finds, some for sale and most with a handwritten tag offering helpful details, ranging from what they are (or were) to the story of their discovery.

A long-buried, rust-encrusted 1918 Indian motorcycle, its tag explained, was picked from “its earthy tomb” in Springfield, Mass., and seen on “American Pickers” Season 6, Episode 21. Battered wooden stilts were “picked out of Colorado,” handmade for a worker harvesting peaches, and on sale for $125.

The Antique Archaeology shop in LeClaire is owned by a famous local, “American Pickers” host Mike Wolfe.

Also for sale is Antique Archeology merchandise, some advertising its two stores — in LeClaire and, more recently, in Nashville. I couldn’t resist a black T-shirt with rusty white letters reading “Respect the Rust.” My sister’s purchases included tea towels (for me!) and a flyswatter.

Elsewhere around town, we were too late to spot bald eagles soaring over the river (a winter highlight) and too early for a cruise (May through October) aboard the Twilight, a replica of a Victorian steamboat. But in Cody Road’s historic district, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bounty of locally made food and drink inside brick storefronts.

LeClaire Canning Co. sells pickled vegetables and fruit preserves. Mississippi River Distillery Co. offers free tours and small-batch vodka, gin and bourbon made from local grains. Green Tree Brewery is named after a giant shady elm beloved by river pilots. Felled by disease in 1964, the 225-year-old elm’s remains are among the exhibits at Buffalo Bill Museum, which also features a dry-docked 1860s sternwheel steamboat.

Clinton (pop. 25,719): As a fan of architectural terra cotta — decorative ceramic flourishes often adorning turn-of-the-20th-century buildings — I had to jump out of the car in this city’s downtown to take a photo of the Van Allen Building, a Louis Sullivan-designed former department store. Eye-popping terra cotta on the building’s four-story facade includes bunches of vivid green leaves. A National Historic Landmark, circa 1912-1914, the Van Allen was another reminder of the gems to be found if you keep your eyes and mind open while wandering through Iowa.

Sabula (pop. 551): “Island City” reads the water tower above this tiny dot (one mile long, a quarter-mile wide) in the Mississippi. Make that Iowa’s only Island City, where local lore has it the first European settler crossed the river on a log in the 1830s. We hardly saw a soul, but did spot some old limestone buildings. Standing in a small riverside park, we marveled at the quiet — until a train rumbled across the river on a rail bridge from Savanna, Ill.

Bellevue (pop. 2,177): Beautiful views, as promised by this town’s French name, greeted us from atop a stone bluff in Bellevue State Park: of a downtown with mid-19th-century stone and brick buildings, a town-long riverfront park and Lock and Dam No. 12, one of several dams on the Upper Mississippi. A few hardy hikers wandered the park’s wooded trails, past butterfly gardens and an indoor nature center.

St. Donatus (pop. 131): We landed in this hilly hamlet, settled by Luxembourgers in the early 1800s, soon after its annual big event — a Good Friday procession along one of the nation’s oldest outdoor Stations of the Cross, built in 1861. Where three days earlier about 400 faithful, some dragging a large wooden cross, had walked the historic town’s famous Way of the Cross, there was just us. Parking behind a pretty white-steepled, stone Catholic church, we hiked up a winding dirt path shaded by cedar trees and dotted with brick alcoves containing lithographs depicting the death of Jesus. Arriving at a one-room stone chapel, we gazed out across a peaceful fertile valley that was primed for spring planting of crops destined for grain barges gliding nearby along the Mississippi.

Getting there

From the Twin Cities, the fastest driving route to LeClaire is 338 miles southeast on non-river highways and interstates. For a scenic return along the river, drive north from LeClaire to St. Donatus for 73 miles along Hwys. 67 and 52, part of Iowa’s section of the 10-state Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

Where to eat and sleep

In LeClaire, good dining with river views can be found at Faithful Pilot Café(1-563-289-4156;, a foodie favorite serving creative American fare, and at Crane & Pelican Cafe (1-563-289-8774;, offering comfort food in an 1851 Italianate mansion.

In Bellevue, Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ at Potter’s Mill (1-563-872-3838; has barbecue, Cajun fare and live music in a former 1843 grist mill. Mont Rest Inn (1-563-872-4220; is located in a lovely Victorian mansion on a river bluff.

More information

LeClaire Information Center: 1-563-289-4242 ext. 61135; or

Betsy Rubiner, a Des Moines-based travel writer, writes the travel blog Take Betsy With You.

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa

bob’s Donuts, The Bob Bridge, Durham Museum, Hollywood Candy, Cubby’s convenience, Coneflower ice cream – Omaha

pplaying catch up from a hospital bed in dsm, post arm surgery, and no joke…my nurse is name bob

which brings me to our Sunday in Omaha which was a lot of fun. We stuck to our neighborhood, the Blackstone District and when the wait was too long for the early bird restaurant, we went next door to bobs donut coffee and chicken where we had two of the three (I don’t get the chicken thing). It was perfect and I enjoyed watching tattooed parents coming in with their little kids for breakfast.

from there we drove downtown to the Nebraska side of the bob (Kerrey) pedestrian bridge whic has some great views of the two states and the river. Found a spot to be in Nebraska and Iowa simultaneously.

onto some other Omaha hotspots that we have somehow missed during brief drive throughs in the past. Our kids, when they were little, would have loved Hollywood Candy, which not only has an outstanding selection of vintage candy (my Royal Crown sour candys greeted me right at the front door) but also an amazing collection of vintage kitsch, old pinball machines, lunchboxes, trolls, records.

we didn’t go into the exhibits at the Durham Museum but we walked around the Art Deco former train station in awe. Lunch was a surprisingly good shared tuna sandwich at the Cubby convenience store near the Old market (it even has an outdoor patio, away from the gas pumps.) . We were saving up for Coneflower ice cream in the Blackstone District which was excellent (the garden mint chip really did taste like it had I mint from our garden). Omaha was fun!

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