I loved Milwaukee, but after staying there three days I was ready to leave and to get out into the country. I wanted Drew to see the Wisconsin I’d told him about so many times: the Wisconsin of dairy farms, rolling hills, and funny cheese shops everywhere. If we had more time I would have taken him to the funny, touristy places I went to as a kid (I have really amazing ’80s memories of The House on the Rock) but we were on our way to see my grandparents in Illinois, and we were just driving on through.
We did make sure to stop in New Glarus. It’s a little Swiss village in rural Wisconsin, and almost all the buildings downtown were built in the old Swiss style, with wood beams and painted facades and flower boxes. It’s a little bit like Helen, Georgia, but it’s the real deal—actually settled by Swiss immigrants in the 1800s and not just created to be a tourist town. Of course now it’s touristy. Much more so than when I was a kid. Drew and I tried to eat lunch at The Glarner Stube, but it was packed. We probably would have had a hard time finding something vegan on the menu anyhow. Instead we just drove until we were too hungry to think, and got fries at the Culver’s drive-thru. I love Wisconsin.
I was most excited to go to Galena, though. I’ve written about Galena a lot on this blog, and I’ve talked it up to poor Drew so many times that I started to worry that it might not live up to my memories of it. I hadn’t been there in 6 years—maybe, after living in Georgia and Tennessee, the hills wouldn’t be as impressive, and maybe, after seeing Savannah and Charleston, Galena’s historic downtown wouldn’t seem nearly as charming.
But it was every bit as magical as I remembered it to be. Maybe even more so. Everything looked the same at my grandparents’ house (thank goodness), and we got to talk to them for a while, getting my grandpa to tell us the stories about 1930s/1940s Galena that I always love to hear. Later on Drew and I went on a nighttime walk around town. I got him to walk with me up creepy hills and side streets and showed him the routes we’d take when we were kids. We snuck into the Desoto House to check out the lobby, got candy corn at Kandy Kitchen, checked out the VFW (it’s my grandpa’s favorite place). We walked up the streets above, and the hills were every bit as steep as I remembered them to be, and the old 1920s high school stairs were just as beautiful.
The next morning we went to a place I hadn’t been to before, or at least a place I can’t remember ever going to. Ever since I started getting interested in the Civil War I’d been wanting to make a trip back to Galena to see Grant’s home. Now I can say I’ve finally been there. It’s not a Southern site, but I wrote about it over on The Southerly anyway—It’s Civil War-related, so I think it counts. The city of Galena gave the house to Grant after he helped win the war, but he never lived there long, and after he became president he’d only go back once in a while. I don’t think the town held good memories for him.
But for me it’s the opposite. I could have stayed there all day showing Drew our old haunts, but we had to get on the road to make it to Chicago before dark. On our way we stopped in my hometown of Rochelle, Illinois, which hasn’t aged nearly as well as Galena. We took some photos at the houses where I grew up, went to the train park, and got the hell out and back onto the interstate.