59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions: Midwest
Bill Shea's Gas Station Museum
Back in 1946, when Bill Shea started pumping gas on legendary Route 66, a car would go by every 10 minutes. Now, he says, it takes 10 minutes just to cross the road. Stop in for an earful of stories and a look at Shea's gas station memorabilia from nearly 60 years on the Mother Road. 2075 Peoria Rd., Springfield, 217/522-0475, $2, kids $1.
World's Largest Catsup Bottle
Once America's best-selling catsup, Brook's Old Original Tangy Catsup was so popular that the company's owners built themselves a massive landmark. The bottle--12 miles east of St. Louis on Route 159--is really a 170-foot-tall water tower, but it's definitely more fun to pretend otherwise. 800 S. Morrison Ave., Collinsville, 618/345-5598, catsupbottle.com.
Living in perpetual darkness, the fish in Bluespring Caverns have evolved to a state of blindness--see for yourself on the one-hour boat tour. In the winter months, Bluespring runs organized caving tours for groups of kids, with an overnight stay in a limestone cave, where hibernating bats also make their home ($23). 1459 Bluespring Caverns Rd., Bedford, 812/279-9471, bluespringcaverns.com, $12, kids $6.
Grotto of the Redemption
Father Paul Dobberstein's geological tribute to God is one of the largest collections of precious stones and gems in the world. The nine grottoes tell the story of redemption through Christ; its curators estimate its value at $4 million to $5 million. In December, if the pond freezes, there's ice-skating. 300 N. Broadway, West Bend, 800/868-3641, westbendgrotto.com, suggested donation $5, kids $2.50.
Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz
Tours of the cottage, carefully done up to resemble the one in The Wizard of Oz, are led by one of 18 Dorothy look-alikes--they're dressed in pigtails, blue gingham, and ruby slippers. Strangely enough, the house is on Yellow Brick Road--and you thought that was in Oz! 567 Yellow Brick Rd., Liberal, 620/624-7624, $5, seniors and kids $3.50. Toy ruby slippers: $13.
World's Largest Ball of Twine
Made from over 7 million feet of sisal twine, the World's Largest Ball of Twine measures 40 feet in circumference and weighs almost nine tons. Housed under a canopy in Cawker City on Highway 24--100 miles northwest of Abilene--the ball is a work in progress, so bring some twine, wrap it around, and consider yourself part of the record books. Cawker City Hall, 785/781-4713, free.
The Van Gogh Project
Part of an ongoing venture to reproduce all seven of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings in seven countries around the globe, this 768-square-foot reproduction of Three Sunflowers in a Vase is easy to spot. It stands on an 80-foot easel along I-70, in the town of Goodland. Artist Cameron Cross painted the work--the other two completed paintings are in Canada and Australia; thebigeasel.com.
Henry Ford Museum
When Thomas Edison was dying in late 1931, Henry Ford decided he wanted to capture the inventor's final gasp--so he had him breathe in a test tube and corked it for posterity. It's now part of the Henry Ford Museum's permanent collection, along with other pieces of American history, including the Rosa Parks bus, Kennedy's presidential limousine, and Lincoln's blood-stained chair. 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, 313/982-6001, hfmgv.org, $14, seniors $13, kids $10. Ford Model A toy: $32.
Jolly Green Giant
Ho, ho, ho! The 55-foot-tall statue of everybody's favorite Jolly Green Giant--at the midpoint of Minnesota along I-90, America's longest interstate--has a smile that's 48 inches wide and a shoe size that's somewhere around 78. He was erected in the town of Blue Earth back in 1979 to celebrate the area's longtime affiliation with canning--Green Giant was once the Blue Earth Canning Company. Intersection of I-90 and Hwy. 169, Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce, 507/526-2916.
Beware of flying objects. Raise your hand at this Sikeston restaurant and a server will toss a wheat roll from across the room. Credit the practice to owner Norman Lambert, who was once so busy he couldn't bring the rolls to a table--so he threw them. No injuries have been reported. 2305 E. Malone St., 573/471-4261, throwedrolls.com.
Constructed of 38 cars from the '50s- and '60s--mirroring both the number of boulders and the diameter of the circle at the original in England--this Stonehenge replica was dedicated on the summer solstice in 1987. Just north of Alliance, the structure was conceived by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father, who once lived on the field where Carhenge now stands. Hwy. 87, Alliance, carhenge.com, free.
The Enchanted Highway
A 32-mile county road connecting Gladstone and Regent, the Enchanted Highway off I-94 is proof that if you build it, they will come. To boost tourism, local artist Gary Greff began erecting weird roadside structures, including a towering family made of tin, the world's largest grasshopper, and a flock of oversize pheasants. His next project: a giant bass. Exit 72, 701/563-6400, enchantedhighway.net, free.
World's largest basket building
Weighing 9,000 tons and standing seven stories high, the home office for the Longaberger Company, in Newark, was built to resemble Longaberger's most popular item, the Medium Market Basket. The building houses Longaberger's 500 employees and is visible from State Route 16. Walk in to admire the seven-story atrium; the glass ceiling allows you to see the handles from inside. 1500 E. Main St., 740/322-5588, longaberger.com, free.
The Corn Palace
Covered entirely with thousands of bushels of corn, grasses, and grains, the Corn Palace in Mitchell--with turrets, onion domes, and minarets--is America's answer to the Kremlin. The exterior of the palace is refurbished annually during harvest time (August through September), but its interior features year-round corn murals depicting the history of Native Americans and the white man. 604 N. Main, 866/273-2676, cornpalace.org, free. Key chain: $2.50.
Wall Drug Store
For more than 70 years this landmark has wooed visitors with countless roadside billboards ("Have You Dug Wall Drug?"). They arrive to find much more: Now an attraction in its own right, the store boasts an 80-foot-tall brontosaurus, an art gallery displaying western art and artifacts, and strange mechanical people like Dr. Feelgood, who for 50¢ will tell you about the benefits of snake oil. 510 Main St., Wall, 605/279-2175, walldrug.com, free.
World's Largest Muskie
The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, about 70 miles south of Duluth, Minn., is home to the World's Largest Muskie. It's four stories high and half a city block long. The belly holds freshwater fishing exhibits and the mouth opens up to a 20-person observation deck. 10360 Hall of Fame Dr., Hayward, 715/634-4440, freshwater-fishing.org, $6, under 18 $3.50, under 10 $2.50. Snow globe: $3.25.
The House on the Rock
Perched precariously atop a tall rock spire, the House on the Rock, in southwest Wisconsin, mixes architectural enthusiasm with an eclectic collection of just about anything you can imagine--suits of armor, model airplanes, pipe organs, and even a pyramid of life-size fiberglass elephants. The most identifiable feature of this attraction is the Infinity Room--a 200-foot-long glass and steel promenade cantilevered over the valley. And for the kids, there's the world's largest carousel, insured for $4.5 million. 5754 Hwy. 23, Spring Green, 608/935-3639, thehouseontherock.com, $19.50, kids 7-12 $11.50, 4-6 $5.50.
59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions: South
SOUTH Alabama Ave Maria Grotto Built by a Benedictine monk named Joseph Zoettl, the Ave Maria Grotto is four acres of biblical history, with more than 125 miniature replicas of holy sites, such as St. Peter's Basilica and the city of Jerusalem. They're not perfectly set to scale--Brother Joe eyeballed his designs--but historians and architects have marveled at his accuracy just the same. 1600 St. Bernard Dr., Cullman, 256/734-4110, avemariagrotto.com, $5, seniors $4.50, kids 6-12 $3.50. Arkansas Cotham's Mercantile and Restaurant Before it opened as a restaurant in 1984, Cotham's had served (sometimes simultaneously) as a general store, jail, and commissary for nearly 70 years. The Hubcap burgers--big enough to feed four--were a favorite of then governor Bill Clinton; as its website says, Cotham's is "Where the Elite Meet to Eat!!" in Scott, about 15 miles east of Little Rock. FYI: It's pronounced "Cottum's." 5301 Hwy. 161, 501/961-9284, cothams.com, Hubcap burger $8. Florida Coral Castle After his fiancee, Agnes Scuffs, canceled their wedding the day before the ceremony, Ed Leedskalnin began constructing a titanic tribute to his lost love. For over 28 years, Ed dug up nearly 1,100 tons of coral, then placed and carved each block by hand to create Coral Castle. The castle, about 30 miles south of Miami, features a nine-ton swinging gate and the Great Obelisk, 25 feet tall and weighing 28 tons. Agnes never visited. 28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead, 305/248-6345, coralcastle.com, $9.75, seniors $6.50, kids 7-12 $5. Drive-In Christian Church The congregation at Daytona Beach's Drive-In Christian Church has been pulling up for prayer since 1953. Offering two services on Sundays (8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.), the Christian church--it was converted from an old drive-in movie theater--has more than 1,300 members and encourages visitors to join in its unique outdoor worship. Pull up, grab a Communion wafer at the gate, then tune in to 88.5 on your FM dial. No worries about drinking and driving--this church uses juice instead of wine. 3140 S. Atlantic Ave., 386/767-8761, driveinchurch.net, free. Georgia Georgia Guidestones No one knows who erected the 19-foot-tall granite Guidestones--picture the Ten Commandments inscribed on Stonehenge--which list instructions for the preservation of mankind in 12 languages, including Sanskrit and Swahili. Here's one: "Avoid petty laws and useless officials." The folks at the Elbert County Chamber of Commerce say that the best way to find them is to drive on Highway 77, between Elberton and Hartwell, and look for the lady's house that resembles a spaceship. The Guidestones are across the street. Elbert County Chamber of Commerce, 706/283-5651, elbertga.com, free. Kentucky Penn's Store In 1992, America's oldest country store, family owned since 1850, got its first bathroom: an outhouse (before that it just had "plenty of trees"). Now, every fall the store hosts the Great Outhouse Blowout, a festival with music, food, and outhouse races (in 2004, Oct. 2). Contestants head to Gravel Switch--50 miles southwest of Lexington--and race human-powered dragsters, some made to resemble that lovable lavatory. 257 Penn's Store Rd., 859/332-7715, pennsstore.com. Louisiana Bayou Pierre Alligator Park With gator sausage and kebabs in the food court and gator wallets and boots in the gift shop, you'd think the Bayou Pierre Alligator Park was killing off its main attraction. Not so. All of the park's hundreds of gators are for viewing only (the others come from local farms). Watch these thousand-pounders wrestle over chicken parts, or hold a baby gator in your arms for a Cajun-style photo opportunity. It's 75 miles southeast of Shreveport, off Highway 1. 380 Old Bayou Pierre Rd., Natchitoches, 877/354-7001, alligatorshow.com, $6.50, kids $4.75. Baby gator head: $9.99. Mississippi The Crossroads According to the song "Crossroads Blues," by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, this is the spot where he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his skills as a guitar virtuoso. At the intersection of Highways 161 and 49 in the town of Clarksdale, the spot is marked with a guitar-shaped sign. Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce, 662/627-7337. North Carolina Furnitureland South The world's largest highboy--an 85-foot-tall dresser with three foot-wide gold-leaf handles--stands in front of the world's largest home-furnishings showroom. Built in 1999, it towers over its rival (the world's largest bureau, also in High Point) by more than 45 feet. 5635 Riverdale Dr., 336/841-4328, furniturelandsouth.com, free. South Carolina South of the Border With its 200-foot-tall Sombrero Tower and smiling mascot, Pedro, this monument to Mexican kitsch has attracted road-trippers since 1949. What started as a small beer stand has expanded into an amalgamation including 15 shops, an amusement park (called Pedroland), six restaurants, campgrounds, and a hotel. I-95 at Hwy. 301, Hamer, 843/774-2411, pedroland.com. Tennessee The Parthenon In 1897, to commemorate 100 years of statehood, Tennessee built a full-scale replica of the Parthenon just outside downtown Nashville, in Centennial Park. It houses the city's art museum, as well as plaster casts of the Elgin marbles (the real ones, which date from around 440 b.c., are in the British Museum). Like the original in Athens, the Parthenon focuses on a 42-foot statue of the goddess Athena--by all estimates she's wearing size-177 sandals. 2600 West End Ave., 615/862-8431, parthenon.org, $4, seniors and kids $2.50. Virginia Route 11 Potato Chip Factory The Route 11 Potato Chip Factory prepares, cooks, and bags all 13 varieties of its chips by hand. The Chesapeake crab chips are a regional favorite: They're flavored with the same salty, spicy blend fishermen use to season their Chesapeake Blues. 7815 Main St., Middletown, 800/294-7783, rt11.com, 11-oz. bag $4. West Virginia Prabhupada's Palace of Gold Billed as America's Taj Mahal--don't tell Trump--Prabhupada's Palace of Gold, in Moundsville, was constructed by monastic volunteers to be the home of spiritual leader Srila Prabhupada. When he died before its completion, the gilded palace became a pilgrimage center and tourist attraction. The elaborately decorated rooms have marble and onyx floors, crystal chandeliers, and silk tapestries. Palace Rd. Exit off Hwy. 250, 304/843-1812, palaceofgold.com, suggested donation $6, kids $3.
Europe: 'But We Don't Want All Motorcycles, All the Time'
Jordan Henry, an operating-room nurse in Madison, Wis., started riding motorcycles almost 20 years ago at the age of 16. "My great-grandfather built and drove his own motorcycle, and I'm building a chopper," he says. Jordan's wife, Alyssa, who's a nurse anesthetist, tells us she has "acquired a taste for motorcycling" during their nearly four-year marriage. This August, the couple is booked on a 10-day guided motorcycle tour of Germany, Switzerland, France, and Austria. There are two free days--in Obernai, France, and Lucerne, Switzerland--as well as time before and after that the Henrys want us to plot out for them. "Jordan is a true gearhead," says Alyssa. "From high-performance sports cars to muscle cars, he loves them all, and he's the proud owner of a 1988 Porsche 928 S4." At the end of their motorcycle tour, which begins and ends in Munich, the Henrys want to go to Stuttgart to visit the Porsche factory and museum, as well as any other sites for car fanatics. The Henrys arrive in Munich a couple of days before their tour starts, which will give them time to check out their first automobile manufacturer. The futuristic BMW plant is in northern Munich, accessible by subway. Free, three-hour guided tours are offered on weekdays in English and German; it's a good idea to reserve online well in advance. Visitors wear radio headsets so they can hear their guide over the din of the bustling factory floor. Unfortunately, the on-site BMW Museum is under renovation, though a display of historic Beemers has been set up in the nearby Olympia Park, site of the 1972 Summer Games. "For Alyssa's sake, I don't want overkill--all cars, all motorcycles, all the time," says Jordan. Alyssa explains that they prefer historical sites--cathedrals, castles, and ruins--to museums. St. Peter's church, built in 1180, affords fantastic views of the city and, on clear days, the Alps. For a glimpse of how Bavarian royalty summered, the Henrys could head outside the city to Schloss Nymphenburg, a castle with a collection of historic coaches, a landscaped garden, and the Amalienburg, a rococo hunting lodge with a hall of mirrors. "I'm as into food and cooking as Jordan is with cars and motorcycles," says Alyssa. "I love learning about food and who produced it. And we're definitely interested in sampling some great beer and wine." Munich's Viktualienmarkt, just south of Marienplatz, is one of Germany's most famous outdoor markets. The Henrys can stroll through aisles of vegetables, sausages, cheeses, and fish, and put to the test those German classes they took in the spring. Though most locals speak some English, they appreciate it when tourists know a few basics. No visit to Munich is complete without a visit to a beer hall. The Henrys want to see the Hofbräuhaus, and we offer a couple lesser-known options: Augustiner, on the main pedestrian street for shopping; and Paulaner Bräuhaus, southwest of the city center, with picnic tables in its beer garden. Alyssa's grandfather was a professional button-box accordionist, and she grew up listening to polkas and waltzes, so they're certain to have a fun evening at the Alpine-style sing-alongs at Jodlerwirt. The Henrys request basic accommodations. "We don't hang out much in our rooms," says Alyssa, "and we'd rather spend money on other things, like food." The Hotel Jedermann, near the main train station and run by the same family for four decades, should suffice. Next, it's on to the motorcycle tour. Jordan has dreamed about cruising with Edelweiss Bike Travel since reading about the company as a teen. "I'm looking forward to simply riding through the Alps with my wife next to me," says Jordan. On their first free day, in Obernai, a small town in the Alsace region of France, the Henrys could opt to make a short ride to Strasbourg to see its magnificent cathedral and historic quarters. After three long days on motorcycles, however, it might be nicer to take things easy. A few years ago, the Henrys went to Spain, and Alyssa, a self-professed "compulsive planner and doer," was stressed that they were missing something. She pushed her husband to stay on the go the entire time. "It was a great vacation, but exhausting," says Alyssa. (Jordan nicknamed the trip "Sherman's death march.") That's even more reason, this time around, to sit at a café or stroll around Obernai, a walled medieval town with four towers. The Henrys might stop by one of the many wine cellars to sample the aromatic and slightly spicy wine known as gewürztraminer, an Alsatian specialty. For their other free day, in the lakeside city of Lucerne, Switzerland, the Henrys are keen for activity. They can board a Lake Lucerne Navigation Company steamer for a 90-minute ride to Alpnachstad, where passengers board the world's steepest cog railway to reach Mount Pilatus, a mountaintop lookout with hotels, a shop, and plenty of hiking opportunities. To complete the round trip without backtracking, we recommend taking a gondola and cable car to the village of Kriens, followed by a short bus to Lucerne. If it's raining or foggy, the Henrys might instead wander around the picturesque old streets of Lucerne. When their tour ends back in Munich, the Henrys are heading to Stuttgart. The high-speed train is our favorite way to go (2 hours and 20 minutes each way; $99 round trip, second class). "The Porsche Museum and factory are the priorities," says Alyssa. Most of the year, free guided factory tours in English leave at 10 A.M., weekdays; unfortunately, none are offered in late August because of summer holidays. A new museum is being constructed at the plant, and for now there's a room with 20 historic Porsches on display. Greater Stuttgart is also the home of a new Mercedes-Benz Museum. Alyssa and Jordan can inspect some 160 vehicles, including record-breaking speedsters of the 1930s and the luxury cars specially made for royalty, popes, and politicians. "What part of Stuttgart should we stay in?" asks Alyssa. Since they'll be sightseeing all over, it doesn't matter all that much, but a central location probably works best. Centro is an inexpensive hotel less than ten minutes' walk from the train station. When they're feeling hungry or thirsty, the Henrys should make a beeline to the Bohnenviertel (Bean Quarter), an old artisans' district. "The style of restaurant doesn't matter," says Alyssa. "It's the quality of the food that we care about." The neighborhood hosts a fine selection of weinstuben, wine taverns unique to the area that are known for serving local wines and rich food (distinctive pastas, creamy sauces, roasted pork and beef). Weinstube Schellenturm scores extra points for its cool setting in a 16th-century tower. Prost! Operators Edelweiss Bike Travel edelweissbike.com, book via travel agent Transportation Lake Lucerne Navigation Company 011-41/41-367-6767, lakelucerne.ch, Lucerne to Pilatus and back $69 Lodging Hotel Jedermann Bayerstrasse 95, Munich, 011-49/89-543-240, hotel-jedermann.de, from $85 Centro Büchsenstrasse 24, Stuttgart, 011-49/711-585-3315, from $108 Food Hofbräuhaus Platzl 9, Munich, 011-49/89-221-676 Augustiner Neuhauser Strasse 27, Munich, 011-49/89-2318-3257 Paulaner Bräuhaus Kapuzinerplatz 5, Munich, 011-49/89-544-6110 Weinstube Schellenturm Weberstrasse 72, Stuttgart, 011-49/711-236-4888, roast pork $12.50 Activities BMW Petuelring 130, Munich, 011-49/89-3822-3306, bmw-plant-munich.com, free tour Schloss Nymphenburg Munich, 011-49/89-1790-8668, schloesser.bayern.de,from $6.25 Mount Pilatus Alpnachstad, 011-41/41-329-1129, pilatus.ch Porsche Museum Stuttgart, 011-49/711-9112-5685, porsche.com, free viewing Mercedes-Benz Museum Stuttgart, 011-49/711-172-2578, mercedes-benz.com, $10.25 Nightlife Jodlerwirt Altenhofstrasse 4, Munich, 011-49/89-221-249 How was your trip? "St. Lucia was absolutely wonderful," says Heather McKinney (right), with Jenny Meader and two new friends, Felix and Luke, who invited them on a boat ride. "We were blown away by the view from our villa at Stonefield. It seemed like I could reach out and touch the Petit Piton." Jenny particularly loved meeting people in Soufrière. "They were all so happy and they laughed so easily. It was infectious!"
The Catskills: A Heap of Old-Fashioned Fun, Only Two Hours From New York City
Day 1: New York City to Woodstock There's this glorious moment at the end of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Traffic magically thins as the massive stress knot of New York City starts to soften. My fiance Steve and I are desperately in need of a getaway when we set off for the Catskills. Our wedding is a month away, and we're up to our eyeballs in ridiculous family drama. Tell people you're going to the Catskills and chances are at least one person will envision Jackie Mason trading one-liners with Jerry Stiller over bowls of borscht. Yes, in the '40s and '50s there were plenty of Jewish bungalow colonies. And sure, the Mel Brookses of the comedy world got their start in the region. But the Catskills have evolved since then. There may still be borscht, but it's all about the locally grown beets. Steve and I head first to the one place we've both already visited, the legendary hippie town of Woodstock. Tinker Street, the main drag, is still the cliche we remember--tourist traps, tie-dye, and patchouli. "Is this Woodstock?" one guy shouts out his car window as he drives by. We nod. "Is this all there is to do around here?" Another nod. We spend the night at theTwin Gables Guest Home, a Woodstock fixture. Our street-level room is comfortably nondescript, but we're surprised to find rigid instructions everywhere. At the door, a bold sign instructs us to only ring once. Where's that hippie love when you want it? Lodging Twin Gables Guest Home73 Tinker St., Woodstock, 845/679-9479, twingableswoodstockny.com, from $89 Day 2: Woodstock to Saugerties Five minutes outside of Woodstock, the Overlook Mountain Trail is a popular five-mile hike leading to the concrete ruins of an old hotel. (The scenic Rock City Road, which turns into Meads Mt. Road, winds up to the trailhead and is worth the trip by itself.) The beginning is relatively steep, but we're doing just fine. It doesn't take long, however, until we're humbled; walkers 30 years younger--and 30 years older--are breathing less heavily. Woodstock tends to attract spiritual types, and Steve and I can get into that kind of thing. We seek a moment of introspection atKarma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist temple that's open to the public. A massive golden Buddha is planted happily in the front of a big room. We grab cushions and meditate for what feels like at least 30 minutes, but in reality is all of 67 seconds. Enlightenment will have to wait. On our way to the town of Phoenicia, we see a sign for theWorld's Largest Kaleidoscope, which turns out to be in a converted silo. We're the only people there, and we're instructed to lie flat, facing up. A rah-rah-America show, complete with what appear to be a thousand Abe Lincolns, spins psychedelically over our heads. It's a bizarre and entrancing spectacle, and somehow not a surprise that we're the only people there. Phoenicia, meanwhile, is hopping. 'Tis the season for tubing! There are two tubing acts in town: Town Tinker andF-S Tube Rental. It's a sunny day, so we don't spend long studying the difference and just opt for the latter, which has been around for over 30 years. Richie Bedner, F-S Tube's self-described Tube King, welcomes us enthusiastically. He tells us not to worry about any DANGER AHEAD signs, and he assures us that a significant three-foot drop along the way is the best part of the ride. Steve wipes out and nearly loses a tooth, but I finish without a scratch and become one of tubing's biggest boosters. Trust me, it's way more fun than it sounds. We have a reservation to stay the night at the still-functioningSaugerties Lighthouse, overlooking the Hudson River about 25 miles from Phoenicia. There are two rooms for guests, and they're a bit of a splurge. Given the price, we thought it would be best to compromise by having a picnic dinner on-site. To get to the lighthouse, visitors have to walk 10 minutes along a muddy footpath that's occasionally submerged by the incoming tide. There's a tide table on the lighthouse's website that we didn't pay quite enough attention to when we booked. At 7 P.M., we just barely make it. Patrick Landewe, the lighthouse keeper, greets us at the door. Part L.L. Bean model, part enigmatic loner, he began his tenure only a few weeks earlier. The previous lighthouse keeper left after he married a guest, and apparently love connections are fairly common out here. Considering that the Hudson freezes over in the winter, Patrick's clock is ticking. There are only a couple more months for Cupid to strike. He shouldn't have a hard time, I tell my insanely jealous fiance. Steve and I change into our bathing suits, jump into the Hudson, and watch the setting sun reflect sparkling amber tones in the warm water. If there's anything more romantic than throwing on towels and eating a low-key dinner on the deck of the Saugerties Lighthouse, I simply don't know what it could be. Operators F-S Tube RentalJust off Main St., Phoenicia, 845/688-7633, fstuberental.com, transportation and rental $15 Lodging Saugerties Lighthouse168 Lighthouse Dr., Saugerties, 845/247-0656, saugertieslighthouse.com, from $160 Activities Karma Triyana Dharmachakra335 Meads Mt. Rd., Woodstock, 845/679-5906, kagyu.org World's Largest Kaleidoscope Shops at Emerson, Rte. 28, Mt. Tremper, 845/688-5800, $7 Day 3: Saugerties to Fleischmanns The smell of eggs and bacon wakes us. Patrick has been cooking up a storm. We have no interest in leaving the lighthouse. Ever. In fact, we kind of want to quit our day jobs and become lighthouse keepers ourselves, until Patrick complains about having to wipe dead moths off the light bulbs. Every place has its unromantic side. In Tannersville, a bunch of cars are parked in front of theLast Chance Antiques and Cheese Cafe. Once inside, we see why. The cafe has over 300 beers, about 100 types of cheese, and the best selection of candy this side of the Haribo factory. We marvel over the contents in the antique candy baskets and pick up Brie, almond, and apple sandwiches on raisin bread--plus some wax lips--for later. In winter, Hunter Mountain is popular with skiers and snowboarders. Off season, the resort is open to mountain bikers and hikers, and the views are unparalleled. The 10-minuteSkyridechairlift to the top of the mountain is well worth the $8, so long as you're not acrophobic. It can be a breezy, chair-swinging ride, which makes for either a massive rush of adrenaline or--in the case of the woman in the chair behind ours--a loss of lunch. We land for the evening in Fleischmanns, a quirky town with a slightTwin Peaksfeel. There are few people on the sidewalks, and the huge Victorian houses are more than a little odd. My favorite is all black, with blood-red stairs and a sign on the door announcing A NICE COLD WELCOME. Ben Fenton, the innkeeper at theRiver Run Bed and Breakfast Inn, is much warmer. He insists we won't want to missRoberts' Auction. It takes place right next door every Saturday evening, all year round (it's since moved a few miles away to Arkville). Ben volunteers for Roberts, and he promises us VIP treatment. Whatever that means, it sounds exciting to me. There are few better ways to spend a Saturday night than watching Eddie Roberts, a craggy old guy with a flannel shirt and a mile-a-minute delivery, hawk everything from an old Connect Four game to a majestic hand-carved bed rescued from an estate sale (Roberts' son, Edward Roberts Jr., now runs the auction in the Arkville location). Steve and I take our seats behind the regulars, octogenarians who show up with their own auction paddles as well as their pillows and pets. As Steve and I learn, there's a right way to wave your paddle--subtly, nonchalantly, as if you don'tcarewhether you get that Shaker armoire--but we haven't mastered it. We swat our paddle around with gusto and end up going home with a pair of turbaned-gypsy figurine lamps ($25), and, for some inexplicable reason, the vinyl interior of a trunk ($15). We decide to quit when a broken Atari console starts looking good. It's almost 11 P.M., and we haven't eaten much all day. Devin Mills, a former chef at New York's beloved Gramercy Tavern, grew up in the area and returned to openPeekamoose Restaurant. The prices in the main dining room are high, but the menu is more reasonable--and equally impressive--at the tables in the bar. The short-rib sandwich could convert any vegetarian. Devin's wife, Marybeth, approaches us with a spoonful of a new ice cream flavor they've concocted. We immediately identify it as sweet corn, and Marybeth is so impressed that she rewards us with a peach cobbler on the house. Lodging River Run Bed & Breakfast Inn882 Main St., Fleischmanns, 845/254-4884, riverrunbedandbreakfast.com, from $79 Food Last Chance Antiques and Cheese Cafe602 Main St., Tannersville, 518/589-6424 Peekamoose Restaurant8373 Rte. 28, Big Indian, 845/254-6500, short-rib sandwich $14 Activities Hunter Mountain Skyride61 Liftside Dr., Hunter, 800/486-8376, huntermtn.com, round trip $8 Roberts' Auction, 43311 State Highway 28, Arkville, 845/586-6070 Day 4: Fleischmanns to New York We've been lucky with weather so far, but the good fortune ends as we wake up to a rainstorm. Fortunately, there's still plenty to do; several of the towns around Fleischmanns have lots of terrific antique stores. . It turns out that not knowing anything about your path means you're likely to get lost. The upside is that you discover things you wouldn't otherwise. Somehow a list of roads I couldn't attempt to re-create leads us toThe Bridges of Madison County. Or, rather, Sullivan County, but we certainly feel like we're seeing the picturesque bridges through the eyes of Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. If you have to get lost, the Livingston Manor Bridge and Beaverkill Bridge are lovely rewards. All weekend long we looked forward to finishing our road trip at the Munson Diner. We read about it inThe New York Times: It's an old-school diner lifted out of Manhattan and replanted in the town of Liberty. Sadly, it's not yet open for business. Instead, we stop at theLiberty Diner, a serviceable spot full of track-suited seniors and a fine early-bird special. Finally, we start to see the Catskills ofDirty Dancing. We eat our chicken soup and saltines, and, after spotting Max Kellerman's doppelgänger, Steve throws out his best "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." The closer we get to New York City, the busier the roads become. And with our wedding just over a month away, the stress should be hitting me as soon as the Tappan Zee toll line comes into view--but it doesn't. The last four days of nonstop togetherness have been a perfect preparation for our future life. There will be incredible highs (the lighthouse), bizarre twists (the kaleidoscope), and splendid moments that catch us when we least expect them (those covered bridges). We may get lost sometimes, but I totally trust that we'll find our way back home. Food Liberty Diner30 Sullivan Ave., Liberty, 845/292-8973,bowl of chicken soup $3 Finding your way For the most detailed road information, your best bet is to pick up a local fishing map. The Delaware county tourist office has a downloadable version at delawarecounty.org/fishing. For maps of Ulster, Sullivan, and Greene counties, visit their websites: ulstertourism.info, scva.net, and greenetourism.com. The many side roads off Rte. 23A are particularly fun to explore, so allow for extra time in those parts. Both the Livingston Manor and Beaverkill Bridges are along Rte. 17 in Sullivan County. (But be careful: Rte. 17 is a notorious speed trap.) Log on to nycoveredbridges.org for information about those and other bridges.
1. Put toys within kids' reach on road trips. Hang a shoe organizer on the back of the passenger seat so children can keep stuffed animals, books, and games organized in the pockets. Having everything close at hand may prevent meltdowns along the way. Jennifer Casasanto, Newton, Mass. 2. Use half a contact lens case to carry your medicine. My husband cut an old lens case in two and uses the halves for his medication when we're traveling. He prefers them to regular pillboxes because lens cases are watertight and compact enough to carry in a shirt pocket. Jean Holtmann, Broken Arrow, Okla. 3. Don't rush off the car-rental lot. Before driving away--especially in foreign countries where the controls might be unfamiliar--test the headlights and brakes, and look for the extra tire and changing tools. I once had a rental with malfunctioning brakes in Mexico and caused a minor accident--one that could have been avoided had I checked them properly before leaving the lot. Doreen Stelton, Lemont, Ill. 4. Buy multiple memory cards for your digital camera. Instead of investing in one large-capacity memory card, consider purchasing two smaller ones for the same price. That way, if your camera is stolen, you won't lose all your pictures. Ashley Miller, Miami, Fla. 5. Light sticks can replace a night-light. Finding the bathroom in the middle of the night in a strange hotel room or cruise-ship cabin can be a challenge. Leaving the bathroom light on seems wasteful and makes the room too bright for sleeping. My husband and I used to travel with a night-light, but we couldn't always find a convenient place to plug it in. We've recently discovered a better solution: plastic light sticks. They come in several glow-in-the-dark colors and are activated by bending the tube into a circle and connecting the ends. Each evening, we hook one of the loops over the bathroom door handle, where it provides a gentle glow through the night. Carol Attar, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. You can find more tips in the July/August 2006 issue of Budget Travel magazine.