Chicago: elephant in the room for Illinois tourism ... Folks scared of cruising?
It's a great problem to have. But still something of a problem.
The folks from Illinois tourism made a touchdown in Toronto on Monday to spread a little love in their largest foreign market. The U.S. ambassador to Canada was there, as was the consul general and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, an amusing speaker who has a touch of Mel Lastman whimsy about him but with more substance, I'd say.
It was all part of an effort to shine a light on the darker corners of Illinois, the ones that get perpetually shaded by the shadow of the Chicago elephant. I mean, think about it. I bet maybe five per cent of Canadians could name two cities in Illinois.
Urbana-Champaign is home to the University of Illinois and sounds appealling,with beautiful grounds and a real old-time college feel. Springfield is the capital and home of Abraham Lincoln, of course. I read about Cairo, Illinois in Huckleberry Finn, I think. It's where the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers meet, and it's always sounded somewhat exotic, although the photos I saw on the web make it look like folks There are not unfamiliar with the phrase "hard times."
I once drove through Rockford, a pretty area with rolling hills north and west of Chicago. But I'm as guilty as most Canadians, who probably define Illinois as that part of Chicago that's outside the downtown loop. I don't recall hearing it mentioned very often, but the slides they showed of the town of Galena, tucked way up in the northwest corner of the state, made it look awfully nice (see photo at right).
From the sound of things, we're missing a great deal. For example, there are 583 miles (count 'em) of Illinois frontage on the Mississippi River. I wouldn't have guess more than 200, and I'm a person who lies awake at night reading the atlas for fun.
The state also is home to more bald eagles than any other state in the U.S. except Alaska, and, according to Quinn, is an excellent place for bird-watching. (Actually, Quinn made this point several times in an entertaining speech that made me think the guy is quite smart but likes playing up the image of a good old boy hunkering for a tasty snack at the Bar-B-Q Barn in Harrisburg, complete with a country fried steak and a big old Coke (no liquor license, from what I could see; too bad).
Illinois also has the largest native American burial ground in North America. And the southwestern part of the state is hard by St. Louis, which Quinn said means you can go up the giant St. Louis arch and gaze back down on Illinois in all its glory. And there's a lot to look at, as Illinois is larger than Greece or Portugal.
Not only is Illinois home to the greatest American president, Lincoln, it's also home to a certain Barack Obama. And it's the state where Ulysses S. Grant was born, not to mention Ronald Reagan.
Quinn said Reagan was a lifeguard as a kid in Dixon, Illinois and saved 87 lives. "They were all women," he said with a grin. "Mostly the same one over and over."
Dixon also is the Petunia Capital of Illinois, and worth a visit for that reason alone, especially on Fourth of July for the annual Petunia Festival.
A couple other fun bits about Illinois. The ice cream sundae was invented in Evanston, apparently as a way for folks in the Prohibition era to enjoy a post-church experience without liquor. They didn't want to call it a Sunday as that would be a slight on the Lord, so it was named a Sundae. (Kinda like in When Harry Met Sally and Billy Crystal asks Meg Ryan about her days of the week underwear and she explains there's no pair of knickers for Sunday "because of God.")
Also, and this sounds tasty, you can go to Springfield, Illinois and get a horseshoe sandwich; any heaping helping of meat on a piece of toast, topped with french fries and cheese. If you're not hungry, you can order a half-sandwich, which is called a pony.
Of course, you can't come to Toronto and ignore Chicago completely. Chicago, after all, is where the famous Route 66 began. You can go today and find signs explaining it all, and they're aiming to have an interactive booth of some sort up and running this spring.
There's also incredible theatre, world-class architecture (much better than doughty Toronto), a top-notch waterfront (ditto), deep dish pizza, a fabulous ballpark in Wrigley Field (strike three to T.0.) and lots more.
For more information, visit www.enjoyillinois.com
COSTA INCIDENTS SCARING OFF CRUISERS?
ANGKOR WAT REPLICA IN INDIA
This item courtesy of travelmole.com
India is to build a replica of one of the most famous tourist sites in the world, the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.
A foundation-laying ceremony has been held for the project, which will become the world's largest Hindu temple.
Secretary of the Bihar Mahavir Mandir Trust, Kishore Kunal, told the BBC that the replica of the UNESCO World Heritage site would be slightly taller than the original. He said it would be known as Virat Angkor Wat Ram temple but will also house other Hindu deities like Radha-Krishna, Shiv-Parvati, Ganesh, Surya and 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
"We'll make this temple the pride of the Hindu temples in the world and I've started it on the occasion of the 100th year of Bihar state's foundation."