MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Guided trips

Sightseeing by bicycle

Join a rolling tour, and you'll see the best of the Upper Midwest.

There's nothing like traveling the countryside on a bicycle.

From a bike seat, you hear the murmur of wind through field and forest, and you actually notice the sky and its clouds, as mesmerizing as a lava lamp.

You can ride on your own, but it's more fun to join one of the many cross-state rides organized by bicycle clubs and charities.

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Chow-down in Chicago

In a city of neighborhoods, cooks from many countries stir the pot.

Chicago has come a long way since it was hog butcher to the world.

There was nothing very appetizing about early Chicago. The factories and slaughterhouses that made it grow also made it stink. Rotting carcasses made the Chicago River bubble; a glass of water came with a side of cholera.

But the city grew up. The immigrants who packed its meat, dug its waterways and built its railroads moved on and were replaced by new immigrants, who settled in places that became known as Little Italy, Andersonville, Polish Village, Ukrainian Village, Chinatown, Greek Town and Pilsen.

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Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail

You can backpack, day hike, stay in lodges or go with a group on Minnesota's premier path.

To a novice, Minnesota's Superior Hiking Trail presents a bewilderment of possibilities.

There are 310 miles of trail between Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth and the Canadian border. Some are in the city, some deep in forest. Many stretches include spectacular views of Lake Superior, but others (gasp!) are a little boring.

People come from all over the nation to hike this beloved trail, and some take three or four weeks and do the whole thing. But there are many ways to hike the trail.

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Amish country

In a corner of Minnesota, folks are different, yet not so different.

In southeast Minnesota, some of the locals stand out a bit.

They travel in horse-drawn buggies, they dress only in dark colors and they speak an archaic German dialect. In their homes and workshops, they refuse to use electricity, natural gas or plumbing, all of which would literally connect them to the outside world.

They're Old Order Amish, direct descendants of a Swiss religious group that believed Martin Luther and other Reformation leaders didn't go far enough in returning the church to strict Scripture.

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Into the belly of Chicago

A food tour points us toward pizza, candies, spice and everything nice.

Once, Chicago was a meat-and-potatoes town, the City of Broad Shoulders.

Chicagoans still brawl over who has the best deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs, which come with no ketchup but so many condiments they're “dragged through the garden.’’

But these days locals are just as likely to seek out the best macarons and gelato, and on special occasions, they dine at Michelin-starred restaurants with avant-garde chefs who are more Jeff Koons than Betty Crocker.

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Follow the leader?

On a guided trip, drop a bundle or a bit the choice is yours.

Want to save money on trips? Then, step away from the fancy catalog.

Glossy pages of snow-capped mountains and medieval castles are eye candy for travelers. But the prettier the brochure, the more eye-popping the prices.

Luxury excursions are like Jaguars and Jimmy Choo shoes. We covet them, we window-shop for them, but only a few of us can afford them.

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Hikes with benefits

For exercise as well as edification, tag along with an expert.

Out in the forest, solitude can be overrated.

Occasionally, we all need silence. But you may have more fun if you play follow the leader.

When I go on a hike, especially if I don't know the area well, I like to tag along with naturalists. Thanks to them, I've learned all kinds of interesting things.

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