Fall break getaways:

By Scott Vargo

The sharp change in weather has students bringing out gloves and raincoats in preparation for the next downpour. However, with fall break less than a month away, students should also be preparing for an off-campus adventure to experience some of the Midwest’s most intriguing cities. Of these, Chicago, Duluth, and Madison claim quite a few impressive titles. From the birthplace of the skyscraper to the largest port on Superior to the friendliest city in the Midwest, these three destinations are not only excellent for a short fall respite, but getting to them is cheap and relatively fast.
Chicago. Skyscrapers, corruption, deep-dish pizza, jazz, Barack Obama, Lake Michigan. the list could go on and on. The Windy City is America’s third largest city, after New York and Los Angeles. Sandwiched in the middle of the country, it offers the tourist more flavors than a Maxwell Street Polish (a giant bun-encased sausage, synonymous with Chicago). Taking the 60 second elevator ride up to the Skydeck in the Sears Tower (now Willis tower) and standing on the glass jutting out 412 meters above the city is a must, as is sharing a liberal slice of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, which was invented at the original Pizzeria Uno (Ohio & Wabasha) in 1943.
For the art lovers, the Art Institute of Chicago (Monroe & Wabasha) will be a highlight. With one of the world’s most notable collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, the Institute is regarded as one of the finest art museums in the country. While you’re in the area check out Millennium Park (Washington & Michigan). Chicago’s answer to New York’s Central Park, this oasis is dominated by a colossal silver “bean” sculpture by Indian artist Anish Kapoor. Grab a bite to eat and ponder its meaning. From here, head up Michigan Ave to hit up the Magnificent Mile (North of Chicago River to Oak St). This prestigious boulevard is a long stretch of upscale stores, hotels and restaurants, along with some of the tallest buildings in America. If chic isn’t what you’re in the mood for, charge straight through all the glossy store displays and right to Oak Park Beach. Crash on the sand for a bit and enjoy the views.

For those looking for the cheapest trip possible, the Chicago International Hostel (www.hichicago.org) offers rooms for $35 a night; is takes 45 minutes to get downtown. If you pursue this option, direct yourself to the Chicago Transit Authority (www.transitchicago.com) to figure out your best options for getting into the city. As far as getting to Chicago from Macalester, Megabus (www.megabus.com/us) runs a seven-hour trip between Minneapolis and Union Station (across the river from the Sears Tower) for $30 round trip. A little closer to home, the industrial harbor of Duluth spans 40 miles of wharfs and waterfront, making it one of the largest ports in the U.S. Duluth is more outdoorsy than Chicago or Madison, but it still serves up its fair share of sights. The Ariel Lift Bridge, built in 1905, is the gateway to Duluth’s inner harbor. It rises 40 times per day in high season for massive lake-going cargo ships. This impressive spectacle can be taken in from the three mile long lakewalk that stretches along the shore of Lake Superior.

For a bit of early 20th century decadence, visit the 39-room lakeside estate of Chester Congdon, a mining mogul and lawyer. Finished in 1908, the mansion was equipped with hot water and electricity at a price equivalent to $30 million dollars. In the ’70s, an intruder broke into the mansion, smothering the 83 year old heiress with a “pink-satin pillow” and killing the night nurse by beating her over the head with a candle-stick holder.

The real attraction of Duluth is the setting itself. Lake Superior lets Midwesterners enjoy something akin to an ocean, while enabling those of us who come from the coast to be a little nostalgic. For those with a car, a drive up the north shore is a spectacular way to get out into the wilderness. Make sure to stop by the precariously situated Split Rock Lighthouse, built on the edge of a 40 meter cliff with a sheer drop to Lake Superior.

As far as lodging goes, there are no real budget accommodations (no hostels) in Duluth, but there are quite a few inexpensive places (including Motel 6). However, they are not in downtown. Greyhound runs a two-hour trip between St. Paul and Duluth for $20 round trip.

Madison is the birthplace of “The Onion,” which says quite a bit about the city. With a populace that is both intelligent and liberal, Madison is a hotbed for political activism. As would be expected of a place with so many college students, there is a vibrant nightlife, including many live music venues.

For Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts, his curving Monona Terrace Convention Center (at the end of MLK Jr. Blvd., opposite the capital) offers a lakeside terrace and a rooftop café garden with spectacular views of the city. If it is nice weather, visit the Dane County Farmer’s Market (next to the capital building). Held every Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Nov. 7, it is the largest “producer-only” farmers market in America, meaning that everything must be made by the vendors or their employees. After finding something delicious to eat, take advantage of Madison’s position on an isthmus and stroll around one of the two lakes that dominate the city for grand vistas.

Madison is also known for its Halloween celebration. The city explodes with raucous festivities sprawling from the epicenter of State Street through the city. You need a ticket to get into State Street, but the partying itself is not confined to this area.

The Madison Hostel (www.madisonhostel.org) has a spectacular location two blocks North East of the capital, for $42 a night. Greyhound runs a five-hour trip between St. Paul and Madison for $52 round trip.