Category Archives: Travel

How the federal government built a basilica

When we hear today the term “separation of church and state” we think of it as being a precept that impedes the government on all levels from establishing a state-run church, but I found an interesting exception–kind of–in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,  USA, where the physical building of a beautiful church was completed with the resources of the federal government, but nobody had a problem with it in the early 20 Century and neither should you.

So I tease.

It’s worth it if I can get you to pay attention to some of the most inspiring architecture in a city that is known for beer, brats and the setting of the old Happy Day’s sitcom.

Milwaukee is sporting new construction all over, but especially in its downtown.  New towers are rising into the sky and entire sections are being reclaimed from failed smokestack industry or abandoned rail yards.

In the early 20th Century the skyscrapers of the time were often the church spires that spiked and determined neighborhoods, or, more precise: “parishes”.  Often these churches reflected the pride and religion of those who settled in a particular neighborhood.  St. Josaphat Basilica is one of those churches, and its towering facade owes its existence to inspired frugality and the federal government.

St. Josaphat Exterior Front Facting
St. Josaphat main entrance

Ground was broken for the new church that would become home for  12,000 Polish immigrants in 1896, which in Milwaukee represented only a fraction of the total Polish people now living in this majority German immigrant city.  Plans were commissioned by the pastor,  Father Wilhelm Grutza, with the design to be modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome.

The plans for the edifice had to be altered when Fr. Grutza discovered that  the Chicago Post Office and Custom House was to be demolished.  Here was an opportunity to get a huge supply of pre-cut stone that indeed became the facade of the largest Polish parish in Milwaukee at a bargain rate, $20,000.

When the basilica was finished the only dome in the United States that was larger was the one over the Capitol in Washington DC.

In 1929, the Franciscan Friars, the order that took over administration of the church petitioned Pope Pius XI to declare St. Josaphat a basilica, a designation that is reserved for the larger, more ornate churches.  St. Josaphat was the first Polish church given that honor and only the third church in the US at the time.

St. Josaphat Historical Sign
St. Josaphat Historical Marker

A walk through the visitor’s center will tell the story of the building of the church and will also have information for sale about St. Josaphat.

I was reminded of the beautiful churches I visited in Rome and also of the beautiful churches I would soon visit in Turkey, which I will have more on next time.  When I entered the church it was empty, it was around noon, and the winter’s light was shining brilliantly though the stained glass windows and illuminated what I liked to believe were the spirits of all those who have worshiped over the years.  I am a dome man when it comes to churches, so looking up I saw the shining lights, and I saw them dance to the sides of the altar.

St Josaphat Interior
St. Josaphat interior
St. Josaphat Old Chicago Post Office Building
Chicago Post Office and Custom House and St. Josaphat building diagrams

Church history in the United States is rich and varied, and ranges from historical portages that brought early French priests into the Midwest to maturing centers of faith represented by St. Josaphat.  A little roaming off the path for your average Catholic traveler will reveal more than you ever would think possible.

This is probably the one and only time when the federal government was responsible for constructing a beautiful church that so many have worshiped at for so many years.




Help! I’ll be the roundabout — and roundabout and roundabout and roundabout again

Call it the second British invasion of the US, after the Beatles and Stones.  Or third, if you count the original one several hundred years ago by redcoats.  I’ll blame the Brits on this, even though these circles of death exist everywhere in the world. I’ll blame the Brits because I can.  And beause one sits on my dashboard. 

I’m talking roundabouts, those circular merry-go-rounds for automobiles and trucks that are popping up all over cites and even in rural areas.  Their stated goal for being engineered on perfectly straight roads is that they keep traffic flowing.  Huh?

Wisconsin Roundabout Circle of Death
Wisconsin Roundabout Circle of Death

My trip took me from Appleton, Wisconsin to Sheyboygan, Wisconsin. a distance of about sixty miles.  Both cities are north of Milwuakee, by just a about half- a -piece of stringcheese on a paper map. 

This being the 21st Century, I was using my GPS, and she — she with a British accent, so-named “Layla”– took me on a roundabout tour  or rural Wisconsin due to US 10 being closed for…for…something — the orange “detour” signs never tell you the why of a road closure. 

So, one roundabout.  Then another.  Then still another and another and another.  And me having to circle around them, with no traffic present, unless you consider the dairly cows on the hilly pastures walking to an fro, chewing cud.. 

I can amost understand roundabouts in cities.  Almost.  Okay, not really.  I hate them.  You yield to vehicles circling around from the left, and then you enter the mini race track and try your luck at getting out on right street.  Often, cars and, worse, big trucks,  will be in the race track and have their signals on to turn right.  You never know if it’s at your current street or the one before or the one after or maybe their turn signal is stuck on.  Who knows? You still have to sit there and wait to see the outcome, so how this speeds traffic along vs a regular, all-American, ninety-degree intersection I am not sure, especially when the only other traffic is a confused cow. 

I finally made it to Sheyboygan, after roundabouting my way there. Talk about going in circles. 

Each roundabout should have a accident or death count pole in its center, so the motorist going round and round and round on these things would know that one wrong entry or lane swing can mean serious consequences. 

In Sheyboygan one visit told me that she had lost her mother in a roundabout.  No, not that way. Her poor mother in her eighties just couldn’t get to a street to exit.  She spent days going in circles. 

Saving String Cheese…. A Special Report from Appleton, Wisconsin

It is not often that I face a cheese emergency, and in Wisconsin, cheese is…well.. the streets are lined with cheese; that is why people come from all over the world, to munch on it, all while taking in that great “dairy air”. 

After a seminar, and into several visits, I had taken a little package of string cheese with me from a box lunch at the presentation. 

But…it’s hot up here — for Wisconsin. Maybe 80 degrees or close. 

My tube of string cheese turned to cheese juice. 

And I was hungry. 

And didn’t want to stop. Or drink my cheese. 

There is no 911 number for cheese emergencies.  Wisconsin, hello?!

However, there was the air conditioning in the car.  And little directional slats in the vents, just perfect string cheese-sized, in fact. 

A few minutes and the cheese emergency was solved.  

This would not have worked for Wisconsin’s other favorite food: brats. 

Israel Update from Ronen Paldi, President, Ya’lla Tours USA

Ronen Paldi, President, Ya'lla Tours USA
Ronen Paldi, President, Ya’lla Tours USA

Dear colleagues and partners in travel, Last week we sent you an Israel update and I promised you another, so here, it is – First and foremost, the response to our last update from hundreds of you by phone, email and Facebook was overwhelming. Thank you for your personal care about my family and friends, who are all doing well, and thank you so much for your support of Israel. I just finished a call with a pastor currently leading a pilgrimage in Israel. He told me that the Galilee is sunny and peaceful and the entire group is looking forward to their arrival in Jerusalem next week. During their touring, they have seen many other pilgrim groups. He told me that, as pilgrims, they travel faithfully and fearlessly in God’s care. It only reiterates what Ya’lla Tours, as well as the Israel Ministry of Tourism, keeps saying, that, in spite of the difficult images we all see on TV, life in Israel, including tourism, remains almost normal. Many of you have asked me what I think of the situation. My view is not that important; as an Israeli, I’m subjective and support Israel 100%. It is clear to me, as well as to almost 90% of the Israeli public, that this is a justified military operation, one that was needed after 14 years of constant shelling from Hamas in Gaza to Israel. We don’t like to see the devastating images that come from Gaza of children, women and other innocent victims of this conflict. If not for Israeli anti-missile technology, we would see similar images coming from Israel. More than 2,700 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel in the last 24 days. Israel is paying a high price with the blood of its best soldiers to end this threat to innocent Israelis. I am constantly monitoring the Israeli media and they all predict that we are in the last round of this battle and in the next few days, as talks are being held in Cairo, this will be over. The day after is the day that those of us in the travel industry who want to show our support of Israel can do so in the best way we know how: sell travel to Israel. I want to thank you all for your continued support of Israel and I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Ronen Paldi, president Ya’lla Tours USA


Let Boeing know the whole world knows about their 777 literal security hole…

Safety flaw in the Boeing 777 exposed… Is this how MH370 disappeared? Hat tip to How about letting Boeing know the whole world knows. This same flaw is on some 767 and 747 aircraft.

I mean, really, some tree houses are more secure.

MH370 --Courtesy
MH370 –Courtesy