Indianapolis - South Bend

Child of the corn


This time 5 years ago we were rolling around America’s midwest. Here’s what we were up to…

The Hoosier state, Indiana to you and me, might be the most underestimated and unassuming of all the states. It wrapped us up in its own warm MidWest embrace. I felt a closeness to it, maybe it's because Dom's great friend Patrick talks of his home state with fondness, maybe it's because a lot of Irish settled there over the decades, or maybe in a former life I was a Nascar Amish Notre Dame graduate. Whatever the reason, I strongly advise people to get off your iPhone, step away from the stress of the daily grind and go to a place where people still say 'hello' for the sheer hell of it!

Side note, no one quite knows why people from Indiana are nicknamed "Hoosiers". My favourite theory is that the first settlers would answer a knock on their door with "Who's yer?" (who’s yer/hoosier - get it). If you haven't already watched the classic Gene Hackman movie 'Hoosiers', cop yourself on and watch it - it's a classic!

Speaking of Indiana movies of redemption, the night before we arrived in South Bend Indiana, I made Dom watch the movie Rudy. It's a true story of an underdog who dreamed of playing for the Notre Dame American football team. And whattayaknow, through guts, determination, against all the odds, with a ‘never-quit’ attitude, the 5 ft nothin’ steelworker got his glory moment.

You may start the movie obsessed by the thought “They are pronouncing Notre Dame wrong”, but by the end you'll be a rootin’ tootin’ Domer (ND alum nickname) cheering on the fighting Irish. A tear will come to your eye when Rudy is hoisted onto his teammates shoulders.

We were pumped to visit this elite University. Dom had spent the week before on a 50 miler cycling adventure with his mates Patrick and Doug, both ND alumni. I just get a kick out of the fact the college's sports team is nickname is the Fighting Irish.

We stayed on campus, and as soon as we dumped our bags we set off meandering. Everyone we encountered from students, to professors, to visiting parents were all so friendly and polite. Everytime we stopped to take a pic, people passing by would offer to take a family snap for us.

The campus is stunning, beautifully kept lawns and concourses, buildings that wouldn't have been out of place at Hogwarts.


We found the "Touchdown Jesus" a mosaic of Jesus raising his arms like a football umpire confirming a touchdown. I'm sure the intention is for Jesus to be praising God, but in Notre Dame football takes on a God-like reverence. Emblazoned on the entrance to the Basilica is "God, Country, Notre Dame".

ND is a Catholic college with a blinged out neo-gothic basilica on campus. The church is exquisite with vibrant blue and gold ceilings depicting cherubs and angels. It's a visual gobsmacker.

We crept around the corner to the grotto, a little cave beside a lake where people come to light candles and pray that their life works out and other hopeless wishes. I helped Róisín light a candle for world peace, and for dragons to be nice to unicorns.

We snapped a pic of the Golden Dome, the most recognisable ND building. I bought Róisín a little girls "Fighting Irish" t -shirt and brainwashed her into announcing to strangers that she would go to university here. Say what you like about the American education system, they have "college" nailed. Ireland and England have been doing it longer but in the States college life is a full submergence experience, it's like moving to a different planet where you make a new family and often develop a lifelong love affair with your Alma mater. "Go Irish!".

Interesting fact about South Bend, for all its perceived conservatism its mayor is Pete Buttigieg, a gay man. [It took me so long to post this story, Pete is no longer the mayor, but he, and his name, will not be forgotten].

Inside the American dream

The next day we had the immense pleasure of being invited to visit our friend Patrick's parents who lived nearby. They lived in my American dream. Picture perfect houses nestled in woodlands, where people know their neighbors and start everyday with a smile.

Betsy and Brian were the epitome of kind and friendly Midwest hospitality. They laid out a beautiful lunch and asked us all about our trips near and far. They are highly educated (ND grads) and well travelled themselves (both lived abroad), who would outstrip us in terms of life experiences but they kindly let us jibber jabber on as if we had invented the wheel. Róisín entertained with her 3 years old take on the Trump Presidency (according to her "Trump breaks rules", when Betsy asked “What rules?”, Roisin gave the considered answer of "The world's rules" ... from the mouth of babes).

We waved goodbye full of great cheer and skipped off to check out our next stop, Amish Acres. It’s a bit of an Amish fun land (possibly without the fun). The Amish don’t actually live on the Acres anymore but they do work there, they sell their goods in the shops, they make the food in the restaurant and they transport tourists around in their horse and buggy.

Keep it Simple Sweetheart

I am a little obsessed with the Amish, the fact they choose to live like it's 1850 intrigues me. The reason the Amish came to America from Switzerland was because they were persecuted for their beliefs. The belief that separated them from other Christains was anabaptisim - they don't believe in baptism until you are an adult.

The Amish follow the teachings of a man called Jakob Amman (hence "Amish"). He encouraged shunning and excommunication from the church for those who didn't follow the rules. Why do those who flee persecution often end up the persecutors themselves (I think a therapist would have had a field day with ole Jakob).

As we sat in a school house on the property, the guide told us the Amish speak 3 languages; High German (their bibles are in this language), English (they learn this at school), Pennsylvania Deutsch (a mixture of German and English they speak at home). They start school at 6 and finish at 15.

The guide brought us to an old Amish residence. Obviously they are self sufficient, they do clever things to avoid using modern conveniences like growing rows of flowers in-between vegetables to draw the insects away from the food. They use outdoor stoves to dry the fruit and veg so they can store and eat it during winter. They made their own soap from gathering the water that ran through the wooden ashes left by the stove (lye soap). They paint some rooms blue so birds won't nest in the rafters (because birds don't nest in the works!)

The guide got on to my favourite topic, the outfits! The Amish don't have closets; they just hang their clothes in the hallway (considering they aren't the Kardashians, a few hooks in the hall works fine). The reason they still dress like farmers and nuns from the 1850 is apparently out of respect for the fact Jakob decreed it so over a 100 years ago.

Vanity is not allowed in the Amish faith but one small mirror is permitted so the men can shave their moustaches off. It stems from the fact the army men 100 years ago wore moustaches and they were the group that persecuted the Amish, hence the ‘no moustache’ rule.

They don't allow electricity because they don't want the outside world of the "English" (anyone not Amish) coming in. They do seem to use gas a lot these days though with gas ovens and gas powered washing machines.

5,000 Amish live in the area so you see them knocking about on horse drawn buggies with straw hats, long bears, girls with the bonnets, etc. They do not like people taking their photos because of the second commandment "Thou shalt not worship false idols" (for the same reason they don't have faces on their dolls). I refrained from taking pics (ok I may have taken one of the back of a buggy).

I had to buy an Amish blanket (I already had a Mennonite one, for that story read here).
The Amish girl who served me in the shop went into the back room and got straight on the computer... Was it gas powered?! Apparently there is some loophole that electricity and cars are ok if used for work (Wow, what if all the Amish signed up to be Uber drivers!!).

From the Amish to a ‘big city’, next stop Indianapolis.