Monthly Archives: February 2011

Love in Indianapolis

When the average traveler goes to a new city, he or she rents a car and goes from attraction to attraction to see what it has to offer.  But in Indianapolis, you can go to the intersection of Michigan Road and 38th Street and find five attractions in one place.

The newest of the five is 100 Acres.  Opened in June, 2010, this art and nature park has been enthusiastically embraced by locals.  The art is currently the works of 8 sculptors with bold ideas, and the plan is to add at least one per year.  The nature is meadows and woods threaded through with paths, a far better place to stroll than the gravel pit that 100 Acres replaced.

Cross the Waller Bridge and go left to the Lilly House with its formal gardens and greenhouse.   Completed in 1913, this American Country Place icon (I have come to despise this misused word) was the home of Josiah K. Lilly Jr., grandson of the founder of Eli Lilly, the pharma giant, for 30 years until 1960.  Downstairs is pretty much the way he left it, upstairs are some interesting displays.

The formal gardens were created by the Olmsted Brothers, one of whom designed New York’s Central Park.  The Greenhouse is a must for gardeners, like Ruth.

If you go to the right after the bridge you discover IMA, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, one of the finest in the country.   It’s free, only charging for special exhibitions.  Its collection is so diverse and comprehensive that you could easily spend a day and still not see everything on display.   A few of its specialties include JMW Turner, a stunning Asian collection, and Robert Indiana’s iconic (here it is again!) LOVE sculpture, the one from the 70s with the tilted O.  IMA has both a huge gift shop and a fairly new and incredible design center.

The fifth attraction we only learned about because Ruth often engages in conversations with strangers.  Across the street from this ico…one-of-a-kind complex is Crown Hill Cemetery.  Now, I don’t usually include cemeteries on my must-see lists, but Crown Hill is different.  It’s deservedly on the National Register of Historic Places.  Mostly everybody who was from Indiana and got famous is buried here, like John Dillinger.

Always enjoy the trip.


Luck in Lisboa

We flew into Lisbon from Newark on TAP, Portugal’s national airline, at 6 am.  Our two suitcases didn’t show up on the carousel, and by 6:30 we were the only passengers left in the area.  This isn’t the first time we’ve arrived somewhere but our luggage hasn’t.  Some time I’ll tell you about the honey incident.  But for now, in pre-dawn Lisbon we went to the airline office and the woman in charge, really in charge, clicked on her keyboard and told us that they’d be on the flight arriving at 8 am. “Go to your hotel and we’ll deliver,” the seemingly efficient agent ordered.

Some instinct told me not to trust this, so I told her we’d wait.  She looked at me with utter disregard and said that, if we insisted, we might as well go out into the terminal and have coffee.  Or something.  Again, my instinct told me not to, but this time I didn’t listen.

At 7:30 we were outside the arriving passengers’ area and being told, of course, that we couldn’t re-enter.  After much pleading, we were directed to an office where, after much drama, we received special permission and an official-looking document.

It was well after 8 by the time we made it back to the carousel where the luggage from the 8 o’clock flight was circling.  Our suitcases were not among the parade of black bags.

Back in the office, we learned that the lady we had originally dealt with had left.  The new one didn’t know, or care, where our suitcases were.

“Do you have a place where you put unclaimed luggage?” Ruth asked.

The woman acted as if the question was an affront, but she said, “Yes, but passengers aren’t allowed into it.”

“If you were with us, could we take a look?” Ruth persisted.

The woman sighed dramatically and said she’d have to see.  She disappeared for a long time and returned, not at all happily, with permission.

A few minutes later the three of us entered a room as big as a warehouse with luggage heaped everywhere.  While the woman talked to Ruth about this foolish waste of time, I moseyed around and spotted our two suitcases in a forlorn pyramid.

No one could explain how they got there.

Sometimes instinct and persistence pay off, unlike that time with Delta or the day we endured the curse of the exploding honey.


Where’s Wallowa?

There are still lots of places not exactly on the national tourist radar.  One of our favorites is the Wallowa Valley in northeast Oregon.  This is high cattle country and very cold in the winter.   This has kept the population down.  The largest town in the entire region is Enterprise with fewer than 2,000 residents.

A couple of them run Parks Bronze, a foundry that creates impressive sculptures and welcomes visitors.  Ruth and I joined a small group tour that took us through the 12 step process from raw material to soaring eagle.

Only six miles south of Enterprise is Joseph, population about 1000.  You are now 70 miles from the nearest Interstate.  Many July visitors time their stay to include Chief Joseph’s Days with its popular rodeo.

A bit east of Joseph is the largest native bunchgrass prairie in North America and home to its densest concentration of nesting eagles.

Just south of Joseph is glacier-formed Wallowa Lake where the well-traveled get confused.  They think they’re in the Alps.  Soaring above the Lake are many peaks approaching 10,000 feet.  At its south end is the Eagle Cap Wilderness area, a 1923 hunters’ lodge turned into a quiet resort, many well-used hiking trails, and the Mount Howard Tramway, the longest gondola ride in North America.

We’re glad we made the 60 mile round-trip to tiny Imnaha, a village surrounded by ranches that sits at the bottom of an increasingly claustrophobic canyon.  We actually witnessed cattle being driven through a town where the favorite pastime is steering pickups over rattlers to hear them pop.  Ask about this at the Store and Tavern.  Imnaha held a Rattlesnake and Bear Feed and Parade until 2004, an event exactly described by its name.

Those who take the Wallowa Mountain Loop get an almost-view of the Snake River Canyon.  You don’t really get to glimpse the Snake River or stare down into a canyon that is 1000 feet deeper than The Grand, but you do see a lot of scenic Idaho.  Maps don’t tend to show this, but the US Forest Service Road #39 that takes you there is fully paved and easy to drive, also beautiful and thrillingly remote.

Go and explore this little-publicized area.  Especially in the summer, pleasure is guaranteed.


The Last Resort

Yesterday I spent some time gathering travel information about Phoenix for some friends.  I love doing this because it gives me a chance to reminisce about good times in distant places.  But this time the fun was interrupted by an unpleasant memory.

Our second favorite Phoenix experience was the popular Desert Botanical garden.  In addition to seeing exotic plants, you gain a tremendous amount of learning if you take the time to read what’s available.  For example, a desert by definition is a place that receives less than 10 inches of rain per year.   Deserts cover about 1/3 of the earth’s surface.  There are four deserts in North America…OK, I’ll stop now.

Well, just one more thing, at DBG you get to see some really bizarre desert flora like the upside down Boojum tree, the African Welwitschia, and, yuk, the corpse plant.

OK, two.  If you like touring Frank Lloyd Wright properties, get tickets in advance for Taliesin West.

For our three days in Phoenix, we did something we don’t normally do.  We stayed at a so-called luxury resort.   We read about a deal that allowed guests to stay a third night free if two were booked at the regular price.  It was still expensive but, winter in Arizona?  Hey, go for it.  The resort, I won’t say its name but it contains a four, looked spectacular but….for one thing, the people in the room next to us partied all night and the walls were so thin that we could hear conversations.   And it was so far from civilization that it took forever to drive into Phoenix each day.

But those weren’t the worst consequences of our stay.  The day we returned home, there was a demand to call Mastercard among our phone messages.  The rep asked us if we had charged more than $2000 in the resort’s shops, mostly for sports clothing.  We had charged nothing in the shops.  In fact, the only time we used our credit card while there was to pay our bill before leaving.

Mastercard took care of the charges with professional courtesy and we thanked them for being so alert.

Ruth decided it was important to call the resort to tell the what had happened since it clearly seemed like an inside job.  At the minimum, someone on their staff needed watching.   Their reaction was fascinating.  They denied it had happened.  Ruth was told that it couldn’t possibly have been someone who worked there.  We were crazy to even suggest that this might be the case.

I would love to hear about others’ experiences.  And be careful out there.


Cariboo Highway

Click on picture to enlarge.

Some places you travel to are pleasant but not zowie.  You aren’t sorry you went but they’re nothing to write home about, or to write about to sell.   Such a place is the Cariboo Highway in British Columbia, Canada.

Ruth and I drove it’s entirety from Cache Creek to Prince George, 275 miles across the Fraser Plateau.  The scenery was often lovely but not exactly overwhelming if you’ve driven, say, the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper.  The road is often elevated so that you view ranches below sweeping up to generic mountains.

If you’re in the area and drawn to lakes, make an effort to visit Quesnel, the largest in the area and said to be the deepest fjord lake in the world.

Although no one in their right mind would drive 600 miles to eat in a restaurant, an exceptional one is Ric’s (often spelled Rick’s by mistake)  in Prince George.  Also, in the foothills above this almost city is the newest university in Canada, The U of Northern BC.   If your dream in life is to see a Madagascar hissing cockroach, you’ll love Prince George’s Exploration Place.

Williams Lake  is a western town where horses seem as important as the citizens, maybe more.   This characteristic is most clearly seen at the Stampede Ground.  If you want to hang out with independent rancher types, this is the place to mosey to.

The museums and tourist attractions along the way are all small-town sincere and worth a casual browse, but you won’ t be using words like memorable and awesome to describe them to your friends and family back home.

As is the case in most of Western Canada, people were lured here by the prospect of gold, to have a big spread and cattle, or to find work in the forest industry.

We experienced some pretty terrifying storms on our journey made all the more dramatic since we could see them, because of the road’s construction, in 3D.

Somewhere around Quesnel in a severe thunderstorm we lost a hubcap, which gave us a mission on our drive back down the Cariboo.  We studied the roadside instead of the scenery all the way to 100 Mile House before we had better sense and abandoned the quest.