Category Archives: travel inspiration

Six ways to to Explore Las Cruces, New Mexico

Add Las Cruces, New Mexico, to your list of U. S. travel destinations.  You’ll find farms and food, history, “doggone” friendly folks, fossils and the great outdoors.

Looking for more on New Mexico? See my previous posts:

Roswell New Mexico and Space Aliens, Kimo Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico Chiles, Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

giant roadrunner statue in New Mexico
This 20-foot tall roadrunner perches at the rest stop on I-10 near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The roadrunner is New Mexico’s state bird.
closeup of roadrunner statue made of trash in New Mexico
Look up close and you’ll see this roadrunner is made from discarded junk such as old tennis shoe soles.

Located about 45 miles northwest of El Paso, Texas, Las Cruces has long been a destination for more modern travelers and traders. In the late 1500s, explorer Don Juan de Oñate trekked into what is now New Mexico in search of gold on behalf of the king of Spain. On a route that was later known as the Camino Real, his group worked their way through the great Pass of the North (modern-day El Paso) and then north to what would become Santa Fe. Las Cruces makes a great destination for modern travelers following that route to Albuquerque and Santa Fe or on the route my husband and I followed on an RV trip westward to San Diego. Here are some tips to explore the area.

Farms and Farmers Markets 

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Sheep–shorn and unshorn–at New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

For such dry country, the Las Cruces area offers remarkable agricultural bounty.  As you drive around you’ll see fields of chile plants, nut trees, vegetables and livestock. For an up-close look, visit the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.   It’s an outstanding, interactive museum with indoor exhibits, and outdoor demonstrations about all aspects of New Mexico Farm life and  plenty of live farm animals to see.  

blacksmith at New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum Las Cruces, New Mexico www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Find out about iron working and blacksmithing from Billy Provence.
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Horses and many other farm animals are at home at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

The bounty of those farms and ranches is on display at the Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces, typically on Saturdays & Wednesdays, 8:30 am to1 pm. You’ll find nearly 300 local merchants, goods and growers lined up along seven city blocks on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces.

baked goods vendor at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
Pick up a loaf of bread to take home.
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Friendly students from New Mexico State University were on hand to teach about good nutrition.
painted gourds at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
You’ll find fantastic crafts and homemade products.
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Luchador Food Truck at Las Cruces Farmers Market www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com
The Luchador food truck is one of several at the market. Be sure to try their fabulous breakfast torta.
Rio Grand Theater Las Cruces
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While you stroll Main Street you can drop in at several of the city’s museums and check out the tile work at the Rio Grande Theater

Wine & Dine

Las Cruces is proud of its wine production, too.  We sampled wine and ate dinner at the Lescombes Winery & Bistro (formerly called St. Clair Winery) where you can also purchase a variety of New Mexico wines.

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Friendly greeting at NM Vintage in Mesilla, near Las Cruces.

Another day we visited the tiny town of Mesilla, just outside Las Cruces. We hunkered down at a little bistro called NM Vintage to share a wine flight and a few snacks.

menu and snack food at NM Vintage
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man sipping wine at NM Vintage
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Relaxing on the patio at NM Vintage.

Mesilla is also one of my favorite stops in the area for dining. Not surprisingly, the area abounds with great Mexican food.  At ¡Ándele! Dog House! adjacent to the fancier IAndele! restaurant, we drank craft beer and ate tacos and enormous burrito plates on the covered patio where we could take our dog.

A Bit of History–and Shopping!

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The Basilica of San Albino graces the main plaza in Mesilla, new Las Cruces.

Mesilla reminds me of how Santa Fe must have looked before it was discovered by all the tourists. Many cultural and historical activities take place on the plaza. At the north end, rises the Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the Mesilla Valley, originally established in 1852 to give religious support to refugees from Mexico. Another Mesilla building was the site where Western Legend Billy the Kid once stood trial for murder.

In Mesilla, you’ll also find gift shops, galleries and Native American jewelry shops. Nambe, the design company that creates contemporary serveware, barware, home décor and gift items, has a terrific outlet on the plaza.

Dog-Friendly Destination

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At the Las Cruces farmers market.

We often travel with our dog, Duffy, so I was particularly happy to find that the Las Cruces area prides itself on being dog-friendly. Canines are great at breaking the ice with strangers and that was doubly true in Las Cruces. You can hardly get through the farmers market without chatting with everyone who wants to see your dog, hear about where you’re from and offer advice on places to visit in the area.

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Dogs are welcome at COAS books in Las Cruces….
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and may welcome you at Mesilla Book Center.
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Buffalo and books at the Mesilla Book Center.

On a long RV road trip, it’s great to stay in a hotel once in a while. In Las Cruces we checked into TownPlace Suites, a dog-friendly Marriott brand where the staff offered a friendly greeting to the dog owners, too.

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Our greeting at TownPlace Suites.

Get Outdoors in Las Cruces

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Watch out for fossils while hiking in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Finally, New Mexico is an outdoor-lover’s paradise and Las Cruces is no exception. Sadly, howling dust storms kept us away from White Sands National Monument about an hour from Las Cruces.  It was amazing to see how the wind whipped up a giant white cloud of gypsum dust from the monument, which made it impossible for hiking, let alone the photography I had hoped for. Next time.

However, other outdoorsy possibilities abound. We headed for the Dripping Springs Natural Area located about 10 miles east of Las Cruces, on the west side of the Organ Mountains. It features easy trails that show off desert scrub and low elevation pinon-juniper and oak woodlands and sometimes wildlife viewing, including rattlesnakes.

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Be careful. It seems like hikers regularly stumble over fossils around Las Cruces. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures have wandered around New Mexico, for millennia and this dry and rocky Chihuahuan desert ecosystem provides the perfect conditions to preserve ancient fossils. That’s why they’re still around for trip over. I love these stories!

For example,  in 2017, a nine-year-old boy named Jude Sparks stumbled over the remains of a rare stegomastodon while hiking with his family in the nearby Organ Mountains.  The boy told the ABC-TV affiliate in El Paso, that his older brother told him it was “just a big fat rotten cow”  but it was actually a fantastic a find for the world of paleontology.  In 2014, a bachelor party also stumbled over a stegomastadon.  So, watch your step. Or, head to the hallways of New Mexico State University where the Zuhl Museum contains a large number of fossils of invertebrate and vertebrate animals from all over the world, including trilobites, corals, ammonites, insects, and fishes.

Roswell, New Mexico and Space Aliens

This cheerful little green man greeted us at Bottomless Lakes State Park near Roswell, New Mexico.

You have to hand it to space aliens.  Like our most unruly relatives, when they visit they can cause a stir that we just can’t get over. On a recent road trip through southern New Mexico, we couldn’t resist a side trip to Roswell, the center of a classic UFO story that includes an extraterrestrial visit and a government coverup.  

The Roswell Incident

A display at Roswell’s UFO Museum depicting what may have happened during the “Roswell Incident” in 1947

Roswell, a ranching town, launched into international fame in 1947 when a sheep rancher northwest of town found strange metallic objects on his property and reported the incident to officials at the local military base.  According to the Roswell city government website,  “on July 8, 1947, public information officer Lt. Walter Haut issued a press release under orders from base commander Col. William Blanchard, which said basically that we have in our possession a flying saucer. The next day another press release was issued, this time from Gen. Roger Ramey, stating it was a weather balloon. That was the start of the best known and well-documented UFO coverups.”   For more, see a history.com explanation.

Little Green Men

McDonald’s has spacy architecture in Roswell, New Mexico.

Did that rancher find parts of a flying saucer or just a weather balloon?  Was it the “cover up” of an alien landing or merely the government explaining away hush-hush scientific research that couldn’t be revealed to the public?  Who knows?  Still, you can’t beat a good alien story whether it’s fact or fiction and the city of Roswell has made the most of it.  The city features two notable art museums, the Roswell Museum and Art Center and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art and other attractions, but space aliens are it’s claim to fame.  Consequently, the city receives thousands of visitors each year who are either true believers or lovers of kitsch.  Count me in the latter group.  I couldn’t resist.  

Greetings donut eaters!

In Roswell, the globes of downtown streetlights have alien eyes painted on them.  The city hosts an annual UFO Festival. The local McDonald’s skipped the golden arches in favor of spaceship architecture. At the Dunkin’ Donuts a green space alien holds the sign inviting you in, much the way high-schoolers advertise their team’s car-wash fundraisers. Even at the nearby Bottomless Lakes State Park, a campground host sign welcomed us with a little green man.

UFO Museum

Welcome to the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico.

For all things UFO, head to Roswell’s International UFO Museum and Research Center.  Whether you’re serious about aliens or not, you gotta go.  The price is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for children and they let my dog in for free.  It offers a compilation of clippings, letters, and faded photos regarding the Roswell Incident.  You’ll find other information about sightings of UFOs, alien abductions and a section about Roswell in the movies.  Best, of all, even skeptics enjoy the steam-filled landing of aliens in a display in the museum’s center, pictured above.

Sci-Fi Classics

If you can’t make it to Roswell, you can indulge your sci-fi side with classic books of the genre.  They include H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, that classic of aliens invading earth, anything by Isaac Asimov (I, Robot, Foundation), Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheepadapted for film as Bladerunner), and Octavia Butler (Lilith’s Brood.)

See more about New Mexico’s gorgeous and “alien” landscapes in my next post.

“The Widow of the South,” and Franklin, Tennessee

Robert Hicks’ bestseller, The Widow of the South, an excellent historical fiction novel to read before a trip to Franklin, Tennessee.

The Battle of Franklin near Nashville, Tennessee, may not be the most famous battle of the American Civil War. Yet, for lovers of historical fiction, the story told in Robert Hicks’ novel The Widow of the South is gripping enough to inspire travel to Franklin, Tennessee, to see Carnton Plantation and other sites where the story takes place. If you go, you’ll discover why the Battle of Franklin is considered the last great battle of the Civil War.

And, you’ll find plenty of modern-day activities that make Franklin a great destination above and beyond the battlefield. It’s so cute, it even inspired a Hallmark movie, based on Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge.

The True Story and the Fiction

The Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate Army, with nearly 7,000 casualties.  (For a detailed explanation, see the Battle of Franklin Trust website.) During the battle, which raged not just in fields but also in people’s back yards, Carrie and John McGavock’s plantation, Carnton, served as a field hospital for hundreds of injured and dying Confederate soldiers. Today, you can tour their the Greek Revival house and the adjacent cemetery. (See my previous post on the Carter House where the battle also raged.)

 Robert Hicks served on the board of Carnton Plantation and became fascinated with its story. He says in the book’s author’s note, “Carrie McGavock became a ‘living martyr and curiosity.’  She became famous without ever leaving her farm, renowned for her daily wandering in the cemetery, for her mourning clothes, for her letters to the families of the bereaved, and most of all, for her constancy.  From the day the last of the dead was buried in her back yard, she never really left her post in the cemetery, continuously checking her book of the dead.”

Hicks constructed his book using letters and diaries but added a number of fictional characters to the factual mix, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life– and she falls in love with him. Serious Civil War buffs no doubt roll their eyes about the book’s fictional additions.

Hicks says in the book, “I submit my sincerest apologies, to those who require it, for meandering from the history in the interest of telling a story.  Other than Carrie and her immediate family and slave, most of the other characters are either composited of historical figures from Franklin’s past or were born in my imagination.”

sign describes Carrie McGavock as "The Good Samaritan of Williamson County."
Cemetery at Carnton Plantation where this sign describes Carrie McGavock as “The Good Samaritan of Williamson County.”

As you tour, you’ll discover that the Battle of Franklin was anything but imaginary.  Here, the blood stains remain on the floor.

Outside, the cemetery that Carrie created and tended for the rest of her life contains the graves of 1,481 young soldiers, a staggering reminder of the epic battle.

Hundreds of headstones mark the graves at Carnton Plantation in Franklin Tennesse
A Civil War soldier’s grave marker in the cemetary at Carnton Plantation.

Updated and More Inclusive

The Carnton tour used to somewhat glorify the business acumen of Carnton’s white owners. That neglected the horror of slavery and the fact that all of us could succeed in business if our laborers worked for free. I’m happy to report that the plantation has added a Slavery and the Enslaved: Tours at Carter House and Carnton.

So, I maintain that quality historical fiction serves an important role to spark interest in historical events and sites, even though it may not be 100 percent accurate. I, for one, had never have heard of the Battle of Franklin before reading the book. More importantly, historical sites must present their stories from multiple perspectives and with an eye in include the facts, not just those with a nostalgia for the old South.

…And While You’re in Franklin

Yet, everything in Franklin isn’t about war and death. The charming town makes a great girls’ getaway or weekend trip, not just for history buffs. There’s unique shopping an abundance of live music and some charming inns, too. Don’t miss Landmark Booksellers, inspiration for Karen Kingsbury’s novel, The Bridge.

Independent Landmark Booksellers of Franklin, Tennessee was the inspiration of the New York Times bestselling novel ‘The Bridge.’ Photo courtesy Visit Franklin.
Music at Gray’s on Main in Franklin. Photo courtesy of Visit Franklin.

Where to Stay

The new Harpeth Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton luxury hotel, is the only hotel in downtown.  There are also a wide array of charming B&Bs.

Tour of Seattle : What to Read and do

glass flowers at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle
Giant glass flowers in the conservatory at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle

As U.S. cities go, Seattle surely tops the list of “places with the most diverse activities in the smallest geographic area.” My book,  Off The Beaten Page Travel: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways features a chapter on Seattle with an essay, reading list and an itinerary. It’s a great tool to start planning your Seattle adventure. And see my previous posts about the Seattle area “All is Not Grey” and “Bainbridge Island/Snow Falling on Cedars”  before planning your trip.

I hadn’t returned to the Emerald City since researching the book, but I just spent a week in the Seattle area and sampled a batch of Seattle activities and adventures. Here are some of my favorite ideas for Seattle travel, or to enjoy as a reader.

Author Maria Semple’s Seattle
First, I heartily recommend author Maria Semple as your Seattle traveling companion. I can’t imagine a more fun person to travel with –via her books set in Seattle, most famously Where’d You Go Bernadette which was recently made into a movie with Kate Blanchette.

On my way home from Seattle, I read her most recent book Today Will Be Different. If you liked Bernadette, you’ll enjoy Today Will Be Different. Both feature women struggling with motherhood, middle age, and “finding themselves.” They’re both hilarious, rather improbable and take readers on a fun tour of Seattle landmarks and neighborhoods.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

One of many colorful exhibits inside at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.
Colorful Chihuly art outside where the gardens are as gorgeous as the glass.

Seattle salutes famed Pacific Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly with a stunning gallery and garden (and restaurant!), Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, right under the iconic Space Needle. If you love art, gardens, or simply eye-popping color, this is the place for you.

Olympic Sculpture Park

You can see the famous Space Needle through Alexander Calder’s sculpture “The Eagle” in Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington
View of the Seattle waterfront from the Olympic Sculpture Park

Just a short walk down the hill from Seattle Center, you’ll find the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space. Sit amidst giant works such as Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle” (see above) with a view of Seattle Center and the Space Needle in back of you and the waterfront and Olympic mountains in front. It doesn’t get much better.

Capitol Hill

Local author section at Elliott Bay Book Company

Seattle’s most hip and edgy neighborhood? For most people, the answer is Capitol Hill. Here, you’ll find one of my favorite bookstores, Elliott Bay Book Company, where I happily spent an hour admiring the store and gathering books from their list of staff picks and book club ideas.

For ice cream, don’t miss Seattle classic, Molly Moon Ice Cream –Honey Lavender! Salted Carmel! Melted Chocolate! Along with a cone, I bought their cookbook to make my own Molly Moon at home.

Also in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, you’ll find the uber-cool Starbucks Roastery and tasting room. There’s hardly a place in the entire world that doesn’t have a Starbucks outpost. But, in Seattle coffee lovers can make a pilgrimage to the first Starbucks, at Pike Place Market. Caffeine fiends will also enjoy a visit to the Roastery, a Disneyland for coffee lovers. Grab some java (and pizza, pastry, and much more) and watch them roast the beans. It’s one of just a few such Starbucks in the world; others are in New York City, Milan and Shanghai.

Reserve ahead for dinner at a neighborhood favorite, the award-winning Sitka and Spruce at the Melrose Market. Peer in the old auto shop’s windows and and see, as Seattle magazine said, “a brick wood-burning oven anchors the open kitchen—nothing sits between diners perched at the long, wooden communal table and the band of bearded chefs busily working nearby.” Super-creative food from the Northwest.

Farther up the hill, we found another side of Capitol Hill–a leafy neighborhood of huge historic homes, quite different the the commercial end of the Hill. We visited Volunteer Park with its lovely conservatory and great views from top of the old brick water tower.

Lake Union for Kayaking

Take advantage of a beautiful day in Seattle by kayaking on Lake Union.

Seattlites are an outdoorsy bunch and there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to join them for outside action, especially on the water. We rented kayaks at Agua Verde Paddle Club, not far from the University of Washington. It’s a great way to see Seattle’s famous houseboats (ala the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”), fishing and pleasure boats, parks and the Seattle skyline from the water.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market in Seattle

Sure, it’s touristy, but for flowers, food and flying fish, Pike Place Market is fun, no matter how many times you’ve been there. In summer, go early before it gets too crowded to walk through.

Stunning flowers abound at Pike Place Market.
So ugly but so much fun! This fish also spouts water on unsuspecting customers at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

We dined near the market at the Pink Door, in the historic Post Alley. Sitting outside offers a great view of the waterfront, inside an elcletic batch of entertainment (trapeze artists to hot club jazz) and you’ll find great Italian-influenced food anywhere you sit.

Where We Stayed

Downtown: The Hyatt Olive 8. The Olive 8 is eco friendly and just plain friendly. We received one of the most cordial greetings there I’ve ever had at a hotel. It makes a great location to explore downtown, with a short walk to Pike Place Market, great shopping neighborhoods, and it’s close to the Monorail that goes to Seattle Center—anything to avoid driving and parking in Seattle! It’s easy and inexpensive to take the Light Rail from the airport to downtown’s Westlake stop and walk a couple of block to the hotel.

Capitol Hill: Gaslight Inn. Housed in and old mansion, this B&B offers a great contrast to big downtown hotels. Super friendly owner Stephen Bennett makes a yummy breakfast and is happy to offer directions to Capitol Hill hot spots. Too hot? There’s a cool pool in back.

The 200th Birthday of Mary Shelley’s Monster, Frankenstein

477px-Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)2018 is a big year for Mary Shelley as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of her masterpiece, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus.  Frankenstein’s birthday has spawned a new movie about her life, a reissue of the original book,  a host of special events, new analysis of her work and new respect as well.  

It’s hard to grasp the impact the story that Mary Shelley wrote at 18 has had and
continues to have.  Frankenstein is part of our culture and consciousness.  Whether or not you’ve read the book you know Frankenstein (the name of his creator, Victor Frankenstein, not the monster who is nameless) from the old Boris Karloff movie, TV’s Herman Munster or my favorite, Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein.”  He’s in our cereal (Frankenberry), our vocabulary (Frankenfoods) and in our metaphors—”He’s created a monster!”

“I busied myself to think of a story…one which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature.. and quicken the beatings of the heart.”

New Editions, New Analysis

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It’s time to put Frankenstein on your reading list whether its Shelley’s novel or the many new books about Mary Shelley and the cultural impact of her creation. One mark of an enduring classic is that so many people find meaning in it and from so many angles.   Scholars consider it the first work of horror writing, the first work of science fiction and first modern myth.   Fiona Sampson’s new biography In Search of Mary Shelley looks at Shelly’s younger years and how such a young person could create one of the most enduring horror stories in history.

Shelley wrote the book in a time of fascination with electricity and the notion of re-animating the dead.  The 41-oD5gb+iL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_issues surrounding ethics and the dangers of science and technology–gene editing, designer offspring, even social media–are more relevant than ever.  Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers and Creators of All Kinds examines the moral issues, pitfalls and hubris that may arise in science.  For more reading on the big guy, be sure to take a look at Frankenreads, an international celebration of the Frankenstein’s anniversary for Halloween, organized by the Keats-Shelly Association of America.

Finding Mary Shelley

This year, literary travelers will find events celebrating Mary Shelly and her homely offspring all over the world from the Keats Shelley Museum in Rome to universities, libraries and museums across the U.S.

If you’re in Minneapolis, be sure to visit one of my favorite hidden gems, the Bakken Museum on lovely Lake Harriet.  The museum focuses on the history and nature of electricity and magnetism.  It’s founder, Earl Bakken, created one of the world’s first battery-powered cardiac pacemakers and was also one of the founders of Medtronic which is now the world’s largest medical technology company.  He was fascinated with electricity and its many medical uses. And, with this museum, he sought to inspire others to enjoy and pursue the science surrounding electricity.

The Bakken Museum has a terrific section devoted to Mary Shelley and her story. It includes examples of phantasmagoria (scary slide shows of the time), and many explanations of how the science of the era inspired Shelly’s fiction.  A theater in the exhibit offers a spooky 12-minute show that brings to life the tale the over-reaching scientist, Victor Frankenstein.

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Frankenstein’s laboratory at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.

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Yellowstone National Park, One of My Favorite Places

 

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Ever since I worked as a waitress in Yellowstone National Park in college it’s been one of my favorite places in the world. A couple of years ago I went there with my family in winter which made it even more special. Very few people, just animals, geysers and solitude.

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Milwaukee Travel — Beyond the Beer

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is best known for its German beer culture, its waterfront festivals, and for those of a certain age, TV’s Laverne and Shirley.  Yet, scratch the surface and you’ll find a host of interesting and personal ways to interact with MKE.  Here are a few of my Milwaukee travel favorites.

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Browsing at Bozwell Books

Bozwell Books, of Course

Book lovers in particular should put Bozwell Books, Milwaukee’s famous independent bookseller, at the top of their list. Bozwell, named after James Boswell, the eighteenth-century British biographer, offers friendly and extremely knowledgeable staff and sponsors scads of author readings, signings and events.  It’s the kind of bookstore where you want to wander, browse and then settle in for a while.  You can’t leave without chatting about books and buying several.

Pfister Hotel Literature and Art

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Join the Pfister Hotel’s literary activities.

Speaking of literature, I discovered that the gorgeous Pfister Hotel, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, offers art experiences that showcase Milwaukee’s own talent. The Pfister Narrator, a literary artist in residence, hosts seasonal mini-events with book themes, a modern take on a book club, and story prompts for guests and the entire community.   There’s a new narrator every year.  The current narrator, Nicole Mattke, shares her experiences on the narrator blog.

The Pfister exhibits its extensive Victorian art collection – the largest of its kind of any

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Fashion designer Stephanie Schultz is the Pfister’s current artist in residence.

hotel in the world – throughout the hotel.  And, they host a popular Artist-in-Residence program currently featuring fashion designer Stephanie Schultz.  She specializes in historically-inspired couture, a natural fit amidst the hotel’s Victorian art.  Watch and interact with her in a working studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and the public.  

 

Radio Milwaukee 88.9

Radio Milwaukee, an on-air, online, onsite public radio station, uses music as a bridge to bring together the city’s diverse citizens.  Jordan Lee, describes the station as “a town square.”  For visitors to Milwaukee, Thursday is the big day at Radio Milwaukee because they offer building tours at 4:30 and live concerts from local and visiting musicians. The tour starts in the performance space and include the building’s Green Roof which offers views of the Hoan Bridge, Marcus Amphitheater, Walker’s Point and downtown Milwaukee.  After the tour you’ll enjoy live performances at 6:00 and hit the Stone Creek Coffee’s Radio Milwaukee Cafe for coffee, wine and beer and food.

Museums and Motorcycles

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Art in Bloom at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Two more well-known Milwaukee destinations are must-dos. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum is my favorite place in the city.  Burke Brise Soleil (the “wings”) opens at 10 a.m., flap at noon, and close when the Museum closes, as weather permits.  The museum is known for modern art, and outstanding collections of folk  and Haitian art.  I was recently there for that museum’s Art in Bloom, which made the snow- in spring weather bearable.  

Finally, tour the Harley-Davidson Museum, with its rows of historic motorcycles for a full throttle experience.  Even if you’re not a “hog” afficianado, it’s a fascinating view of Harley history and motorcycle culture in the U.S.   Look for special events and activities this year as Harley-Davidson celebrates its 115th anniversary Labor Day weekend.

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The Harley-Davidson Museum is paradise of motorcycle fan and history buffs alike.  Above, an early Harley and a red one that Elvis owned.

The Honolulu Fish Auction

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Wholesalers bid on tuna, opah, snapper and more, fresh off the boat, at the Honolulu Fish Auction.

A Visual Fish Tale

All that goes on behind the scenes at the Honolulu Fish Auction in Honolulu, Hawaii, makes a fairly complex story .  Yet, this photo delivers the gist of it.

It’s around 4:30 a.m.  Fishing boats have arrived in port through the night and unloaded their ocean catch at Pier 38 on Honolulu Harbor.  Auction workers have set out the ice-covered pallets of fish in the damp and extra-cold air of the market building.

Wholesale buyers arrive around 5:00 or earlier to examine the fish–thousands of pounds of tuna, marlin swordfish, snapper, opah and many others–and carefully evaluate it for freshness, fat content and other qualities. At about 5:30, a bell rings and they gather in a competitive scrum around the auctioneer who quickly takes their bids.

These are valuable fish and it’s serious business. A single fish may go for upwards of $1000.  Each fish is tagged with the name of the winning bidder and sent off to the buyer’s wholesale or retail operations, in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Visitors may tour the market.  Afterward, head over to Nico’s restaurant on Pier 38 for breakfast or shop at their market. You can’t get any fresher tuna for sushi or poke than right here.

 

New Orleans at 300

 There’s nowhere like NOLA.

“New Orleans isn’t like other cities.” That’s what Stella Kowalski said in Tennessee Williams’ most well-known play, A Streetcar Named Desire. So true, Stella, so true.

New Orleans Tricentennial

This crazy and fabulous city celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, which makes it a great time to visit, though I must say, just about any time is fine to visit New Orleans. They’re planning all sorts of events for the celebration including a visit from some Tall Ships.

Over 300 years, New Orleans has evolved, as Stella says, to become very different from other U.S cities.  Tricentennial events aside, the city constantly features such a variety of unusual experiences–parades of second line marchers, drinking everywhere, cemeteries above ground, and the phrase “who dat?,” to name a few–that it’s sometimes difficult to understand how it came to be that way.

New Orleans Literature

Naturally, I look to writers for explanation. One of the great places to do that is the annual Tennesee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival held every March, with authors, playwrights musicians and more. It ends with the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, which simply furthers the city’s fun and zany reputation.

“It’s a city of ‘oddnicity,'” says author Andrei Codrescu in his collection of essays, New Orleans Mon Amour. John Kennedy Toole’s captures much of the oddnicity of New Orleans in his quirky classic th-2Confederacy of Dunces. Yet, the city is so unusual and has such a reputation for its party atmosphere that it’s easy to pass New Orleans off too simply, as just one big raunchy party on Bourbon Street.

“That’s not the whole picture,” New Orleans author Chris Wiltz told me. “It’s a city of amazing contradictions. People in New Orleans will party until down on Fat Tuesday, but it’s a city of extremely devout Catholics who show up with ashes on their foreheads the next day.  This is a city where Desire Street runs parallel to Piety Street.”

So, head for New Orleans and figure it out for yourself. But read up before you go to best appreciate the city’s many layers and historic complexity. Here’s a brief reading list. Booklovers, while you’re in New Orleans, check out the Garden District Book
Shop and Faulkner House Books.  For more, see my book Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways.

Fiction:
French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia—Joshua Clark ed.
City of Refuge, Tom Piazza (about Hurricane Katrina)th-1
The Feast of All Saints–Anne Rice, about New Orleans free people of color. And, sample one of her vampire novels before visiting a New Orleans cemetery.
Confederacy of Dunces–John Kennedy Toole
A Streetcar Named Desire—Tennessee Williams
All the King’s Men—Robert Penn Warren

Non-Fiction
Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans—Roy Blount
The Last Madam: A LIfe in the New Orleans Underworld—Christine Wiltz
Zeitoun—Dave Eggers
Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans— James Gill

Nostalgia: Detroit

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The taste of Fargo pop–yes, we call it “pop”– is one of my childhood memories, especially Rock & Rye.

I love Detroit.

If you haven’t been there lately, that may sound pretty crazy.  There’s been no shortage of reporting on Detroit’s hard times.  But I grew up near “the D” and as a kid, a trip to Detroit meant something special–a Detroit Tigers game or a speedboat race on the Detroit River with my dad, shopping at Hudson’s with my mom, Broadway shows at the Fisher Theater, field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, all accompanied by the rhythm of Motown.

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A portion of the famous murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

I live in Minnesota now, but returned to the city last week and once again felt how special it is–its history, it’s people, and a general vibe of grit and coolness found in few other places. Best of all, many of the things from my memory are still there, though sometimes in altered form.

Partly because of those qualities, the city is making a huge comeback.  I was there for five days and could have stayed longer, partly enjoying the memories, partly seeing what’s vital and new, and feeling nostalgia with a positive spin.

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The Detroit riverfront has changed dramatically, with old industrial land converted to parks. Windsor, Canada, is on the opposite shore.

 

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