Happy Independence Day!

Sorry my post about our three weeks in Canada isn’t written yet nor about our four days in Chicago for Mike’s Birthday but will try to get them done soon. But we have been going pretty hard so no time to stop and write.

We are currently in Mundelein Illinois, a chicago burb almost in Wisconsin at our friend’s Larry & Doug’s. They are hosting a bbq for the fourth later this afternoon so we have all just finishing prepping so we can all relax! Mike and I made insalada caprese on a stick (yes I know it’s Italian but…) and broccoli salad. Larry has made guacamole and Doug just finished a red, white and blue trifle. He also has made a fruit salad (Mike and I pitted the cherries) and roasted veggies and potatoes. The brats and burgers are all that are left to do….oh yeah and the signature cocktail. He is getting that ready now.

Yesterday we left Mundelein and had breakfast at Frank’s Diner in Kenosha. Their specialty is a garbage plate- potatoes, eggs, meat and cheese all griddled together. It was yummy! We each ordered a half size but I also ordered a cinnamon roll so I brought half home and had for breakfast this morning.

After breakfast we drive another 30 minutes to Milwaukee and spent some time at the Art Museum designed by Calatrava the Spanish architect who designed the City of Arts & Sciences in Valencia. It was hazy but that only added to the mystique of the sculpture like museum. We were there at noon when the wings flapped. The time lapse video compressed in 12 seconds what took 3-5 minutes. The sunscreen helps shade the large pavilion that serves as the main entry for the museum.

After a stop at the historic Pfister Hotel for a cooling beverage, we headed to The Domes-a botanical garden built in the late 50s/early 60s. One dome is tropical, one the desert and the third is season. We all loved the tropical one except for the humidity!

After the domes, our hosts took us to a speakeasy that opened during prohibition. There is no cocktail menu, if you don’t have something already in mind you tell them what you like and they make a cocktail from their Rolodex of over 450 recipes. Both of mine were gin based and very tasty!

Aviation cocktail

The Last Word cocktail

We leave here tomorrow headed for Racine, Wisconsin to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson office complex and then on towards Talesin, his homestead. After that we head to Mount Rushmore and will visit Yellowstone before we get to our friend Gail’s in Montana on July 12th where we will stay a while.

Hope everyone has a great Holiday and remember my new motto:

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to Canada…

We led Columbus and freed ourselves of mid century modern architecture and drove to Cleveland arriving there mid afternoon. We stayed at the Drury Inn which is housed in the old Cleveland Board of Education Building. We really like Drurys, the have a tasty breakfast, evening happy hour that includes a couple cocktails and enough food to call dinner and they have popcorn and soda served all day..all complimentary. We really also like that for their inner city hotels they usually renovate an older building, like they did here including restoring the frescos in the lobby.

The next morning we checked our and then toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The FREE stamp pictured above is a sculpture in a park we passed by on our walk to the Hall.

The Hall is located on Lake Erie and was designed by I.M.Pei who died recently at the age of 93. He is most famous for the East Gallery of the National Gallery in Washington and the Pyramid at the Louvre. This building while interesting is not up to the standard of either of those.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the Hall. In addition to several short films-Elvis, American Bandstand, etc. they have an amazing number of stage costumes along with lots of instruments.

We left the Hall and made a drive by if the Home Alone House and the school of business at Case Western designed by Frank Gehry.

We then headed east (but wait I thought you were heading west??) along Lake Erie towards Buffalo. We spent the night east of Buffalo in Lockport, NY where Kristen, the daughter of my parents dear friends Helen & Ed now lives.

Lockport is a town on one of the locks of the Erie Canal. Before we left the next day, Kristen showed us around the beautiful town and we had a delicious lunch of a hamburger in a fried Mac n cheese bun in the old City Hall and then a flight of fancy ice cream at a place on the canal.

After working on the canal for a bit, we headed north. Next stop Hamilton Canada!

Columbus.

Indiana this time-long post ahead, you’ve been warned!

We left the Ohio version of Columbus on Memorial Day morning headed for Indiana’s Columbus which was abut 2 hours away. We stopped for lunch outside of Cincinnati and for lunch we tried Cincinnati Chili at a local chain Skyline Chili. Here they put their chili over spaghetti with cheese on top-that’s called chili three way, which is what Mike had. I had mine five ways, adding onions and beans. It was very tasty but after seeing the picture my friend claudia asked-have you taken your Lipitor?

They also serve hot dogs or coneys as they called them in a similar fashion. You can see some loaded on the coney rack the guy is holding in the picture below.

I wondered if it’s someone’s job just to grate cheese all day!

After lunch and a little more time on the road, we arrived in the other Columbus.

Lots of folks have asked why we were going out of our way to visit this small town of less than 50,000. Coming to Columbus is part of any architectural pilgrimage. The city has an incredible collection of modern buildings designed by many of the most influential architects.

This collection was brought about due to the influence and money of Irwin Miller, the longtime CEO of Cummins (Engine), Inc.

The first project that started the push for great architecture was the First Christian Church (designed by Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish Architect. He initially declined the congregation’s request but after Mr. Miller met with him and noted that the congregation wanted a building that reflected their values and community, Eliel agreed.

This church was built in 1942 so imagine how different it was from other churches at the time. It’s lack of decoration, asymmetry, lack of stained glass are just a few things that set it apart from other churches being built at that time.

The interior is all about light. The ceiling soars especially after the relatively dark and low vestibule (though thankfully Eliel didn’t go as low as Frank Lloyd Wright!).

What decoration that exists is typically achieved by revealing attachment methods or by simple manipulation of materials as with the doors below.

Eliel was the father of Eero Saarinen, who later designed the St. Louis Arch, the TWA terminal at JFK among others. He had a small hand at 1st Christian while an intern at his dad’s practice. The light fixtures are attributed to him.

More (lots more of his work to come). For me, it was so great to experience in person a building that I had seen since starting college. While I understood it had greatly influenced churches to come, standing in it let me see how parts of it had evolved into similar pieces of my Mother’s church in Charleston. I had similar thoughts in many of the buildings we visited during our time in Columbus.

After WWII ended, the city was growing and a new school was needed. Cummins Foundation (Mr. Miller really) offered to pay the design fees for the school if the School Board would select their architect from a list of 5 architects recommended by the foundation. This was the beginning of the Cummins Foundation Architectural Program.

Lillian Schmidt Elementary school by Harry Weese was the result of this first effort. It is easy to see the impact this school had on future schools. The classrooms with high ceilings and lots of windows greatly reminds me of one we recently worked on in Houston-

The architectural program continues today though the guide said the last building built under it was finished in 2008. The Cummins Foundation will pat the design fees for any non profit or government building. So lots of churches and such…and of course Cummins’s buildings.

A mental health building by James Polshek which spans a creek. He also designed the Clinton Library we visited in Little Rock last year on our Christmas trip.

The library designed by I.M. Pei who designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame which we will visit a few days after being here. Mr. Pei died a month or so ago at the age of 103.

The ice skating warming house by Harry Weese

Cummins Engine Plant #1 which was clad in a design by Harry Weese to consolidate the disparate buildings.

Weese used a similar design on the research building he designed nearby.

An addition to Engine Plant #1 by Kevin Roche.

Roche also designed the international headquarters for Cummins. This huge 200,000 square foot building covers two or three city blocks adjacent to downtown but is barely noticeable as it has setbacks and is covered in many places by plants.

AT&T switching station recladding by CRS. The first picture below is how it looked originally. Unfortunately, the plantings proved problematic and were removed.

Newspaper building by Myron Goldsmith. The glass windows allowed all who passed by to be able to see the presses (which were of course painted Columbus (Cummins?) red.

Eliel Saarinen’s son, Eero also left his mark on Columbus. In 1954 he designed the first modern bank. While other banks looked like Greek temples, his was at ground level and all glass. The tellers were not behind cages but open and available to customers…and there were drive up windows!

Today, it is used as a conference center by Cummins.

Eero also designed North Christian Church for an offshoot group from First Christian (designed by his father you’ll remember). It is said that this building is the one he most wanted to be remembered for. He told Mrs. Miller that he hoped when he got to the pearly gates that he would be welcomed with, “oh you’re the guy who designed that great church” Certainly one can see the influence this church made on many others across the country-none of which are as powerful on the exterior.

The Church is much more intimate than First Christian and while joy as light filled, is still brighter than my pictures show. It’s my opinion that St. Peter might have said to Eero, that you’re the guy who designed that church that isn’t quite as good as your Dad’s!

The Church is basically all steeple. I was surprised to learn that the entire roof is supported by just six huge steel members:

Eero’s most impressive building in Columbus was the house he designed for the Millers. Here is a taste as it deserves (and will receive) a whole post!

Mr. and Mrs. Miller were also great supporters of the arts. When I.M. Pei was designing the library he told them that the plaza out front needed a Henry Moore sculpture, so they bought one and donated it. Of course it also does a great job of framing the First Christian Church.

They also became great supporters of Dale Chihuly and provided the chandelier and adjacent art for the Columbus Visitor’s Center’s stair.

The city has held a temporary sculpture exhibition a few years ago and due to the popularity of one work, the city purchased it.

There is also some fine historical architecture in Columbus including the County Courthouse.

Immediately behind the courthouse is the county’s veterans memorial. We were lucky enough to visit on Memorial Day and were both greatly moved by it. On the columns are engraved letters typically from service men and women written to family just days before they gave their lives for our country.

Columbus is also home to one of the few remaining ice cream parlors so of course we had to visit! One side of the parlor is the working restaurant while the other half is devoted to old ice cream fountains and other historic pieces including music devices. Oh and the ice cream was delish!

Mike and I both felt like none of the buildings well except for the First Christian Church and the Miller’s House (to which I will devote a whole post) are the best example of the architect’s work, rather it is the concentration of work by these leaders of architecture that makes a visit to Columbus so worthwhile. We highly recommend that you go out of your way if necessary to spend some time in this great little town.

Columbus.

Ohio that is.

We had an uneventful drive from Uniontown to our Airbnb here in Columbus, Ohio although we were in three different states in under an hour. Our last stop in Pennsylvania was to check out my name sake borough….it was nothing to write home about 😢

We then quickly passed through the vertical panhandle (wonder what natives call it?) of West Virginia-I had no idea it existed and quickly found ourselves in Ohio.

Our Airbnb was as advertised. It isn’t the most luxurious but it is literally a block off High Street in the Short North Art District. High Street runs north or south (more or less). Ohio State University’s campus is to the north, downtown is to the south and south of downtown is the brewery district. I suspect our friends George and Doug will be exploring it when they visit Columbus later in the summer.

This part of High Street has lots of bars/restaurants all of whom have weekday afternoon Happy Hours. During HH most have half price beer, wine, cocktails and appetizers or small meals. Happy Hour sounds so much better than Early Bird Special! Anyway, we have taken full advantage!

Wednesday Night-local wheat beer and a double barrel aged Woodford. We shared some duck wings for supper.

Thursday Night Mike has a kiwi mule and I had a prickly pear Collins. We shared arancini, olives and then a white pizza.

Last night we had summer cocktails and then shared some really tasty dry rub wings, a HUGE wedge salad (we brought half of it home-it’s what’s left on the platter and is likely to be supper tonight) and a wonderful Ruben (with house made corned beef).

We averaged under $41 per night including tip so since it included alcohol we feel like we got some great deals…and food!

Today we rode the free circulator bus downtown to Columbus’ riverside park system. We got on it a block up High Street and rode it all the way south through the Brewery district (didn’t look as happening as up here at Short North). Our first stop was at Bicentennial Park to see the fountain where we watched young (and not so) frolic in the water.

We then walked part of the Scioto Mile https://www.sciotomile.com/ a beautiful walk along river generally headed back in the direction of our place. The picture at the top of this post and the ones below are from along the walk. We were impressed with how clean the city is throughout and how many people were out here and everywhere we went.

we enjoyed several of the shady gazebos on the hot day including the one below which Mike so eloquently describes!

Leaving the riverside, our walk took us through the arena district, home to the Nationwide (Insurance-they are based here) Arena and lots of apartments and sports bars…and at least one dentist. Do you think it’s her real last name?😂

There was a cancer fund raiser going on today but rather than the usual run or walk, this was a (bar) crawl! Lots of groups in colorful T-shirts or costumes at all the bars in the arena district. It’s a fundraiser I can get behind!

The end of our walk was at the North Market. What a great place! Lots of prepared food stalls-Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese among others as well as donuts, breads, spices, ice cream, etc. and on Saturday and Sunday morning there is an outdoor section with real farmers!

We went upstairs to try “Hot Chicken Takeover”. The owner apparently visited Nashville, had some hot chicken, came home and perfected his recipe, opened a food truck and then after that success a couple of brick and mortar locations. It was really good-too hot for me but Mike enjoyed and thankfully they offered it in several heat levels including “cold”. The coleslaw and Mac n cheese were both incredibly good.

We really appreciated the “always free” tea!

From the market we walked a few blocks back to High Street and “circulated” back to our Airbnb. It’s a hot and humid day (88 degrees) so I think we will enjoy the air conditioning the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Tomorrow we have reservations for Brunch at the local highly recommended cafe and then hope to take in a rugby match or two if it’s not too hot. The gay rugby league championships are taking place here this weekend so will be interesting to see a sport we haven’t watched before.

For anyone considering a trip to Columbus, we recommend it. It’s clean, friendly and cheap (as long as you take advantage of weekday happy hours and have the daily soup with ice croutons!)

Final Thoughts

After several weeks to contemplate our spring trip, I think all three of us will say it was most enjoyable.

Mike and I enjoyed our return to Viking and noticed some differences none of which negatively impacted our time onboard. The food portions seemed to be slightly smaller which given all the good food available was appreciated by our waist lines. This transatlantic seemed to be more crowded than last year but perhaps that was due to us eating earlier than just us two would normally do. We don’t know whether it is a cruise line initiative or simply the difference between Hotel Directors, Chefs and Cruise Directors but there were many more “special” events this year-pool side lunches (Cesar Salad, Mexican, etc.), pool side events (two or three dance parties, ship building competition), Port Greetings when we returned to the ship, Sunday Brunch in the Winter Garden and of course this year they made an event out of our passing of Gibraltar-even though it was still too dark to really see it.

We missed having the Virginia Gentleman aboard but the entertainers did a fine job despite there being two less singers and no dance couple. The shows seemed a little more professional and used the show band more than the prerecorded music that was typical last spring. There was at least one more lecturer than last trip and their topics were more diverse as well as interesting. There was also a bridge instructor on this crossing which I don’t recall from last time.

You may recall that part of the last minute deal we got was to pay for the lowest category cabin -Veranda (V) and reside in a higher category – Deluxe Veranda (DV). The staterooms are identical except the DV comes with a coffeemaker. I thought this would be great but turns out I only used it once. The other differences are “soft” ones-the sodas in the fridge get replenished daily and we could make reservations for the alternative dining venues before we boarded. Since one staying in a Veranda could replenish the soft drinks by asking at the bar during meal time for an extra can or three and we ended up changing all our reservations once onboard (so as not to miss lobster nights) I don’t think the perks of a DV would be worth paying any extra. Guess we are just too frugal. But when offered for free, they were great!

We also enjoyed the included airfare although I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see whether we could deal with long haul economy if it was “free”. Well maybe not really disappointed, the ice cream sundae in AA business class fixed that!😂

The Viking officers and crew were just as friendly and helpful as previously, the room lovely and we continue to think that Viking is a great value for their repositioning cruises. Lois really enjoyed herself and now is sold on the benefits of smaller ships. Having John the Scotsman aboard and his friendliness to her and willingness to have two special meals made just for her probably helped in this regard.

Of course no one aboard will ever forget the Great April Fool’s Day Toilet Paper Fiasco! LOL

Our post cruise time in Barcelona was great as it was in Rome. I think the highlight for Lois in both was Sagrada Familia and I certainly was blown away again by it. Even though it had only been 6 months since our last visit, we saw progress so maybe they will be finished with construction by 2026 as they are predicting (while crossing their fingers according to our guide).

Thanks for following along, hope you enjoyed it as much as we did…and that you will stay with me as I blog about our upcoming North American roadtrip (hopefully with a cruise to Japan 😲🤞thrown in). We leave Danville on Friday headed for DC and don’t expect to be back to the southeast coast until Christmas. Stay tuned for details…

Rome Day Three

Sorry to be so late in posting this about our final day in Rome but have been busy planning our next adventure!

As you will recall we did the first half of Rick Steve’s “Heart of Rome” audio walking tour on Tuesday but stopped at the Pantheon. So this morning we started there by having breakfast in one of the many cafes on the Piazza Della Rotunda. Our view of what is my favorite building in Rome (maybe the world) is above. We also got to watch an Asian couple have their wedding pictures made..harks back to all those Asian brides and grooms in Santorini year!

After breakfast, we went inside and listened to Mr. Steve’s description of this ancient building-the largest concrete dome in the world and it was built over 2000 years ago!

We then left through the porch held up by giant single piece (most columns are made up of several sections) granite columns imported from Egypt (again this was 2000 years ago-so amazing!) and turned right and walked (listening to Rick tell us about the various sights-including the original Rome coffee shop, Hadrian’s column (or was it Trajan’s) and an old arcade) towards the Trevi Fountain.

As expected the crowds at the fountain were huge but Lois really enjoyed herself-she hadn’t realized it filled a whole block so she kept saying, it’s so big and beautiful.

We all threw at least one coin in the fountain to assure our return. Lois did one more for love- We wouldn’t let her throw the third one for marriage!

This was the first time we had seen the fountain since Valentino paid to have it cleaned. It really is so much prettier without all the years of black on it.

From there we walked to the Spanish Steps. They too remain beautiful.

By this point our Pantheon breakfast was gone so we started looking for lunch. Lois was pulled in by one of the sidewalk cafe hawkers and we sat down and had a lovely seafood meal.

Lois had shrimp cocktail and soup while Mike and I shared an anti pasta plate. We then each had the special-delicious pasta cooked with clams, mussels, shrimp, fish, langoustines, tomatoes, wine and garlic all served (and cooked) in a swan.Everything was so delicious except for the complimentary lemon cello which Lois didn’t like!

After Lois said goodbye to her sidewalk cafe hawking boyfriend, we headed back towards the apartment.

Along our walk, we happened upon a little church so we went in-as with most in Rome, it was beautiful.

After getting back to the apartment, we rested and finalized our packing. Later that evening Lois wasn’t hungry but Mike and I were so we headed back to the same restaurant we had our first meal. Of course it wasn’t as good but we still enjoyed it. We arrived too late for the apertivo special so while we paid more we had one last aperol spritz and a mixed plate of bruschetta and then split a bowl of cacio y pepe. It made for a fine “Last Supper” on Holy Thursday when everyone in Rome was celebrating the original “Last Supper!”

One more post to write on this trip – a summary of the differences we saw in Viking and Lois’ overall impressions. Hope to get it published later this week as we leave next week on our next adventure!

Stay tuned for details!

Rome- Day 2

For our second full day in Rome, we again took advantage of Rick Steve’s app and followed his waking tour entitled “Heart of Rome”. This tour starts at the Campo du Fiori and goes to the Spanish Steps.

After our exhausting day at the Vatican (the travel the day before didn’t help!) we didn’t set an alarm so it was at least 11 before we left the apartment.

Today, we did the first half of the tour which started about 15 minutes away and ended at the Pantheon which was right beside our Airbnb. Starting at Campo di Fiori meant that Lois got to do some shopping, which meant I got to do some veggie and flower photography.

And Lois found a present for her boytoy, Jerry.

From the Campo we headed to Piazza Navona, one of my favorite places in Rome. This large oval was formerly the site of chariot races but now is a beautiful place with three fountains and a great piazza to people watch.

We decided to be complete tourists and have lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Sometimes there is a reason tourist joints are tourist joints…it was a beautiful sunny but not hot day, the piazza was full of activity and the food was tasty, albeit expensive….but not as expensive as tomorrow’s meal (that’s called foreshadowing).

Lois got a spicy pasta dish, Mike pasta arabica (bacon, tomatoes, etc) and I got osso bucco and then we all shared. Everything was tasty but sis-in-law’s osso bucco is better!

After lunch we ducked into the Brazilian Embassy (formerly the family home of Pope Innocent (the tenth?) and the one who paid to turn Navona into what we see today to see the Brazilian national exhibit from the Venice Biennale entitled, Walls of Air. It was an interesting exhibit about public places and design, Lois was particularly impressed with the drawings. I was most intrigued by the idea of making the roof of Niemeyer’s museum accessible.

Leaving the museum we again listened as we walked to Rick Steve’s tell us about the history of the area and the buildings we were passing.

When we got to the Pantheon, the line was loooong so we elected to continue our tour their the next morning.

After a few hours rest at the apartment, we grabbed a taxi and headed to Termini Station (Rome’s huge transit center) where we caught the HopOnHopOff’s non HopOnHopOff night tour of Rome.

Our original thinking when planning the tour was that we would make the Vatican our focus one day, the area around our apartment the focus the next and a visit to the Coliseum the center of the third day. Lois had a medical issue a few weeks prior to our departure and was concerned she was going to make the trip so I didn’t pre-purchase Coliseum entry. Thankfully, Lois was able to make the trip but by that time we couldn’t get tickets. So instead we decided to do a drive by. Which given the difficulty I had climbing the steep stairs/seats six years ago was probably a good idea!

The night tour gave Lois a chance to see a lot of Rome lit up and she seemed to enjoy it, though all of us were a little chilly in the open topped bus once the sun went down.

After much difficulty finding a taxi, we made it back to the apartment and had some street pizza for a bedtime snack.

Tomorrow-our last day.