Travel Talk – Iowa, Part 3

Hello again! Here we are with our third installment of exploring Iowa for Travel Talk. This month Michelle and I are talking about some great museums. I love museums – art, history, science I love it all. In my experience, museums are beautiful places filled with endlessly interesting and inspiring displays. Guess what – the museums in Iowa are no different. Bonus – these are all within in an easy day trip of Davenport!

Here are Michelle’s picks:

The University of Iowa Natural History Museum in downtown Iowa City is a free and fascinating look at Iowa’s history.  The museum offers an up-close look at hundreds animals from around Iowa and the world.  The Hall of Birds and the Hall of Mammals are especially worth a visit. When visiting the Hall of Birds, visitors can view over 1,000 birds, many who make their permanent or seasonal residence in Iowa.  These specimens were collected throughout the years by University of Iowa professors. Make sure you find the Laysan Island Cyclorama which replicates a 1914 bird sanctuary in Laysan, an outpost of the Hawaiian atoll.  In 1914, the sanctuary was the home to over 8 million birds of 22 different species.  Across the museum is the Hall of Mammals which displays animals from around the world.  Among the highlights is the skeleton of a 47 foot Atlantic Right Whale.  A final stop should be Iowa Hall, which allows visitors to travel through Iowa’s 500 million year geological, cultural and ecological history.

The Des Moines Art Center is a gem both inside and outside, with noteworthy art on its walls along with the architects who designed the structure in three parts.  The building is designed by world famous architects Eliel Saarinen (portion built in 1948), I.M. Pei (structure completed in 1968), and Richard Meier finishing the museum in 1985.  Inside, the Art Center has a stellar permanent collection which includes works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder along with rotating special exhibitions.  A second part of the Art Center is the Pappajohn Sculpture Park located in downtown Des Moines.  Admission is free for both!

And here are my recommendations.

National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids. Completely rebuilt after the devastating 1993 flood, the Czech Museum is a gorgeous tribute to the craftsmanship and beauty (don’t miss the crystal chandelier in the lobby) of Czech art. There are also extensive displays of the history of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These include full size reproductions of a Communist watch tower and steerage rooms that immigrants would have stayed in on their voyage to America. There are also stunning examples of crystal, porcelain and needlework on display.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch. His Presidency might not have been a success, but Herbert Hoover was a great statesman. He was instrumental in providing food relief to Europe and Russia during and after World War I and later after World War II, saving millions of lives. He and his wife Lou traveled extensively and many of the things they collected on these travels are on display. There is also a lot of information about Lou who was brilliant in her own right (to this day, she is the only First Lady to speak an Asian language – in this case Mandarin Chinese)

This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are loads of great museums throughout the state – and in Davenport itself! (the Figge, the German American Heritage Center and the Putnam, to get you started) Here’s a tip for you – keep an eye on the website of any museum you might be interested in – most of them have exhibits that run for a short period of time as well as their permanent displays. These can be a great opportunity to see art and artifacts from far-flung museums, right in your own backyard!

Now what about you – what museums in Iowa would you recommend?

Travel Talk – Iowa, Part 1

Hello and welcome back to Travel Talk! This month Michelle and I are starting a multi-part series about one of our favorite travel destinations – Iowa! Yeah, I know, Iowa is often maligned as boring (I just heard Jimmy Fallon call Iowa boring on the Tonight Show – grrrrr) and flat (yeah, join me on a bike ride and I’ll show you “flat”!) – no big cities (sorry Des Moines!), no dramatic mountains or beaches, no famous historical sites. If you believe that Iowa isn’t worth exploring, Michelle and I are here to change your mind. Iowa is full of beautiful and interesting places with the added bonus of close-to-home and smaller crowds.

Michelle starts us off with some hidden gems!

For the last 5 years or so, my husband and I have trekked around our great state of Iowa in order to discover out-of-the-way places and things.  Whether we start heading north, south or west we have discovered all sorts of interesting and notable places that are definitely worth a look if you want to discover all our state has to offer.  The following is the first of a blog post series with some remarkable points of interest.  We are starting with one of my personal favorites – architecture in Iowa.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Iowa – If you are an architecture fan, Mason City should be high on your list. Mason City boasts one of the largest concentrations of Prairie Style architecture.  Among the highlights is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Park Inn Hotel that has been restored to its full glory. The hotel restaurant, 1910 Grill, is fantastic and worth a stop for either breakfast or dinner.  Within walking distance is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Stockman House, which is open for guided tours and is accompanied by a noteworthy interpretive center.  Along the way check out the Music Man foot bridge and the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum, which holds a large collection of Bil Baird puppets.  The museum also includes the marionettes from The Sound of Music.  The museum also has an impressive permanent collection, including works by Jasper Johns, Keith Haring and Arthur Dove.

A gem of Iowa architecture can also be found in Cedar Rock in Quasqueton, near Cedar Rapids.  Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home for Lowell and Agnes Walter, which was completed in 1950 during the time Wright was designing Usonian houses.  After their passing, the home was given to the State of Iowa and now the Department of Natural Resources offers tours with a small suggested donation of $5.  Built near the Wapsipinicon River, the home has all the furniture and design elements original to the home.  Walk the grounds to the river and you can explore the boat house, also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Merchants National Bank (now the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce and Grinnell Visitors Center) Architect Louis Sullivan, who was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor and first employer, designed this bank in 1914 and it makes up part of Grinnell’s downtown.  It is one of the eight “jewel box banks” that Sullivan designed in the Midwest.  Sullivan came up with the term and designed each bank to take on appearance of a jewelry box.  Stop by the bank and take in the ornamentation and details on both the interior and the exterior, which includes radiant stained glass windows and lion-like figures guarding the front doors.

What architectural gems have you found in Iowa? Share in the comments!

Stay tuned for the next installment! Still to come – wild places, museums and uniquely Iowa!

Travel Talk – Researching Your Trip

Hello Travel Fans! This month we’re tackling one of my favorite things about travel – planning your trip!

I admit, I’m pretty organized and enjoy the process of research (Hey, I’m a librarian! No surprise there!) and list making and exploring ideas. It’s akin to daydreaming, imagining all the possibilities. Of course, at some point reality takes over and you realize a sunrise hot-air balloon ride or a week at the Ritz is not going to happen. That’s when research comes to the rescue.

Before you get started, decide on a few basics. Know where you’re going (hopefully somewhere that you’re very excited to see), know what you’d like to do there (museums, historic sites, unique experiences) and what time of year you’re going. Have a rough idea of your budget (Ritz or hostel?). Are you going on your own (we’ll talk more about solo travel later this year), with family or friends or with a tour group?

OK. You’ve got a handle on the basics. Here are some resources.

Mango. If you’re going to a foreign country be sure to go to our Online Resources from our home page and navigate to Mango (listed here), an awesome language learning program that’s FREE! It’s simple and intuitive to use and will give you a strong grounding in the basics. It’s always smart to know a few common phrases. (You will need your Davenport Library card number to access Mango)  Michelle adds: After you create a profile, download the Mango app to take your language on the road!

The library. Yeah, you saw that one coming, didn’t you? We have lots of travel guidebooks at the library. While there is a ton of information online, there’s still something about leafing through a book, finding something that catches your eye, or for studying a map. If you can’t find the area you’re planning to visit, check at the desk and we’ll try to find something from another location.

Instagram. This might seem like an unusual place to research a trip, but I can personally vouch for it. Go on Instagram and do a search for your vacation spot and you’re likely to find several hashtags to follow. You can refine your search to special attractions too (#chicago #artinstituteofchicago #thebean). You’ll also probably find the local chamber of commerce or tourism board which are, of course, going to post lots of glamorous photos. For a more realistic look, dig a little deeper and look for people who actually live in the city or country you’re visiting (this will be easiest with big cities like New York or London) Before I went to Paris I started following accounts such as @paris.with.me@everydayparisian @lostncheeseland among many others. @davidlebovitz was especially helpful since he’s not afraid to show the nitty gritty as well as the beautiful all with dry wit. Accounts like these will give you a glimpse of the current weather, what people are wearing, ideas for what’s currently going on. And after your trip, they can be fond reminders of favorite memories.

More ideas from Michelle:

Flight trackers – A good way to find a reasonably priced ticket is to sign up for a flight tracking alert.  I have used Google flights with great success.  You type in your dates and location where you want to go and Google will email you when a fare decreases or increases in price.  With help from Google flights, I recently got a round trip to Europe for $513.00.  The decrease in fares are usually short-lived so you have to act fast.  

Email newsletters – Prior to your trip, sign up for travel newsletters that will provide tips and tricks on a specific region.  For European travel as an example, try EuroCheapo by Tom Meyers.  His newsletter covers relevant topics for a first time travelers and for those who are looking for more out of the way spots.