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.