Saturday, June 2, 2018

Vacationing in the U.P.

As a child growing up in urban southern Wisconsin, I often wondered about the enormous peninsula which was strangely attached to the northeastern part of the state, yet belonged to Michigan. My summers were spent in far southern Michigan, which I always enjoyed, but all of northern Michigan and its Upper Peninsula remained a mystery to me for many years. Finally as an adult I journeyed to the northwestern part of the state, visiting well-known vacation destinations such as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Traverse City, Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas. And I was smitten. However, given the plethora of places around the world I'm interested in visiting, going further north just had not happened. Then this winter I decided I finally needed to make concrete plans see at least part of the Upper Peninsula. 

Fortunately, Jennifer, a friend who lives in the Lower Peninsula, had also not visited the UP and was keen on joining me. We spent some time in February mapping out our trip for five days around Memorial Day weekend -- we would leave Grand Rapids on Friday morning, spend two nights in Munising with the goals of visiting Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Pictured Rocks National Seashore, then spend another two nights in the town of St. Ignace with the goal of spending a day on Mackinac Island (which we had both visited before: she about 20 years ago, and I at age three - not surprising I don't remember that!), and drive back to Grand Rapids on Tuesday. Word to the wise: if planning a trip to these areas, advanced planning is certainly recommended, as we were able to reserve hotel rooms are quite reasonable rates, while anyone trying to do so closer to a trip around a long weekend would have found sold-out hotels and much higher prices for lodging.

After much anticipation our trip finally arrived, and we steered northward. Soon we were surrounded by forests or occasionally fields, both of which we would appreciate throughout our trip, particularly given that it was late spring and the many different shades of green were breathtaking. Our last stop in the Lower Peninsula was a roadside rest area, which also featured a scenic overlook -- we had lucked out with wonderful driving weather.

We crossed the famous Mackinac Bridge. Otherwise known as the Mighty Mac, it is the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world. The toll was a mere $4, and a number of minutes later we were - at long last - on the Upper Peninsula.

Our first stop involved lunch at a fish market and restaurant recommended by a friend -- what a perfect way to kick off the trip! King's has two locations; we stopped at the store in Moran, where we enjoyed what would be the first of many whitefish meals. Jennifer loved her whitefish basket, which contained three relatively large pieces of very lightly breaded whitefish, a generous mound of french fries, and a cup of zesty coleslaw -- which she declared to be some of the best she's ever had. I constructed my own basket with the same fries and coleslaw, as well as whitefish dip, which I scooped up with the lentil crackers purchased back on the Lower Peninsula. A word of caution to anyone who must adhere to (or attempts to) any special diet such as gluten-free, dairy-free, or - god forbid! - vegetarian or vegan: you will have a difficult time dining in restaurants on the U.P. This is the land of fish, meat, and potatoes. I ate more french fries in four days than I had in the previous four months! Vegetables and fruit were few and far between on any restaurant menus.

Our next destination was the famous Tahquamenon Falls, which is well known for its color and the size of the Upper Falls. Due to it being in a state park, visitor fees are assessed -- we paid $9 for the day due to having out-of-state license plates on our rental car. We first visited the Upper Falls, which are truly impressive given the size -- one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. The walk to the viewing area is quite short, though the descending to the viewing platform does require about 90 steps, but this platform allows for some fantastic close-up views of the falls (lower photo). However, lovely views can be had even from a couple of areas off the walkway, which doesn't require any stair climbing. The falls' brown color is visible even from far away, and is due to tannins.

The weather had turned overcast and gray, and toward the end of our Upper Falls visit it began raining, so we hurried back to the car to drive over to the Lower Falls, which consist of several much smaller falls and rapids. The Lower Falls are less impressive, but the area is beautiful and well worth a visit, particularly given the boardwalk which takes you through the woods, and which during our visit was surrounded by lush green colors and several different wildflowers. The park encompasses 46,000 acres, has numerous camp sites, hiking trails, etc, but our trip needed to continue, so we hit the road just as the rain began falling more heavily.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas in the Washington, D.C. Latvian Lutheran Church

Christmas 2015 was a bit unusual for me, as I was still in Washington on Christmas Eve; other years I had always flown to the Midwest before that, seeing as we traditionally celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve itself. Last year, however, various reasons caused me to buy a flight to Michigan only for Christmas Day, but that meant I was able to attend the Christmas Eve service in Washington's Latvian congregation. It was an absolutely beautiful service, with a gorgeous vocal solo by a singer who used to sing with the Latvian National Opera choir, and with the congregation's hymns accompanied by both the organ in the balcony and the grand piano at the front of the sanctuary.

As we sang the last song, Silent Night, the sanctuary's lights were turned off until only candles and the Christmas tree remained illuminated.
May you and yours have a peaceful and beautiful Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

As I often like to point out, the Washington area has a plethora of fantastic sights to see. In the 17 years I have lived in the region, I am still visiting great places for the first time! For example, earlier this summer a friend and I took time to explore the Basilica of the National Shrine. Another beautiful spot in Northeast Washington is the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a small national park which is so unusual that it is featured on the postal stamps which were released in June to celebrate the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. Two of my friends had lived near the gardens for several years, but even they had not managed to check out this hidden gem, so the three of us headed there on a very warm and sunny weekend morning. Wow -- we were all disappointed we'd not made it there earlier! So beautiful!

Other than many ponds with beautiful blossoms, the gardens also have a great boardwalk out into a marsh and a trail to the Anacostia River.
Us tall folk had to be extra cautious here!
From April 1 throught October 31, the gardens are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I recommend going first thing in the morning when the gardens are in bloom, as there is little protection from the hot Washington sun, and lots of competition from ideal photographs from other photographers and visitors.
The gardens are also open the rest of the year from 8:00am to 4:00pm. There is no entrance fee, which is always a bonus! When you arrive, be sure to check on the climate change observation post near the entrance. Take photos from each of the prescribed positions, and submit them to help scientists track changes in our climate!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Crystal Bridges, Part II

This post continue my lengthy and drawn-out story-telling and many photos about a summer Arkansas adventure, which was first introduced in this post, and further explained in this post.

While neither L nor I knew what to expect from Crystal Bridges, it's safe to say that we were both pleasantly surprised. The museum was well worth the trip, and kept pleasing us at every turn -- even the salted caramel iced latte that I ordered from its coffee bar was a winner. (Seriously, can anyone tell me where I could find such a drink in the DC area?)

There was so much wonderful art to be seen, and I took about a trillion photos, more of which I share with you here. Paintings in particular are difficult to photograph, so these are not truly accurate representations of the colors and textures we saw.
"Hall of the Mountain King" (Marsden Hartley, ca. 1908-1909)
"It's Very Queer, Isn't It?" (James Henry Beard, 1885)
"Interior/Before The Picture" (William Rimmer, 1872)
As a complement to the colors of the fabrics in the above painting, I present for your viewing enjoyment two snapshots of Gabriel Dawe's work "Plexus No. 27." I was excited to spot this piece, as I had loved his gorgeous "Plexus A1 " at the Renwick Gallery late last year (about which I wrote in this post). Now I can confidently say that Dawe is my favorite living artist -- these works are just amazing.

To get very "meta" about all of this art, I will throw in a photo of another work on display at Crystal Bridges -- a work whose colors and linear shapes echos those in Dawe's piece.
"Innate Thought" (Julian Stanczak, 1965)
Two of my favorite pieces in the entire collection were both very bright and colorful.
"Au Cafe (Synchromy)" (Stanton MacDonald-Wright, 1918)
Detail of "Red Flower" (Joseph Stella, 1929)
The building itself was worth photographing!
More to follow! It may be 2017 by the time I wrap up telling you about this trip, but better late than never, right?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Crystal Bridges

To continue my travelogue about friend L's and my trip to Arkansas (which began in this post)...

Given the short duration of our trip, we had a great deal we wanted to pack into a couple of days. The next morning the museum (aka Crystral Bridges Museum of American Art) opened at 10am, and we arrived at 10.15am.
At least one friend had jokingly asked me whether the museum would have greeters as Walmart stores do, and - unsurprisingly - it sure did. The greeter directed us to the admission desk (although there is no admission fee), where we were provided with one brochure that covers the indoor collection, and one that covers the outdoor trails and collection. We asked to make a reservation to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and the earliest time we were offered was 3.15pm -- we looked at one another, shrugged -- yes, after all we traveled hundreds of miles, and then were all set.

Before setting off on our explorations of the collection, we made our way to the basement to use the ladies' room. A space outside the restrooms contained a couch -- and an art film, which we watched, then returned upstairs begin our independent tours. 
Film: "Rainbow Narcosis" (Jonathan Monaghan, 2012)
Walking and each looking at our own pace, we spent a good two hours exploring the permanent collection, which was impressive in its breadth and diversity. In this post and the next, I have included many photos of works which I liked or was somehow touched by or interested in.
"The Ramsay-Polk Family, Maryland" (James Peale Sr., ca. 1793)
The animal on the table is a flying squirrel!
Part of series "Gems of Brazil" by Martin Johnson Heade
"Landscape" (Robert Seldon Duncanson, 1865)
The painting above was very pretty, but did not photograph well, yet I am including it here due to the interesting life story of its artist. As explained by the informative sign next to the work in the museum, "born to Scottish-Canadian father and African-American mother Duncanson established his career in Cincinnati, but left for Canada during the Civil War, searching for a place where racism would not affect his profession as a painter. When Duncanson arrived in Montreal, he was warmly received, and he exhibited his works there to great acclaim." What a shame that talented people are driven from their homelands due to society's narrow mindedness.
"World's Columbian Exposition" (Theodore Robinson, 1864)
One of my favorites! "Under the Willows" (John Singer Sargent, 1887)
"School Rules" (William Holbrook Beard, 1887)
"The Lantern Bearers" (Maxfield Parrish, 1908)
"Raspberries in a Wooded Landscape" (William Mason Brown, ca. 1865-1875)

More to follow!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Basilica of the National Shrine

I interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (the plan *was* to write more about Arkansas) for an outing to the largest Catholic church in the Americas! Believe it or not, this cathedral - called Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - is located right here in Washington, D.C. The church's foundation stone was laid in 1920, but the shrine was dedicated only in 1959. It has been visited by a number of Popes, most recently Pope Francis in 2015. Instead of boring you with more history or details, let's get right to the photos, as Catholics know how to do churches! I've not taken the time to do much (if any) editing of the photos, but you will be able to see why a friend and I spent a good while wandering around the building's many chapels and oratories.
St Frances Xavier Cabrini - Patroness of  Immigrants
Some great disco glamour!
Christopher Columbus

Mass was being celebrated during our visit, which is why I have no photos of the church's main area.
Words above the door: "Be of Good Heart."