The Art Institute of Chicago – A New Favorite

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Chicago is many things but dull it isn’t.  This city is rich in culture, architecture, outdoors fun (in the summer, at least!), food and many other things.  I love coming to this city but have rarely been here on my own to explore.  I have greatly enjoyed coming to Chicago with friends, whether to party in the early 1990s, or to get to know the best of the city in the last few years via local friends who know it well.  I wrote a couple of years ago about the architecture of the city.

When a business trip to Minnesota arose, I thought it may give me another opportunity to head to the Windy City on my way home and see more of it.  One of the things that I have NEVER done in Chicago is go to a museum so I decided my weekend would be anchored around at least on a museum visit.

And so it was.  After reading a little bit, and being quite torn on which one to attack, I decided for The Art Institute of Chicago.  It is one of people’s favorites (or so I read!) and it was close to my hotel.  Also, while I had studied about the Chicago History Museum and was curious to see it in person, I was not feeling historical this weekend.  I was more in the mood for art.  And, finally, The Art Institute featured in one of my favorite movies:  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

The museum has an old wing and a newer one with a cleverly built hallway/gallery that was built to bridge over the railroad lines separating the old building (right on Michigan Avenue) from the new building, behind the old building towards the lake.  The new building has an entrance on Monroe whereas the old building has its entrance on Michigan Avenue.

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The modern wing from Monroe St.

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To the right, the bridge connecting the new gallery (shown here) to the old

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And the bridge connecting to the old building over the rail lines

I like the newer building because it just feels “light” both in the sense of illumination but also on the sense of weight or heaviness of the architecture and the interiors.  Well done, whoever was/were the architect(s)!

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

Lightness in space and materials

The museum has art from ancient Greece and China to the most modern sculptures (Charles Ray was a special exhibit).  I started at the Charles Ray exhibit mainly because it was right there after I entered.  The space was huge and the sculptures were distributed over the entire space creating what felt like vast spaces between the pieces.  I don’t know much about art (it’s been a while since I stayed at a Holiday Inn…) but I definitely felt the openness and emptiness of the galleries only added to the sculptures by truly making them stand out.  I also feel that it also made the people walking around almost part of the exhibit itself.  I took some photos that, now when I look at them, I am almost as interested in the people walking the space as in the sculptures themselves.  I wonder if that was the intent of the curators…

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Boy holding a frog seemingly holding a statue in the back…

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A crashed Grand Am sculpture with the Hancock Tower in the background

My favorites were the impressionist artists, as usual:  Pisarro, Cézanne, Monet, etc..  But I also was pleased to see several El Greco and more modern favorites like Miró, Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, and Roy Lichtenstein (am I a name-thrower or what?!).

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Van Gogh’s selfie (at least one ear is still there!)

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Roy Lichtenstein’s almost comic book-like imagery

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Jackson Pollock

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Monet’s foggy London

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Cézanne’s wife on yellow chair

I also enjoyed seeing American Gothic in person.  It truly is a brilliant piece, not because I know about art itself but because I certainly feel the emotion (or lack thereof) in the two characters!

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American Gothic

Oh, and here is the charmer that Ferris and his bud and girlfriend admired while on their escapade!

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

You don’t have to be an art connoisseur or lover even – just have an open mind and go explore this incredible institution on the shores of Lake Michigan!

Exploring Old Philadelphia – Liberty and Independence

Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

This past January I traveled to Philadelphia to visit family.  It was BITTERLY cold but that did not stop my uncle from taking me around.  It had been a couple of decades since I had last seen Liberty Bell and my uncle told me the whole place had been re-done so off we went, from the Broomall area east towards the city.

Philadelphia grabs a hold of my imagination for two very important reasons:

  1. The history of this country is anchored to this city.  Just thinking of all the important conversations and events that happened leading into our independence and afterwards is mind-boggling.  The downtown retains some key spots that are just as they were but, of course, progress also has erased some of it.
  2. My family ended up in Philadelphia for a few years after leaving Cuba in the early 1960s.  I was born after they left Philly but the city plays a key role in my family’s history so, though I didn’t live there and have only visited a few times, it is close to my heart.  Just thinking all that my family must have gone through as recent immigrants moves me to no end.

Liberty Bell

The entire “mall” area around Independence Hall has been re-worked with the construction of a new visitor center and the National Constitution Center.

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Independence Hall and its more modern neighbors

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The National Constitution Center

But the belle of the ball is still Liberty Bell.

Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Here she is with Independence Hall behind it

It is housed at the visitor center as opposed to its former home – originally the Pennsylvania State House which is now known as Independence Hall (thanks in no small part to the fact that Philly is no longer the capital of Pennsylvania!).  The visitor center is not overwhelming, in fact, it is very well designed and very informative.  It is not the type of place you speed through the space to just get to the star of the show (well, maybe some do it…).

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The latest home of Liberty Bell

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Well laid out and open space at the center

Independence Hall, visitor center,Liberty Bell,, snow, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Many informative displays

The bell, which weighs slightly more than 2,000 pounds, dates from the 1750s and is famous not only for being a key symbol of the United States’ nationhood but also for its crack.  It earned it first crack when it first was rung after arriving in Philly… not an auspicious start but goes to show that you can’t go by first impressions!  Anyway, the bell was recast to try to fix it but it cracked again in the 1800s and kept cracking over the years.  We sure hope that crack is stable by now!

Independence Hall

This building has had quite a life.  Built between the 1730s and the 1750s to serve as the colony of Pennsylvania’s legislature, it hosted the Second Continental Congress during which the Declaration of Independence was adopted.  Later it is where the constitution was drafted and signed.  Both documents were signed in the Assembly Hall which is set up as it was back then.   The building certainly has a special place in the history of the United States.

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Assembly Hall

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Court Room in Congress Hall

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House of Representatives Chamber at Congress Hall

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Senate Chamber in Congress Hall

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Senate Chamber in Congress Hall

Today, a good bit of what is there are reconstructions.  The central part of the building is original but the steeple and side wings are not.  The wings were last re-built in 1898 – a little disappointing that it is not the original space but inevitable in many ways.

There are many more sites in downtown Philly to review our past and celebrate our nation.  Make sure you make the time to explore one this birthplace of the United States’ birth!  Happy 4th of July!

A Grain of Truth about Minneapolis

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, Mississippi River, photo, travel, Olympu

Minneapolis is a northern city by U.S. standards and that often conjures images of snow and cold.  While that may be true in winter, as in many places, that is not the grain of truth about the city I want to reveal to you today…

You may or may not be familiar with the history of Minneapolis.  It seems just another modern city with a great business environment, beautiful nature, and super nice folks.  It may seem that it just evolved in the great “wander West, folks” of the late 18th and 19th centuries.  Well there may have been some of that but the catalyst that planted the seed of this city was none other than the Mississippi River.  Where the city was established as a post along the river, though, was not random.  There were these waterfalls named St. Anthony’ Falls that were perfect for powering mills.  The post grew and expanded as these waterfalls powered industry whether it be lumber mills or wheat mills.  And in the latter is where we find the grain of truth about Minneapolis:  wheat was key in helping this city grow and thrive.

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St. Anthony’s Falls were long replaced by riverworks; wish I could have seen the original!

See, Minneapolis became one of the great end points for harvested northern Midwest wheat to go to be ground into flour.  The mills were located right by the river.  Today, you still can see the Pillsbury Mill on the east side of the river.  But the best way to learn about the grain that powered this city is by visiting the Mill City Museum on the west bank of the Mississippi river where the Washburn “A” mill was located.  Since it was a short walk from my well-located hotel, The Hotel Minneapolis, it was a no-brainer to head there and learn more about the city.

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The inner courtyard of the former Washburn A Mill shows some of the damage from the fire

The Mill City Museum does a great job of taking the ruins of the last mill to operate on that site (a fire in 1991 destroyed the mill, abandoned since 1965, except for its shell) and turning it into a learning experience about Minneapolis history, about the milling process, and even about baking!  It is geared for all ages with specific stations for kids to learn hands-on (adults can play too…).

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Exhibits include old mill equipment

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Plenty of good signage around!

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Many different stations for hands-on experimentation

I enjoyed the the film Minneapolis in 19 Minutes movie which does great job of helping someone like me (read:  unfamiliar with the history of the city) understand the city’s beginnings, how it became a major city, and even the trials and tribulations of the changes brought about by the 20th century (the Great Depression, mills closing, etc.).

The flour tower elevator “ride” was also very cleverly done and I will not reveal any more about it.  But I will say that it does take you to the top of the tower where you get great views of the might Mississippi River, the “falls”, and the east side of Minneapolis.

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A great view on a beautiful day!

I love it when a museum delivers great insights in easy to follow exhibits and narratives.  The Mill City Museum is a must-visit for all ages and it help connect you with that grain that seeded its home city!

—————-

My activities in Minneapolis were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

Stockholm: A City One with the Water

Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

It is a cold day at home and, somehow, instead of going for warm, I look at pictures of my cruise in the Baltic.  But, in my defense, it was June there.  Still not tropical weather but my eyes and mind wandered to my pictures of my stop in Stockholm, Sweden.  And what I take away is what a great city it is to enjoy in summer time.  I am sure it’s a great town any time of the year (I said having spent 3 weeks in Helsinki, Finland in the dead of winter many moons ago…).  But in the summer the city is bright and alive.

I guess what I really liked about Stockholm compared to other cities by the water is that the transition from water to land felt more smooth.  It did not feel abrupt with large man-made banks holding in a river (think London) nor city walls holding the sea back (think San Juan or Dubrovnik) nor  being in the water proper (think Venice) nor with development keeping the city from the water (think Miami).  I liked that the sea and city were seamlessly one.  Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel Stockholm, Sweden, architecture, sea, blue sky, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The islands around Stockholm

I also liked the many islands right by the city.  I felt I could just skip and hop around endlessly.

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Cruise ship approaching Stockholm passing through many islands

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House on an island around Stockholm – nice spot!

History of that sea – the Vasa Museum

This close relationship with the sea around it is not limited to the landscape or topography.  Stockholm and Sweden’s history is tightly related to the sea around it.  No better place to see this come alive than the amazing Vasa Museum, itself on an island (see what I mean?).  Shaped itself like a modern steel vessel, this well-designed set of exhibits walk you through maritime history and 17th century Sweden, with a great collection of items, all well-labeled.  The Vasa was a ship found in 1960 in the waters around Stockholm which had sunk on its maiden voyage back in 1628 (what is it with ships sinking on the maiden voyage?  think Titanic… I think I will avoid any ship’s maiden voyage just in case…)  The entire ship is not the original (clearly after over 3 centuries over water, this was not to be).  However, they have done a great job so that it is obvious which pieces of the ship you see are part of the reconstruction/reparations and which are original.  The museum also includes actual ships moored next to it.

Vasa, Stockholm, Museum, ship, wreckage, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel Vasa, Stockholm, Museum, ship, wreckage, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel Vasa, Stockholm, Museum, ship, wreckage, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Minneapolis: A City of Arts and Culture

cherry, spoon, Walker Garden, Minneapolis, art, sculpture, Basilica St. Mary, travel, photo, Olympus

If you are from Minneapolis, don’t take this the wrong way but I was NOT expecting the vastness of the opportunities for art and culture in your town that I discovered in a recent visit!  As I pored over the options, I settled for visiting a few museums and checking out one show for this short visit knowing full well that there were a lot of options – just too little time (this trip!).

Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA)

In terms of art, I chose the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) not just because it was free but because it is vast in its scope and collection.

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Entrance to the MIA

It was well laid out and quite manageable facing a nice park with the city’s skyline as its backdrop.

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Chinese statue at the MIA with the skyline as its backdrop

It has a large section on China, including reproducing the interior of a home, as well as art collections ranging from medieval Europe to contemporary “art” (some of which could be just from some yard in the mountains of the South; hence the quotation marks….).

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Across the way at the MIA: a sculpture in flight!

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Etruscan style table from France from the 19th century

In any case, one of my favorite pieces was the Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun by van Gogh.  Oh, heck, I liked all the impressionist art – there is just something either appealing, reachable, or understandable about impressionist art for me.  (I was reminded I like Signac but always forget him when I cite favorite impressionist painters…)

painting, impressionist, Signac, art, museum, Minneapolis, snowy scene, Canon EOS Rebel

Late 19th century painting by Signac: Snow, Boulevard de Clichy (Paris) – awesome piece

The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA)

Being a lover of Russian history, The Museum of Russian Art intrigued me and I was rewarded not just with art but also with a great exhibit about the Romanovs, thereby satisfying my eternal curiosity of Russian history – a great wealth of artifacts and video clips from the Russian monarchy.

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The Russian Museum of Arts

They also had another exhibit about “Christmas” decorations from the Soviet era.  I did not know about the New Year’s Tree, the Soviet re-invention of the too-religious Christmas tree.  They had sample ornaments made during those times, some quite homemade and others of a little better professional manufacture…

American-Swedish Institute (ASI)

In this trip, I was seeking to learn more the history of the city and I was made aware of the American-Swedish Institute (ASI).  Minnesota has a lot of Swedish blood and one of the Swedish families – the Turnblads- built a mansion in the Golden Mile district of the city in the early 20th century.  The house eventually was donated by the family and now houses the ASI which is much more than a museum – it is also an important cultural center.

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The Turnblad Mansion reflected off the new building housing the Institute – great juxtaposition

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Detail of the architecture of the Turnblad mansion – its huge stained glass window!

The house is open for visits and, during the time of the year when I visited, was decorated for Christmas.  But it was not just decorated for the season but it did so in the styles not only of Swedish traditions, but also in the traditions of the other “Scandinavian” countries:  Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.

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Detail of the table setup display from Norway

A nice touch was that they also presented Mexican Christmas traditions given the strong Mexican presence in the area where the Institute is.  I have to say that when I first walked into the Institute (not the house itself) and saw the cafeteria area on the left, I felt I had walked into IKEA!  That soon passed though as, clearly, this was not an IKEA store.

Brave New Workshop

I did not have too much time left to squeeze in show but I had Saturday night open so I opted for the Brave New Workshop comedy theater as my show to see.  This is the place where Al Franken from SNL fame started so I thought I’d check it out.

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Marquee of the Brave New Workshop

The cast was composed of 5 actors who were quite funny on their own merits but some of the pieces written for them were simply brilliant.  The mix of their skills and the pieces exploded when it came to their spoof or “Royals” by Lorde and the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  The theater is cozy and after the function, everyone is welcome to hang around for a full session of improv.  I had had a long day and, sadly, felt that it was time to leave to get a good hot shower and hit the sack.  But if you go, plan to stay on as I can ONLY imagine what this cast got into after I departed!

Art outdoors

Feel the need for fresh air and the outdoors?  Well, in Minneapolis there is art outdoors too!  The Walker Museum’s Sculpture Garden offers some interesting work near the art museum of the same name (which I will visit next time I go!).  Just cross the bridge from Loring Park (perhaps, as I did, before or after stopping at Café Maude for brunch or dinner – I enjoyed the country hash for brunch!), the garden is free and offers not only great art but a phenomenal backdrop with downtown’s skyline and the Basilica of St. Mary.

cherry, spoon, Walker Garden, Minneapolis, art, sculpture, Basilica St. Mary, travel, photo, Olympus

The spoon with the cherry at the Walker Garden Park (the Basilica of St. Mary in the background)

Even in random places you may find art…  As I made my way back to my hotel, I passed the U.S. Courthouse area – in its plaza, I found some really curious figures and landscape items.  Though the work on the plaza is not explained via signage, the whole plaza evokes Minnesota’s land and its many types of inhabitants:  wooden benches that are just logs, frogs, snakes, rocks, and many other cute characters.  I can see kids loving this plaza!  The plaza brought a large smile to my face as I headed to check out of my hotel and leave town.

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A rockman on its way to the pile of rocks…

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A fellow tourist like me photographing the plaza

If you head to Minneapolis, or if you want to explore arts and culture beyond the predictable places in the usual suspects (e.g., NYC), I think you should plan to explore these unique Minneapolis offerings (or the others I did not get to explore) – you will not leave disappointed!

The Minneapolis Convention and Visitors’ Bureau helped me plan my weekend based on my interests and kindly obtained visitor’s passes for me to these places.

Coke Museum Is It!

Coca-Cola, Coke, museum, vending machine, vintage, history, Canon EOS Rebel, Atlanta

Coke, or Coca-Cola, is the world’s most recognizable brand and most international product (except Cuba and North Korea…).  There is hardly a product – or an experience with a product – that is as universal as Coke.  In all my travels, it has always been there – even if with some taste variations.

Coca-Cola, Coke, sign, soft drink, Atanta, logo, memorabilia, museum, World of Coca Cola

The World of Coca-Cola – or Coke’s museum

The Coca-Cola Company is headquartered in Atlanta where this very popular beverage was invented back in the late 1880s.  It was a time when pharmacists would make stuff that was supposed to be good for your health and you walked in to get your fix of good health.  Fast forward about 125 years and this massive enterprise is run from a campus right across from Georgia Tech, a stone’s throw away from downtown Atlanta where it has always been based.

Coke fans can get their fill of their favorite soft drink by visiting the famous World of Coca-Cola right by Centennial Olympic Park in downtown, the museum that houses many pieces of memorabilia – as well as the secret formula itself.  This is the third installment of such a museum – a fact most people do not realize.  Most people know that there was a museum in Underground Atlanta that pre-dates the current one but that was NOT the first Coke museum!  The first one actually resided in the company’s main tower on North Avenue.  It was intended mainly for company folks but if a visitor arrived asking to see it, they were let in.  I was one such person back in the late 1980s!

Well, today I went to the latest installment of the Coke museum so that makes me – in all likelihood – one of the few people who were not employees of Coke in the 1980s who has been to the THREE Coke museums! (let me rest while I bask in self-glory)

World of Coca-Cola, museum, Atlanta, downtown, downtown Atlanta, Coke museum, travel, soft drink, heritage

The Coke Museum is right at the footsteps of downtown Atlanta and next to the awesome Georgia Aquarium

Memories

The museum puts on display a wide range of items from its history from serving trays to glasses to TV ads to vending machines to art work.  It is an incredible collection sometimes interrupted by the theme of the secret formula they have embedded in this third installment of the museum (and some new characters to appeal to the children).

Coca-Cola, Coke, museum, World of Coca-Cola, heritage, history, soft drink, vending machine, vintage, Canon EOS Rebel, Atlanta

I remember this vending machine! OK, a similar one

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Very old Coke machine – I DON’T remember this one!

Coca-Cola, Coke, museum, vending machine, vintage, history, Canon EOS Rebel, Atlanta

Old Coke cans

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A small collection of Olympics torches (Atlanta’s on the left)

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A Norman Rockwell painting that Coke commissioned

Experiences

But the museum offers more than memories, it actually offers experiences…

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Like posing with a polar bear…

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3-D glasses for the motion-filled movie

But one of the funnest parts of the whole museum is tasting all the kinds of products the company makes around the world!  (“Veteran’s” tip:  make sure you try the Italy product and watch people try t!)

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Entering tasting room!

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And the masses taste!

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Press away!

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Tasters at work in the tasting room

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The Freestyle fountain machine is lots of fun!

The secret formula

The museum builds up a little the secret formula; the vault is a great idea!  It will walk you through Coke history AND show you where the famously secret formula is stored.

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But the key item to the secret of Coke, according to one of the videos, is really us, the consumers.  In this case, me…

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ilivetotravel is Coca-Cola-ized

The World of Coca-Cola is well worth a visit.  See it with the eyes of a fan.  And then see it through the eyes of a marketer.  Brilliant under both lenses.

 

One of the Lesser Known Smithsonian Museums: The Renwick Gallery

Tne Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. built by William Corcoran

I have spent two years visiting Washington, D.C. for work on a weekly or every-other-week basis. I love this city, with its energy, its intrigues, its famous residents, and its power.  I also love it, of course, for the many sights to be seen.

I worked near the White House and was close to a lot of key sites.  One of these was surprisingly close to work:  one block away (as was the IMF and the New Executive Building).  It is the Renwick Gallery, a Smithsonian Museum for American art.  I had walked past it, likely, a hundred times always making a mental note to go in some time.  With it being free (as all Smithsonian Museums are), how could I not with it being so close?

Tne Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. built by William Corcoran

The beautiful Renwick Gallery across from the Old Executive Building

Well, I finally did on my last week in DC.  You see, I had to first do the White House tour.  That took me a year and a half to request and do so this one took longer…  OK, enough excuses.  It was my last week and I decided that instead of just going out for lunch, I would see the gallery.

What an excellent decision! For starters, it was small enough to do a medium speed walkabout checking out its contents.

History of a beautiful building

The Renwick Gallery is a miracle.  It took Mr. and Mrs. John F. Kennedy to save this beautiful building from the demolition of old gems that most modern city planners could care less about that almost was carried out.  This building, which is located right by the White House, was finished in 1861 and had been commissioned by William Corcoran to exhibit publicly his private art collection.  Its architect was James Renwick who also designed the main and iconic Smithsonian building on The Mall, in D.C.  In any case, right when the building was finished, the federal government took over the building for Civil War purposes.  Eventually, it was returned and it housed the Corcoran collection until it could no longer hold all the art and another building was constructed.  At that point this building was used and eventually purchased by the government.  Thankfully, JFK and Jackie O were successful in keeping this majestic yet small structure around for us to enjoy (though the massive ugly New Executive Building was erected next to it on the corner of 17th and H…).

The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for American art

Towards the top of the grand central staircase looking at the big room

A new art form to learn:  furniture making

When I visited, there was a special exhibit for Thomas Day, a freed slave from North Carolina who made excellent furniture for the rich families of the area in the mid-1800s (give or take).  So successful was he that these families petitioned the government of North Carolina to allow a free black woman he wanted to marry to be allowed to enter North Carolina from Virginia (this was allowed apparently pre-Civil War).  They liked him so much they allowed him to worship at the white church AND sit with the whites.  His furniture style was unique and I learned a good bit about a topic I knew little about.  Photos were not allowed so I can’t grace this post with one…

The main exhibit – American art

The museum is intended for American art.  It has a massive room which is just architecturally and otherwise beautiful.  There are just the right number of paintings to allow one to absorb what there is.  The paintings seemed, my recollection may fail me, to be from the early-mid 1800s to the early 1900s.  I discovered a new favorite painter:  Guy Wiggins (1883-1962) whose impressionist work (or impressionist-like to me) really grabbed my attention.

The massive room really was worthy of admiring, paintings or not!

The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for American art

The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for American art

The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for American art

The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for American art

But it’s not all “old” stuff – at all!

Funny how stuff from the 19th and early 20th century can be considered old… Only in the USA!  However, there are a few rooms exhibiting really neat art work from glass to a fish made from toys (not sure what it is… it is not sculpted, nor painted…).  This part of the collection includes a couple of interesting furniture pieces, one of which really is something I could have never dreamed of (I will leave it for YOU to discover!).

The Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. for American art - glass statue

Phenomenal sculpture (?): a glass dress with a silhoutette as if someone is wearing it! Brilliant.

I am SO glad I finally went inside and checked it out.  My kind of art museum:  not overwhelming but manageable, not just one form of art but a variety, and an interesting special exhibit.  Thumbs up for a nice museum in Washington, D.C. that is sort of off-the-beaten path if that is possible one block away from the White House!

Photo Essay: Bucharest, Romania

Calea Victoriei, one of the main streets in Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest was my gateway into Romania and I was eager to see this city that has always -for some strange reason- been an object of my curiosity.  The capital of Romania has been called the “Paris of the east” due to French architecture influence  – but perhaps also because the pre-communist elite had the airs?  I am not really sure but it definitelyhas  architecture reminiscent of the French capital.  In any case, Bucharest is a relative newcomer as a capital city having been picked as capital of Romania only in 1862.  It is a city of over 1.6 million inhabitants – and it feels that way:  a city with the weight of any capital city, with all the attributes of a European city, yet not quite a megalopolis or an international center.

There are too many photos to share so I will place them here in a gallery at the end so you can see some of what caught my eye in terms of architecture, monuments (especially to the 1989 revolution), streets, etc.  Just click on the images to enlarge them!  But first some thoughts on the city…

Architectural potpourri

It is very interesting to see this architecture in Bucharest because it usually is mixed in with very different styles. It almost feels that either construction in the city skipped a few periods or styles as some parts have very different styled buildings next to each other.  Maybe that is what some communism legacy does and what a deliberate demolition of old portions of a city will do (Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator, razed parts of the city for his grandiose building, now the Parliament).  I don’t know as I am not an expert either in architecture or Romania!   This cacophony of styles gives it an interesting air…  And/or perhaps, I needed to see more of the city than I got to?

Old Town Bucharest

Old Town Bucharest is charming like the older part of a any city and, at night, is very lively and a great place to go to have dinner, watching folks go by, and then stay for drinks and more people watching.  We enjoyed a night out on a nice summer evening the night before our return home – good food, good wine, and lots of good laughs.

Not far from Old Town you encounter the grandiose communist buildings sponsored by Ceausescu – a madman of sorts yet independent enough to say no to the USSR whenever he felt like it.  (How DID he get away with it??!!)  In any case as I mentioned earlier, much of the older city was destroyed by him to pave way for these new buildings.  It is sad to think that, until the early 1980s, the old district was much larger and probably containing some gems that are now lost.

Sights around Bucharest

Bucharest has a canal going through it (the Dâmboviţa river that goes through town was channelized in the late 1800s to prevent the flooding that the city suffered periodically) and nice parks, especially near the Romanian Arc de Triomphe.  In that area you will tend to see foreign embassies and it seems a nice place to be if you live in Bucharest.  The most grandiose building of the communist period already has an entire post to itself here so I will not add those pictures to the gallery here.  Just know that around it are similar though slightly smaller buildings also built as part of Ceausescu’s grand plan.  One of those was built to house guests of Mr. Ceausescu and now serves as a magnificent J.W. Marriott!

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time in Bucharest as the focus of my trip was elsewhere.  However, I did get to see some of the key places around town, such as the former royal palace, a few churches, the monument to the revolution (eerie), and the balcony where Ceausescu stood in his final days trying to give a speech but, in a crucial moment in history, the crowd turned on him and the whole thing unraveled for Nicky  (I remember watching that in the US in the news the day it happened!).  I will end the post with the gallery of sights around Bucharest – enjoy!

(Click on the thumbnail to see the entire photo!)

Up Close with Dali in St. Petersburg

Salvador Dali, one of the most interesting painters of the 20th century was, let’s say, a tad eccentric – but a genius nevertheless.  The new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL does a great job of presenting of how Salvador Dali evolved his style in a way that a layperson like me can grasp and enjoy.  Guided tour and/or audio guide are included in the price of the ticket which makes it an easy decision – and makes the experience and appreciation VASTLY more meaningful.  I left with a better understanding of Dali, his motivators, and his evolution.

Here are some pix of the museum and its grounds (but none of the art!).

Car at the Dali Museum

The cars at the entrance of the museum (not sure the purpose)

A beautiful day in St. Petersburg, Florida

The entrance to the museum on a beautiful day

Internal architecture elements at the Dali Museum - the spiral staircase

The top of the spiral staircase which reminded me of the tip of Dali’s mustache

Glass ceiling at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg - neat architecture

Looking towards the staircase and the ceiling on the 3rd floor

Glass ceiling at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg - neat architect

The glass ceiling

Outdoor Dali mustache at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg

Trying out Dali’s mustache

Grounds of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida

The back of the museum

Serranita sandwich

This serranita sandwich at the museum cafe was good but those olives were really outstanding!!

Wish tree at the Dali Museum - great way to discard of wrist tags

Entry wrist tags at the wish tree – clever idea to avoid trash around the parking lot!