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Travel Indiana – Road Trip to Columbus, Brown County and Bean Blossom

For those enchanted by modernist architecture, a pilgrimage to Columbus, Indiana rewards with multiple gems.  Add some fabulous food and a side excursion to Brown County and Bean Blossom to complete a memorable long-weekend getaway.

Thanks to the forward-thinking, industrialist couple, Joseph Irwin Miller and his wife, Selma, Columbus attracted world renowned architects such as Eero Saarinen and I. M. Pei.  Many of the structures are within a few downtown blocks while others are only a short drive away.

The Visitor’s Center offers tours of the Miller House.  When the tour van pulls into the driveway, you’re  immersed into the collaborative masterpiece of Eero Saarinen (structure), Alexander Girard (interior) and Dan Kiley (landscaping,) The furniture, rugs, decorations, books, etc. are all original thanks to the family’s donation.  From the suspended fireplace to the pillowed conversation pit, the home invites you with its playful refinement.

Sitting above the grassy “void” below, the structure sits prominently on a hill.  Various horizontal allées (walkways lined with trees) separate outside rooms although there is no real fence on the property. The nearby road is buffered only by horizontal plantings of arborvitae.  The couple desired to not separate themselves from the community and had no gates to close the driveways.  (Our tour guide laughingly recounted that children rode their bikes through the property and in the 1970s she even went so far as to drive her car up to the garage in curiosity…until she saw the owners and their driver preparing to leave the house.  They all politely waved to each other before she made a quick departure.)

Although we luckily reserved tickets for the house tour, we weren’t so lucky with the downtown walking tour (book as far in advance as possible!)  With a $3 map from the visitor’s center and the Columbus IN Tour online app, we successfully explored on our own.  Fortunately, the town seems comfortable with visitors walking into and around buildings with no purpose except to enjoy the design elements.

I. M. Pei’s Cleo Rogers Memorial Library
The First Christian Church designed by architect Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero Saarinen.
St. Bartholomew Catholic Church – exterior
St. Bartholomew Catholic Church – interior
North Christian Church by Eero Saarinen
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church – exterior
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church – interior

For Chihuly fans, the Visitor Center’s installation displays his typical forms.

A short drive takes you to another Chihuly  exhibit.  This one features a flat circular panel suspended in a silo.  Read more here about his works in Columbus.

In downtown Columbus, it’s easy to find local dining options. 

Fine dining with friends at Henry Social Club.  Roasted cod, homemade ravioli and tofu with vegetables were all winners.  (So good, in fact, that they were eaten before we thought about pictures!)

Find casual dining at Upland Columbus Pump House.  Fish-n-chips, pizza, burgers and wings… a peaceful evening on the deck overlooking the river.

Forget about the calories at Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor … an authentic soda fountain from 1900.

We found our coffee winner for this trip at Lucabe Coffee

An easy 20 minute drive to the west of Columbus takes you to Brown County State Park.  With miles of paved drives overlooking forested vistas, the park is a particularly popular destination in the fall.  (We first stopped by the Farmhouse Cafe and Tearoom in nearby Bean Blossom for a BLT and potato salad to go.  A tranquil autumn picnic in the park.)

Closeby, a still driveable covered bridge transports you not only across the water but to a different era.

More to know…

The Miller House Garden designhttps://www.gardendesign.com/indiana/columbus-miller-house.html

Architecture in Columbus – https://columbus.in.us/architecture-story/

Joseph Irwin Miller – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-cathedral-builder-in_b_7033742\

Our AirBnb was only a couple of blocks from downtown.  It was quiet, comfortable and well-equipped.

Try this link to search for the AirBnb.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff in New York

As Frank Lloyd Wright aficionados, we’re always looking for his creations along our travel routes.  On a recent trip to Pittsburgh and the Finger Lakes, we added a stop 25 minutes south of Buffalo.  Graycliff in Derby did not disappoint. 

Wright designed this summer retreat for the same family as the Martin House in Buffalo.  Situated on a large bluff overlooking Lake Erie, the “cottage” incorporates stone sourced on the property.  Previously, a stair tower connected the clifftop to the beach below.

According to our tour guide, the garden and landscape plantings are as originally designed by the architect, including a vegetable and flower garden located at the entrance of the property. The tennis court may seem like someone’s awkward addition years later.  In fact, it was requested by the family as part of the original plan.

When approaching from the front entrance, you can see through the large windows lining the structure to the lake beyond. A desire to show his interpretation of the lake water running through the house resulted in the large pool of water in the front.

The interior welcomes with a mostly open floor plan.  A large hearth separates the living area from the dining area.  Stone materials continue to have a prominent role inside.  These include several that Wright selected to showcase their encased fossils.

All of FLW’s houses display quirks.  This one includes a window that seems to be built in the chimney.

An adjoining structure was originally designed for the chauffeur but was later transformed for family members’ living quarters.

We were impressed by the work and dedication of the Graycliff Conservancy.  A labor of love preserved this masterpiece.  Sadly, a look over the fence shows what can happen without vigilance.  A similar cottage was leveled and replaced with aesthetically bland condos.

Want to know more about FLW or see more of his designs?  Look here:

 @apielage on Instagram – ongoing project to photograph all remaining FLW structures.

https://www.thoughtco.com/frank-lloyd-wright-interiors-inside-architecture-177552 – terrific article about the interior themes used by FLW

https://flwright.org/ – information about Oak Park and Chicago FLW designs, including his studio.

Three Bridges Trail in Carter Caves State Park (KY)

We took advantage of 40 degrees and blue skies to hike in Carter Caves State Park.  This park is an hour northeast of Natural Bridge State Park and the Red River Gorge area.  (See our previous post about these areas here.) It shares many of the outstanding rock features of these other parks.  However, while the other parks are more well known and have more visitors, Carter Caves allowed us to have the trail almost to ourselves.

Although Mammoth Cave National Park in southern Kentucky is home to the longest cave system known in the world, Carter County has the highest concentration of caves in Kentucky.  We decided to skip the subterranean features this time and enjoy a sunny, crisp hike.  We chose the easy/moderate 3.5 mile Three Bridges Trail.  Although this trail doesn’t take you far from the center of the park, you walk through three natural bridges.  This trail also takes you to the rappelling and rock climbing area which is available by permit.  

We parked in the Welcome Center where we picked up a map.  The trailhead was across the main road and up a few stairs.  We decided to walk the loop trail counterclockwise in order to save the largest bridge for last.  Red trail markers painted on trees helped us to easily navigate and stay on the trail which was usually leaf covered.  

Kentucky’s limestone outcroppings, forests and lakes make for a pretty fabulous place to ride out a pandemic.  Happy trails!

Jet Age Elegance at the TWA Hotel

While absentmindedly munching on Lotus Biscoff cookies and contorting our legs between backpacks and underseat space, we must not be the first travelers to dream of a more refined flight experience.  Imagine three course meals, doting flight attendants and ample seats with legroom to spare! These dreams happily came to life when a long layover at JFK Airport allowed us to visit the newly opened TWA Hotel.

The Eero Saarinen designed TWA Flight Center opened in 1962.  After TWA’s sale to American Airlines in 2001, the terminal sat vacant for several years.  Luckily, visionaries proposed a hotel which began construction in 2016 and opened in May 2019.

At JFK, we took the AirTrain to Terminal Five.  When we stepped off of the train, there were red arrows for the TWA Hotel on the floor and we easily followed them out of the building, across the street and down to the hotel.
The futuristic exterior and the contours of the lobby beckoned us to explore.  On the first floor we discovered the reception area and a small museum with Jet Age displays.  There’s also the stylish Sunken Lounge with its chili-pepper red carpet and booths as well as the original split-flap departure board.  Here it’s easy to imagine that you’re having a cocktail and chatting with Frank Sinatra or Audrey Hepburn during your layover.

A hallway exhibit a short walk past the lounge displays colorful posters by David Klein.  His illustrations beautifully showcased TWA’s destinations around the world.

Climbing the luxuriously curved staircases, the second floor led us to several restaurants but we weren’t quite ready to eat yet.  Instead, we decided to play awhile at the photo booth and whimsical Twister room. Closeby, a curated walk through TWA uniforms over the years amused us with its mid-century fashion and interesting tidbits about flight attendant job perks and requirements in those days.

Walking through one of the red-carpeted tubes, we discovered a small area that recreates  Saarinen’s studio with his drafting table and plans for the building’s design. For some reason, there is also a recreated living room.  It was fun to see the furniture, lamps and games. We especially liked the original Barbie house and furniture made of cardboard…not plastic!

After exploring inside, we ventured out to the tarmac  to board the restored Lockheed Constellation named Connie.  Inside its chicly designed interior is a groovy bar that serves vintage-inspired cocktails.  This is light-years beyond Lotus Biscoff cookies and bottled water! Now that we’ve had a taste of refined air travel, we can dream of a day where we’re back in the Jet Age!

Take a virtual tour to the TWA hotel with CBS Sunday Morning!

A Quickie to Sultry Chicago

A visa meeting at Chicago’s Spanish consulate provided us with the perfect excuse for a quick trip to the Windy City, which could have been better described as sultry and sticky during the hours we were there.  We reserved an AirBnB in Chinatown since we’d never explored that area of the city. A stroll down the heart of the neighborhood on South Wentworth Avenue left us searching for a quiet place to sit with a latte and chai tea. We found the perfect respite at TBaar. Although it’s a chain, the atmosphere was relaxing and it was fun to watch the servers roll out ice cream to make interesting Sundaes. Later, we arrived just in time to get a seat without reservations at Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings. While waiting for our order of dumplings we were enthralled to watch their video that showed the origins of everything from their porcelain dinnerware to the light fixtures as well as how they locally sourced their ingredients. The dumplings didn’t disappoint!

After dinner, the cooler early evening temps made it the right time to visit Millenium Park. An outdoor movie was playing for a huge audience spread out on blankets and lawn chairs while enjoying picnics with family and friends. Some were even watching the movie! Next, we joined the crowd at Crown Fountain to watch kids from toddlers to teens drench themselves in the water…always watchful for when the large streams of water would pour from the digital faces towering above.

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The following morning, after being amazed at the continually moving line for coffee at Starbucks (and an almost non-moving line at the consulate!), we took a people-watching jaunt along the Riverwalk.  On the lookout for a museum we hadn’t yet visited, we settled on the National Museum of Mexican Art. Although its smaller size with only three galleries could be seen as a negative, it was actually relaxing to not feel rushed.  It’s the perfect size to enjoy art without committing to a whole day at a museum.  (And, it’s free!)

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A short walk from the museum, 5 Rabanitos Restaurante & Taquería provided a delicious lunch of guacamole, tortas, and tacos al pastor in a colorful and friendly setting.

Happy to have had a excuse to visit this fab city again!