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5.30.2007 - 41 comments 

As you can see from this photo, we were on a little vacation with ours kids and grandkids in Chicago. And although I probably got enough pictures and information to make 20 posts from this little vacation. Of all the things we discovered, this Millennium Park was probably the most impressive tourist place we came across.

Millennium Park is actually located in downtown Chicago on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe Streets, the 24.5-acre park is an unprecedented center for world-class art, music, architecture and landscape design, where you can experience everything from interactive public art and ice skating to al fresco dining and free classical music presentations by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus. Among the park’s prominent features is the dazzling Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the most sophisticated outdoor concert venue of its kind in the United States, designed by Frank Gehry, one of the world’s greatest living architects.

One other thing that my granddaughters were particularly enthralled with was the Crown Fountain. It was designed by a Spanish sculptor named Jaume Plensa, the Crown Fountain features two 50-foot high glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers are activated with changing video images and lights, and water cascades from the top of each. You could watch the people’s faces and all of a sudden they would put their lips together as if they were going to whistle and then water would spew out of their months as a kid would spit a mouth full of water at a friend.

By anchoring the southwest corner of Millennium Park at Michigan Avenue and Monroe Streets, the Crown Fountain is a major addition to the city’s world-renowned public art collection. Inspired by the people of Chicago whose faces appear on the glass towers’ changing video images, this site-specific work creates both a unique meeting point and a dynamic space for silent reflection. Utilizing water, light, and glass, Plensa has definitely created a bold statement that was sure to stimulate the many passers-by that invites them to enter and experience the rest of Millennium Park. I literally think I could have stood there and watched them for hours.

This particular bridge that Mrs. LZ, our youngest granddaughter and I are standing on is known as the BP Bridge. Its purpose is connecting Millennium Park to Daley Bicentennial Plaza, east of the park, this 925-foot-long winding bridge, Frank Gehry's first, provides incomparable views of the Chicago skyline, Grant Park and Lake Michigan. Clad in brushed stainless steel panels, the BP Bridge complements the Pritzker Pavilion in function as well as design by creating an acoustic barrier from the traffic noise below. It also has a 5% slope to allow easy access for people who are physically challenged.

The structure you see behind us is actually the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. As you can see it is a pretty, yet unusual design. It was designed by the winner of the National Medal of Art, Frank Gehry, who applied his signature style to this revolutionary outdoor concert venue. The Pavilion stands 120-feet high, with its billowing headdress of brushed stainless steel ribbons (which you can see here) that frame the stage opening and connect to an overhead trellis of crisscrossing steel pipes. The trellis supports the sound system, which spans the 4,000 fixed seats and the Great Lawn, which accommodates an additional 7,000 people.

This state-of-the-art sound system, the first of its kind in the country, was designed to mimic the acoustics of an indoor concert hall by distributing enhanced sound equally over both the fixed seats and the lawn.

We are taking off on a flight to California first thing in the morning, so like our little balloon sign says on this post, we'll be on vacation for a week in Northern California, followed up by another week in Southern California. So I'll be talking to you all when we get back and make it to our favorite destination... HOME!

“All generalizations are false, including this one.” ~ Mark Twain

5.25.2007 - 44 comments 

The Holiday on Monday is the reason for this early post. First of all in honor of Memorial Day, I want to thank all of the families of those who have lost their lives in the defense of this country. Without those type of sacrifices, none of us would be able to enjoy the freedom that we all seem to take for granted. But, off of my soap box and on to this week's post.

There are so many things to do in this little town of Galena, that I hardly know where to begin. But let me tell you, if you are any sort of American History buff, you could fall in love with this place.

Let's start (as we did) at the Dowling House which is Galena's oldest home. It was an 1826 trading post and residence furnished with many primitives. This was also where we learned about the MUST SEE's in the city. We took a little area map and started hitting theses spots one by one.

Next stop was the Galena History Museum on Bench Street. There we found pictorial history of the Civil War, steam boating, geology exhibits. 1830s lead mine; "Peace In Union" painting. This place (as most of them) did have a video presentation as well as a gift shop.

On to the Old Blacksmith Shop ~ which is an authentic 1897 blacksmith shop, with working forges. It held original tools and equipment from the pre-Civil War days with its own Historian on site. Many of these now seem to do jewelry rather than horseshoes now.

One of my favorite stops in Galena was the Ulysses S. Grant Home. On April 9, 1865: General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, thus ending the American Civil War. Then a few months later on August 18, 1865; the town of Galena celebrated the return of its Civil War hero General Ulysses S. Grant. Following a jubilant procession with much flag waving and speeches, a group of Galena citizens presented the General with a handsome furnished house on Bouthillier Street. The house is managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site.

Grant and his family arrived in Galena in the spring of 1860 and rented a small Federal style brick house. He had ended a fifteen year military career six years earlier, but had enjoyed little business success as a civilian. He hoped to reverse his economic misfortune by moving to northwestern Illinois, where he would work in the Galena store owned by his father and managed by his younger brothers, Simpson and Orvil.

Grant was a clerk in name only; he spent considerable time away from the store, "traveling through the Northwest considerably during the winter of 1860-61. They had customers in all the little towns in south-west Wisconsin, south-east Minnesota, and northeast. Iowa." Until he left Galena in the spring of 1861 to serve in the Civil War, Grant and his wife, Julia, rented a modest brick home on the west side of the river for approximately $100.00 a year.

Close to Grant's Home was a couple of old houses that had been converted to B&B's. One of these had been turned its own very nicely done Tea room. It was called Bernadine's Tea Room. It was just beautiful, so that is where we decide to stop and have lunch. The owner of that place kept coming over to our table trying to convince Mrs. LZ that we NEEDED to spend the night in his newly remodeled B&B which I think was called the Stillman House. He was not able to convince us to stay there much longer than the time it took to complete our meal, but it was fun having him try to persuade us.

The Old Stockade on the Cobblestone Street is a log-built structure that traces Galena history from the 1820s. It is also a Black Hawk War site. Thorough research of the original occupants of Galena was also available there. A reconstructed fort describes the area's Native Americans, its early settlers, the Black Hawk War of 1832. Seasonal living history events go on all year long in Galena.

The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design is an international museum and has a new satellite facility in Galena featuring contemporary art, architecture and photography from around the world. This was one of the few non historic themed places we could find.

Next, was the Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum which had a Full-size caboose, both G-scale and HO-scale operating model railroads, artifacts of northwestern Illinois railroads and a lot more railroad paraphernalia.

Local history exhibits on lead mining were also available at the Apple River Fort; The Mining Museum & Rollo Jamison Museum from which you can also tour the 1845 Bevans Lead Mine and ride above-ground 1931 mine train.

The main street in Galena (which is shown here in part of my shot) was literally like a little 1850’s type town only now all the little shops are in fact either restaurants or cute little gift shops full of every kind of historical tourist offering you can imagine. Although this did not do a whole lot for me… Mrs. LZ was just thrilled!

"...gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime....let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan." - General John Logan, General Order No. 11, 5 May 1868

5.21.2007 - 32 comments 

For those of you like me who think that San Juan is just a place to catch a cruise ship, I don’t want to spoil the image of the place for you, but truly there is much more to San Juan that this picture might relay. In fact the picture I took here in the early evening is not of the ship that we were on, but it was taken from the ship we were on. Regardless, I still love the shot and it still brings back those memories of San Juan for me.

Actually there is good reason for this. San Juan is a major port and tourist resort of the West Indies and it is also the oldest city under the U.S flag. The metropolitan area known as San Juan has 3 distinct areas: Old San Juan, the Beach & Resort area, and other outlying communities, the most important: Río Piedras, Hato Rey, Puerta de Tierra, and Santurce. Río Piedras was founded in 1714 but became incorporated into San Juan in 1951.

Even though most shots of San Juan show the fort that tells much of the history of San Juan. San Juan is one of the biggest and best natural harbors in the Caribbean and is the second oldest city in the Americas.

San Juan is actually known as "La Ciudad Amurallada" (the walled city). San Juan was founded in 1521. In 1508 Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement, Caparra, now known as Pueblo Viejo, behind the almost land-locked harbor just to the west of the present metropolitan area. A year later, the settlement was abandoned and moved to the site of what is now called Old San Juan.

There really are some interesting things in San Juan besides its famous cruise port. The famous fort (that seems to be the most photographed tourist traps) in San Juan is actually called El Morrow. The word itself sounds powerful and this six-level fortress certainly is. Begun in 1540 and completed in 1589. San Felipe del Morro was named in honor of King Phillip II. Most of the walls in the fort today were added later, in a period of tremendous construction from the 1760's-1780's.

Rising 140 feet above the sea, its 18-foot-thick wall proved a formidable defense. It fell only once, in 1598, to a land assault by the Earl of Cumberland's forces. The fort is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outposts and ramps. El Morro is studded with small, circular sentry boxes called "garitas" that have become a national symbol. The views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular. The area was designated a National Historic Site in February, 1949 with 74 total acres. It has the distinction of being the largest fortification in the Caribbean. In 1992, the fortress was restored to its historical form in honor of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico by Christopher Columbus. El Morro Fortress is a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.

The Catedral de San Juan (San Juan Cathedral) was built in the 1520's, the original church on these grounds had wooden walls and a thatched roof. It was destroyed by hurricane in 1526 (October 4th), rebuilt in 1540, looted in 1598, and damaged by another hurricane in 1615. The Cathedral as seen today is the result of work done in 1917, when major restorations were performed.

This Cathedral is an authentic and rare New World example of medieval architecture. The cathedral contains the marble tomb of the island's first governor Juan Ponce de León and the relic of San Pio, a Roman martyr. San Juan Cathedral still holds religious services on a regular schedule.

The Casino of Puerto Rico was built just before World War I. The exterior - in the style of French mansions of the Louis XVI era, a copper copula, a large ballroom with elaborate plaster-work and a 12-foot chandelier distinguish this building.

The Casa Blanca (White House) was built in 1521 and lived in by Ponce de León descendants for over 250 years. In 1779 it was taken over by the Spanish military, and then used later by the United States as a residence for military commanders (1898-1966). Today the mansion serves as National Historic Monument, housing a museum of 16th, 17th and 18th century history. Each room is decorated in a style associated with a period of the house's history. Casa Blanca is the oldest continuously occupied residence in the Western Hemisphere. Located on San Sebastián Street, Old San Juan, houses an ethnographic museum and Taino (native Indian) artifacts.

The Pablo Casals Museum is the Spanish master's legacy to the people of Puerto Rico. The museum collection includes manuscripts, memorabilia, photographs and a library of videotapes of Festival Casals concerts. Casals moved to Puerto Rico with his wife in the 1950s. He became the conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the president of the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico.

Whether you think of San Juan as a port or a fort, it doesn't really matter, but it is actually a destination in and of itself.

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day long to do it in." ~ Robert Orben

5.16.2007 - 16 comments 

Dear Blogger friends ~ I don't usually update a post after I have already posted it, but thanks to a blogger's post, I have updated this post to better reflect the REAL hotel and its information. This first photo is actually from the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort at Bretton Woods New Hampshire. The second part of the post actually refers to a hotel (Mountain View Grand) that is some 20 miles away which we didn't see. So I just wanted to set the record straight and apologize for my faux pas.

A few years ago when Mrs. LZ and I were on a fall foliage trip through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we came around the corner and were just blown-away with this hotel which was basically in the middle of "nowhere." At first we could not figure out why in the world it was even out here, but soon we found out that it was basically not a very good financial investment and at that particular time was about to be foreclosed on by the bank. Having always been taken but this building, I decided to find out whatever became of this place. Well the truth is that it is still there and doing fine.

You can click here to see what this looks like today.

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Now on to the other hotel (the Mountain View Grand)which we didn't see, but has a great history.~ On a rainy night in 1865, a stagecoach in route from Boston to Montreal hit a large mud hole and overturned on a back road in the small township of Whitefield, NH. Two passengers climbed out and were told by the driver to follow the dirt road a half-mile until they reached a farmhouse. Despite the late hour, the travelers were welcomed at the home of William Dodge, thus beginning a long tradition of Mountain View hospitality.

They awoke early the next morning to the smell of a home-cooked breakfast. After breakfast they wandered out on to the porch where they were quickly captivated by the breath-taking views of the Presidential Mountain Range, a glorious series of 4,000 foot peaks in the White Mountains.

Impressed by the hospitality of the Dodges and the beautiful, inviting natural surroundings, the guests prevailed upon their hosts to permit them to stay a few days longer. The following summer the accidental guests returned for a sojourn of several weeks, inspiring the Dodges to add the first of many additions to come and to begin a small boarding house that they called the Mountain View House. In a sequence comparable to several other great White Mountain Hostelries, this episode launched the development of the Mountain View House toward grand hotel status.

The architectural growth of the Mountain View House began in 1866 when the Dodges opened what was initially a modest country inn. Over the years, several additions were made, the most striking of which was the two story piazza displaying Greek Revival details, set under the front roof overhang and supported by square Doric columns. By the summer of 1884, the Mountain View House could accommodate over 100 guests. During the months between 1911 and 1912 construction continued and the Mountain View House soon joined the prestigious ranks of those elite White Mountain Hostelries with space for over 200 guests.

As the reputation spread, so did the demand for rooms. The Dodge family met the challenge well and passed on the management responsibility to yet another generation of aspiring Dodges'. Frank Schuyler Sr. ran the hotel operations until his untimely death in 1941 at which time, his wife took over the management until Frank Schuyler Jr. was able to handle the responsibility. During Frank Schuyler Jr.'s tenure, Century Hall was built as a highly functional entertainment and conference center. Finally, in 1979, faced with a changing tourist market, automobile fuel shortages and financial instability, the descendants of William Dodge sold the Mountain View House, thus ending the long regaled reign of one of the finest grand hotels in the history of the United States and the oldest resort to be owned and operated continuously by the same family living on the same property.

The last functioning years of the Mountain View House were fraught with stress and uncertainty. In 1986, after several summers producing marginal financial returns, the hotel closed its doors. In 1989 all of the contents of the hotel were put up for auction. The Mountain View House was purchased in 1998 by a young entrepreneur, who worked long and diligently to re-create the splendor of the golden days of the grand resort hotels in the White Mountains. The new Mountain View Grand proudly reopened its doors in May 2002 after completion of a $20 million historic restoration.

Then in 2005 the Mountain View Grand was purchased by Great American Insurance Group and joins a unique collection of historic hotels including The Biltmore in Coral Gables, Florida, Le Pavillon, in New Orleans, Louisiana, The Cincinnatian in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Charleston, South Carolina.

By the way... in case you wonder what this place looks like now (and if you will pardon a photo that I did NOT take myself) here is one that is on the hotel's own website.

You can also click here to see what this one looks like today.

“In every visit with mountains one receives far more than he seeks." ~ Naturalist John Muir

5.06.2007 - 39 comments 

As many of you may know, the Florida Keys are a chain of small islands that actually end at Key West, Florida in the U.S.A. (and as such), is the most southern point of the Continental U.S. But, as I tried to think of a picture for this post, I didn't want to use the one that is actually associtated with the REAL (most southern) point, because frankly, it is a landmark that looks to me to be a very large beer bottle that could be used at a Jimmy Buffett concert for some Mexican beer promo.

And it is far from being a shot I would relish posting. I also could have used the other landmark which is in a place called the Sunset Pier "Bar & Raw Bar" at Zero Duval St. It has a sign that has arrows pointing to the left and to the right saying "Atlantic Ocean" and "Gulf of Mexico". But instead of either of those, I like the composition of this one which was right down there in that same area. The three pelikans in it also were pretty cool too.

We rented a car in Miami because we wanted the expierince of driving all the way down to Key West and going through all of the Keys. Although it was a long drive, it was still a very neat and unique experience for Mrs. LZ and I. Some of the keys that I remember were; Key Largo (obviously named after the movie of the same name), Islamorada Key, Marathon Key, Big Pine and the lower Keys and then of course the culmination of the drive ending at Key West.

We took the South Dixie Highway south through the Florida Everglades National Park to "Highway 1" which goes all the way to Key West. Along this trip there were many very neat things to see like the "Seven Mile Bridge" which connects Islamorada Key to Indian Key Channel (if I remember correctly). And several side trip adventures on some of the different keys.

In Key West proper, you can discover a city where real estate titles date back to the Kings of Spain. Stroll the palm-lined streets and discover gingerbread mansions, tin-roofed conch houses, the John Audubon House and Ernest Hemingway's home. You can walk in the footsteps of Thomas Edison, Lou Gehrig, Harry Truman, and Tennessee Williams. Gaze at the fabled treasure of the galleon Atocha. Discover tomorrow's fine art treasures by Key West's well-known and some equally unknown artists.

The island's seafaring tradition lives on at the renovated Historic Seaport district, known locally as the Key West Bight. Dozens of shrimp boats once called this harbor home. "The Bight" is a popular place to arrange a day on the water, whether you are a diver, snorkeler, fisherman or eco-tourist. Others come just to stroll along the harbor walk or dine at one of the many restaurants. In this city of fascinating contrasts, you could easily find yourself wanting to let go of mainland hassles permanently. But frankly, we didn't!

We also found out that if you just wanted to fly there to Key West directly, that you can visit these and a host of other attractions by taking advantage of convenient public transportation, taxis, pedi-cabs, tour trains, trolleys, bicycles or even your own two feet. For a visual introduction to the sights of Key West.

As I look back at some of the pictures I took, I found some interesting names, like "Captain Tony's Saloon", "Sloppy Joe's Bar" and a "Jimmy Buffet Store". That alone should give you a hint of the mystique about this place. This looked like it could be a very neat place to be on Spring Break if you were a college kid trying to have a good time! But truly it was a memorable drive to Key West.

"Come along, let's have some fun.
The hard work has been done
We'll barrell roll into the sun
Just for starters"
~ From "Barometer Soup" ~ Jimmy Buffett