My poor blog. You’ve languished for going on six weeks now, all because of a new job I’ve taken at Indiana University. It’s been busy and fun, but fret not: You’ll be back soon with a vengeance … once I’m back from attending and speaking at HighEdWeb 2015.
In the interim, everyone gets to look at my slideshow for my upcoming presentation on social media use at IUPUI. Has nothing to do with travel, so, um, sorry about that HighEdWeb Presentation…
We like showing off Indianapolis to our out-of-town friends, especially because we think they’re often a bit surprised at how much there is to do here. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just cornfields and racing cars in the Circle City.
And rightfully so: With a population of more than 850,000 just within the city limits, Indy’s becoming an ever-increasingly bustling Midwest metropolis.
That population grew to about 850,001 recently when Caitlyn’s friend, Jenni, visited from Detroit (another often unfairly maligned Midwest city), who got to take in a little bit of the Indy of yesteryear and the Indy of tomorrow.
Indy of yesteryear
No trip to Indy in August is complete without a trip to the Indiana State Fair, one of the largest such fairs in the country. We’ve written about the fair ad nauseam over the years, so we won’t go too much into detail here, but know that we definitely took advantage of $2 Tuesdays, which are home to $2 admission and oodles of unhealthy fair foods for special $2 portions. Jenni, meanwhile, took advantage of the kiss-a-dog booth for $1. We told her our dog Bailey was happy to provide free kisses, but Jenni can’t refuse a dog with puckered lips.
Our trip down memory lane extended to the second-run movie theater near Greenwood to take in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I have no idea how old this theater is, but it reminds me of the theater I used to go to as a child of the ‘80s, complete with neon signs, a simple tiled lobby and even a mini arcade. Caitlyn, Jenni and I all must have looked like a family, because we got the “family deal” and each ticket wound up only costing about $1.25. I think I was considered the “child.” If that’s the case, I think someone needs to talk to Caitlyn and Jenni about their parenting skills, taking a child to see “Mad Max!”
Of course, no trip to our Fountain Square neighborhood is complete with trying your hand at duckpin bowling. The premise seems simple enough: You toss a ball slightly bigger than a bocce—but with no finger holes—at 10 squat pins. You get three rolls per frame because you will suck at it your first time … and subsequent 20 times. If you break 50, you’re doing well. Hit 60 and you’re a GOD. Action Bowling has the look and feel of the 1940s with the rich wood detail and vintage bowling equipment. You also get a nice view of downtown and Fountain Square and, if you’re like us, you wind up a lane with a wonky pin that refuses to stay down, no matter how many times you hit it.
Indy of tomorrow
The hot thing in Indy right now is biking. We have an awesome dedicated bike path—the Cultural Trail zigzags all over downtown and some of the adjoining cultural districts, including ours—and accompanying Pacers Bikeshare network where you can rent a bike and drop it off at other stations around downtown. Caitlyn and Jenni did a tour of downtown, grabbing lunch at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, before heading off to trendy Mass Ave for some shopping at some of our local retailers.
Little did Jenni know she would also be getting a workout, going with Caitlyn to Indianapolis Downtown Boot Camp for a kettle bell class. Gotta burn off that fair food, right?
You can’t do all this activity without taking in some grub in one of the many trendy restaurants in Fountain Square and Fletcher Place. We dig Pure Eatery for light, vegetarian fare (they also have non-veg fare) and considered Milktooth for brunch, but everything looked a little too hipster frou-frou for their liking, so Caitlyn and Jenni went over to Yolk downtown for some more traditional eggs and pancakes.
All in all, a nice trip, seeing a lot of the sights of downtown Indy!
Spending time in northern Michigan doesn’t mean just gorging one’s self on fudge (although, that’s a big part of it). A key component of any trip “Up North” is also experiencing the beauty and majesty of the largely unspoiled natural environment—that is, assuming the weather cooperates with your plans.
Thankfully, the weather did and Caitlyn and I made the 20-minute trek from The Frankfort House to Riverside Canoe Trips in nearby Honor, Mich. to take in some of the Lower Platte River, en route to the sandy, dune-dotted shore of Lake Michigan.
In addition to canoes, visitors can rent kayaks—both in the 1- and 2-person varieties—and, unfortunately, tubes, for those who want to clog up the river for others more interested in actually getting exercise or being able to maneuver the river. Seriously, you will be AMAZED at the amount of tubers just floating around in the river, oblivious to canoes and kayaks.
Rates are reasonable, at about $45 for a two-person canoe and you’re given 2-1/2 hours to complete the journey, or they tack on another $6. You’ll also be charged an extra $5 if they have to bring back your paddles and cushion at the end of the trip.
The way it works is you check in and buy your trip, then move your car to the nearby state park, where you catch a shuttle back to where you started and then hop into your canoe, en route to where your car is, essentially, parked. Be forewarned that there is a $4 fee to park in the small Lake Township lot near the beach, if you’re even lucky enough to find a spot. Otherwise, it’s a cool $10 to park along the street or in other nearby state park lots. And don’t think you can get away without paying the park fee: State Police are constantly roaming the main street looking for violators and issuing tickets.
The canoe journey itself varies based on the number of tubers you have to deal with. We took this journey a few years ago and didn’t have nearly as many tubers to contend with as we did last week. That said, there are some breaks, especially when you come to a small lake where you have some wiggle room to separate yourself from the pack. There are also a few “Choose Your Own Adventure” moments, where you hit a fork in the watery road, but rest assured—all options always converge.
The weather for us was gorgeous—upper 70s and sunny—but it was still enough to give Caitlyn sunburn, even with plenty of sunscreen, so remember to reapply! Also make sure to have whoever is better at controlling your vessel’s direction in the back, which is something Caitlyn and I learned years ago the hard way.
If you’re a pro at canoeing (and don’t want to deal with tubers), you can try the faster Upper Platte River. There’s also The Honor Trading Post, another river experience company just a few miles away.
As I signed the pink receipt, I thought “This slice of triple chocolate cake better make my taste buds sing and dance and render any other cake I’ve ever eaten manure.”
And rightfully so: At $12.50 per slice, The Cake Bake Shop isn’t cheap. The current darling of the Indy baking scene, the Cake Bake Shop is reminiscent of a scene out of Paris, with chandeliers, fine china, marble table and countertops and lots of pink and gold scattered about. Certainly a bit of an odd fit for the Broad Ripple neighborhood, which, to me, is more college town than high-end, but I just went with it.
I got it to go, but clearly your $12.50 a slice charge is more intended for those dining in, with pink receipts, branded plates and even the opportunity to buy what looked like a Tiffany and Co. charm emblazoned with the Cake Bake Shop logo. It’s worth noting the head baker also perfected her craft in Europe, even baking treats for Elton John, before returning stateside to dazzle Hoosiers taste buds. So there’s that.
But I had a hard time stomaching $12.50 for one slice. We’ve had equally good cake for much less in our travels (Magnolia Bakery in NYC/Chicago, Founding Farmers in D.C., Clara’s in Lansing, Mich., and so on) and would much rather spend four bucks each at The Flying Cupcake nearby.
Don’t get me wrong—the Cake Bake Shop is good. My wife even mentioned how rich the cake was and usually with her, the richer the better. But this is clearly more of a “special occasion” or “I’m flush with cash and I don’t know what to spend it on” establishment than a frequent experience.
The Cake Bake Shop also offers a limited lunch menu and other non-cake treats, as well as some outside seating, which can be pleasant in the spring and fall.
Just make sure to leave enough money in your wallet for that Tiffany and Co. charm.
Washington, D.C. is well known for its impressive collection of monuments and memorials: Lincoln, Washington, FDR — they’re all staples of middle school trips to the nation’s capital.
Because of that, the Rover team isn’t going to go into any of that in this blog post, rather, it’s going to focus more on some other cultural destinations in D.C. you might have missed during your trip (but that we didn’t during our recent vaca).
First, let’s talk the Kennedy Center. With sweeping views of the Potomac and within close proximity to the infamous Watergate complex, the Kennedy Center has an impressive history of hosting top-quality shows just a short walk from Foggy Bottom. Upon entry, visitors, depending on which entrance they come in through, are greeted with impressive collections of various countries’ or states’ flags suspended from the rafters.
The theater is equally impressive, with lush red ceilings, seats and curtains. While there, we took in the Scottish National Ballet and it’s performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Thankfully we watched the film in advance, as it’s a ballet, so there were no words (minus the obligatory, “Stella!”) and the dancers put a creative spin on the Tennessee Williams’ classic.
Not a theatergoer? Check out the Sculpture Garden, sandwiched between the National Gallery of Art and National Museum of National History. From a metallic tree to a house that will make you question your dimensions and scratch your head, the garden is home to more than 20 works, as well as a fantastic café, located next to a faux Metro station in Paris. It doesn’t take a lot of time to go through the garden, but one can easily overlook it when he or she is busy getting from one museum to the next.
Unfortunately, the art gallery’s contemporary section was closed when we were there, but the classics were still available for viewing, including the only Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece west of the Atlantic. They also have Degas. LOTS of Degas. Seriously, they must have every sculpture of his there.
And let’s not forget that D.C. is home to some pretty impressive statues and buildings. Take a stroll, especially along the circles—Logan, Thomas, etc.—and see some of the beautiful, old churches and people who weren’t cool enough to get their sculptures on the National Mall. A good place to start would be near M and 14th Streets, near Massachusetts Avenue, and then head northwest.
Just make sure if you go during summer to wear sunscreen!
Many things are simpler when you head “up north.” This doesn’t exclude movies, where the best way to catch a double feature is under the stars at the Cherry Bowl Drive-In, just a quick 15-miniute drive from The Frankfort House in Honor, Mich.
The Cherry has been a staple around these parts for years and recently was awarded an upgrade to digital projection for being one of the winners of Honda’s nationwide Project Drive-In contest. As the lone remaining drive-in in northern Michigan, it’s definitely a treat to have such a treasure so close to our summer home.
Caitlyn and I took in Jurassic World and Pitch Perfect 2, along with a packed field of Michiganders and visitors taking in the brisk, but calm weather on a clear Thursday night.
Everything about this place screams “adorable,” from the swings up front by the screen, to the mini golf course off to the side and even the program you receive upon entering, which expressly notes swearing will not be tolerated on site (might have broken that rule a few times, but it was in the confines of my car, I swear!). Each movie starts off with a classic Disney short, as well as playing of the U.S. anthem.
It just happened to also be someone’s birthday, so an employee came over the speaker system to encourage everyone to “give her a big Cherry Bowl salute,” to which dozens of cars honked their horns repeatedly. Unfortunately, my birthday is in the dead of winter, so I’ll never be able to experience that serenade for myself.
Taking in the audio is pretty straightforward: Either take one of the original speakers off its stand and put on the inside of your car window, or take advantage of the louder and crisper audio via a closed radio station. We tried the speaker for Jurassic World, which was a little on the quiet side, so we opted for the radio station for Pitch Perfect 2. Side note: This was one of the few times we’ve seen a double feature advertised where we actually cared about both movies!
Of course, sitting through a double feature—let alone not getting out until 2:30 am—requires some fuel, and, thankfully, there’s a small concessions shop. We grabbed a big bucket of popcorn for a shade under 5 bucks, as well as additional nom-noms throughout the night. Everyone who comes to the show also gets a raffle ticket for the chance to win free concessions or swag, but, alas, our number was not displayed in the concessions shop. Oh well.
If the weather’s nice enough, make sure to bring your lawn chairs, or at least a blanket for sleeping in the trunk/hatchback of your car, but be forewarned—mosquitoes can be a problem. We didn’t experience them that much, but we could infer based on the nearby forest and mosquito prevention products advertised on site that they can be troublesome once it’s warm or muggy.
Overall, at $10 a ticket, the price can’t be beat. Toss in affordable concessions and it’s a classic northern Michigan night out under the stars.
Situated off tiny Thomas Circle at 14th and M Streets in the heart of Washington, D.C., The Donovan hotel exudes contemporary design and comfort. Here’s our review of this trendy hotel.
Upon entering the cozy lobby, guests see the spacey orb chairs dangling from the ceiling. Adjacent is the bar, which provides free wine during Happy Hour every day (5-6 p.m.) and fruity water the rest of the day.
Part of the Kimpton collection, The Donovan also boasts a rooftop pool, which, unfortunately, was only open until 5 p.m. the days we were there. That’s a bit of a bummer for people like us who like to unwind at the end of the day in the pool and not the adjacent rooftop bar.
Not too bad. It’s better for those who like to walk up 14th Street to look at all the hip boutiques and to dine at the numerous eateries, but it’s also three blocks from the Metro and just a block from the bus stop. A Whole Foods Market is about a 10-minute walk away, and a CVS is located right across the street for essentials.
It’s interesting: We technically stayed at The Donovan twice—once for four nights for our main trip and an additional night once we needed somewhere to hole up after the Southwest Airlines fiasco of 2015. Both were different experiences.
The four-night stay was in a large, executive king room with pretty purple leather paneling and modern décor. Even the bathroom looked futuristic, with a shower that resembled the shape of a shell. The additional night stay was less exciting: Smaller room, smaller bathroom and a shower that Caitlyn said “looked like it belonged in a prison.” So, um, maybe ask for the non-prison shower room when you check-in? Some rooms do have deep-soaking tubs, but good luck getting one (we tried putting in a request months out and were foiled).
The TV lineup was adequate — heck, we didn’t even have to miss an episode of Game of Thrones! There’s also a yoga mat in the closet and a yoga channel on the TV if you need to get that stretching in.
The bottom line
I highly recommend joining the customer loyalty club, Karma Rewards, if you plan on staying at a Kimpton hotel. The free membership entitles you to a free $10 credit at the mini or real bar, as well as free access to the wifi.
At roughly $200 a night (that includes taxes), the hotel was a good deal, although, we did have a 20% coupon through Karma Rewards. The front desk was nice enough to extend that deal once we arrived back where we started, sweaty and tired, and needed to stay an additional night.
All in all a great experience at The Donovan. Just make sure you get one of the bigger, newer rooms.
Washington, D.C. is an interesting place to be a vegetarian: Typically, when we visit big cities, we can find veg-only restaurants with accompanying veg-friendly (read: cheap) prices. That wasn’t so much the case in D.C., as we dined side-by-side with carnivores for most our meals. We still had delicious dishes, but the prices were more in tune with the neighboring meat items on the menu.
All that said these are five of our must-visit food joints while in D.C.:
First tings first, if you plan on eating dinner at this trendy locale, make sure you have a reservation. We did, thankfully, and were seated immediately upon arriving, even though others were waiting. The menu—a mix of staples like chicken pot pie and burgers and creative dishes like butternut squash mascarpone ravioli and mushroom Swiss Rueben—specializes in comfort food. I went for the “many vegetable mushroom ‘meat’ loaf,” which came drizzled with some sort of delicious gravy, flash-fried broccoli and homemade mashed potatoes. Fantastic. Caitlyn got the cauliflower steak and risotto. The “steak” itself was a little bland, but the risotto was rich and flavorful. We topped it off with a massive piece of Red Velvet Cake and ice cream, both of which were decadent and well worth the 8 bucks. One low-point of the night: Service was a bit slow…like, really slow, up until we actually ordered (we waited a good 15 minutes before we could give our order). Also, the hostess couldn’t be bothered to look at the people talking to her in the entryway, rather, she needed to be transfixed on the screen in front of her. I’m sure that screen lists all her tables, but still, manners, please. One more thing: It’s loud. Really, really loud in there. Not the best for a date night.
A popular bookshop-meets-restaurant, this local chain offers everything from brunch to dinner. We swung by for brunch one day and lunch another at the flagship at 14th and V Streets and were not disappointed either time. With an ample and creative menu, carnivores and vegetarians alike can dine in harmony while taking in some ‘60s tunes in this quirky eatery. We recommend the grilled brie Panini and sweet potato fries or the Oaxaca omelet, which is like a black bean burrito brunch-i-fied.
A fast-casual sort of place, Sweetgreen is a bit like Freshii. Big, filling bowls of quinoa, grains, meat, tofu or avocado, tossed with veggies and unique dressings, like the avocado vinaigrette make this a great place to swing into if in a hurry. With several locations around D.C., it’s not too difficult to swing in at least once. The pricing is also on point and the real health freaks can get house kombucha (which sounds disgusting to me, but to each their own).
The first place we visited in D.C. for food was this hole-in-the-wall doughnut shop off G Street between 13th and 14th Streets. As its name suggests, you’ll find craft doughnuts and fried chicken here. Now, Caitlyn and I are not huge doughnut fans, but we needed a mid-morning snack, it was on the way to the museum and I had just seen this place on a list of the best doughnuts in the country. It did not disappoint. The doughnuts were light and fluffy, as well as flavorful. Mine came with Nutella on top and Caitlyn went for a Boston cream concoction. Nutritious? No. Delicious? Yes!
Museum restaurants usually suck, however, hidden away in the sculpture garden next to the National Gallery of Art, is one such establishment that defies the odds. The Pavilion Café offers up fascinating pairings, like a quinoa-peach-pickled red onion salad with champagne vinaigrette and a curried cauliflower and hummus tartine sandwich. The menu’s not what you’ll find at most places along the National Mall, but that’s a good thing! The prices are little high, but the quality of the food is top notch.
Ah, vacation season — the time of the year when diets and calorie counting are replaced by gorging and a steady stream of desserts. After all, one of the great perks of visiting other places is indulging in the local cuisine, right?
Such was the case when we headed north to Detroit and southeastern Michigan to visit family and friends. Yes, the visits with both groups were nice and long awaited, but you’re here to find out about where all the tasty treats are, aren’t you?
I don’t know how long there have been Bellacino’s locations in central Indiana, but I can remember one in my hometown dating back to early high school (so, a good 17 years ago). The grinders, in particular, were my favorite: That crispy, cheesy bread with all the fixins always left me full, especially if I got the 9-inch “half” (for the love of God, don’t get the “full,” unless you have the stomach of a T-Rex or are sharing).
The pizza’s good, too. They only use fresh mushrooms (+1 from Caitlyn) and there’s a nice proportion of cheese-to-sauce. Fearful that I wouldn’t like this place anymore, having not been there in probably 14 or more years, Bellacino’s did not disappoint.
A small group of carryout joints in suburban Livingston County, Gus’s has the best Greek salad dressing on earth. Period. How’s that for a statement of fact?
Seriously, though, the Greek salad and breadsticks are to die for. If you think you’re going to be OK with getting just a half bag of breadsticks, think again. You want, nay, NEED a full bag of those addictive carb rods.
Back in my meat-eating days, I would load up on the ribs, too, which had meat that fell right off the bone. The perfect tanginess and flavor, albeit a little messy. Now that I’m vegetarian, though, I’m required to tell you not to get them (or something).
Definitely the coolest place we ate at during our time in the “D,” Traffic Jam and Snug is in the quickly evolving (or devolving, depending on to whom you talk) Midtown part of the city.
Kickin’ it since 1965, TJ&S is a surprisingly large restaurant and with an equally surprisingly large veg-friendly and carnivore-friendly menu.
Caitlyn got the Ethiopian plate, which came spicy split baby red peas, yellow lentils, and sauteed collard greens served with traditional injera bread. I opted for the Tex-Mex lentil burger, while one of the carnivores across the table from us dined on smelt and chicken and basil egg rolls.
Definitely a hipster haven (heck, all of Midtown is now), TJ&S was a nice surprise during our quick journey into the city.
Can’t end this review without a little dessert!
My favorite bakery in downtown Detroit, Astoria’s been whipping up delicious and indulgent treats since 1971 in the happening Greektown neighborhood (there’s also a location in Royal Oak for those of you too afraid to trek downtown … wusses).
My go-to is simple, but still something I’ve yet to find of equal quality anywhere else: A half dipped in chocolate Rice Krispie treat. Caitlyn got the decadent chocolate mousse cup and we shared a flaky chocolate meringue. The shop also has éclairs the size of your liver, cookies, cupcakes, chocolates and more.