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7 Jun 2014

Indianapolis’ Year of Family Travel

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June 7, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée S. Gordon

“To remain in touch with the past requires a constant imaginative effort.” 

    –Gaston Bachelard

Archeological evidence of human habitation in the area that is now Indianapolis points to Native American presence circa 9500 BC.  Documentary evidence of tribal groups begins with journals kept during LaSalle’s 1679 explorations. At that time members of the Miami Confederacy lived in the region. On October 3, 1818 with the signing of the Treaty of St. Mary’s, Ohio the Miami relinquished 7,000,000-acres of land and retained 31,460-acres. They were allowed to live on reservations on their land and the tribe received a yearly annuity of $15,000. Almost immediately settlers began to move into the area.

Indiana was admitted to the Union in 1816 as the 19th state and US Congress proclaimed that a location must be decided upon for a capital and public land allocated for its establishment. In June 1820, a site was chosen and in 1821 the Supreme Court of Indiana named the city Indianapolis,. The name joined “Indiana”, for the state, with the Greek “polis” meaning city. The site was selected because it was in the center of the state, was situated on the White River for transportation, Fall Creek could support the construction of mills and it was on the National Road, an important east-west migration route.

Alexander Ralston, an engineer, designed the city and lots went on sale in 1821. At the center of the city was Governor’s Circle, the site of the Governor’s Mansion for more than 30 -years. In 1902, the 285-ft. Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was dedicated on the site and the name was changed to Monument Circle. The sculptural bronze and limestone statuary memorial represents all of Indiana’s fallen soldiers who fought in the Civil War and It is the largest Civil War monument in the country.

Indiana adopted the motto, “The Crossroads of America,” in 1937. The motto reflects the state’s importance, and that of Indianapolis in particular, to the transit routes, roads and conveyances that pushed the boundaries of the United States westward and provided a link to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Modern Indy connects with 13 interstates and 12 airlines.

The vast majority of early settlers transiting Indianapolis came as families. They were seeking a better life and greater opportunities for their children. The city, in keeping with that legacy, has deemed 2014 “The Year of Family Travel” and inaugurated two singular exhibits. Neither of these extraordinary exhibits can be seen anywhere else in the world and I personally guarantee they are equally exciting for all

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is internationally famous, so much so that it served as a model for Egypt’s Children’s Museum. The museum was founded in 1925 with the goal of enhancing the lives of children through an introduction to the arts, humanities and sciences in experiential galleries with creative events. The museum, the largest in the nation of its type, is located on 29-acres and features 472,900-sq. ft. of exhibition space containing 11 galleries. The museum’s permanent collection began with objects as small as a single arrowhead and has grown to 120,000 objects.

The fun starts on the exterior of the building where your eye is drawn to what appears to be a life-sized dinosaur breaking into the building. The Anne Frank Peace Garden honors the legacy of Anne Frank with a large limestone monument depicting her diary open to a page that mentions the chestnut tree she could see from her window n the secret annex. The actual tree died in 2010 but a sapling from the original is planted in the Peace Garden. As you proceed along the path you encounter limestone sculptures of the Seven Wonders of the World meticulously carved by hand so that no detail was overlooked.

The 17-ft., 1-ton, Bumblebee of Transformers fame has been greeting visitors since 2011. He presents an immediate photo-op in the foyer. FXperts, Inc. created this autobot from Cybertron from more than 275 pieces over several months in 2006. 

In 246 BC, Zhao Zheng ascended the throne in the kingdom of Qin. He was 13-years -old and would rule until his death in 210 BC. He established the Qin Dynasty and was the first emperor of a unified China. He began construction of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal but one of his achievements is often overlooked, his creation of a massive funerary complex some have deemed the Eighth Wonder of the World. Workers discovered the 20-sq. mile site in 1974. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

The emperor began work on his tomb soon after taking the throne. An army of painted terra cotta warriors, each with an individual face, and numerous weapons, horses and other utilitarian objects were buried in subterranean compartments to accompany him in the afterlife. To date, more than 7,800 figures have been unearthed but they represent only a small portion of what was entombed. The emperor’s actual tomb remains unexplored.

From May 10 – November 2, 2014 the Children’s Museum will provide an opportunity to view “The Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Painted Army, directly from China’s Shaanxi Province”. The exhibition emphasizes the science used to preserve and restore the warriors and 118 additional objects displayed. Prior to entering the world of the warrior you are introduced to the history in a brief orientation film, followed by videos within the galleries. Interactive activities include dressing as a Terra Cotta Warrior, sculpting a face and creating your own warrior. China allows only eight figures out of the country for any single exhibit and the Children’s exhibit will be their only appearance in the country in 2014.                

Once your interest in Ancient China has been stimulated visitors are encouraged to explore “Take Me There:® China!”, a walk through contemporary Chinese society, culture and traditions. The adventure begins as you enter and are met by a flight attendant who welcomes you onboard an airliner that will take you to China. Through the windows of the plane you catch glimpses of the iconic Great Wall as you fly into the country.

This 10,000-sq. ft. exhibition is comprised of five entirely interactive thematic areas. Galleries include such experiences as participating in a tea ceremony, learning calligraphy, dressing in an opera costume, preparing a meal in a Chinese restaurant and playing a traditional instrument. Live performances are presented daily with one of the most popular being Shaolin Kung Fu demonstrations. An even more spectacular highlight of a visit to the special Chinese exhibits is an opportunity for visitors to slide down the Great Wall of China until August 10th.

There are many other don’t miss exhibits in the museum. “The Power of Children” features sound and light shows that relate the stories of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White. “Dinosphere: Now You’re in THEIR World,” immerses you in the 4D world of the Cretaceous Era. The male diva of this exhibition is “Leonardo: The Mummified Dinosaur.” He was a little old, 77-million years, and a little juvenile, around 4-years old when he died, but he is the most complete brachylophosaurus dinosaurs ever unearthed. Plan to spend the day. There is a cafeteria with healthy options, and a gift shop.

Paul Simon wrote,” Someone told me
It’s all happening at the zoo,” and in Indianapolis that is absolutely true! The city can boast about being the setting of the first facility in the nation to be certified as a zoo, aquarium and botanical garden and creating many of the most innovative events and programs presented at any zoo in the country. Every program advances their stated goals of educating, informing and inspiring visitors on issues surrounding wildlife conservancy.

The word “zoo” is derived from the Greek word “zôion” meaning animal. The concept of displaying exotic animals is documented as far back as Ancient Egypt but the word, an abbreviation of zoological, came into use in the mid-1800s. Planning began on the establishment of Indianapolis’ zoo in the 1940s and in 1964 it opened on a 20-acre site. In 1988 a $64-million complex opened in White River State Park.

The 64-acre Zoo has five major habitats, with 250 animal, 1,700 plant species and the White River Gardens that include the Hilbert Conservatory, home to the “Butterfly Kaleidoscope” until September 2, 2014. Also on the grounds are a 4-D Theater, Train Ride, Splash Park, Carousel, Tots Treehouse, Dolphin Show and numerous immersive activities that require reservations.

 The $26-million Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, the only one of its kind in the world, opened to the public on May 24, 2014. Visitors have an opportunity to get up close and personal with the orangutans inside the Efroymson Family Exploration Hub and the R.B. Annis Atrium. They are the largest arboreal animals on earth and the second largest of the 350 species of primates. Each has an individual personality and Rocky, a juvenile, is emerging as a crowd pleaser. He loves multi-layered clothing, shiny baubles and, like any youngster, colorful tattoos. 

Two or three times daily guests are invited to watch the orangutans as they participate in educational tests. The administrator asks them to match symbols using a computer. The short-term goal is 90 percent accuracy before they move on to the next level. The long-term goal is to understand how they learn and the data will be published.

A 150-ft. Beacon of Hope lights up Indy’s skyline nightly with colors programmed by the orangutans. Of the four Great Ape species orangutans  are on the conservation  critical list because they have the greatest chance of becoming extinct within the next 50 years. The beacon represents a ray of hope and a call to action to prevent their extinction.

Adjacent to the tower is the Myrta Pulliam Hutan Trail. This spectacular aerial highway will allow the animals to simulate their natural treetop routine. Because visitors can’t make the climb the zoo has installed a 1,200-ft., 50-ft. high, Skyline. The gondolas offer a panoramic view of the Center and the Zoo.

Scotty Brewhouse is a perfect choice for any visitor but it gets especially high marks for families. The menu has a gluten-free children’s menu, kids eat free days and good food in large portions. Seating is available indoors and outdoors and the staff gets kudos for making you feel welcome. As an extra perk children get to choose a toy from a treasure chest presented with appropriate fanfare. 

Conveniently located within walking distance of all the attractions is Indianapolis’ number one hotel, the J. W. Marriott, the largest Marriott on the continent and in the world. The 375-ft. tall hotel is affectionately referred to as “Big Blue” in deference to the 14-miles of blue glass that appear to encase the building. This luxury hotel takes hospitality to a new level and offers every service one could desire. 

High Velocity, the city’s number one restaurant is located on the property. Chef Rino Baglio was named “Global Master Chef’. He is the only individual to hold the title in this hemisphere. The Marriott offers special packages and promotions. All information is available online.

Make Indy your next family destination for a one-of-a-kind adventure.

I wish you smooth travels!


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London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is featuring “Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 until March 2015. This extraordinary collection of showcases 80 wedding dresses from the largely unadorned to the sublime. Highlights include a dress worn in 1933 by the soon to become Lady Argyll. It’s creation took 30 seamstresses six weeks.  Preview the exhibition

Debbie Allen has fused contemporary dance forms and the Brothers Grimm in her latest work, “Brothers of the Knight.” This modern retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” will spring to life filled with music composed by James Ingram and dances performed by local artists. Tickets are on sale for dates July 3rd, 5th and 6th   at the Merriam Theater.

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