AT#499 – Travel to Guizhou China

What to do and see in Guizhou China. Travel to Guizhou China - Amateur Traveler Episode 499

Hear about travel to Guizhou China as the Amateur Traveler talks to travel writer Gina Czupka from thistimetomorrow.net about her trip to this off the beaten path destination.

Gina took a trip to this province in southwestern China which “is coming up on the radar in more places. It was just named to the New York Times list of 52 places to travel in 2016. I personally think it is a place you should go if you really want to see an unusual side of China that is disappearing.”

The region is richer in culture and in scenery than it is commercially. An old saying goes that “in Guizhou there are no 3 kilometers without a mountain, no 3 days without rain, and no 3 coins in one pocket”.

Gina is a textile collector. She says “I base a lot of my travel on places I can go and see heritage textiles being made and see them living in a culture. Guizhou is one of the most exceptional places in the world to do that.”

We start in the provincial capital of Guiyang which is the easiest access point, but then focus in on a series of villages around the city of Kaili. Kaili itself has weekend textile markets with a wide range of goods. “You will see mind boggling diversity. You’ll see felted silks in some of the textiles. You’ll see folded appliqué silks. You’ll see hemp, indigo dyeing, these incredible embroideries, just a rainbow of techniques that are so labor and time intensive.”

In Kaili, they saw a Lusheng festival (the Lusheng is a Hmong musical reed instrument with multiple bamboo pipes) where they got to see the musicians and dancers, taste the local food and even witnessed a Chinese bull fight.

While she usually travels independently, Gina did find that the use of a guide was helpful as the guide was the only person they met who spoke English. They made good use of the Google translate app.

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Show Notes

thistimetomorrow.net

Travel to Salzburg, Austria – Episode 432

Guizhou

52 Places to Go in 2016

Guiyang Travel Guide

Kaili

Billy Zhang

Lusheng

Huangguoshu Waterfall

Zhenyuan County, Guizhou

Pork, Dreams, a Contest and Barbecue at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas

A Little Song and Dance: The Zhouxi Lusheng Festival

Clash of the Titans: Bullfighting at the Zhouxi Lusheng Festival

Community

Amateur Traveler Trip – Cambodia April 2016 – 9 days

About Travel to the Westfjords of Iceland – Episode 497 Steve wrote:

Hi Chris,

I just listened to the Travels to the Westfjords of Iceland Podcast. I really enjoyed it.

We’ve been to Iceland three times now. The last time we took a cruise that went along the west and north shores of Iceland. We stopped at many ports and used each port as a starting place to explore the surrounding area. It was a small Princess Cruises ship (700 passengers) that could get into almost any port. Princess put together excellent shore tours which we enjoyed. Iceland is as beautiful and challenging as Katie described. You really need a lot of time to explore this section Iceland.

Happy travels,

Steve

I also heard recently from Barry Kramer who has written often for the Amateur Traveler:

Hi Chris;

I was listening to this week’s episode of the Amateur Traveler on the Dominican Republic and I began think about how much I look forward to hearing your podcast each week. At this time of the year, I wanted to let you know how much I really appreciate all the work you put into the podcast and Amateur Traveler Website.

The first time I listened to the Amateur Traveler, I felt I really got what you were trying to accomplish. I am one of those persons who really likes to hear about other people’s vacations and trips. I love hearing details, personal impressions, stories, and experiences. They really help me to think about all the wonderful and interesting places there are around the world. The variety of locations you have addressed is amazing, and your consistency in posting the podcast on a regular basis is admirable. I can truly say, that is some way, I find all the stories interesting and informative.

I also appreciate the way you always treat each guest respectfully and try to get the most out of them. I can tell that it is not always easy. In addition to providing a lot of entertainment, the information from the podcast is also really useful. Last year when I went to Peru, I checked back episodes of the Amateur Traveler to help with my planning. I also did this recently to help plan a future trip to Ireland.

Each year I do podcasts with the students I teach, so I know you put in many hours bringing valued and useful information to your listeners. I also appreciate you providing an outlet for me to write about my experiences by publishing my travel reports and articles on your blog. I have learned a lot from the process.

I wish you and your family a really wonderful holiday!

Looking forward to hearing about many interesting places in the new year,

Barry Kramer

What to do and see in Guizhou China. Travel to Guizhou China - Amateur Traveler Episode 499

Transcript

Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 499. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about silks, indigo dyeing, a Lusheng festival and a bull fight, as we go to Guizhou in China.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guide books are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at DK.com.

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. It’s episode 499. No big festivities planned for episode 500, but we still have lots and lots of travel stories ahead of us. But first, let’s talk about Guizhou, province of China.

I’d like to welcome back to the show, Gina Czupka, travel writer and travel editor, who has come to talk to us about a destination in China this time. Gina, welcome back to the show.

Gina: Thanks. I’m happy to be back.

Chris: I say this time, it’s Gina’s second time on the show, and you may remember her because she was on, we think, a year or so ago. We didn’t look it up, talking about Salzburg in Austria.

Gina: Yeah, that was lost to the mists of time.

Chris: I can look it up, and I will look it up and put a link in both the show notes and in the lyrics of this episode. But you went some place in China that we have not talked about. Where did you go, and why should we follow you?

Gina: Yeah. We took a trip to Guizhou province, in Southwestern China. It’s kind of coming up on the radar in more places. It was just named to the New York Times Top 52 places to travel in 2016. But I personally believe it’s a place you should go, if you want to see a really unusual side of China that is kind of disappearing.

Chris: I was very interested when you pitched it to me because I did not recognize the name. It’s a place I do not know, so tell me more about how did you first find out about it?

Gina: I am actually a textile collector and I dabble in textile design.

Chris: Now that isn’t just a clothes shopper, you’re saying.

Gina: No, no. It goes a little deeper than that. I actually base a lot of my travel on places that I can go and see heritage textiles being made and see them living in a culture. Guizhou is one of the most exceptional places in the world to do that in this day and age.

Chris: It’s heritage because it’s still being made with traditional techniques, instead of being…

Gina: Yup. Handmade.

Chris: …okay.

Gina: Yeah. Incredibly complex and diverse, and just visually stunning.

Chris: Excellent. Why should we go to Guizhou?

Gina: Everybody knows the size of Beijing and Shanghai, but Guizhou is another world, compared to those two places or Hong Kong, or anything like that. There are a lot of small, rural villages. A large component of the population is ethnic minorities and China has 56 ethnic minorities. I believe they make up about 38 to 40% of the population in Guizhou, as opposed to 10% of the population throughout the rest of China.

Chris: Interesting. What did you see? What kind of itinerary would you recommend for us?

Gina: The easiest point of entry is to fly into the provincial capital, which is Guiyang. From there, you can head out to a number of different places. But a really ideal place to base yourself, if you want to go out to villages, is a town called Kaili, which is small by Chinese standards, large by U.S. standards, as is always the case.

Chris: When you say it’s small by Chinese standards, I know someone. I think I’ve mentioned on the show, who’s wife is from China, who thinks they live in a village and they live in Denver.

Gina: Yeah. It amounts to that. But Kaili has some textile markets, I believe on the weekends that we unfortunately missed. But it’s a really great base to stay in, and then you can shoot out to a bunch of different villages in the area.

Chris: Okay. You say textile markets, are we far enough South that we’re talking about silks?

Gina: Yeah. Silk definitely comes into play, but you’ll see just this mind-boggling diversity. You’ll see felted silks in some of the textiles. You’ll see folded applique silks. You’ll see hemp, indigo dyeing, these incredible embroideries, just a rainbow of techniques that are just so labor and time intensive. This is a great place to see them, still being made.

Chris: When you say see them, how did you arrange to do that? Knowing that you’re interested in that, I assume you didn’t just go out in the countryside and start knocking on doors, and saying, “Can I see your silk?”

Gina: No. Actually, I probably could…

Chris: Could’ve had arranged it better? Okay.

Gina: …yeah. This is perhaps a cautionary tale or somewhat…it comes from a place of advice, but I am really used to independent travel and just getting out there and winging it. In Guizhou, I would highly, highly recommend contacting someone who knows the region really well. I actually did that in a very loose way, and contacted a guide who specializes in taking people to textile-producing villages. He gave me a few pointers, as far as getting to some festivals that were happening. We ended up getting into Guizhou and I felt lost, and I had his e-mail and cell phone number, so I just contacted him. He helped us out of a tough spot and got us a driver to take us out to villages.

Chris: Do you want to give him as a reference here? It sounds like you had a good experience with him.

Gina: Sure. His name is Billy Zhang. At the time, he was working for CITS, which is the Chinese tourism authority, but I don’t know that he still is. His website is called ToGuizhou.com, T-O-Guizhouu.com.

Chris: Okay. We’ll put a link to them in the show notes.

Gina: He’s just a terrific guy and so helpful.

Chris: Let’s talk first about some of the things that you did in your interest here, which is textiles. What did you get out and see?

Gina: We actually went in late February, which is not a comfortable time of year to travel. It’s cold. We actually got snowed into Kaili, but we were there in February because we wanted to see festivals where people would be wearing these costumes. I shouldn’t say costumes, but they’re…

Chris: Traditional.

Gina: …traditional dress. That was really the motivating factor. We went to a market in a town called Zhidong, and then we also were lucky enough to catch a Lusheng festival in a town called Zhouxi.

Chris: I don’t know that festival.

Gina: There are a number of different Lusheng festivals. A Lusheng is a Miao instrument composed of a number of bamboo pipes. It makes a high pitched sound that’s a little bit of an acquired taste. But it’s a Miao festival.

Chris: That is an ethnicity?

Gina: Yes.

Chris: Okay. We’re not talking about the cat’s sound, not that kind of things.

Gina: Right. It’s an ethnicity. Here in the United States, there are some Miao people, but they’re better known as Hmong.

Chris: Okay. All right. Got you.

Gina: There are a lot of complexities, as far as how the groups break down, but it’s related. So we went to this Miao festival, and lushengs are the touchstone for this. The men play lusheng and the women dance around them.

Chris: You say that’s an acquired taste for that instrument. It didn’t sound like you acquired it.

Gina: I don’t mind it, but it is not exactly my husband’s taste.

Chris: Okay. Got it.

Gina: It’s just an incredible thing to see, this heritage being carried on and perpetuated even now. There are other aspects to the festival. There’s some food. There’s bull fights, which was a real experience.

Chris: A bull fight in China?

Gina: A bull fight. They are water buffalo bulls. The fight was actually held like down in a ravine. It was encircled by people, and they were the ones who were forming the barrier for these fighting bulls.

Chris: I see a flaw in this plan.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: When you say fighting bulls, two bulls fighting each other?

Gina: Yes.

Chris: Okay. I assumed there was not a matador in costume, that we were not talking about that, but I wasn’t sure what we’re talking about. Okay, interesting.

Gina: Different from the Spanish version. Two bulls would be let in from either side of the pitch and turned loose. They would either stand there and look at each other or they would charge each other, or as it happened, one would come at the other and the other would turn on his heel and run toward the line of people who were forming the end of the arena.

Chris: See previous comment about flaw in the system. Okay.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: Who then ran for their lives at that point?

Gina: Yes. Parted very quickly, and then the bull’s handlers chase them down this ravine.

Chris: A bull fight goes until…is this one of those two bulls enter, one bull leaves?

Gina: It is two bulls enter, two bulls leave. They’re incredibly important animals and highly, highly valued. When it gets like it’s looking too aggressive, the handlers jump in with maybe a bamboo pole and tap them apart. Amazingly, that seemed to work.

Chris: How do you know who wins, or does that matter? This is so completely foreign to me, and I love it.

Gina: One of the bulls would turn out to be a little bit more visually submissive. If one bull was dominating the other to such a degree, they would pull them apart.

Chris: If you own the more dominant bull, does that mean you’re going to get more fees from people for the use of your bull?

Gina: I can’t comment with any certainty on that. I wasn’t around anyone who spoke English. But I think there was probably some betting going on.

Chris: Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor, who is DK Eyewitness Guides. Don’t happen to have a DK Eyewitness guide to Guizhou in China, so I picked the one that I have for Egypt, another exotic destination. Specifically, as we were thinking about textiles in markets, I was looking at Cairo and the street-by-street diagram around the Khan Al-Khalili. This is the kind of thing that I like in the eyewitness guide, which is this neighborhood view of this area in Cairo that is the center of the medieval bazaar. It gives you a route to go through it, shows you pictures of the kinds of things that you will see, and gives us this wonderful description. Any exploration of the Islamic Cairo begins at the medieval bazaar of Khan Al-Khalili, the commercial heart of the quarter. Traders line the streets all the way to the old city gates, but the bazaar’s narrow alleyways are at their densest and most beguiling in the original Khan area. The quarter’s many mosques, house,s and palaces offer an escape from the incessant sales pitches.

Hopefully, Guizhou won’t turn into that soon, but even if it does, the DK Eyewitness guide would help you navigate it. Check them out at DK.com.

You mentioned you’re not around anybody who spoke English, we’re in an area that is up-and-coming for tourism, but not as well developed, for instance, obviously as Beijing. But as a lot of places we’ve talked about on the show, how difficult? You do not speak Cantonese. Mandarin rather, I’m sorry. You do not speak Cantonese either, as I recall.

Gina: Nope, neither. Unfortunately.

Chris: I’m guessing, German did not help here.

Gina: It didn’t. No. Completely useless.

Chris: So how difficult was it to navigate around without Mandarin, or without some dialect of Chinese?

Gina: In complete honesty, it was a challenge. We somehow made it work, and thank heavens for Google’s translate app, which worked really well. But Billy Zhang was really the only person that we met in our entire time in Guizhou, who spoke English. Our driver that he hired, unfortunately didn’t speak English, but he was a wonderful guy, and we mimed our way through the day.

Chris: I find that to be more common with drivers in general, wherever I’ve been around the world that usually if you can speak English, you can basically command a different rate, and therefore you don’t work as a driver.

Gina: Right. Yup. I think that it may have also been a factor of us being there in off-season. There may be more guides around in summer or when it’s not actively raining and sleeting and snowing.

Chris: You mentioned the rain and the sleet and the snow. You’re in a mountainous climate, I’m guessing?

Gina: Yes. Guizhou is very hilly, mountainous, however you want to describe it. There’s a lot of up and down, but it’s a very striking landscape.

Chris: Okay. Circling back, one of the reasons you wanted to go to this festival was the traditional garb. What is the traditional garb there?

Gina: It varies from village to village, and from ethnic group to ethnic group. Within ethnic groups, there are sub-groups. So there really is no monolithic dress.

Chris: Even at this village, you were seeing a variety of…

Gina: Specific to Zhouxi, yes.

Chris: …okay. Can you put it in any sort of categories?

Gina: Sure. One thing that you will absolutely notice is the presence of silver. The women that are dressing up for the festivals are decked out in what looks like pounds and pounds and pounds of silver. They’re wearing elaborate headpieces that jangle and shimmer, huge necklaces, and there will be silver on the garments as well. It’s very flashy, very attention-getting.

Chris: Interesting. You were, I’m guessing, one of a small number of outsiders at the festival?

Gina: Yes, to say the least. There were a number of what appeared to be Chinese tourists, and I say appeared to be, that was because they had camera lenses that could get you fairly close to the moon.

Chris: Okay.

Gina: But otherwise, it was just us, as far as Westerners at the festival.

Chris: As far as Westerners, did you feel like you were on the edge of the festival looking in, or were they inviting you in?

Gina: We did get a lot of attention while we were in the region, but it was mostly people looking. It wasn’t like extremely warm and welcoming, like you might get in some locations, but neither was it exclusive. So we were able to get in and get a close look. We’re welcomed into food stalls and people gave us little samples of food and smiled and laughed with us. It was all very comfortable, but we’re definitely a curiosity.

Chris: What kind of food were you seeing, or can you identify it?

Gina: Yes. Guizhou has really delicious food, in my opinion. I think that plenty of people are familiar with Sichuan food, and Guizhou is just South of Sichuan. You get heat like you would in Sichuan and there’s also the presence of the Sichuan peppercorns, that kind of numbing effect. But there’s also a lot of sour flavors so lots of pickles. I mean, just a rainbow of pickles that you can decorate your noodles with. So spicy, sour, delicious.

Chris: There is a picture that I cannot imagine. Okay, all right. Interesting. I like pickles, but you just went out of my familiarity zone in Chinese food there.

Gina: I think the one thing that I would say about the pickles is they’re not sweet, like some American pickles are sweet. It’s very savory and sharp, salty, savory. I could just eat it for days. It was absolutely delicious, and lots of good street food.

Chris: Okay. The pickle seller stalls.

Gina: Yeah. One thing that we ran into quite a bit was it was almost like a Chipotle situation. For lack of a better analogy, you would get your bowl of noodles, they would pour in some broth, and then you could just point to this array of fixings: pork belly, pickles, peanuts, chilies, just this beautiful array of colorful toppings. You would just pick out what you wanted and it was a delicious meal every time.

Chris: Excellent. Textiles again, circling back again to that. One of the things you wanted to see was some of the different techniques and such. What were you able to arrange?

Gina: We weren’t able to arrange anything specifically. We were just lucky enough to go out to some of the villages and see people actively working on things as they would in an everyday context. We saw a woman spinning. We saw indigo dye vats.

Chris: Spinning the silk threads, in that case?

Gina: I believe it was cotton actually, or it may have been hemp.

Chris: Okay.

Gina: All of the fabric is handwoven. It’s not just embroidery, but it’s actually like what the coat is made out of. You’ll see these long, looping rolls of fabric being hung out to dry. Those are dyed in indigo, particularly in this village or one of the villages that we went to. So we saw the indigo dye vats.

Chris: Which is fascinating to me. We had a chance to do that when I was in Thailand, in Northern Thailand.

Gina: Isn’t it interesting?

Chris: You’re not that far away. We had a chance to come up with our own dyes, both batik, which is where the indigo is prevented from getting into the fabric by wax, for those of you who are not familiar with that, as well as what really, to me, is just tie-dyeing. But the interesting thing about that, for people who haven’t seen it, is you put it in water that is green and it comes out green, and then very rapidly oxidizes and turns into these amazing shades of blue, just a beautiful color.

Gina: It’s a color like no other, and it’s a global obsession. You find it in Central America, South America, West Africa. Everyone’s bonkers about West African indigos right now. But then in Thailand, Southwestern China, Laos, Vietnam, you’ll see a lot of indigo dyeing as well.

Chris: Interesting. Any other experiences there we want, before we move off of fabric and textiles into other areas?

Gina: One good thing to know is that you will probably pay a premium for really good items in this region because the first groups to get here, I think, were museums. This, I’ve kind of found out through talking to Billy. They came in and were doing a lot of buying for their own collections. I live in Minneapolis. My local museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art or MIA, has an incredible collection of Chinese textiles including many, many costumes and garments from the Guizhou area.

Chris: Interesting. One warning you would give about this area.

Gina: You’ll need to think on your toes and be creative about how to communicate. Particularly, if you choose to go independent, which we did, and that meant getting your own taxis, getting on the bus. Everything that we did was like we had to have a little bit of a meeting in the morning, between my husband and I, to figure out how are we going to do this and what’s our strategy for getting across the message that we want to get across.

Chris: You mentioned you made heavy use of Google translate. As I recall, you do need to have a data plan to use that.

Gina: You do. Yup, that’s a great caution.

Chris: So plan accordingly.

Gina: Yes. Most of my data went to that.

Chris: Excellent. Anything else in the warning area?

Gina: In the warning area, not particularly. Other than, if you want a little bit easier experience, there are some great and very knowledgeable guides who do speak English in the area, because there has been this trickle of specialized interest travelers coming in. So the guides that are there are incredibly knowledgeable.

Chris: Excellent. What surprised you?

Gina: The challenge of it. It is China’s least developed province so it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me, but the fact that it was difficult to get out everyday and make things happen. Ultimately, the secondary surprise to that was that people helped us. It really didn’t turned out being so difficult, it was just getting over that initial hump every morning.

Chris: Okay. Now we haven’t talked about doing any sort of traditional sightseeing, because you didn’t prioritize that, or because you didn’t find things that there were to see, the temples, the usual suspects in that area?

Gina: A little bit of both. We didn’t prioritize it. Our priority was getting out to see some of the villages that are in the area and still have this incredible traditional architecture as well. There are other places in Guizhou that are maybe a little bit more traditional travel destination there. China’s largest waterfall is in Guizhou province. It’s Huangguoshu, I believe.

Chris: Largest tallest or largest by volume?

Gina: I believe it’s by volume. You may need to fact check me on that. But it’s very large and it does get a lot of Chinese tourism, and then there’s another town. I believe it’s called Zhenyuan. It’s this traditional architecture built right up along this curving jade green river. We just didn’t have the time to get there, but it looks like a little bit more of a traditional tourism destination.

Chris: Okay. Anything else, before we start getting into our wrap-up questions, that you want to make sure that we cover?

Gina: Another benefit of Guizhou is that it’s landlocked and surrounded by incredible provinces. You have Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, and Hunan, and Chongqing. I’m saying that totally wrong.

Chris: You’ve already established you don’t speak Chinese.

Gina: Yeah, my apologies for butchering it. But all of these surrounding provinces have their own attractions and amenities that are outstanding as well. So if you wanted to add a little jaunt into Guizhou while visiting these other places, I think it’s doable.

Chris: Right. Wouldn’t have to be your sole purpose of your trip to China necessarily.

Gina: Right. Yup.

Chris: Excellent. You’re standing in the prettiest spot that you saw, where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Gina: I am standing on a roadside in the mountains overlooking these green hills, and in the near distance is a village with an elaborate drum tower and these beautiful wooden houses with their sweeping curved roofs all stacked up along the hillsides.

Chris: The funny thing about that for me is that I’ve been in places like Xi’an or whatever, and they have the traditional drum tower there, but you half get the impression there, since it’s the only thing left from that time, that it’s built for tourists, which of course it wasn’t. But of course out here, anything that you’re looking at wasn’t built with a tourist in mind.

Gina: Nope.

Chris: They had the drum tower because they wanted a tower for their drums.

Gina: Yup.

Chris: You’re seeing very traditional architecture. As you went to the other villages, did you see more of the more modernizing influences as well? Is the region changing rapidly?

Gina: It is. A notable thing about it is that there’s development in the form of high-speed rail coming in. I will say that some of that was a little bit disheartening, because we did see things such as a plan to tear down a traditional village and rebuild it in a modern way. Not modern style buildings, but update it and clean it up, and make it pretty and sanitary, and that sort of thing. So there is a little bit of that happening.

Chris: I’m all in favor of the sanitary, not just as a tourist, but for the health of the people who are living there.

Gina: Absolutely, yes. We saw some instances of, out in the villages where it would’ve been nice for the local people to have better facilities. I think China’s breakneck pace of development is coming to Guizhou.

Chris: As you were getting around to the different villages, what was the quality of the roads there at this point?

Gina: Pretty good, in all honesty. The only places where it was bad was where construction was happening, and there it was ruckus.

Chris: Sure. Well, that’s not too surprising.

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: While you were there, you’re in a lesser visited province, one time when you felt close to home, very familiar and another time you felt furthest from home.

Gina: I think feeling closest to home was probably in our little hotel room in Kaili, where there was very efficient heating and a television. That was about as close to home as we ever felt.

Chris: I’m assuming the TV is not picking up CNN worldwide.

Gina: Nope, there was a Chinese state television station that was in English, and you will get all of the Chinese history programming you’ve ever wanted, which is fascinating. You’re definitely learning about things from a different perspective.

Chris: I would definitely like some Chinese history. I don’t know that I could get all that I’ve ever wanted.

Gina: You can watch it 24 hours a day. Feeling furthest away from home, being out in those villages, in the hills where there’s nothing else around but local people, and seeing indigo dyed jackets drawing in the wind. It was what I came there for and seeing it in a setting that was that beautiful was just magic.

Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Guizhou.”

Gina: This might be a little bit off-color for some of your listeners, but we pulled over to the side of the road in a small village, and there was a group of guys who were butchering a pig on the side of the road, and had it strung up by its feet. They were just having a grand old time, and they signaled us to come on over and have a look at what they were doing. I just feel like I’ve never experienced that anywhere else I’ve been, and it was quite a moment.

Chris: I was a blogger for a year for the National Pork Board in the U.S. and I went to a dinner in Texas. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this on the show before…in Austin, Texas. The entertainment for the evening was what you call a Pork Fabrication. Basically, it’s when one turns a pig carcass into pork with the sharp knives and saws. I thought it was fascinating, as they were pointing out, “This is where the ham comes from and this is where the bacon comes from.” Not everyone thought it was appropriate dinner entertainment.

Gina: I can see why. It’s graphic.

Chris: I would have to say, since you were invited to a pork dinner, you are probably at least not a vegan.

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: You would have that advantage there at least.

Gina: Any vegans going to rural China, just be aware that you’re going to see some things that might be a little unsettling.

Chris: Right, right.

Gina: Another thing that we saw that just made us go, “Wow! We’re really here.” We’re just driving down the road and we saw a wedding party. It was just the women’s side of the wedding party. There was the bride who had the most elaborate of all the headpieces. She was standing there looking somber and was surrounded by her wedding party who are also dressed just to the nines and in their silver as well. We stopped and pulled over, and gave our regards to them or our driver did. We looked out across the valley that the road was situated along and saw the groom’s car coming up the road to meet them.

Chris: Excellent. I’m assuming she is not wearing a white dress.

Gina: No. She’s wearing…

Chris: It’s more of a color of death, as I recall in China.

Gina: …yes.

Chris: Red or it’s something different in this region?

Gina: It was red and black, and there was some blue in it, and heavily decked out in the traditional silver jewelry.

Chris: I am seeing that in some places in the cities, white is actually starting to get more popular, just because of the Western influence.

Gina: Interesting.

Chris: But I would not expect that as much here.

Gina: No, I think that will be slower to come in this region.

Chris: One thing you should remember to pack before you go.

Gina: Insulating layers, if you go in the winter. It’s definitely brisk and I think it probably can be humid and rainy when you’re there. There’s a proverb that I can’t think of directly, but it refers to the fact that Guizhou is quite rainy.

Chris: Okay. That lost a little there in translation from Chinese.

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: Last two questions. Finish this thought. You really know you’re in Guizhou when what?

Gina: You’re watching a group of Miao women dance around men playing lusheng.

Chris: Okay. If you had to summarize your experience in three words.

Gina: Challenging but worthy.

Chris: Excellent. That was three words. Okay. That worked for me. Here’s your Guizhou proverb. In Guizhou, there are no three kilometers without a mountain, no three days without rain, and no three coins in one pocket.

Gina: That’s the one.

Chris: Okay, excellent. Gina, where can people read more about your travels?

Gina: I have a blog called ThisTimeTomorrow.net.

Chris: Excellent. Our guest again, has been Gina Czupka. When you see her name spelled, you won’t laugh at me so much for hesitating when I go to pronounce it. C-Z-U-P-K-A. Gina, thanks so much for coming on Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your unusual and wonderful experience in China, in Guizhou.

Gina: It’s been a pleasure, and I hope it will get the region more attention because it’s very deserving.

Chris: In news of the community, still a few slots in that trip to Cambodia if you want to join me. I think there are 10 of us now actually, which would be a pretty good number.

On the Westfjords of Iceland podcast, I heard from Steve who said, “We’ve been to Iceland three times now. The last time we took a cruise that went along the West and North shores of Iceland. We stopped at many ports and used each port as a starting place to explore the surrounding area. It was a small Princess cruise ship, 700 passengers that could get into almost any port. Princess put together excellent shore tours, which we enjoyed. Iceland is as beautiful and challenging as Katie described. You really need a lot of time to explore this section of Iceland.” I didn’t realize that Princess did something like that, so Steve, that was interesting to find that out.

I heard from Barry Kramer recently, who’s written a number of guest posts on Amateur Traveler. He said, “I was listening to this week’s episode of Amateur Traveler on the Dominican Republic, and I began to think about how much I look forward to hearing your podcast each week. At this time of year, I wanted to let you know how much I really appreciate all the work you put into the podcast and Amateur Traveler website. The first time I listened to the Amateur Traveler, I felt I really got what you were trying to accomplish. I’m one of those persons who really likes to hear about other people’s vacations and trips. I love hearing details, personal impressions, stories and, experiences. They really help me to think about all the wonderful and interesting places there are around the world. The variety of locations you have addressed is amazing, and your consistency in posting the podcast on a regular basis is admirable. I can truly say that in some way, I find all the stories interesting and informative.”

“I also appreciate the way you always treat each guest respectfully, and try to get the most out of them. I can tell, that is not always easy. In addition to providing a lot of entertainment, the information from the podcast is also really useful. Last year, when I went to Peru, I checked back episodes of the Amateur Traveler to help with my planning. I also did this recently to help plan a future trip to Ireland. Each year, I do podcasts with the students I teach, so I know you put in many hours bringing valued and useful information to your listeners. I also appreciate you providing an outlet for me to write about my experiences, by publishing my travel reports and articles on your blog. I have learned a lot from the process.” Thanks so much, Barry.

I do want to point out that you too, like Barry, can submit articles for the Amateur Traveler. We do take guest posts. There are guest post guidelines linked from the top page if you’re interested in figuring out how you can share your travels, your travel stories with the readers of Amateur Traveler.

With that, we’re going to end this episode, this 499th episode of the Amateur Traveler. The transcript of this episode will be sponsored by JayWay Travel, experts in Eastern European travel. You may remember we heard more about them in the Croatia episode.

If you have a comment, feel free to leave it at AmateurTraveler.com, or do what Barry or Steve did and send me an e-mail to host at AmateurTraveler.com. As always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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AT#498 – Travel to Indianapolis, Indiana

What to do, see and eat in Indianapolis. Travel to Indianapolis, Indiana - Amateur Traveler Episode 498

Hear about travel to Indianapolis, Indiana as the Amateur Traveler talked to Nancy Parode the Senior Travel Expert at about.com about travel to this mid-western capital.

Nancy says “I think that Indianapolis is one of the hidden gems of the United States. So many people fly over it or drive through it or they only go to perhaps the speedway and they miss out on a great mid-sized city with a really cool vibe, lots of things to do, good places to eat, excellent museums. It’s just a place I think everyone should go.”

Nancy starts us off at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which even non-race enthusiasts can enjoy. You can get out on the track (in a bus, not an Indy car), watch a race or visit the museum there.

Of the city, she says “it’s a walkable city, it’s very friendly. Even before the Super Bowl of 2012, the city was going through a massive renovation and cleanup project. Some of the areas where warehouses had been sitting empty have been turned into restaurant space [the Wholesale District]. They built a bunch of neat museums.”

“There is a state park in downtown Indianapolis that has an enormous amount of green space. That is also home to the Indianapolis Zoo and quite a few of the top museums in Indy. In the Summer and early fall, you can rent bicycles and pedal buggies.”

Sports fans can take in a Colts game or a college basketball game in a state known for its college sports or visit the NCAA Hall of Champions. Art lovers will enjoy the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, while history buffs can take a tour of the state capital, visit the Indian State Museum or the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.

If you are traveling with kids then Nancy says the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a must-see. A giant dinosaur model must agree as it sits in the front go the museum peeking in. If you are traveling with big kids or adults who just think they are big kids the largest gaming convention in North America, Gen Con, is held each summer in the city.

For side trips, Nancy recommends a fall visit to Brown County State Park for fall foliage and the artist colony at Nashville, Indiana. Other side trips she recommends are to the town of Fishers with the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park (living history museum) or to Columbus Indiana which is a company town designed by well-known architects.

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Show Notes

Official Indianapolis Site

Nancy on About.com

Travel to Baltimore, Maryland – Episode 438

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard

Indianapolis Zoo

Bike Rentals in Indianapolis

Brown County State Park (for fall foliage)

Shapiros Delicatessen

Harry & Izzy’s Steakhouse

Indian State Museum

Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art

Indianapolis Zoo White River Gardens

NCAA Hall of Champions

Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Indiana Historical Society

Gencon

Fort Harrison State Park (riding stables)

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Indianapolis Colts Grille

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home

Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Nancy on 60 and Me

Community

What to do, see and eat in Indianapolis. Travel to Indianapolis, Indiana - Amateur Traveler Episode 498

Transcript

Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 498. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about race cars, giant dinosaurs, all kinds of sports and board games as we go to Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to the Amateur Traveler.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at dk.com. I’m your host Chris Christensen. We’ll be talking a little more about our sponsor later on, but first, let’s talk about Indianapolis. I’d like to welcome back to the show Nancy Parode, who is a travel writer, she is also the senior and baby boomer travel expert for about.com. I know that she hates the term expert, but I will call her that because that is her title. Nancy, welcome back to the show.

Nancy: Thanks for having me.

Chris: You have come to talk to us about another U.S. destination today. Where are we talking about?

Nancy: We’re talking about the beautiful city of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chris: And I say another, I should say that Nancy was our guest talking about Baltimore, not all that long ago, a year or so ago. Why should we go to Indianapolis?

Nancy: Well, I think Indianapolis is one of the hidden gems of the United States. So many people fly over it or drive through it or they only go to perhaps the speedway and they miss out on a great mid-size city with a really cool vibe, lots of things to do, good places to eat, excellent museums. It’s just a place I think everyone should go.

Chris: And you say the speedway, that would probably be the one thing that we do know about it. I think they do a race there.

Nancy: Yeah, a really famous one, the Indy 500. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most famous speedways in the United States. So famous that the car class that races there is called the Indy car and they also do a NASCAR race, the Brickyard 400. They have a museum there. If you’re a race enthusiast, you can go and see a whole bunch of Indy cars and trophies and learn about the trivia of the race and you can even take a bus lap around the track yourself.

Chris: How fast do they get the bus going?

Nancy: Not very, but it’s still a cool thing to do. I did it.

Chris: It’s not like in Speed or something like that?

Nancy: No, no. That’s good because the bus driver has control of the bus while on the track. I did it, and I was surprised at how fun it was. I’m not really a race enthusiast, but we went and I got on the bus and we went around and we like, “Wow, this is what the drivers see!” It’s kind of a unique perspective on racing.

Chris: And are you a big racing fan?

Nancy: No.

Chris: Okay. But we…let’s be honest here.

Nancy: No, I’m not. But it was still cool to do. Everybody’s heard of the Indy 500. And they were also setting up for a race. They were getting ready for the Brickyard 400. So they had brought in a whole bunch of trailers and they were setting up a concert stage and all kinds of things. That was neat to see as well.

Chris: Have you been there for either of the races?

Nancy: No.

Chris: Okay.

Nancy: Because I’m not a racing enthusiast.

Chris: Well, there, we already established that, yes. I have a good friend who is a racing enthusiast, and enough so that he buys the kind of tires for his car that you go through really quickly when you’re racing autocross and things like that. He describes racing as a way of turning money into noise. So…

Nancy: Yes, that’s a good description actually.

Chris: Actually, I think it would be interesting in seeing the Indy 500 sometime or the Brickyard…

Nancy: Four hundred.

Chris: Four hundred. Okay, go ahead. I added on a hundred there. Excellent. Well, why else should we go to Indianapolis? Let’s go through your points in a little more detail.

Nancy: First of all, there’s a lot to see and do. It’s a very friendly city. It’s quite walkable. Even before the Super Bowl in 2012, the city was going through a massive renovation and clean-up project and some of the areas where previously warehouses and so on had been left sitting empty, a lot of those have been turned into restaurant space and other spaces. They’ve built a whole bunch of neat museums.

There is a state park in downtown Indianapolis that has an enormous amount of green space and that’s also home to the Indianapolis Zoo and quite a few of the top museums in Indy and you can stroll along the grass. You can, in the summer and early fall, you can rent bicycles and pedal buggies and explore. That way, you don’t have to stay in the state park area, you can take them all over downtown Indy if you want to. You can also rent pedal boats, there’s a little canal in that area and just relax and pedal around.

They have some little bridges you go under and fountains in the canal. It’s quite fun. So, there’s that. There are a lot of interesting, historic spots because it’s a state capital. The state capitol building is quite attractive and they do a really nice tour of it if you’re interested in state history. James Whitcomb Riley’s home, famous poet, is in Indianapolis. And the Benjamin Harrison’s home, President Benjamin Harrison, he live in Indianapolis and so you can tour his home as well.

So there’s something for everyone. Even outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy doing things in downtown Indianapolis and also there’s a park, Eagle Creek, where you can rent canoes and kayaks and go out on the lake, and it’s not very far from the speedway, actually. It’s an easy drive from downtown Indy to get there and it’s a short drive as well.

Chris: Okay, let’s take a breath and go back and add a little bit more detail. So, you talked about the area where they converted warehouses into public spaces and restaurants and etc. What is the name of that neighborhood?

Nancy: Well, part of it is the Wholesale District, that’s the area kind of south of…the center of Indianapolis is a big traffic circle with a monument in the middle of it, The Sailors and Soldiers Monument, and so that’s called Monument Circle and that is right near the state capital. That is the center point of Indianapolis, so it’s South of there. There’s a nice mall down there now and some nice restaurants. And just a little bit south of there is the famous Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. I don’t know if you know this about Indiana, but sports are a lot like religion there.

Chris: Well, basketball is certainly the one that we’ve talked about, yes.

Nancy: Yes, definitely basketball. But on Colts game day, the whole city turns blue and it’s quite the sight to be there on a Colts game day.

Chris: They turn blue because the color of the Colts, we would guess, is blue.

Nancy: Yes, it’s…

Chris: Not just that they do it on cold days?

Nancy: No, although sometimes it’s quite cold there, but it doesn’t matter because Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Colts, is a covered stadium. I’ve been in there for summer events. I went to a drum and bugle corps championship there a couple of summers ago. And when they cover that stadium, they can air-condition it and make it comfortable enough so that I needed a sweater.

Chris: Interesting. And you talked about weather. So, Indianapolis cool in the winter time, cold in the winter time…

Nancy: Yes, it snows.

Chris: Warm in the summer time. When is the best time to go to Indianapolis?

Nancy: I would suggest going anytime between late spring and late fall, is a good time to go. It’s kind of cool there still in the early spring, summers are pretty warm, mid-80s is a typical day time temperature. I live in Maryland so it’s less humid than a Maryland summer, but it’s still a little tiny bit humid compared to, for example, the LA area and Southern California where I grew up. But it’s certainly…you can get out and do stuff and it’s not ridiculously uncomfortable. It’s a little cooler obviously in the late spring and fall is quite pleasant. And then you also have the benefit if you want to do a side trip to see fall foliage, then…

Chris: You talked about side trip in Indianapolis, I don’t think of Indianapolis as a fall foliage place and largely because I’m ignorant. So, where would I do that?

Nancy: Well, you would have to get a car and you would drive about an hour and a half south to a beautiful and surprisingly hilly part of the state of Indiana, Brown County. There’s an artist colony there. It’s the town of Nashville. And all around there is this beautiful state park, Brown County State Park.

It’s actually such a popular fall foliage destination that if you want to stay in Brown County, you need to book well, well ahead. So you can drive through the state park and the leaves are just gorgeous and then Nashville is a wonderfully funky little town, full of artists and interesting little shops and cafes and so on. It’s a very, very popular destination throughout the visiting season but particularly during the fall.

Chris: Okay. We were talking neighborhoods. We were going all over the place here.

Nancy: Yeah, we are.

Chris: And we talked about all the warehouses being converted. Do you have a particular spot down there that you want to recommend, restaurants, nightlife or whatever?

Nancy: I’m not sure I’m the person to recommend nightlife. I think I’ve aged out of the nightlife crowd. There are quite a few good restaurants all over Indianapolis. If you’re looking for a lunch spot on the south side, you could go to Shapiro’s Delicatessen, which is exactly what it sounds like, a good deli and pick up a sandwich there. So that would be probably my top spot for visiting. One of the things that I like about Indy is that there are all kinds of restaurants there, a wide variety of price points so if you want to casually pick up a sandwich thing, you can do that. If you want a pub, there’s a Scottish pub, there’s an Irish pub, all kinds of food from all over the world and then there’s some very upscale places as well. If you want a good steak dinner, you can do that.

Chris: Do you have a recommendation for upscale places?

Nancy: I do. Harry and Izzy’s is a local restaurant. There are three Harry and Izzy’s restaurants, one on the north side, one in downtown and, unbelievably, one at the airport. But that’s locally-owned and they have really, really nice dinners. They specialize in steak, but they have other offerings too, pasta and so on. And they have excellent, excellent service. If you want a really nice meal and you want to be treated like a king or queen, that would definitely be a place you should consider.

Chris: And you say “unbelievably at the airport,” what I’m finding is more and more cities are getting smart and realizing that…or airports are getting smart that inviting in some of the local restaurants that are well known in the area so that you get a taste for the food. You can get that sourdough bread bowl with a clam chowder in San Francisco. You can get good barbecue with live music, even, in Austin. And so, it’s getting less surprising for me than it used to be. I think airports are getting much more interesting than just having some bad cafeteria food.

Nancy: That’s true. Indianapolis’s airport is not very far from the downtown area. It’s kind of small. That’s why I said surprisingly not because I don’t think of airports as a place to get decent food, but it’s because of the size of the airport. It’s interesting that Harry and Izzy’s would open a spot out there. But, hopefully, they’ll do well because they are a good restaurant.

Chris: Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor who is DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. I’ve been talking to you about how I enjoy these guidebooks. I just picked up the one that I have on New York City. One of the things that I like about the guidebooks is this one, for instance, has five guided walks in New York City and basically the guidebook is providing you walks. In this case, one in Lower Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, one in Lower East Side, one in Greenwich Village and one in the Upper East Side, where they give you step-by-step things to see and, of course, pictures since we’ve talked about how the DK Eyewitness Guides are full of pictures, illustrations, maps and other things that make them both useful and very attractive guidebooks. I don’t know that they have a guidebook on Indianapolis, but you can pick up one about your next destination, either at your local bookstore or go to dk.com for more information about the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. And thanks to DK for continuing sponsorship of The Amateur Traveler.

And you mentioned museums?

Nancy: There are quite a few museums in Indianapolis. One of my favorites is the Indiana State Museum, which is all about state history. It starts with prehistoric times and work its way to the present days. If you want to get a feel for what Indiana particularly was like but also the entire state of Indiana at a certain point in time, then that’s a good place to go. All of these museums that I’m mentioning are all in the White River State Park area. So the Indiana State Museum is there.

There’s an excellent, excellent Native American and Western Art Museum, the Eiteljorg. They have a fantastic collection of both Native American art and Western art of the American West. They also have a contemporary collection that they add to with a Native American artist. I guess you would call it a competition. And they have changing exhibits as well and it’s all kinds of art, not just painting but photography, blankets, beadwork, all kind of things related to Native American culture and the American west.

Chris: And you say that’s in the White River State Park area? So, that’s the area you were talking about earlier, with the canal that we could go out on and that’s where the zoo is as well?

Nancy: Yes. And the zoo is also attached to a botanical garden, so there’s plenty of outdoor opportunity there. Another museum in that area is the NCAA Hall of Champions. This is a museum that if you are a sports enthusiast and you love college sports, you might want to go to because it covers all kinds of NCAA sports, not just basketball, although of course, in Indiana, basketball is king.

Chris: So, you say basketball is king. Typically, college basketball and high school basketball is king in Indianapolis is what I know historically.

Nancy: Yes, yes, definitely.

Chris: If I want to participate in that, where should I go?

Nancy: The biggest college campus in Indy is the combined campus of Indiana University and Purdue downtown, IUPUI. But also Butler, which has a very well-known basketball program is in Indy. There are several colleges and universities in the Indianapolis area. If you really want to go whole hog, you could drive about an hour and a half south to Bloomington and go to an IU game down there or you could go up to Purdue and Lafayette and that’s about two hours away by car. But you could certainly try to get to a Butler game or an IUPUI game and enjoy seeing basketball with a whole bunch of locals.

Chris: And are there things we should know, colors, for instance, we should not wear if we go to one of those basketball games?

Nancy: People in Indiana are really, really nice and friendly. I don’t think you’ll get beat up for wearing the wrong colors to a college basketball game. I would say that if you’re in town on a Colts game day and you are wearing a jersey from another team, you might get a friendly comment of the “Ha-ha, why are you supporting that team”? variety. But it would be in good fun. Indiana natives are very friendly folks. My best friend lives in the Indianapolis area, and she keeps talking to me about the wonderful Hoosier Heartland, and she’s right. People are just down home friendly.

Chris: Okay. And then you talked about history and you mentioned the state capital and you also mentioned the house of…

Nancy: Benjamin Harrison.

Chris: Benjamin Harrison, right. Anything else we can do from a historical point of view?

Nancy: Well, you could climb the monument, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Monument Circle or take a photo of that if you want to see how the soldiers and sailors are commemorated in Indianapolis. And also, along the canal in White River State Park, there’s a monument to the USS Indianapolis, which is a Navy ship that was unfortunately sunk and so the names of all of the sailors who lost their life in service to our country are listed on there.

Chris: And I don’t know the Indianapolis but, because of the name, it would be a cruiser. Cruisers in U.S. were named after major cities and battleships were named after the states.

Nancy: Yes, and now submarines are named after states.

Chris: Ah, very good. Okay.

Nancy: Yes, because the last battleships were decommissioned after the Gulf War.

Chris: Right, right. Good point.

Nancy: Another thing that you could do, especially this year is go to the Historical Society downtown. This is Indianapolis’s…well, the whole state’s bicentennial year. Indiana became a state, 200 years ago, so this year, they’re doing all kinds of historically-related things and the Indiana Historical Society has a special exhibit on the history of Indiana. So that is definitely a place you might want to go to.

Chris: Interesting. And you were talking about the art of the West and of course, Indiana used to be the West.

Nancy: Yes, absolutely. It was where battles took place against the Native Americans and so on. There are not any battlefield sites that I can think of right in downtown Indianapolis but, certainly around the state, if you wanted to do that, you could.

Chris: Excellent. What do people recommend or what is the Tourism Board or the guide books recommend that you don’t actually think are worth going to?

Nancy: Well, unless you’re a total sports enthusiast, maybe the NCAA Hall of Champions isn’t your thing because it’s all sports all the time. So if that really isn’t interesting to you, you might want to skip that. Another thing that I would suggest avoiding unless you’re a gaming enthusiast is the week of Gen Con.

Chris: Oh, Gen Con, that’s right.

Nancy: Yes, Gen Con is the world’s largest gaming convention and every hotel in the local area sells out when they open up the hotel blocks for this convention, which they do several months before, in two hours. So the whole city is full of gamers.

Chris: Interesting. I am a gamer, you actually just got me more interested in Indianapolis.

Nancy: It’s enormous. Indianapolis has a great convention center. It’s very well laid out. It’s large, and it’s comfortable. I’ve been to it for several events, and I’ve even been in it during Gen Con. But Gen Con is too big for the convention center, so it spills out into hotel exhibit space around the city as well.

So if you do not like crowds or you’re not a gaming enthusiast, maybe that timeframe is not the time you want to be in Indy. But if you are a gamer, highly recommended. They have all kinds…it’s not just video games, it’s board games, it’s role playing games, it’s live action role playing games. It’s every gamer’s dream come true. It’s just fabulous.

Chris: Excellent. I forgot Gen Con was in Indianapolis, very good. What’s the biggest surprise I’m going to have when I go to Indianapolis?

Nancy: Well, most people are surprised by how friendly all the people are, friendly and helpful, “Hi, where are you going? What brings you to Indy?” that type of thing. I think another thing that was a surprise to me the first time I really started exploring Indy was how much green space there is. The White River State Park is there, and I mentioned also Eagle Creek Park, which isn’t terribly far away from that.

The idea that you could be in a city in the Midwest and, one minute be in a museum and then get in a car and go and rent a canoe and spend the afternoon canoeing was really kind of a surprise to me, partly because I’m from Southern California and you have to drive a longer way to go any place where you can rent a canoe and go canoeing. And then, if you want to go horseback riding, you can drive about 15 minutes in the other direction and go to Fort Harrison, which used to be an army post and they still have the horseback riding stables there, and there are public stables so you can go on a ride, and it’s not through flat country. It’s through woody, hilly country.

So, that was a different kind of surprise because I’m not much of a horsewoman, but it was fun. I really enjoyed it. But I just think the idea that you can be in a city and then have the opportunity to do outdoor things any time you want was my biggest surprise when I first got acquainted with Indianapolis as a destination.

Chris: How did you get acquainted with Indianapolis as a destination? You live outside Baltimore, you grew up in Los Angeles. What is the connection to Indianapolis?

Nancy: Well, my husband is in the military and our first duty station was in Southern Italy, and we met a wonderful couple there and we’ve been dear, dear friends ever since. And they live in Greenwood, which is just South of Indy. So we started visiting for holidays and vacations and stuff. I’ve been to Indianapolis more times than I can count now. And then, my son liked it so well that he went to college there. He went to IUPUI. He said he wanted to go to school there. That was the only school he applied to. Fortunately, he got in. So then we made even more trips to take him there, pick him up, bring him things, fix his car. I’ve spent the last 25 years or so making at least one trip a year to Indianapolis.

Chris: Interesting. Any other side trips outside of Indianapolis you want to recommend, besides the ones we talked about earlier?

Nancy: Oh, sure yes. I’ve mentioned Brown County. Another thing that I would recommend is to go just north of the city of Indianapolis to a town called Fishers, where there’s a wonderful, wonderful living history museum called Conner Prairie. It’s basically a trip back in time to the pioneer days of Indiana, and they have a couple of different areas that you can visit. They have costume historical interpreters and they have lots of hands-on activities. If you’re traveling with children or grandchildren, they will absolutely love it. When we took our kids there the first time we went, you could dip candles, you could milk a fake cow, you could visit the barn…

Chris: They couldn’t find any real cows in Indianapolis?

Nancy: No, they have a fake cow. I think they didn’t want to take the risk of having somebody get kicked if they did it wrong, so they have a plastic cow you can milk. You can pretend that you’re in school in the school house, all kinds of things like that. You can participate in various other activities. It’s a lot of fun no matter what age you happen to be.

Another great day trip and this is, again, about an hour and a half south of Indianapolis is the city of Columbus and this is an architectural gem that no one should miss. There’s about 45,000 people in Columbus now. It’s a company town. Cummins Engines has its headquarters there and the owner of Cummins Engines, Mr. Miller, decided that his company buildings and, indeed, many other public buildings in Columbus ought to be designed by great architects.

So he had his company sponsor a project that paid for these great architects to design everything from the public library to churches. And I’m talking really well-known architects, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, almost every well-known architect that you can think of who has been alive since the early 1900s with the exception of Frank Lloyd Wright. There is no Frank Lloyd Wright design structure in Columbus but almost everyone else you can think of has designed a building there, and it’s just amazing to visit.

Chris: Interesting. And I hadn’t heard of those. Thank you very much for that.

Nancy: Yes, you should go. You can tour Mr. Miller’s home too and that’s worth a trip all on its own. Eero Saarinen designed the home, and Alexander Girard did the interior design, and Dan Kiley did the landscape architecture design for the home, and it’s really interesting.

Chris: Excellent. Anything else we should talk about before we get to my last four questions?

Nancy: Well, I guess I should talk a little bit about special events in Indy and the surrounding area.

Chris: Oh, sure.

Nancy: Because it’s a capital city, they do have concerts and festivals. They have an Irish festival. They have various summer events that you can go to making the summer even better of a time to go.

Chris: Which has…

Nancy: Well, Gen Con is the biggest one. And I would say the Irish festival is probably one of the other more popular ones. Because they have college campuses downtown also, you have the opportunity to go to concerts there of various types, everything, from classical music on to the most contemporary music you can imagine. So there’s a lot of culture in Indianapolis that’s readily available and open to tourists as well.

Chris: Excellent. Last questions. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in Indianapolis. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Nancy: I think I have two. One is I’m on top of The Soldiers and The Sailors Monument in the center of town, and I’ve got a bird’s eye view of the layout of downtown Indy. If I’m picking my day, I’m doing that at Christmas time because all of the buildings around Monument Circle have little twinkly Christmas lights and the monument itself has lights that make it look like a giant Christmas tree so that’s definitely one thing that I would recommend. If you happen to be there in the holiday season, you should go and have a look at that.

I think the other place I would like to be would be floating on the little canal in White River State Park, right near a fountain because it will be splashing and be all relaxing. I love this sound of falling water, so that’s nice and just watching people go by and looking at all of the families that are out there and enjoying themselves on a nice weekend day or summer morning or afternoon. Because I think that’s one of the nice things about Indianapolis is that it appeals to all kinds of people. You can take your young kids there…oh, I forgot to mention a museum. Please get me back to that when we’re done, this is a very important one. Romantic couples, seniors, it’s just such a friendly and walkable city that I just like to hang out and people watch.

Chris: And you forgot a museum.

Nancy: I do.

Chris: I guess we’re talking about kid’s museum.

Nancy: We are, we are talking about probably the best or second best, depending on the rankings. Every year, somebody ranks children’s museums. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is fantastic. It is not in the downtown area around White River State Park. It’s more on the North side. You can take a bus. They have some circulator bus routes if you don’t want to take a taxi or get an Uber ride, and you don’t have your own car. You can certainly take the public transportation system, IndyGo, as well. It is a don’t miss place. They have a Chihuly glass sculpture. They have a giant dinosaur peeking in the top windows from the outside. They have all kinds of exhibits and hands-on activities for children of all ages. It is definitely something you cannot miss if you are in Indianapolis with children.

Chris: It sounds like something good enough you should borrow some children.

Nancy: Yeah, you could go without children and nobody would laugh at you because it’s so good.

Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Indianapolis.”

Nancy: Colts fans, Colts fans, absolutely. I live in a football city, okay? I’m a Baltimore Ravens fan. Things are very purple around here on game days and on purple Fridays, but Colts fans love the Colts so much that on Colts game days, really, everybody you look at is wearing something blue. It’s just crazy. There’s even a restaurant, I think it’s called the Indianapolis Colts Grill and it’s a Colts-themed restaurant. I have never eaten there, so I can’t tell you if it’s good or not but the level of enthusiasm for the Indianapolis Colts is just incredible.

Chris: Okay. Finish the sentence, you really know you’re in Indianapolis when…

Nancy: When everybody you ask for assistance gives you more help than you ever thought you needed, gives you the right answers, does it with a smile and doesn’t treat you bizarrely because you’re a tourist.

Chris: It’s funny, I normally have a question that’s one warning you would give, and I honestly wasn’t sure there would be any answer you would give me for Indianapolis, so I skipped the question.

Nancy: Yes, well, I would say this. Indianapolis is a big city. There are some big city problems there and so, I would just act like you would in any other big city. Pay attention to your surroundings. Maybe wandering the streets alone at 2:00 a.m. isn’t the best idea but, really, if you’re out at regular times during the day and the dinner hour and what have you, you aren’t going to have any problems, and it’s just a great place to visit. It astounds me when I talk about Indianapolis and people look at me funny because I go there so often. I’m like, “But there’s so much to do.” I haven’t seen everything in Indianapolis, and I’ve been there more times than I can count.

Chris: What have you not yet done that you want to do in Indy?

Nancy: I just found out about the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

Chris: Interesting.

Nancy: He is an Indiana native and so, they have this little…I think it’s got four rooms, little museum dedicated to him and they have his typewriter and various memorabilia. So that would be something I would like to do. But I think I would like to branch out a little bit and get farther south in Indiana, a little past the two-hour driving radius and see some of the sites down there on day trips.

Another thing that I would like to do is finally indulge my friend and go to James Whitcomb Riley’s home because the first time that we heard about it, she’s like, “We could go there.” I looked it up in a guidebook and it said that they had all kinds of things from James Whitcomb Riley, including his pen. And I thought that was sort of comical that his pen was the highlight of the tour. So I would go, but I think I need to go now.

Chris: Funny. Last question. If you had to summarize Indianapolis in just three words, what three words would you use?

Nancy: I think I would describe Indianapolis as a vibrant, friendly, and walkable because we tend to just park our car…parking is easy. There’s a lot of parking in the downtown area and there is good parking at White River State Park if you want to focus on that area. And you can just park your car and wander around the spots that you want to see and it’s very easy to get around. It’s a nice grid system for the streets with some streets going off at angles like in Washington DC but not at that level of confusion.

So like Massachusetts Avenue, Mass. Ave, as the locals call it, that’s one of those angled streets, and it’s known for its restaurants. So if you wanted to do some food tasting and that type of thing, you can do that. Also, there’s a new Indianapolis cultural trail that you can do if you want to wander through the city. You can rent bikes at different places along the trail or you can walk or whatever. I haven’t heard whether hoverboards are allowed, but those would be my three words, vibrant, friendly and walkable.

Chris: Excellent. Our guest, again, has been Nancy Parode. Nancy, where can people read more about your travels?

Nancy: I mostly spend my time writing for About.com. and so if you look up senior and baby boomer travel and About.com or my name, you’ll find that. I also write about travel for women over 60 at a website called SixtyandMe, which is a great community for women who want to spend their years after age 60 doing fun things and making their lives wonderful and vibrant.

Chris: Excellent. Well, thanks for coming on the show and sharing with us your love of Indianapolis.

Nancy: You’re welcome.

Chris: In the news of the community, I would love you to fill out that audience survey at amateurtraveler.com/surveytwo to let us know a little bit about you. That will help me with the ad sales, which helps support this show. And then also, we did get a couple extra openings. Somebody wasn’t able to make it to the trip to Cambodia so a couple slots are still available if you’re interested in coming to Cambodia.

If you have questions about that, just go ahead and ping me or go ahead and look at the details online at amateurtraveler.com under the book travel tab. With that, I think I will end this show because I am running out of voice today. I’m fighting a cold. If you have any questions, send an e-mail to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can follow me on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram as Chris2X. And, as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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