Saturday, January 14, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska - The Good Life

Nebraska... the good life. 
From Kansas City I continued north toward Nebraska. Omaha was my destination.
On my way to Omaha, near the town of Nebraska City, I saw a road sign for this attraction - The Lewis and Clark Center

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were two explorers that helped to explore, chart and settle the western United States. I've always been a fan of Lewis and Clark since I learned about their explorations as a kid. I thought that it would be worthwhile to drop by the center.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. It began near St. Louis, made its way westward, and passed through the continental divide to reach the Pacific coast.

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It comprised a selected group of U.S. Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark. Their perilous journey lasted from May 1804 to September 1806. The primary objective was to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent, and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.

The campaign's secondary objectives were scientific and economic: to study the area's plants, animal life, and geography, and to establish trade with local Native American tribes. With maps, sketches, and journals in hand, the expedition returned to St. Louis to report its findings to Jefferson.
The center consisted of a very modern designed main building that housed some educational displays.
A pirogue boat and oars used to transport goods.
Outside on the grounds of the center, there was a wooden reproduction of the keelboat that Lewis and Clark used for their journey up the Missouri River. The boat was probably about 50 feet long and 8 feet wide.
 A small cabin built out of logs about 8 feet wide by 8 feet long by 5 feet tall.
An earth lodge constructed of wood and dirt.
Inside the earth lodge there were some artifacts, tools and a campfire. 
An animal hide being stretched and dried.
There were also a number of nature trails that stretched around the grounds and which offered a view of the Missouri River.

The great thing about overloading is that one has the opportunity to pass by and stop at road side attractions like the Lewis and Clark Center on a whim. It is not possible to experience something like this when flying in an airplane. Sometimes the attractions are good, sometimes they are really bad. But having the opportunity and freedom to stop and experience something like this is simply priceless.  
I continued north toward Omaha.
When I arrived in Omaha, I had arranged to meet up with my friend Jaime. We met at a warehouse that had been converted to an art center. She then took me on a little tour of the city. The first place we stopped was the Heartland of America Park. 
There was this modern water fall sculpture feature.
Also, a lake with a water fountain and walking trail.
After walking around the Heartland of America Park, Jaime and I drove to the Old Market. The Old Market is a historical warehouse district that has largely been renovated and now is occupied by mostly trendy stores, upscale restaurants, bars, coffee shops and art galleries. We passed through the Old Market Passageway which is quaint alleyway with shops and cafes.  
We dropped by a bar called Mr. Toad's Pub. The pub is styled as an old English pub - dark woodwork, brass adornments, high back booths. Along the wall there is a large assortment of books. Jaime pulled a book out and opened it up. I thought that maybe she was going to read some sonnets. But she explained that it is a tradition in Mr. Toad's to leave pieces of paper or napkins with comments inside the books. Some of the comments were poetry, some sayings, some nonsense. Clever.
On foot we walked around the old market area and ventured into a place called Hollywood Candy. It's primarily a candy store with thousands of varieties of classic as well as hand crafted candy.
I got the impression that the owner of the candy shop was really just a big kid at heart. He had on display a huge collection, probably numbering in the thousands, of Pez dispensers. There were collectable series of Pez dispensers from The Simpsons, Smurfs, Looney Tunes and more.
There was also a pretty sizable collection of ball point pens neatly arranged on a pegboard wall... thousands.
Toward the back of the store was a vintage soda shop where one could have an ice cream, sundae, milkshake, malt or burger and fries. Jaime cozied up to the counter. We debated whether we should get a milkshake, but we decided to continue exploring the city a little more and see if we could find a restaurant.
We dropped into a craft beer pub called Brickway Brewery. We had a taste of one of their ales and got a little look at their brewery operations...
... and this artwork by a local artist that graced a wall in the backroom.
Jaime introduced me to a friend of hers named Praveen that was generous to host me in Omaha. Praveen was pretty insistent that we should try one of his favorite India food restaurants called Curry Xpress. When I first heard the name, I was't too excited, but I tried to keep an open mind. We drove to the west part of Omaha where the restaurant was located in a small strip shopping center. The inside of the restaurant was nothing fancy with about 15 tables, but the food was excellent. Good choice Praveen. Always listen to a local.

Extensive traveling is not about always being on the go. There are some pretty mundane moments too.
I had been traveling for about a week by this time, so I needed to do some laundry. Luckily there was a laundromat nearby.
I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine and had about an hour to wait.
I spent this down time completing an edit of a video project that I'd been working on.
After 30 minutes of washing and 30 minutes of drying my clothes were fresh and clean. 
Since my clothes were now clean, I thought that my car deserved a good cleaning as well. I found a self-service car wash and got to work.
Soon, my car was look good as new.
I always like to try local cuisine when I travel. I'm not referring to just local cuisine that is the trendy new restaurant. I like to try local cuisine that has origins in the area or that is unique to the area. A Philly cheese steak, a Napoli pizza, Costa Rican gallo pinto, Saltenas in Bolivia. I asked Jaime if she new of a local cuisine unique to Omaha. She referenced Omaha steaks. I suppose that a nice steak would be appropriate. But then I did a search online and found out about something called a runza. I searched on Yelp for the best runza in Omaha and was directed to this restaurant.
It turns out that a runza is a type of sandwich made with a yeast dough bread pocket and a filling consisting of beef, pork, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings. They are baked in various shapes such as a half-moon, rectangle, round, square or triangle. In Nebraska, the runza is usually baked in a rectangular shape. The Runza sandwich originated in Russia during the 1800s and spread to Germany before appearing in the United States. The recipe was spread throughout the United States by the Volga Germans (Germans from Russia) and can be found in Nebraska and a few other midwestern states. I quickly discovered that it is not the healthiest of sandwiches.
With a full stomach I continued my exploration. I found out that the Joslyn Art Museum was in the vicinity. 
On the outside of the museum, there were a number of sculptures. This one paid tribute to the pioneer settlers of Nebraska.
Noodles and Doodles sculpture.
Untitled piece by Jun Kaneko.
Inside the museum I was transfixed on this large installation.
A blown glass installation by Dale Chihuly
Even the walls of the museum were sculpted.
As I was looking for things to do, I came across this installation that spans several blocks in downtown Omaha called Pioneer Courage and Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness which depicts the city's rich pioneer history. It is one of the largest installations of bronze and stainless steel in the world.  Blair Buswell's Wagon Master, who guides pioneers westward while looking after the families and supplies, stands 11 feet tall and weighs approximately 2,000 pounds.
The artists set out to capture the pioneer spirit when they created Pioneer Courage - a tribute to four pioneer families departing westward from Omaha in covered wagons.
Ed Fraughton's Hunter Group portrays the pioneers' constant need for nourishment, particularly for meat to supplement their meals.
Installed in 2005 and 2009, Pioneer Courage and Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness, are on non-adjacent sites, but are woven together through Omaha's urban cityscape. 
I had a good time in Nebraska. I felt that I learned quite a bit about the history of the state through the art of the state. I had the chance to visit with an old friend and make a new friend. I tried some international food and local cuisine. After spending quite a bit of time in nature in Arkansas and Missouri it was actually nice to be in a city.

One thing that did surprise me about the midwest was that the temperature was hot. I thought that perhaps the temperature would get cooler as I traveled north, but it was actually very hot. As I was walking around on the downtown sidewalks of Omaha I could feel the heat emanating from the concrete. It was so hot in the middle of the day that the rubber on my shoes started to melt and stick to the sidewalk. A little repair was in order before I continued on my journey.

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