What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Indianapolis? I’m guessing you picture packs of cars racing around a track on Memorial Day; The Indianapolis 500 right? I’m here to tell you there is much more to this Midwest city than meets the eye. We have been visiting Indy over the last 15 years and have witnessed its growth as a tourism destination. The downtown is compact;many attractions are within walking distance of one another, in bad weather you can traverse the city through a series of climate-controlled skywalks. From the Canal Walk, Symphony and Museums to boutique shopping, monuments, and AAA Baseball, you won’t run out of things to do.
Our first morning in town we headed directly to the Indiana State Museum located in the White River State Park downtown. They have underground parking and the museum validates, so it’s the perfect place to park for a museum visit and a day of local sightseeing. Constructed completely from Indiana materials the expansive museum is 3 floors of art, science, history and culture, telling the Indiana story. I always enjoy these types of museums because they really give a feel for the place and the people who live there; it’s fascinating to see the contributions they have made to the world. The museum is very 21st Century; the floor plan easily guides you from one large open gallery to another, beginning with the ice age and ending in the present day. One of the most impressive exhibits is the mining of limestone; Indiana is famous for it! It is the highest quality quarried limestone in the US, therefore a popular choice for important buildings. Here are just a few of the buildings made from it: The Empire State Building, The Pentagon, Biltmore Estate, and many buildings on the north side of Michigan State University campus. 35 of the 50 state capitol buildings are also constructed from Indiana limestone, quite impressive. When we were finished looking around we decided to have lunch right there at the museum, they have 2 restaurants on site. The temperature was in the mid 80′s and the sun was blazing in the cloudless blue sky, we ate our lunch on the restaurant patio with a beautiful view of Indianapolis.
After our break we took a long stroll on the Canal Walk; this 3-mile loop is an urban playground. The beautifully landscaped walkway on the west side of downtown is home to the Indianapolis Zoo, White River Gardens, Victory Field, and major museums. Visitors amble past a number of fountains and bridges as the more ambitious rent pedal boats, bicycles and surreys. For total relaxation take a gondola ride, the central canal is always alive with activity. Artists were working on murals lining the walls under the bridges, children and adults were trying to eat their Blue Bunny ice cream bars before they melted and large pots of flowers were still in bloom; the water features are always a popular photo stop. Though it felt like Summer the leaves had already changed colors; vibrant red, yellow and orange trees glowed in the sunlight, what a sight!
After a stop back at the bed and Breakfast we drove over to Mass Ave for dinner. Warm temperatures always encourage people to have a night on the town, so everything was busy. A place called FortyFive Degrees opened since our last visit, so we thought we’d give it a try; the sign simply said Restaurant/Nightlife, works for me. This place is super-cool inside, everything is blue or white, quite modern and a bit clubby, but cool all the same. Blue laser lights project patterns on the ceiling and walls, the DJ has his own loft overlooking the main floor as DVD’s play on large flat screen televisions; it’s hard to decide where to look. The menu was good, a little bit of everything from Sushi to pasta dishes, and the prices weren’t bad either. We ordered a few sushi rolls and an Ahi tuna appetizer, all very good. It was fun just being there and people watching.
Stashed away in the Fountain Square Theatre Building are two vintage bowling alleys. Action Duckpin Bowl is hidden away on the 4th floor; this authentic 1930′s duckpin bowling alley features 8 lanes and a billiard table, it’s all original! You have to take the elevator up, once you step inside it’s like going back in time. We were looking to bowl a line or two, open bowling was on the lower level. The Atomic Bowl Duckpin is straight out of the 50′s, with 7 duckpin lanes, a juke box and a pool table it’s neat-o. Also left just as it was, there is an extensive array of all things bowling in the 50′s; from trophy’s and team bowling shirts, to the light fixtures and vending machines, as if you have passed through a time warp. We lucked out, there was an open lane; we picked up our score sheet and those ultra attractive bowling shoes from the counter and we were ready. If you have never bowled duckpin, be aware,it’s a bit more of a challenge then regular bowling. Both the pins and the ball are smaller; in fact the ball is so small it does not have finger holes. You just sort of rest it in your hand and throw. Because of the difficulty you get three balls per frame, and believe me, you need every single one. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you don’t mind throwing gutter balls! If you like going back in time and experiencing something completely different, you’ll love this place.
One more quick stop before turning in for the night. Back on Mass Ave there’s this great little Jazz Club, Chatterbox, I highly recommend visiting if you’re in town. They have live Jazz 7 nights a week; classified as mellow Jazz Monday thru Thursday and Hot Jazz Friday and Saturday. The night air was still mild so we took a table street side and enjoyed a cocktail while music resonated through the open door; a perfect ending to the day.
Our second morning in Indy we awoke to golden sunlight filtering through the windows, it was going to be another beautiful Autumn day. We were staying at Stone Soup Inn located in the Historic Old Northside neighborhood. We have been here a few times and always found it enjoyable. The large Mission Style home was built back in 1901, the woodwork is amazing. Right away you feel at ease among the craftsman style furnishings and warm colors. The Inn has seven rooms available to rent, all are lovely. Our favorite has become the NE Loft room on the third floor. You need to be limber to rent this room; first you have to climb the stairs up to the third floor, inside the room the bed is located up in a loft which is reached by climbing a ladder, it can be a little tricky. The room itself is charming, complete with a nice size bathroom, kitchen with appliances and table, and a tiny family room with a couch, tv, and desk, it could actually be a small apartment. Decor is retro with vintage posters decorating the kitchen/dining area. It is quite comfortable and allows you to really kick back and relax while away from home. Breakfast is sit down on weekends, each morning there is a variety of cereals, breads, coffee, tea and juice. The hot breakfast consists of both a savory and a sweet selection; this morning we had a slice of quiche; delicious with herbs and cheese, served alongside a waffle with a couple of sausage links and fresh fruit. Everything is tasty and served to you hot as you make your way to the breakfast table. We finished everything on our plates, packed up our room and were off for more sight-seeing.
Memorial Plaza is located downtown, the Plaza itself is 24 acres and a National Historic Landmark; it is second only to Washington DC in the number of War Memorials. The centerpiece of the plaza is the Indiana World War Memorial, resting on a block that is raised above street level it rises 210 feet high, this building is extraordinary! Walk around the outside, be sure not to miss the Pro Patria sculpture (Pro Patria is Latin meaning “for country”), this bronze casting of a young man draped in an American flag reaching heavenward is 24 feet high and the central sculptural element. I think it truly defines the patriotism of this city and state, it is one of the first characteristics I notice each time I visit here. Once inside there are three floors to explore; the lower level features a chronological museum depicting Indiana’s history from the Revolutionary War through the current conflicts. The main level is furnished with marble floors and walls, gorgeous wet plaster ceilings trimmed out in gold leaf and columns lining the main hallway; you know you’re somewhere important. Venture into the Pershing Auditorium, it’s magnificent. One of the first things that got my attention was the huge ceiling medallion and light fixtures, quite unique and stunning. There is an intimate balcony section and American Eagles are perched over each doorway. Next take the stairway up to the incredible Shrine Room; a marvelous example of American Classicism this room is breathtaking. Immense Corinthian columns line the perimeter of the room, a massive American flag is on display, the ceiling is a series of stepped stripes studded with small blue lights and one large star fixture, I have never seen anything like it. The Shrine Room symbolizes peace and unity and is made of materials from all over the world, it is symbolic of the world wide nature of World War I. Standing in this room you cannot help feeling a sense of patriotism and gratitude for those who have sacrificed for us.On the way back down be sure to pause and notice the names of all Hoosiers who participated in World War I, and all Hoosiers killed or missing in action from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Back outdoors we continued to walk the plaza up to the Central Library, this area is abounding with sculpture, fountains, obelisks, landscaped open spaces and many more memorials. In the center of the Plaza stands the Obelisk Fountain, a 100 foot four-sided shaft of black granite, at it’s base are four tablets sculpted to represent the four fundamentals on which a nation’s hopes are founded: law, science, religion, and education. I love the Depew Memorial Fountain; bronze figures of fish and children playing are topped by a woman dancing as she plays symbols, they all look like they are having such fun! Take your time walking the plaza, absorb the details of the buildings and structures, listen to the sound of the water splash in the fountains, you will surely feel inspired.
A few blocks away is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, it is outstanding! Made out of Indiana limestone in 1902, it stands 284 feet 6 inches high, only 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty. The four statues at the corners of the monument represent the Infantry, Calvary, Artillery, and Navy. The detail is amazing I stare at it each time we come and always notice something new. There is an observation deck that gives a fabulous view of downtown that includes the Capitol building; you can walk the 330 iron stairs or pay $1 to ride the elevator and bypass the first 290 steps. Either way, do it! If you come to Indy during the holiday season they dress up the monument with hundreds of lights and Christmas finery, it’s quite a sight.The monument is currently undergoing restoration; the city is getting ready for Superbowl XLVI on February 5 2012, so they are sprucing up the place.
We had walked and walked, climbed numerous stairs and walked some more, now it was time to sit and relax and have some lunch. We drove back over to Mass Ave, this hip little district is lined with restaurants, theaters, galleries, and great independent shops. It is also the area most likely to be open late and open on Sunday. Mass Ave cuts diagonally away from downtown and has really become a destination. Street parking was easy, there were several shops open, so we did some browsing on the way to the restaurant.
We were enjoying another warm and sunny day, so we took advantage of it and had a seat on the patio of Old Point Tavern. Everyone around us was eating some sort of variety of nachos, who were we to argue with the locals? We ordered a cool crisp salad and the vegetarian nachos. To our delight the food arrived quickly, the plate of nachos was huge, stacks of chips smothered in toppings like vegetarian chili, cheese, guacamole, peppers and sour cream……we didn’t need the salad. Everything tasted great, we ate till we could eat no more. We sat for a while longer in the afternoon sun talking about the things we had done, and about the things we’d like to do on our next visit. Next time you have a few days to get away, come check out Indy!