Saturday, January 5, 2019

Niagara Falls, New York: Underground Railroad Heritage Center

There's a relatively new attraction in Niagara Falls as of this writing, and it you are in the neighborhood it's definitely worth a stop.

The city by the waterfalls has added its name to the list of locations that have a museum to the so-called "Underground Railroad." No, kids, there were no tracks and engines involved here. It was a path of moving the enslaved peoples of the 19th century to freedom in Canada.

Niagara Falls was a natural as the last American stop on the railroad. Yes, you can see Canada from the waterfront - it was just a matter of crossing the river. Many did just that.

The museum, which had been in development for several years, spends a little time on the big picture. Who knew, for example, that quite a few African Americans went south to Mexico in those pre-Civil War days where slavery in sections of the United States was legal? But overall, the Heritage Center concerns itself with Niagara Falls' role in the process, as it should.

The Cataract Hotel in downtown Niagara Falls gets much of the space here. The top-of-the-line wait staff was all black, but it also was known to quietly help African Americans who wished to cross the border to Canada. Some were brought to Niagara Falls by their owners as servants, while others did take the Underground Railroad here. Remember, just because a slave was in New York State meant he was free, as the Fugitive Slave Act allowed slave owners to reclaim their "property." A few of the stories of the visitors have been brought to life here through the exhibits.

Eventually, a railroad bridge was built over the gorge to ease travel between the two countries. Sometimes those trains carried a different sort of luggage - blacks seeking freedom. The photo here shows a replica of the bridge (with a photo of the real thing just beyond it). The white light on the floor of the bridge is a representation of the border - one side of a line reads United States, while the other reads Canada. That was a very big step for those who crossed.

This isn't a huge place. Be sure to check out when a guided tour is held so that you can be on it to further your understanding of the issues. It takes about an hour to visit it. But there are plenty of videos, maps and interactive displays along the way.

It's interesting that the Heritage Center was placed right next to the actual train station, where you can buy a ticket to Canada if you so choose. The two areas share a lobby and a parking lot.

Most people usually go to Niagara Falls to look at the waters, and that's fine. I would guess that moving this closer to downtown is an attempt to bring more tourism to that area. Let's hope enough people do that to make this a success story.

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Green Bay, Wisconsin: Packers Heritage Trail Plaza

Visitors to Green Bay often will stumble upon a sign indicating that they are staring at something that used to have some significance in the history of the Green Bay Packers. They have stumbled on the Packers' Heritage Trail.

The trail is designed as something of a walking tour and covers the first 50 years of the franchise, going from 1919 to 1968. Those were the days of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi. It covers an old office building, the birthplace of Lambeau, a train station where thousands greeted the world champion Packers in 1929, and several other locations.

The center piece is in the middle of downtown, the Packers Heritage Trail Plaza, and it debuted in 2013. This plaza has statues of such people as Johnny "Blood" McNally and Paul Hornung. Look for it at Washington and Cherry Streets.

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: Tunnel of Automatic Fish

Sometimes, chasing down alleged tourist attractions can be a bad idea. This was one of them.

Green Bay offers a "tunnel of automatic fish" in its downtown district. What could that be? As a lover of all things touristy, it sounded as if it was worth a quick photo visit.

Obstacle 1 - It was raining. Hard. We pulled off the Walnut St. Bridge into downtown, and headed north. However, we came across Obstacle 2 - the directions for a parking lot didn't work. Apparently the space has been filled by a buildingover the years. So we headed south and found a lot relatively close. But remember, it's pouring.

I sprinted to the Riverwalk while my companion kept an eye on the car. I splashed may way through the area and found the entrance to the tunnel, which went under the bridge.

Here's what I found in photo form. There indeed are fish with lights there, although some didn't appear to be working from the tunnel entrance. I couldn't test the theory that each fish has a motion detector, since the floor was mighty wet from the day's storm. Funny how a color photo can look black and white.

So do what I say, not what I did. If you feel forced to check this out, do it on a non-rainy day.

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: Huge Football

This one is a bit of a puzzle.

This football is holding up part of a learning center on Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay. Now, Green Bay is associated with football because of the Packers, and Lambeau Field is about a block away. Still, there's no obvious connection to football here.

However, the building is in the midst of the entertainment district. An arena football league team has played in that area. So maybe there was a connection once upon a time. In any event, it's easy to pull off Lombardi Ave., take a photo, and go back to your business,

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: World's Largest Hex Nut

Every handyman needs the right tool to complete a job. If that worker has a need for a giant nex nut, I guess this is the place.

Packer Fastener is the proud owner of this monument. It checks in at 3.5 tons and 10 feet tall, and provides quite a welcome to those visiting the business. The owner got the idea from the Packers' 50-foot replica of the Lombardi Trophy in its atrium. And, the business is at the end of Lombardi Ave. - you can see the scoreboard at Lambeau Field from the net.

The company hoped it would be a good photo opportunity. Yes, you can stand in it and post for a picture.

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: National Railroad Museum

Not everyone comes to Green Bay to watch the Packers, although on the right weekend it seems that way. Some make the trip to town to look at old railroads. The National Railroad Museum is the place to go for them.

This started in 1956 or so as a way to raise money for a single train that traveled around the park. That idea grew until it was a full-fledged museum, greeting more than 100,000 fans per year. Looks like the place hosts a wedding every weekend when the weather is good; it is located right on the Fox River.

There are a variety of train-related items here. Some of the engines and cars are kept either inside a large hall or outside in a shed. The highlight might be Union Pacific's "Big Boy," one of the largest engines ever built. It takes up two full cars, tied together so it can go around turns. You can see the engineer's viewpoint of the controls in this photo. The museum also has part of an "aerotrain," which was GM's answer to airplane competition in the 1950s. It never really worked well at high speeds, and didn't catch up. Dwight Eisenhower's personal car from World War II is here. I enjoyed seeing a Pullman car, with the upper and lower sleeping berths on display.

By the way, you can take a ride around the grounds. It takes 25 minutes for two trips around and only costs a couple of extra dollars when you buy an admission ticket.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Prague, Czech Republic: Dancing House

This probably is the first post you'll read about our recent vacation to Central Europe. On the other hand, it's my last of 170 posts on the trip. We saw a lot.

These buildings make for a fitting introduction or ending. It's the Dancing House in Prague. Or, as it is more commonly known, Fred and Ginger.

It seems there was a vacant spot on the riverfront, thanks to a stray bomb in 1945. The space sat idle for quite a while. Meanwhile, the neighboring space was owned by the family of Vaclav Havel, who didn't know it but was on his way to leading Czechoslovakia.

Eventually, a cultural center was planned for the spot - which never materialized. The architect wanted to show that the country was shifting from static to dynamic. But it's now an office building, complete with a bar and restaurant.

Some people don't think it's a good fit with the neighborhood, while others love. And so it goes.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Crawling Babies Statue

You'd think the statue at the Kafka Museum would be enough, but David Cerny wasn't done there. He's done a variety of work that is on display throughout Prague. The Kafka head was his idea too.

Just down the riverwalk in Kampa Park is this trio of sculptures. They are crawling babies, giving visitors a chance to get up close and personal with the work.

Crawling babies are also on the TV tower in town. Run for your lives!

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Prague, Czech Republic: Kafka Museum

No, I didn't enter the Kafka Museum along the west bank of the river in Prague. But that doesn't mean I didn't go there, because I did.

I had to see the peeing statue.

It's actually name is "Proudy." It features the sculpture of two men who are, um, urinating. The catch comes with their hips, which rotate a few degrees so that the stream lands on different parts of the base.

The men, by the way, are a shade under seven feet. Apparently you can send a text message to have the statues write something in the water.

A newspaper called it the most strange statue in all of Prague, and it's tough to disagree with that. But, it is Kafka, and we're talking about it.

The museum is located just off the Charles Bridge. Go to the west end and turn right. However, the area is not well marked and we got a little lost in trying to find it. So bring a good map.

After all that, you still want to see what it looks like in action? OK.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Old Town Hall

This normally would be the spot for a photo of the Astronomical Clock, one of the great attractions in Prague. But since it was being repairs, we'll spare you from that. Who wants to see a shot of scaffolding?

The rest of the Old Town Hall is pretty interesting too.

The first part of the tour goes through several rooms above ground. The rooms have some great artwork and furnishings in them, and they are often used to this day for ceremonial purposes. The Brozik Assembly Hall takes up an entire floor's space and goes up two flights.

Then there's the medieval underground. Part of it was used as housing back in the day, and another section was a prison. Since it's pretty much all stone, you can bet the prison was, um, less than sanitary. Gotta be careful walking around this part.

Finally, there's the tower. It's been around since the 14th century, but upgraded fairly recently. The views are excellent. It's fun to look right down into the Old Town Square.

Apparently the Nazis tried to destroy this building when the Soviet troops were ready to occupy the land. They did some damage, but it is nice that Prague has rebuilt it.

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