Getty Center

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The Getty Center in the Brentwood section of Los Angles is an amazing feat of architecture. Designed to allow maximum viewing along with introspection from all areas; it is a place to go just to enmesh yourself in the soul of a building. Screw the art!

The Getty was built in 1997 and designed by Robert Meier. Bountiful gardens and vistas open up throughout the facility giving visitors a chance to be one with the glory of nature. With outdoor sculptures and numerous lavish fountains dotting the 24 acre complex it makes for a full-scale outdoor art experience.

Of course, the Getty, viewing one of the greatest collections of paintings in the world  by artists such as van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Delacroix; is an amazing experience.

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For those with an interest in illuminated manuscripts and old photographs; the Getty Center doesn’t disappoint.   But for the kids, the best part of the trip to the Getty will be riding the tram up the mountain from the subterranean parking garage.

The Getty Center is closed Mondays and on Thanksgiving, Christmas and January 1. Parking is $15. Admission is free. There is also a lovely restaurant that offers expensive food served up with incredible views.

 

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Railtown 1897-Jamestown, CA

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Okay, all you railroad buffs, today we are going on an adventure extraordinaire. It’s time to climb aboard the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California. This 26 acre site offers a freight depot with an incredible roundhouse which you can explore until your hearts content.The original turntable still works and there are many passenger cars along with other interesting and rare railroad equipment. But best of all there are several powerful steam engines, including the famous Engine #3, which has appeared in many movies and TV shows including Little House On The Prairie, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Lassie.

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Railtown 1897 is a place to venture back to days gone by. It’s a place to bring young and old a like. Here you can climb onto steam locomotives, stroll vintage passenger cars, and walk the floors of the waiting room at the depot.  And if you are really lucky “Grandma Jean” will give you a personal tour of everything you need to know about this unique and exciting State Park including these tidbits:

  1. The drier the steam the more powerful the engine
  2. The taller the wheels the faster it goes

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But perhaps one of the most interesting things about this State Park is the fact that it has a fully functioning engine repair and restoration facility and you can actually watch as they fix the old engines that arrive for an overhaul. That is worth the price of admission alone!

If you want to ride the trains the best time to visit is in the summer for summer time brings wildflower train rides and steam train excursions. From April to October, trains operate every Saturday and Sunday, departing from the Railtown Depot at 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Excursion tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth 6-17 and children 5 and under ride for free.

For further information go to:

http://www.parks.ca.gov/railtown

You are going to love this place!

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Kamp Vught- Herzogenbusch, The Netherlands

The last time we were in Europe I thought it was important for my kids to see for themselves what happened to the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, resistance fighters, and another other groups/persons who the Nazi’s targeted for extermination.  So we visited the Herzogenbusch Concentration Camp (Kamp Vught) near the town of Herzogenbusch where the horror of what happened to innocent people could be seen and to a small extent be felt by our kids. It was a lesson that shocked and saddened them. One that has changed them and how they see the world.

Although Kamp Vught is considered to be a transport camp rather than a death camp nonetheless 749 prisoners lost their lives while incarcerated against their will. Of those, 342 were murdered just outside the camp as the Allies were approaching.

The camp was built in 1942/43 with the prisoners being forced to finish the construction themselves. Over 31,000 people were housed here before being transported to the death camps of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen between the years 1943-1944.

Today Kamp Vught is a National Monument dedicated to the victims of Nazi atrocities. The interior of the museum has been designed to be a reflective and thoughtful place spread out over several buildings and outdoor areas. The museum itself displays diaries,relics, personal items and the clothing of the persons who were incarcerated or murdered here.

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We learned that upon entry to the Kamp each prisoner was given a colored triangle on their gevangenenpak. Jewish prisoners received a yellow triangle, political prisoners and resistance fighters one red, homosexuals a pink triangle, and the ‘criminals’ (illegal butchers and black marketers) a black triangle.

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Outside there is monument that stands in honor of the children who were separated from their mothers and sent off to be executed. Standing there, reading list after long list of names, you could just “hear” the cries of parents and children as they were taken away by the guards. As a parent it felt horrific to think that there was nothing you could do to save your own child from extermination.

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Below you will see a picture of my sister-in-law as she stood in cell 115. What you cannot see is the tears running down her face as she contemplated the horror that happened in this room on January 16, 1944.  The day before, as a punishment for some drama occurring in the women’s barracks, the Kamp Commander forced 74 women into this tiny windowless room. Fourteen hours later the cell was finally opened and the remaining 64 women were freed. The plaque contains a list of the names of the ten women who suffocated due to lack of oxygen.

 

Although most the buildings of this once huge camp are gone a few still remain or were rebuilt. In this one, you can walk down row upon row of narrow bunkbeds, each three beds high, where the prisoners were kept. My nine- year-old daughter was shocked at how small and lumpy the straw mattresses were when she laid down upon them.

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More sobering was the crematorium. The cart that brought the bodies in to be disposed of still stands here a silent testimony to the hundreds of lives lost.

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Guard towers 100 meters apart and barbed wire fence also surround the property giving visitors a small sense of just what these prisoners were seeing and of the future that awaited them.

Near the exit of the museum there is a wall in which guests can reflect on their experience visiting Kamp Vught. This is what my 11 year old son wrote.

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This is a painful place to visit but a necessary one. It should serve to remind us of the horrors of war and and the cruelties that humans perpetrate against one another in the hopes that we never do so again. I would like to think that such vivid reminders of  a world gone mad will encourage the visitors of Kamp Vught to work for peace in their own backyards and keep the horrors of these times forever buried in the past never to see the light of day again. But we know that genocide and mass killings still occur all over the world today and with these events a question must be asked that cannot ever be properly answered. That question is WHY?

Kamp Vught is open 10:00-17.00, Sat, Sun 12:00-17:00.
Closed: Monday (October – March). The entrance fee is about 6 euros.

 

The Port at Bodrum-Bodrum, Turkey

One sweltering hot day in the middle of the Grecian summer we decided we needed to get away. But where should be go? Being on an island did not offer many opportunities but as our friendly hotel manager pointed out there was one place we could go while visiting a new country to boot …so we booked passage to Bodrum Turkey on the ferry and took off the next morning.

Now I live in a state known for its high temperatures and I am used to the heat. Yet, it was so hot the day we went that even the boat skipping over the cool water provided little relief. The cross breezes were so mild that blowing my own hot air cooled the air around me more than the breeze coming off the water. It was sweltering, so I took to dipping my shirt in the water to cool down; the effect not long lasting as it would be dry within 10 minutes. But the water was crystal inky blue and the birds dived along beside the boat making  for a memorable ride as the parched hills seemed to rise higher the closer we came to Turkey’s shore. But what I remember most was when St. Peter’s Castle a/k/a Bodrum Castle suddenly appear on the horizon….now that was a site! And then slowly the harbor around which it is perched came into view. Oh, the anticipation of seeing what was in this ancient port city stirred the fire in my belly.

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After disembarking we stood in line, passports in hard, waiting to have them stamped. I guess we looked harmless enough because they let us in. Sometimes that still astounds me… that whole letting me in process. Really….me?!!!!!!

With landing completed we joined the throng of tourists also taking a day trip to this fascinating country. Boats with flags of all colors and countries lined the dock. Some were sleek, some dingy, but all were magnificent in their own way. We turned towards the castle.

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Construction on Bodrum Castle began in 1402 by the Knights Of St. John. Each langue of the Order had its own tower and each had their own distinct style. The castle was built with plenty of twists and turns in order to keep enemy soldiers at bay. It served as a sanctuary for Christians throughout the area for over a century.

Then in 1962 the Turkish Government decided to turn the castle into a museum called the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. It houses one of the biggest collections of ancient glassware in the world and contains relics from the 12th century BC. Ship excavations are detailed and the treasures that can be found through the many rooms of the castle are truly a site to see.

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Back outside the port area bustles. Tourist shops line the street, small restaurants and craftsmen ply their trade.

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                                                         I found this sign slightly humorous

Little side streets and alleyways beckon you to explore a little deeper into the heart of the city.

 

This is a photo of an artist whose pictures we admired and bought several from him which hang in our home today.  Such a sweet, friendly and talented man!

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You will find just about anything you want here (except really good shade) so shop carefully because undoubtedly you’ll find the same item cheaper further on down the street.

While in Bodrum we took one of the tour buses. That is a story itself which I will save for another time. But if you are ever in the area I would recommend a stop at Bodrum. In fact, if I had to do it all again I would have spent several days in and around this area of Turkey only this time I would forego traveling there during the intense heat of the summer. And because is a land where ancient and modern meet,  you never know just what surprises await you but they are sure to be memorable.

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HINTS: This is not a cheap excursion. It costs a little less than $40 USD round trip for the ferry.

HINTS: The Museums are closed on Mondays. The entrance fee to Bodrum Castle is approximately $9 USD.

Best Neolithic Site-County Meath, Ireland

Sitting high on a hill in the Boyne Valley sits Newgrange; one of the ancient wonders of the world. It is an amazing place that sets your imagination on fire as it takes you back to a place so old that most people have never seen anything remotely like it before. Built before both the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge; this burial mound is over 5,000 years old, but like a shy maiden you would never guess her age, for she has aged well.

We drove to the site which overlooks this valley carved out of hills with running streams throughout. This place is truly out in the middle of nowhere. Traveling down a steep road we could get glimpses of the massive site through the trees as we neared the Bru na Boinne Visitor Center. Here we bought the tickets necessary to board the bus that takes you to Newgrange itself. But while waiting we viewed depicting life as it was lived so long ago by the Neolithic people. Most exhibits here focus on how the tombs were built, why they were built, and how they were used. The architecture here is superb with glass walls allowing visitors to take in the picture perfect views of the Valley. In addition, there is a small tea room to sit, take a snack, and just enjoy all that surrounds you.

After about 20 minutes of coffee sipping, we boarded the shuttle bus and were taken to Newgrange. I was amazed at the size of the mound which encompasses about an acre. Spying out of the bus windows you see enormous retaining wall that is surrounded by artfully carved kerbstones. There are many standing stones ringing the mound that add a sense of mystery to the place but it seems that they are a newer addition having been placed there sometime in the Bronze Age.

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From the bus we walked quite a way to the entrance where we were met by a guide who described all we could see and would be seeing inside the chamber, which incidentally, only takes up a small part of the over-all site. But by far the most interesting thing about Newgrange is the roof-box which sits directly over the entrance. The Neolithic people designed this narrow space to align with the sun so that on December 21st (Winter Solstice) the first of the sun’s rays pass through the box, extend down the passage and into the chamber. The chamber then lites up and glows for about 15 minutes before being consumed by the darkness once again.  Both burnt and unburnt bone have been discovered here leading researchers to believe that bodies some bodies had been cremated before being placed in the passage.

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This is a place where the spirit and the intensions of the ancient live on. It is a site where hilly ground keeps treasures and secrets buried but still “seen.” It is a place where those who enjoy the mysterious should venture. Newgrange…remember the name!

 

Free Entrance Days

Almost all National, State and local Parks have annual free or reduced price entrance days. Museums usually do to0. Here is a list of some of my favorite free admission places to visit this year.

 

Because it is the 100th birthday of  National Park Service there are several days this year where no admission is charged. These include:

  • April 16 through 24: National Park Day
  • August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day
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CHICAGO

Art Institute of Chicago: Free for all Illinois residents from 5-8 p.m. Thursdays. Kids 13 and under are always free.

Chicago Children’s Museum: Free 5-8 p.m. every Thursday and the first Sunday of every month for kids 15 and under. Always free to children under 1.

The Field Museum: Several days have already come and gone this year but June 21-23 remains

Museum of Science and Industry: The following days in 2016 remain

June: 1-3, 6-8; September: 6-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30; October: 4-6; November: 3,10 December: 1

Several other Chicago attractions also have free days.

NEW YORK CITY

New York Aquarium: Friday 3 pm-closing (pay what you wish)

Whitney Museum of American Art: Friday 7-9:30 pm

Bronx Zoo: Wednesday (pay what you wish)

Metropolitan Museum of Art (always free or pay what you wish)

There are plenty more attractions in and around NYC that offer these deals.

SAN FRANCISCO

Asian Art Museum: First Sunday of every month

de Young: First Tuesday of every month, first full weekend of every month for Bank of America Card Holders

San Francisco Railway Museum: Always free

Bat Area Discovery Museum: Great for kids. First Wednesday of every month.

BALTIMORE

The Walters Art Museum: General admission is free

National Aquarium: Dollar Days are December 3 and 4 this year. Admission is just $1. 1/2 Price Nights after 5 p.m. on Fridays. There is also a Pay What You Want Day every year.

DENVER

Denver Museum of Nature and Science: April 23, May 9, June 5, August 29, September 11, October 24, November 13, December 12

Denver Art Museum: May 7, June 4 and other days throughout the year

Children’s Museum of Denver:May 3 4-8 p.m., June 7 4-8 p.m.

SEATTLE

Seattle Symphony: Various dates. Check schedule.

Museum Of Flight: Free 5p.m.-9 p.m. the first Thursday of the month

Museum of History and Industry: First Thursdays are free and have extended hours (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Washington State Parks: May 8: Sunday Spring Day, June 4: National Trails Day, June 11: National Get Outdoors Day, Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday, Sept. 24: National Public Lands Day, Nov. 11: Veterans Day

ST. LOUIS

St. Louis Zoo: There is no entrance fee. It is FREE. There are some charges for special events like the sea lion show.

Contemporary Art Museum: is free for all visitors on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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As you can see there are plenty of free things to do in and around where you live. Just google FREE DAYS in your area for a list of adventures.

*All information provided is subject to change. Verify details before going.

 

A Little Bit Of Asian Culture-Corpus Christi, TX

I love it when you stumble upon a place that is unexpected and it turns out to be a feast for the eyes. The Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures in Corpus Christi is just such a place. Located within walking distance of several of the city’s tourist gems, this hidden treasure celebrates the art and culture of such countries as Koran, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos.

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Founded in the 1960’s by local Mrs. Billie Trimble Chandler, the museum while small, houses collections of the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. While the museum has amassed a sizable collection of paintings, pottery, textiles and more, it also welcomes traveling exhibits from a variety of Asian countries. The museum also offers educational classes for both locals and tourists alike.

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When I was there I saw several intricately embroidered and colorful kimonos on display and the collection of jade from China was vast and diverse. Since I am a collector of Korean Celadon Pottery I appreciated the intricacies of the ones that were shown.  I was also amazed at the berth of the clay Hakata Dolls collection from Japan. How one woman could have collected all of these treasures during her 17 years spent teaching in Japan is beyond me!

 

 

One of the biggest assets this small museum has is it’s people. The staff is extremely knowledgable and will spend time pointing out particular pieces and answering any and all questions. Even the hard ones. In fact, I had a question that they staff was unable to answer but researched and emailed me the information that they discovered. Talk about service!

The Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures is located at 1809 N. Chaparral St, Corpus Christi, TX. It is open Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Entrance fee is $5 per adult and less for students and children. It is about a one hour stop.

Small museums like this are priceless and deserve our support. Stop by…you will be glad that you did!

 

 

Borax Visitors Center-Boron, CA

For the past 10 years driving along desolate Hwy 58 running between California and Las Vegas out in the Mojave Desert; I have seen the sign for the Boron Museum and promised myself that I would stop “next time.” Well, that “next time” always came and went waiting for the “next time” to appear. This weekend I stopped. I’m glad I did.

It’s a little creepy taking a road to “nowhere.”  While you see the Boran Operations ahead, the road to the museum goes straight past and up a high gravel road to the top where the Borax Visitor Center sits. It’s a strange and lonely drive.

Once there we explored the outside first where a life sized replica of a Twenty Mule Team is hitched up to carts of Borax ready to make the dangerous ride down the mountain and through the high desert. You will also find a 100 ton truck tire, picnic shelter, and the headframe from the original underground mine. Climb the small hill at the back of the center for stunning view of the open pit mine which descends an amazing 850 ft down. Hard to believe this was an underground mine until the 1950’s!

The Borax Visitor’s Center is small but educational. Retired miners act as guides through the mining process and do they ever know their stuff. Ask them any question and they have the answer. From huge rocks of Borate, to displays of all the products that contain borate, and models of the different parts of the plant below; this is the place you want to go to learn all about borate mining.

The only thing I didn’t care for was the short film that was shown in the theatre. While very educational it felt more like a company promotional piece than a sincere desire to teach visitors more about the mining process. But the highlight of it all was the opening of the back curtain to see the vast 2 mile long mine which mines over three million tons of ore every year. It truly is an amazing site.

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This is one of those short off-road breaks. Give yourself about an hours time to look around, visit the gift shop, view the films and the displays.

Just a few of the products that use borates:

Space Shuttle tiles

Cleaners

Cosmetics

Teflon Cooking Utensils

Sparklers

Fertilizers

Cosmetics

Shower Curtains

Fiberglass

Motor Oils

 

The Visitors Center is located in Boron, CA and is open seven days a week from 9 a.m.- 4:45 p.m. excluding major holidays. This is a FREE museum and they even give you your own sample of Borax to take home with you!

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Exploratorium-Embarcadero at San Francisco

Billing itself as a public learning laboratory the Exploratorium encourages kids and adults alike to use science, art, and their senses to explore the world around them. Located on the Embarcadero this stunning location on the wharf is worth the cost of admission in and of itself.

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The kids will easily want to spend the entire day visiting the hands-on exhibits. During one hour they may spend their time learning how neurons react while actually working with them and perhaps learning about Mars while investigating its many up close and personal images. Many times throughout the day children can take classes in subjects such as model plane building and flying. Rotating exhibits often include astonishing art which encourages visitors to use machines that allow sculptures to change shape and purpose. And using a vocal visualizer will delight your kids as they use their voices to transform laser lights into incredible shapes and patterns. With both inside and outside venues it allows the little ones to burn off some energy easily.

This place is science as it is meant to be explored but mostly it is just a place where your kid can engage in FUN!

When everyone gets in need of their own fuel you can head down to the eatery. The food is good but be prepared to shell out some dough for fresh salads and homemade mac and cheese. After noshing down head out to one of the decks where you can glimpse the bridge and watch the boats ply the waters.

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The Exploratorium also sponsors “After Dark Nights” programs for adults only. Here you can have a lesierly dinner and sip a few cocktails too. Pairings are also offered featuring some of the best organic foods in the area. Obviously, this is a great place to meet like minded folk and I suspect it is probably a better pick up place than the local grocery store!

HINT: Yes, I agree completely that ticket prices of  $29 for adults is a bit pricey but if you invest in a CITY PASS in which discounts are provided to some of the areas favorite tourist sites then you can save 44%. Prices are a little less for youth and FREE to kids 3 and under. But smart San Franciscans wait until the six annual FREE days to visit and California Public School Teachers can receive free entry by filling out a form online. Check the website for dates.

Trainland USA-Colfax, Iowa

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If you are a train aficionado then this is the place for you. Set out in back hills of Iowa this is one man’s model train dreamland and after your visit it will be yours too.

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In 1964, Red Atwood began collecting Lionel O gauge trains and like most hobbies it took on a life of its own. Soon Atwood was building a new home to house his Lionels and then he decided to create one of the world’s largest model railroads museums in order to display them. And display them he does. Using various backdrops visitors can see the progression of the railroads across the USA using steam, diesel and frontier trains. And with over 60 interactive buttons to push and operate different displays the kids (and adults alike) load freight cars, turn ferris wheels, make broncos buck and take the trains down steep passes. Along the way you can “see” Mount Rushmore, The Statue of Liberty and The White House and over 4,000 ft. of track. This place is amazing!!!

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Along with the museum there are several old train cars set up as shops where you can purchase old Lionels and the necessary supplies until your heart is content.

Trainland gets a five star rating (out of 5) from this family. With so many things to see, touch and explore our original “lets stop for a 1/2 hour” turned out to last much longer than we originally anticipated. Sure it’s a short drive off the freeway but it is worth it!

FYI there is a small entrance fee to help with the upkeep of the 25,000 ft of wire, 600 lights and 120 automatic switches. It’s a small price to pay for such an educational and entertaining museum.

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Colfax, Iowa