Oz is ‘oz-some’ but Kansas (and Missouri) ain’t bad either!

After an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing trek through Oz – Dorothy and Toto realize, “There’s no place like home!” After clicking her ruby red slippers (blinged out Mary Jane shoes), Dorothy, clutching Toto to her chest is transported back home to Kansas. A place that to most is a snoozy flat state full of wheat fields, tucked smack dab in the middle of the country and usually on the way to somewhere, not the destination. But as it turns out, Kansas has plenty to offer – especially in the burgeoning metropolitan area of Kansas City and its surrounding suburbs.

Kansas isn’t all wheat fields – this lush pond filled with lilypads is in Leawood, a southern suburb of KC.

My husband and I lived in Kansas some 30 years ago, and our daughter was born there almost 27 years ago. At the time we were told to keep our outings to the suburbs or to the famed Country Club Plaza just southwest of downtown area which at the time was not worth visiting and not particularly safe. Fast forward 30 years and downtown and its surrounding areas are the ‘in’ place. A resurgence of great restaurants (i.e. Michael Smith Restaurant, The Reiger, & Nara), boutique shops and event venues has lured many to make downtown KC their living quarters. From high rises with a modern cosmopolitan vibe to old warehouses transposed into industrial style living quarters, downtown is a great place to live if you don’t need/want the upkeep of a yard.

Old train yards and depots, like the Freight House, now house great restaurants – i.e. Lidia’s, Jack Stack BBQ, and Grunaur. Across the railroad tracks at Union Station, the currently running Mummy Exhibition and permanent Science City and Planetarium are must visits. The train station is an active station for Amtrak and an architectural beauty itself after being restored in the mid 1990’s. The station renovations included creating windows into the guts of the working train station – showing some of the engine rooms with their original equipment.

Beautiful renovated inside of Union Station in KC.

My beautiful nieces out front of the revitalized Union Station and the Planetarium.

A few months ago my husband and children went to see a museum just south of downtown Kansas City, on the Missouri side and raved about it. I did not rush to see the museum in my subsequent visits. It was always on my ‘To Visit’ list, but in my naivety I assumed it would be ‘nothing to write home about.’ I stand duly corrected – the Nelson-Atkins Museum rivals any museum I have visited in New York City, Paris, or London. Who woulda thunk?

Separated into three very distinct layouts, the museum has something to offer everyone. Upon arriving at the site, the main museum building sits atop a hill at the end of a long expanse of grass – a very grand entrance. Inside this main building is housed original works of art from Renoir to Monet, Caravaggio to Gaugin, Rembrandt to Van Gogh. Exhibits ranging from China to India, mummies to sculptures, architecture to decorative arts. The building itself is a neoclassical architecture work of art that serves as a perfect place to house the classics of the art world.

The lush green lawn leading up to the original building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

In 2007 the new addition Bloch (think H&R Bloch) Building was opened. This contemporary arm of the museum houses more modern works of art, like the present Jackson Pollock installation. It is rumored you can see chards of glass from wine glasses Pollock shattered on the canvas of some paintings during his days battling alcoholism. This new museum space is clean, open, and stretched out into a stadium style design that stair steps down the terrain of the landscape it sits on. Each section showcasing a different style of modern art: from Pollock to Warhol, contemporary diverse media to modern expressionism, and photographic exhibits rotated on a regular basis.

A large Jackson Pollock is a focal point to the newer modern arm of the museum.

Be sure to visit the museum during good weather – the outside sculpture exhibit is worth the walk around the beautiful grounds. Walk a maze that isn’t a maze, but a labyrinth – “…a place in which we lose ourselves to find ourselves…” says the director of Curatorial Affairs. Or dream of climbing the 56′ stainless steel leafless tree by Roxy Paine – who asks, “…the viewer to think about how nature and technology coexist.”

A 50′ x 50′ glass labyrinth at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in KC.

A stainless steel leafless tree sculpture by Roxy Paine.

Or stand tall against the 18′ high shuttlecocks that dot the museum grounds, imagining as the husband wife sculptor team that the museum is the badminton net and the expansive lawn is the playing field. It would take a being of epic proportions to bat these 5,500 pound shuttlecocks up and over the net (museum), but they are a sight to see.

A giant shuttlecock (one of three) sits on the front lawn of the Nelson-Adkins Museum.

A little southeast of the museum is the well-reknowned Country Club Plaza.  I have touched on this area in past posts, but it is always worth another mention. The best time of year to visit the Country Club Plaza is closer to the holidays, because the unique Spanish architecture of this whole shopping mecca is outlined in lights, so at night it becomes a work of art all its own. During the rest of the year, the quality of shopping and restaurants are worth the effort. Grab a Starbuck’s and take the beautiful walk up and down the 20 or so blocks of boutique shops and restaurants.

With fall right around the corner head south of the city into the Kansas countryside to Louisburg for a supply of apples, apple cider and pumpkins. This cider mill has been around since 1977 and grown into a local tradition to get your fall fix of smells and tastes, although the cider mill is open year round. Grab a large cup of hot cider and mosey down the road to the Overland Park Arboretum and take in all the vibrant fall colors of the trees, shrubs and flowers while walking the paths interwoven throughout the waterways and ponds on this beautiful track of land.

Louisburg Cider Mill is a great place to spend a fall afternoon.

All kinds of great buys inside the gift shop at the Louisburg Cider Mill: soups, ciders, candies, scented candles, fun kitchen wares.

Maybe Kansas/Missouri and the KC area aren’t necessarily bucket list destinations, but if you find yourself in the area you won’t grow bored with all this region has to offer.

Planes, Trains and my favorite – Automobiles

There are a lot of ways to get to where we want to go for our travel needs. Planes allow us to get there quickly. Trains give us the opportunity to get there fairly quickly while taking in some pretty amazing scenery. But for me there is nothing like driving to a chosen destination. Automobiles can provide speed. And the viewing opportunities are endless because you are not tied to a specific track; and your schedule is your own.

PLANES: to cover the most miles in the shortest amount of time there is nothing to compete with flying. Even with delays that seem to happen with far too much regularity, if you have a time crunch, there is no match to covering 500 miles in an hour. Our airline choices have become greatly reduced in recent years with airlines swallowing each other up left and right, leaving less and less competition to keep airline prices in acceptable ranges. The seat areas get smaller, while the prices get bigger.

Taking off in ominous skies in Phoenix enroute to Kansas City on US Airways

After a long delay finally taking off in ominous skies in Phoenix enroute to Kansas City on US Airways

The three main airlines I fly on are: Delta, US Airways, and Southwest. I wish I could say one outweighs the others when it comes to customer service. But it seems to be a real crapshoot as whether you get a good crew or not. Some make you feel like you are bothering them and they are there to basically get a paycheck. Others make you feel like you are the only passenger on board. Some crack jokes and keep everybody’s spirits in a light and lively mood; some try to crack jokes and fail miserably and should just stick with serving; and others are simply good at making your flight pleasant and comfortable.

Pros and Cons of each airline – including perks of flying status on some airlines

Delta: allows purchase and cancellation of one-way flights; $200 change fee; great Delta Sky Club (SkyTeam) – can enter with Platinum AMEX, First Class ticket, or Gold Medallion or higher; three free checked bag; possible but not often free upgrade; boarded by zones; minimum five miles earned for each dollar paid.

Delta Airplane

US Airways: allows purchase of one-way flights – but if you book a round-trip ticket and cancel one leg, they cancel the whole flight > charge a $200 change fee and difference in airfare to rebook leg they canceled; only Emerald or Sapphire or International first class has access to OneWorld Clubs (or you can pay $50 for a one day pass) – a Platinum AMEX, First Class domestic ticket or Silver Preferred won’t get you in; Silver Preferred allows you one free checked bag and free upgrade for you and a companion if available; boarded by zones; earn 100% or 150% of miles flown depending on status.

US Airways airplane

Southwest: allows purchase and cancellation of one-way flights; two free checked bags, but they do charge an early bird fee if you want a chance to get checked in early so you don’t have to end up in a middle row seat; no cancellation fee – they bank your credit for use on a future flight; no first class or sky miles clubs; business status is achievable for better seating options; board by lining up on either side of a line up of numbered posts – A,B or C and 1-60; minimum 6 points (miles) earned for each dollar spent.

Southwest Airlines airplane

TRAINS: now we need more of these in the US. It is one thing I love about being in Europe. You don’t need to or really want to drive long distances there. There are trains traveling at all times of the day and night to pretty much any destination you can think of in Europe. If you’re in a hurry, take one of the many speed trains. If you aren’t, take one of the more leisurely paced trains and take in the diversified landscapes that dot the European continent. And if you are in one of the major cities, there is no better way to get around then by subway or light/metro rail. Quick on and quick off.

Sipping on a cold one in the subway in Prague - those Czechs like their beer anywhere and everywhere

Sipping on a cold one in the subway in Prague – those Czechs like their beer anywhere and everywhere

One of many historical train stations dotting the European countryside - usually with a church in the background

One of many historical train stations dotting the European countryside – usually with a church in the background

On the train, taking in scenery and an opportunity for some reading enroute from Vienna to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

On the train, taking in scenery and an opportunity for some reading enroute from Vienna to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

There are regions in the US that have taken this form of transportation to heart: NYC, Boston, Washington DC, and many points in between; Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami. Amtrak has been around for decades and it would be great to see the kind of train access between states like there is between countries in Europe. Obviously from a cost perspective in this day and age this is very prohibitive. The size of each country is roughly the same when compared in square miles, but we have only about 40% of the population that Europe does, so that leaves a lot of vast unpopulated miles to cover that building and maintaining rail systems in these areas would be very expensive.

Amtrak train

Respite from the rains above in a subway below New York Cities busy streets

Respite from the rains above in a subway below New York Cities busy streets

When I am in the US and am not in a hurry to get to my destination there is no better way to travel than by automobile. I don’t really have any addictions, but I do have several passions: traveling, eating, writing, reading, golfing, walking and CARS!! I have a need for speed!! The kind with four wheels. Our family has a diverse collection cars to take us to our chosen destinations: SUV’s to take us through snowy mountain passages and rough terrain; sports cars to hug those curvy roads; sedans to float along the open highway; UTV to go off-roading into the desert.

Ready for a road trip through the curvy mountain roads in northern Arizona

Ready for a road trip through the curvy mountain roads in northern Arizona

Plenty of room in the SUV for dogs and luggage

Plenty of room in the SUV for dogs and luggage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now when my family travels to a destination where we need to rent a car, we splurge on a fun ride as much as on our accommodations. Nothing like winding your way through the Vermont countryside in a road hugging Camaro or cruising along on the Pacific Coast highway in a Porsche Panamera.

Girls road trip to Yosemite from San Francisco in a snappy Mustang convertible

Girls road trip to Yosemite from San Francisco in a snappy Mustang convertible

Cruising through the curves on the 17-mile drive on the Monterey Peninsula in a Porsche Panamera

Cruising through the curves on 17-mile drive on the Monterey Peninsula in a Porsche Panamera

The view through the front window of a 2012 jet black Camaro as my daughter and I wind our way through the Vermont Countryside

The view through the front window of a 2012 jet black Camaro as my daughter and I wind our way through the Vermont countryside

 

Eli helping Dad navigate the roadways from Phoenix to Kansas City

Eli helping Dad navigate the roadways from Phoenix to Kansas City