It’s for the birds: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Unexpectedly finding ourselves in Pittsburgh for the day, we decided to visit the National Aviary, in Allegheny Commons West Park.. The “National” title is honorary and was bestowed by Congress in 1993.  A private, non-profit organization took control after the city no longer could fund it.  It is indoors and boasts over 500 birds from more than 150 species.  It is relatively small, but you should allow about an hour and a half to walk through it.  We paused for lunch and listened to several talks by staff, so it took us longer.

Birds like eagles are in cages, but many other species wander freely and have become accustomed to the visitors’ presence.   We were amused by one small duck that liked to peck at the feet of people in open-toed shoes.

Click on photos to enlarge and to see captions.

Date of our visit: 13 Jun 2021

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Field of Heroes

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is a United States holiday to honor those who died in the service of their country.

For many, it is a day for picnics to celebrate the beginning of summer.  But we moved to the Mid-west where our neighbors and others are more inclined to honor the original meaning.

For the last thirteen years, the Sunrise Rotary Club of Westerville, Ohio has provided the community a “Field of Heroes” with flags and signs honoring those who served. In 2018, they added flags honoring police and fire fighters who died in the line of duty. 

This year, there were a total of 3500 flags, many dedicated to a particular “hero” by a patron in the community.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The first photo was taken in our neighborhood. The red and blue ceramic flowers in the last two photos were made by people in Westerville; we were told every kiln in the area was busy.

Date of our visit: 29-30 May 2021

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Time to take a detour

This post is for people who actually read this blog as opposed to just “following” it and perhaps automatically hitting the “like” button. 

I started writing ten years ago with the simple goal of informing family and friends about our trips.  I admit I now get great pleasure when a friend who is not a blogger tells me they read my blog.  And I also now have friends in the blogging world whose work I read, and I look forward to their comments even though we have never met in person.

My posts were too long.  Not even family and friends could wade through them.  But today, WordPress tells me this will be my 536th post.  I think they have improved.

Writing this blog has helped me “see” things on our travels as opposed to just looking at them.

Part of the evolution of the blog became the goal of producing a post every Friday.

As with many, COVID-19 stopped our travels, so I spent more time looking back.  As “about ralietravels” says, we have always enjoyed travel. But we really became serious about it twenty-one years ago.  One year, we actually spent 22 of 52 weeks “on the road.”

However, even as we begin to travel again, we are slowing down.  Road trips lasting eight to fourteen weeks are unlikely now.

We will still travel.  I will still write.  But there will be a detour: posts will appear, but they won’t be here every Friday.

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Not the real Parthenon but interesting in its own right.

Nashville, Tennessee was nicknamed The Athens of the South. A full-scale replica of the 438 B.C. Parthenon in Athens, Greece was built in 1897 to be the center-piece for the six-month long Tennessee Centennial Exposition celebrating arts and industry.

A photo of the exhibition grounds with the Parthenon center-piece

Visiting friends in Nashville, we could see the Parthenon from our hotel window.  Our expectations when we went to see it were low; we had seen the real thing with its magnificent vistas across Athens.

Click on photos to enlarge.

They left the replica standing after the fair, but over the next twenty years the wood, brick and plaster building began to deteriorate badly.  People liked it, however, and they decided to rebuild the temple in 1915.  The Athens original was built of marble, but the new Nashville replica was made of concrete especially tinted to resemble the aged marble as it was in 1915.

Tornado damage used up all rebuilding funds for five years.

The original statue of Athena is long gone but, using accounts that give a pretty good description, funds were raised to create a replica in Nashville in 1990.  The original statue was made of ivory and gold plates over a wood substructure.  The new version, fairly accurate at 41 feet ten inches tall, is made of fiberglass and cement covered with gold leaf and ivory paint over a steel substructure.  A six-foot 4-inch-tall goddess Nike stands on Athena’s right hand prepared to crown her with a laurel wreath.

Athena’s shield is some 15 foot in diameter.   The outside depicts the battle between the Greeks and the Amazons with the head of Medusa in the center.  The inside of the shield depicts the battle of the gods and Titans.  The snake is thought to represent the people of Athens who “arose from the soil of Attica” and were protected by Athena.

Each of 4 bronze doors is 24-foot-high, 6.5-feet-wide and 1-foot-thick and weighs 7 tons.  The original doors in Athens were wood and bronze and rode on semi-circular tracks on the floor.  Nashville’s doors are balanced in ball bearing collars at top and bottom and move easily without the need for the tracks.

Well displayed signs made our visit interesting.  Some told us that since the replica was built, modern archaeology has revealed more modern interpretations on how the original building looked.  We were also surprised to discover an art gallery on the first level.  James Cowan donated 63 paintings from his collection of 19th and 20th Century American art work anonymously during his lifetime.  Some were by well-known names that even we recognized; others, although not known to us, were very interesting.  As I write this, I regret I did not photograph them.  It is always a pleasure to stumble upon a fine small collection of art

Winslow Homer painting of a wreck.

Date of our visit: 6 April 21

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America’s only Prohibition Museum, Savannah, Georgia

One of the 22 squares scattered throughout Savannah.

Wide walkable streets lined with old trees, old houses around numerous parks, and a relaxing ambiance make Savannah one of our favorite places.

Metropolitan Savannah, Georgia has just under 400,000 people.  It is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States and perhaps the world.  But we were just passing through this time.  We took a brief tour and had a wonderful dinner along the Savannah River.

The Prohibition Museum is a very recent addition to Savannah.  One takes a self-guided tour through its thirteen galleries past thirty some life-sized wax figures, automobiles from the era and ending in a “speakeasy,” as illegal bars were known at the time in which one can purchase a drink, certainly a novelty for any museum we have seen before.

Readers from other countries might not be aware the United States amended its Constitution in 1919 to prohibit the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors.  Congress passed a law implementing this new rule in 1920 and that was the law of the land until December 1933 when another amendment repealed this law.  The era in between was called Prohibition and gave rise to significant changes in the social structure of the country.

Temperance had long meant the abstinence from alcohol.  But as far back as 1840, Abraham Lincoln said prohibition was “intemperance itself.”  The movement grew throughout the 19th century.  In the latter half of that century, the Anti-Saloon League grew in power attacking anyone who opposed prohibition.  Their lawyer, Wayne Wheeler, created the term “pressure group” to influence politicians and united with anti-immigrant groups.

Wets vs. Dries – Lincoln refuses to sign the pledge.

The law was never popular.  Prior to prohibition, 40% of all U.S. taxes were paid by brewers and distillers.  Alcohol taxes paid for 75% of New York’s budget.  The production, transportation and sale were the source of employment for many. Facing this loss of income, the first income tax was passed the year before prohibition went into effect.

Illegal production and sale gave rise to organized crime and an increasing disrespect for the rule of law.  The high price of illegal liquor further magnified the social divide between the poor and working classes and the middle and upper classes.

Among those supporting Prohibition was the Klu Klux Klan, whose membership skyrocketed to five million by the late 1920s.  Attacks on German and Irish immigrant brewers and minority bootleggers fit perfectly into their anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist agenda.

A loophole in the law permitted doctors, dentists and even veterinarians to prescribe “medicinal alcohol.”  People developed a whole host of new aliments.

Synagogues were permitted 10 gallons of sacramental wine per member.  The number of ordained rabbis spiked, some with unusual names like O’Leary.

With thirteen galleries full of well-labeled exhibits on everything from the growing support for the law, ways people coped with law and the “side effects” of the law such the change in social norms and the birth of stock car racing [NASCAR], there was far too much to cover here.  You will just have to see it for yourself.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 9 Mar 2021

Just in passing for other WordPress bloggers, I really prefer the way the classic editor handled photos.

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The Statehouse, Columbia, South Carolina

Before hitting the “publish” button, I realized this is as much of an essay as a travel post.  But if you are not interested in another opinion piece, you can  just Click on photos to enlarge.

It is often said we should forgive and forget, but sometimes I wonder if we would not be better off “remembering and forgiving” or perhaps “remembering, understanding and moving on.”

We had never been in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, so when we got into town in late afternoon, we decided to go see their capitol building.

Each of the columns on the State House was carved from a single piece of rock making them the largest such carvings on a U.S. public building.

Charleston was the first capital, but the State House was moved to Columbia in the center of the state to what was the first planned capital city in the nation.

A grand capitol building built of stone [previous wood State Houses burned] was started in the 1850s, but the civil war intervened.  Union General Sherman burned much of Columbia in 1865.

The current building was constructed from 1867 to the 1880s, most of the interior work was done by 1895 and the building was declared complete in 1907.

We arrived shortly before the capitol closed, but they let us into the almost empty building.  We walked up to the main lobby.  A double dome overhead has glass on the inside; the exterior dome is of steel and wood finished with copper.

Guards let us walk onto the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives and into the Joint Legislative Conference Room between them.  The Conference Room is the only one in its original condition.

A statue of John C. Calhoon is in the center of the Main Lobby.  Outside, we walked around the grounds with beautiful spring flowers and ancient trees.  There is the Jefferson Davis Highway marker named for the President of the Confederacy, a memorial to Civil War general Wade Hampton, a Confederate Women’s Memorial and a tree to memorialize Robert E. Lee.  A prominent statue of Strom Thurmond is on one side.  Thurmond retired in January 2003 at age 100 after 48 years in the U.S. Congress.

There are also many other memorials including a very interesting one tracing African American history, and ones dedicated to Revolutionary War heroes, veterans and police officers.

I felt conflicted.  My father was honored by the NAACP in the early 1940s long before it was chic for white persons to be involved in the civil rights movement.  He raised his children to be colorblind as much as is possible for any of us.  I met Strom Thurmond late in his career and knew one of his aides, an African-American man, very well.  Thurmond, who did much for South Carolina and its economy, appointed Thomas Moss, an African-American who I did not know, to his Senate staff in 1971.  But Thurmond, a product of his times, resisted the civil rights movement and was a leader of the effort to preserve segregation well into the 1960s.  Davis, Lee and other Civil War leaders may have believed they were fighting for their states, but they were fighting for slavery.  The brilliant John C. Calhoon [1782-1850] devoted much of his 40 plus years on the national stage to protecting slavery and even extending it to new states.

It felt wrong to have memorials honoring these people.  But today’s “cancel culture,” which would even pull down the statues of Jefferson, Washington and Grant, is wrong too.  We can honor virtue and condemn faults, but we cannot change history.  It is worse that they would “cancel” anyone who disagrees with their dogmatism.

“Forgive and forget” is important on a personal level because resentment corrodes our own psyches.  But it is not our role to forgive historical figures, and we lose something as a country if we don’t remember them.

It is wrong to honor them as though they had no faults.  But we need to remember them because they were important to history, even if as bad examples.  We need to understand them, the times and societies they lived in, their strengths, and their weaknesses.  Then we need to move on, live our own lives and address our own weaknesses.

Date of our visit: 8 Mar 21

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Just a walk in the park.

We moved to a home just outside Columbus, Ohio last August to be closer to family.  But like most everyone else, COVID-19 hasn’t allowed us to get too close and also severely limited our travels.

However, we found a wonderful unexpected bonus in metropolitan Columbus.  There are great parks everywhere.  The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department operates 370 parks.  That is just inside the city limits.  The Central Ohio Metro Parks system has 19 outstanding natural area parks with more than 230 miles of trails and over 27,700 acres of land in seven Central Ohio counties.  Several no-fee state parks are also close by.

We became acquainted with Highbanks Metro Park right after we moved.  Tired at the end of each day of unpacking, cleaning and putting away far too much “stuff,” we didn’t want to cook.  We didn’t want to go out.  So, we ordered take-out for a picnic – actually lots of picnics at Highbanks and other parks too.

I did not take many pictures at the time because we weren’t thinking of ourselves as travelers.  But perhaps this will be just enough exposure to the parks that if you should visit this area, you might want to take a break from whatever brought you here to relax a little bit and maybe even have a picnic.

Click on photos to enlarge.

More winter scenes from “our” parks.

Walden Reserve includes a large pond in Sharon Woods Metro Park.  These signs for Walden Reserve International Airport with arrivals and departures caught my eye.

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Searching to maintain a birthday tradition while traveling

Many years [decades] ago after particularly stressful workweeks, I visited a doctor with a sharp pain in my gut.  After an exam, he quizzed me on my consumption of dairy products such as milk, cheese and cottage cheese.  I ate them but not regularly.  Then he asked about ice cream, and I said “about a quart a night.”  “Bingo,” he said.  Evidently it was giving me gas pains.

That story simply illustrates that I love ice cream.  It was hard to give it up when my cholesterol levels skyrocketed.  However, I saw the wisdom in the sacrifice.

My compromise was to allow myself a banana split on my birthday.  It became a tradition, and as a tradition, it developed a life of its own.

I celebrate other’s birthdays not to celebrate a number which I believe is irrelevant but to acknowledge the person is special.  I don’t care about my own at all but remember many of my banana splits, where they were and what they were like.

Since retiring, we often traveled [pre-COVID-19] on my birthday.  I am CDO [OCD in alphabetical order].  However, if a banana split is not available on my birthday, I happily move it to another day.

We almost never take pictures of restaurant food.  But here are a few illustrations:  Click on them to enlarge.

The search itself sometimes becomes memorable.  We were camped in the North Carolina mountains where there was no ice cream to be had.  But a few days later, we drove into Forest City where Smith’s Drug Store advertised a soda fountain.  They only charged $2.50 for a banana split, but it was Thursday and they were on sale for $1.75!

Smith Drugs, Forest City, North Carolina

The biggest banana split I ever had was at Grandma Daisy’s in Boulder City, Nevada.

One time, it was too early in the year to get much ice cream in Hannibal, Missouri, and an offer to make one with frozen yogurt was unacceptable.  Later, we were in Le Mars, Iowa, home of the world’s largest ice cream plant.  A repurposed store downtown housed a gift shop on one side and soda fountain on the other.  Upstairs, a balcony around the the stairwell was used as a small museum for Blue Bunny Ice Cream.  When we went up, there were a bunch of men in white shirts and ties in a meeting room.  We guessed it might be a Rotary Club meeting.

After looking at the museum, we went to the soda fountain.  Alie explained to the young girl behind the counter that I wanted a “traditional” banana split for my 70th birthday and carefully explained what ice cream and toppings were needed to make it traditional.

From behind us, a male voice said “I’ll make it.”  The little girl scurried out of sight and a man in white shirt and tie – presumably from the meeting upstairs – made my sundae.  I took his picture.  He took mine.  When he finished, he left, and the girl came back to take our money.

I was impressed with Blue Bunny and looked them up that night to see if their stock warranted a small investment.  It turned out they were a family held company, and I believe the CEO made my most memorable banana split.

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Travel-inspired paintings

With more time after retirement, I decided to teach myself to paint.  I found I have no inborn talent and the key is practice and persistence.  But we also like to travel. That steals time available to paint and tends to create “art inertia.”  Once stopped, it is hard to get going again.

Ideally to paint a portrait, I would: do drawings of the model, take a bunch of photos; go back to the studio; do the basic painting; and then bring back the model and create the final work.   Instead, I work from photographs.  I often see interesting people on our travels, but while I can get permission to use their photos, I can’t bring them to the studio.

Here are a few photos and the paintings they inspired.

Click on photos to enlarge.


Clearly I need more practice, but as much as I enjoy it, inertia has set in yet again.  An unfinished painting sits to my left begging me to get back to it as I type this.

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Corregidor and a Jimmy Carter look-alike

The Manila Hotel, site of General MacArthur’s headquarters.

Manila Bay is huge.  It is forty-eight kilometers from the dock to Corregidor, an island in the mouth of the bay.  The Manila Hotel where General MacArthur held court on the fourth floor was not far from our 2011 ship’s dock.  By 2011 they had added a high-rise wing.

We are history buffs and are old enough that World War II was still “recent” history when we were in school.  Therefore on our first day in Manila [see last week’s post for more about Manila.], we took a boat to Corregidor, now a national shrine dedicated to the Pacific War.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Curiously, construction of most buildings and fortifications on Corregidor began during World War I using Japanese cement.  Japan invaded the American-occupied Philippines on 8 December 1941, ten hours after the bombardment of Pearl Harbor.  They occupied a small island the same day and began the attack on Luzon December 12.  By January 1942, American and Filipino forces had withdrawn to the peninsula of Bataan where they held out for three months before surrendering and suffering the horrible Bataan Death March to prison camps.

I was not aware American and Filipino forces on Corregidor held out so long after the fall of Bataan, just a couple miles across the water.  Many gun and mortar emplacements fought back although most were aimed the wrong direction because the designers planned to defend attacks from the sea.  We saw “Way Battery,” a mortar battery, that had 70% casualties, whose wounded commander continued to fight with the help of his wounded lieutenant until the last mortar overheated and froze up after 12 hours of continuous firing.  He ripped the telephone off the wall so that he could not be ordered to surrender.

“Battery Hearn,” on the top of the island, was able to fire at the Japanese on Bataan, but it also was subject to fire from them, and the Japanese had the advantage of being higher.

A tunnel under the center of the island provided protection from the Japanese bombardment.  We saw a recreation of a hospital ward as we walked through it.

Unfortunately, our very pleasant guide seemed to make up “facts” when he didn’t know the answers, but it led me to go back and do some research.  The battle started with bombardment on December 29, 1941.  Bataan fell April 9, and Corregidor was surrendered May 7th, 1942 after significantly delaying the Japanese conquest of the South Pacific.

Our Guide “Jimmy”

Date of our visit: 3 Mar 11

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