Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Cranberry Harvest in Wisconsin

A sea of cranberries as we look across the flooded fields, ready for harvest
This week is the peak of cranberry harvest in central Wisconsin, so a couple friends, my 8 year old son and I went to Wisconsin Rapids to experience the cranberry harvest first hand.  It's a 3 hour drive, so technically it's a road trip in my book.  That means we pack up the car with snacks and try to find some interesting places to see enroute.  My mother taught me that no trip should be too direct.  It really is about the journey, as well as the destination.  We took a somewhat scenic route away from the interstate system, that took us through smaller towns and allowed us to see some of the beautiful fall color.  We stopped at Montello so I could show my friends the waterfall and the largest tree.  How many people can claim they have done that?
Waterfall at an old quarry in downtown Montello, WI

The largest tree in WI- a cottonwood.  It was as wide as our car!
We spent the night in a hotel at Wisconsin Rapids, but the cranberry fields/marshes are outside of town.  There's a route you can take that is quite scenic during harvest, called the cranberry highway.  We drove on it the next day and found it beautiful.  I had ordered a tourism brochure from Wisconsin Rapids, and spoken with the person who runs the office.  She suggested we try 2 very different tours if we had time.  One was done by high school students at Pittsville High School (the only school in the nation with a cranberry science class), called a Splash of Red Cranberry tour.  The other was at a grower who had a visitor center, Glacial Lake Cranberries.  As it turns out, Wisconsin is the largest cranberry producer in the US.

We arrived at Pittsville school at 9:15 and started the day with a short film in the auditorium.  The presentation was done by the Future Farmers of America advisor and the students from the class.  We boarded school buses and rode to marshes about 25 minutes outside of town, where we could see the fields and watch the process from the beginning.  There were fields with berries ready to be picked.  These are flooded.  The berries are corralled using plastic hosing and workers who use blowers or rakes to keep them moving.  They go up conveyer belts to trucks who then bring them into town for processing and freezing.  We also toured the offloading point, freezers, and lab.  At each stop, the students explained the processes.  After the tour, we were served hot lunch at the school and got samples of dried cranberries and juice to take with us.  It was a bargain at $20 per person.

In the afternoon, we started what should have been just an hour tour at Glacial Lake Cranberries.  They have a small visitor center where you can buy "all things cranberry".  They began the tour with the same video, and then you load a bus to go just across the street to where they have more than a dozen fields, I think.  It was unique that there was a man on the tour who studies pesticides for cranberries from UW Madison, and he knew the owners and had done research on that farm in the past.  Our tour ran a bit longer because he added his knowledge to the tour.  They have pesticides that have such a short life that the berries become almost immediately safe for consumption.  The sun was shining and we managed to capture some really colorful images that I'll share with you.  It was a great way to spend a day!
The berries have a lot of bounce.  You can see this when the truck empties.

The harvester goes through the marsh and picks the berries which float

A cranberry field that hasn't been picked yet.  They grow in dry conditions.

A worker rakes the berries.  He said they were about a foot deep.  It was a good harvest year.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Most Interesting Bathrooms in the World!!!

It's no secret to anyone who travels with me that I love to check out public restrooms.  I love it when they surprise me!  It's great when you look up and see a message or interesting artwork on the ceiling. You can find scenic views when the wall on a skyscraper is glass. Sometimes it's the commode itself which is the attraction.  It can be a challenge to find the flushing device, or a way to turn on the water. Lovely flowers or decorative walls are a plus.  Amazing technology makes the visit a real treat.

I was unaware though, that there is an international contest to select the best restrooms in Canada and the USA, until I visited the John Michael Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan this week.  If you have a potty fettish like me, and you love creativity, you have to visit the Art Museum website, and view the photos of the world class bathrooms, which include porcelain pieces of artwork, even down to painted poetry in the commode!  I went camera crazy, even venturing into the men's room, just to see what they had done.  I've included a few photos I've taken of these toilets, as well as some of my favorites we've seen in other places too.  Be sure to check out the contest page for America's best restroom and vote for your favorite.  Maybe one day, there will be a world wide contest.  Until then, enjoy some of my favorite photos from Chimney Rock, NC, Kohler Waters spa at the American Club Resort, Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel, Aranwa hotel in Cusco Peru, Milwaukee's Pfister hotel, The Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park in Milwaukee, and The Giant's House at Akaroa New Zealand.  There are quite a few photos, so for a slideshow version, click on a photo and start through the series.
Outdoor murals adorn the walls of the toilets at Chimney Rock Park in North Carolina

How about a waterfall behind the toilet?  Chimney Rock, NC

Pretty realistic hawk over the toilet, Chimney Rock NC

This toilet at Kohler Spa had an electronic wall remote that could play music, light the commode, add heat, water pressured bidet, and even close the lid!

Each hotel bathroom in Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel features movie photos
of Scotsmen actors or tales of Scotsmen

Aranwa hotel in Cuzco, Peru had this amazing tub, heated towel bars, and stone everywhere

The view from the restrooms at the top of the Pfister Hotel is the Milwaukee skyline

At the Urban Ecology Center, this toilet flushes with rainwater!  The most eco-friendly!

Painted lingerie lines the sinks of the women's room at John Kohler Art Museum, Sheboygan, WI

Lovely paintings of undergarments adorn each stall, John Kohler Art Museum, Sheboygan WI

The bathroom all in blue, John Kohler Art Museum, Sheboygan, WI

Such vibrant colors in the porcelain! John Kohler Art Museum, Sheboygan WI

The men's room at John Kohler Art Museum takes a historic perspective, Sheboygan WI
Tiled floor at the Giant's House in Akaroa, New Zealand

Loved the shoes on the ceiling at the Giant's House, NZ

Creative tiling on the toilet and graffiti greetings, Giant's House, NZ

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Milwaukee Film Festival

This is the 5th year that Milwaukee has hosted its own film festival. I remember when it first started, and they said they wanted to emulate the Sundance Film festival, which is quite famous and well attended.  I was wondering how they could do so many international and small films in a small city like Milwaukee, but it's been met with pretty good success.  The sheer number and quality of films has been impressive.  Milwaukee isn't exactly Hollywood, but we do have a film school that turns out about 45 new film graduates every year, so there are some independent films being made right here in our city, and Wisconsinites all over the country helping to make quality films.  Some of these are shown during the festival which is hosted at 3 historic theaters- Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, Landmark Downer Theatre, and the Landmark Oriental Theatre- over the 2 weeks it runs.

Photo of the Oriental Theatre- from Milwaukee Film facebook page
This is actually the first time I've attended the festival.  It's not that I haven't wanted to go.  The price is right.  For $10 you can see a movie in an interesting old theater.  You can become a member for $60 which gets you a movie a month all during the year too, and reduced tickets of $8.  A festival pass that allows access to every movie showing is $350 for the general public, or $300 for Milwaukee Film members.  That would be a whole lot of movies.

It's not just about watching films either.  You can meet filmmakers, join in an after movie talk, see a sneak peek at movies that are in production, go to parties, listen to live music, and even bring a classroom of school children for a film screening and workshop.

It is a chore just to choose the movie you want to see.  There's a thick guidebook that comes out and displays movies by genre, or by theater.  You can see movies from noon to midnight every day of the week during the festival.  All of the movies are unfamiliar so it requires some reading to ensure you get to see what interests you.  And there is something for every taste...  As for me, I got free tickets by liking the Facebook page for Milwaukee Film, and commenting on a post about a Danish film.  I was surprised by actually winning, and it meant staying up way past my bedtime, but it was fun to attend.  The theater was only half full for a 1015 pm showing.  The festival runs for another week, so I'll be taking Omar to a kids shorts movie this weekend, and hopefully getting into some of the matinees next week.  It's all good fun.  If you're in Milwaukee for this incredibly interesting array of films, be sure to check out tickets!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gorgeous Venice Italy

My husband has this sort of secretive list of places that he believes won't exist in another 20 years or so, and it's been his wish to see all of them as soon as possible.  We've seen glaciers in Alaska, the Egyptian pyramids, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  We also went on safari in Uganda and South Africa.  Unfortunately, some of the other places on his list he already saw, I haven't been to yet, so although I'd like to visit, it's unlikely we'd make a family trip together.
View of colorful Venice from the water taxi
He had been to Venice, Italy many years ago.  He said it was one of the most beautiful places he had ever been. Venice is being damaged in two different ways.  It has flooding nearly every day, and it's being swamped by thousands of tourists, especially by cruise ships.  I wanted to see if for myself, so when my daughter said she wanted to attend Milan's fashion week, we booked a day tour through the website Viator.  The benefit to doing that is it's an internationally acclaimed company that uses a variety of currencies so you won't have to pay foreign transaction fees, has reviews by users, and uses local guides.  It's simply the best of all worlds, in my humble opinion.

We boarded a bus at 7:00 am from Milan, and it was about a 3 hour ride to a major terminal where buses and cars park, and you catch a water ferry for the approximately 20 minute ride to a docking place close to the city center.  Venice is composed of a series of islands, connected by waterways and bridges.  There are narrow streets where you can walk, but the major mode of transportation is via water.  I wondered if just a day would be adequate to experience Venice, and actually I think it was.  You can get the flavor of the place anyway.  If you have enough money, alternatively, you could spend a few nights at one of the luxury hotels, like Hotel Danieli and see much more.
historic Hotel Danieli lobby

Hotel Danieli costs about 900 Euro per night- ultra luxurious
We had a bus tour guide who prepped us for the day.  Then we met another local Venetian tour guide who took us through Piazza San Marco and down many of the quaint picturesque alleyways, while talking about the history of the area and showed us some of the prominent buildings.  You can experience great art, churches, museums, and glass of all types.  There are shops selling fine silk ties & scarves, leather handbags, jewelry, and souvenirs.  Most of the products were about the same price or even cheaper than we had seen in Milan.  What we really enjoyed was just sitting in a pizza restaurant and watching the people go by.  It was also a fantastic adventure to wander through the alleyways and just get lost.  You can't really get lost.  You can see the church steeples or bell tower from nearly everywhere.  You can get a view of how the locals live once you get away from the touristic plazas where there are hordes of tourists.  I know it's crazy.  I was a tourist, but I didn't want to be surrounded by tourists.  Our guide let us loose for about 2 hours.  We wandered.  We shopped.  We had espresso and gelato.  It was heavenly!
At Piazza San Marco, flooding in front of Procuratie Vecchie, a normal occurrence
Every little street or canal is picturesque
We stumbled upon this incredibly unique book store that had a gondola in the center filled with old books.  There was also a bathtub.  Actually there were books on every surface imaginable.  I suppose these may be out of necessity because of the flooding that occurs frequently.  You can see photos of the Libreria Acqua Alta on their Facebook page.  Other books were stacked on their back patio to make an unusual stairway affording a lookout point down the canal.  It also is home to several friendly cats who often ask for attention.
Kind of a great way to use old encyclopedias
When in Venice, I had read you simply MUST do a gondola tour.  These are often quite expensive, but the tour operator negotiated a price of 20 Euro per person if you were willing to share a gondola.  Each could hold up to 6 passengers.  It was a half hour along the lesser used canals, whereas many of the other gondola operators take you on the Grand Canal.  It was fine for our purposes.  We enjoyed our gondolier, who spoke some English, and had lived in Venice for many years.  He had stories of famous people who had been in his gondola over the years (Michael Buble).  Although they don't usually sing, we asked, and he did sing one song.  He said it's not as common as it once was, because frankly it's a lot of work to navigate a boat, and manage to keep it moving with all the well as croon.  He waited until we were on a deserted canal. I just kept thinking how much my mother would have loved that 5 minutes.  In fact, who wouldn't love the whole experience.  Venice should be on every bucket list.
Gondola parking

Our singing gondolier

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Turkish Bath Experience

I had heard that if you are in Turkey, you must try a Turkish bath, and so I did, along with my daughter.  We were only in Istanbul for a couple of days, staying at Agora Guesthouse, which was conveniently located in the historic district.  From the roof top you can see the sea and the Blue Mosque.  It's different from hotels, as they have some hostel rooms on the lower floor and some guest rooms on the upper levels.  It was quite affordable.  Like most Turkish hotels, they can make arrangements for you for all kinds of experiences.  The staff there made our Turkish bath appointment at Gedikpasa Bath, and a car even picked us up to bring us there, not that it was very far away- maybe a 15 minute walk.  It's near the Grand Bazaar, tucked away in a neighborhood.

The Gedikpasa Bath is one of the oldest and most historic bathhouses.  It was built in 1475, which seems impossible when one considers how young the USA is.  We had prepaid with cash through our hotel, so when we arrived, we were ushered into the women's changing area with small rooms which you could lock, so your valuables would be safe.  We weren't aware of the process, so it was a bit confusing.  Not everyone speaks fluent English in Turkey.  You are given a cotton wrap to use around your body, and you keep your underwear on, or better yet, bring bikini bottoms.  Whatever you wear is going to get wet.
Changing rooms are quite modern and lock
Wrapped in a flimsy cotton towel, we entered the women's bath section.  It's a gorgeous steamy domed room with skylights made of hand formed glass.  We started with 15 minutes in the dry sauna, just off the room.  You can stretch out on the cedar beds, or just sit.  The point is to sweat out any impurities.  When you've had enough, or when the masseuse comes to get you, you rinse off at one of the faucets surrounding the room, then lay flat on the stone in the center of the women's bath section.  At first it's a bit discomforting to be nearly naked in front of another woman who is washing you.  Most of us haven't had that done since we were small children being bathed by our moms!  She started with something like a loofah and SCRUBBED!  Everything turns pink!  That is followed by what feels like a soapy inflated pillowcase being rubbed all over your body.  Then there is the stretching where your arms are pulled behind your back and stretched, trying to get out all the knots.  I wouldn't call it relaxing, but when it's done, you do feel better.
domed skylight
When you're done with the soap massage cleansing, you head over to a bench and faucet along the wall where you wash off the soap.  The masseuse comes to help you and washes your hair, pouring buckets of fresh water over your head.  I might note that there was no way to get a comb through our tangled hair after the shampoo, so you may want to bring your own conditioner if you have long hair.  Once the rinsing is done, you can swim in a refreshing pool, that is in something that resembles a small cave.  I think that was the best part.  Then you shower and return to your changing room where you get dressed and collect your belongings.

If you like, you can also request a pedicure, complete with tiny fish who nibble at your toes!  Or sit, relax, and have a cup of tea.  Honey or oil massages are also available, but we weren't aware of that before we had the bath, or we probably would have tried it.  Overall, it was an unusual experience- 'weird' is how my daughter described it.  I guess we just aren't used to that kind of bathing, but at one time, it was the norm.  That was probably long before people had running water in their homes, and took daily showers.  Back then it was about getting together as a family of women to exchange gossip, relax, and get washed.  It's a Turkish tradition that I would suggest, in spite of being used almost exclusively by tourists now.

The women's bath house with a large stone table in the center
and faucets with benches on the walls
Fish pools for pedicures