A Piece of Your City

As a meticulous observer and proponent of hands-on experiences, I plan to visit every U.S. major city for a day to showcase the best neighborhoods, views, foods, activities, events, parks, museums, historic sites, etc., that are absolute musts for any visitor to experience. This will include hands-on work experiences by crafting mementos that characterize the city's culture and industry.  I hope this series inspires curiosity, adventure and enthusiasm through meaningful experiences that visitors will always carry a piece of your city.

The Great North and The Midlands Highlights:

-Thank you to Mini Cooper at Motorwerks in Golden Valley, MN for sponsoring my trip
-Building
Legos with my family at the Mall of America
-Learning Polka dancing from Miss Polka Wisconsin in Milwaukee
-Walking the pier out onto Lake Michigan at McKinley Park in Milwaukee

-Making a 3D architectural model of the Ferris Wheel of Navy Pier
-Going to the top of the St. Louis Arch
-Exploring the magnificent Forest Park of St. Louis
-Filing a Tennessee quarter into a guitar pick at the Tomato Arts Festival in Nashville
-Learning about Soul music at the Stax Studios in Memphis
-Walking the pedestrian bridge to Mud Island over the Mississippi River.  Best view of Memphis!
-Biking the Arkansas River Trail and over North America's longest pedestrian bridge in Little Rock
-Discovering Cathedral Square in Tulsa
-Meeting the daughter of a victim of the OKC bombing to hear her perspective
-Making a serving tray from restored wood of a train boxcar
-Catching the fire show at the Keeper of the Plains in Wichita
-Searching for the fountains of Kansas City
-Picking the freshest veggies from a family farm for the Omaha's Farmers Market
-Filing through old campaign materials and voting ballets from the 1800's at the Iowa History Museum
-The Minnesota State Fair to make seed art



Saint Paul

Don't give all the glory to Minneapolis and Bloomington, Saint Paul is like the older sibling.  I am very impressed with how much is in Saint Paul, and not just because it's the capitol city.  The Mississippi River Blvd bike trail is a must.  The private college scene is huge.  The state's hockey team, Minnesota Wild plays in downtown.  Grand Ave has all the cute shops and restaurants, while Summit Ave has the historic mansions along the parkway.  Como Park is just so beautiful that includes a botanical garden and zoo.  With all of that, I focused on the Minnesota State Fair.  It's been consistently rated the best state fair in the country and I met a gentleman that has visited and exhibited for 72 years.  He showed me all about crop or or seed art, which is absolutely fascinating.  

Visit St. Paul and the State Fair connected me with an opportunity to try crop art.  The other option would've been sculpting butter, but I didn't want to risk an enormous block of butter going to waste from one of my mistakes.  I had a crop art kit to work with that included all sorts of seeds, from corn and barley to sunflower and flax.  I chose making a corndog, since the fair is known for any food on a stick.  The fair is a blast and literally has it all.  

I stayed at the brand new Springhill Suites in downtown.  Impressive!!!



Des Moines

For some odd I reason, I think about the episode of The Bachelor when it featured Des Moines.  I don't think anyone would be offended, if I say that Des Moines has the most stunning capitol building in America because everyone would agree.  The golden dome looks like one of those expensive chocolates covered with tinfoil.  The views from the steps are the best of the city, looking straight down Locust St. which happens to be my favorite.

In the East Village neighborhood, the Visitors Bureau Catch Des Moines hooked me up with a printing and designing company, called Raygun.  They say their The Great Store in the Universe.  They have some creative work and quirky saying that are printing on shirts and other everyday items.  I made a invitation card, Des Moines, French for The Moines.  I don't think anyone really knows what Moines means.  

I stayed at the downtown Marriot which was made everything walkable.  You'll want to check out Court St. since it has many restaurant, the famous farmers market and charming side streets.  Lastly, I visited the Lauridsen skate park since its the largest in the country.  Even on a hot and humid day people were out along the river.  


Omaha

This city is getting a complete makeover.  Out of all the places so far, Omaha is reconstructing and building more than any other place.  The Missouri Riverfront is closed for the moment because of construction, the Gene Leahy Mall is under construction, the baseball stadium neighborhood for the College World Series is brand new and so is the Blackstone neighborhood in Midtown Crossing.  Also, where they have the Omaha Farmers Market is brand new, called Aksarben.  I didn't recognize much since my last visit in 2008.  The Old Town district is where all the tourists go and its worth it.  Really good shops and restaurants along a brick street.

I visited with a local farmer to prep for the weekend Omaha Farmers Market.  Apparently, I can't get away from farming when I'm in Nebraska.  They grow pretty much every veggie you can think of from beets and peppers to eggplant.  I helped dig up a few beets and a peppers.  They spend 6 days a week to sell for 4 hours on a Sunday.  It's labor intensive and very involved, but at least their security in selling fresh food.

I enjoyed the walk near my Hilton Hotel to the Missouri River, where you can find the pedestrian bridge to Iowa, called Bob Kerrey.



Kansas City


There are 200 registered fountains in KC and I think it would make a great scavenger hunt to explore the city.  It reminded me of the stairs in Pittsburgh and monuments in Indianapolis scattered throughout the city.  I had a chance to see a few of them and was impressed with the one in front of Union Station, The Plaza and off of Ward Parkway.  Ward Parkway is worth a drive because you can view beautiful neighborhoods and greenspace.  

Kansas City is known for its BBQ and I visited Spicin Foods to make my own sauce.  In their retail store, there's a few sauces in a locked case worth over $100 that are considered the hottest sauces in the world.  My supervisor asked if I wanted to dip a toothpick in to try it.  I knew better not to ruin my day.  I first visited the spice room, then the batch room followed by the pouring and bottling.  They make over a thousand different sauces for companies around the world.  I met a food scientist and culinary artist who are responsible for it all.  

There's so many great neighborhoods in Kansas City, like Westport and the Plaza.  It's much more hilly than you think.  I stayed at The Crossroads Hotel, which used to be a beer depot.  It's an incredible place to stay with amazing views from their rooftop. 



Wichita

So far, this city in the Heart of the Country, maybe the most underrated.  Maybe the locals have wanted to keep it a secret.  There's so much space and has an easy going pace.  I visited the Kansas Aviation Museum to learn about the huge aircraft industry here.  I had a chance to work on an airplane rib and try the riveting technique.

I hurried over to the fire show at the Keeper of the Plains on the Arkansas River.  It's one of the biggest attractions to the city and it came with a great lightning show.  It's a beautiful walk along the river and it continues through downtown.  I visit the Cowtown Museum to learn about the settlement history, then went to Old Town.  The city is spread out and there's unique indoor activity venues and restaurants to explore.  I imagine since the weather is harsh, indoor amenities is a must.  

I want to thank Visit Wichita for making great suggestions for places to eat and play, since there's no way as a visitor I could've found these places on my own.  



Oklahoma City

If you want an old western experience with plenty of authentic character, visit The Stockyards.  Earlier in the week, you can even catch a cattle auction open to the public.  Plenty of saloons and Cowboy shops in the district dating back to the early 1900's.  Then, on the other side of town, is Bricktown.  I'd say this is a tourist's or conference goers paradise.  Plenty of restaurants and games along the canal river.  You can take a gondola as a taxi.  The canal leads into the Oklahoma River, which has a rapid area where Olympic kayakers train.  

In the downtown area, my favorite in the Myriad Botanical Gardens.  There's plenty of walking paths, views of the downtown, and a cool amphitheater.  Within walking distance is the site of the OKC bombing from 1995.  As soon as I stepped on the memorial and museum grounds, I felt chills.  I had a chance to meet a daughter of a victim to hear her story and get perspective.  The museum is a place of healing and learning and highly recommend it.  It's not possible to avoid getting emotional and it's very fitting for today.

Back at the Stockyards, I visited Boxcar Woody to work with restored train boxcar wood to make a beautiful serving tray.  I thought it was a fitting piece to reflect the history of trains and the stockyards.  I met some incredibly kind people and felt very comfortable at The Ambassador Hotel in Midtown.  Thank you to Visit OKC for creating a stellar itinerary.  I'd add a visit to Nichols Hills to stroll down Grand Blvd.


Tulsa

"What's the absolute first thing I need to see? I just got here." Gathering Place.  Built in 2018, Gathering Place has been voted by the most notable publications, as the best city park in America.  Since, I'm a sucker for city parks, I had to see this place and judge for myself.  It was the most well-maintained park I've seen, almost like an amusement park with the layout of a zoo.  There's indoor facilities used as conference rooms and study lounges, hence gathering place.  The playground is a children's paradise, for toddlers and up.  Lastly, the most impressive was the boathouse, where you can take a canoe or paddleboat for free.  Their motto is that everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience what they desire.

I went for short stroll through downtown to observe the art deco architectural buildings, which gives Tulsa its unique identity, but a few blocks further, I found Cathedral Square.  In my opinion, this was the most unique feature I've seen that seemed underappreciated.  There are 6 or 7 massive cathedrals within blocks, each a different denomination.  It would've been quite the experience to show up here on a Sunday.  I think there should be an organized tour of this district and emphasize the culture of the Bible Belt.  

Another scene of Tulsa is the art scene.  It's everywhere.  The creative seemed to be above my head, but they say that there are no boundaries and that's something you can experience at the AHHA Museum in the Arts District.  Tulsa is a prideful city and its growing like crazy.  The young people are coming to downtown.  I stayed at Hotel Indigo and didn't want to leave.  Thank you to Hotel Indigo and Visit Tulsa for showing me the best Oklahoman experience.  The kindness will not be forgotten.  


Little Rock

I'm thoroughly enjoying the ease, pace and friendliness of Little Rock.  Although there are some amazing features, that might be the main attraction.  You can take a stroll along the river, walk to the SoMa neighborhood for lunch or chat with a stranger in River Market.  The downtown is well kept and easy to get around.  

An absolute must to experience Natural Arkansas, even in the state's largest city is to rent a bike and complete the 15 mile loop from downtown to the Dam Bridge, which is the longest pedestrian bride in North America.  The bridge took me 4:30 minutes to bike and about 90 minutes for the loop.  I noticed a photographer take a picture of me while I was biking and a few hours later, I saw him at Bella Vita Jewelry, where I was making a pendant necklace.  He was a photographer for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette doing a story on my visit.  He didn't know I was the same guy on the bike.  Shows how small this big city is.  

I chose jewelry as a craft because Southerners have style and their fashion is classy.  There are many artisan boutiques and locally owned 
businesses in town, it seemed like a good fit.  Actually, I haven't seen one national chain yet.  That's delightful.  The process of making jewelry is quite interesting.  I chose a button as the design and shape, pressed it into a clay mold until it was dry.  Then mixed a more dense clay, that would turn into silver and pressed that into the mold.  Now, it will sit in a kiln overnight.  

Memphis

From one Music City to the next, it's no wonder I-40 is called Music Highway.   Memphis is like a museum itself, preserving much of its history in original form.  I started at the Stax Soul Museum, which was the site of an iconic record production company.  You wouldn't believe how many hits came from this place! It was right there with Motown in Detroit.
Then, I headed to the Sun Studio, where Elvis first recorded.  You can see the front desk, where Elvis first came in for an audition.  I'd visit these spots first, then when you hear the live music on Beale St, it's more appreciated.  

I walked the pedestrian bridge to Mud Island, which covers just part of the Mississippi River.  This spot was breathtaking, especially at sunset.  The bridges light up and put on a show.  That's when I realized, this should be called the city of lights.  Just about everything is lit by neon signs around town.  I'd say this is one of those features that gives Memphis a theme.  I was thinking of making a music note with neon lights, but I didn't think that would be possible in a day, so I contacted the Metal Museum.  On a beautiful property overlooking the river, I got my hands dirty.  I hadn't been into a metal shop since 7th grade and the smell took me back.  My instructor made the mold the previous night and said he's planning to use it for a XMAS ornament.  

I want to thank Memphis Travel for putting together an amazing itinerary that gave me a sense of the history and culture of the city.  I stayed at the spacious and modern Hotel Napoleon and ate at Central BBQ and the Arcade.  I spent time exploring Shelby Farms, Germantown, and Midtown as well.  There's lots of great pockets of the city to explore, so don't just stick with the downtown.  


Nashville

I stayed at The Gallatin Hotel and co-created an itinerary with Visit Music City.  There's more to Nashville than Broadway.  Germantown is a former warehouse district turned incredibly elegant and romantic.  Midtown and Vanderbilt University has plenty of green space and modern restaurants and towering condos, the 12 South strip is a charming place to live with walkable shops and eateries, and if you want to see the absolute beautiful country, visit the Belle Meade area.  Lastly, the Grand Ole Opry Hotel is similar to the Vatican Hotel in Vegas.  

When Nashville claims its Music City, that's genuinely true.  It's easy to find or it will find you. 


Day 1
There's definitely no shortage of hot spots in Nashville.  I started the morning at the Tomato Arts Festival in East Nashville.  You can sense how prideful the locals are of their festivals.  For a relatively small festival, I'd say it was amazing and brought some great artists.  I met with Dustin of Nashville Guitar Picks.  I went behind his booth to craft a guitar pick from a Tennessee quarter.  "Aren't we going to get in trouble by the Federal Reserve?"  "The US Mint is my biggest client." he replied.  He also mentioned out of the 20 years he's been showcasing his work, I was the only one ever to make something with him on site.  I really wanted that guitar pick, even though I don't play.  It took about an hour to file the sides of the coin and then polish the edges.


St. Louis

Three spots took my breath away in St. Louis.  1. The Arch, ride to the top in a small chamber that took 4 minutes up and 3 minutes down.  2. Forest Park is one of the most remarkable city parks I've seen in America.  There was a rugby field, cricket field, two sets of tennis centers, a boat house, zoo, golf course, outdoor movie theatre and so much more.  3. The Cathedral Basilica has the largest collection of glass mosaics in the world, which inspired me so much that I scheduled myself a glass mosaic workshop.

I drove to St. Charles, which is about 30 minutes from St. Louis and met with the owner of The Glass Workbench.  She was a fabulous instructor for first-timers.  We sketched a design of The Arch on a square wooden block.  I learned a few techniques of cutting colored glass with different instruments.  You can clip glass just like hair.  About an hour later, I had a glass mosaic, although not to the standard to anyone besides myself.  On a side note, if you're in St. Louis, check out St. Charles too.  It's one of the largest historic districts in the country and right next to the beautiful Missouri River.

I didn't realize that St. Louis had such a huge Italian community in the area called The Hill.  I suggest exploring the areas if you want to eat.  Also, near Forest Park is The Loop on Delmar Blvd, which I thoroughly enjoyed because of the vibrant atmosphere, even during lightning and thunder.  Another vibrant area is Grand Center because it's close to St. Louis University.  Thank you to Explore St. Louis and Drury Inn for planning my visit.  


Chicago

If I ever need a hip or knee replacement, I'll blame Chicago.  I've walked so many blocks of this city, I might have seen it all.  First, I must say that I'm a little bias, since 1/4 of life was spent here.  After having been gone for a few years, I had a chance to come back with a refreshed perspective.  Pretty simple observation: Imagine living in a lush green park with rivers and a lake, add restaurants and shops, single family homes, condos and apartments.  That's Chicago.  One huge park with a playground that has it all.    

The city is built exceptionally well and easy to navigate.  Chicago is known for many industries, arts and foods, but it was a no brainer to learn about its iconic architecture.  I think about one of the best skylines in the country, the park system along the waterfront, and the elevated trains.  I connected with the Chicago Architecture Center about my journey and they suggested learning how to build a 3D model of the Navy Pier, specifically the Ferris Wheel.  Why the wheel?  It was the first in the world, built for the 1893 World's Fair.  Do we even have those anymore?  It's been a Chicago staple since.  

I stayed at The Godfrey Hotel, perfectly centered in the city, just blocks from Michigan Ave, Merchandise Mart, and Lake Michigan.  The view from their restaurant overlooks one of the most vibrant parts of the city.  I recall all the dance clubs.

When you visit Chicago, I can suggest over 100 things to do, but if you only have a day or two, visit the top of the Hancock building, check out the neighborhoods in Lincoln Park, and take the Chicago's First Lady Architectural cruise.  Thank you to Choose Chicago for all the great connections to learn and explore.  



Milwaukee

Sure, Milwaukee is known for beer, brats and cheese.  And, polka, the fish fry, and now the Bucks.  But, it's the people that are the main attraction.  You'd feel comfortable instantly getting into a conversation with a stranger.  Sometimes you'll have to initiate the conversation, and that's fine, but you'll feel right at home in Milwaukee.

Now, back to the experience.  Thanks to @Visit Milwaukee, I was connected to Foamation, which is a company built around making a seat cushion into an iconic Green Bay Packers Cheesehead.  Yes, they manufacture the product in Milwaukee and it's fitting for the entire state, considering this is dairyland.  What a great example of a home-made project turns into a sports phenomenon.  The cheesehead is made with the exact foam as a couch cushion, but the secret is the yellow coloring.  I poured myself a batch into the mold, waited 7 minutes for it to heat and press, voila.

After wearing my hat out the door, I headed to Lakeside Brewery, where I met with local Polka celebrities, Jeff Winard and Mrs. Polka Wisconsin.  I learned the 3-step Polka, while dancing to the sounds of the accordion.  What impressed me most about this genre of music, is the natural energy booster.  You can't stop smiling since the sounds are so bubbly and cheerful and the dance steps of bouncing are hilarious.  If you're in Milwaukee, Polka is a must.

Lastly, I met with Dan Atkinson, a stonework artist.  He works with cream brick, which is native to Milwaukee and the original material that built the city.  We carved Cream City into a brick as another Piece of Milwaukee.  

If you like the water, McKinley Park has a pier that goes long into Lake Michigan and grand views of downtown.  



Bloomington, MN

Some say the Twin Cities should consider being named the Tri-Cities, since Bloomington should get the recognition it deserves.  It's the home of the Mall of America and the MSP Airport.  It's the largest suburb, but since it gets so much business and visitor traffic, it has it's own identity.  Bloomington doesn't have a downtown skyline, but that's what Minneapolis and St. Paul are for.  This is a perfect place to live or stay, since you'll be in the middle of it all.  

I was graciously hosted by BloomingtonMN.org and the Renaissance Bloomington Hotel.  They made sure that I was going to have a great time, beginning with a dinner at LARS restaurant in the hotel and was welcomed with the blowing of a Vikings horn.  It's one of those restaurants that locals come to eat because it has an authentic Scandinavian theme.  Also, the lobby of Renaissance has an outdoors theme, decorated with old camping equipment and snowshoes.  Before the massive development, Bloomington used to be the outdoor escape for the Twin Cities.  It still has an incredible park system, including the Normandale trail, which has a small ski hill and massive ski jump.  

My primary focus was crafting something at the Mall of America.  We connected with the Lego store, which I didn't realize is a Danish toy.  Again, another Scandinavian influence in Minnesota.  I was introduced to a brick builder who shared his 39 years of passion with Legos and he's only 40.  He showed me a few 3D builds, but that would've take months, so we settled on doing the star logo of the Mall of America.  After an hour, I stepped back very far from my piece and noticed it was coming together.  I'll post a picture.  


Minneapolis

The concept of Piece of Your City was born in this city of nature.  I used to live across the street from the Minneapolis Convention Center and overheard visitors wondering what to do during their free time.  I could've provided them with a list of items that makes this place special.  The first thing that comes to mind is the Chain of Lakes drive or bike path.  Throughout the city, there are 5 major lakes that offer something a little different.  Lake of the Isles has a windy 2.3 mile loop lined with beautiful mansions.  Lake Calhoun is more active with cars and beaches that's 3 miles around.  Lake Harriet is covered with thick trees if you're looking for shade and also connects with another path that leads to the Mississippi River.  Lake Nokomis is large and host many events, such as the triathlon.  And then there's the forgotten Cedar Lake, which is a bit more isolated since there's not a path that goes entirely around.  In short, you can get around the city easily on foot or bike.  I'd say Minneapolis is one of the best cites to bike in America.  

My hands-on experience was scheduled well in advance, since taking a wood carving workshop at the American Swedish Institute is a Minnesota Bucket List item.  I learned five unique grips of holding a knife while attempting to make a butter knife.  Using moist basswood that was freshly cut that morning, slicing the wood came off like cheese.  After 90 minutes of scraping and slicing, my piece of wood split.  My instructor got a new block of wood, used his axe and got to were I left off in 3 minutes.  Good to know how much of a beginner I am.  The course was 2.5 hours and worth every minute.  Wittling is a craft to learn.  You'll never be bored.  Learning a Scandinavian craft in Minnesota connects with the local heritage, since many natives have roots in Sweden or Norway.

Industrial Midwest/East Highlights:
 
-Attempting to run up the steepest street in America, located on Canton Ave. in Pittsburgh
-Making the Terrible Towel when the Pittsburgh Steelers placed an order of 20k
-Watching an air-show at Buffalo's canalside over Lake Erie
-Fine dining at The Roycroft Inn
-The smell of Cheerios in Buffalo
-The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland
-Strolling through Edgewater Park and Beach in Cleveland
-Passenger in a pace car on the M1 concourse performance track
-Ford Factory Tour in Dearborn, MI
-An evening Detroit Tigers baseball game
-Catching a show at the Columbus Zoo, one of the best rated in the country
-Appreciating the floating sculptures in Schiller Park of German Village in Columbus
-Morning bike ride along the Ohio River in Cincinnati
-Working behind the meat counter making goetta, a staple of Cincinnati
-Eating lunch overlooking the Little Miami River in downtown Milford, OH
-Making Louisville Sluggers for the Kansas City Royals 
-Cherokee Park in Louisville
-Staying at an old train station depot in Indianapolis at Crown Plaza
-Running the canal and White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis
-Making a special street sign in Indianapolis, Seddiqui Dr.

Indianapolis

How come nobody's talking about the White River State Park that runs through downtown Indy?  I'll be sure to talk about it.  I was pleasantly surprised to see such a beautiful intersection of the canal trail and the White River on the edge of downtown.  It's a perfect path to stroll for lunchtime walkers or morning joggers.  The NCAA headquarters is right there, a dream place to work.

I didn't realize either, how much Indianapolis is obsessed with sports.  Sure there's the largest sporting event in the world, the Indy 500, but there are so many other venues and stadiums along the White River's greenspace.  
 
I visited the City of Indianapolis Public Works to learn about and make a street sign.  I thought it was fitting, since Indy is the Crossroads of America and the city commemorates professional athletes with road signs.   As I was making a school sign, similar to how the Terrible Towel was printed, the team surprised me with an already made Seddiqui Drive sign with their Public Works logo.  I was so humbled by their generosity.  That's a piece of Indianapolis I'll never forget.

I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, formerly known as Union Station.  It was one of the coolest places because you can actually stay on a train cart.  Indianapolis is a modern city with lots of hotels and chain restaurants, perfect for conferences.  What I loved most was the monuments and memorials for our fallen soldiers.  The fountains throughout the city are absolutely stunning.  

Be sure to check out Massachusetts Ave, if you're looking to experience an area that's less touristy for eating and browsing.  
 
 
Louisville

When a major city sits on a large body of water, the waterfront is where I tend to explore first.  Although Cincinnati and Louisville are both settled on the Ohio River, their waterfront layouts are completely different.  Louisville has massive greenspace, good for concerts, playgrounds and sporting fields, whereas Cincy is much more confined and manicured.  I enjoyed glancing over at Indiana from downtown Louisville, but there's also a pedestrian bridge if you want to make the short trek.  It was a pretty humid day to explore, but I went to the very shady park near downtown, Cherokee Park.  It was packed filled of trails, dirt and paved. Large grass hills in what seemed to be in an affluent historic neighborhood.  

There are many neighborhoods to explore in Louisville, if you don't want to restrict yourself to downtown.  If you're lookin for authentic local restaurants and shops, I suggest venturing out into the neighborhoods.

Downtown is home to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, where I had the opportunity to test what I remember from my 7th grade woodshop class.  They produce 2 million bats per year from a forest of trees they own based in Pennsylvania.  A CNC machine is computed to trim the bat to size, then it's sanded and polish.  There are over 3,000 types of bats they produce, since many of the pro baseball players have custom made bats.  I worked on an order for the Kansas City Royals by putting on the newly designed LS label.  The museum and factory tour is one of the most visited in the country.  I would have to say they've had brilliant marketing from the early 1900s and now they have a large bat leaned against the building.  It's obvious other area businesses are trying the same approach.  
 
 
Cincinnati

The textbook definition of revitalization.  It's a head turning city with extraordinary gardens & grounds on the Ohio Riverfront, treelined city streets and historic building mixed in with the new.  If you head towards Findlay Market, you'll see homes and churches at the base of the hill and think that's the end of the city.  Instead, right up the hill to Mt. Auburn, where there used to be an incline, is the extension of the city.  The topography seems to separate the neighborhoods.  The top of Mt. Adams has the stunning view of the river and Kentucky.  It's a city that inspires discovering since each neighborhood has its own character.  Over-the-Rhine has completely changed, where there's many new restaurants, shops, and apartments.  That's how you'll know this would be a great city to invest.  I see things are changing, but it's nice to know they're still keeping the historic framework.  

I spent time at Findlay Market to briefly work behind the counter of Ekerlin's Meats, home of the famous goetta.  I was cutting beef and pork to mix in with oats and a secret seasoning.  They sell 500 pounds per week, so you can imagine how busy it is.  

Then, I headed through some of the most affluent suburbs, like Indian Hill, where you might find executives of P&G and Kroger.  Sometimes it's nice to explore outside the city to learn about the everyday citizens of the city.  I stumbled into quant historic business districts, rushing rivers and shady bike trails.   I was destined for the American Cornhole Organization, which has created cornhole as a professional sport and learned some techniques on how to toss the bags.  

I stayed at The Lytle Hotel, which is a place I didn't want to leave.  It has one of the nicest lobbies, rooftops and restaurants in the country.  


Columbus

I'm a sucker for a good park system and I wouldn't have known that Columbus has an extensive one, going from the castle filled suburbs along Olentangy River to the Scioto River, where they merge in downtown.  If you're a sucker for shopping and dining, High Street has to be the longest stretch of boutique stores, trendy restaurants and bars in the country. It's no wonder Columbus is a popular conference destination and a desired place for college.  The north end of downtown's High Street is very young and energetic, but kept some of its roots from the south end of downtown's historic German Village.  I'd call this place, the 'city of bricks', since they are laid everywhere.

I participated in a candle pouring off of High Street as my piece of Columbus at The Candle Lab.  They're going through a name change, Penn & Beech.  It was a good experience, learning about wax and mixing scents.  They keep the door open to attract customers as you can imagine.  

One of my favorite parts of Columbus is Schiller Park because of it's mature trees, manicured gardens, hanging sculptures and calm neighborhood.  Also, I had a chance to explore some suburbs on my way to the zoo.  Dublin is the main attraction; character and charm bursting at the seams.   

I was relieved how easy Columbus was to get around and understand.  



Detroit

I've never been more fascinated to watch people work, than at the Ford Factory Tour.  Each person had their station, as the trucks came around on a conveyor.  I think this is where the saying, 'everybody needs to do their part' comes from.  Literally, you have to do your part, then the next truck stops at your station.  The automated machinery was even more fascinating.  One tool scans all the dimensions of the vehicle with lasers.  The observational opportunity made you want to buy a truck. This is an absolute must to visit, even if you're not a car enthusiast.  

I started the day off a the M1 concourse, which includes a 1.5 mile performance track and the world's largest community of private garages.  I was scheduled to do some hot laps, but I only lasted a few warmups.  We got up to 85 mph, but the driver was aiming for 125 mph.  I chickened out and told him, I'm having just as much for going at 45 mph.  If you have a need for an adrenaline rush, this is the experience for you.  

I strolled down Woodward Ave., America's first paved road and home of the Dream Cruise.  I stopped in the famous collectable and hobby shop, Pasteiner's to make a plastic model car.  Mine was for kids because it wouldn't take me a year to make like many of the others they offer.  People take this serious, like building a real car.  I made a Ford GT as my piece of Detroit.  It was fun to be with Detroit car enthusiasts and to learn their craft.  Their eyes would light up as they discuss cars and the experiences that have come through their shop and down Woodward Ave.

Detroit is resilient and you can see downtown shaping into the center of attention again.  All four sports teams are within blocks of each other, old office buildings are now high-end condos, and many local brand storefronts.  You can credit the CEO of Quicken Loans for buying property in downtown and moving the main offices there.  I stayed at the Element hotel, which is in the heart of it all.  Don't forget to try Detroit Style pizza.  It's square and the cheese goes before the sauce!
 
 
Cleveland

Not the same city I remember back in 2009, when I worked for a week at WKYC News.  One thing was the same though, the wild weather.  Congrats to Cleveland for revitalizing itself with young energy.  It's not just a city on the lake, but also the river.  Beautiful bike paths and parks in the area, called The Flats.  There were tons of tour boats and kayakers in the Cuyahoga River.  I think this area is the standout attraction of the city.  I haven't seen anything like it.  And people are catching on, as they're developing more condos along the waterfront.  

If you want an incredible view of the city, I suggest the Hilton.  That's where I stayed!


There are absolute musts when visiting.  Edgewater Park/Beach if you're into nature, Playhouse Square if you're into preforming arts, and of course the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame if you're human.  I was surprised how almost every artist you've heard of is featured on display.  My visit to Cleveland was influenced by the history of music.  Destination Cleveland connecting me with Gotta Grove, a vinyl record manufacturer.  I had the opportunity to learn about the process and craft my very own 12 inch.  The stamp of the record is more complex, which carries the soundwaves, but the process that I experienced was essentially pressing melted recycled material.  The machine does most of the work, but it takes an operator to make 500 copies/day.  I was told the vinyl record is not making a comeback because its already been here.  People still love holding a product just like a book and artists still want to see their craft.  
 
 
Buffalo

When you travel and experience new activities you have the opportunity to learn and engage with history.  Understanding our nation's story has become one of the primary focuses of this journey,  When I stayed at the iconic Roycroft Inn and experienced the original form of printing and bookmaking, I realized much of the things that exists today, are not random.  There's such an impressive story behind most of the terms we use and the things we see.  When pulling letters to print words on paper, they're located in a case of drawers.  The larger letters are in the upper case and the smaller ones are in the lower case, hence upper and lower case letters.  They had a variety of fonts that we still use today on our computers.  

The founder of the Roycroft Campus, Elbert Hubbard was a traveling soap salesman.  He had a midlife crisis, traveled to Europe and was inspired by a publishing press.  He brought that method of printing to the Buffalo area and started his own press.  His success exploded after writing, A Message to Gracia which was featured in a railroad publication.  His press logo was influenced by a European symbol of quality.  It's actually the same symbol used on the Oreo by Nabisco.  

After printing, I moved to the binding room, where I actually sewed the pages together and included a leather cover.  I can't believe they were producing hundreds of thousands of book like this.  

Then, I got more history lessons on the Erie Canal and the silos that held flour used for beer and dough.  For the longest time, I thought the canal was to power NYC with hydroelectric from the Niagara Falls.  Maybe there's some truth to that.  Instead, it was to ship product from the Midwest, and Buffalo was a transfer point since they had to use different size boats.  Grain was stored in silos, right on the Buffalo River and Lake Erie.  Buffalo has done a great job restoring the area, which is now called Canalside.  It was a happening area, especially since there was an airshow.  Back to the terms we use today.  I was told that the term 'dive bar' was founded here.  Workers along the terminus of the canal use to hangout, and was known as a rough place.  There was a bar beneath the main street, that was pretty deep below, hence customers diving down.  

The most happening area of Buffalo is Allentown.  Super quirky strip of shops and restaurants on Allen Street and Elmwood.  The neighborhood is pretty.  I'm a sucker for trees.  I remember one of my former co-workers from Buffalo told me that before settlement, a squirrel can go from the East Coast to the Mississippi River jumping from branch to branch.  That's how dense the trees are here.  

Some cities, it's easy to identify what buildings are.  That's a courthouse, that's city hall, that's a church, hospital or library.  In downtown Buffalo, the buildings have their own unique identity.  I had to come up close to find the name of the building.  They were built well with interesting architectural design.  And, there's more history to that!  When you @VisitBuffaloNiagara look out for the buffalo statues scattered throughout the metro area.  That would make for a fun scavenger hunt.  

Also, near the mills by the waterfront, actually smells like cereal.  Thanks to General Mills.  Great place to take a few deep breaths.



Pittsburgh

Sometimes cities remind you of another city, but Pittsburgh is so unique that it stands alone.  I'm fascinated by the landscape.  The city developers must have had some courage to think they could build a major city in these dramatic hills.  The area is covered with trees, so thick that it looks like broccolini. The long limbs swallow buildings.  From the air, you can see trees carved out to make baseball diamonds, golf courses or suburban neighborhoods.  The developers had to do everything to navigate the terrain, from making tunnels, bridges and steps.  I had a chance to explore several historic steps throughout the city.  It's truly a unique experience and a great way to see different neighborhoods and views of the city.  They are necessary for commuters, otherwise you're asking to add another mile + on a road with no sidewalks.  Then, there are some neighborhoods way too far up the hill, they have a tram-like ride up tracks, called The Incline.  From the top of Mt. Washington, you can appreciate the cityscape.  Three rivers merge into downtown and there are plenty of bridges throughout.  Many of them have the signature yellow gold, most notably seen on the sports teams; Penguins, Pirates and the Steelers.

I came here to make the iconic Terrible Towel of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  It's one of the most sold items in sports, and the Steelers have one of the largest followings in the world, alongside the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.  It was originally a gimmick, created by the local sportscaster, but now it's a rally towel.  I had a chance to learn about the graphic designs, printing and pressing.  The recent design, was won through a contest, featuring the skyline and I was there when the Steelers team ordered 20,000 towels for their upcoming season.  Good luck to them.  

Afterwards, I headed to Primanti Bros. for their traditional sandwich.  Pretty much every local suggested going and it was listed as a must by Visit Pittsburgh.  I met with a few staff members, who have worked there for 20-50 years!  Talk about loyalty.  I think that's the Pittsburgh work ethic.  Just like those steelworkers, it's a life-long commitment.  The sandwich was made for the blue-collar worker.  Then, it was targeted to the late-night drinkers.  The primary ingredients are potatoes, coleslaw and pastrami with very light white bread.   For dinner, I went to the Wigle Whiskey, and even though I don't drink, it was still important to learn how Western PA became America's birthplace for whiskey.  

I want to thank @VisitPittsburgh for co-creating such an amazing itinerary that could only be experienced in this world-class destination.  


Northeast Highlights:

-Driving through Cape Elizabeth, reminiscent of country roads in Europe
-Eating fresh lobster, straight from the boat at Luke's Lobster in downtown Portland
-Staying at the Boston Harbor Hotel
-Throwing tea chests overboard from the Boston Tea Party Ships
-Glassblowing at Gather Glass with an exceptional instructor
-Exploring the hills of Staten Island with stunning views of Manhattan
-Walking the streets of Brooklyn and seeing every inch of building covered with graffiti
-Learning to dance from the birthplace of hip hop, Bronx
-Writing with a quill pen at the Hagley Museum
-Walking Kelly Drive in Philadelphia

 
Philadelphia

Day 2

I stayed at the Canopy Hotel, near the City Hall, which is the most impressive building I've seen this trip.  The roads circulate around it, like you're on the streets of Paris.  Ben Franklin BLVD is grand with massive buildings and fountains.  It's a paradise for museum and history lovers.  Interestingly, the rest of the city is confined with some streets only good for pedestrians.  So much character in the city, it blows my mind.  

I went to the first-ever and largest US Mint to learn how to make currency.  I sat down with Mrs. Gordon to learn her craft with clay to design what will appear on our currency.  How cool for her work to leave a legacy!  Then I took home a bronze Philadelphia mint coin before headed to Grant Blvd, a black-owned business that uses recycled clothing to make fashionable wear.  I sat at the sewing machine to craft ruffles for a women's shirt, that was once used as a dress up men's shirt.
 
My first thoughts of the city, driving through Fairmont Park is that this place should be illegal.  The energy was high, the vibe was happy and active.  Watching locals play baseball, running along the river, and soaking in the sun, made you want to engage.  I stopped by to watch a tight-rope walker over a volleyball court, while listening to a live DJ.  The park is a must for visitors.  The line for the Japanese Gardens was outrageous, maybe because it's brand new or because of social distancing.  I came into the city through Roosevelt Blvd, which gives you a glimpse of life outside the vibrant downtown.  Rows homes from different eras, as you descend to the city.  

I'm scheduled to meet Betsy Ross, the 25 year old upholster that designed the first American flag.  

 
Wilmington, DE

A big exhale driving out of NYC and into a peaceful, more my pace, sanctuary.  Wilmington's waterfront district has great potential to be the hotspot and local getaway.  It's underdeveloped, relatively speaking for the East Coast, but I envision lots of condos and more businesses along the water.  There's an incredible, yet short path for walking and biking, which is not connected to the downtown yet, but I imagine that will be a game-changer for the community and tourism.  Brandywine Park is a must for nature lovers, but I was there to craft macaroons at the famous Hotel DuPont.  Learning a bit of history on the DuPont Family from the must-see Hagley Museum, they developed their business on black powder.  The family is prominent in Delaware and I was honored to work with a pastry chef on how to make their simple, yet delicious dessert.  

That was my take-home, a case of macaroons with a ribbon and a sticker, saying Hotel DuPont Wilmington, DE.  

New York City

Since NYC is so large and diverse, I wouldn't do the city justice with one experience and one Piece of the City, so I tackled each of the five boroughs.  Considering Staten Island has the highest concentration of Italians, I was connected to be on an Italian cooking show at Casa Belvedere, which is an Italian Heritage Center.  I didn't know the Island can be so hilly, like you're climbing the hills of San Francisco.  And, the views are stunning.  

Then I learned graffiti art in Brooklyn, which was very fitting for the scene.  There's not an inch of free space on the walls of buildings or cars for that matter, without seeing graffiti.  I was told that some are permitted, while others are illegal tagging.  I headed to The Bronx, the founding borough of Hip-Hop to learn how to dance at The Bronx House.  I took a lesson with a bunch of kids and then had a private lesson because I needed it.  The dance is a language of the people and a conversation of how you feel.  More to share with videos.

I took a tennis lesson in Queens at The Billie Jean Tennis Center, where they have the US Open.  I did okay.  Then, I met with a cartoonist that works with The New Yorker and learned about his process and how to put ideas on paper.



Providence, RI

Later in the day

I did an IG takeover of The Providence Monthly, following day of exploring and experiencing art.  I'm sure many locals know that their is the hub of art, and how fitting to see a large mural plastered on the side of a brick building, saying The Creative Capital.  I took the photo from the HQ of Hasbro, you know the company that released Mr. Potato Head.  

I started the day at The Steel Yard, which is a creation station for artists and classes.  Then learned about the Chihuly's influence in Rhode Island, as an art teacher.  I had a chance to blow glass, which is a delicate art.  That was my piece that I get to take home.  I had to try a few times because it's easy to make mistakes.  

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is like the Harvard or Berklee School of Music for arts students, with a rigorous studio-based learning approach.  I'm staying on the Avenue of the Arts, so it seemed fitting to craft.  I will spend a few hours glassblowing, Steel Yard and the WaterFire Arts Center.  I never really appreciated the arts, but now getting a hands-experience, I'm sure I will.  

I'll post some pics of my work later.

 
Boston, MA
 
Later in the day.

Incredible day of exploration and experiences in Boston.  Spent a few minutes exploring the Boston Harbor Hotel, where the marketing team showed me the Presidential Suite, that would go for 15k/night.  It had a private elevator, chandelier and make-up room.  I'd stay there, but I'd rather pay a year of mortgage.  

I drove to Fenway Park for a tour, since it's a huge part of Boston's identity.  It's the first baseball stadium, built in 1912 and has the shortest homerun at 302.  I was shocked by the gradual climb of the grandstand.  Now stadiums build higher and try to pack people into nose bleeds.  

In Boston, wherever there is water, there's a walking path.  I love how most of the city is connected and walker friendly.  I love the foot bridges that cross over busy roads.  Although the Boston Marathon doesn't use much of these paths, it's a runner's paradise.  My favorite path is Commonwealth, which goes from Boston Commons to Fenway.  

After flying my drone some in the neighborhoods, I went to the Boston Tea Party Ships for my hands-on experience, crafting a memento.  Did you know that one of the ships had to quarantine for 8 days because of a small box scare? History repeats itself.  I had a chance to replicate the destroying of tea by tossing the chests overboard.  Then, ironically, I sat in a tea room at tried 5 types of tea that were used during the event.  Boston is a place for history buffs.  It's like Philadelphia or Charleston.   As the day ended, I did a college campus tour, since the city is the Mecca of education.  Some say that Boston is the most educated city in America.  
 
Hard not to take your eyes off the road, driving into Boston.  The beautiful waterfronts and modern buildings weaving through historic ones.  But, you must keep your eyes on the roads here because lanes can change so quickly and the speed limit is just a suggestion.  

I arrived at The Boston Harbor Hotel.  Exceptional service, comfort and location.  I'm ready to get going with my day, starting with an official tour of the hotel and then Fenway Park.  My hands-on experience will be at The Boston Tea Party Ships to make loose tea, just like the tea that was thrown overboard in protest of taxation.  I'll learn a lot more about the history, especially being on site. 

Boston can feel overwhelming because there is such a variety of things to see and do.  
 
 
Portland, ME

Entering New England, cannot be mistaken for any other region in America.  It closely resembles Northern Europe with town names that end with ham, field, borough, chester and ford.  Distance is measured in kilometers.  And, lots of rolling grass fields.  The moose x-ing signs will throw you off though.

I arrived to my first city, Portland.  It's one of the smaller cities that I'll visit, but it always leaves an impression on me.  After a breathtaking walk along the rocky shores with the eye of the lighthouse peering down on me, I drove through Cape Elizabeth, again resembling the old country of Europe.  Food markets with gravel parking lots.  Homes along the windy roadside.  School houses with small playgrounds and single building town halls.  

When I crossed over the Casco Bay Bridge, into downtown Portland, it felt like stepping back in time, in a foreign country.  It's a city that's preserved.  Portland knows its character.  Even brick buildings with lit white pillars adds so much charm, something that Southern cities have mastered, like Savannah.  I love the layout of the city, the brick roads and the old churches towering the skyline.   

I can't wait to take A Piece of Portland tomorrow, when I get a hands-on experience to craft beer at Geary Brewery.  This evening, I am welcomed by The Regency Hotel and Armory Restaurant.  I'm grateful for them to welcome me to their city.  I will share more tomorrow.  

DAY 2 of Portland

I walked into Geary Brewery and the smell just hits you!  Like walking into an oatmeal factory.  I put on my rainboots and was ready to craft some iconic New England beer.  I'm getting used to juggling all the cameras, but I think I've captured some good images shoveling the grain, talking to the local dairy farmer and bottling.  

I left for a lunch break at Luke's Lobster on the waterfront.  There's nothing like it, if you desire to see the boats come directly into the restaurant and put the seafood on your plate.  I've heard of farm to table, but not water to table.  I order a lobster roll with clam chowder.  

I drove down Congress Street, which is over a mile-long business district, like a major city would have.  I suggest going there, if you're looking for local stores, theatres, and people watching.