Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.
I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.
From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.
That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.
Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.
The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.
Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.
From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.
The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.
There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast.
Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.