Pittsburgh, PA

After a long hiatus, the travel bug revived itself and led me to the east coast.  My adventure began with a brief visit to Pittsburgh, PA.  The day started with a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, one of my all time favorite American pop artist.  The 7-floors exhibited information about his humble beginnings along with iconic artwork.  Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed inside except for the lower level entry corridor.

Downtown Pittsburgh is best seen from a bird's eye view, or better yet, the Duquesne Incline.  For $5 round trip, an old style cable car takes you up/down an incline for phenomenal views of the city that sits on a peninsula and is connected to its surroundings by a vast amount of bridges.

The University of Pittsburgh has an assortment of unique nationality classrooms located on campus at their Cathedral of Learning building.  It's a self-guided tour that includes a handheld audio device that provides a narration for each room on the first floor.  The room themes range from French, Italian, Russian, Japanese, and so on.  Other than the history and aesthetics of the room, it's fascinating that they are still used as active classrooms.  The Cathedral of Learning building itself is worthwhile to see on its own with the beautiful gothic architecture throughout the exterior and interior.

Italian Room
Japanese Room (ceiling)
Cathedral of Learning Study Corridor
About two hours outside of Pittsburgh is a town called Mill Run.  This town is the location of Fallingwater, an architectural master piece designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  To preserve the original pieces of furniture and artwork, the tour prohibits photos inside the home.  The property did have an excellent viewing spot to see the home in its natural surroundings and why its referred to as Fallingwater.

Chihuly Garden & Glass

"I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in a way they have never experienced". 
- Dale Chihuly

Dale Chihuly is a renowned glass artist.  I first saw his glass work at a Chicago garden exhibit and was amazed.  When I learned Seattle was home to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit at the Seattle Center, it made my "must see" list during a recent stay.  The exhibition hall interior and exterior were filled with absolutely stunning glass art, but then again, this is Chihuly so one shouldn't expect anything less.  Exquisite glass work in different shapes, sizes and vibrant colors were placed throughout the gallery rooms and outdoor garden areas.  My favorite was a piece titled "Ikebana and Float Boat".  The focal point was a wooden boat filled with various forms of colored glass.  The dramatic impact was the dark staging area.  This impressive collection of glass popped against the dark backdrop and shiny black stage which created an illusion of water to reflect the pieces.

Booze 'n Bites Tour (Seattle)

How does a visitor to the Emerald City drink great liquor and sample delicious local food without having to wait in line for a table on a busy Friday night?  Simple.  Sign up for the Booze 'n Bites tour with Savor Seattle.  It sounds like I'm writing a free plug for them, but this tour was excellent (so I'll just plug away).

The first thing I noticed was the restaurants on this tour did not skimp on their offerings.  The food was appetizer style, but the booze came in their actual drink glasses...not a dixie cup sampler.   

The tour began at Lost River Winery on Western Avenue.  I'm not a wine drinker but this small shop in the heart of downtown Seattle had a delicious sample of red and white wines.  From there the tour guide took us to the Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant, El Borracho, Von's Gustobistro and SAM Taste.  All of the food and drinks were local, absolutely tasty and filling.  This is a tour I highly recommend and would do again.

Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant
Spring roll with caramelized shrimp and pork, peanut dipping sauce and a fresh squeezed kumquat martini.

El Borracho
Grilled pork and pineapple taco with a zesty margarita.

SAM (Seattle Art Museum) Taste
Hot sourdough pretzel bites with Beecher's cheese whiz and 35mm Manhattan (Maker's Mark with figs).

Von's Gustobistro
Spicy pork meatball in marinara sauce, sweet beignet, and an asiago beignet with a punch like drink (consisting of vodka, brandied cherry, apple and lemon juices).

Getting Down and Dirty

The Gladiator Assault is one of the most challenging obstacle courses a person can experience.  When the event came to a city nearby, I could not resist registering (to feed my inner adrenaline junkie).  My endurance and athletic ability was tested on the 7-mile course by having to run up and down steep ski hills, slosh through mud pits (more like trying to get pulled out of the mud by fellow competitors), crawl through more mud under barbed wire, scale solid and netted walls, and race over, in and under frigid waters.  The course took about 3 1/2 hours to complete but the glass of cold beer and being called a Gladiator were the ultimate rewards of crossing the finish line.

Waterfall Spectacular

One of the things I love about traveling by car is the abundance of scenic byways.  And the great thing about scenic byways is they usually offer unique and breathtaking experiences.  During my stay in the State of Oregon I drove the Historic Columbia River Highway to view five majestic waterfalls, each in their own beautiful natural setting.  My entire journey took less than five hours.  I could have easily made an entire day of it but road construction at the time hindered accessibility to particular spots along the way.  Although it was a short visit, the drive was well worth it.

Of the five waterfalls, Multnomah Falls and Bridal Veil Falls were my favorite.  Multnomah Falls is said to be the second tallest year round waterfall in the states and from what I witnessed, very popular amongst the tourists.  It can be admired from three vantage points: the base platform, the Benson Bridge, or the platform above the falls (be prepared to walk a steep trail).  

The Bridal Veil Falls was found a little off the beaten path.  From the parking lot there is a short trail that winds through a forest and over a river to the viewing area. The falls are accurately named as the flow of water resembles that of a bridal veil.

Before my tour ended on the scenic byway, I stopped at the Crown Point S.P. Vista House.  Here I was able to capture phenomenal views of the Columbia River and its surroundings while the sun began to set.

A New Generation Emerges

The reason I titled my blog "Outside of My Door" is because there's always a surprise waiting to be found. Back in April a robin staked its claim on my front door motion detector and built a nest.  After much debate it was sadly taken down.  The sensor was blocked leaving the light on which was a concern because a fire could develop.  About a day later another nest was being constructed.  That also had to be destroyed. Persistent must have been this bird's name because it came back but with a better house plan.  Knowing it was time for the robin to lay its eggs, the nest was left alone which has been absolutely rewarding.  It's now the second week of May and there are three newly hatched baby birds.  This nest is now a hub of activity. The adult robins take flight to and from the nest numerous times during the day sharing the duty of providing its kin with plump worms.  I'm looking forward to the weeks to come as nature progresses outside of my door (literally).

Keeping the eggs warm

Three baby robins

First look outside of the nest

Waiting for food

Bringing home worms

Delivering food

It's dinner time

Feeding the kids

Maple Syrup Hike

The Ryerson Conservation Area is one of many forest preserves located in Lake County, Illinois. During the first couple of weeks in March, the conservation offers a maple syrup hike.  This sounded interesting and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity.  

The one hour tour began in a classroom setting.  Our guide gave an informative talk that included ways to identify a maple tree (other than the leaves), how sap develops inside the tree, and how the trees are tapped. Everyone was given a sample of sap and syrup.  The sap was clear and tasted like water, while the syrup was golden and sweet.  

After the presentation, the guide took us on a small hike into the woods.  We stopped at a tapped sugar maple tree to see the sap drip out.  The guide also demonstrated how they tap the trees using a hand cranked drill bit.  Our tour finished at a large wood burning stove.  The tree's sap is poured into the top container of the oven where it cooks and creates maple syrup.  At the end, everyone was handed a maple shaped syrup candy they had produced from the trees.  A tasty way to end the tour!

Tree sap collection bucket
Sap dripping from tap

Sap at bottom of bucket

Wood burning stove

Fall Colors

The last Saturday of October brought me outdoors to enjoy a warm and sunny day at the Morton Arboretum.  There are over one thousand acres of various trees, lakes, and trails to enjoy.  The timing of my visit was just right.  The majority of the trees had reached their peak and there was an abundance of beautiful fall colors to admire.  


On a sunny morning I took a drive to explore the lighthouses along Wisconsin's shoreline.  My first stop was the Windpoint Lighthouse located in Racine, Wisconsin.  The facility is open to the public and for a small fee you can climb the spiral staircase of the 108 ft. tall tower.  It is well worth the climb up.  The views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding area are phenomenal.  

Afterwards, I continued my journey and headed south to the Kenosha Southport Lighthouse. The light keeper's museum was under renovations at the time of my visit and there was no historical information available; however, the tower was open.  I made my way to the top and was disappointed there was no outdoor viewing platform.  The tiny observation area was enclosed with uncleaned glass and the large trees on the property offered limited views of the lakefront. This lighthouse is better seen from ground level.

Just down the road from the Southport Lighthouse is Kenosha's waterfront (Lake Michigan) that is home a red mid-size lighthouse named Pierhead and beautiful views of the lake.

Medora Musical

The Medora Musical is a summer production performed nightly and since it received rave reviews, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see it.  The show is a variety style musical that entertains a good size crowd in an outdoor amphitheatre.  What's unique about this stage is that the backdrop is a beautiful natural canyon.  The performers were a mix of men and women who did a fabulous job singing and dancing as the live band played.  The musical lasted about 2 1/2 hours and was well worth the ticket price.  A pleasant way to end my stay in North Dakota.

North Dakota - From Enchantment to Loathing

It was another beautiful day in North Dakota...blue skies and sunshine.  Today's agenda was to hit the road and see the Enchanted Highway.  The "highway" was actually a 35 mile, 2-lane stretch of asphalt with unique larger than life metal sculptures installed along the highway.

Grasshoppers in the Field

A Fisherman's Dream

Pheasants on the Prairie

World's Largest Tin Family

At the end of the Enchanted Highway, I decided to head east and find Sitting Bull's burial site. The burial site was a little disappointing.  I expected a field with a monument, instead I found a monument next to a small body of water on one side and a fast food taco restaurant on the other.  Not the kind of "resting" place I imagined to find Sitting Bull at.

As midday approached I decided to hop back onto the highway and head back to the hotel.  Upon checking my map it showed another historical site only an hour north of me.  Since I would not be returning to North Dakota anytime soon, the decision to go off course was made.    

While driving a quiet 2-lane road through farm country something small caught my eye and all of a sudden....KAPOW!  I ran into or over what may have been a pheasant.  I continued driving mainly because of shock and from the rearview mirror there was no sign of roadkill on the pavement.  My initial thought was it bounced into the tall grass that lined the road.

After shaking off what had happened, I reached the Knife River Indian Villages which is part of the national park system.  There was a half hour left before the visitor's center would close so I took a quick tour of the grounds and saw the main attraction which was the mud house.

Visitor's Center and Museum

At the Mud House

Upon my return to the rental car, something irked me about the event that happened earlier.  So curiosity got the best of me and I decided to take a look at the front of the car.  For some reason my gut was telling me the animal may have gotten caught underneath the vehicle.  Oh my goodness!!!  I had hit a pheasant and it was stuck INSIDE the grill of the car...the tail was sticking out mimicking a fancy hood ornament.  What in the world was I going to do????  I still had a 2-hour drive ahead of me before getting to the hotel.  I should have just stayed on the highway and gone back to the hotel like originally planned.  So I started to head back on the farm road from which I came with hopes a farmer was home. Time seemed to stand still as no cars were in the driveway.  Then with a little luck on my side, I saw a tractor moving about in one of the driveways.  I pulled in and the farmer was nice enough to listen to my story and offer help. He and his son pulled the bird out of the grill (and some of the extra feathers that were stuck), while their dog Zeus anxiously awaited for a command to retrieve the bird.  Typical lab.  After the bird was removed they checked my coolant and made sure it would be safe to drive back. They did not accept any money for helping since I was providing their dog with a protein packed dinner...the bird.

Hole in the car's grille after pheasant was removed

Pheasant feathers stuck inside grille of car

On the drive back to Medora, my day worsened.  The news forecast stated a thunderstorm would be hitting the area late at night.  Well, they were wrong.  A possible tornado was entering the area now.  I was on the main road driving 75 mph with nothing around me except for mountains/canyons. The distant sky was darkening, the winds were throwing things across the road and I gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles were stark white to maintain control of the car.

As the search for my exit continued my heart raced because the sky was now black.  Panic set in and I feared the worse as rain poured down and visibility was minimal.

Thankfully the exit sign appeared with a car ahead of me whose tail lights led the way.  The hotel parking lot was within reach and all that was left was to make a mad dash to the hotel door.  I grabbed my backpack, counted to three, threw open the car door and ran like a bat out of hell. It's now pitch black and as I reached the end of the parking lot my flip flop caught the flooded street throwing my body into the asphalt. I collected myself and arrived at the hotel soaked.  Everything in the backpack was o.k..  I on the other hand was not as my knees were bleeding from the fall.  The front desk gave me a few first aid items to help the bleeding but nothing could stop the pain as it started to set in.  

As I'm getting ice from the hall vending machine a number of people flocked into the hallway. The hotel had advised certain guests on my floor to head to the inside corridors (near my room) as a precaution to the tornado warning. We sat on the floor and the lights went out for a short period of time as the sounds of thunder and lightning were overhead.  After about 20-minutes we were told the tornado had missed us; however, the severe thunderstorm would be in effect until the wee hours.  All I can say is I was thankful to be safe and that my injuries happened at the end of my trip. This day will definitely NOT be forgotten!