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Trip Report Indianapolis trip report

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As Fodor's does not have a section on Indianapolis, thought it might be helpful to post a trip report for this city after a recent visit.

Day 1

After arrival at the airport and leaving things at the hotel, decided to hit the ground running.

First, went to see Monument Circle, more or less in the middle of downtown. At its center is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, an impressive 284 foot tall stone and bronze edifice that looks like a highly elaborated obelisk topped by a heroic style statue. It is surrounded by statuary, ornamental lamps, and fountains (the last of which were not running this time of year). Strings of Christmas lights were strung from the top to the edges of the circle, giving the approximate effect of a yuletide tree. For $1.00, one can go to the top for the view, but I declined, having read the view isn’t all that impressive. Underneath, there’s a very forgettable little Civil War museum, very short on any real artifacts, long on reproductions of material and some piped in sound effects; this at least was free.

About two blocks north is the Indiana War Memorial, a huge boxy neoclassical style building with statuary and Ionic style columns which is modeled after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). This was imposing and grand from the outside, and loaded with striking architectural detail on the inside. The two best things to see inside are the Pershing Auditorium on the first floor and the Shrine Room upstairs – stunning and elaborate. You have to climb a flight of stairs to see the latter, but it’s very much worth it. There’s a sizeable war memorial museum, covering conflicts from the Revolutionary War to today that takes up some of the main floor and all of the basement level; this was interesting and informative, and had many more artifacts than the Civil War Museum. It’s all free and well worth a visit.

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    Day 1 continued

    Decided from here to take in the art Indianapolis has to offer. Walked several blocks west and a few blocks south until reaching the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (general admission $8.00). This was an intriguing museum in many ways, in part for its architecture which suggests an updated pueblo building. Its first floor has a decent sized, if uneven, collection of American Western art and sculpture, highlights including works by Frederick Remington, Georgia O’Keefe, and George Catlin. A good bit of the paintings are a product of the Taos Artists Colony group from the turn of the 20th century, which pleased rather less. Upstairs is a very good collection of Native American artifacts and artwork, with some emphasis on tribes that were native to the area, such as the Miami. There’s also a sculpture garden outside. A good moderate sized museum to visit overall.

    The Indianapolis Museum of Art was open this evening, so decided to take that in as well. It's located well north and west of the city center but reachable via the #38 bus from downtown. This is a good sized collection, but one that can be viewed in its entirety over a several hour visit -- not on the level of, say, the Met in New York in terms of collection quality, but definitely worth seeing. The more traditional Western art is broken down into American and European sections. The former features paintings by Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keefe, and various Indiana artists, while the European section has worthy items by Rembrandt, Rubens, El Greco, Ribera, Caravaggio, Cranach, Brueghel, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Gaugin, Seurat, and Turner. Their holdings of African and Asian (especially Chinese) art are especially strong. Its contemporary art collection is large but not very distinguished, and for some odd reason the museum’s one true “anthology piece,” Robert Indiana’s “Love,” is in storage with no plans to show it anytime soon. Kind of like the Louvre deciding we’ve all seen plenty enough of the Winged Victory, thank you very much. Did not have time to see the adjoining Oldsfields-Lilly House and Gardens or the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park, especially as it was both dark and raining out. There’s no admission charge for the museum’s permanent collection.

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    Day 2

    Since everything I wanted to see needed (or so I thought) a bus ride to reach, this day was less demanding.

    First up was the Morris-Butler House, reachable by the #17 bus from downtown. As it turned out, this was actually reasonably walkable from the city center, but this wasn’t readily apparent at first mapquest.com map glance. This Second-Empire style house is located just to the northeast of downtown in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of lovely 19th century historic homes, a few of which are still boarded up but most of which have been renovated and are private residences. It is seen via tour, and the guide was pleasant and informative. This is an 1862 mansion built of brick which was fortuitously saved from demolition when Interstate 70 was planned to run right over its location (the highway now curves about a block away from the street the house sits on). It is loaded with period Victorian era furnishings, rugs, chandeliers, paintings, silver, china, and the like, some of which belonged to the family owning the house over the years and others collected up from households that ceased. The furnishings are elaborate and most interesting to see. Admission is a very reasonable $5.00. Decided to walk back rather than wait for the bus, and the walk back to downtown goes through a pleasant stretch of Massachusetts Avenue studded with bars, restaurants, and shops.

    Next, took bus #25 out west of downtown to Speedway, the community that houses the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500, the NASCAR Brickyard 400, and the Indianapolis GP (a motorcycle racing event). In the center of the oval track area is the Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum. This was in fact quite interesting to visit, but you’ve got to like to see a lot of cars. Inside are several autos that won the Indy 500 over the years (these have an interesting construction, all with an open cockpit, and recent models having slick non-tread tires and sitting incredibly low to the ground – this last to allow for maximum traction when taking curves at high speed). There were also several historic motorcycles (mostly made by Indian company), and some antique cars (Indianapolis was a major car manufacturing city during the first decades of the 20th century, home to Stutz among others). This is also home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, and there’s one wall dedicated to listing its members. A second wall has paintings of everyone who won the Indy 500. There’s also a collection of racing cups and such, plus a short film describing the history of the track. Admission is $3.00, and for an additional $3.00 one can climb onto a bus and ride around the track, driving by the stands and the starting “pagoda” area. What was most striking perhaps were the people who went to see this place, folks who likely would never set foot in any other museum but seemed to really enjoy this one.

    Returned downtown and walked around a fair bit. The city seems to have preserved many of its older 19th and 20th century downtown buildings, most of which are brick, some of which have elaborate façade work, and all of which are most interesting to look at. A neighbor of mine who knows Indianapolis reports that the city tore down quite a bit of its older buildings outside the downtown center, though, and in retrospect there’s a lot of open space and crummy functional mid-20th century and later architecture outside of the immediate downtown, all non-gloriously visible on the bus rides taken. Also walked around and window shopped through Circle Center, a huge multi-floor indoor mall just below Monument Circle – basically a huge shopping center with all the usual stores and eateries. It’s OK, but there’s plenty such stuff at home.

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    Day 3

    Two attractions remained.

    First up was the Indiana State Capitol. As these kinds of buildings go (have seen eleven of them as of today), this was well above average and definitely worth a visit. The exterior constitutes a very large and stately domed building with statues placed on the grounds, the dome itself being made of dark grayish stone. Inside, it’s simultaneously elaborate but pleasantly understated, a highlight being the gorgeous stained glass window panel filling the inside of the rotunda. The tour is free and one gets to see the House Chambers, Senate Chambers, and Supreme Court – all are pleasant with the Supreme Court room the most striking of all. One funny thing noticed: at the security checkpoint, they have you empty your pockets into what looks a whole lot like a classic round doggie dish instead of the usual square plastic container.

    Last up was the Indiana State Museum. Located next door to the Eiteljorg Museum, and a short walk west of the capitol building, this is a good sized example of the historic museum type. The ground floor contains such things as fossils (including a mastodon skeleton model), minerals, and Native American exhibits. On the floor above are historic items of all kinds, ranging from pioneer effects, Civil War memorabilia, consumer goods from all eras manufactured in Indiana, and an exhibit honoring Indiana born people who went on to fame and fortune. There’s also a steam clock visible from the back window area. Admission is $7.00 without IMAX Theater admission (did not see the theater).

    Didn’t try much in the way of memorable restaurants, as I’m a frugal sort unless there’s some local specialty worth trying. Did make a stop at White Castle (which we don’t have locally) for some greasy goodness, as well at Skyline Chili (arguably the best of the Cincinnati chili parlor chains – got a large 5-way with a couple cheese/chili coneys) which has a few outposts in this city. One unusual spot I did try was Yat’s, a cheap counter service Cajun spot with a college hangout vibe. It has two locations, one of them in the Massachusetts Avenue restaurant/shopping area. The food was good, cheap, filling stuff ; got a half-and-half plate of chili-cheese crawfish etouffee (very good) and pazole stew (extremely tasty, the better of these). Definitely recommended.

    A note about the bus service in Indianapolis. It’s actually perfectly fine and seems to run on time; had a fistful of schedules for reference. Some had cautioned against taking the bus on this website, but it seemed to work fine for me – never needed a car. One concern about taking the bus may lie in its clientele (a lot of down-and-out sorts, not many middle class commuters seem to ride it) and the fact that the city outside of downtown seems to be varying degrees of seedy.

    Am glad I visited this city. Very pleasing downtown by and large, and the attractions are worth a look.

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    bachslunch- Thanks for your detailed report on Indianapolis. I've lived here 22 years and enjoy reading about local attractions through fresh eyes.

    My friends got married under the stained glass rotunda of the State Capitol with all the guests sitting in a circle around the pastor and wedding party. During the wedding the bride and groom changed position so that at one time or another the guests saw them from the front, from the side, from the back. Afterward the reception took place just to the side of the rotunda. It was the most memorable wedding I've attended.

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