Tag Archives: Kansas

Why I Live in Lawrence KS

I was asked to write about my hometown for the Explore Lawrence website. We moved here from Florida when I was 10 because my father accepted a job at the University of Kansas. He promised we’d stay only two years. You can see how that went. I was bitten by the travel bug when I was very young, probably when I learned my grandmother was born in Austria and I started learning German. I also spent countless hours pouring over issues of National Geographic, always thinking “I want to go there!” In any case, I saw early on that there was a big world out there. My first international trip was when I was 16, courtesy of the Girl Scouts, when I spent a month in Sweden and learned to my delight that scouting was co-ed. I then spent my middle university year abroad in Germany, followed by another year while in graduate school. After a year working as a newspaper reporter in a small Kansas town, I quit and moved back to Germany to begin my career as a travel writer. I’ve been travel writing ever since. As a freelancer, I can live pretty much anywhere, but I moved back to Lawrence many years ago. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t live in another country again someday, but Lawrence will always be my hometown. The link below is what I wrote for why I live in Lawrence KS.

 

I grew up in Lawrence, but typical of restless teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get away. After living most of my twenties and early thirties in Germany and Japan as a freelance travel writer, however, I decided that Lawrence was where I wanted to be. We have wetlands, easy access to lakes and hiking trails, diverse neighborhoods, unique museums, an ever-growing roster of ethnic restaurants and a wide range of festivals and entertainment, making Lawrence pretty much the perfect college town. I’ve been a volunteer at the Lawrence Visitor Center for more than 20 years, which I enjoy because I get to meet people from all over the world and answer questions. You never know what they’re going to ask, which keeps me on my toes. I always recommend the free movie we show at the visitor center about the founding of Lawrence and Quantrill’s raid. I also take my out-of-town guests to the Oread Hotel’s rooftop for the view (our dense canopy of trees makes it look like we’re a people of the woods). I love living only a five-minute walk from downtown, in a 127-year-old house where I can also satisfy my inner urban farmer with a garden and chickens. And when the travel writing life calls, Kansas City International Airport is only a 50-minute drive away. Why would I live anywhere else? Lawrence, after all, really is the center of Google Earth. – Beth #nttw17

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24 Hours in Baldwin City

When time or money prevent me from traveling farther, like across the Pacific or to South America, I satisfy my traveling addiction with trips to small towns in Kansas and Missouri, sometimes for work, often for pleasure. And so it was that I and a friend found ourselves last month in Baldwin City, just 15 miles or so south of Lawrence. And because our trip coincided with a wine tasting in downtown Baldwin, we decided to do the right thing (no, it wasn’t to give up drinking!) and spend the night.IMG_6916

We arrived in Baldwin about 2pm on a Saturday and proceeded right to the wine tasting, held on an empty lot under a canopy (there had been no mention when we pre-purchased our tickets that it was an outdoor event; as it was kind of brisk, I was glad I hadn’t worn shorts and sandals). Although Californians or the French (and yes, even Missourians) may guffaw at the thought of Kansas wines, there are about 30 wineries in the state, some with their own vineyards and others producing wine from imported grapes. IMG_6913More than a half dozen were on hand at the tasting, offering everything from elderberry to seyval. After sampling about eight small glasses and learning that some wineries offered live music on selected days, picnic opportunities and other events like grape stomping fests, my companion and I decided that a Kansas wine tour would be in order. Forget Napa! Kansas is closer and cheaper.

You’ve gotta love a downtown that has brick streets and a four-way stop at its busiest intersection. If you stand in the middle of the intersection (which is entirely possible much of the time, as even passing cars aren’t likely to mow you down), you can see pretty much the entire downtown area. Most interesting is probably the Lumberyard Arts Center, which, as its name implies, was once home to a lumber company and is now IMG_6915Baldwin’s proud center for changing exhibitions. It’s disappointingly small, but plans call for converting the unfinished back section into a small theater. Until then, a glass wall lets you view the unfinished room, which was left exactly as it was when the lumber company was here. I think it looks pretty cool–how many art centers can claim to have a lumber yard in the back 40?

Adjoining downtown is Baker University, which was founded in 1858 on the Santa Fe Trail as Kansas’ first university and has close to 1,000 students. Among its fine historic buildings is the Clarice L. Osborne Memorial Chapel, which was moved stone by stone from its original location IMG_6925in Sproxton, England, and was dedicated in 1996 by Margaret Thatcher, whose father had been a preacher in the 1864 church. All I could think of was, I’ll bet the people of Sproxton were none too happy to see their church spirited away to the New World.

It was then off to the jumbled mess of Antiques on the Prairie, where you might discover treasures if only you can find them. It’s interesting to note that a slew of odd junk sit outside on the sidewalk, testimony to the honesty of small-town life.

After checking into the Three Sisters Inn, a century-old home IMG_6922with period furnishings and a half-dozen rooms, we dashed off to the highlight of the trip, the Kansas Belle Dinner Train. As per instructions, we came dressed up (no children allowed Saturday nights; there are other excursions for families) and sat down toIMG_6928 a five-course dinner catered by 23rd Street Brewery and a slow ramble through the Kansas countryside. What made the meal memorable were the authentic 1940s cars and music from the Big Band era, which gave us a hint of what life was like during the golden age of passenger train travel. The setting sun during our IMG_69353.5-hour, 22-mile round-trip journey made it all even more romantic. In fact, the experience was much better than I’d imagined (but avoid winter months, when early sunsets leave you traveling mostly in the dark).

The next day we drove three-and-a-half miles east to the Black Jack Battlefield, where on June 2, 1856, abolitionist John Brown and a free-state militia attacked a pro-slavery encampment in what is considered by many as the first battle of the AmericanIMG_6940 Civil War. I’ve seen a reenactment of the battle (special events are held every year around the date), and because no one was killed, it seems pretty tame compared to the horrific fighting that followed. You can take a self-guided tour of the National Historic Landmark (we were the only people there on our Sunday visit), or, join a guided tour on Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm May through October.

But the most amazing thing to me was the Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve across the street, where huge swales stand testimony to the thousands of wagons that passed by here on the way to Santa Fe. The ruts are so deep they swallow you up. They’ll be here long after I’ve passed on to the other side, but it made me sad to think that even these will someday be gone.IMG_6946

We took back roads on our return drive to Lawrence, stopping off at the excellent Vinland Valley  Nursery before arriving home at about 2pm.

It was a memorable 24 hours, and I came home knowing much more about Baldwin than before. I learned, for example, that in 1890, when women around the country were only dreaming for the vote, Baldwin elected a female mayor and an all-female city council. Unfortunately, the women were voted out and replaced with an all-male slate just a year later. I can’t know for certain, but I’d bet that at least a few of those men had wives at home who were none too pleased.

 

 

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