Monday, May 19, 2008
B-town on a Whirlwind Tour
This is my first post on what will be a blog dedicated to all things related to art, culture and dining in and around Bloomington, Indiana. In the interest of full disclosure, I do want to point out that I am employed by the Bloomington CVB, which means that it's part of my job to promote all of the really cool stuff that you can see, do and experience in and around B-town. That being said, this blog will highlight some of my favorite things in the area as well as feature some other guest bloggers from around the area.
I was fortunate enough to be able to accompany a bus tour on a one day trip around Bloomington last week. The tour highlighted some of the most interesting attractions in the Bloomington area and if you're looking to take a trip to B-town these are definitely some things that should be on your must-see list!
We began the day at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (don't let the name intimidate you - locals call it the TMBCC). This is truly one of the most unique attractions in Bloomington. Founded in the late 1970's by Professor Norbu, a former Indiana University professor and the Dalai Lama's brother, the TMBCC has hosted the Dalai Lama on all five of his visits to Bloomington. Dedicated to preserving and sharing Tibetan and Mongolian culture and the Buddhist way of life, the TMBCC offers a rare glimpse into another culture. It also features the beautiful Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple, dedicated to interfaith harmony and it's the only place in the country where you can see real Tibetan Chortens.
From there it was on to the Monroe County History Center where we experienced a one room schoolhouse, pioneer log cabin and took a look at the history of manufacturing in Bloomington. There have been some pretty cool things produced in this area over the years - like Crest toothpaste, RCA radios and TVs, tons of limestone used in sculptures and buildings around the world and incredible furniture produced by the Showers Brothers Furniture Company, which was the largest furniture factory in the country at one time!
After a quick (and delicious) lunch, catered by local restaurant Lennie's, we continued on to the campus of Indiana University. The Fine Arts Plaza on campus is home to several attractions that are open to the public. At the Lilly Library, you can see Abraham Lincoln's math homework, John J. Audubon's Birds of America, and some of the smallest books in the world. My friend Jake even got to hold an authentic Oscar! Oh, and they have a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, too.
Just next door is the IU Auditorium, which is a beautiful performance venue, but also houses one of the most incredible works of art - the Thomas Hart Benton Murals depicting the social history of Indiana. The murals were completed for the 1938 World's Fair in Chicago and were purchased by Indiana University for the cost of shipping them from the state fairgrounds in Indianapolis to the school's main campus in Bloomington - talk about a bargain!
The IU Art Museum was next on the agenda, featuring art from around the world including Africa, Asia, the Americas as well as well known works by Picasso, Monet and other famous artists. Even the building is a work of art! The I.M. Pei & Partners designed structure doesn't contain a single right angle - go ahead, look for one. You won't find it. Don't miss the gift shop on the second floor - it's a great place to get something for that hard-to-shop-for friend or relative that we all have.
From there, we visited the world renowned Kinsey Institute, and yes, I do mean that Kinsey! You may have seen the movie Kinsey featuring Liam Neeson a few years back. This is where all of Dr. Alfred Kinsey's research on human sexuality was compiled. The Institute has a gallery where they regularly exhibit items in their collections. Make sure everyone in your party is over 18 for this one!
Our last stop was the perfect end to a long day of touring - the Oliver Winery. The oldest and largest winery in the state, these people really know what they're doing. They offer public tours every weekend and free tasting of over 20 varieties of wine every day! The staff is great, the wines are wonderful and the atmosphere can't be beat. Enjoy a picnic on the 15 acre grounds featuring incredible gardens, grassy hillsides and a pond.
Whew! The bus tour was loads of fun, but personally, I would recommend making sure you've got more than just a day to explore this college town. We barely scratched the surface. . .