Thursday, July 23, 2009

Museum of Salt & Pepper Shakers, Gatlinburg, TN

Pass the salt and pepper, please.

Sprinkled among the stores and gift shops of Gatlinburg’s Winery Square is the world’s only Museum of Salt & Pepper Shakers.

Hogs, frogs, bears, and marine life are sorted by category, filling the displays. Would you pour salt out of a miniature toilet? Pepper from a tombstone? Mr. Peanut, the Campbell Kids and even miniatures of the King and Queen of Nepal have their own place of honor on the shelf.

Wandering through 3,200 sq. ft. museum, you’re likely to hear “We had a set just like that!” as visitors find familiar figurines from days gone by. Hallways are painted black so that the shakers in brightly lit, glass-fronted rooms stand out. Yellow arrows on the floor point the visitor to the next gallery. There, you’ll see even more sets made of ceramic, wood, walnut shells, horn, eggs, rock, glass, metal, plastic, nuts, sea shells, crystal. From the world’s largest to the smallest set, it’s unique, quirky and fun.

The collection was begun over 22 years ago when the Ludden family didn’t have a working pepper mill. One mill grew into a collection. Over the next 20 years Andrea, archaeologist and museum curator, had amassed over 20,000 sets.

Visitors can start their own collection with a purchase of shakers in the museum’s gift shop. You can even collect a spouse while visiting, as the Salt & Pepper Museum doubles as a wedding chapel.

The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Admission is $3 for adults, and children under 12 free.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ocean Park Expo, Motobu-cho, Okinawa

Forget the rod and reel. This is one amazing fish story.

On the northwest coast of Okinawa, Ocean Park Expo is the site of the second largest aquarium in the world.

Peer into the 2 million gallon water tank. It feels like standing at the bottom of the sea. Home to thousands of fish and marine mammals, schools of fish shimmer in the natural sunlight. A giant manta ray slides up the side of the 2-foot thick acrylic glass panel. Suddenly a whale shark glides by. At a length of 26 feet, it’s the largest species of fish, and one of the few living in captivity.

Dip your hand into the cool waters of the tide pool exhibit and feel the rough skin of a starfish or the delicate spines of a sea urchin.

Sit under the shaded canopy of the outdoor theater to watch whales and dolphins fly through the air during one of the 15-minute water shows presented 5 times a day. Nearby there is a sea turtle pool, ocean nursery, dolphin lagoon and manatee house.

Then, walk through a reproduction of a native Ryukyu village. Thatched or clay roof wooden buildings blend into the tropical garden setting. Inside you’ll see authentic furnishings, kitchenware and even a shrine.

Ocean Park Expo is open daily from 9:30 am to 17:00 pm (later in the summer). Admission ranges from 600 yen for children to 1800 yen ($20 US) for adults. The park can be reached by car or bus. It's a 2-1/2 hour trip from Naha City, along the Okinawa Expressway. The complex overlooks the East China Sea.

From the water surface to the ocean floor, you’ve just visited the waters of Okinawa, and didn’t need a towel.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dunnington, Indiana

Dunnington is one of several unincorporated communities dotting northwest Indiana. The town's namesake (John Dunn) made his fortune selling baled hay to the government for the U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War. Then in the 1870s he ran a local 320 acre farm. 

Today, visitors can travel for miles along 2-lane back roads that roll through the gentle hills of Benton County. Acres of knee-high corn flutter in the late June breeze as summer bugs ping the windshield.

At a crossroads in one cornfield, St. Mary’s Catholic Church rises over the handful of buildings built in Dunnington dating from the late 19th century.  For church gatherings, neighbors still serve freshly shucked and boiled corn, home made slaws and pies. Chicken, baked to a golden crisp is heaped on large family-style platters. Oversized bowls swim with German-style string beans flavored with nuggets of sausage and onion. Traditions and family ties run deep.

Headstones in St. Mary’s cemetery reflect the community’s German heritage: Altepeper, Gros, Schilling, Schwartz. Some folks lived as long as 97 years, while others lasted a brief half hour. A little girl rests next to her grandparents. One cold day she wandered out of the house while her mother tended a newborn sibling. Within days the toddler was overtaken by pneumonia. Her headstone is dated 1920 - 1922.

Wikipedia calls Dunnington ‘now virtually extinct.’ Yet there are signs of life. 87 new wind turbines of the Benton County Wind Farm churn in the summer wind. Prayers for a good harvest are still offered during church services.

Two miles east of the Illlinois border, 38 miles west of Purdue University. It’s the 1001st “place to visit” before you die.