Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 29, 2011

A whirlwind tour

Many people might wonder what Kansas has to offer that a foreign tourist would find interesting. But when Venezuelan friend Ingrid and her daughter Liza visited us earlier this month, husband Art and I found it difficult to pare down the list of sites to show them.

Ingrid and I met 40 years ago when she was an exchange student at my high school. We had lost touch, but reconnected June 21 at a dinner with other friends in Newton.

But dinner seemed like too short a time together, so Art and I decided we'd invite Ingrid and Liza on a whirlwind tour of nearby places.

On July 7, we picked them up in Wichita, where they were staying with classmate and friend Sherri. They were ready to go when we arrived at 10 a.m. and seemed excited about their upcoming adventure.

Art stopped under a shade tree in El Dorado and said, "To understand Kansas, you must know a bit about its history."

"Oh, no," I thought. "Art really loves to talk. We could be here awhile."

But, surprisingly, he summarized our state's milestone events in just under 15 minutes. He talked about the Native Americans who first populated the area - some native to this area and others pushed here by the westward expansion of the United States. I interjected that the name Kansas came from Kanza - a word that means "people of the south wind."

Art described how Spanish explorers came because they had heard the region had gold -hence, why he had stopped in El Dorado. He continued with a brief description of how towns grew up along the trade and emigration trails and how railroads were later laid along these same trails. He briefly described Kansas' role in the Civil War and about the Russian Germans who brought wheat to the area near Newton, Kansas, marking the beginning of our state being the "bread basket of the world."

He said there wouldn't be a test when his history-in-a-nutshell lesson concluded, and we then drove on to my hometown of Burns.

We stopped at Sticks and Twigs, a local craft and collectibles shop, and then dropped in at the city office to chat with Carol, another classmate. Then it was back in the car and on to the Town and Country Café in Florence for cinnamon rolls.

Momentarily refueled, we moved on to Council Grove, which, from 1821-1866, was the only Santa Fe Trail trading post between Independence, Mo. and Santa Fe, N.M. We pointed out trail sites, such as the Post Office Oak and the Madonna of the Trail sculpture. Ingrid and Liza enjoyed the "Calaboose" - the old frontier jail. Southeast of town, we stopped at Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park, the site where the Kanza - or Kaw as they are sometimes called - lived for a time. For supper, we stopped at the Hays House, the longest continuously-operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River.

We then meandered through the countryside to Marion Hill Lutheran Church, just across the road from where Mom grew up in rural Morris County. We completed the day by skirting Fort Riley. Art described its origin as a protector of trail travelers and early settlers and its present use as the home of the "Big Red 1" Infantry Division.

The following day began with a brief tour of Kansas State University, a visit to the Riley County Historical Museum, a drive to Tuttle Creek Reservoir and a trip to Wamego for a lunch of sandwiches at the Friendship House. But the highlight for Ingrid and Liza was visiting the Oz Museum. While we locals are proud of Kansas' connection with L. Frank Baum's books and "The Wizard of Oz" movie, I wasn't aware when I was growing up that both are well known internationally. So Ingrid and Liza were fascinated by the more than 2,000 artifacts relating to both.

With supper time coming on, we stopped briefly at Mom's so she could meet our guests. Then it was on to the grocery store before going home, where Ingrid and Liza fixed us a wonderful meal of bow-tie pasta covered in a sauce of zucchini, onions, tomatoes and garlic.

But our day wasn't over yet! We arrived in Kansas City about 11:30 p.m. with a plan to sleep in the next morning.

Since Art had lived in Kansas City for six years, he was our tour guide when we began our noon-time travel the next day. We drove past the Royals baseball and Chiefs football stadia, ogled beautiful homes on Ward Parkway and cruised the Avenue of the Americas.

Art figured after so many days together, Liza needed some time with some youngsters. So in the afternoon, we met daughters Katie and Mariya, Mariya's partner Lacey, and friend Jamie so Liza could join them in a shopping adventure and then go on with them to the Worlds of Fun amusement park.

Meanwhile, we "oldies" left to visit the Arabia Steamboat Museum, checking out the artifacts from the steamboat that sank in 1856.

Later, on our way to the Johnson County Community College campus where Art had taught, we cruised through the Country Club Plaza area. Art declared that anyone who has not had BBQ in Kansas City has not really experienced Kansas City. So the gigantic platter of ribs, sausage and chicken we ordered at Gate's BBQ filled the bill quite nicely before we moved on to McDonald's for dessert.

We filled the next hours at the hotel, chatting about our lives during the past 40 years. That ended about midnight when the girls returned with Liza. They all looked happy, but completely worn out.

The next day, we spent a few hours at Crown Center, first watching kids and their parents cooling off in the water sprays outside. A big hit was the Christmas shop open in the middle of summer. We browsed items in a clothing boutique and a store that sold Russian jewelry and nesting dolls.

Our time together ended later that day when we met Sherri at Emporia. As Art and I headed home, I thought of the variety of things we had done and the places we had seen. Ingrid and Liza certainly seemed to enjoy themselves and I know I enjoyed getting to know them better. It was also great fun to be a tourist in our own backyard.

And if we had had more time, we could have visited the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, the salt mines, the Capitol building, the Columbian Theater, the Konza Prairie, .....

Left, Gloria, Ingrid and Liza enjoying cinnamon rolls at Florence's Town
and Country Caf´┐Ż; middle, checking out the frontier jail in Council Grove;
right, Liza and the Cowardly Lion at the Oz Museum in Wamego.

Left, Mariya, Lacey, Katie, Ingrid, Gloria and Art ready to sample Ingrid
and Liza's pasta supper; middle, Jamie, Liza and Katie at Worlds of Fun;
right, Ingrid and Liza before the Crown Center fountains.

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