Fake Prince in Des Moines

One of my bigger regrets is not going to see the real Prince when he performed years ago in Ames, Iowa (not far from where we live in Des Moines). So last Friday, we took the best we could get, especially now that Real Prince is, sadly, no longer with us. We went to a tribute band that rumor has it was the only fake that the Real Deal  approved of.

Simon Estes Amphitheater was packed, with a sold-out crowd, and it was a lovely, albeit wickedly hot and humid June night on the river.  “The Prince Experience” wasn’t bad. Fake Prince was a little shorter and thicker around the midriff than Real Prince but he sang well and proudly wore his white ruffled shirt and long purple sparkly duster . Fake Sheila E was working hard too. We didn’t  understand why the keyboard player wore what appeared to be medical scrubs, looking like he just left his shift at Mercy Hospital.  But he proudly announced several times he was a West Des Moines native so we gave him a pass. It was the kind of concert where you had to be prepared to laugh a little — at the band and yourself.


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Hot off the Press: story in Minneapolis Star Tribune on Des Moines’ public art.

Here’s a story I wrote (and yes, that’s my son and son-in-law in the photo)…

Midwest Traveler: Des Moines is Iowa’s capital of public art

Des Moines will be busy during next weekend’s annual Arts Festival.

By Betsy Rubiner Special to the Star Tribune


JUNE 14, 2018 — 6:25PM

New York artist Keith Haring’s “Untitled (Three Dancing Figures, version C)” is also found in the Des Moines sculpture park.

“A lot of it, I don’t recognize,” said my 26-year-old son, who now lives in Minneapolis, as we walked around his hometown of Des Moines. “Downtown looks pretty good!”

Some of the credit for that goes to public art enthusiasts, who have not only dotted downtown Des Moines with sculpture, installations and murals but have created an Art Route that helps visitors and locals find 87 artworks. A free app also provides the locations, plus details about artists including Claes Oldenberg, Louise Bourgeois, Maya Lin and Joel Shapiro.

The downtown Art Route’s western portion — dominated by the popular John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park — will be particularly busy June 22-24, when it is the site of the Des Moines Arts Festival, which includes a juried exhibition.


On a sleepier spring weekend, my husband and I explored the 6.6-mile Art Route DSM (artroutedsm.com) with visiting millennials — our son, as well as our daughter and her husband, who live in Chicago.


As a Des Moines transplant, I’ve long admired the art around town. But recently, I started noticing green dots painted on sidewalks and painted street intersections, which, I learned, denote the art route.

On the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation’s website (dsmpublicartfoundation.org), I found out that the route stretches primarily around three west-east thoroughfares: Grand Avenue, Locust Street and Walnut Street. (I also learned that a Canadian street artist painted the street intersections/“installations.”)


Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion,” at left, is a centerpiece of Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines.


Much of the art locations/green dots are west of the Des Moines River near the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, where more than two dozen contemporary sculptures sit on an undulating 4.4-acre grassy site divided by curving paths. Some of the route’s artwork is located along the river or east of it, in the burgeoning East Village neighborhood and by the gold-domed State Capitol.

Because the route does not have a designated start or end (or numbered stops), I arrived with a rough DIY plan and two helpful tools from the public art foundation website — a printout of the route map and the Public Art App, which I downloaded on my phone.

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park proved a logical starting point, thanks to its concentration of art. Opened in 2009, the park is an old favorite by now, so we zeroed in on recent additions including Japanese sculptor Yayoi Kusama’s 8-foot-high “Pumpkin Large” and Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s rainbow-mirrored “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion.”

While visiting a signature park piece — Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade,” a 27-foot-tall hollow human form made of a latticework of white steel letters — I stumped the Chicagoans by asking them to guess which sculpture Plensa designed in their city’s Millennium Park. (The surprising answer: “Crown Fountain,” the video sculpture that includes two 50-foot glass towers displaying Chicago residents’ faces, whose mouths spout water.)

As we admired New York graffiti artist Keith Haring’s untitled sculpture of three dancing figures, we used another helpful tool — a free audio podcast walking tour from the Des Moines Art Center. Following posted instructions, we dialed a number on my phone, entered the number on a sign in front of the Haring sculpture and listened to an erudite recording. (An engaging family guide is also available on the Art Center website, des­moinesartcenter.org.)

New architecture

Before leaving the park, we gazed up at the dramatic building under construction nearby, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The five-story Krause Gateway Center — the Kum & Go convenience store chain’s new headquarters — is already a presence, with its massive scale and sculptural look including high glass walls separated by four overhanging white horizontal planes.

“The Piano” is among several architectural gems we passed. Others include the 2006 public library, clad in daylight-permeable copper windows and designed by British architect David Chipperfield; and the recently renovated Catholic Pastoral Center, a 1962 steel and glass modernist building by Mies van der Rohe. Another highlight: two cool contemporary pedestrian bridges over the river — the 2010 Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, which arches over a dam, and the Red Bridge, an 1891 rail bridge that got a modern makeover in 2005.

Heading northeast, we stopped at the familiar and impressive sculpture park beside the modernist American Republic Insurance building. But we also spotted unfamiliar work, including a colorful mural painted on the back of a building we have driven past for years.

Some of the art turned out to be inside buildings closed on a Sunday, but still visible. We peeked through glass to see Maya Lin’s installation “A Shift in the Stream” inside the Principal Corporate 4 building lobby and Sol Lewitt’s colorful painting “Whirls and Twirls” inside the Pappajohn Education Center.

We also realized that the route is long — especially on foot — so we did only a portion before stopping for a drink in the East Village. Next time, we may try the route via bike.

Where to eat and sleep

West of the river, casual drink and dining options include Exile Brewing Co.(1-515-883-2337; exilebrewing.com) and Americana Restaurant (1-515-283-1212; americanadsm.com). East-of-the-river options include the Republic on Grand (1-515-518-6070; therepublic ongrand.com) atop the six-story AC Hotel (1-515-343-6026), with an open-air bar serving brew, bites and city views. Also convenient to the Art Route is the new Hilton Des Moines Downtown(1-515-241-1456).

More information

Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau: 1-800-451-2625; catchdesmoines.com.

Betsy Rubiner, a Des Moines-based travel writer, writes the travel blog Take Betsy With You.


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Filed under arts festival, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Mineral Point and Potosi, WI; Eagle Point Park in Dubuque

Potosi, WIIt was still too blazing hot to ride bikes or even hike on Memorial Day so we drove backroads from our lovely airbnb in Mount Horeb through southwest Wisconsin into Dubuque. We arrived in the pretty town of Mineral Point, WI just in time to catch the annual Memorial Day parade marching down High Street, which is lined with beautifully preserved old stone buildings.  Classic Americana.

Mineral Point looked different from when I last visited (about 9 years ago) in part because we went to Cornwall, England last summer — Mineral Point claims to be the most Cornish town in the U.S. — and because the town seems to have spruced up and is now full of more galleries, vintage shops and newcomers (a new shopkeeper said the latest residents include people from Palm Springs, CA and South Africa).  We ended up doing some shopping — at the new shopkeeper’s furniture/housegoods shop (The Board Shoppe) and at a Main Street store that sells “rescued home good from the early 1900s to the 1960s” (Retromantic Emporium).

We drove on to the Mississippi river town of  Potosi, WI (the shopkeeper suggested) which has a popular National Brewery Museum that we didn’t visit but a lot of bikers did. The rest of the town looked pretty worn. We drove  to a lowlying area/boat launch on the Mississippi that is famous for birding. It was very windy. Felt like we were almost in the river.  From there we drove along the Great River Road briefly until crossing over the bridge to Dubuque where we picnicked at Eagle Point State Park — high on a bluff overlooking Dam and Lock #11. Very dramatic scenery and we couldn’t remember if we’d been there before. We also marveled at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired park shelters — lots of cool old stone and wood buildings.

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Wisconsin

Sjolinds, Driftless Historium, Military Ridge State Trail biking, Grumpy troll, Blue Mounds, Stewart Lake, Marcine’s — in and around Mt. Horeb, WI

Stone House airbnb

Playing catch up.  On Sunday, we met our friend Jane for breakfast at Sjolinds (“shoe” linds)  in downtown Mount Horeb – cheerful Scandinavia fare (tried the Scandinavian fruit soup, bit too gelatinous for me and certainly for Dirck). We got a sneak peak at the very impressive Driftless Historium, a new local history museum (that I’m writing a story about) and then attempted to ride bikes in 94 degree heat on the Military Ridge State Trail. The trail is packed dirt and stone but really lovely. But the heat kept us from going far. We went a few miles east, which was all downhill (we barely peddled) but, of course, uphill on the return; Then we went a few more miles west which was more level but less shady and closer to the highway.

Mount Horeb’s Grumpy Troll brewpub was packed with hot sweaty people like us — including several motorcyclists.  We ended up on the second floor, eating newly introduced nachos. Pleasant place. And cool temps! To really cool off, we went to the local swimming hole — Stewart Lake County Park — which reminded me a bit of Ithaca.  Small body of water, murky and warm on top, colder toward the bottom, lined with woods including the occasional white birch (my favorite). Across from the sandy beach, some kids took turns climbing up a sagging pine tree and jumping when they reached the top. Dangerous but looked like fun. We drove to nearby Blue Mounds and spotted people eating ice cream cones on the porch of the local convenience store so we joined them. (The one employee was very busy scooping cones and working the cash register.) Onto Blue Mound State Park where we climbed up a high old wooden observation tower (I got a splinter holding onto the railing) for a stupendous view of rolling green Wisconsin dairyland – with pristine red wood/stone foundation barns, century farms with white farmhouses, the occasional golden limestone house like the stunner we airbnbed in. As our friend Jane suggested, we drove from the park along Ryan Road (near Highway F) for more glorious views from high on a ridge. We also drove past  Campo Di Bella Winery which also offers farm-to-table meals and farm stays. Looks promising!

Dinner was classic townie – Marcine’s, a tavern in the small town of Mount Vernon, that Jane took us to. Fortunately we just missed the band (which could have been very loud) but sat at high top tables and drank beer and ate very good burgers. Place was packed.  Later, we finally could really enjoy the porch at our airbnb (cooler temps, fewer bugs), where we sat on a quiet night and chatted with our airbnb host Nina, a former professional juggler who does various jobs now (including helping out at the famous Bleu Mont Dairy in Blue Mounds).

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Filed under bike trails, biking, Madison

Farmers market, State street brats, chocolate ice cream at the memorial union, Forequarter—Madison/ also Mount Horeb and Blue Mounds, WI

The view from our Airbnb

Another Airbnb view

Busy day. On a hot, sunny morning, the farmers market around the state capital building in downtown Madison was packed with people all walking the same direction in a slow circle past asparagus, morels, spinach, cheeses, lots of cheese and bread. We picked up some famous bandaged cheddar at the Bleu Mont Dairy stand and met our Airbnb host there. (She was selling cheeses.) also bought some very solid 8 grain bread at cress spring bakery.

Onto the first place I tried a brat (I think) while visiting my sister who went to U of Wisconsin – State Street Brats. We shared a table on the patio with a nice retired couple who moved from Brooklyn to Madison 30 years ago. After window shopping on State, we walked to the union and ate rapidly melting ice cream bones on the busy patio overlooking the lake. The place was packed with visitors also eating brats and ice cream and looking out at the boaters and sunbathers. Suddenly it is summer.

Onto the pretty rural town of Mount Horeb, 30 miles west of Madison where we are staying in a remarkable 1860 stone farmhouse tucked into a lush green valley with horses grazing and a pristine red barn with a cupola in the distance. The house is so hidden from the road that we had to call the owner from a nearby Apple orchard. Our gps said we were there. But there was no house in sight. Turns out we had to drive down an even narrower gravel road, park by the pasture in the woods and walk a few seconds and there was the lovely two story limestone house, with cool contemporary touches – a wood deck and overhang, a copper colored wrought iron railing. Inside the house is fanciful and bohemian, filled with artwork, old photos, big brass horse adornments. Our room on the second floor landing is all Beatles, with aYellow submarine mural covering one wall and photos of John, Paul,George and Ringo on the other. Our host is a former professional juggler who used to perform with her former husband all over, including on Caribbean cruise ships. Than you Airbnb.

In cheerful Mount Horeb, we visited a few shops, most notably the Pop Place, with soda pop from all over (yes, Vernors from Detroit) and Artisan Woods, a gallery with work by 70 wood artists (beautiful inlaid wood paintings, cutting boards, nightlights, wood purses and wood earrings. Nearby, in Blue Mounds, we cooled off in a chilly and very cool Cave of the Mounds. Not too claustrophobia inducing except for a few very narrow low passages where we had to walk single file. And no bats. And awe-inspiring stalagmites and stalactites.

Dinner was at the small and superb Forequarter, which is almost hidden in a quiet residential neighborhood east of the capital, unnamed on the storefront awning. We sat at the bar and promptly received free glasses of sparkling wine, in hour of our 28th anniversary (I don’t remember mentioning this when I made the reservation online but must have.) We had house made charcuterie, some amazing crispy fried mushrooms, herb and ricotta dumplings in a broth with greens, mushrooms and aspagus, rhubarb sorbet with “parsnip crumble” and a very moist and solid lemon marmalade layer cake with lemon frosting and pink peppercorns. (we took most of this home).

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Picnic in Steamboat Rock Iowa, Morning In Dubuque

Pretty morning after a big storm in Dubuque, Iowa. Our Airbnb is an old red brick row house in a gentrifying neighborhood downtown. Sitting on the second level wooden back deck, overlooking a narrow brick alley lined with other two story red brick houses and lots of trees, flawless blue sky where last night there were jagged shards and sometimes huge sheets of lightening, listening to the birds, the occasional passing train and cars, watching five Hispanic boys ride by in the alley on bikes, I am reminded of another river town ….Easton, Pennsylvania, except my grandma’s red brick row house was high on a hill and had a big open front porch where we used to sit for hours on old red and white wood rocking chairs.

Last night, during a pause in the storm, we drove under a double rainbow (really) past farm fields bathed in a surreal post-storm yellow light into the tiny north central Iowa town of Steamboat Rock, where we found a perfect picnic table in a small city park (wayside park) by the Iowa River, under an overhang of an old park building that shielded us from the rain still dripping off the trees and provided a lovely view from the glistening grassy river bank of birds dipping into the water. On to Wisconsin!

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Lovely Airbnb, Biking the Lakes, Hot Indian and the Happy Gnome — Twin Cities

at Minnehaha Falls

My friend Nell and I only had a half day here but made the most of it. After driving my son Noah back to his apartment in Minneapolis from a trip home to DSM, we checked into our pretty Airbnb, an early 1900’s four square with a lovely garden in South Minneapolis near the Minnehaha Parkway and bike trail. We stopped at  Midtown Global Market for some “Hot Indian” food including an “indurrito (Indian burrito) and delicious “Indi-Frites” – crispy seasoned fries with an aoili dipping sauce. Clever.

On an afternoon with perfect bike riding weather (cool, light breeze, slightly cloudy) we rode on a lightly populated trail (a Monday) west and north to Lakes Harriet, Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. I did learn that when you ride this direction, you have to stay off of the bike trail that’s on the sidewalk rimming the lakes because it’s carefully designated for riders going the opposite direction — and Twin Cities riders take these designations very seriously, as they should especially on very busy weekends.

The trails were relatively quiet on a Monday but we didn’t want to “break the rules” so we ended up riding a few sections of the trail on the side of the access road lining the trail, which fortunately had few cars but was at times bumpy and sandy. No big deal. I also learned that the Lake of the Isles offers immediate and easy access to the Midtown Greenway trail, another favorite and we rode that subterranean-feeling trail to a cool trailside bike store/cafe called MPLS Coaster Brake Cafe, near the Global Market. I loved that you could wheel your bike right into the store/cafe and park it near some lounge chairs to take a break. No need to lock out front.

Happy Gnomes

We rode back on Portland Avenue along the bike lane which worked well, given the heavy rush hour traffic. There were several other riders, which helped make us a more visible presence on a busy city thoroughfare. Back on the Minnehaha Parkway, we learned the hard way to stay on the trail rather than the bordering streets, in order to get under 35W Highway. (We had to backtrack slightly and portage down some steps with our bikes.) We also had to overshoot the street where our airbnb was because there wasn’t an easy exit off the wooded trail — but no big deal, we just backtracked a little.

Dinner was at The Happy Gnome, a gastropub in St. Paul (which I kept calling the “Grumpy Troll,” a Wisconsin place we’re going to this weekend). We went for the beer (note to self: Indeed is a good local brew!) and ended up staying to eat (note to self: good salmon burger) rather than going to a nearby Cambodian restaurant, as planned. Great company, with two of the world’s nicest boys, errr, young men! On the way home, we stopped briefly at Patisserie 46 (because it was only blocks from our airbnb) and for a quick walk around Minnehaha Falls (note to self: hike this area properly some time!).

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Filed under DINING, Minneapolis, Minnesota