Five essential Memorial Day destinations

Memorial Day marks the cultural beginning of summer, the start of the warm months. The picnics and the parties and the celebration of the impending summer have sort of become the point of Memorial Day for many, a kind of superimposition of recreation over the intention of the holiday.

We love beer and hot dogs as much as the next guy, but for those interested in the history and meaning (or, in destination 5 below, the traditional pageantry) of Memorial Day, here are five destinations for Monday that might prompt greater reflection on the holiday itself.

1. Charleston, South Carolina. Hampton Park in Charleston was once the site of the Washington Race Course, which served as prison camp for Union soldiers in the last year of the Civil War. Here, in 1865, former slaves provided a proper burial and commemoration of fallen Union soldiers, followed by sermons, prayer, and picnics, under the name of Decoration Day. Yale history professor David W. Blight has championed this event as the first ever Memorial Day celebration.

2. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. About five miles from State College, Boalsburg is one of a number of other locations claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Tiny Boalsburg is also home to the Pennsylvania Military Museum.

3. Waterloo, New York. Waterloo, in the Finger Lakes region, hosts the National Memorial Day Museum. Waterloo was recognized by the federal government as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, one hundred years after the city first celebrated the event.

4. Arlington, Virginia. Arlington National Cemetery is the arguably the best-known cemetery in the US. Administered by the Department of the Army, the cemetery hosts a National Memorial Day Observance open to the general public on a first-come first-seated basis. Admission is free.

5. Speedway, Indiana or Concord, North Carolina. While stock car racing can’t be tied to the history of Memorial Day, these two iconic races (the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway) have coincided with the holiday for decades, and have in turn become Memorial Day tradition. The Indianapolis 500 was first held on Memorial Day in 1911, and the Coca Cola 600 dates back to 1960.

16 great farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.

Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market

The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.

Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.

Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.

Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market
overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.

Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.

Woodstock, Illinois

Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Holland, Michigan

The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.

Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.

Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.

Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market

As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

— The above was written by Diana Lambdin Meyer, Seed contributor

Washington D.C. – Eastern Market

Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.

Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.

New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.

Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.

— The above was written by M. Fuchsloch, Seed contributor

Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.

San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.

Indianapolis prepares for March Madness with new hotel rooms, vacation packages

Indianapolis is getting ready to host a pair of the NCAA basketball games by opening up more than 600 new hotel rooms.

According to Fox59, a local Indianapolis station, The Courtyard at Marriott, SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inn are now open and booking guests. The new hotels are within walking distance from the stadium and new convention center, which will host the Final Four games.

The games take place March 14 through April 5 and Indianapolis hosts the Men’s Final Four April 3-5. Final Four tickets are on sale now starting at $410 and reaching as high as $3400. is offering Final Four travel packages starting at $1,025 per person for three nights. The March Madness package includes three nights at the Hampton Inn Indianapolis South, tickets to the games, round-trip gameday transfers and shuttle service to Hoop City.

Indianapolis has suffered its drop in tourism dollars and is hoping the Final Four brings more travelers to the Midwest city — thanks to the addition of new hotel rooms, there’s plenty of room for basketball fans from around the nation.

Miami hotels feeling Who Dat? fever

The Saints are marching into Florida and blanketing Miami in black and gold. According to Miami hotel owners, more rooms are being sold to New Orleans Saints fans for Super Bowl XLIV, outshining the Colts fans in what some could say is an early upset for Indianapolis.

The Miami Herald reports that most callers seeking local rooms were of the Cajun persuasion. “The callers we’re getting all have Cajun accents,” said Robert Finvarb, who owns four Marriott hotels in Broward and Miami-Dade. “Indianapolis is a dog for Super Bowl.”

While there are still plenty of rooms for the taking, some hotels have dropped their prices in an effort to fill space for the notoriously sold out sports weekend.

According to reports, The W Fort Lauderdale has rented 90 percent of its 466 rooms available for Super Bowl. Prices for the swanky digs start at $699. Usually less-expensive hotels like the Hampton Inn and Courtyard Marriott hotels in Florida are offering nights starting at $329. The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale only has suites left, and they are going for $2,500 a night. I combed through some hotel sites and the best price I could find for the weekend of Feb. 7 was courtesy of the Best Western in North Miami (about 5 miles from the stadium) — the published rate of $260 is available to seniors or AAA members, then jumps to $290 for everyone else.

Of course, you can always sleep in the car, or call your friend’s third cousin who goes to college in Miami. Or, you can make friends with one the losers from Sunday’s game (they’ll be dressed in blue and white) and share space for the night.

Budget Summer destination from Chicago – Indianapolis

If you are still looking for an affordable Summer destination from Chicago, and don’t want to spend too long on the road, then Indianapolis may be just what you need.

Indianapolis is a strange city – it is quite large (14th largest city in the US), but rarely do you hear much about it.

The city certainly isn’t very high on the list of destinations for people to fly to, and I doubt you’ll ever hear anyone in New York or Los Angeles talking about spending their Summer vacation in Indy.

Despite this, the city has quite a lot to offer, though maybe not enough to spend a week in the area, there is plenty to do on a long weekend.

How to get there

Getting to Indianapolis from Chicago is simple – though it can be rather time consuming. With bad traffic in the Chicago area, you could spend 3 hours just trying to leave the city.

The drive is about 180 miles, and will take about 4 hours (with no bad traffic). Of course, if you hate driving, you can also fly, but the total time and cost involved with that trip really does not make sense.

Alternatively, you could consider Amtrak. At just $38 per round trip, the train is a very affordable option. Sadly, the Amtrak schedule to Indianapolis is quite useless, and most of the trains involve either a very late arrival into the city, or a very early departure back home.

Finally, for an even cheaper way to get into Indianapolis, you can reserve a seat on Megabus. Seats on the bus start at just $1, and the trip takes just over 4 hours.

Where to stay

There are 100’s of places to stay in Indianapolis – varying from upscale downtown hotels to the many chain hotels located around the city.

A convenient location to spend the night is the Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites Indianapolis East.

This location is just 10 minutes from the Children’s Museum, and its location means you can drive clear from any traffic heading to the racetrack.

Rooms at this hotel start at just $89, and the rate includes free breakfast and Internet Access.

The hotel is right off the highway, and the vicinity is home to loads of restaurants and other facilities.

What to do

Indianapolis is home to the largest children’s museum in the world – though when I visited the museum, I was not terribly impressed with the number of “hands on” attractions available for kids.

Admission to the museum is $14 for adults and $9 for children, which means a family of 4 will spend close to $50 just to get in.

The Indianapolis Children’s museum does not participate in any reciprocal admission programs and some of the exhibits cost extra, in addition to your entry fee.

Of course, nothing says Indianapolis more than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Speedway itself is actually in Speedway, Indiana and the entire area around the complex is a great place to spend some time.

Unless you love being stuck in traffic and paying $10 for a drink, I recommend staying clear of this area on race days (the schedule can be found here).

The Motor Speedway Museum is open every day of the year (except Christmas), and admission is just $3. A lap on the actual track is an additional $3.

When you leave Indianapolis, be sure to leave early enough to take advantage of 2 great attractions on the way home. About 70 miles outside Indy (between Lafayette and Merillville) is the Fair Oaks dairy farm. This massive multiple farm dairy facility has a modern visitors center with various indoor and outdoor attractions. The highlights of the facility are the “birthing barn” and a bus tour through an actual working dairy farm.

The birthing barn is quite amazing, and several times a day you can sit behind a large glass wall and watch the resident vet assist with the birth of a baby. Of course, you’ll need a bit of a strong stomach, as this is a real birth, not a video tape with edits. Outside the birthing barn is a traffic light, showing whether a birth is in progress.

The dairy farm tour takes about 45 minutes, and drives to one of the Fair Oaks farms a mile from the visitor center. The tour takes your around the barns (each housing 1400 cows), and then drops visitors off at the milking parlor, where you can watch from a viewing room and see 100’s of cows being milked on the massive carousel.

Before you leave, you can buy some fresh milk, ice cream or cheese from the Fair Oaks store/restaurant. With over 20 different varieties of cheese, you are bound to find something you like. Samples are handed out all the time, so even if you don’t leave with a bag full of cheese, you’ll be able to taste their products.

The next attraction on the way home is the Albanese candy factory and outlet store. This may sound like your average candy store, but it is in fact one of the largest candy outlets in the world.

The store sells thousands of different varieties of candy, nuts and snacks. During the week, the facility offers tours, but you are also free to stand and watch their massive chocolate fountain (think Willy Wonka massive!).

So there you have it – a budget friendly destination from the Chicagoland area. Be sure to check out our other budget friendly summer vacation destinations!