Indianapolis, Indiana: Lots to See and Do
May is the Month to Visit Indy
By Susan McKee
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing takes place in Indiana’s capital city on Memorial Day Weekend each year. At least a quarter million spectators fill the stands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race – the world’s largest single-day sporting event.
Thirty-three Indy car drivers start off at 12:15 p.m. May 25, 2014, for the 98th running of the “500” to race 200 miles on the 2.5-mile oval track and capture the checkered flag.
If that weren’t enough, a new contest -- the Grand Prix of Indianapolis – takes off May 10. (Don’t confuse this race with the Formula One Grand Prix – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stopped hosting that contest a few years back).
On May 11 through 15, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts five days of open-to-the-public practice plus “Fast Friday” test runs May 16. Qualifying laps are May 17 and 18, with pole position for the “500” determined the second of those two days.
Celebrating the “Merry Month of May” leading up to the fabled race, the Indianapolis “500” Festival (a local non-profit) hosts everything from a Mini-Marathon to a nationally-televised parade.
The second reason to visit Indy this May? The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis will host a handful of the 8,000 terra cotta warriors unearthed in Xi’an, China – their only U.S. appearance this year. “China’s Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Painted Army”– open May 10 through November 2, 2014 – includes something rare: the head of one figure with a significant amount of the original paint still apparent (although faded).
In partnership with China’s Shaanxi provincial government, the exhibit offers an up-close experience with “real and rare objects”, including that painted head plus eight full-size warriors and more than 100 other artifacts.
The exhibit will explore how the lifelike statues were made by the first emperor’s artisans. Interactives will encourage both adults and children to become “part” of the archaeology team and investigate the scientific research currently underway that helps us imagine what made this painted army so vibrant.
Take Me There: China
A companion exhibit at the museum, also opening May 10, is Take Me There: China, an immersive experience where you can “fly” over the Great Wall, try your hand at using chopsticks learn about traditional Chinese medicine.
Don’t think that the Children’s Museum is “only” for children. While the little ones will love it, their older companions also will be transfixed (don’t miss the water clock in the lobby – it counts time in drops – or the 43-foot-tall Dale Chihuly glass sculpture in the stairway atrium).
The third reason? The International Orangutan Center opens at the Indianapolis Zoo May 24. This unique exhibit has been designed specifically to meet the physical, social and intellectual needs of orangutans, a critically-endangered primate native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia.
Home to one of the largest groups of orangutans in any American zoo, the exhibit serves as an education, research, and conservation center. You can watch the orangutans swing 40 feet above your head and board an aerial cable ride for an orangutan's eye view of the zoo.
The great apes’ intelligence and curiosity shine as they work together with –you! -- to solve puzzles at several interactive stations and, using an iPad, change the lights each evening for the beacon atop a 150-foot structure.
Fourth? While it’s not new (it was finished in May 2013), the Indianapolis Cultural Trail has a new amenity this spring that provides another way to experience the linear “park”. The eight miles of distinctive paving and amenities circling downtown and connecting five of the city’s six Cultural Districts have been energized by the recent addition of bike rental stations.
Bikeshare bike in Indianapolis, sponsored by the Pacers.Bikeshare has placed 250 distinctive gold bicycles at 25 different stations along or near the trail. You can buy a 24-hour pass at the kiosk, grab your set of wheels and head off to explore.
Even if you don’t rent a bicycle, you’ll want to explore some part the Cultural Trail while you’re in Indy – perhaps checking out the quirky shops in the Mass Ave Cultural District or the new eateries in Fountain Square.
The fifth reason to visit Indy this month? Mastodons and mammoths! Skeletons of these Ice Age Giants – hidden underneath Indiana soil for thousands of years – have been unearthed, assembled and put on display at the Indiana State Museum through August 17.
The state museum is located in White River State Park -- home also to the Indianapolis Zoo, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and the city’s only Segway tour operator.
Where to eat? The traditional dinnertime favorite for more than a century is St. Elmo’s Steak House where the sinus-clearing-power of the fiery horseradish-laced shrimp cocktail is legendary. For lunch, consider the Workingman’s Friend – but bring cash for those tasty double cheeseburgers ‘cause they don’t take credit cards.
If you’re a bit more adventurous, check out the options on IndyEthnicFood.com. A non-profit has corralled information and reviews about every authentic cuisine offered in and around Indianapolis and all the foodie fests happening in the state.
Where to stay? New kid on the block is the Alexander, an oh-so-trendy hotel in the southeast corner of the Mile Square where the bar – Plat 99: Mixology Lounge – continues to draw raves. A bit stuffier and boasting its own art gallery is the Conrad
Where to spend the evening? The Rathskeller – a classic German-style bar and eatery in the historic Athenaeum -- moves outside for the summer with a full lineup of live music Wednesdays through Saturdays. Its atmospheric Kellerbar (complete with stuffed moose heads and banners from German Bundesländer) is stocked with a dozen imported draft beers and more than 50 imported bottle beers – including Kölsch, the specialty brew of Indy’s Sister City, Cologne, Germany.
The Slippery Noodle (founded back in 1850) is both a dive bar and a great venue for listening to the blues. For something a bit more elegant, head to the Cabaret in the Columbia Club on Monument Circle for sophisticated entertainment.
Susan McKee is an independent scholar and freelance journalist specializing in history, culture and travel. She travels widely and to amazing places–this year, one of her destinations was Chad. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.