Duluth, MN to Kansas City MO: Second in a series based on a pan-American trip in a hybrid at age 80, to be published in book form in 2013.

1937 Tatra V8
1937 Tatra V8

 My husband and I  had an unforgettable time taking shelter in two art museums, two days apart, from a treacherous ice storm. This strategy can work for you too, with kids in summer. Here are 14 tips:

  1. Recharge your family’s batteries  by visiting an art museum with an amazing world-class collection and super café. Check your AAA/CAA guidebook as you approach a city to get the open hours, Interstate exit number and directions.
  2. Make it the highlight of your day. Allow 90 minutes at least. It won’t be easy to pull yourself away from the greatest creations of all time or decide which postcards to buy from the gift shop.
  3. Sightsee as you drive in. The mansions near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA)  http://www.artsmia.org/ were built from 1880-1920 by wealthy business leaders. This residential district is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (NAMA) in  Kansas City www.nelson-atkins.org/ sits near homes built ingeniously of fieldstone, a reminder of the pioneer days when Kansas City was called ‘Possum Trot.
  4. Appreciate the museum exteriors. Both are neoclassical buildings with modern extensions added to  the beaux arts style of domes, arches, sculptural decoration, staircases and atria. Both sit on eight-acre campuses. Sculptors commissioned to add statues to the NAMA lawn imagined the building to be a badminton net, a place for play. Four 18-foot shuttlecocks, 16 feet in diameter, each weighing 5,500 pounds, are strewn around as if a game were in progress.
  5. Go to the welcome desk to get information. They have facilities for children and family days. Special activities always go on. Guides will give you a map and mobile audio devices, if you like, and rules of how to behave (to protect the valuable objects).
  6. Get a feel for the place. That’s what travel is about. We’re Canadians but  noticed no difference in the culture of the people until Kansas City. At NAMA a greeting emanated in a drawl from a deep, warm source of hospitality not tapped into by our countrymen.
  7. Don’t try to see all of the collection; it’s too vast. The MIA  has 80,000 pieces, up to 5,000 years old, from all continents. If you come unprepared, head for a main interest, such as the American, Asian, European or Prehistoric gallery. Ask for help.
  8. Let yourself get caught up in the unexpected. In the MIA, two boys scampered by us to get up to the weapons and armor exhibit but that wasn’t our priority. We stopped at the design gallery on the second floor instead. Within moments my husband declared that seeing the  1937 Czechoslovakian Tatra T87 V8 was worth our whole trip! During WW II, when carrying German soldiers, the heavy back end could lose traction at high speed and skid. Some said the underground didn’t kill as many Germans as the Tatra.
  9. Do the obvious. The irresistible, marble, Baroque staircase at the NAMA  leads to  a rotunda where eight massive Belgian Leynviers tapestries made to adorn castle walls 350 years ago hang. The pathos of the beautiful pictures and text depicting the tragedy of Phaeton, Helios’ (Apollo’s) son who flew too close to the sun, touched my heart.
  10. Admire art on your way to finding the café. Going through a maze of exhibit halls, we saw the original of a print we own. Carvaggio’s Saint John the Baptist was our favorite at the NAMA.
  11. Eat lunch at D'amico Arts Café on the mezzanine of the MIA as a vacation treat. A gourmet Italian salad and sandwich for two costs $21. The kids’ menu, including, free milk and cookie, costs $5. You’ll have a lovely view of St. Paul/Minneapolis on its high plateau.
  12. Eat lunch at NAMA’s Rozelle Restaurant, a 15th century Italian sunken courtyard with central fountain, live tree and arcade of arches and pillars, to be romantic. The sandwiches are displayed like art but when we placed our order for the best-looking kind it was sold out! We chatted with merry widows with bouffant hairdos sharing the company of one man, and art students with good manners in the line-up. Two corned beef and deli ham sandwiches cost $19.90. The kids’ menu costs $6.50 for a sandwich, fruit cup and chocolate chip cookie.
  13. Pick up an HB2 pencil with eraser and MIA logo, perfect for doing crossword puzzles in a car, given out by the coat check employee.
  14. Leave a donation. Both museums are well worth it!

www.margaretvirany.com, www.cozybookbasics.wordpress.com, www.amazon.com/author/margaretvirany