June 2011 Archives

4th of July Fireworks

Image by deltaMike via Flickr

For most Americans, the 4th of July conjures up plenty of vivid, nostalgic sentiments: American pie, barbecues, friends, family and fun. Whether you're setting off your own fireworks or making a road trip to see a big city display, the 4th of July is sure to be an exciting time. In fact, the holiday is so popular that big cities like Washington, D.C. and Nashville spend millions of dollars to entertain the masses.

Breathtaking firework displays, live music and tons of good old American food like hot dogs and hamburgers, are just a few of the top attractions to celebrate the Independence of our Nation. With so many cities doing their own big events now, where is the best place to celebrate America's birthday? Here we take a look at some of the best places to celebrate the 4th of July, from booming big cities to lesser-known towns, you are sure to have a great time on America's idyllic day.

Washington, D.C.

It's not surprising that one of the best 4th of July celebrations in the country takes place at our nation's capitol, home to some of America's most treasured pieces of history. The all day event culminates with probably the most famous fireworks display in the nation, "A Capitol Fourth," that is televised for all to see. The celebration takes place on the iconic National Mall, with Washington DC's monuments and the U. S. Capitol in the background, to form a beautiful and patriotic backdrop to America's Independence Day celebrations. It kicks of with a parade along Constitution Avenue that features marching bands, military and specialty units, floats and some of the nation's political VIP's. After you're done there, head over to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which includes daily and evening music and dance performances, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling and discussions of cultural issues. Round out your day with the concerts at the Washington Monument grounds, which begin at 6 p.m. with the U.S. Navy Band and also include the talents of the U.S. Navy Concert Band, the Sea Chanters chorus, and the Cruisers, their rock and top-40 ensemble. The concert concludes at 9:10 p.m. right in time for the fireworks display.

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville's Music City July 4th "Let Freedom Sing" event is consistently ranked one of the best in the nation and for good reason. The festival lasts all day and includes great opportunities for family fun, including free inflatables, rock climbing walls and tons of food vendors to purchase American snacks from. The fireworks take place at Riverfront Park, overlooking the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville and are accompanied by Music City's best singers and musicians, including the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony and Capitol Records Nashville recording artist Darius Rucker. This year, the festival is also featuring The National 9/11 flag and with a donation of $5, you can sponsor a stitch in the Flag to help restore it to its full glory. The festival lasts from July 2-4 and each day features new performers and events, so make a weekend out of it and take in all that beautiful Nashville has to offer.

Eastport, Maine

Eastport, Maine is not only the easternmost city in the U.S., it is also home to the state's largest 4th of July festival. The city hosts festivities over a long five-day weekend to celebrate the nation's independence and "Old Home Week" when Maine natives return from all over the world. Participate in cooking demonstrations, talent shows, pet shows, water sports and tons of other exciting events for the whole family to enjoy. The festival features food and drink from some of the most popular local restaurants and there are fireworks displays nightly for those wishing to celebrate in traditional 4th of July style. If you're into sporting events and activities, the festival offers a good amount of opportunities to stay active, whether you are a runner participating in one of the road races or pumping up your adrenaline in a boat race, there is certainly something for everyone.

San Diego, California

San Diego's "Big Bay Boom" attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, with its spectacular fireworks displays that are set off from a variety of locations around the bay, including Shelter Island, Harbor Island, Embarcadero North, Seaport Village, Embarcadero South Marina Park and Coronado Ferry Landing. More than 850,000 people are expected to attend this year's 11th annual celebration and the city makes it easy to get there, as the Port of San Diego has set up free parking lots with shuttle service to Harbor Island and Shelter Island to. The show has been expanded in 2011 to include nearby Chula Vista and Imperial Beach for the second year in a row, so the already huge display is sure to be even more impressive.

St. Louis, Missouri

Touted as "America's Biggest Birthday Party," St. Louis' 4th of July celebration, Fair St. Louis, has become one of the best in the nation. The party begins with the 134th Annual Veiled Prophet Parade on July 2nd, which features marching bands, floats, large character balloons and more, and goes well into the weekend with dazzling air shows and the infamous outdoor concerts set under the iconic Gateway Arch. The concerts this year feature top acts like Maroon 5 and Montgomery Gentry. Families will stay busy  with the kid's zone, which features everything from dog shows and theatre performances, to video games and displays from the St. Louis Science Center. There is food from hundreds of local vendors and firework displays every night, culminating in the big show on the evening of the 4th. The Mississippi River and Gateway Arch in the backdrop make the display one of the most awe-inspiring in the country.

Every other summer, the city of Venice, Italy hosts the Venice Biennale-- a large, contemporary art exhibition with pavilions featuring the work of artists from all over the world.  This year a record of 89 countries are represented, and first-time participants include Andorra, Bangladesh, and Haiti.  The canals and narrow alleyways are made even more mysterious Venice Biennale.jpgwith sculptures and installations that seem to sprout up around every corner.  You don't need to be a contemporary art connoisseur to appreciate the bizarre yet fascinating blend of antique and modern aesthetics throughout the already picturesque city.  If you are in Venice this summer, find some time to explore 54th Biennale's collection of exhibitions and installations, which are sure to provide an intriguing and memorable contrast to the more permanent features of the city, such as Piazza San Marco and the Ca' d'Oro. 

There are exhibitions scattered throughout the city, most of which are free to the public. However, the Giardini is the primary venue for the Biennale's artwork. The Giardini houses the Central Pavilion, which is perhaps the heart of the entire Biennale.  Curated by Bice Curinger, it features the work of 83 artists from all over the world, including three not-so contemporary oil paintings by the Venetian Mannerist artist known as Tintoretto.  It is here that the Biennale's theme, ILLUMInations, is perhaps most clearly demonstrated.  Along with the Central Pavilion, nearly 30 different countries have separate permanent pavilions in the Giardini, which is close to St. Mark's Square, and the mixing of architectural styles makes the park an architectural museum in itself.  Full price admission costs 20 euro, but entitles the ticket holder to explore both the Giardini and the Arsenale, another venue close by.  While some art is sure to leave you scratching your head, all of your senses will be stimulated: This year's contemporary artists have pulled out all the stops, providing visitors with not only a plethora of visual stimuli, but also sounds, smells, and textures that make the exhibitions seem anything but conventional.

Aside from the individual countries' pavilions,


there are also Collateral Exhibitions throughout the city that center on various themes.  The Future of a Promise features leading contemporary artists from throughout the Arab world, addressing the cultural and political atmosphere of the Middle East today through a variety of mediums including video, photography, and sculpture.  Future Pass exhibits over 100 artists whose work reflects Asian aesthetics, and represents the digital nature of 21st century culture.  While many artists are represented at the Biennale, only a special few are distinguished recipients of the Golden Lion award.  This year's winners include Christian Marclay, whose video installation piece called The Time won him the Golden Lion for Best Artist.  His remarkable piece is a 24-hour film made of a collaboration of clips from television and film showing watches and clocks--which doesn't seem so remarkable until you realize that he specially selected the clips to show the actual time of day.

The Venice Biennale is not limited to visual arts, but also includes contemporary music, theatre, and dance performances.  The 68th Venice Film Festival occurs between August 31st and September 10th, 2011 and will feature films such as The Ides of March, written and directed by George Clooney.  The excitement of the Film Festival will be followed by the 41st International Theatre Festival, beginning October 10th and closing October 16th.  The Biennale runs until November 27th, leaving you plenty of time to plan your visit.  You don't want to miss this unique cultural event--it doesn't happen every year!

by Dorothy MacAusland

Urs Fischer, Untitled, wax. Photograph by William Su

Tayeba Begum Lipi, "Parables", razorblades and wire. Photograph by William Su

Chicago River at night

Image via Wikipedia

Chicago has a lot to offer to its nearly 2.7 million residents as the largest city in the Midwest and the third largest city in the country behind only New York and Los Angeles. Not only is the city home to world-famous restaurants and museums, it also has a bustling nightlife, a large number of public parks and a professional sports team for every major sport. Chicagoans truly love the cross between big city life and the Midwest charm.

The city was founded in 1833, near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed. Today, it retains its status as a major hub for industry, telecommunications and infrastructure, with O'Hare International Airport being the second busiest airport in traffic in the world. Chicago has a thriving tourist industry and hosts over 50 million domestic and overseas visitors a year, who want to explore the city's rich history and other offerings.

While Chicago is now a thriving metropolis, it had humble beginnings. The land was inhabited by a Native American tribe known as the Potawatomi during the mid-18th century. In 1795, following the Northwest Indian War, an area that was said to be part of Chicago was turned over by the Native Americans in the Treaty of Greenville to the U.S. for a military post, which was built in 1803 and then destroyed in 1812. The Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi had ceded additional land to the U.S. in the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis and the Potawatomi were eventually forcibly removed from their land following the Treaty of Chicago in 1833.

On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was organized with a population of around 200 and within seven years it would grow to a population of over 4,000. The City of Chicago was incorporated on Saturday, March 4, 1837. Chicago continued to prosper over the next hundred years and even after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed a third of the city, they still experienced rapid rebuilding and growth.

The origin of the name "The Windy City" comes with much debate. Though tourists assume it's nothing more than the blustery, unpredictable weather (possibly as a result of the lake effect), but residents know when you scratch the surface there's much more to it than that. The legend goes that the Windy City is actually a result of the hot air blown from the shady politicians. Others argue the nickname came with Chicago's former rivalry with Cincinnati in the mid-1800's. Competitive in both the meatpacking trade and also baseball, the Cincinnati papers named the "Windy City" as a term of derogatory bluster. Still others believe it came from when Chicago hosted their first World's Fair, sparking the jealousy of The New York Sun editor, Charles Dana, also used in a negative connotation.  

An enchanting coastal Croatian city, Dubrovnik is finally starting to get the attention it deserves for its natural beauty and architecture. It has in the past been overshadowed by more popular tourist destinations across the Adriatic Sea; however, all you need is a day in the city to understand why it has emerged from shadows of conflict 20 years ago to become the must-see city on the Dalmatian Coast.  Here's how to make the most of Dubrovnik in a short visit.


The first thing to cross off the to-do list is hiking the city walls.  Built between the 8th and 16th centuries, the city walls encircle the Old Town and are nearly two kilometers long.  Today they are accessible from a number of points within the Old Town, and while tours are available, the most visitors choose to navigate the walls themselves.  They offer spectacular views of the city and coastline, and some of the best photo-ops in the Dubrovnik are from atop the bastions that dot the walls.  If you are visiting in the summer, plan to walk the walls during the morning or early evening.  The sun heats the stones, and minimal shade may make walking the walls in mid-day more of a chore than a treat.

The perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon in Dubrovnik is by the water.  The sea along the coast is crystal clear, and while there may not be white sand beaches, there are several great spots for taking a dip near the Old Town as well throughout the rest of the city.  To escape the crowds, all you have to do is take a short trip to one of the many nearby islands.  The serene island of Lokrum is the most accessible, a mere fifteen-minute boat cruise away.  The island has both rocky shores and a small, child-friendly saltwater lake, making it accommodating for all sorts of visitors.  Aside from swimming, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the island.  Among its attractions are the 11th century monastery and the early 19th century French fort, which affords great views.

Following your afternoon excursion, stick around the Old Town to enjoy the evening ambiance.  The narrow streets are home to many Italian style restaurants and cafes for various budgets.  Due to its location on the coast, Dubrovnik offers a wide variety of seafood dishes and waterside restaurants.  Most offer outdoor seating, which is ideal for enjoying the cool nighttime air.  Many restaurants and bars offer live music, and venues such as the Rector's Palace offer world-class chamber music and opera concerts.  Keep your eyes out for signs advertising these events, which during your strolls through the streets of the Old Town.  While you are it, stop in at some of the many elegant churches that grace the city.  Between the breathtaking architecture, the clear water, and the lively culture, all it takes is one day in Dubrovnik to be under its spell. 

By Dorothy MacAusland, Contributing Author

Photo Credit: Zoe Ahlstrom


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