Eclectic Places

I find I usually follow the path not followed when I visit places. Some people call it off-beat, or worse – eccentric. I prefer eclectic – a little of this, a little of that and at the end of the day it was interesting. I had the good fortune to visit friends and family in the Kansas City metro recently. I lived there for a number of years and have great memories. I enjoy returning to visit because the city/metro is interesting. I found some new corners to explore and share with you.

Lawrence is first and foremost a college town. The Kansas University Jayhawk is everywhere and there are cool restaurants and artist hangouts. It’s the quintessential college town from the 1960s that has hippie people that never left. And it has all the high-tech, bio-tech, inventive cutting edge stuff going on that a University town is supposed to have. While I did visit a friend who is one of those cool bio-tech entrepreneurs, doing stuff that is waaaaay over my head (and I’m a Ph.D. thank you very much), I enjoyed a day on Mass. Ave. with another friend that was truly eclectic.

All the streets in Lawrence are named for states. I have no idea why, but Mass. Ave. is the main drag in old downtown. There are restaurants, repurposed theaters, hotels, a bank repurposed as a restaurant, and a bunch of funky shops. My friend called this her back door tour of Lawrence. We visited crystal and rock shops, a candle store and the Eldridge Hotel. The Hotel was the best part.

Kansas was a free state in the civil war. Next door Missouri was not. Though Missouri was not part of the confederacy, it held slaves. Remember the Missouri Compromise from American History class? MO got in as a slave state because Maine got in as a free state. So, KS and MO clashed across the border frequently. The Jayhawks of KS versus the mercenaries of MO. The Eldridge got caught in the skirmishes. The place burned down several times in the border wars and each time was rebuilt with more heft and more stories (height). The hotel is now on the National Registry of Historic Places, so don’t mess around with it anymore, Missouri.

It is a lovely throwback hotel with lots of historical pictures on the walls of the lobby and plenty of historical stories that will be told to you by staff. There is a great bar and the place is thought to be haunted. For me, it stands as a social justice beacon.

There is a difference between a crystal shop and a rock shop. At least that is my distinction. Crystals and associated rocks carry properties of energy and healing. Books are written that outline their personalities and traits. It may sound a little out there, but when I hold a crystal or rock that resonates with me, I know there is something real about the tales. Rock shops are geological specimens from around the world. It’s amazing to think that under the ground, on a mountain, in a cave, there are brilliant crystals and rock colors that I am unaware of. Of course we all are familiar with gemstones, but the lesser known varieties can be just as beautiful and infinitely more interesting. Both places are absolutely worth the time and the employees in both are well informed.

What hippie town would be complete without a candle shop? Certainly not Lawrence! The Wax Man is a delight of the senses. Name a scent, they have it made by candlemakers on site. And for the eco-conscious vegan among us, they offer soy candles. For me the bonus is that they do groupings in sets of scents of the city. And they had one for Chicago. Now I’ve been to Wrigleyville many times and I’m not sure that the candle scent conjured up any actual memories for me, but hey, it’s kitschy!

All this Lawrence fun was had while I stayed at Clinton Lake, a beautiful Army Corps of Engineers campground just outside the city. My next stop was Lake Jacomo campground in Kansas City (Lee’s Summit if you want to be technical about it). My sojourn took an eclectic turn with a good friend who suggested a very funky restaurant in the West Bottoms. First, here are my neighbors at the LJ campground.

The West Bottoms is the old stockyards and rail/freight yards of Kansas City. KCMO literally sits at the crossroads of the United States. East-West/North-South highways bisect this place and Lewis and Clark made it famous when they left from Kaw Point to find the Pacific Ocean. Anyway, the West Bottoms sits far below the main part of Kansas City at the edge of the Kansas River which meets up with the Missouri River at Kaw Point. It is old industrial for the most part. Large brick buildings that housed meat packing plants, wholesale goods warehouses, and all other manner of capitalistic ventures. The area fell on hard times when most of those industries left the area, but the buildings remained. Now it is a hipster magnet for cool woodworking shops, axe throwing venues (the sporting kind, not the scary kind), and yes – eclectic restaurants.

We ventured into The Ship. This is a place that sat up top in Kansas City downtown years ago. The building it occupied was demolished for progress but the owners put everything from the restaurant in storage – signs, decor, booths, you name it. When the time was right, they brought it all out and installed it in the Bottoms and now it is a live music and dining bonanza. Wood floors (planks, not bamboo), vinyl booths, portholes on the walls, fish tanks and a really cool exterior sign in neon, naturally. We didn’t stay late enough for the music portion of the evening, but we enjoyed good food (vegan and non-vegan options) and great conversation in a very fun atmosphere.

Next stops for me are Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in KY/TN where there are Bison, and Nashville where there is country music and no bison. Till next time…

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