Let me start by clarifying my title. The secret? I know three of the best kept places in Indianapolis, IN that most don’t know exist. Unless you live there. Why dirty though? Well, two of them actually involve dirt, sweat, and grime. But in the absolute BEST way, I promise!
With every place I visit, I try to experience some new adventure that I would normally pass by (see, Rules for Travel). That’s a rather long list–not much of a secret to those who know me that I’m not an adventure person. My daring activities come in books. But, my extroverted self loves my decision to travel because she finally gets to come out of her shell and dance. Or twirl. Or, in some cases, fall ass-first in a pile of dirt and sawdust.
Intrigued yet? Or at the very least, a little curious bit about dirt, adventure, and sawdust (because why is that a combination anywhere?). I enjoyed each of these and stunned myself with what I accomplished.
Secret #1: Hot Glass Studio at GRT Glass Design
Decades ago, I watched a program where a man on television worked with hot glass. He molded it, shaped it, even blew into beautiful orbs. My reaction: pure fascination.
Well fast forward to my pre-trip research for Indianapolis, and I find a well-kept secret: a hot glass studio right in the city! GRT Glass Designs mostly specializes in glass designs for homes, business, hospitals, even governmental structures. They service clients not just in the state of Indiana, but also throughout the country and the world! However, if like me, you’re more interested in manipulating hot glass for artistic purposes, then you’re in luck; the studio offers lessons (both one-on-one and group) for beginners. Matt Kenyon, my instructor, whizzed through his instruction like he’d been born manipulating glass. He was fantastic. And oddly, reminded me of my high school drumline instructor…but I digress.
Be prepared to learn some brand new terms including, marvering, glory hole, gathering, and punty. And I’m stunned I remembered those without taking any notes! Little education? Glass is just melted sand. But sand doesn’t just melt at any ole temperature, no it needs extreme heat before it begins to move like molten lava. Try 2000 degrees Fahrenheit! Needless to say, I definitely singed a few hairs on my hands. And probably a fingerprint or two.
You will start by picking up a punty, essentially a long (and heavy!) steel rod and place it in a furnace, called a glory hole. This heats up the tip of the punty before you literally gather your glass in a much larger, slightly scarier looking furnace. The melted glass literally glows orange gold and looks like liquid fire. (Think the melted fired at end of Terminator 2) I loved it. Once you gather your glass, you will then marver or roll the melted glass on a flat, metal surface (also called a marver) to cool the glass down so you can begin whatever initial manipulation you desire–color, shaping, blowing, or usually, more gathering.
The secret to all this? Spinning the hell out of the rod. Not like a baton. Not fast spinning, but a sweet, slow turning of your rod. Your hands must work in tune; stop spinning your rod and the glass slowly falls like honey from a comb. Just don’t try to eat it. That will your last meal!
- Wear clothing you can move around in. May not look like it, but you will move around a lot while manipulating the glass. Takes more upper body strength than I initially thought.
- Prepare to SWEAT! Obvious, right? You’re working with hot glass. But trust me when I tell you, you will sweat like you ran a marathon in 80 degree heat. Luckily, Matt had about 3 fans blowing in the room–use them whenever you can to cool off!
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Working with hot glass requires more of a willingness to keep going when you “mess up” rather than a desire for perfection. Remember that and you can create beautiful pieces like I did!
Secret #2: Zip Line Treetop Adventure at GoApe!
Here’s a secret: I am not an outdoors person. I love air conditioning, plush seats, the smell of brand new books, and four walls to contain it all. So only blogging would get me out of my room and into a treetop adventure course. The idea of this adventure literally terrified me from the moment I booked my ticket one late 3am night to the moment my amazing and quite hilarious guide, Sam adjusted the harness against my body. I thought, what the hell am I doing…? But by then it was too late to run back–waiver signed and money paid, I marched on.
The courses in Indy are at Eagle Creek Park (and damn am I mad I didn’t time to to check out the park!), secluded back in the forest of the trees. The entire adventure consists of five sites, each with a series of obstacles to get through before you end with a zip line. You start by climbing up a ladder to get to the top of a tree. An actual tree! Each “obstacle” is marked with a category of easy, moderate, difficult, or extreme (or, as I called it, WTF?). Some of the fun ones? Tarzan swings–which sound exactly like what they are–and rail tracks. There was also an interesting series of metals rings dangling in the middle of the air…
So, I drank the Kool-Aid Go Ape supplied and trust me when I tell you, YOU SHOULD DO THIS! Especially if you’re afraid. Why? Because after you land butt first (like I did!) in the first zip line–and realize how awesome it actually is–you will laugh at yourself at what you’ve just accomplished. When you pull yourself up the rope nets stationed at different courses, you will marvel at how you managed to pull yourself up in one piece. And those Tarzan swings…well, I don’t want to spoil them, but they are the best part! Honestly, being up in trees felt like being in Pandora (from Avatar) when Neytiri gracefully falls into the leaves. There was something truly beautiful and unifying about hooking and un-hooking to cords and lines and trees to get to the end.
And don’t worry, you’ll have a 30 minute training on how to get through the course before you actually start. Fun for all ages, I promise! I had the best group with age ranges from about 8 to 40. So go and give yourself the thrill of lifetime.
Secret #3: Blissful gondola ride with Old World Gondoliers
After nearly burning myself with hot glass and training like the Na’vi in the trees, I needed a nice, relaxing break. And since I couldn’t go to Venice, I thought I’d just take a ride on one of Indy’s gondolas!
Indy’s Old World Gondoliers offers a trip into “old world Italy” with beautiful gondola rides on the city’s canal. Not quite hidden, but not flashing in neon lights, the boat docks down Indiana Ave and you have a choice from a 30 minute ride, a 60 minute ride, or even cocktail cruise!
And you gondolier is the genuine article–my gondolier, Drago originally hails from Florence, Italy. He told me that all gondoliers have 2 years of apprenticeship before they captain their own boat. He’s been doing so in Indy for the last 4 years.
Drago had a beautiful voice–he sang in both Italian and English. The scenery was so captivating, that if you closed your eyes, you almost believed you were floating on the Grand Canal. In fact, my gondola buddy (shoutout to Kerry!) fell fast asleep on her man’s shoulder while Drago serenaded us down the canal.
- Only about 600 gondoliers exist in the world today. Of that small group, only a handful will actually sing! The gondoliers in Indy all sing.
- Gondolas used to come in a bright array of colors, decorated with stones and gems. But, around the 1600s, leadership felt the gondolas showcased too much of the city’s wealth. He ordered all gondola’s painted black. And that remains to this day.
If you don’t desire a gondola ride along the canal, don’t fret–the Canal Walk also pedal boats, bikes, and even segues to ride down the 3 mile length. Or, you could take the simple pleasure of a walk. No matter the mode of transport, the sites along the canal hold beauty you cannot miss on your next visit to Indy!
Booked a ticket to Indianapolis yet? I hope you have–this city is one you cannot overlook!
Final note: The initial title for this piece comes from the hit ABC television show, Scandal, Season 1, Episode 2.