The Art Institute of Chicago – A New Favorite

Chicago is many things but dull it isn’t.  This city is rich in culture, architecture, outdoors fun (in the summer, at least!), food and many other things.  I love coming to this city but have rarely been here on my own to explore.  I have greatly enjoyed coming to Chicago with friends, whether to party in the early 1990s, or to get to know the best of the city in the last few years via local friends who know it well.  I wrote a couple of years ago about the architecture of the city.

When a business trip to Minnesota arose, I thought it may give me another opportunity to head to the Windy City on my way home and see more of it.  One of the things that I have NEVER done in Chicago is go to a museum so I decided my weekend would be anchored around at least on a museum visit.

And so it was.  After reading a little bit, and being quite torn on which one to attack, I decided for The Art Institute of Chicago.  It is one of people’s favorites (or so I read!) and it was close to my hotel.  Also, while I had studied about the Chicago History Museum and was curious to see it in person, I was not feeling historical this weekend.  I was more in the mood for art.  And, finally, The Art Institute featured in one of my favorite movies:  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

The museum has an old wing and a newer one with a cleverly built hallway/gallery that was built to bridge over the railroad lines separating the old building (right on Michigan Avenue) from the new building, behind the old building towards the lake.  The new building has an entrance on Monroe whereas the old building has its entrance on Michigan Avenue.

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The modern wing from Monroe St.

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To the right, the bridge connecting the new gallery (shown here) to the old

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And the bridge connecting to the old building over the rail lines

I like the newer building because it just feels “light” both in the sense of illumination but also on the sense of weight or heaviness of the architecture and the interiors.  Well done, whoever was/were the architect(s)!

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Lightness in space and materials

The museum has art from ancient Greece and China to the most modern sculptures (Charles Ray was a special exhibit).  I started at the Charles Ray exhibit mainly because it was right there after I entered.  The space was huge and the sculptures were distributed over the entire space creating what felt like vast spaces between the pieces.  I don’t know much about art (it’s been a while since I stayed at a Holiday Inn…) but I definitely felt the openness and emptiness of the galleries only added to the sculptures by truly making them stand out.  I also feel that it also made the people walking around almost part of the exhibit itself.  I took some photos that, now when I look at them, I am almost as interested in the people walking the space as in the sculptures themselves.  I wonder if that was the intent of the curators…

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Boy holding a frog seemingly holding a statue in the back…

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A crashed Grand Am sculpture with the Hancock Tower in the background

My favorites were the impressionist artists, as usual:  Pisarro, Cézanne, Monet, etc..  But I also was pleased to see several El Greco and more modern favorites like Miró, Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, and Roy Lichtenstein (am I a name-thrower or what?!).

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Van Gogh’s selfie (at least one ear is still there!)

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Roy Lichtenstein’s almost comic book-like imagery

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Jackson Pollock

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Monet’s foggy London

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Cézanne’s wife on yellow chair

I also enjoyed seeing American Gothic in person.  It truly is a brilliant piece, not because I know about art itself but because I certainly feel the emotion (or lack thereof) in the two characters!

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American Gothic

Oh, and here is the charmer that Ferris and his bud and girlfriend admired while on their escapade!

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You don’t have to be an art connoisseur or lover even – just have an open mind and go explore this incredible institution on the shores of Lake Michigan!

Finding a Gem in Chicago – The Palmer House

I discovered a hidden gem in Chicago:  The Palmer House!  After the neat architecture boat tour of the city that my fellow travel bloggers and I did in our tweeetup, and after walking through Millenium Park admiring the Cloud Gate, the water statues (whatever they are called), etc., one of our local tweetuppers suggested that we headed to the Palmer House to give our legs a rest and have a drink in a unique place in Chicago.

Of course, that sounded good to all of us so we said yes not fully knowing what to expect (blessed ignorance!).  We were in for a REAL treat.  The Palmer House has one of the more elegant hotel lobbies I have seen in a while!  Sitting there to have drinks (and people watch) was a nice break from the more visitor sightseeing we had done that day.  It was elegant, magnificent, and alive – tons of people either for the wedding receptions going on, guests of the hotel, or short-term visitors like us.  It is the third reincarnation of the hotel originally built by someone rich for his bride-to-be.  The first building burned down in the famous Chicago fire days after opening…

Chicago's Palmer House bar

The ceiling of that lobby area is a delight to look at and, to me, the centerpiece of the place.  It reminds me of the ceilings around the Vatican Museum or The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  I wish I knew where exactly the building’s architect/designer got their inspiration from.  I felt a little inspired myself…

Chicago's Palmer House lobby

Chicago's Palmer House ceiling

… so I ordered rye Old Fashioned.  No, the drink is not on the ceiling but on a mirror-top table – it made for a great contrast with the ceiling as well as for some neat pix of the folks around the table.

Drink and ceiling at Chicago's Palmer House

While it was definitely great to discover a gem like this without any research (thanks Pola from @jettingaround!), it does highlight a couple of things:

1.  Serendipity can lead to great experiences – not having hard plans for every hour of the afternoon, we allowed for opportunities like this to come based on the mood of the moment; or serendipity in other cases can be just simply meandering the lesser streets in a city and pop in to any establishment that catches your eye!

2.  Locals can give you some of the best insights on those places off the beaten path!

I don’t know that we found this gem.  I certainly didn’t find it.  But it “found” me!  If you ever go to Chicago, put this on your list of places to sit at and chill – and admire.

Read more about the good times we had in Chicago and how I got to high places.

Do you know other gems like this in Chicago?  Please share!

For a Good Time, Head to Chicago

We can all talk about Chicago food, help write the next guidebook on what to see, its architecture, or just muse about the city’s history (be it the city’s founding, Ferris Bueller, the mafia wars, or the baseball wars).  But Chicago is a great “canvas for curiosities” (fun little stories or curious sights); what with its size, multitude of places to go & hang out, and colorful locals/visitors alike there can be no shortage of curiosities or good times!

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that other places can’t provide perfect backdrops for good stories (New Orleans certainly is! I could tell you stories… if I remembered them), but Chicago offers such a variety of possibilities, that it is inevitable to leave the place with good stories or good pictures.

A group of folks passionate about the experience of travels (who also share an interest in meeting like-minded folks) got together in Chicago for the Windy City tweetup in May 2012.  There will be/are blog entries here and in their blogs (check them out – links below!) written about the weekend but I thought I’d devote one to the curiosities and/or the good times of the weekend as captured with my camera…

Plenty of Odd Birds

People watching doesn’t get much better than in this city with the sheer number of people out and about (OK, it does in some places but not by much more).  But this strange bird caught my eye as he was sitting perfectly still in-air 😉  Or was he just watching tourists play at The Bean?

A bird on the Cloud Gate, or The Bean

We Didn’t Start the Fire (No, Not THAT Chicago Fire)

No matter what anyone claims, we did NOT cause this mishap in Michigan Ave.  Some other group of marauders must have done it.  (Notice that the city kindly placed an orange cone to protect pedestrians!)

Traffic light mishap

We Think We Are Having a Good Time until We Look at the Photo Days Later…

Our group enjoyed standing in front of The Bean while we all shot pictures at ourselves – we thought that was a cool idea.  But the real action was taking place right next to us.  Now THEY were having a good time!

Tourists at the Cloud Gate in Chicago, also known as The Bean

Warning – Don’t Make Me Smite You Guys (or Is It “Youse” Guys?)

Well, early on, a warning seemed to have been delivered to us to NOT have too much of a wild time while at The Pump Room on our first night enjoying drinks, dinner, and the ambience.  I want to say we were not affected by it but some had an odd glow all weekend.  Oh, wait that could have been the boa…

Indoor lightning strike

The Angels Are in Town – and not the Baseball Team

Friday night, as we walked the streets in the Water Tower district, a local realized that Charlie’s Angels were in town.  I took a look around me, and, oh dear, I was Charlie.  Better than Bosley for sure.  So, we decided that the Angels needed to do their thing.  And here it is:

Charlie's Angel in Chicago

Good times.

Spread ‘Em, Lady

Chicago,of course, can provide a rather large playground for bachelor and bachelorette parties – ALL sorts of good times.  We believe that was what we ran into as we went to the Cloud Gate (or The Bean) at Millenium Park as a group of ladies kept hoisting one of their lot up in various poses…  One of our guys was “had” as he heard the words of legs being spread…

And Just When You Think You Have Had a Good Time…

… the BOA enters the picture.  Then all bets are off.  What you thought had been fun so far, becomes childplay-fun only.  We don’t know where the boa originally came from.  I can’t tell you much else about it – the moment it enters the picture, the fun begins and the time for chit chat is not gonna happen…  You see, the boa has a mind of its own, it wraps you within its feathers, and then… well, this is the point where I have to use that old and wise adage and give it a local twist:  “What happens in Chicago, stays in Chicago… or else the ghost of Mr. Capone will make me regret it!”


Check out these folks with a great point of view and travel stories to tell!

A Nice Discovery in Chicago: Its Architecture

These well-traveled eyes have seen a lot of great cities and still have others left to discover.  But they can say that they have seen truly one of the most interesting and enjoyable cities in the U.S. – as long as it is not winter, of course!  (OK, it still can be fun in winter as my visits many moons ago can attest though my memory cannot fully recollect…)

Chicago is vibrant, day or night.  It is not the 200+ yr old charm that Philly has (Chicago burnt deep and well in the famous fire).  It is not the capital of everything that NY is.  It is not the power center that DC is.  But it is a city that has everything that an urban area should have:  unique neighborhoods, a vibrant center, a body of water (or two) running through it, great food, great hotels, diversity of entertainment options (blues clubs, skyscraper-top bars, mafia lore, shopping, people watching, and on and on), and a strong business community.  Of course, it also has that required element of large cities:  corrupt (or dubious) power brokers – but I digress.

But one thing it that tood out to me as if I had never been here before was the architecture.  Not sure if it was the scale (as in the Hancock and ex-Sears Towers or as in the Merchandise Mart), or the contrasts between “old” and new, or just the fact that I got see it on foot, on boat, and on a bus.

View from the Wrigley Building to the "south side" of the Chicago river

View from the Wrigley Building to the “south side” of the river

If you have any interest in learning about the city’s architecture (and you most definitely do not need to be an architect for that!), the boat tour is a great option.  The boat tour we took was offered was by Wendella Boats ( (right by the Wrigley Building on Michigan Ave.).  They provide an excellent narration of the architecture of the city by cruising the river – and they help you learn why the river no longer flows into Lake Michigan… I won’t spoil it for you.  They also offer you a free drink (and you can pay for more) – the Honker’s Ale was very nice.  And I digress again.

Here are examples of the architecture of Chicago (more pictures on my Facebook page at

Buildings in Chicago that show it has great architecture

The building on the left was inspired by a champagne bottle

Chicago's high buildings reflected on the Cloud Gate, or The Bean

The real and reflected skyline (at The Bean in Millenium Park)

Other stories from our tweetup:


Getting to High Places in Chicago

In the first tweetup, the one in Austin, I found myself flight-delayed for the Friday night events AND also quite sick.  While I greatly enjoyed the Saturday outings, I felt I had not gotten all that I had expected out of that tweetup.  So the Windy City Tweetup was redemption for fate…

Getting There

The journey to Chicago started, as many journeys lately for me, with Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport.  Having just flown in to Atlanta the night before, I was less than excited to be doing the routine in reverse within 24 hours of landing in Atlanta…  But, and it is a big but, this was for much more fun than a work trip.  It was time for the long-awaited Windy City Tweetup.

Delta nicely was able to complimentarily upgrade me (both ways!) days ahead of the flights so I would avoid wondering at the gate “Will I make it?”.   Thanks!

Three of us flying in were planning to meet upon arrival at ORD so I was hoping we would all be on time.  Being the one to land first (by schedule, anyway), I was to make my way to the last person’s baggage claim area (of course, we ALL were flying different airlines to make it more complicated…) and also call up the car we had booked for a nice ride into town.  Miraculously – the Tweetup gods must have been smiling upon us – we all landed within minutes of each other.

Our destination, the Sofitel Water Tower Hotel in Chicago we had booked a few months in advance.  Sofitels are clearly nice hotels and it had been a while since I had stayed in one so I was thrilled to experience their service after a few years of experiencing others’ service.

Home Base in Chicago’s Water Tower District:  My High Place

Even before the tweetup, the Sofitel Water Tower engaged with us via Twitter (@SofitelChicago).  Two things:  one, if you are a business and you will have a Twitter presence, it can’t be a one-way push of information.  That is so 1999 web.  You HAVE to engage.  The Sofitel clearly knew this.  That was a good sign for us that we had made a great choice.

I found out I had been placed at the 30th floor which gave me a nice view of the Hancock Tower straight ahead and Lake Michigan behind it.  The room was very comfortable and inviting.  A very nice spot in a high place in Chicago indeed!

Hancock Tower in Chicago from the Sofitel Water Tower

The view from my high perch in Chicago – the Hancock Tower

Also, a nice treat awaited in the room:  macarons!  Check out the story about macaron envy

Macarons served to me at the Sofitel Water Tower in Chicago

My macaron-based welcome made me feel like a high-flyer!

We also had made plans to gather at the hotel’s bar “Le Bar“, where the hotel, once again, offered us a sampling of their appetizers of which the mini-burgers and the artichoke croquettes were my favorite.  I also got to be the first customer to try their new signature drink named “Wrigleyville” which had peanut butter fluff & vodka and was served with a side dish of Cracker Jacks.  I was not sure about a peanut butter flavored drink but it was actually outstanding.  Kudos to the bar for the clever design!

Signature drink at the Sofitel Water Tower in Chicago: the Wrigleyville

The Wrigleyville drink and Cracker Jacks

After meeting up at the Sofitel with one of our local tweeps, we headed for The Pump Room at the Public Hotel Chicago.  Though ground-level cleary a high place in terms of history, ambience and scene.  A famous locale throughout the decades, I admit to only having discovered it as the tweetup was being planned.  We enjoyed drinks and dinner there enjoyed the well-designed space.  The bar areas were hopping with a great crowd – clearly a place to come and meet with friends in the Windy City.

The Pump Room at Public Hotel Chicago

The Pump Room at Public Hotel Chicago

So ended our first few hours in the Windy City Tweetup.  It was a great start to the weekend and many thanks to the Sofitel Water Tower and The Pump Room for setting the right tone!

Windy City Tweetup – Chicago Here We Come!

Tweetup, what is that? 

Since it is the first time I write in my blog about a “tweetup“, I feel I should have an intro section here on what they are!  Tweetups are gathering of tweeps (people who have connected via Twitter) who share a common interest, say travel, photography, etc.  It does seem a little odd to go to one to meet people one has only met online.  However, if the tweetup doesn’t happen, it stays only online, doesn’t it?

After almost a year of participating in travel talks on Twitter, a few of us decided it was time to meet in person these other folks we so enjoyed exchanging travel ideas and experiences with in Twitter.  We held our first tweetup in Austin, Texas.

Windy City

We realized this is something we needed to do again and, sort of on its own, one day, we were chatting in Twitter when someone just said we should all meet in Chicago.  And, that was it.  Chicago in May it was.  Chicago had many pluses but definitely meeting local tweeps was a key driver.

So What Happens – Where Do We Stay?

Those of us traveling, while we don’t have big budgets, want a memorable experience all around.  And that starts with our accommodations.

We found out that the Hotel Sofitel Chicago Water Tower not only had a great deal at hand but a great location, sleek designs for the rooms, and an incredible-looking lobby with tons of ambience.  We look forward to the phenomenal service levels typical of the Sofitels!  Check them out here ->  We will let you know how it goes!

So What Happens – Where Do We Eat?  Where Do We Have Cocktails?

Well, this is very much a problem in a town like Chicago since the options for good food are so many.  Here is where our local tweeps and some research on the travelers’ part comes into play.

We certainly wish we were able to engage with some of the local establishments pre-tweetup so we could perhaps better understand what was possible to create the right environment for a groups of folks that want to get each other better while enjoying some food and/or some drinks.

Of course, being a travel tweetup, this group will be “broadcasting” in Twitter and via their blogs about the experience so we sure hope we have great things to say and great tips to provide fellow travelers so their future visit to the Windy City benefits from our insights!!  That is what we travel bloggers love to do most – help point others to the best travel experiences!

So far, we have identified The Pump Room ( at Public Chicago as a place we definitely will spend time at.  The Pump Room evokes the vibe of the 1930s/40s yet caters to a modern-day crowd.  It has been celebrated by Travel + Leisure, The Today Show, The New York Times, Chicago Live, etc.   This place has catered to just about every big star over the decades.  And now it will cater to this tweetup crew!

So What Happens – What Do We Do?

We have not planned out the day time hours but we have decided to do a river architecture boat tour with Wendella Boat Tours (  We got a great deal via Groupon and we liked the fact they would serve us a drink during the tour – this crew enjoys nice beverages so we sure hope that is what will be served!  We will tell you about the tour during our ride!

We are certainly open to ideas so feel free to share any you have.  And if you are in the Chicago area and like travel, feel free to connect with us so you can meet us during the weekend events on May 11-12, 2012!!!

Chicago, here we come!

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