Wednesday, July 29, 2015


In anticipation of changing time zones, we ate and went to bed early on our last night in Chicago.  Then we were up and off by 8am. The departure is complicated slightly by a foot race that resulted in our planned route being closed off. But, being Sunday, traffic was light and we were able to just take a few local streets to get around the race.

Just south of Chicago the highway passes through Gary, Indiana. It is not at all picturesque. It's one of those places you wish you didn't even have to drive through. We arrived in Detroit well before check-in time so we left our car at the B&B and walked to the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts.   

We wanted to see the Diego Rivera Murals and were very pleasantly surprised by the other great artwork and the descriptions throughout this teaching museum. We especially enjoyed the many displays that featured the nearby work with areas highlighted and notes about a particular design aspect. Diego's Detroit Industry fresco cycle is his tribute to the city's manufacturing base and labor force of the 1930s. It is considered the finest example of Mexican mural art in the United States, and Diego is said to have considered it the best work of his career. Personally the ones in Mexico City have more appeal to me.

Dinner was Greek at a restaurant, Santorini Estiatorio, in Greektown. We found the restaurant on-line and later discovered it was hidden by a large casino. Parking was easy though.  For dinner we had Keftethakia (spiced meatballs with pita bread) followed by Pastisio (macaroni, bechamel sauce and spiced meat) and Kefta Kabab (served as a sandwich) and a fine bottle of red wine Nemea Greece (an Aghiorghitiko 2010 from Domain Skouras St. George).
Spiced Meatballs
The Inn on Ferry Street was very nice.  We had a large room with an external sitting area with comfortable chairs and lots of light. Breakfast was waffles and berries, Muy rico!
The Inn on Ferry Street...4 historic houses plus two carriage houses 
Before heading off to Canada the next day visited the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. The museum is one of 3 features of a larger complex/tour program. The museum focuses on industrial, agricultural and cultural firsts and what followed - planes, trains, cars, and machinery (agricultural and other). In addition there is Greenfield Village (an assemblage of historical buildings arranged as a village with costumed staffers, aka Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts) and a truck factory tour. This was definitely all worth 1-2 days. We gave it a morning. Fortunately there is a 1 hour "Insider Tour" which helped assure we got to see the highlights of the museum.

The museum contains many rare exhibits including John F. Kennedy's presidential limousine, Abraham Lincoln's chair from Ford's Theatre, Thomas Edison's laboratory, the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop, and the Rosa Parks bus.  The museum, officially named "The Edison Institute" was dedicated to Ford's longtime friend Thomas Edison in 1929.

Thomas Edison's autograph made by shovel for the dedication.
Look behind the exhibit to get an idea of the immensity of this museum.
George Washington's camp bed (folds up into it's own trunk).
The first machine to produce ruled paper.
The Rosa Parks Bus...she was sitting in a "legal" black person's seat.
But when another white passenger boarded and had to take a seat in the front row of the black section,
Rosa "should have???" moved back to be behind him. She didn't. The rest is history.
VW Camper. Similar to the one Pat's parents loved.
Display of souvenir flags from the Roadside America exhibit.
The flag for Maine features "TelStar".
Who recalls that the TelStar tracking station was in Andover Maine???

The main entry to the building is an exact replica of Independence Hall!!  Ford wanted to buy and move the original to Dearborn but had to settle for a copy...complete with any variation from the architectural drawings that they discovered. Later, this copy served to provide details for renovations on the original.
Museum Entry...a precise replica of Independence Hall.
Bottom Line:  We were quite surprised and impressed with Detroit. We expected it to be dilapidated and sad. But instead there was as much roadwork going on there as everywhere else ;-) ...yep, we've seen enough roadwork for a lifetime on this trip. Truly, we drove around quite a bit (but not into the real neighborhoods) and were more reminded of it's great history than of it's current sad economic story.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Chicago-Part 2

On Tuesday we were scheduled to meet our friends John and Diane at noon so we decided to visit the nearby Richard Driehaus Museum. The museum is established in the grand 1883 residence of a wealthy banker. The building has been restored to be consistent with the original period and is decorated in furnishings from the collection of Richard Dreihaus representative of the late 19th C Gilded Age opulence, including art nouveau furnishings and a number of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. On the second floor was an exhibition Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. 
Stained Glass Dome in Dreihaus Museum, 1901
Necklace and original custom designed case from "The Maker &* the Muse" Exhibit
Note that the case is moulded to display the chain nicely curved around.
We then met John and Diane at their place and enjoyed the view over the city and over the original Water Tower that survived the great Chicago Fire of 1871. We had lunch with Diane at La Colonial, a French Vietnamese restaurant and basically sampled our way around the menu.  Everything was great and much lighter than typical French. Bill and I then shopped back to and along Magnificent Mile. 

Wednesday morning we headed north Chicago to explore the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum followed by the Zoo and the Conservatory in Lincoln Park, The nature museum is oriented to kids and covers everything from wildlife, plants and energy conservation. It includes a delightful Butterfly Garden (Note: All Butterfly Gardens are delightful.) There was a section dedicated to Monarch Butterflies and their annual migration to Mexico.

Between the museum and the zoo we discovered The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool. 

The zoo has an extensive collection of birds and animals from around the world. 
Meerkats, alert as always
Tawny Frogmouth from Australia (roughly 10 inches tall)
Inca Tern from Peru & Chile.
Love the way the feathers stick out at the base of the nec,.
From the Zoo we headed out to explore the shopping areas of Lincoln Park (that is the name of the neighborhood, not just a park). We strolled along Lincoln Ave., Armitage Ave. and Halsted St. As we wandered we were struck by how green it was with so many tree lined streets. Pat found some favorite shops (Marine Layer & the Peruvian Collection) but didn't find anything to buy. 

Lincoln Park neighbors on Old Town, the location of Second City Comedy Club (home to ever so many comedians we all know and love). Our new friend Jean (a friend of our home exchange host in Chicago who will be joining her in San Miguel) had advised us to take the Second City Tour of Old Town. It provided insight into the history of Chicago and Second City Comedy Club.  We enjoyed it.  After the tour we stopped by to visit with Jean.
Homes in Old Town, built just after the 1871 fire.
Note: These are early pre-fab homes that could be ordered from a catalog.
Thursday we headed south to the Museum of Science and Industry. The exhibits included an iMAX movie on Humpback Whales and their improving numbers. After the movie we learned about a U-505, a WWII German submarine housed in the museum, and the team that captured it. It is quite a story. There was also an extensive exhibit about the Space Program, particularly the APOLLO program and the US landing on the moon. 

Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle is a spectacular miniature castle she had constructed complete with furnishings including a painting by Walt Disney himself, the tiniest bible ever to be written (dating back to 1840) and ancient statues more than 2,000 years old. Colleen was an actress, appearing in silent and later films. She has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. These scale a bit less than 1" per foot...for a great tour of the castle see:

Other exhibits include trains (an engine and a large layout of Chicago), aircraft (from the Wright Brothers to a 727), weather (including a hands on tornado simulator), farming technology, and a model circus consisting of over 22,000 pieces.

Model Train Layout
Farming Technology... turning "poop to power"...
For those who don't know, Pat grew up in a farm, well before such technology.
But apparently she is still intrigued by advancements in the industry.
Circus Parade
After lunch we walked through both commercial and residential areas of Hyde Park. We found the neighborhood quite interesting. There was a really good, high-end super market (Treasure Island Food) and many quite interesting houses (typical Chicago variety of architectures). There was also a very nice park and a number of tree lined boulevards. 
Being squash lovers, we were very impressed with the selection of what we call "winter squash"...acorns,
butter nut and buttercup. The buttercup is our absolute favorite. We NEVER find it in Mexico but OFTEN when we find it in the states, it is labeled "Product of Mexico".
We liked the mushroom selection as well
In the middle of one of the greenest residential areas, a big black car, fences and ugly signs appeared.  We realized that we had discovered "Obama-hood". 

The Secret Service protecting Obama-hood".
Friday we decided to explore more neighborhoods. This time Bucktown and Wicker Park, a bit to the west of downtown. Pat bought some jewelry and a shirt. Wicker Park is also the location of one of Rick Bayless’s Xoco restaurants and we stopped for a taste of Mexico (Sikil Pak - a creamy Yucatecan pumpkin seed-habanero dip best with jicama;  Shrimp Mojo de  Ajo - shrimp with garlic, olive oil, lime and chipotle. Plantain rice; Enchiladas Suizas - tortillas with roasted vegetables, roasted tomatillo sauce, melted artisan Jack, black beans; and a dessert of Coconut Rice Pudding - made with coconut milk, studded with almonds and cherries and garnished with Candied puffed amaranth, toasted coconut).  Excellent. 

In fact so good we decided we simply needed to dine a Frontera Grill even if no reservations were available. Hence the plan for Saturday was set in place to arrive at Frontera Grill before it's 5pm opening.  

Later on our evening walk we decided to check out Navy Pier, getting much closer to the ferris wheel and discovering many cruise boats and tourists and some nice views of the city. But bottom line, don't bother with Navy Pier UNLESS you simply need a new destination for a walk. We took the bus back to our Chicago home and realized we must have missed an amazing sunset while on the bus...see photo of the last seconds below.

View to the east from Navy Pier
The remaining seconds of what have been an amazing sunset.
On our last day in Chicago. The day started with a gorgeous sunrise. 

Sunrise from our balcony
After that we simply took it easy. Our main accomplishments: returning to Eataly (where we mostly perused the wine department and sampled a couple wines). They had a great poster showing the grapes of Italy by region.  Unfortunately you likely can't read the names on the photo below, but our full-size version does include the details and we'd happily share it.

We arrived at Frontera Grill at 4:45 and were first in line (but followed quickly by many more).  It was definitely worth the short wait, it was even worth a longer wait!

One Topolo Margarita (Herradura anejo tequila, Torres orange liquer, 
housemade limonada) and one Blue Agave Margarita (Milagro blanco tequila, 
Cointreau, fresh lime juice). 
Queso Fundido (Baked Cheese)
Carne Asada (done perfectly...very medium rare)
Duck in Yucatan Pipian

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chicago - Impressive Museums

The drive from Madison to Chicago was easy with traffic picking up a little as we neared Chicago, but not bad at all. We stopped along the way…at the "Belvedere Oasis"… to get an iPass (the Illinois toll transponder). When we went inside to make the purchase we discovered a major Food Court rather than your normal rest stop/welcome center. 

Yep, it's a food court on the highway.  A little like the San Pedro Parador on the highway to Mexico City..
Our 30th floor home exchange home has a killer view of lake Michigan from the balcony, living room and bedroom. It also has a parking space on the 7th floor of the building.  We are just across from the “Museum Campus” which includes the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Adler Planetarium and Soldier Field Stadium. We can see so much from our balcony that it all seems close. Even “Navy Pier” but in fact it is several metro stops away and, while walkable, it’s a 45  minute walk (per Google Maps).

Our home in Chicago.
Looking down on the sculpture or headless figures

The 4 day Taste of Chicago Food Fest was on-going so we went out to check it out.  Honestly we were not inspired by it but we enjoyed the walk in the park and taking photos of the Buckingham Fountain.

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

As we walked around we were surprised to see oodles of folks in Mexican soccer shirts…then we learned that Mexico was playing Cuba in the Gold Cup Soccer at Soldier Field (Mexico beat Cuba 6-0).

We bought a “CityPass” that provides admission to the key museums and started our visits at The Shedd Aquarium, a truly short walk from our door. We were glad we had purchased the City Pass and could speed by the line that snaked out the door and down through the plaza. The Shedd has a broad range of exhibits spanning ocean (deep ocean and reef) lake and river life around the world. The Oceanarium show featured dolphins, sea lions and beluga whales and includes a comparison to training a dog with one trainer demonstrating training techniques with a sea lion while another does the same with a dog that was rescued from the pound. There is also a 4-D movie on fossils and prehistoric life utilizing 3-D glasses and specially equipped seating to provide the 4th sense. 

Beluga Whales 
A Ray that seemingly kept laughing at us to get our attention and his photo taken.
We wrapped-up our visit about 2:30 and headed off for Chicago style Pizza  at Lou Malnatis. It may be deep dish but the crust was moderately think with lots of topping with the cheese on first and the tomato on top. The technique works but everything is custom made (do you like it gooey in the middle or well-done, etc) and is well worth the half hour prep time.  Our calamari fritti and the Rodney Strong Merlot helped us pass the time. 

We took a short break and then strolled up the street to the Chicago Summer Dance. We enjoyed a conversation with a woman married to a Mexican from near Guadalajara as we observed folks lounging around enjoying the music and watching others dance. 

Some folks in the audience are really into their creature comforts

Day 3, The Field Museum. This is a Natural History Museum on steroids. We spent the full day and still missed a lot. First up: Sue, the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil yet discovered. She is 42 feet long, stands 13 feet high at the hips and is 67 million years old.

Sue, the T-Rex...painting in balcony above.

The Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit offers a glimpse into what life was like for ancient Egyptians with many mummies on display, a shrine to the cat goddess Bastet and a recreated marketplace complete with sample goods. 

One stage of a set of sculptures demonstrating the "Journey to the Other World"

The Underground Adventure provides a bugs-eye look at the world beneath our feet. The Vikings exhibit sheds light on the life of Vikings and explains that the word refers to the activity of going on a “trade-trip or raid" rather than to any specific Scandinavian culture. 

The Ancient Americas displays 13,000 years of human development in the Western Hemisphere, where hundreds of diverse cultures thrived long before the arrival of Europeans. Exhibits on housing, pottery, weapons, clothing and life styles of Incas, Aztecs, Mississippians, Eskimos and many more that were new to us (e.g. the Mochi and the Wari from Peru). 

A view of Cahokia (and "Monks Mound"), the largest Mississipian Settlement...locate in Illinois near St Louis
We practically ran through the extensive exhibits of plants, birds and animals. All were simply fantastic but far too much to really appreciate. But we paused and contemplated when we learned that the cashew is a member of the poison ivy family. We were reassured to learn that once the husk is removed, so is the poison.
Shoebill from the upper Nile & "New World" Vulture

Muskoxen on the tundra often cluster together, moving "flank to flank" for protection from wolves
Apparently there is also a Hall of Gems has a large collection of diamonds and gems from around the world and a Hall of Jades with Chinese jade artifacts spanning 8,000 years. There is likely MUCH more that we missed but it is all a bit much to take in in one day.

Dinner at Kurah Chicago Mediterranean Tapas where we had the spicy potato, layered fattoush, and a kofta kabob along with the Pilizota Babic (red wine) from Croatia. All were excellent as were the glass of Lebanese wine we sampled (2011 Jeune Red Blend, Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley) and the chocolate baklava.

Sunday seemed like it might be one of the clearest days of our visit so we took the boat tour offered by the Chicago Architectural Institute along the Chicago River. Passing under numerous bridges we experienced Chicago's architectural accomplishments -- 144 years of architecture evolution including some of the very earliest skyscrapers (they tore down the world's first skyscraper), one that has been the tallest for 30+ years (until being over-shadowed by one in Dubai (which is nearly twice as high)...all of which evolved after 1871 when Mrs O’Leary’s cow helped spawn this vast urban renewal project.

Top of the 36 story Chicago Tribune Building -
opened 1925 in "neo-gothic style, ie ornate enough to be a cathedral

Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) towering over it's neighbors
And the development continues
After the tour we continued to the Magnificent Mile (home of every designer or high-end store you can think of) and then on to Eataly, a Mario Bartelli et al enterprise with an Italian market with truly magnificent food & wine departments, along with various food bars and the Baffo Restaurant. Shopping wise we nabbed two Rorero Arneis white wines, some blueberry & raspberry brioche  and some ground coffee. Sad, isn't it. There were so many great things to consider. Pastas. Breads. Cookbooks. Utensils. ...

A small portion of the pasta selection
Lunch at Baffo was excellent. The details, with the info from the menu first followed by the translation 

  • carne cruda (raw razza piemontese beef with colatura, pecorino toscano)....very nice raw beef coarsely ground mixed with anchovy sauce and sheep milk cheese served with small toasts.
  • insalata mista (epiphany farms spring harvest with roasted almonds and parmigiano reggiano)...mixed salad with baby greens from epiphany farms with roasted almonds and parmigiano cheese
  • agnolotti (porcini-filled pasta with pecorino pepato and “cime di verdure tagliuzzate”...pasta filled with porcini mushrooms served with peppery sheep cheese and shredded vegetable tops 
  • cavatelli (shell-shaped pasta with traditional meat ragú from bologna)... shell-shaped pasta with ragu sauce topped with cheese crisp

All this was accompanied by a bottle of Primitivo followed by two dessert wines (Moscato d’asti and a Sangratino). 

We spent a little more time wandering along the Magnificent Mile and returned "home". Later we checked out Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower (Formerly known as the Sears Tower which is or was equipped with building automation from the group Pat worked with at RCA "way back when"...). The view from the floor 103 is said to include 4 states on a clear day, The sky was not as clear as we would have liked but the tour was part of  our City Passes and we got special access cutting the wait time to a few minutes.  We did not go out on"The Ledge", which happens to be more of a bit of a marketing see, the view from "The Ledge", a glass floored balcony,  is not very appealing BUT has been made to be adventuresome. Note: Having nothing but glass between you and the  ground is not a Bill or Pat thing nor does it add to the view.
Looking south below the Willis Tower...the brick building is our Chicago "home"
Looking east below the Willis Tower
Monday brought rain and thunder showers. We took the metro to the Loop and walked to Millennium Park noted for it's Frank Gehry designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Bandshell), the Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor, fondly referred to as “The Bean”, and The Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa, We had fun playing with the photo possibilities of the interesting reflections in The Bean.  Then watched the playful fountain.  It consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images of a range of Chicagoans citizens in a sequence that ends with open mouths (and perhaps a big smile) as water suddenly shoots out onto suspecting and unsuspecting folks in the reflecting pool. 

Frank Gehry designed Bandshell
Playful Fountain
"The Bean"
The Art Institute of Chicago is simply amazing.  It has an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century art including American Gothic by Grant Wood and so much impressionism and modernism that you could easily spend a day or two there. But that is kind of what we expected, without further detail.  It turns out there is also a renowned "miniature room" collection. In our minds we translated this to a "dollhouse" collection. But indeed it is is truly a collection of 68 "miniature room" each created in elaborate detail including views through windows and doors to gardens and additional rooms in equally elaborate detail all researched and designed by Mrs James Ward Thorne. 
Miniature Sitting Room...every detail is created in miniature

There were so many amazing and renowned works of art that it was overwhelming. And we have so many photos that it is still overwhelming.  But here are a few of standouts for us.
Cow's Skull with Calico Roses, Georgia O'Keeffe,  1931

"Lilies" Window by Tiffany Glass & Decorating, 1892-1895

Thanksgiving by Doris Lee, 1935
This piece was criticized for being overly folksy, but that actually only added to the artist's fame.

The Weaver by Diego Rivera, 1936

Water Lilies, Claude Monet,  1906 

Having had lunch at the museum (steak salad, flatbread pizza with arugula and prosciutto) we returned "home" for a light snack that evening.  Later we enjoyed the view from our window over Chicago at dusk.

Navy Pier at Dusk taken from our window
There's still more for us to see and do in Chicago and we'll address that in our next posting.