The Art Institute of Chicago: Cool in More Ways Than One

We happened to be in Chicago during a heat wave; not the best of circumstances, but it sure beat having rain everyday!  The temperature peaked at 96 degrees during one the days and it was 86 degrees the day we took the architectural boat tour and wandered through Millenium Park.  So, The Art Institute of Chicago was a welcome relief, by the time we reached the air conditioned lobby, later in the day.

Rather than browse the entire museum which was huge, we chose a few exhibits to enjoy for a couple of hours, before heading back to our B&B to change clothes for dinner.

Marc Chagall’s American Windows was the first stop on our list.  Inspired by Chagall’s mosaic The Four Seasons ,an installation outside Chicago’s Chase Tower, American Windows was created in response to the enthusiasm Chicagoans had for Chagall’s work.  The windows were designed to commemorate America’s bicentennial and celebrates the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom, detailing the arts of music, painting, literature, theater, and dance.


After viewing exhibits that included everything from photography to Tiffany glass to Stickley furniture, we found a fascinating exhibit:


When I brought this photo up on my screen, I asked Bruce what he thought it was.  “Is that your bed and breakfast?”  Well, no, not unless we were only one inch tall!  This is one of 63 exhibited miniature rooms, conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne, and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen, according to her specifications.  The rooms, displayed behind glass windows, depict European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930’s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930’s.  The scale of these amazingly detailed miniatures ranges from one inch to one foot.


By the time we finished viewing the miniature rooms, we were ready to head back to the B&B for a rest and to freshen up for Laura’s birthday dinner at Frontera Grill, a Mexican restaurant owned by chef Rick Bayless.  Best known as Bravo’s Top Chef Master, Bayless has written several cookbooks and has a popular PBS show, “Mexico- One Plate at a Time.”  In addition to being awarded numerous personal awards by the James Beard organization, Frontera Grill won James Beard’s prestigious Outstanding Restaurant award, in 2007.


Laura and I could definitely see why; their food was outstanding!  After sharing the Fresh Corn Tamales appetizer, as well as the Smoky-Creamy-Spicy Wild Mushrooms appetizer, I savored my favorite Mexican cuisine of all:  Mole.  My Mole Trio consisted of mole poblano enchiladas, lamb in black mole (my favorite mole sauce), and roasted vegetables in Queretano green mole.  It was the best mole I had tasted since Bruce tackled Rick Bayless’ tamales and mole sauce recipes- completely from scratch; an all-day endeavor.


For dessert, we shared Frontera’s homemade ice cream and sauces, opting for half-and-half, since we wanted to sample it all:  Mexican vanilla bean with Torres brandy ice cream topped with homemade cajeta (goat milk caramel) and Oaxacan chocolate raspberry ice cream with bittersweet hot fudge sauce.  Exquisite!

The following day, we rode the bus out to the northwest part of town to enjoy a couple of neighborhoods:  Wicker Park and Bucktown.  Although it was interesting to see the varied architecture and experience the vibe in both neighborhoods, it was the hottest day of our visit, making our afternoon stroll quite uncomfortable.







The evening made up for it, though; it was spent with some swimming buddies over a huge pan of deep dish pizza at Lou Malnatti’s!  Michael and Skip (who happen to know each other), both swimmers with U.S. Masters Swimming like I am, are fellow “Forumites” from the U.S.M.S. Discussion Forums.  Although Michael and I finally met up at Spring Nationals, in Mesa, Arizona, in 2011, as well as 2012 Spring Nationals, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Skip and I hadn’t yet met in person.  And, Laura met them for the first time.  It turned out to be a fun evening with the four of us, while I got my deep dish pizza fix.  I wish I had remembered to take some photos, but it completely slipped my mind…

The following day, our last full day in Chicago, is coming up next; check back soon as we visit a wonderful organic farmers market and more!

Winding Our Way Through the Windy City By Boat

Before I travel, I do a lot of research on my destination; because it is something I really enjoy doing as part of the entire travel experience.  But, this time, I chose a different approach, because I was traveling with Laura.  She had been to Chicago before and had ideas in mind about what she wanted to see, this time around.  I was excited about going along for the ride!  And, we were meeting up in Chicago more to celebrate her upcoming 50th birthday, rather than mine, which had already been celebrated in California.  So, aside from finding our accommodations on Trip Advisor, I had only glanced a time or two at Chicago’s tourism website and quickly checked out “Things To Do” in Chicago, on Trip Advisor.

There were only a few things I knew I really wanted to do in Chicago; my must-see, must-do list.  Otherwise, I figured I would enjoy anything Laura would want to see and do; after all, she has been my best friend for 42 years!  So, what topped my list?  First of all, “Cloud Gate”, the huge sculpture in Millennium Park affectionately known as “The Bean”, because of its bean-like shape.  I knew it would be a hoot to photograph, so I had my heart set on it.  Meanwhile, I had my stomach set on sinking my teeth into a Chicago-style deep dish pizza.  In my mind, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  In Chicago, it’s deep dish pizza!  And, speaking of food, which Laura and I do frequently, I wanted to treat Laura to dinner at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill, for her birthday ( ).  Finally, I was sure Laura and I would agree on this one:  An architectural boat tour to learn about downtown Chicago’s varied architecture.  (And, if we made it to the Art Institute, it would be a bonus!)

Thanks to Laura scoring a Groupon, we got a great deal on that architectural boat tour that we were both really looking forward to doing.  So, we set out on foot after enjoying our first night and breakfast at our B&B, heading down Michigan Ave. (“Magnificent Mile”) towards the river.






Wow!  What a gorgeous avenue; the most beautiful I have ever seen in a large U.S. city.  Gorgeously planted and maintained mini gardens surrounded each tree, along each side of the street, and there was no litter or graffiti to be found.  Chicagoans sure take pride in their city; at least in that part! (We never ventured out to the south side…)  But, the Magnificent Mile is also one of the wealthiest miles anywhere.  Sak’s, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s; the list goes on.  It it’s not there, it doesn’t exist.  Needless to say, my wallet stayed firmly in waist pack as we soldiered on (with blinders).

We arrived at the Wrigley Building early for our boat tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to take a stroll along the river and take in the sites of downtown.  What a fabulous surprise!  There was a point to me explaining my lack of research preparation for this trip, detailed previously; I had no idea Chicago had a river located right in between the skyscrapers of downtown!  Having skipped over any of the photos posted on the tourism website or Trip Advisor, I had no idea what to expect.  And, honestly, what I thought I might expect was something more like Manhattan, in New York City.  I figured downtown to be located on Lake Michigan and our boat tour cruising along the shore, to take in the sites of the skyscrapers.  After all, that is what our N.Y. boat tour was like.  Reasonable, right?  Noooo; it wasn’t like that at all!  A river runs right through downtown Chicago with skyscrapers and cafes lining each side of it.  And, beautiful bridges (all unique) cross the river at each block.  WoooHoooo!  It was love at first site.  And, at the very moment I laid eyes on this scene, I declared Chicago my favorite large city in the U.S.A ; other than San Diego, that is!)













 The twin towers above are “Marina City” (aka “Corn Cobs”); a mixed-use residential/ commercial building.  It was designed in 1959 by Bertrand Goldberg; an architect who seemed to have an aversion to right angles.  When it was completed in 1964, they were the tallest reinforced concrete structures in the world.

039-Trump Internationals Hotel and Tower

Trump International Hotel and Tower, named after The Donald, is a condo-hotel designed by Adrian Smith.  At 92 stories (1,389 feet), it is one of the tallest buildings in Chicago.

043-Willis Tower (Sears Tower)

The tallest building in Chicago, at 108 stories, is the Willis Tower, formerly known as the “Sears Tower”.  At completion, in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world.  Today, it is ranked 7th.

This is why I enjoy modern downtown skylines:




See you next at “The Bean”!