Category Archives: Art Museums

Chicago, Illinois ~ July 30 – August 4, 2014

I’ve written elsewhere about our arrival in Chicago. We had been traveling ten weeks and I was tired. Chicago is where I had first begun to wonder whether it was traveling that I was actually doing, but there was still much to do and see in Chicago and beyond.

Chicago Skyline from Northerly Island

Our budget, combined with the fact that our visit coincided with Lollapalooza, had us staying in the suburb of Elk Grove instead of central Chicago as we had wanted. We didn’t realize that Lollapalooza was the cause of our displacement until we happened upon the three-day music festival while walking from the Lake Michigan shoreline to Millennium Park. By the end of our five day visit we had come to appreciate Elk Grove’s slower pace and placidity; particularly, Busse Woods, a forest preserve with seven miles of bike paths.

Busse Woods Bike Path (internet photo)

Also, Elk Grove offered some great local food options with Elly’s Pancake House, Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Lou Malnati’s for Chicago-style pizza and wine.

Cubs vs. Rockies

We took the Wrigley Field Express bus which dropped us off across from the stadium’s entrance and headed into the Cubby Bear bar for a pre-game dog, tots and beer. It was a lively, authentic and fun joint! And, YUM…

Dog, Tots and Bear from Cubby Bear’s Bar

Wrigley Field was the fifth MLB stadium we had visited on our tour; it also ended up being the last as our route was leading us westward and into the wilderness. We would not emerge until the first of September when we arrived in Seattle and the Mariners were on the road. By the time we would arrive in San Francisco the first of October, the Giant’s regular season was over. So, Wrigley Field was our last MLB experience, but what an awesome ending!

The crowd was great — if you really want to get to know the culture and people of a big city, go to a baseball game. Cubby fans were boisterous as the cubs scored the first three runs of the game which was enough to win the game.

Wrigley Field’s “Skyboxes”

Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago

The renowned architect lived and worked in the Chicago area for the first twenty years of his career and left it with a vast collection of his prairie house designs. Most of the homes are privately owned, but there are several operated by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust and open for tours.

Sculpture on the Oak Park grounds

We chose to tour Wright’s residence and adjoining studio in Oak Park. While the prairie home design was different, it followed basic constructs of late 19th century perceptions of what a family home should look like. Wright was only twenty-one when he designed his impressive Oak Park home and thirty when he designed the studio. I think the greatest enjoyment for me was seeing the contrasts between Oak Park and the Fallingwater residence we had visited outside of Pittsburgh.

FLW Home and Studio, Oak Park
Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

The differences between each home’s environments obviously would demand and conjure up practical and creative differences, but the contrasts I’m referring to are the varying levels of Wright’s growth and development into a true creative. He was sixty-eight when he designed Fallingwater, and had obviously freed himself from designing within perceptions other than his own.

The tour took us about an hour and half and afterwards, we walked around the historic neighbor enjoying other beautiful homes. The Trust offers a self-guided audio tour of other FLW designed homes in the area but we opted to go it on our own.

Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium, Northerly Island, Chicago

Trey joined me for an early morning yoga class at the Adler Planetarium. It was his first yoga class and as he said, “it got my heart going.” The class was held in the Granger Sky Theater and we moved from pose to pose while constellations and the Milky Way crossed above and around us. We then ended in resting pose while lying under a massive full moon. It was a pretty incredible experience for this yogi!

Yoga with the Stars, Adler Planetarium

The Adler sits on the bank of Lake Michigan, opened in 1930 and was the U.S.’s first planetarium. It continues operating as an astronomy and astrophysics research center and offers many workshops and educational opportunities to the general public. It also serves as a museum and houses some fascinating centuries-old tools used in studying, measuring and mapping the stars. One can catch a short film that carries watchers through the cosmos, or “ride” the Atwood planetarium — a metal sphere constructed in 1913 that holds eight people and rotates around them. The stars are actually light that emits from holes that were punched through the metal at varying sizes. The sphere and holes create a scale model of the observable night sky from the perspective of being anywhere and everywhere on earth.

General Sight-Seeing

There is much more to do and see in and around the area of the planetarium, including simply sight-seeing, which is what we did for the remaining afternoon. We walked along Lake Michigan and watched the boats go in and out of the harbor…

Tour Boat on Lake Michigan

…explored Millennium Park, played and posed in front of the Cloud Gate…

Cloud Gate, aka as “The Bean”

…ate tacos while listening to a salsa band on the patio of The Plaza Grill…

Pritzker Music Pavilion – Frank Gehry

and marveled at the abounding architecture and public art.

Look into My Dreams, Awilda – Jaume Plensa

Art Institute of Chicago

We’re often asked about the parts of our U.S. tour that were our favorites. Well, in the art museum category, Trey and I hands down agree that the Art Institute of Chicago was nothing short of spectacular.

Art Institute of Chicago

We had heard that one should plan to spend a day there, so, based on several past frustrating experiences in which we had not heeded such advice, we devoted an entire day to exploring the institute. It ended up not being enough time, but what we did explore of the three building, four level museum was pretty darn amazing.

Two Sisters (On the Terrace) – Renoir

Their collection seems to represent every age, culture and medium across the globe – from ancient Greek vases, thousand year old Mesoamerican figurines, and renaissance period armor…

Jousting Armor

…to American folk art, famous modern and postmodernism paintings, mid-century architecture, and film and photograph of all sorts, to name a few.

American Gothic – Grant Wood

We left the museum with the agreement that we would visit it again and then headed off in the rain to find dinner.

Chicago in the Rain

I feel that the evening walk in the rain provided us with a good sense of Chicago’s vibe and beauty.

The “L”

Dinner ended up being Italian at Tesori Trattoria and Bar. It was one of those occasions in which we were too famished to remember to take photos – a perfect ending to a perfect day. Plus, the carbs and wine helped us to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for the two-day trek to South Dakota.

Here’s more beauty from the Art Institute of Chicago…

Rocks at Port-Goulphar, Belle-Ile – Monet

The Old Guitarist – Picasso

The Bedroom – Van Gogh
The Child’s Bath – Mary Cassatt
Samson and the Lion – Cristoforo Stati
Buddha Shakyamuni Seated in Meditation – Tamil Nadu


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ~ July 22 – 26, 2014

The older of our two daughters, Lindsey, lived in Pittsburgh for six years – four while attending college and two after graduating. Despite our many visits during this period, we never had the opportunity to explore Pittsburgh properly because our visits were either planned around helping her move or coordinated with also visiting family in Washington D.C., and our younger daughter who attended college in New Jersey.

We were looking forward to finally spending proper time in Pittsburgh, a city we quickly realized was not the old steel town we had imagined when our daughter expressed interest in attending college there.

Pittsburgh Skyline
Pittsburgh Skyline

No, it is a beautiful, vibrant, culturally rich city with a unique personality of its own thanks to the people that call it home. Their love of their city is evident.

One of the best vantage points to appreciate the city’s beauty can be experienced when traveling into Pittsburgh from the west on Interstate 376 which is the route from the Pittsburgh airport. The Interstate goes through Mount Washington via the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and the city suddenly appears laid out below when emerging from the tunnel’s other side. We were fortunate to be required to take this route into the city from Niagara Falls, New York.

We settled into an Airbnb cottage near Highland Park around 5:30 p.m., then rested before heading out by foot to explore the neighborhood. A friendly youth baseball game was taking place at a nearby playground and we stopped and watched as the sun was setting. Trey pulled his pocket notepad out and we planned how best to spend the next three days.

Prioritizing our plans for Pittsburgh...
Prioritizing our plans for Pittsburgh…

Our first day touring Pittsburgh was done by bicycle and our first stop was a nostalgic one – Ritters is a breakfast joint near the UPMC complex and in the Bloomfield neighborhood where we feasted on buckwheat pancakes and breakfast potatoes as we had done many times in the past with Lindsey. After the hearty breakfast (which we needed in order to tackle Pittsburgh’s hills on bicycle) we headed out to visit her other old haunts, perhaps in attempt to recapture the excitement and recognize the challenges of a time in our past.

CMU College of Fine Arts
CMU College of Fine Arts
CMU "Walking to the Sky" Sculpture, but the students refer to it as the "Stairway to Heaven"
CMU “Walking to the Sky” Sculpture, but the students refer to it as the “Stairway to Heaven”

Being the middle of summer, the Carnegie Mellon University campus was quiet and provided clear pathways to bicycle through the small campus and into and out of the adjacent Schenley Park.

Pittsburgh's Schenley Park
Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park

Pirates vs. Dodgers

PNC Park sits on the Allegheny River across from downtown and near the point where the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers converge. There were plenty of public garages downtown to choose from for parking and you can get a real sense of the spirit of the city and its sports fans on the walk across the Roberto Clemente Bridge.


This bridge serves as the gateway to the stadium – its grand entrance supported by the excitement and the energy of pirates’ fans anticipation of a big win – I think “Yinzers” always expect to win.

PNC Park

With great fifth row seats looking over right field, PNC stadium provided the most intimate experience of all the ball parks we visited. We were looking directly down on Gregory Polanco, and he and the other outfielders regularly engaged with fans. The Pirate fans around us set the tone of positive excitement and rallied on their heroes throughout the entire game – it was great fun, largely, I suspect because the Pirates led the entire game and beat the Dodgers 6-1.

Falling Water

Day two started with another nostalgic breakfast. This time at Pamela’s in Shadyside for more Pittsburgh-style fried potatoes. We then drove the Escape Mobile to Frank Lloyd Wright’s secluded architectural wonder located about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh – a bit of a trek, but well worth the roundtrip drive.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water

Wright masterfully melded the structure, a family home, with its environment – a rocky creek gradually descending through a wooded sanctuary of oak and maple trees. The main structure of the house sits above the creek and each level opens onto an outdoor space that overhangs the creek providing the sense of being in a tree house from every room.

The guest house sits above the main house and I was glad that it was open to the tour as it was not open during my trip to Falling Water in the fall of 2002. At that time, cable supports for the main house were being installed to keep it secured on and above the creek bed, instead of in it.  Restoration work was underway on the main house’s chimney and roof of the guest house. It was very evident that this national landmark is well cared for and its overseers, The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, take their mission to preserve Falling Water for future generations very seriously.

Falling Water

Strip District

We stopped in Pittsburgh’s Strip District to eat on the trip back from Falling Water. The Strip District sits along the Alleghany’s eastern shore which was once a thriving industrial area. During that time, small retailers set up various shops and were supported by the workers. The industries are gone, but some of the Strip District shops remain and provide a glimpse of how shopping was done before large all-in-one grocery stores took over. For instance, there’s a cheese shop that sells only cheese and a meat market shop that sells only meat. Many of the old shops and warehouses have been taken over by restaurants, art galleries and touristy type shops making it popular area to visit and shop by both locals and visitors. However, being a Thursday evening, we found the choices of restaurants to be limited so settled on Café Reyna for decent Mexican food.

Mattress Factory

Came across this sign on the MF's Annex building. Very fitting and so true!
Came across this sign on the MF’s Annex building. Very fitting and so true!

Friday was museum day. The Mattress Factory is an installation art museum. It provides housing for visiting artists while they work on their pieces. Lindsey had the privilege of working with several artists on installations during her time working at the Mattress Factory.

Our timing had us visiting between installations so only the permanent installations were available in the main building – lots of fun showing Trey around and experiencing them again. We found out that there was a new exhibit in the Mattress Factory Annex building around the corner. Trace of Memory by Chiharu Shiota encompassed the entire three story row house and was quite an experience.

"Trace of Memory" Installation @ Mattress Factory Annex
“Trace of Memory” Installation @ Mattress Factory Annex

Shiota had woven black yarn throughout like thick spiderwebs, obscuring a seemingly typical household and successfully creating the eerie perception of walking through someone’s dream or distant memory.

Andy Warhol Museum

We happen to visit the Warhol Museum during their regular Friday evening event in which they offer ½ priced admissions, light snacks and a cash bar – so wonderful and appropriate to experience Warhol with a cocktail in hand!

Unlike my visit in 2002, photographs were not allowed inside. Rightly so, because any photo that I post here could not possibly do justice to an original Warhol. The colors would lack the vibrancy and verve, and the thumbnails would remove any ability to conceive the scale and energy of the original pieces. These can only be experienced in person; so, like Falling Water, the Andy Warhol Museum is a must visit when in Pittsburgh.

Warhol Museum

Leaving Pittsburgh

I had packed my yoga mat in the back of the Escape Mobile but had not yet put it to use. I was glad to be in a city such as Pittsburgh where studios were abundant. I arose early on Saturday, our last day in Pittsburgh, and took a very much needed and revitalizing drop-in class at Yoga on Centre. This was my first yoga experience outside of Austin and I realized that I, and my body, had been missing yoga, so decided that I would make effort to look for classes from that point.

Our Airbnb host was a bit upset that we had yet to try any of his restaurant recommendations. Highland Park is apparently full of great restaurants and hot spots and somehow we got to Saturday without having ventured to a single one. As we packed the Escape Mobile we promised him that we would catch brunch up the street at Park Bruges.

Con Huevos Ros & Banana Walnut French Toast from Park Bruges
Con Huevos Ros & Banana Walnut French Toast from Park Bruges

So glad we did – Park Bruges was by the far our best food experience in Pittsburgh.

We also had yet to make the drive up Mount Washington to enjoy the scenic views of Pittsburgh and its rivers.

View of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington
View of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington

This is the same view we experienced when we emerged through the Fort Pitt Tunnel upon arriving in Pittsburgh, only weren’t traveling 60 miles per hour.

Goodbye Pittsburgh...Hope to visit again!
Goodbye Pittsburgh…Hope to visit again!