Chicago, IL

CHICAGO has some big-time charm

Lyric Opera House

“This is my kind of town, Chicago is…” So go the lyrics of the famous Frank Sinatra song, his paean to the city and its character, architecture, music, people… And with more than 5,195 restaurants (25 of which have Michelin stars!), 250 theatres (hello Hamilton, the must-see musical that’s on an extended run in Chicago until January 2019), 200 dance companies, iconic opera house, some 56 museums and 700-plus public artworks, Chicago entertains and charms as much as the so-called Sultan of Swoon.

Lobby ceiling of the Palmer House Hotel; On the Loop’s elevated “L” train circuit

Start and stay in the Loop, Chicago’s business district and downtown core, where the historic Palmer House Hotel is the longest continually running hotel in the US (since 1873, when it reopened in grand fashion after the Great Chicago Fire). Step out onto State Street (“…that great street”!) and into the buzz of the city amidst iconic architecture. Better yet, take a ride on the “L” train’s elevated circuit through the Loop and marvel at the cornices and columns here, the glass and steel there, and how it all comes together in this cityscape created by the likes of Mies van der Rohe. After the train, take a boat on the Chicago River for another perspective on the birthplace of the skyscraper.

Architectural cruise on the Chicago River

The towers that skirt the snaking river also seem to embrace Chicago’s go-to gathering spot, Millennium Park. Here, you’ll be wowed by yet more cool structures and art: amphitheatre by Frank Gehry, Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor (simply known as “The Bean”) and Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa. On a hot late-September day, this interactive artwork’s two giant spouting video sculptures become a spontaneous waterpark, filled with families and foodies taking a break from the Chicago Gourmet fest (September 28-30).

Cloud Gate (also known as “The Bean”) in Millennium Park; Crown Fountain, public art and video sculpture
Seurat at the Art Institute of Chicago

More art is just steps away at the Art Institute of Chicago, voted number-one museum in the world (TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards). Its permanent collection has 300,000 works, including Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which has a famous cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Stand and stare like Ferris and his crew did (and everyone else).

And then, just across the river, there’s the Magnificent Mile (900 stores within eight blocks) and another set of iconic buildings that induce neck craning: the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower (its façade dotted with stones from historic buildings around the world, including the Taj Mahal), John Hancock Center (now called 875 N Michigan) and Willis Tower (where you can step out over the city on a glass-bottomed ledge—103 floors up). To the south is the Museum Campus, made up of Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum (home of “Sue,” the world’s largest, most extensive and best preserved T. Rex). Also in the South Loop: Soldier Field, the stadium of the Chicago Bears (da Bears!), and McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in the US.

Deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s

Walk back towards the Loop with football fans after a Sunday-afternoon game, along “Chicago’s front yard” of Grant Park, for one other must-stop. Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. The debate is fierce over Chicago’s best pizza, but you won’t be disappointed with an order of the “Lou” (spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozza, romano and cheddar in a garlic buttercrust). You’re welcome.

And, yes, Frank was right. Chicago is “One town that won’t let you down. It’s my kind of town.” — Story & photos by Barb Sligl

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Halifax, NS

Happy in HALIFAX: That’s an order

Halifax has long known how to have a good time. In 1606, explorer Samuel de Champlain kicked off centuries of Nova Scotia merrymaking when he established L’Ordre de Bon Temps, the Order of the Good Time, to raise the spirits of his men wintering 200 km north of Halifax. The Order is still in existence today, celebrating food, drink and entertainment—all of which Halifax offers in abundance.

Halifax waterfront and boardwalk. Photo courtesy of Destination Halifax.

Focus your quest for good cheer in the compact downtown. On the waterfront, a series of wooden boardwalks and piers wind along Halifax harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world. Buskers provide toe-tapping, hand-clapping entertainment while food kiosks dish out local fare: fresh-caught fish and chips, Black Bear ice cream and oh-so-Canadian poutine and Beavertails.

Enjoy tales of Halifax’s rich marine heritage at the dockside Maritime Museum of the Atlantic  (maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca). View artifacts both small (a pair of children’s shoes from the Titanic) and large (the steamship CSS Acadia, moored at the museum wharf) as well as an exceptional small craft gallery. If you’re inspired to get out on the water, choose from a variety of harbour cruises including the child-magnet Theodore Tugboat tour (ambassatours.com).

Seaport Farmers' Market (Photo courtesy of Destination Halifax); Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (Photo courtesy of Canadian Museum of Immigration).

Back on land, stroll south to the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market (halifaxfarmersmarket.com) with its mix of fresh produce, food outlets and local crafts. Just beyond is the highly recommended Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (pier21.ca) where engaging displays and first-person accounts tell the story of Pier 21, the entry point for one in five immigrants to Canada between 1928 and 1971, as well as the broader immigrant experience. The museum’s research centre is a gold mine for visitors interested in finding records of relatives who stepped off the ships and in to their new lives in Canada via Pier 21.

Raise a glass to those ancestors at Alexander Keith’s Nova Scotia Brewery (alexanderkeithsbrewery.com/tour) where beer has been flowing for almost 200 years. The brewery’s popular tours offer some light history and brewing lore, followed by live music and glasses of beer served in the brewery’s former aging cavern, now the Stag’s Head pub.

Live music at the Seahorse Tavern. Photo courtesy of Scottophoto/Scott Blackburn.

If beer is the social lubricant for Maritime cheer, live music is the soundtrack. Check out who’s playing at the always entertaining (if somewhat claustrophobic) Lower Deck  (lowerdeck.ca) as well as at Split Crow Pub (splitcrow.com), a divey spot that claims to be Nova Scotia’s original tavern. Find the Celtic heart of Halifax at The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse (oldtriangle.com) that features live music seven nights a week and traditional Irish dancing on Sunday afternoons.

Oysters at Gahan House Harbourfront (Photo courtesy of Destination Halifax); Lobster roll at The Bicycle Thief (Photo courtesy of The Bicycle Thief).

When it’s time to eat, go beyond pub grub and opt for more creative fare at Edna (ednarestaurant.com), known for its daily oyster and seafood-forward dining specials as well as a killer weekend brunch, and Chives Canadian Bistro (chives.ca), where the chef’s obsession with regionally sourced Nova Scotia ingredients is celebrated by Haligonians. Sample more local oysters (try Merigomish and Malagash) at Gahan House (halifax.gahan.ca). For Italian cuisine prepared with modern twists, dine at the hip, old-Euro-bistro-feeling La Frasca Cibi & Vini (lafrasca.ca) or The Bicycle Thief (bicyclethief.ca), a busy, boisterous restaurant that captures the energy of this good-times town. — Ann Britton Campbell

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Charlevoix, QC

Charlevoix: There’s a spotlight on this region east of Montréal and Québec City

"Intoxicating like champagne without the next day’s hangover.” This was how US President William Howard Taft described the air of Murray Bay in La Malbaie, a town on the edge of the St. Lawrence River.

Flying over the UNESCO recognized Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve. Photo By Barb Sligl.

Today, La Malbaie looks much like it did a century ago, when Taft and other American luminaries made this village in the Charlevoix region of Québec their summer playground. Stately old mansions still overlook the grand waterway and clapboard cottages dot the shoreline. And this pretty-as-a-postcard place is where Canada is hosting the 2018 G7 Summit, June 8–9 (g7.gc.ca/en/).

The region will be under a bright spotlight as foreign dignitaries and world leaders convene at Le Manoir Richelieu (fairmont.com/Richelieu). The chateau-like hotel (part of the Fairmont chain) is the hotel in the area, and while it won’t be accessible to the public during the G7, this year-round retreat (about 80 km east of Québec City and 380 km from Montréal) is a posh base from which to explore Charlevoix’s “champagne” character.

First, there’s cheese. Ciel de Charlevoix (ah, a blue like the sky), Le Migneron (buttery and hazelnut-like), L’Hercule (strong like its namesake), 1608 (named for the only-here Canadienne cow that dates back to that same year). Agritourism is a big deal here (not only cheese, but beer, cider, wine…all part of the so-called “Flavour Trail of Charlevoix”; routedessaveurs.com). Bon appétit! 

Vignette off the main street in Baie-Saint-Paul. Photo By Barb Sligl.

And then there’s the surprising art scene. Something in the scenery and light has attracted artists since the days of Taft et al. West of La Malbaie is Baie-Saint-Paul, which is said to have the most art galleries per capita in Canada. A stroll down the main street, rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste, takes you past artists’ busts (the Group of Seven were among past painters here), galleries (there’s even a modern-art museum, Musée d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul), gift shops, cafés and charming vignettes like fluttering garments on a clothesline. Just about every corner could be framed. And each fall, the town brings in artists from around the world as part of Rêves d’Automne, a festival of painting (revesdautomne.com).

Le Migneron de Charlevoix; Local wine, Le Charlevoyou. Photo By Barb Sligl.

This is also where the world-famous Cirque du Soleil was hatched, one of the founders of which went on to convert a local monastery into a chic resort hotel that’s now Le Germain Hotel & Spa Charlevoix. At lunch in the hotel’s Restaurant le Bercail it’s all about terroir products: local microbrew (La Vache Folle), wine (Le Charlevoyou) and, of course, cheese (Le Migneron, s’il te plait et merci).

Bike stand, Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault on Isle-aux-Coudres; Tiny roadside chapel on Isle-aux-Coudres. Photo By Barb Sligl.

Then, right outside, take the Train de Charlevoix that skirts the St. Lawrence (some 125 km between Québec City and La Malbaie) to Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, where a ferry crosses the river to Isle-aux-Coudres. The island, with its scenic 23-km circuit, is a popular bike destination. Rent and ride (velocoudres.com), coasting past sweet little chapels and orchards, stopping to refuel for cider at Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault (vergerspedneault.com) and then sugar pie at Boulangerie Bouchard (boulangeriebouchard.com).

Sugarpie; T-shirt at Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. Photo By Barb Sligl.

It’s all bucolic to the Nth degree. This region does, after all, contain a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. La Réserve de la biosphère de Charlevoix, rising from the shores of the St. Lawrence to dramatic gorges and plateaus at 1,150 metres, is best seen by venturing deep within the reserve in Des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie park. It’s as a T-shirt in the park’s gift shop says: La vie en plein air: ma seconde nature. “Outdoor life: my second nature.” Must be that champagne air… — Barb Sligl

More: Check out tourisme-charlevoix.com

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