Buenos Aires, Argentina

Iconic BUENOS AIRES is bueno indeed

On the menu in the colourful ’hood of La Boca. Photo by Janet Gyenes

Every city has its icons. Places, people and landmarks that reveal its history and culture. The heartbeat of Buenos Aires’ porteños (“people of the port” as locals are called) thumps in its tango halls, parrillas and fútbol clubs—a trifecta of romance, indulgence and rivalry. With 48 neighbourhoods or barrios, this metropolis of three million people is alive and electrifying. But I also want to peer into its past.

So I head to the upscale Recoleta barrio and visit the historic Cementerio de la Recoleta. This somnolent city of the dead is home to Argentina’s military heroes and politicians, including Eva “Evita” Perón. It’s surprisingly serene strolling the lanes crowded with 6,000 statues, sarcophagi and crypts. Palms offer shade from the fierce sun. Flowers find footholds in the stone. Cats play hide-and-seek under the wings of angels.

Cementerio de la Recoleta, where famous Argentinians like Eva Perón are buried. Photo by Janet Gyenes

The sheer scale of some of the city’s sights, however, almost overwhelm. Like the 71.5-metre Obelisco de Buenos Aires erected in 1936. I get a peek of its point on a blistering bus ride down 16-lane Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest on the planet) whose name honours Argentina’s Independence Day in 1816. At Parque Thays I watch people smirk and smile at Fernando Botero’s Naked Male Torso, a bronze behemoth. But I’m more mesmerized by the work of Argentinian architect Eduardo Catalano in nearby Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Floralis Genérica is a 23-metre, 18-ton aluminum and stainless-steel flower. Its six outsize petals open daily at 8am, representing “hope reborn” according to Catalano. They close at sunset like a gargantuan Venus flytrap swallowing the sky.

Left to Right: Botero’s Naked Male Torso; The 18-ton Floralis Genérica opens and closes daily. Photo by Janet Gyenes

During a graffiti tour of the working-class barrios La Boca and Barracas I see a woman’s kerchief stencilled on a wall. It’s not just a cute piece of artwork, explains Sorcha O’Higgins from Graffitimundo. The words above it—La Boca no olvida a sus desaparecidos—pack a punch: The Boca does not forget its disappeared. We pass a jumble of corrugated-metal buildings painted in primary colours, pausing at a mural of fists, faces, names, dates and the words Ni olvido ni perdon. Do not forget or forgive. It’s another reference to Argentina’s Dirty War. From 1976–1983 as many as 30,000 people suspected of opposing the military regime were executed or thrown off planes in “death flights” over the Rio Plata. In 1977, 14 mothers of these “disappeared,” wearing kerchiefs with their children’s names embroidered on the back, silently marched in front of the presidential palace on the Plaza de Mayo. That promise has endured. Families of the missing still march there every Thursday at 3:30pm.

Mural in La Boca barrio memorializing Argentina’s “disappeared”. Photo by Janet Gyenes

Kerchiefs and fists aren’t the only symbols on the streets. In recent years “graphic design [collectives] Dome and Fase decided to create happy characters… as a positive visual antidote,” says O’Higgins. Many murals, products of a recent city-funded graffiti fest, are lively and self-referential. Like a multi-storey man painted by an artist who works in a parilla, says O’Higgins. His shirt is unbuttoned to his naval. Gold medallions are splayed across his chest. And his massive hands are curled, not into fists, but around a knife and fork. They’re slicing another symbolic staple: chorizo sausage. It’s a welcome jolt of optimism in this super-charged South American city.  — Janet Gyenes

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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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