New York City, USA

Take to the streets and museums of New York City

The trees are bare, their graphic branches stretching across blue sky and frosty concrete and shiny glass amidst a forest of skyscrapers. New York City in winter has a stark beauty. But its frenetic energy is slightly softened, the constant buzz a bit muffled and every-thing seems to glow. Your breath puffs out in a big cloud as you crunch through Central Park in Manhattan. On the Upper East Side, the swish of ice skates at Wollman Rink mingles with the omnipresent hum of traffic on 5th Avenue. On the other side of the park, a short walk from Columbus Circle, people gather and take selfies at the “Imagine” memorial to John Lennon.

The Lower Manhattan skyline and street art near One World Trade Center. The "Imagine" mosaic memorial to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields on the Upper West Side of Central Park . Photos by Barb Sligl

There’s an introspective quality to the city in winter. Take to the streets and just walk. When it’s time to warm up, duck in to one of its more than 100 museums. On 53rd, the newly expanded MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is a Midtown escape (starting February 9th is an exhibit on renowned photographer, Dorothea Lange).

Brave the chill again and walk west and then south, from Midtown into Chelsea, on the High Line—a 2.3km-long elevated greenway and rail trail—amidst outdoor art and the canopy of that forest of sky-scrapers. At the south end of the High Line, another museum beckons, the recently relocated Whitney Museum of American Art, where you can immerse in the iconic works of artists like Andy Warhol.

RIGHT Looking up at the skylight within the ribbed structure of the Oculus at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Photo by Barb Sligl

From here, it’s a few more blocks to Lower Manhattan. Take the subway to One World Trade Center, where emerging into the station will bring a different kind of chill. Millions of daily commuters pass through its sculptural entryway, called the “Oculus,” which opens up dramatically to the sky. Brilliant white and suffused with light, it’s as if you’re levitating in the space. Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, says of the retractable skylight, “…we are framing a piece of Manhattan’s sky.” Sunlight projects onto the floor in what he calls the “Way of Light,” and at 10:28am on September 11th—coinciding with the time of the second tower’s collapse—it illuminates the central axis of the interior.

Exhibit at The Whitney Museum (left). The exterior of the Oculus by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, meant to reference a dove in flight (right). Photos by Barb Sligl

Outside, perched atop Ground Zero, the steel-and-glass structure takes the form of 350-foot wings—a bird-shaped reference to a dove. It’s sobering but up-lifting—and somehow brightens even the darkest days of winter.—Barb Sligl

[GO] January 21 to February 9 is NYC Restaurant Week, NYC Broadway Week and NYC Must-See Week: three weeks of prix-fixe meals and two-for-one tickets.

More info: nycgo.com

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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

MORE: Check out - choosechicago.com

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New Orleans, Louisiana

NOLA: The Big Easy beckons

Bourbon Street

“Up here! Up here!” Everyone on the balcony was shouting to parade revellers below, arms outstretched to catch beaded necklaces flung up into the air. I wasn’t even there during Mardi Gras, but in New Orleans (also known as NOLA), there’s always a reason to celebrate and on Bourbon Street, there’s always spontaneous bursts of revelry and music.

But unless you’re a university student on break, don’t linger on Bourbon Street. Instead, walk a few blocks over to Frenchmen Street, a decidedly more charming and quintessentially New Orleans experience. This is where I found a poet-for-hire, moodily lit by neon, telling his tale of how he ended up in NOLA with his typewriter. But the live music was calling—a jumble of jazz and hip hop and rockabilly, spilling out onto the street and tempting me in. The Spotted Cat (spottedcatmusicclub.com) and Snug Harbor (snugjazz.com) are favourites among locals.

Char-grilled oysters; The land of crawfish

But my main goal was to eat my way through New Orleans—the best way to explore such a culturally diverse city with regionally specific cuisine. Char-grilled oysters are a staple in this town, introduced over 20 years ago by Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (dragosrestaurant.com). I’m used to the fresh, briny scent of delicate raw oysters, so the smell of garlic, butter and cheese was inconsonant—until the first bite. The rich sauce that bubbles over during grilling to create caramelized, chewy edges works beautifully with the Gulf’s larger, meatier oysters. Equally delicious but far trickier to eat are crawfish. Seafood boils are a tradition in which crawfish comes steamed in a bucket and dumped over paper in a heap on the table in front of you. Forget the cutlery, dig in with your hands. When you face your first boiled crawfish (it’s inevitable), remember this: pinch the tail, twist the head and pop the meat out.

Liuzza’s shrimp po’boy

Try Bevi Seafood Company (beviseafoodco.com) or Schaefer’s Seafood, which has been around for over 40 years. And don’t leave without trying a po’boy (traditionally fried oysters on baguette-like bread). On a hot tip, I ventured outside the French Quarter to Liuzza’s for her famous BBQ shrimp po’boy (liuzzas.com).

Willa Jean’s cookies

After all that seafood, wash it down with a frosé: frozen rosé. While these adult slurpees can be found in most restaurants throughout New Orleans, this sophisticated version is rumoured to have originated at Willa Jean (willajean.com), a contemporary southern-comfort-food eatery specializing in exquisite baked goods. The cornbread and tartines are just about as famous as the frosés. And if that’s not enough, try a beignet, a French take on a fritter, another sweet treat that NOLA’s known for.

Crypts in one of NOLA’s cemeteries; Go-to spot for voodoo souvenirs

The best place to walk off all this food and drink is through one of New Orleans’ hauntingly poignant cemeteries, nicknamed “cities of the dead”. The most famous is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and its most famous vault belonging to the voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, an occult and voodoo practitioner during the mid-1800s. Whether or not she had special gifts, she did hold great power over residents who both feared and respected her. Her influence continues today, evidenced by all the “X”s covering her vault. It’s rumoured that you can invoke her spirit by marking an “X” on the tomb, turning around three times, knocking on the tomb, telling her your wish, then returning later to circle your “X” and leaving Laveau an offering. If that’s too complicated, you can always buy a voodoo doll at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo (voodooneworleans.com) in the French Quarter. Which is what I did. — Catherine Tse

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