Cityscapes: Chicago

Summer 2013 including Chicago 260 200x300 Cityscapes: ChicagoLast summer, Doug came with me to BlogHer and we spent a few days afterward seeing the sights of Chicago. I had the best intentions to write a recap of the trip way back then but life intervened.

This year I am determined to keep the Roadtrip rolling with reports from our stay- and va- cation trips. In my next few posts, I round up some recommendations for things to do in Chicago, New York, San Jose and Philadelphia.

Starting with Chicago.

Get out on the water. The river and the lake. From the river, you are able to see the amazing architectural heritage of Chicago, and the lake…. Well Lake Michigan just needs to be experienced.

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We took the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour on the recommendation of some friends, and it did not disappoint. Buy your tickets in advance; on weekends, the river tours do sell out. No time for a full-on boat tour? Take a water taxi. Shoreline and Chicago Water Taxi both stop at multiple points along the river, so you can get a little river flavor and to where you need to be at the same time.

For your lake experience, it all depends on your tastes. Lots of choices leaving from Navy Pier – dinner cruises, speedboats, tall ships. We chose the Tall Ship Windy I like schooners and part of the schtick of the Windy was a pirate story which I thought Doug would enjoy.

Other important stops on a Chicago tour, especially with a teen boy — The Field Museum and the Willis Tower.

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At Navy Pier, don’t miss the free Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.

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We also wanted to check out the Shedd Aquarium but the lines were super super long by the time we got there so my best advice is to make it your first stop of the day right at opening if a visit with the fishes is tops on your list.

New York Staycation – It’s all happening at the zoo

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Lemurs, Bronx Zoo, July 2014

Living in the tri-state area, we are lucky to be close to many world class tourist attractions. Recently, Doug and I spent the day at one of my favorites, the Bronx Zoo.

Along with the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo is one of my earliest “tourist” memories. When I was in first through third grade, my father was stationed at West Point and I distinctly recall a visit to the zoo with one of his academic advisees and his (the cadet’s) girlfriend. I couldn’t tell you how old I was, and don’t remember much of the visit, but obviously we had a good time since a faint memory of it still rambles around in my brain.

In the intervening, many, years, I have become something of a zoo aficionado. If a city or town I am visiting has a zoo, I try to squeeze in a visit. Small or large, it doesn’t matter. Some people like to walk around a golf course hitting a little white ball. I like to walk around the zoo enjoying animals and learning about the conservation and preservation efforts of the zoo.

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Butterfly Garden Bronx Zoo July 2014

On this trip, we hit most of the exhibits including the seasonal Butterfly Garden and the Asian Monorail, both of which are well worth the additional cost. The best value is to buy the Total Experience ticket, available online, but all the attractions are available a la carte with a general admission ticket purchased at the zoo.

If you only have time for one special exhibit, though, it has to be the Congo Gorilla Forest. It is just about the best view of these magnificent animals most of us will ever get.

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Mama and Baby Bronx Zoo Gorilla Habitat July 2014

Set well in from the main traffic flow of the zoo, the exhibit works so well because it brings you into the gorilla habitat — as though we are in the cage and the gorillas are watching us. Which may not be far from the truth in the end.

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Gorilla Bronx Zoo July 2014

On this visit, we also were lucky enough to witness a lovely moment between a momma and baby sea lion.

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Momma and Baby

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Nose to Nose

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Saying Hi?

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Or maybe

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it’s lunchtime!

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Yum!

The Bronx Zoo is open 10-5 weekdays, 10-5:30 weekends (April 5-November 5). The Zoo is open year round but the hours are a bit shorter in the winter and early spring. If you get an early start you can cover most of the main attractions in a single day, assuming you don’t linger forever.  You can easily extract the full value of the Total Experience ticket. We are members, so we are a little more relaxed about things since we know we will go back 2-3 times over the year.

Food options are decent if a bit pricey, but you can bring your own boxed lunch so no one should go hungry. If you are in the market for souvenirs, the best selection is at the main Bronx Zoo Store in the Dancing Crane Plaza. Unlike most theme parks and yes, zoos, not all exits have a gift shop. We found ourselves wending our way back to the main store to get something Doug really wanted before we left because we had forgotten there was no shop at the Bronx River Gate where we parked. Learn from our mistake!

Walking Tours: South Beach and SOHO

IMG 0766 e1401024597739 225x300 Walking Tours: South Beach and SOHO Walking tours are a great, mostly guilt-free way to get a flavor of a place and its food. Two weeks ago, during BlogHer Food, my colleague Carmen and I took our lunch break on a walking tour of South Beach, and yesterday Douglas and I experienced some of the best chocolate New York’s SOHO neighborhood has to offer.

Here’s the report!

Food Tours of Miami  Four stops. We started with gelato at the meeting point, and then moved to a Haitian restaurant, Tap Tap, followed by a walk down the “main drag” of  South Beach and some excellent examples of Art Deco architecture, a brief stop at a café, and then the pièce de la resistance, French bistro Otentic. The first three stops were truly tastings, but the final stop was more robust, with 3 courses: a charcuterie plate, a very tasty quiche and desserts. No one left hungry!

A highlight of Tap Tap was the wall murals throughout the restaurant. Unfortunately, WordPress is not cooperating with me this morning and I cannot get any of these photos to upload properly, so you’ll have to trust me. If you are in the area, check it out for yourself.

Important: if you have any dietary restrictions, including if you do not drink alcoholic beverages, make sure you let them know in advance. At Tap Tap, one of the tastings was a Mojito, and they weren’t prepared for as many non-drinkers as were on our tour, so a few of us missed out. No big deal really, but easily fixed if you let them know in advance.

Chocolate Walking Tour of New York. Also four stops. We started with iced Aztec chocolate and a signature ganache at MarieBelle on Broome Street.

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Marie Belle

Stop number two, Vosges, featured a Naga Truffle — chocolate, curry and coconut, which was amazingly tasty. We purchased a sampling of small size bars, including bacon, and my favorite, chocolate and chili peppers!

Next up was Kee’s on Thompson Street, where the included sample was a to-die-for Crème Brûlée chocolate. Douglas also tried one of their Blueberry macaroons and I had a Sesame Chili Chocolate.

We wrapped up at Jacques Torres on Hudson at King Street, where we could choose our own flavor of bon bon, and also sampled hot chocolate and their signature chocolate chip cookies. I continued my search for the best combination of spice and chocolate with Wicked Fun:

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Jacques Torres Wicked Fun bon bon

 

Douglas went for a raspberry-filled one, and it was so good, he purchased an additional three to snack on!

I found both tours through Groupon, and the prices we paid were between 1/3 to 1/2 of the advertised price, so I highly recommend checking out the various deal sites and apps  (Groupon, Living Social, Amazon, Viator) before booking.

New York City Day Trip: American Museum of Natural History

350px American Museum of Natural History New York City New York City Day Trip: American Museum of Natural History

Frontview of American Museum of Natural History (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once of our favorite day trips in New York is the American Museum of Natural History, and yesterday was the perfect day for it. The showers and sprinkles throughout the day didn’t bother us in the least.

On yesterday’s itinerary:

  • the new exhibit honoring Theodore Roosevelt. I knew about his role in establishing our national parks, and that he was a staunch conservationist, but had not been aware that he was originally planning to become a natural scientist, and switched to law in college. Other interesting nuggets from the exhibit: Roosevelt’s father was one of the founders of the Museum and there has always been a Roosevelt on the board, to this day.
  • the special exhibit, The Power of Poison, running through August
  • Dark Universe, the new Hayden Planetarium space show narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

We skipped the Butterfly Conservatory this time but we’ve done it in past and it’s a nice breathe of Spring (ends late May) and saved the new exhibit on Pterosaurs (through January 2015) for another time.

Instead, we spent a bit of time in the Hall of North American Mammals on the recommendation of a delightful volunteer who had kindly guided us from Poisons to the Hayden Planetarium theater because we were tight on time and she thought the turns might be a tad confusing. She told us that the Mammals exhibit was recently refurbished — down to the bison getting a blow out – so we thought we’d check it out. We also wandered a bit in the Hall of Asian Peoples.

We wrapped up our day with a jaunt over to the Nintendo Store in Rockefeller Center so Doug could pick out a new game for his birthday, grabbing a pick-me-up at Bouchon on the way, and finished up with dinner at Cafe Un Deux Trois on West 44th.

Here’s a short video from our day. It’s pretty sucktastic, as my iPhone photos weren’t oriented properly for the video format:

Here are some of the photos straight from the phone:

 TIP: Give yourself 90 minutes for the Poisons exhibit. We only had a an hour, so had to skip the live presentation.

 New York City Day Trip: American Museum of Natural History

Roadtrip resumes

It has been more than three years since I last posted on this blog. In that time, I:

  • Started working for BlogHer out of the New York office
  • Moved to Connecticut
  • Got divorced

And even managed a few trips with my son:

I plan to catch up with details on the Chicago trip in an upcoming post as well as share some of our favorite local spots,  in NYC and Fairfield County where we live. The older trips though? Too much time has passed but please enjoy my photo sets on Flickr, linked above.

 Roadtrip resumes