Tag: Historic Sites

Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Top Ten Places to See in Uruguay

Why Uruguay?

I’ve had an interest in Uruguay since my college days, when I represented Uruguay in a model OAS. In doing my research on the small South American country, I discovered it was an often overlooked but quite extraordinary country. Its neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, get all the attention (and tourism), but Uruguay has quite a lot to offer its visitors. Here’s my Uruguay Top Ten list:

1. Montevideo

No visit to Uruguay would be complete without spending some time in its vibrant capital city. Take a stroll along La Rambla, the ten mile promenade that separates the city proper from the sea. While you’re doing that, cross over La Rambla and spend some time enjoying one of the city’s beautiful beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: No visit to Montevideo would be complete without strolling along La Rambla.
Photo of La Rambla & beach in Montevideo via Flickr by Andre S Ribeiro

If history and architecture interest you, go to Plaza Independencia and from there explore the older part of the city. Be sure to look for the old city walls and gate! And for more on Montevideo history – as well as outstanding views over the city – be sure to visit Fortaleza del Cerro a military fortress-turned-museum located at the highest point of the city.

2. Hot Springs Near Salto

The Guaraní Aquifer, one of the largest groundwater reservoirs in the world, is located in northwestern Uruguay near the city of Salto. In Uruguay, this water system has temperatures ranging between 100º and 115°.

As a result of their high mineral content, the hot springs are ideal for relaxing baths and also digestive remedies. The area has capitalized upon this by improving infrastructure and supporting the development of many hot spring resorts.

Uruguay Top Ten: The Hot Springs near Salto make for a relaxing swim.
Photo of Termas del Arapey via Flickr by todo tiempo pasado fue mejor 

After enjoying the water, stroll through Salto, which is the second most populated city in Uruguay. The downtown area is full of historic monuments, shops, interesting architecture, and cafes. Other attractions in Salto include a zoo, a water park, and a riverside walking path.

3. La Mano en la Arena

This literally translates to A Hand in the Sand.  And that’s exactly what it is. Located on the popular Punta del Este beach (see below), it is a sculpture of five fingers emerging from the sand.

Uruguay Top Ten: See the hand in the sand at the popular Punta del Este beach.
Photo of La Mano By CoolcaesarOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal made the sculpture in the summer of 1982. He sought to make a sculpture of a hand “drowning” as a warning to swimmers. In fact, the sculpture is also known as Monumento al Ahogado (Monument to the Drowning Man). The artist made three replicas of the sculpture – one is in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one is in Madrid, and the third is in Venice.

4. Casapueblo

Casapueblo is a sprawling, vivid white estate near Punta del Este. Originally, Casapueblo served as a a summer house and workshop of the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. Today, the building houses a museum, an art gallery, a cafeteria and a hotel.

Uruguay Top Ten: Casapueblo is an artist's former home with a stunningly unique design.
Photo of Casapueblo via Flickr by pviojo

Built of whitewashed cement and stucco, the building may remind you of the architecture seen in Santorini, Greece. The artist said that he drew inspiration from the nest of the Hornero, a South American bird known for building mud nests with chambers inside them. It has thirteen floors with terraces facing the waters of the Atlantic ocean. The construction has a staggered shape that allows better more/views of the ocean.

5. Museo del Gaucho y la Moneda

Two museums sharing a three story rococo mansion in Montevideo – what more could you ask for? The Museo del Gaucho contains exhibits about South America’s version of what we call a cowboy – el gaucho.

Uruguay Top Ten: Be sure to visit the Museo del Gaucho in Montevideo.
Photo of two gauchos via Flickr by Vince Alongi

Here you’ll find items from the gauchos’ everyday life, from traditional garb to the detailed silver work on the cups used for drinking mate. The second museum (la Moneda) deals with coin, and contains many examples of ancient South American and European coins.

6. Mercado del Puerto

I love shopping in Latin American markets, where the selection is vast, the colors are vibrant, and the prices are negotiable.

Uruguay Top Ten: Mercado del Puerto is a must for shopping and steakhouses.
Photo of Mercado del Puerto via Flickr by El Coleccionista de Instantes

At Montevideo’s Mercado del Puerto, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, you will find everything you can imagine – souvenirs, antiques, leather goods, hand crafted items, and of course, delicious meats. Be sure to eat at one of the steak houses there.  You will not be disappointed!

7. Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento is a small city in southwestern Uruguay. Founded in 1680, the town’s historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. As you might expect in a city this old, visitors are able to walk through cobblestone streets to the Plaza Mayor.

Uruguay Top Ten: The City Gate at Colonia del Sacramento, founded in 1680.
Photo of the city gate and wooden drawbridge at Colonia del Sacramento by User:HalloweenHJB, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Many points of interest can be explored from there, including the city gate and wooden drawbridge, lighthouse and convent ruins, two museums, and the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, built in 1808.

8. Punta del Este

Punta del Este is a tremendously popular tourist destination, with over 1 million visitors annually. It has been given several comparative nicknames, including “the Monaco of the South”, “The Pearl of the Atlantic”, “the Hamptons of South America”, and “the St. Tropez of South America.” In addition to the Punta del Este sites on this list (La Mano and Casapueblo), there are a few other attractions worth checking out when you visit.

Uruguay Top Ten: The pirate exhibit at the Museum of the Sea in Punta del Este.
Photo of pirate exhibit at the Museo del Mar in Punta del Este by FedaroOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

One particular attraction that I would recommend is the Museo del Mar (Museum of the Sea), which contains over 5,000 specimens of marine animals, including whale skeletons, sea urchins, starfish and turtle shells. In addition, there are exhibits about beach attire and habits of the early 20th century, navigational tools, and famous pirates.

9. Punta del Diablo

Don’t let the name fool you, Punta del Diablo is a heavenly place to visit! This little village is very popular and growing more so every year. It has a temperate climate (70°-80° in the summer; 50°-60° in the winter), great views of the ocean, and stunning beaches.

Uruguay Top Ten: Punta del Diablo offers visitors wide expanses of beach for recreation.
Photo of the beach at Punto del Diablo via Flickr by Vince Alongi.

In addition to the beaches, where locals and visitors are often seen in the summer gathered around fires playing guitars and singing songs, Punto del Diablo has other points of interest. Parque Nacional Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa National Park) offers 60 km of hiking trails and the potential for a whale sightings along the shore during summer. Another popular attraction is the Centro de Tortugas Marinas (Center for Sea Turtles). It is located near a popular foraging site for sea turtles, the waters off the beaches of Barra del Chuy to Punta del Diablo.

10. Wine Tasting in the Canelones Region

Uruguay’s wine industry began in the 1870s when Tannat was introduced by Basque immigrants. Since then, Tannat has become Uruguay’s signature varietal, producing rich, full-bodied red wines with dark fruit and spice aromas and flavors.

Uruguay Top Ten: Uruguay has many wineries in the Canelones region.

The wine is food friendly and traditionally paired with beef and lamb as well as pastas and strong cheeses. Named for its high tannin content, Tannat has been found to be the healthiest of red wines due to its high antioxidant and resveratrol levels which can aid in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. (See? Wine is good for you!)

There are at least a dozen wineries in this region, all fairly close to each other, so it would be easy to visit several and learn more about the wines produced in this part of South America.

And Just for Fun:

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Uruguay

  1. Uruguay is a socially progressive country. It was the first nation in Latin America to establish a welfare state, the first in the world to provide every child in school with a free laptop and wifi access (2009), and the first in the world to legalize the production, sale and use of marijuana (2013).
  2. Although marijuana is legal in Uruguay, it is illegal for a non-Uruguayan to purchase marijuana there.
  3. In the 2018 Global Peace Index, Uruguay ranked as the 37th safest country in the world – the second highest ranking country in South America.  (By comparison, the USA’s rank is 121 and the UK’s is 57.)
  4. Cows outnumber people in Uruguay by a margin of four to one.
  5. Uruguay is the only county in South America that lies completely outside the tropics.
  6. Uruguay’s national anthem clocks in at over five minutes, making it the longest in the world.
  7. Less than half the population of Uruguay is Catholic, making it the least religious country in South America. Many of the Catholic holidays have different names in Uruguay. Christmas is Family Day, Holy Week (Easter) is called Tourism Week, and so on.
  8. Uruguay was home to the “World’s Poorest President,” José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano. Mujica served as President from 2010 to 2015, and earned the nickname because of his humble way of life. He donated about 90% of his income as President to charity, refused to live in the Presidential Palace, and drove a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
  9. The unofficial national motto of Uruguay dates back to the 19th century and is still repeated today: “Because here nobody is better than anybody else.”
  10. The Rio de la Plata, which forms part of Uruguay’s border with Argentina, is the widest river in the world, with a width of 140 miles at its mouth.
URUGUAY TOP TEN: The ten best destinations in Uruguay that should be on  your bucket list.
Surprise! A Dozen Amazing Things to Do in Baltimore MD

Surprise! A Dozen Amazing Things to Do in Baltimore MD

Things to Do in Baltimore MD

For decades, Baltimore has been seen as the ugly stepsister to Washington DC’s Cinderella. Many people consider it less attractive, less popular, and less interesting, with less to offer tourists. In the mid-1970s, then Mayor William Donald Schaefer wanted to come up with a catchy name or slogan to help improve the city’s image. Advertising executives met to discuss the idea and one of them came up with the following statement:

Baltimore has more history and unspoiled charm tucked away in quiet corners than most American cities out in the spotlight.

From there, the city’s nickname – Charm City – was born. The advertising campaign fizzled out not long after it was started, but the name stuck. Today you will still hear people refer to Baltimore as Charm City. While it might seem like a misnomer, there are dozens of great things to do in Baltimore MD. Here are a few of my favorites.

Catch an Orioles Game (April-September)

Fans of the Baltimore Orioles are a die hard bunch. The team hasn’t won a World Series since 1983, but hope springs eternal in Charm City. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the stadium (Oriole Park at Camden Yards) is one of the most beautiful in the country.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Catch a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Built about 25 years ago, Camden Yards was the first “retro” design stadium. Before that, major league stadiums were symmetrical multi-purpose stadiums used for both baseball and football. Now, roughly two thirds of the major league baseball teams have followed suit, and built retro parks. The great thing about watching a baseball game at Camden Yards is that there really aren’t any bad seats. You’ll have a great view of the action no matter where you are.

Visit Not One, but TWO Free Art Museums

There are two top-notch art museums in Baltimore, and both have free admission.  The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) is home to an internationally renowned collection of art that ranges from ancient Antioch mosaics to cutting-edge contemporary art. The BMA has over 95,000 works of art, including the largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse.

Things to do in Baltimore MD - The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum both have outstanding collections and offer free admission.
The Baltimore Museum of Art features the work of many famous artists, like Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. The Walters has a priceless collection of art from many countries and time periods, including this beautiful Faberge egg.

The collection of works at the Walters Art Museum includes masterworks of ancient Egypt, Greek sculpture and Roman sarcophagi, medieval ivories, illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance bronzes, Old Master European and 19th-century paintings, Chinese ceramics and bronzes, Art Deco jewelry (including Tiffany & Lalique), and ancient Near East, Mesopotamian, or ancient Middle East items.

Mt Vernon Neighborhood

While at the Walters, spend some time exploring the neighborhood outside, which is known as Mt Vernon. Designated a National Historic Landmark District and a city Cultural District, it is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and originally was home to Baltimore’s most wealthy and fashionable families.

Architecture enthusiasts in particular will enjoy strolling through the area. It’s not uncommon to find houses that date back a century or even two. Mount Vernon boasts examples of many different types of period architecture: Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Chateau, Renaissance Revival, Beaux-Arts and Classical Revival.

The Washington Monument – Yes, in Baltimore!

While you’re walking around Mt Vernon, check out the original Washington Monument, which is the first U.S. heroic and civic monument dedicated to George Washington. It predates the one in Washington DC by over 30 years.

Things to do in Baltimore MD - visit the original Washington Monument, built 30+ years before the one in DC

You can climb the Monument’s 227 marble steps for a great view of the city. Open Wed.-Sun. The Monument’s gallery with interactive exhibits is free; the climb to the top $6 for adults, $4 for children.

Peabody Library

Also in the Mt Vernon area, the George Peabody Library is a must see for bibliophiles. The library’s collection dates from the founding of the Peabody Institute in 1857. In that year, George Peabody, a Massachusetts-born philanthropist, dedicated the Peabody Institute to the citizens of Baltimore in appreciation of their “kindness and hospitality.”

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - the gorgeous George Peabody Library.

The library contains five floors of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically to the skylight 61 feet above the floor. It houses 300,000 volumes, mainly from the 19th century, with strengths in religion, British art, architecture, topography and history; American history, biography, and literature; Romance languages and literature; history of science; and geography, exploration, and travel.

It’s such a beautiful building that it also serves as a venue for weddings and private events.

Eat in Little Italy

Baltimore’s Little Italy is an old quaint Italian neighborhood in Baltimore City that has survived and thrived for several generations. Its original residents emigrated from Italy from the mid-1800s into the early 1900s. By 1920 the neighborhood was 100% Italian. It boasts century-old row homes, family-run restaurants, bocce courts, cultural learning center, Sons of Italy lodge, and much more. Lovingly nicknamed ‘The Neighborhood,’ Little Italy is a tight-knit Italian community that today includes residents of other ethnic backgrounds as well. Have dinner at a great restaurant like Amicci’s, but don’t get too full.  You’ll want to be sure to stop by Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop for dessert!

Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry was the focus of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Over a 27 hour period, the British fired 1,500 to 1,800 cannonballs at the fort. What’s worse, they did so from just outside the range of the fort’s cannons, so they could not be bombarded in return.

On the morning of September 14, 1814, the regular flag at Fort McHenry was replaced with a larger flag, signaling American victory over the British. The sight inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Later, the poem was set to music and become known as the “Star Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem.

Every September, the City of Baltimore celebrates Defenders Day in honor of the Battle of Baltimore. It is the biggest celebration of the year at the Fort, with programs, events, and spectacular fireworks. But Fort McHenry is worth visiting at any time of year for its historical reenactments, exhibits about the War of 1812, and more.

The Inner Harbor

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a hub of activity. In just a few city blocks, you can unearth dinosaurs at the Maryland Science Center, get a history lesson at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, pay respects to pop culture at Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, or submerge yourself in exotic sea life at the National Aquarium. Other attractions include the American Visionary Art Museum, the Babe Ruth Museum, and the Port Discovery Children’s Museum.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - The Inner Harbor is full of unique and interesting opportunities for visitors to Charm City.

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has loads of restaurants, pubs, hotels and shops. The Water Taxi will take you from the harbor to surrounding neighborhoods, and the free Charm City Circulator provides daily bus service through several downtown routes.

Visit the National Aquarium

The National Aquarium was the crowning achievement in Baltimore’s urban renewal during the 1980s. Today, some thirty-five or so years later, it still is a favorite attraction for crowds of all ages. The National Aquarium houses several exhibits including the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, a multiple-story Atlantic Coral Reef, an open ocean shark tank, and Australia: Wild Extremes, which won the “Best Exhibit” award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2008.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - check out the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor for a full day of fun.

The aquarium also has a 4D Immersion Theater and a marine mammal pavilion, which holds seven Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

The National Aquarium has timed admission, so it’s wise to purchase your tickets in advance rather than at the door.

Maryland Science Center

Located not too far from the Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center was another establishment that brought tourism to the Inner Harbor area. It includes three levels of exhibits, a planetarium, an IMAX theater, and an observatory. Definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling with school aged children.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - the Maryland Science Center is a must-see for families with school age children.

The modernized hands-on exhibits include more than two dozen dinosaur skeletons, as well as physical science, space, Earth science, the human body, and blue crabs, which are native to the Chesapeake Bay.

And Speaking of Crabs…

No list of things to do in Baltimore (or most of Maryland, truth be told) would be complete without the mention of steamed blue crabs. Served with generous helpings of Old Bay seasoning, this crustacean is a tasty treat. Pick your own or, if you prefer to keep your hands clean, order a delicious crab cake. If you go to Baltimore and don’t eat crabs, that’s akin to visiting Chicago and not eating deep dish pizza, or going to Philadelphia and not getting a cheese steak. ‘Nuff said.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD - Local cuisine features steamed crabs with Old Bay seasoning

So, when traveling in the mid-Atlantic region, don’t overlook Charm City. It’s a great destination!

Things to Do in Baltimore MD on Travelasmuch.com
Why Viking World Needs to Be Your First Stop After a 5 AM Arrival in Iceland

Why Viking World Needs to Be Your First Stop After a 5 AM Arrival in Iceland

I Get in at What Time?

If you are flying to Iceland from the United States or Canada, the chances are overwhelmingly good that you will arrive at Keflavik Airport sometime between the hours of 5 and 7 AM. The chances are equally good that after getting through immigration, baggage claim, and picking up your rental car, you will be wondering what to do after an early morning arrival in Iceland.

Check in time at your hotel/hostel/airbnb won’t be for another six hours or so. To complicate matters, most stores and attractions won’t be open for at least two to three hours. So what can you do? You’ve just landed in a foreign country but you can’t go anywhere or see anything because everything is closed. To make matters worse, it’s still dark outside and your body thinks it’s the middle of the night.

A Stroke of Genius

Fortunately, someone had the brilliant idea to build a museum fairly close to the airport, have it open at 7 AM every day, and serve a breakfast buffet with admission. Viking World Museum (Vikingaheimar in Icelandic), absolutely should be your first stop in Iceland.

When we picked up our rental car, we asked the clerk about the museum. He told us that it wouldn’t be open until 9:00 am at the earliest. The web site said 7:00 am, though, so we decided to take a chance and at least drive by it because we had nothing if not time to kill.

Getting to the museum from the airport only took about ten minutes. When we arrived, we noted that the lights were on and it did, in fact, appear to be open. So in we went, bleary eyed and not sure what to expect. Admission to the museum is 1500 ISK, which is in the ballpark of $15 per person. The breakfast buffet, which includes the museum exhibits, is 1800 ISK, just $3 more per person.  It’s probably the only place in Iceland where you can get a meal for $3.

UPDATE 4/30/18: The price for breakfast + museum admission, according to Viking World’s website, is now 2000 ISK, about $20 per adult.

It was an impressive spread, too, with scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, toast, sausage, pastries, fish in two types of sauce, fruit, jellies, biscuits, and probably some other things that I can’t remember. We took our time eating and when we’d had our fill, we proceeded into the museum exhibits.

The Exhibits

The first floor exhibits told the story of how Vikings expanded across the North Atlantic Ocean and settled in Iceland. The expansion began around 800 AD and lasted about 200 years. There were archaeological finds and reproductions. One of the most interesting to me was the burial boat of a Viking chieftain.

The burial boat of a Viking chieftain at Viking World Museum in Iceland.

In the Viking culture, it was customary to provide the dead with objects that they might need in the afterlife – men with tools and weapons, women with jewelry and utensils. Placing the bodies of the dead, along with these items, in an actual boat implies a belief that the dead journeyed to the next life.

The sample burial boat shown above held a plaster figure of a man, with a shield, furs, a drinking vessel, antlers, and other animal bones.

Just beyond the burial boat, there was a collection of figures known as tupilaks. These menacing figures, carved from bones or antlers, functioned as sort of Viking voodoo dolls.  Shaman chanted over the tupilaks to give them life, then put them into the sea to find and kill their intended victims. However, if the victim had his own witchcraft skills, he could send the tupilak back to kill its maker. Here are a few of the specimens on display:

tupilaks at Viking World Museum - what to do after early morning arrival in Iceland.

Tupilak carved figure at Viking World Museum - what to do after an early morning arrival in Iceland.

From there, we went into a room that was showing a documentary about the Viking settlement of Iceland and Greenland. My poor daughter was suffering badly from jet lag, and she fell asleep almost as soon as we sat down. We decided to stay put for a while and let her rest.  I’m not a big fan of watching movies when you travel, but this one was exceptionally well done and informative.

Up and Away

When we decided to move on, we headed up to the second floor of the museum, where we were able to walk on board the huge Viking longboat that dominates the museum’s interior.

Okay, so you know by the name longboat that it’s going to be, well, long.  But until you’re actually standing on it, you can’t fully appreciate just how big this type of boat really was.

Viking World Museum’s ship Íslendingur (which means The Icelander) is an exact replica of an ship excavated from a burial mound in Norway in 1882. That ship dated to A.D. 870, the time of the settlement of Iceland. It is likely that the settlers of Iceland sailed ships similar to the this one, with crews of about 70 men to power its 32 oars.

This ship isn’t just a pretty replica, however. It’s a seaworthy vessel that sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 2000. It made the journey to commemorate Leif Eriksson’s trans-Atlantic voyage one thousand years earlier.

Viking World Museum longboat  Íslendingur - what to do after an early morning arrival in Iceland.
The length of  Íslendingur

 

Viking World Museum - what to do after an early morning arrival in Iceland.
Local students made the shields on the sides of Íslendingur. In Viking times, shields were used not just for defense, but also protection from the elements while rowing.
After exploring the massive ship, we moved on to the Fate of the Gods exhibit, an artistic expression of Norse mythology. These were very colorful figures arranged in dramatic ways to evoke the suspense and emotion of tales from Norse mythology.
Viking World Museum exhibit on Norse mythology - what to do after an early morning arrival in Iceland.
Odin and his ravens, Huginn and Muninn, in the Fate of the Gods exhibit.

 

Norse mythology exhibit at Viking World Museum - what to do after an early morning arrival in Iceland.
Thor defeats the Midgard serpent.

When we exited Fate of the Gods, it was about 9:00 AM and the sky was just starting to lighten. The huge window located in front of the longboat provided us with a lovely view of the harbor outside.

View of the harbor from Viking World Museum - what to do after an early morning arrival in Iceland

So, if you’re getting into Iceland in the pre-dawn hours, I really recommend stopping by the Viking World Museum for breakfast and a little history. It will be an enjoyable way to kill a few hours and acclimate to your new surroundings.

Wondering what to do after an early morning arrival in iceland? Check out Viking World Museum, which opens at 7 AM every day.
The Chicago Tribune Tower – Not Just Another Skyscraper

The Chicago Tribune Tower – Not Just Another Skyscraper

A Windy City Giant

It’s impossible to talk about a trip to Chicago and not talk about the architecture there. But while some, like the Willis Tower and the John Hancock building, get all the glory, others are just as interesting but somewhat overlooked. Take, for instance, the Chicago Tribune Tower.

One of the entrances to the Chicago Tribune Tower.

It is a neo-Gothic skyscraper, magnificent in its ornate design. It stands out among all the chrome and glass  modern buildings like a palace of American media. And perhaps it should, because the Chicago Tribune has been delivering news to the Windy City since 1847!

Its original building was erected in 1868 but was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire just three years later. In 1922, for their 75th anniversary, the Tribune held a competition for the design of a new headquarters building. New York architects Raymond Hood and John Meade Howells submitted the winning design. To commemorate them, the building includes carved images of Robin Hood (for Hood) and a howling dog (for Howells) near the main entrance.

The building opened in 1925, but its story doesn’t begin there.

The cornerstone of the Chicago Tribune Tower.

It’s All in the Details

Prior to the building of the Tribune Tower, correspondents for the Chicago Tribune brought back rocks and bricks from a variety of historically important sites throughout the world. They did this at the request of the Tribune’s owner and publisher, Colonel Robert R. McCormick. And they did so exceedingly well! That “rock collection” was incorporated into the walls of the new building.  If you give the building more than a passing glance, you will see stones from some formidable sites. For instance, Westminster Abbey:

A fragment of Westminster Abbey, now part of the Chicago Tribune Tower.
As well as the Alamo, Comiskey Park, and Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway.

Fragments of the Alamo, Comiskey Park, and Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim Norway - these are now part of the Chicago Tribune Tower.

How about the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal, plus Luther’s Wartburg castle in Eisenach, Germany?

Fragments of the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and Luther's Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany - these are all now part of the Chicago Tribune Tower.

Other stones included in the wall include pieces of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, the Parthenon of Greece, Hagia Sophia, Corregidor Island, Palace of Westminster, petrified wood from the Redwood National and State Parks, the Great Pyramid, Notre Dame de Paris, Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb, Independence Hall, Fort Santiago, Angkor Wat, the Berlin Wall, Harvard University, Edinburgh Castle, Ta Prohm, Wawel Castle (given a special spot of honor near the main entrance as a tribute to Chicago’s large Polish population), Banteay Srei, and even Rouen Cathedral’s Butter Tower, which inspired the Gothic design of the building.

But the fragments named above are just a few of them. The building includes a mind-boggling total of 149 pieces of historical landmarks! In more recent years, a piece of steel recovered from the World Trade Center in New York City has been added to the wall.

Spend some time looking around this magnificent building and see how many fragments of other structures you can spot… or just enjoy the Gothic revival architecture. You’ll be glad you did, because it’s one of those places where the more you look, the more you will find to fascinate and intrigue you.

An ornately carved entrance to the Chicago Tribune Tower.

Chicago Tribune Tower at Travelasmuch.com

Be sure to follow me on Instagram to see more pictures not included with this post!

Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

A Weekend in Canterbury

Made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales over 600 years ago, this Kentish town is still thriving and has plenty to offer weekend visitors. Just two hours away from London, it makes the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to a Bollywood style dance class, a weekend in Canterbury has something for everyone to enjoy.

How to spend a weekend in Canterbury Kent, England.

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle – Chicago, Illinois

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle – Chicago, Illinois

A History Geek’s Dream, In Miniature

When I was a young girl, my mom and I had a dollhouse that we worked on together. I used to love creating a little world for the family that “lived” there. As I grew up, I pushed aside that little girl pursuit and became interested in the typical teenage things – boys, fashion, and music. Miniatures were a thing that belonged in my past. It just didn’t interest me any more.

But when I found a dusty old book about a fairy tale dollhouse castle at a yard sale several years ago, my interest was rekindled. I had only ever seen doll houses, but this was a doll castle. First I was intrigued. Then, gradually, as years passed without ever going to see it in person, my interest morphed into fascination, which grew to become a slight obsession. To those of you who are regular readers, it should be no surprise that I am fascinated with miniatures. After all, I’ve written about them here, here, and here. And I absolutely love castles, so this was the ultimate dollhouse as far as I was concerned!

So when it came time to plan a little trip for my birthday weekend, I knew just where I wanted to go: Chicago.  The Windy City has a lot to offer visitors, but for miniatures enthusiasts, it is of special interest as it is home to both the Thorne Miniature Rooms and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle.

The Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

Colleen Moore created the castle with the help of her father in 1928. It measures nine square feet and the tallest point of it is 12 feet high. But it’s not just any dollhouse, and Colleen Moore was not just any woman.

Colleen Moore was a silent film star in the 1920s. She was considered one of the most fashionable stars of that era, a trendsetter credited with making the bobbed haircut popular among American women. She was also a savvy investor who became a partner in the Merrill Lynch firm and wrote a book about investing in the stock market.

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle has been on display at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago since 1949. In all honesty, it seems a bit out of place there. MSI is essentially a science museum, with exhibits on robots, optical illusions, physics, energy, and so on. Yet tucked away in an alcove adjacent to the (Brain) Food Court you’ll see this wall:

Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle - Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago.

Just opposite the sign is the semi-dark room that holds Colleen Moore’s masterpiece.  The castle is encased in glass on an elevated platform. A recorded announcement with details of the castle and its furnishings plays above visitors’ heads as they peer inside. Every time I went around the castle I saw or heard something new, so I would go again. I think I circled it at least four times.

The Courtyard

Upon entering the room, the first part of the castle that you will see is the courtyard.

Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle - the Courtyard.

The large tree just beyond the gates is a weeping willow. Ms Moore decided to depict the tree quite literally, with teardrops on its branches. To the left of that is a silver horse and carriage set for Cinderella, and to the right of the gate… do you see that fuzzy pink thing? Well, it’s a cradle, of course! As in “Rock-a-bye Baby, in the Treetop.” The tree was motorized and it rocked from side to side, making the cradle sway.

Also, you can’t see it in this photo, but the castle’s cornerstone is gold instead of gray.  It was laid by Sara Roosevelt, the mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Moving along to the right, the end of the building features a series of pictures depicting scenes from Aesop’s Fables, including “The Fox and the Grapes” and “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”

Aesop's Fables depicted in the artwork on Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle.

The Library

Turning the corner, we came upon the library. More than 100 books rest on the shelves in this room, and they are all real. Many of them are handwritten by prominent authors. The library was decorated with a nautical theme – bright blue paint, murals of ships at sea, furniture with shell motifs, and so on. It was meant to evoke a sense of adventure as depicted in the stories of Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver, Captain Kidd and other adventurers. The bookcase didn’t dominate the room. In fact, it’s so far off to the right in the photo below it isn’t even visible.  It was hard to tell that it was supposed to be a library (the bibliophile complained), but nonetheless fun to look at.

The library in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

So many details! A secondary theme was astronomy. The pillows are shaped like stars and moons, the dome of the ceiling looks like the night sky.  The wood floor had an astrological design inlaid in its center.

A little further down, a cubbyhole room on the second floor was the treasure room of Aladdin. I tried to take a picture, but it didn’t turn out well enough to share.

The Chapel

Then we came upon the Chapel, which has stained glass windows of Bible stories and a gold altar. On the prayer bench in front of the altar is a small Bible printed in 1840. It is the smallest Bible in the world, and is printed from real type.

Here are some shots I took of the Chapel and its furnishings.

The Chapel in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle.

The Chapel Altar in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle.

As you move on to the next room, you can look back at the chapel through a long window (above) and see the altar and tabernacle. On top of the tabernacle is a beautiful golden sunburst, in the center of which is a glass container holding a sliver of the true cross. This was given to Colleen by her friend, Clare Booth Luce, who was Ambassador to Italy. Luce received the relic when she had her first audience with the Pope.

The Great Hall

From there, we turned the corner again and found ourselves gazing at the great hall, the largest room in the dollhouse. It has an etched ivory floor, and a ceiling painted with figures from the classic Brothers Grimm tales.

The Great Hall of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, on display at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

The Great Hall contains several items of interest.  For instance, two ancient statues of the goddess Isis – one of lapis lazuli, the other of green glaze. There is also a pair of hollow 1/4 inch glass slippers to fit a 5-inch Cinderella.  Under a glass dome, the tiny chairs of Goldilocks’ three bears sit on the heads of pins—the largest weighing only 1/150,000th of an ounce! On either side of the arched doorway leading to the courtyard, there is a silver knight in full armor. These figures came from the collection of iconic early film star Rudolph Valentino.

The exterior of the great hall features three figures – a female in plain dress, a male noble, and an older rich woman. They are Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the Evil Stepmother. The figure above them, arms outspread, is the good fairy welcoming you to Fairy Land.

Cinderella figures outside the Great Hall of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

The Drawing Room

As we rounded the last corner, we came upon the drawing room.

The Drawing Room of Colleen Moore's Fair Tale Dollhouse Castle.

This room is full of silver furniture and miniature musical ornaments. The wall features a mural of the Cinderella story. Another Cinderella scene, featutring her pumpkin/carriage, is located inside of the rosewood piano. The floor, made in China as a custom order for Moore, is rose quartz banded in jade. The vases at each side of the door going into the great hall are made of carved amber more than 500 years old.

The Prince’s Bedroom & Bathroom

Above the drawing room is the Prince’s bedroom.  Unfortunately, I did not get any good photos of this room. There was a white bearskin rug on the floor, which Moore had a taxidermist make from ermine skin and mouse teeth.

The Prince's Bathroom in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, Chicago

Next to the bedroom was a small bathroom. Small, but no less elegant than the rest of the castle! Mostly alabaster, the room included a gold, jewel encrusted mirror over the shell-like wash basin. The gold Japanese chest is approximately 500 years old.

The Dining Room

Back on the lower level, next to the drawing room, we see the dining room, which reminds us that we are looking at a fairy tale dollhouse castle, not just an ordinary dollhouse. A semi-round table with throne-like chairs dominates the center. Gold plates and tiny knives and forks, also gold, are set out, awaiting guests. The glasses are crystal—and most of them are more than a hundred years old!

The Dining Room of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle in Chicago

Five needlepoint “tapestries” in the Dining Room (in the shadows of this pic, unfortunately) depict Arthurian legends’ Knights of the Round Table. A master needleworker in Vienna created them especially for the fairy tale dollhouse castle. It is almost impossible to distinguish the stitches without the aid of a magnifying glass.

The Kitchen

Next to the Dining Room, of course, was the kitchen.

The kitchen of Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle in Chicago

The kitchen is where fairy tales reign. Over the door are the three Little Pigs, and to the right, Jack and Jill are tumbling down the hill. The copper stove reminds visitors of the stove in which the wicked witch locked Hansel and Gretel. The oven contains the pie baked with four and twenty blackbirds. The Royal Doulton dinner service on the table is identical to the set made for Queen Mary’s doll house at Windsor Castle.

The Princess’ Bedroom & Bathroom

Back upstairs, above the dining room is the bedroom of the Fairy Princess.

Bedroom of the Princess in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, Chicago

The bed represents the bed that Sleeping Beauty slept in. The bedspread features a gold spider web that covered her for 100 years as she waited for Prince Charming. The two chandeliers have light bulbs the size of wheat grains… and they actually work!  Chairs in the Princess’ Bedroom are platinum with cloisonne seats and backs made from diamond and emerald clips. They were stunning!

Platinum jeweled chairs in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle

The Princess’ bathroom was just as grand.

The Princess' Bathroom in Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle, Chicago.

Oddly, the most interesting thing I saw in the exhibit was a miniature book:

Thorne Rooms Book at Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle in Chicago.

It turns out that Colleen Moore was a friend of Narcissa Niblack Thorne, who created miniature rooms around the same time. Visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago can see 68 of the Thorne Rooms. (For my review of the Thorne Miniature Rooms, click here.)

If you enjoy seeing the world in miniature, Chicago is an absolute must, as host city to both the Thorne Rooms and the Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle. Be sure to follow me on Instagram for more detailed photos of the castle that are not included in this post!

Colleen Moore's Fairy Tale Dollhouse Castle
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Why You Should Visit the Empire State Building the Next Time You’re in NYC

Why You Should Visit the Empire State Building the Next Time You’re in NYC

The Empire State Building: A History

There are many places in New York City that will provide you with a bird’s eye view of the Big Apple. None, however, is as iconic or has as rich a history as the Empire State Building.

Empire State Building History - Why you need to visit this iconic landmark.

For starters, it’s very tall. For the first 40 years or so of its existence, it was the tallest building in the world. By the numbers: it has 102 stories, 6500 windows, 1860 steps, and 72 elevators. The building measures 1250 feet, and is 1454 feet tall if you include its antenna. The building is so big that it has its own zip code! (It’s 10118, if you want to fact check me.)

Today, 34 buildings are taller than the Empire State Building, but it is still in the top five for the USA.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the building was erected in 1931. Its architectural firm produced the building drawings in just two weeks. The firm used its earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati as a basis to work from when designing the Empire State. Don’t assume for a moment, however, that the designs were even close to being identical.

The Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem has only 21 floors.

Empire State Building History: The Empire State Building was preceded by the RJ Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, NC, which has just 21 floors.
The RJ Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo via Flickr by Paul Sableman.)

The Carew Tower in Cincinnati has 49 floors.

Empire State Building History: The Empire State Building was preceded by the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, which is less than half its height.
Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo via Flicker by Hannaford.)

Every year the staff of the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the staff at the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, paying homage to its role as predecessor to the Empire State Building.

Bad Timing

It took 3,400 people 410 days to build the Empire State Building, beginning in January 1930. On average, they complete one floor per day.

On May 1, 1931, President Herbert Hoover turned on the building’s lights with the push of a button from Washington, D.C. and it was officially open. Unfortunately, the opening coincided with the United States’ descent into the Great Depression. In that economic climate, there was not much of a demand for office space. With so many vacant spaces in the giant building, it earned the nickname Empty State Building.

Fortunately for the owners, the observation deck provided financial compensation for the lack of rental income. The first year, visitors to the observation deck spent $2 million to get a great view of the city, almost the same amount of income received in rent payments. The building did not make a profit, however, until the early 1950s.

Empire State Building History: The building opened just as America sank into the Great Depression. If it weren't for the observation deck, it would have been a huge financial loss.
Photo via Flickr by Johannes Martin

Notable Moments

The building first appeared on the silver screen in 1933’s King Kong movie. Since that time, it has been a featured location in more than 250 other movies.

In 1945, a B-25 bomber hit the north side of the Empire State Building between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine shot through the side and traveled a block away, while the other engine and landing gear went down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people were killed in the incident, but the building was not severely damaged or structurally compromised.

Just prior to Christmas in 1931 – less than eight months after the building’s opening – NBC and RCA began transmitting experimental television broadcasts from the Empire State Building. Today, there are 12 television stations and 19 radio stations transmitting from the site.

The Empire State Building is located at 350 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  For exceptional views of teh city, visitors can go to either the open-air main deck on the 86th floor or the enclosed top deck on the 102nd floor. Main deck tickets start at $36 per adult.  Top deck tickets, which include the main deck, start at $56 per adult.

Empire State Building History & Architecture at their finest
Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco

Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco

Tour the Catacombs of Lima?

The Monastery of San Fransisco (AKA Convento/Monasterio de San Francisco or the Monastery of Saint Francis) has some delightfully creepy yet somehow artistic catacombs sitting beneath it. For those who like to do something a little offbeat and unusual, maybe even macabre, a tour of the catacombs of Lima is just the ticket! But before I tell you about what you’ll see there, I’d like you to experience it the way we did.

The Site

The Monastery of San Francisco is just a block or so away from Lima’s Plaza Mayor, the Cathedral of Lima, and the Archbishop’s Palace. As such, it is part of the “Historic Centre of Lima,” which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. The monastery and church are yellow buildings that stand out against the grays and browns of the others in the area. Construction began in the middle of the sixteenth century and was completed in 1674. It’s considered to be a fine example of Spanish Baroque architecture.

Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of Saint Francis.

There is usually a small horde of pigeons in the building’s courtyard, and a few vendors selling (among other things) food to feed the pigeons.

We entered the monastery (the building to the side of the church), paid for a tour, and waited for an English-speaking guide.

The Library

After a brief introduction, our guide led us out and up a flight of stairs. I wish I could have taken a photo of the stairway, or rather the ceiling above it. It was a beautiful deep red color and looked more Middle Eastern than Spanish or South American. Before I had a chance to ponder it, however, we moved into the first room: the library. I was awestruck, and I think you can see why;

Tour the catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of Saint Francis, but don't be in such a rush to see them that you fail to appreciate what you see along the way... like this gorgeous library.

Our guide told us that the library contains over 25,000 books, and that some of them dated as far back as the 14th century. The world-renowned library contains the first Spanish dictionary published by the Royal Spanish Academy as well as a Bible dated 1572.

The Art

As with the Cathedral of Cusco, there was a massive Last Supper painting that depicted Jesus and his disciples partaking of Peruvian foods such as cuy (guinea pig) and potatoes. Unlike the one in Cusco, this one included the Devil himself… perched just above Judas’ shoulder. The guide told us how many faces there were in the painting… and while I can’t remember what that number was, it was a lot more than just the 13 men at the table. Looking at the painting more closely, I could see many additional faces – some no more than just a hint of a heavenly presence gazing upon the scene below.

As we walked along the cloister (the covered walkway between the building and the courtyard), we saw beautiful tiles lining the wall:

Tour the catacombs of Lima at the monastery of San Francisco , but make sure you take in all of the other fascinating art & architecture there as well, like these beautiful tiled walls.

One tile bore the date 1620! To think that those tiles have survived nearly 500 years is just mind-boggling. Even more so when you consider that the building experienced three major earthquakes – in 1687, 1746, and 1970. Interestingly, the first two did very little damage.  It was the earthquake of 1970 that inflicted severe damage on the site. And the tiles were not the only art to decorate the cloister – above the tiles you could see the life of Saint Francis of Assisi (“San Francisco” in Spanish) portrayed in a series of murals.

The Courtyard

The inner courtyard of the monastery was quite beautiful, particularly when viewed from the upper floor:

Tour the Catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco... then step out into the beautiful courtyard for a breath of fresh air.

We enjoyed looking out at the courtyard so much that we lingered there for a few moments at the end of the guided tour, just so we could take it all in.

The building itself was pretty impressive from that vantage point as well.

The Spanish baroque style Monastery of San Francisco allows you to tour the catacombs of Lima.

The Catacombs

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the creepy, crusty, dirty, dusty catacombs!  Actually they weren’t all that dirty but they were bit creepy.

In centuries past, it was customary to bury people under churches. This was commonplace until 1808, when the cemetery of Lima opened. At that time, practices changed and the catacombs were closed, after accepting somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 bodies. The catacombs stayed undisturbed until their rediscovery in 1943. When that happened, archaeologists and anthropologists decided to sort through the skeletons. (I’m not clear on why they thought that was necessary.) Apparently whoever was in charge of sorting had a really bad case of OCD.  Instead of keeping the bodies semi-intact, they put all the skulls together, all the femurs together, all the tibias together, and so on. So we passed bin after bin of bones that were not a person, but rather parts of more than one person. It was weird.

But it seemed to be slightly less weird when we got to the well. That was where the bones were not just sorted into bins but rather artistically arranged in to a geometric design.

Tour the catacombs of Lima at the Monastery of San Francisco and you will see this artistic display of bones.

I don’t think I would have the nerve to do all that, honestly. Rumor has it that the catacombs also included secret passageways connecting to the Cathedral and to the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition.

If you’re in Lima and you want to see a really amazing, kinda creepy place, look no farther than the Monastery of San Francisco. It only costs about $3 for a tour, and it will be a fascinating one!

The Monastery of San Francisco in Lima has more to delight visitors than the creepy catacombs. It's on the top ten list of places to see in Lima, Peru!
(Sears) Willis Tower Skydeck – Chicago from Above

(Sears) Willis Tower Skydeck – Chicago from Above

The Pressure:

If you tell someone you’re going to Chicago, the chances are very good that they will ask if you’re going to do one of the skyscraper attractions. Apparently, it’s a must-do.

The Choices:

There are two popular places get a bird’s eye view of Chicago. One is at the Willis Tower, formerly known – and still commonly referred to – as the Sears Tower. The other is 360 Chicago, which was formerly known as John Hancock Observatory.

The Willis Tower Skydeck is on the 103rd floor of what was at one time the world’s tallest building. At 1353 feet from the ground, it offers great views of Lake Michigan, the Buckingham Fountain, and downtown Chicago.

Its unique feature is The Ledge, a 4-foot plexiglass extension that allows you to walk out of the building and feel as if you are suspended in mid-air over the streets of Chicago. Admission to the Skydeck is $23 per adult whether you walk out onto the Ledge or not. It is handicapped accessible.

sears willis tower skydeck chicago ledge
Image via Flickr by somegeekintn

360 Chicago, on the other hand, is slightly lower. It’s on the 94th floor of the John Hancock building, about 1000 feet up from Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” on Michigan Avenue. Its unique feature is called Tilt. You walk up to a window panel, grab a rail on either side, and the window will tilt outward, up to a 30 degree angle. So briefly, it may feel like you’re falling face first onto the street, 1000 feet below. (And if you don’t maintain a good grip on those rails, you might bump your nose on the window.)

Admission to 360 Chicago is $18.45 for adults, with an additional $6.30 if you want to do Tilt ($24.75 total). The observation deck is handicapped accessible, but Tilt is not.

The Skepticism:

I honestly had no intention of paying good money to go to the top of a building in Chicago. I have been to the Top of the Rock in NYC, after all, and it really couldn’t be all that much different. Plus it’s so dang expensive, and for what? Just to take a few photos? Besides, neither the Ledge nor Tilt appealed to me at all – I can get really squeamish about heights.

The Change of Heart:

On our second full day in Chicago, we caught an Uber after lunch and spent a lot of time talking to the driver, who gave us a lot of great tips. He said something along the lines of, “Well, you have to go to the top of the Sears Tower!” It was late afternoon and soon, the sun would be starting its descent. Ah, the golden hour – that magical time when even otherwise mediocre photos look glorious. Suddenly, I was sold on the idea. To the Willis Tower we went!

The Lines:

When you enter the Skydeck entrance, staff members usher you into an elevator that takes you to the Skydeck queuing area. If you paid almost double for a Fastpass trip to the top, you’ll go through an opening in the wall and, presumably, straight up to the top.  I did not do that – and in fact NEVER do the whole “pay more to skip the line” scheme – because I am cheap.

However, I will tell you that I regretted not splurging for the Fastpass. The lines, snaking through a windowless basement, seemed to last forever. And of course their were restless children who’d had quite enough sightseeing for one day, visitors who perhaps forgot to put on deodorant that morning, and strollers accidentally bumping into your heels while you waited. The extra $26, even an extra $78 for the three of us, began to seem like not such a bad deal after all.

The queuing area contained lots of interesting factoids about the building. For instance, there are 25,000 miles of plumbing in the building. It takes only about a minute to reach the Skydeck via the super-fast elevators. The building contains 145,000 light fixtures. You get the idea. I love trivia as much as the next person – probably more – but there are only so many factoids you can enjoy over the course of an hour. The idea of completely bailing out crossed my mind more than once.

When we got closer to the ticket counter, the requisite photographer was there with a green screen to take a souvenir photo whether you wanted one or not. He said that he would take anyone who either had a Fastpass or had purchased their tickets in advance online. In a stroke of genius, I pulled up the Skydeck website on my phone and purchased my tickets, then showed the barcode to the photographer. He took us out of the line to snap our photo, then sent us to the next queuing area. That maneuver saved us a little bit of time, but not enough, as we soon found ourselves in yet another line. Eventually, we ended up in a waiting area where we saw a brief movie about the building’s design and construction. Then another wait and FINALLY we entered an elevator that took us to the 103rd floor.

The View:

The timing of our visit may have been disastrous as far as the crowds were concerned, but for the view it could not have been better. The setting sun bathed every building in gold, and we could see a faint ribbon of pink in the sky. Our first view, to the southeast, was impressive.

Chicago sears Willis tower skydeck view

The view became even more breathtaking, though, as we rounded the corner to the north side of the building.

sears willis tower skydeck view east side

Now we could see the small white dots of boats floating on Lake Michigan.  What impressed me most, though, was seeing the shadow of the tower in which we stood, and how far it stretched put into the lake.. Eventually, we tore ourselves away from this breathtaking view and continued around to the north-facing side of the building. There, we got to see dozens of impressively tall buildings reaching into the sky (but not as high as us!).

chicago sears tower willis tower skydeck view skyline

The western side was the Ledge, which I decided to skip for three reasons: 1) I thought it sounded potentially scary, 2) the sun would have been right in our eyes at that time of day, and 3) there were lines to do it. At that point in the day, I had been in enough lines to last me a while. We took the elevator on down to the gift shop and then headed out for a deep dish pizza dinner. (More on that later.)

My overall impression was that the Willis Tower Skydeck view was exceptional. Because of the site’s architectural history, it’s a much better choice for most visitors to the city. If you’re a thrill seeker and you want to experience Tilt at 360 Chicago, then by all means do so. However, if you’re a little less adventurous, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Willis Tower Skydeck. Just make sure you get your tickets in advance to save a little time in line!

 

chicago view skydeck tilt the ledge 360 john hancock observatory must-see views lake michigan world’s tallest
Where the Heck is Guam, Anyway?

Where the Heck is Guam, Anyway?









In the News

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Guam. North Korea has been eyeing the small island in the western Pacific for target practice. I have no desire to talk about politics or Kim Jong-un. However, this is a great opportunity to learn about a place that is relatively unknown.

guam tourism flag

Who (Lives There)?

There are almost 163,000 people who reside on Guam; they are called Guamanians. Because Guam is a US territory, anyone born on the island is an American citizen.

The indigenous people, who settled there roughly 4000 years ago, are called Chamorro. The ancient Chamorro society had four classes: chamorri (chiefs), matua (upper class), achaot (middle class), and mana’chang (lower class). The upper class were located in the coastal villages, which meant they had the best access to fishing grounds, whereas the lower class were located in the interior of the island. These two groups rarely communicated with each other, and often used the middle class as intermediaries.

guam tourism indigenous people natives chamorro
Chamorro performers (source)

To greet someone in Guam, say “Håfa Adai,” which sounds very similar to “half a day.” This greeting is widely used on the island, even by those who do not speak Chamorro.

The population of Guam includes a large segment of US military members, as there are several bases. The US military bases on Guam cover nearly 30% of its total land! But as you will see in the “When?” section below, the island was of great military importance during and after World War II.

What (is it Like)?

Guam is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands and the largest island in Micronesia. It is considered part of the continent of Oceania. The surface of the island is approximately 210 square miles, and most of it is surrounded by a reef.

The weather there does not fluctuate much.  The average high is 86 and the average low is 76. The highest temperature ever recorded on Guam was 96 degrees, and the lowest ever recorded was 65. The rainy season runs from July to November. August-October are the most likely months for a typhoon.

When (Did Guam Make History)?

Famed explorer Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to visit the island on March 6, 1521. He was sailing for the King of Spain, so his “discovery” of Guam led to Spanish colonization in the years that followed.

Centuries later, during the Spanish–American War, the United States captured Guam on June 21, 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898), Spain ceded Guam to the United States. It has been a US territory ever since then.

On December 7, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured the isand of Guam. During their two and a half year occupation, Guamanians were subjected to beheadings, forced labor, rape, and torture. American forces recaptured the island on July 21, 1944; Liberation Day is celebrated every July 21 to commemorate the victory.

Where (Should You Visit)?

Two Lovers Point

Once, long ago, during a time when Spain claimed the Mariana Islands, there was a family who lived in the capital city. The father was a wealthy Spanish businessman and the mother, a daughter of a great Chamorro chief.

Their oldest daughter was a beautiful young woman, admired by all for her honesty, modesty, and natural charm. One day, against her will, the girl’s father arranged for her to take a powerful Spanish captain as her husband. But the girl met and fell in love with a common Chamorro man, and they promised each other their love.

When the girl’s father learned of the couple, he grew angry and demanded that she marry the Spanish captain at once – but she found her lover and escaped. Her father, the captain and all the Spanish soldiers pursued the lovers up to the high cliff above Tumon Bay. The lovers found themselves trapped between the edge of the cliff and the approaching soldiers.

The daughter and her lover tied their long black hair together and kissed for the last time before leaping to their deaths. No one saw or heard from them again.

guam tourism - two lovers point - scenic overlook

Today the place where they jumped is known as Puntan dos Amåntes or Two Lover’s Point. Visit there to learn about the two lovers, and enjoy one of the most breathtaking views of Guam’s coastline.

Asan Bay Overlook

Aside from stunning views of the water, there is also a memorial wall. Often monuments and memorials contain the names of the leaders of nations or high ranking military officials and rightfully so. This memorial wall of honor, sacrifice, and remembrance, however, includes the etched names of ordinary men who fought with extraordinary bravery on the front lines and the names of the civilians; the men, women and children, who as neighbors, friends, and families, suffered the consequences of nations at war, many paying the ultimate sacrifice.

guam tourism asan bay overlook

The Asan Bay Overlook Memorial Wall contains the names of 1,880 U.S. servicemen who died in the 1941 defense of Guam against the attacking Japanese armed forces and those who died retaking the island from Japan in 1944. It also lists the names of the 1,170 people of Guam who died and 14,721 who suffered atrocities of war from 1941-1944.

Latte Stone Park

A latte is a stone that the Chamorro used as foundations for their homes. It consists of a pillar with a half-sphere cap (flat side facing up).

guam tourism latte stone park

Latte stones were first used around 800 AD, but fell out of use in the 17th century due to Spanish colonization. They vary in size from 18 inches to 15 feet. Some historians theorize that the taller the latte stones, the more important the person who lived in the house it supported.

Gadao’s Cave

To see excellent examples of ancient Chamorro art, head to Inarajan and Gadao’s Cave. Inside, there is a group of about 50 pictographs. The drawings range in size from one inch in height to almost eight inches. The designs vary from geometric shapes to representational figures depicting human-like or animal-like forms.  The most well known drawings in Gadao’s Cave are located on the east wall.  There, you can clearly see two human figures side by side, one of which appears to be holding something under his arm.

guam tourism gadaos cave art

Some have suggested that these figures represent the legendary Chief Gadao who challenged and outsmarted the northern chief Malaguana in a test of strength.

Namo Falls Park

Not only does Namo Falls Park in Santa Rita have some breathtaking waterfalls, it also has a stunning variety of plants in the botanical garden there.

guam tourism name falls waterfalls park

A guided tour takes visitors through the botanical garden, which is a showcase for various species of ginger and heliconius. The bright flowers bloom in an assortment of colors. Hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids, bamboo and coconut trees among other various plants saturate the surroundings.

The park features two waterfalls. The Grandmother Falls can be viewed from this footpath. To reach the larger terraced Grandfather Falls, walk down a set of stairs.

After taking in the beautiful park grounds and flora, visitors can watch a cultural demonstration. Activities include basket weaving and rope making. The show concludes with making and sampling coconut candy.

Inajaran Natural Pools

A coral reef in this area of Guam prevents large, powerful ocean waves from reaching the shore.  The reef turns those big waves into mere ripples in a series of natural saltwater pools.

guam tourism inajaran - natural pools - great for snorkeling
See the difference between the waves in the background and the still pond in the foreground?

The stillness of the water makes it a great spot for snorkeling.  However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all shallow.  Some of the pools are still deep enough to dive into, and a concrete tower provides you with the means to do just that.

Why (Go There)?

Why consider Guam as a travel destination? Well, in addition to all the cool places I’ve already described above, there are a couple of great reasons:

  • You don’t need a passport to go there
  • You can call home without having to pay international phone rates
  • The weather will be neither too hot nor too cold
  • It has the world’s largest K Mart (not really a draw, but a fascinating piece of trivia)
  • It’s the perfect place to scuba dive or snorkel (or learn to snorkel)

How (Do I Get There)?

There is an international airport on Guam, and it serves as a hub for United Airlines. Or, if you would prefer to travel by sea, the Princess Cruise line does have ships that go to Guam. (But fair warning – they last for 32 or 60 nights!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Guam as much as I have! Would you like to go there some day?
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Guam