Tag: Illinois

Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

What Can You See in Chicago in Two Days?

As it turns out, you can see quite a bit. We went to Chicago for my birthday last fall because it was a place I had always been interested in seeing but had never actually visited. Unfortunately, my birthday always falls the week before a major event at work that I am partially responsible for, so my trip couldn’t last much longer than a weekend.

We were able to squeeze quite a lot into just two days of touring. So whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or you want to extend a flight layover by a couple of days, you can see the city too.  Here’s our itinerary.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day One

First Stop: Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, a large and impressive building that contains both art school and museum. It was first built in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Two huge bronze lions flank the main entrance, where banners also hang to announce the latest exhibits.  The Institute has expanded several times over the years, most recently with the addition of a modern art wing in 2009. That expansion brought the size of the Art Institute to almost 1 million square feet, making it the second largest art museum in the USA. (The first is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

Normally, art museums aren’t high on my list of places to visit, but having read The 68 Rooms with my daughter a few years ago, I really wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms in person.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago
One of the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is a shoebox sized rendition of an English cottage kitchen of the Queen Anne period (1702-1714). The blue plates are roughly the size of a dime.

I enjoyed that exhibit, for certain, but there were so many other wonderful things in the museum that I would definitely classify it as a must see in Chicago. They had a great exhibit on glass paperweights, which included this beauty:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago has a beautiful collection of glass paperweights on its lower level.

Naturally, Hubs and I were drawn to the medieval and renaissance armor.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago is a great place to visit, and includes a variety of exhibits, including one on arms and armor.

And there were some famous paintings there as well, like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and see Georges Seurat's famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

and Andy Warhol’s rendition of the Mona Lisa:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to look for Andy Warhol's Four Mona Lisas at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Next Stop: River Cruise and/or Lincoln Park Zoo

We spent a big chunk of time at the Art Institute & Gallery. Afterwards, we explored the riverfront area and toyed with the idea of taking a sightseeing or architecture cruise. This would certainly be a good thing to do if you enjoy water tours and/or architecture. My daughter hates going on boats, however, so we did not.

Instead, we went to the north end of the city and explored Lincoln Park Zoo. Like the zoo in my home town, this zoo does not charge admission for visitors. Plus, they have polar bears, which are one of my favorite animals ever.

Unfortunately, we visited in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave with temperatures over 95 degrees. In late September! The animals were every bit as miserable as we were, and the polar bears looked shell-shocked. I felt so bad for them!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Lincoln Park Zoo has free admission ... and polar bears!

That being said, the zoo was in a beautiful park setting and I would definitely like to visit it again in cooler weather.

Dinner: Pizza Pot Pie

Within walking distance of Lincoln Park Zoo, there is a restaurant called the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company. History buffs will appreciate that it’s located across the street from the site of the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. Foodies will love the Pizza Pot Pie, their signature dish. It is full of cheesy goodness.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Dinner at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is a must. Try the pizza pot pie!

How good was it? Well, I devoted an entire blog post to it.  It was also the first Chicago post I wrote when I returned. I had the pizza pot pie eight months ago and I still have days where I think I’d love to have it again. Yummm.

Tip:  Be at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company when they open for dinner at 4:00 pm. It’s small and fills up quickly. Besides, you’ll want to have enough time to walk off some of those calories before dessert…

Next Stop: Millennium Park

I hadn’t intended to go to Millennium Park around sunset… it just worked out that way because we got out of dinner early. As it turns out, sunset is a pretty cool time to approach the park, because you can get a photo like this:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Arriving at Millennium Park late in the day provides some great photo opportunities.

Yeah, I know it’s a little off-center. I would have had to fight off at least four people with tripods in order to get a better spot.

But that’s not the reason we went to Millennium Park, obviously. We went to see “The Bean,” which is actually an art installation called Cloud Gate. This is one of those things that if you don’t do it, you’ll end up regretting it after you’ve left. It’s iconic, and you pretty much have to see it.  Besides which, it’s really cool.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to stop by Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate (better known as "The Bean").

The mom in me wants to know how it stays so clean and shiny.  Clearly, it’s not made out of the same stuff as my kitchen sink.

The photo above is the end of the Bean.  The sides have an indentation big enough to pass through it.  When you do, be sure to look up. You might not be sure what you’re looking at, because it’s almost psychedelic.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Walk inside the center of the Bean at Millennium Park and be sure to look up!

Explore the rest of the park too… it has many other great things to see in addition to the Bean!

Dessert: Smallcakes Smash

If you saved room for dessert, head on over to Smallcakes for a cupcake, ice cream, or the most decadent dessert in town. (You might want to take a couple of people to share it with you.)

Now, Smallcakes is a national chain, not a uniquely Chicago business.  However, it’s worth a visit because of their signature, over-the-top dessert called the Smallcakes Smash.

Choose a cupcake and one or two flavors of ice cream. There are at least a dozen of each to choose from.  Then, sit back and watch as they construct the “Smash” before your very eyes.

A scoop of ice cream goes in the bottom of the cup, followed by the bottom half of the cupcake. A second scoop of ice cream tops that, followed by some whipped cream and syrup in a complementary flavor. Then the whole concoction is topped with the remainder of the cupcake. It is a masterpiece!  Behold!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Get a Smallcakes Smash at Smallcakes!

I recommend sharing one with a friend. It’s a lot for just one person!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day Two

First Stop: Chicago Tribune Tower

In the morning, we walked over to see the Chicago Tribune Tower which is in the heart of downtown Chicago. Normally, I wouldn’t make a special trip to see just a building, but the Tribune Tower is a building like no other. Pieces of famous landmarks and buildings from all over the world are embedded in its walls.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary: Look for fragments of world landmarks at the Chicago Tribune Tower.

And I don’t mean a dozen or so… I mean almost 150. It was great fun to stand there looking for these special stones – we saw pieces of Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China, to name just a few.

Next Stop: Museum of Science & Industry (with Kids)

If you don’t have children with you, you might not enjoy the Museum of Science & Industry all that much. We only went because I’ve had a bit of an obsession with Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle for over 15 years, and it happens to be on display at Science & Industry. Otherwise, I would have found a different activity, such as the Field Museum, or one of those river cruises, or something else.

That being said, the Fairy Castle did not disappoint.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Families will enjoy a visit to the Museum of Science & Industry, home to Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle

I circled it three times and was constantly finding new details each time I looked inside the rooms. An audio recording plays while you are going around the castle, and it’s worth listening to, because it has some very interesting details. The castle is full of authentic items, some of them hundreds of years old. Other items are not as old, but are just as valuable, like the miniature chair that is made of platinum and diamonds.

We looked at a few other exhibits after the fairy castle, including one on bicycle design that Hubs found very interesting, and a mirror maze. But we still had more to see and do, so we didn’t stay too long.

Next Stop: Street Art & Lunch in Logan Square

Street art makes for great photo opportunities. I found out that there was a “Greetings from Chicago” style postcard mural and knew we had to get our pictures in front of it, so that was where we headed next.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - snap a pic with the Greetings from Chicago mural as your backdrop.

The mural is located at 2226 N Milwaukee Ave, in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.  Nearby, we saw another great series of paintings titled “Never Give Up” on the side of a family dollar store.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - There are all types of street art to amuse and inspire you in Logan Square.

It had the stories of five famous people who had, at various points in their lives, encountered setbacks and failures. Despite those challenges, they went on to achieve great success.  It was a good reminder to hang in there when the going gets tough.

Logan Square is a racially diverse and artistic neighborhood with lots of beautiful architecture, great restaurants, and street art. Unlike some city neighborhoods I’ve visited, Logan Square seemed to have a strong sense of community. There are many great restaurants, bars, churches, and local is the key word when describing many aspects of the scene. Ingredients are sourced locally at restaurants; bars serve local craft brews; galleries showcase local artists; and concerts and street fests promote local, upstart bands.

There is no shortage of good restaurants in the Logan Square area, and in a wide variety of ethnic cuisines as well. We had lunch at the Logan Bar & Grill, which had an amazing outdoor seating area. I almost forgot that it was insanely hot while we enjoyed our burgers.

Feeling refreshed and at least a little rested (not to mention re-hydrated!), we got an Uber to take us to…

Next Stop: The Tower Formerly Known as Sears

As you may have read in my blog post about the Willis Tower, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of going to the top to see the views. But eventually I did make the decision to do it, because I figured it was another one of those iconic Chicago things, like The Bean.

I wish I had paid attention to the time when we first went in to see how long we waiting in line before actually making it to the Skydeck. It was at least an hour. It felt like two. Let’s split the difference and call it ninety minutes, waiting in line, moving at a snail’s pace through the basement of one of the most famous buildings in America.

By the time we got to the Skydeck, the sun was beginning to drop in the sky, and the Golden Hour was upon us.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Catch the view from the (Sears) Willis Tower Skydeck.

With the setting sun behind us, the shadows of the skyscrapers were cast across the city and the lake. It was stunning! Suddenly, I didn’t resent that two hour 90 minute wait quite as much.

Dinner: Deep Dish Pizza

You can’t leave Chicago without eating deep dish pizza at least once, right? Well, there is apparently some debate as to who has the best deep dish in Chicago. I’m not a big fan of deep dish style pizza, so I didn’t put a lot of effort into choosing a restaurant for this meal. The first place I saw a recommendation for was the lucky winner: Gino’s East.

I don’t know if Gino’s East has the best pizza, but it’s probably got the most fun atmosphere. The entire restaurant has been covered in graffiti from past customers.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Make one meal a deep dish pizza, the city's signature dish. Gino's East is one of the best, and has an interior that is completely covered in graffiti.

Our server was great as he welcomed us and explained the different options. When the food arrived, we dug in and managed to finish the whole thing, thanks to his recommendations on what size we needed.Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Deep Dish pizza is the Windy City's signature dish.

However, that being said, do be careful when ordering a deep dish pizza.  Because it is so thick, eating one slice is equivalent to eating two or three slices of regular pizza. I saw a lot of tourists walking around Chicago carrying pizza boxes because they didn’t take this into consideration. It’s much better to order the right size and not have to worry about leftovers.

Next Stop: Strolling the Magnificent Mile

After dinner we walked along the area of Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile. (Can you hear that in any voice but Oprah’s? I can’t.) There are loads of shops along this stretch of road, most of which I cannot afford. Still, it makes for good window shopping and people watching.

Between there and our hotel, we stopped at Eataly, which I’ve always been curious about but have never had an opportunity to visit. Then we returned to the hotel to pack our bags for the next morning, when we would wish a fond farewell to the city of Chicago. It was our first visit there, but we all agreed that we didn’t want it to be our last.

Summary Infographic:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary in list form

Chicago Weekend Itinerary at Travel As Much
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!

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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The Thorne Miniature Rooms at Art Institute of Chicago

The Thorne Miniature Rooms at Art Institute of Chicago

The Sixty-Eight Rooms

When my daughter was in 4th-6th grades, we had a summer book club for her and her friends. The girls would read a book and then get together to discuss it, with related snacks and activities. One of the hands-down favorite books we read was The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone.  The book took place inside the Art Institute of Chicago, in the Thorne Miniature Rooms. These 68 individual rooms done in miniature depict different time periods and different countries. The kids in the story find a magic way to shrink down to an appropriate size to explore the rooms.

I confess, I enjoyed the book as much as the girls did! So, when planning my birthday trip to Chicago, I knew that I had to go see the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The rooms are housed on the lower level of the Art Institute of Chicago, a large and impressive building that contains both art school and museum. It was first built in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Two huge bronze lions flank the main entrance, where banners also hang to announce the latest exhibits.

Thorne Miniature rooms art institute of chicago

The Institute has expanded several times over the years, most recently with the addition of a modern art wing in 2009. That expansion brought the size of the Art Institute to almost 1 million square feet, making it the second largest art museum in the USA. (The first is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

I’m sure there were wonderful things to look at as we entered the building, but I was intensely focused on the reason we had gone there. We headed straight downstairs for the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

According the museum’s web site, “The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.”

When you enter the room containing the Thorne Miniature Rooms, you quickly notice a couple of things. First, the rooms are all set into the wall with a wooden frame around them. A plaque underneath informs visitors of the room’s number, country, and time period. Second, there is a platform about 8 inches high and 12 inches deep running the length of the walls underneath the rooms.  It didn’t take long to discover the reason for the platform.  Thanks to the success of the children’s novels, kids were flocking to the museum to see the rooms.  The platform was an easy way for them to peek inside each one.

The 68 Rooms

The amount of detail in the rooms is nothing short of amazing. And each room had details that made it seem not just a miniature room, but a room that someone actually lived in and used. Eyeglasses left on a table, a toy on the floor, an unfinished bit of needlework or a chess game in progress… these were the touches that made an artistic world in miniature become extraordinary.

The largest of the rooms, and also the first one you are likely to see when you enter the exhibit, is the 13th Century English Roman Catholic Church. It is impressive in its size and deceptively so – you almost forget that the scale is one inch to one foot. Turn the corner, though, and you will enter a world that is incredibly small.

With a few exceptions, the 68 miniature rooms fit into three geographical categories: English, French, and American. (The exceptions are one German room, one Chinese room, and one Japanese room.) If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I’m a hopeless Anglophile, so needless to say the English rooms were my favorites. I particularly loved the English Great Hall from the late Tudor period (1550-1603):

thorne miniature rooms english great hall late tudor period chicago

This room was just amazing – the leaded windows in particular reminded me of ones I had seen at Warwick Castle that featured coats of arms of noble families.

And speaking of windows… I should point out that these rooms are constructed the same way their life size versions would be.  Doors open onto other rooms or to the outside, windows provide views of a garden or other buildings. And those exterior areas were designed with every bit as much authentic detail as the interior.

For instance, I loved how we were able to get a peek at beautiful garden outside the English Dining Room from the Georgian Period (1770-1790):

thorne miniature rooms chicago english dining room georgian period

And check out the California Living Room from 1934-1940:

thorne miniature rooms chicago california living room 1934-1940

Not only do we look through the entire expanse of the room, we can also see the beautiful tile-accented stairs leading up to a second floor as well as  what is probably the main entrance to the house through two open doorways.  And notice how the light is hitting the bricks there.  It looks so realistic!

And I thought this vignette, on the left side of the Cape Cod Living Room, was just beautiful:

thorne miniature rooms chicago cape cod living room 1750-1850

First of all, the light coming through the window! Are you thinking it must be morning, and what a great spot to enjoy a cup of coffee? I was! Now, the photo is a little dark, but can you see the eyeglasses sitting there on the table? How about the spoons next to the teacups? The glasses were probably less than 1/2 inch across, and the spoons were about 1/2 inch long. Amazing.

And how about this English cottage kitchen from the Queen Anne Period (1702-1714):

thorne miniature rooms chicago english cottage kitchen queen anne period style

Again, beautiful light streaming through the window.  Now take in the other details.  Hanging over the table is a birdcage with a bird in it. The plates on the left measure only about 1/2 inch in diameter, but actually have an intricate pattern painted on them.

The English Drawing Room from the Victorian Era contains a portrait of Queen Victoria that is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch, yet is instantly recognizable. Can you spot it? It’s on the right side of the table.

thorne miniature rooms chicago english drawing room victorian era

As I walked along, peering into the rooms and marveling over the details, I was taking pictures and trying my best to do so without any reflection or glare. I wanted each photograph to look like I had taken it from inside the room. When I got to the French Dining Room from the Louis XIV Period (1660-1700), I caught a movement in my peripheral vision that startled me. Upon closer scrutiny, I realized that it was from a mirror hanging over the fireplace. So I decided to have some fun:

thorne miniature rooms chicago French Dining Room Louis XIV Period 1660-1700
C’est un géant!

Now, if haven’t already marveled at how detailed these miniature rooms are, consider the French Salon of the Louis XVI period (circa 1780):

thorne miniature rooms chicago french salon louis xvi 1780 key in desk

Do you see the key sticking out of the desk leaf, above the chair seat? Well, the museum guide told us that the key is not just decorative – it actually works and can lock the desk.  I couldn’t believe it – it was so tiny – just 1/6 of an inch or so, perhaps less!

I went through the exhibit and looked at every room at least twice.  With each pass I noticed new details I hadn’t seen before.  This is definitely the sort of exhibit you could revisit again and again and have a new experience each time.

The Other Rooms

Yes, there are others!  A total of 100 rooms done by Mrs. Thorne are on display today. Twenty are in the Phoenix Art Museum, and nine in the Knoxville Museum of Art. The remaining two are at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, and the Kaye Miniature Museum in Los Angeles. In addition to these, a bar that Thorne auctioned off for charity in the 1950s is at the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana.

I highly recommend visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and especially checking out the Thorne Miniature Rooms. They provide an amazing example of quality craftsmanship, the history of design and decor, and the techniques of making items in miniature.  The next time you’re in Chicago, check it out!

 

Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago
(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
Deep Dish Pizza with a Twist in Chicago

Deep Dish Pizza with a Twist in Chicago

The Quest

For my birthday this year, I decided to go to Chicago and I can’t wait to tell you about everything that we saw and did there!  It may seem odd to start off by telling you about one of the meals we had there.  But here I am, two weeks after eating it and it’s still something I think about longingly at mealtime.

Naturally, before heading to the Windy City, I did my usual pre-travel research on Pinterest to find out what we wanted to see.  I also searched for restaurant recommendations, because as I learned in Staithes, UK,  life’s too short to eat mediocre food when you’re on vacation.

One pin about great places to eat in Chicago caught my eye and when I clicked on it, just about everything in that article looked crazy delicious.  It was the Pizza Pot Pie at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company (hereafter referred to as CPOG) that really caught my eye, because So. Much. Cheese.  I love cheese the way Paula Deen used to love butter.

Our first afternoon there we finished up sightseeing around 2:00 pm and took an Uber to CPOG. Because we had been so busy seeing the sights, we had not yet eaten lunch and we were quite hungry.  Sadly, we discovered that the restaurant would not open until 4 pm.  So we stopped at the Starbucks on the corner to enjoy a cold, creamy Frappucino. While we were there, we figured out how to adapt our plans without missing out on the Pizza Pot Pie.

The Lincoln Park Zoo was within walking distance, so we decided to head over there and kill an hour or so before returning when the restaurant was open. The zoo was in my top five places to see because they have polar bears, but given the very limited time we had in Chicago, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get there.  So, having to kill time before dinner there turned out to be a great solution. (I’ll write about our zoo visit soon!)

The Restaurant

We returned to CPOG at nearly 4:30, and to our delight a free table was available for us.  I think that was because it was still very early for most people to be eating dinner.  For us tourists who skipped lunch and are a time zone ahead of Chicagoans, however, it was well past time to eat.

pizza pot pie in chicago
Illustration on the CPOG menu

The restaurant’s interior was dark and rustic with wood paneling. Even though it’s at street level, it feels more like it’s in a basement.  The tables have fold down sides that can turn a rectangular table for four into a round table for six.  The flexibility of the seating surprised me – very clever and accommodating.

While we waited for our food, I read the back of the menu, which told us the history of the restaurant.  It was almost directly across the street from the site of the Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.  During the late 1920s, gang warfare was a reality in Chicago. Irish gangsters ruled the north side of Chicago (where this restaurant was located) and Italian gansters, led by Al Capone, ruled the south side. Typically, gang activities consisted of the illegal trades of bootlegging, gambling and prostitution. Capone wanted no rivals – he wanted to rule the city. The Chicago gang violence reached its climax in a garage on North Clark Street on February 14, 1929. Seven men associated with the Irish gangster George “Bugs” Moran, Capone’s longtime enemy, were gunned down by men dressed as policemen. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was never officially linked to Capone, but he was generally considered to have been responsible for the murders.

History lesson over.  Now back to the deliciousness…

The Food

The menu at CPOG is not extensive. There are salads and appetizers, but as far as entrees go, you have a choice of the pizza pot pie, an oven grinder (sort of a toasted sub sandwich). or a dinner salad, which is big enough to feed two to four people.  The menu had this to say about the Pizza Pot Pie:  “The Pizza Pot Pie is an individual serving, made from scratch with triple-raised Sicilian bread-type dough; a homemade sauce consisting of olive oil, fresh garlic, onions, green peppers, whole plum tomatoes and a special blend of cheeses; sausage made from prime Boston butts; and doorknob-size, whole, fresh mushrooms.”

The pot pie only comes in two sizes – half-pound or pound. By this time, we were nearly starving, but practiced restraint and only ordered a half-pound each. When they brought out the Pizza Pot Pies, they looked a little bit like short-stemmed mushrooms, with round bulbous tops hiding a smaller base.

Pizza Pot Pie in Chicago
Fresh out of the oven.

But then the magic happens. The server flipped it upside down and loosened the food from the dish.  And behold:

pizza pot pie in chicago

The cheese… do you see all that cheese?  It was so hot and gooey and wonderful.  And that’s not just a thin layer of cheese, either…

pizza pot pie in chicago

Some of the tastiest, most perfectly seasoned meat sauce I’ve ever eaten lurked beneath the cheese.

pizza pot pie chicago meat sauce
(We asked for no mushrooms in ours.)

Needless to say, we cleaned our plates.  We left the restaurant very full and feeling satisfied.  It was the best meal I had while we were in Chicago.  Yes, we did try traditional deep dish pizza in Chicago as well, and it was good. But the pizza pot pie at CPOG still remains my favorite!

When we left the restaurant around 6:00, a line had started to form outside.  If you visit CPOG, try to arrive early! But even if you don’t, it’s worth the wait!

pizza pot pie chicago

The Pizza Pot Pie at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is seriously delicious! Definitely a must-have meal when visiting Chicago.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Are you a fan of the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz? Well, have I got a road trip for you! (Technically, it may be more of a bucket list than a road trip.  These sites are on both coasts of the USA and a few places in between. It really isn’t practical for driving unless you have a lot of time.)

Start in the northeast with Chittenango, New York.  This town is the birthplace of The Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, and also the home of the All Things Oz Museum. According to the museum staff, “All Things Oz is more than a tribute to a book series; it is a fascinating trip through the life of its author, his wife, Maud Gage, and all the many experiences that shaped his imagination and his world.” The museum also coordinates a yearly Oz-stravaganza festival.

wizard of oz road trip All Things Oz Museum
All Things Oz Museum, Chittenango, NY

From New York, head south to our nation’s capital and visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC.  There you will see one of the four original pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the movie. (Size 5!)

wizard of oz road trip dorothy's Ruby Slippers judy garland
Ruby Slippers, National Museum of American History, Washington DC

From DC, keep heading south. If you’ve scrolled through Pinterest, you may have seen an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina. Well, it was a theme park, and it is in North Carolina, but it is not abandoned. The Land of Oz is a privately owned property that is under 24 hour surveillance, and trespassers are prosecuted. Fortunately, however, the site is open to the public at various times throughout the year.

Wizard of oz road trip Land of Oz NC
Land of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC

In Chicago, visit Oz Park.  Take a stroll through the park and you’ll be greeted by statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and everyone’s favorite, Dorothy & Toto.

wizard of oz road trip_park_scarecrow_statue
Scarecrow Statue, Oz Park, Chicago

In Wamego, Kansas, there is the Oz Museum, which features a collection of over 25,000 Oz artifacts. Since the founding of the Museum in April 2004, other small businesses with the Oz theme have opened, including the Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz. In addition, on the first weekend of October, Wamego holds its Annual OZtoberFEST, an Oktoberfest-type celebration with an Oz theme. OZfest typically features Hot Air Balloon Rides, Tallgrass Brewery Beer Garden, the Yellow Brick Road Bike Ride, and a local stage or music production.

Wizard of oz road trip Oz Museum Wamego Kansas
The Oz Museum, Wamego KS

And now, head west to the California coast.  We’re going to Hollywood!

Visit the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, and look for the stars of Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bloger (Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), Frank Morgan (The Wizard), and Billie Burke (Glinda). The Munchkins’ star, added in 2007, is the most recent Wizard of Oz addition to the Walk of Fame.

Wizard of oz road trip Munchkins Star walk of fame hollywood
Hollywood Walk of Fame

After visiting the Walk of Fame, head over to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  The cemetery contains a memorial to Terry the Cairn Terrier, also known as Dorothy’s dog, Toto.

wizard of oz road trip Toto Memorial hollywood
Toto Memorial in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

And when you’ve finished touring all of these great locations, remember to click your heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home…”