Saturday, April 23, 2011
Made the most of Spring Break this year by taking the train to Manhattan Friday night. We stayed at John and Leesha's place and ate several fine meals. The highlight of the weekend was seeing The Lion King on Broadway: it was my first such experience, and the fact that young Simba was a student of mine from SBCS made it all the more exciting. For a $20 donation to an HIV/AIDS charity we got to take photos with the stars--young JB was shocked when I walked over. "You could have told me you were coming, Mr. Geoff," he complained. The woman photographer asked if he wanted a picture of us together and JB asked "do I have to pay the $20"? I told him how good he was, and then teased him about his homework. "I left it at home!" he swore. Heard that one before...
On Sunday we went to the Cloisters Museum. I'd never been, and liked it a great deal. There was one gallery in particular which really captured the feel of an old Gothic church chapel, with a few dukes and duchesses in repose in their sculpted marble tombs, some stained glass from churches in Normandy, and reconstructed bits of doorways and architectural details from the old country here and there. I also really enjoyed the gardens and the unicorn tapestries.
We rented a car from Manhattan and drove west, but only made it halfway across PA before we stopped for the night in scenic Clearfield. The Super 8 was brand new and rather nice. Not much to do, however, other than sleep. There was a Sheetz and a Wal-Mart, but the Dutch Kitchen was closed.
We made it to Chicago Monday evening. Cold, rainy, and blustery! But we checked into the Hotel Knicerbocker off the Miracle Mile and strolled around anyhow. What a gorgeous downtown! We had the mandatory deep-dish pie at Due and that set the tone for an over-stuffed week.
Millennium Park: we first played around there in the drizzle, but got to see it in sun a couple days later. I love the interactive nature of the sculptures and fountains, and how the city itself is incorporated as artwork.
The Arts Institute: A premier collection, on a par with the Met or the National Gallery. Thank God the Ancient Americas exhibit was closed; though I was disappointed by that fact I think my feet would have fallen off had I strolled another gallery. We did the whole thing in one day, and I don't recommend this to anyone older than 19. But it's hard to resist such a profound collection. The new Modern wing is delicious, with spectacular views of the Chicago skyline visible via floor-to-ceiling windows in many rooms. Many famous works: Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Picasso, Van Gogh, Seurat, etc. Not much in the northern Renaissance period, but they had an exhibit with a rare DaVinci canvas (Madonna of the Yardwinder) and several Jean Hey canvases which satisfied quite well my craving for oldies and goodies.
The Shedd Aquarium: We had to contend with busloads of school kids, but the aquarium is worth it. I think B'more has them beat in a few areas: our dolphin show is better by leaps and bounds, we have sharks out the wazoo, and our rainforest exhibit beats theirs hands down. But Shedd has an outstanding Philippine coral reef display, and they have beluga whales. B'more hasn't had belugas in nearly two decades...
The Cultural Arts Center: What an amazing building! Two Tiffany domes, one mosaic and one stained glass? Intricate inlay and mosaic work all over the place, a la the Library of Congress? Ornate stair cases? Gotta love it. Oh, and free galleries, music, lectures, nice cafes. And incredibly patient and helpful information staff.
Architectural Tour: Do the Chicago river architectural tour. It's worth it, and you can see many fine buildings and learn their history without hurting fallen arches, corns, and bunions. Bundle up, however, if you go in April!
Arun's: This Thai place was featured in the book "1000 Things to See Before You Die." I'd put Arun's there, definitely--and if I had a dying wish it might be to go back there again. It's pricey, yeah, but that's unquestionably the best restaurant meal I ever had. 12 courses! Let's see if I recall them all:
--a leaf stuffed with amazing goodies which exploded delightful flavors all over my palette.
--a spring roll cut in two with crab piled in the middle
--a rice dumpling stuffed with spiced chicken and veg
--a crab cake with asparagus and a squash pouch decoratively affixed atop it (Cha's fell over--a recurring theme!)
--fine noodles and noodle-encrusted shrimp with scallions and bamboo and awesomeness
--an exquisite mushroom soup
--red snapper battered and glazed
--shrimp curry for me and beef for the Mrs.
--a dish of diced eggplant, chicken, and cilantro encircled by artfully arranged veg. I should point out that the garnishes were ridiculous. There was a carrot carved into a goldfish that Cha brought home in a cup. I think she is going to put it into our aquarium.
--a crepe filled with custard with creme and black cherries
--a pastry dish containing lychee sorbet with a ginger-baked pear
And an exquisite pinot noir topped it all off. I think the bill was nearly what we paid for four nights in the hotel...
Seth: after exchanging emails, music, movie and book recommendations, and blog comments for much of a decade, I got to meet Seth in person. He kindly met us for lunch at Smoke Daddy, where I had a delicious pulled pork sandwich and a quality local brew. Seth even paid for lunch and gave us a brief tour around the neighborhood to boot. It was an enormous pleasure to meet him and chat about what we'd seen and done.
So Chicago was great. I'll definitely go back, but probably will go in the summer next time. The weather this week was atrocious! It rained the entire drive home yesterday, but we still made it in 12 hours.