Illinois – The Land of Lincoln: 18-22 June, 2021
Travel writers love to make up lists of the “10 Best” be it for living there or just visiting. I have been fooled before by pretty pictures and a tourist board’s rosy use of adjectives. But in the case of Naperville, the recommendation was what these flâneries needed as a welcome respite from the trees and seas of Michigan.
Naperville is 30 miles west of Chicago’s Loop and along the banks of the DuPage River. With a population of about 15,000 in the 1960s, it is currently the fourth-largest city in Illinois. Downtown is busy and noisy but also alive with street activity, music and artistic murals. A plethora of high-end shops, restaurants and bars cater to fun-loving millennials and Gen Zers. Historic architecture both downtown and at the museum village may draw tourists, but it seems it is the modern amenities that bring the money. And we learned quickly, have a reservation on a weekend. Signs for “Restricted Cruising Area” hint at city traffic. Here it is “Unlawful to pass traffic control point more than 2 times in 3 hours.”
But amid all this bustle, Naperville offers a wonderful 2-mile River Walk along the DuPage. Tree lined, peaceful and spotted with fountains and old bridges, parks and artwork, it was an enjoyable afternoon rambling its banks, watching the ducks, and stopping in for a refreshment at one of its cafes.
Unlike our last week of dining, downtown Naperville is chock-a-block with chic bistros and bars with views. The Santo Cielo, on the 5th floor overlooking the river, is known for its unique alcoholic creations. It is a show watching mixologists pour and shake their “Too Far North” or “La Chancla” using ingredients like angostura, falernum, cenizo mezcal, and demerara. The “Da Cure for ‘Ronies” contains a delicate mixture of ginger, honey, lemon, arette reposado, cenizo mezcal, and vida mist, all shaken then sipped by the mixologist to ensure quality, or a hangover by the end of shift. They shake a lot of drinks!
Naperville is a city of fanciful libations, yuppie charcuterie, and all ranges of posh dining. Reservation-less, these flâneries chose the Rosebud for its comfortable outdoor seating and Italian menu. Anyplace that creates a Rigatoni alla Vodka is worth checking out.
During the years I lived in and visited northwest Indiana, I had not made the excursion into Oak Park. Though the city was just an hour away and was the home of one of my favorite architects, I had never visited. With its good architecture, good weather and good dining, with Oak Park we hit the trifecta of travel.
Oak Park is but 10 miles from Chicago’s Loop. Conveniently placed along the Green Line that reaches the Loop within about 25 minutes, Oak Park is a pleasant alternative to pricy Chicago for accommodations and dining. But don’t misunderstand, Oak Park is also pricy – it’s just a quieter pricy. It also has wonderful neighborhood streets for strolling and ogling the architecture.
The best neighborhood is that of past-resident Frank Lloyd Wright. Though born and educated in Wisconsin (as an engineer not an architect), Wright moved to Chicago in 1887. The Great Chicago Fire was in 1871 so the city was in dire need of rebuilding. It was while working for a Chicago architectural firm that Wright honed his skills and began to developed his own style. By the early 1900s, he had designed many Prairie Style houses including his own Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
Walk the tree-lined residential streets of Oak Park for a true appreciation of Prairie Style homes. Most are privately owned but are used to people taking photos. If not designed by Wright, other houses emulate his style. While strolling these sidewalks, we stopped in to tour Wrights’ studio and home on Chicago Avenue. Built in 1898, it is a beautiful example of his genius. The home’s open floor plan, horizontal lines, plethora of windows and glass, and use of art, native woods and stone continue to influence architecture today, including my own home.
And steps away from our B&B Harvey House Inn, we boarded the train for the short ride into
Throughout primary school from 4th to 8th grades, school trips were to Chicago just 35 miles north but a world away for a kid. We visited Lincoln Park Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Science and Industry. My favorite was always Field Museum.
The Art Institute houses a large collection of art from around the world within a modern environment. But what got us here early Saturday morning was The Obama Portraits exhibit. The entire exhibition was well displayed and documented. Also, not to be missed is the Bisa Butler Portraits (using textiles to detail her subjects); a beautiful 100-year-old Tiffany Window; ancient pieces from Native American and pre-Columbian, Mesopotamian, Asian and Greek cultures; and art by artists from Claude Monet to Van Gogh to the well-known American Gothic by Grant Wood. With the Institute’s opening of its Modern Wing in 2009, within its 264,000 sq ft there is something for everyone.
Turning right to pass the institute’s iconic bronze lion, we walk up Michigan Avenue past the always photogenic stainless steel Cloud Gate, better known as The Bean, to the Chicago River, cross the DuSable Bridge and continue along the Magnificent Mile to the historic Water Tower. Options are numerous. We have more time in the city and choose our next excursion to be:
An Architectural Cruise – Chicago has probably one of the most beautiful and modern skylines in the world and especially so because one can see it from the river and Lake Michigan. To appreciate the architecture without the walking, we boarded the 2-hour First Lady Cruise which covers both the North and South branches of the river. The guides and commentary provide a comprehensive historical and chronological perspective, describing spectacular art-deco buildings (Carbide & Carbon Building, Board of Trade, Merchandise Mart); neo-Gothic best displayed in the Tribune Tower; Wrigley Building wonderful Beaux Art style; and 1960-1970s Marina City, John Hancock Center, Aon Center, and Sears Tower (no I won’t call it Willis). All this is surrounded, and possibly overshadowed, by stunning glass and steel skyscrapers including the Aqua Tower and rival Vista Towers topping at 1,191 feet. Honorable mention goes to the Apple Store and a dishonorable mention for the tower across the street.
Not only the Windy City’s Loop is cruised, but its quieter and just-as-interesting branches allow one to pass under several of its 29 operable lift bridges (which annually open to allow sail boats to leave their winter storage on the south branch to exit into Lake Michigan). The North Branch is quite pleasant with its parks, trails, and high-end apartments. Most people covet the unique condos at North Canal and W Kinzie, at least from the river view.
As a kid I loved visiting Field Museum of Natural History. I still do. A large collection of “stuff,” natural and cultural, was displayed for the 1893 Columbian Exhibition. Crowds loved it. To give it a permanent home, the neoclassic Field Museum was built and opened its doors in 1921. Its original 65,000 exhibits have now grown to over 40 million specimens of everything imaginable. The exhibition halls are numerous, enormous, and chock-a-block full of wonderful and well explained displays.
Greeting me at the entrance is an old friend, Bushman. Every kid of the 1940-1950s raised within miles of Chicago remembers this regal western lowland Gorilla who resided at the Lincoln Park Zoo from 1930 until his death New Year’s day in 1951. “Orphaned” as an infant, more probably kidnapped or stolen, Bushman arrived at the zoo to become its most beloved animal and a money-maker. Bushman was known to dislike being stared at, flinging dung at unwanted visitors. When he died at age 22, he was taxidermized and put on display in the Field’s basement. Today, he is in a better, brighter place – both literally and figuratively.
One reason we are here is for special exhibit Jane Goodall’s Life and Legacy. Her 35 years of observation of the world of the chimpanzees of Africa is explained. Artifacts, videos and a hologram of Jane make for a fascinating interactive experience for all ages.
Long overdue for an update, Sue the T.Rex has moved to a new hall. One of Field’s most iconic symbols, the 42-foot-long Sue is one of the most complete skeletons of a T-Rex ever unearthed. She roamed the wilds of South Dakota some 67 million years ago. Today, Sue is surrounded by a bunch of flying reptiles, fossils and educational displays about her world and those who lived in it.
You cannot miss Máximo, a 122-foot-long titanosaur dominating the main hall. Standing 28-feet tall (because that is as high as the ceiling allows, the actual neck is about 39 feet!), Máx’s ancestors lived over 100 million years ago in Patagonia. He is modeled from the actual bones found in Argentina. The titanosaur officially became a new species in 2017 and what makes them so special is their extremely long neck with an equally long tail which acted as a counterbalance. At 70 tons, the titanosaur is the largest animal to ever walk the earth. Pretty impressive for a plant-eating lizard. (You will see a replica of Máx in Terminal 1 at O’Hare Airport but he wears a mask because he is in the airport.)
Other not to be missed displays: the Ancient Egypt hall with one of the largest collection of mummies in the world; an excellent exhibit of Apsáalooke Women and Warriors; Cyrus Tang Hall of China; and Underground Adventure where you shrink to get a bug’s eye view of the variety of life under our feet. And of course, there are the numerous stuffy-dusty-museum-style dioramas of stuffed animals, pinned butterflies and pickled salamanders.
Before departing, visit what is proudly described as the “best bathrooms in the country.” Really.
These flâneries could not end our wanderings without a little unplanned excitement. No, I do not speak of two extremely experienced travelers who looked at their calendar to realize they had misjudged their departure by a day and was sans hotel for Monday night. Yea, another day in Chicago!
This excitement was an 11:15 pm iPhone Emergency Alert warning of a tornado in the vicinity. While reading the alert, the town’s sirens sounded to warn residents to take shelter. Being on the third floor, lightning flickering and flashing through the transom, remembering the sirens of my childhood that would strike fear into our little hearts, I grabbed a robe and we quickly headed downstairs to the basement. The next day we learned flyers at O’Hare were doing the very same thing. An EF3 tornado, though missing us, had ripped through Naperville just west of us, uprooting trees, damaging homes and injuring eight people.
All in all, it was a pretty interesting way to end our latest Flânerie.