Chicago Travel: The Chicago Institute of Art


If you find yourself in Chicago, you have to stop in at the Chicago Institute of Art. It’s part of the Chicago City Pass, so it’s a deal that can’t be beat. It consistently ranks as one of the top Chicago tourist destinations with its display of modern American art, as well as collections dating back to the Byzantine period. It’s within walking distance of Millenium Park, which is another must-see for every Chicago tourist. It’s also within walking distance of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, so it’s convenient if you plan to spend a day doing museum tours. The café located inside the Institute is very nice compared to the Field Museum or the Shedd Aquarium; they have a limited selection of wine and desserts, as well as typical lunch fare.

The oxidized bronze lions and the classical Roman architecture make the museum stand out from blocks away. I walked to the Institute after my walking tour of the Art Deco skyscrapers, and it was incredibly easy for me to find. Consumed with the thought I might get turned away for being so casually dressed (I wore jean shorts), but I was happy to find that there was no dress code policy at the Institute. I used my Chicago City Pass to get through the line, which easily saved me an hour’s wait since I went on both a Saturday and during lunch hours. I recommend arriving as early as possible if you don’t get the City Pass; if you don’t want to get stuck waiting for tickets – and don’t forget to bring cash.

There are three floors in the museum, all filled with thousands of pieces of pottery, paintings, and sculptures that come from all over the world. After you purchase tickets you can immediately go into the gift shop, or you can delve into the museum’s collections. The first collection I came upon was the Asian/Hindu sculptures and carvings. I recognized so many of the faces, but seeing the real deal moved me in a way little else has. I could imagine the artist at work, sweating and bleeding in the pursuit of reverence.

From there, I wanted to see the Ancient and Byzantine sculptures and American art first, since I had limited time before I needed to get to the airport. I couldn’t stop staring into the many faces of Antinous, Hercules and Sophocles; I tried to imagine the broken sculptures as a whole, being chiseled by the ancient artisans of the day. The detail in the broken faces and limbs are still pristine, after centuries of travel and exposure to the elements. Their preservation is a testament to both the timeless beauty in the work and the Institute’s conservation practices.

I was pleasantly surprised finding multiple works of Diego Rivera on display, Georgia O’Keefe and the infamous Nighthawks painting. I spent the most time in this part of the museum, fascinated by the brush strokes of the masters. The Art Institute gave me a deeper appreciation for art as a benchmark of history and means of expression.

The next time you’re in Chicago, make time to stop in at the Art Institute. Even if art isn’t your thing, the sheer talent and mastery behind the works will captivate and inspire you.

 

Chicago Eats: Five Restaurants to Try in Chicago

Chicago is known for many things, including The Cubs, architecture, the mob and food. Everywhere you look on the downtown streets of Chicago, you can find a variety of food options to choose from. To help narrow down your choices during your next Chicago trip, below are five of the most popular places to eat at:

Tapas Valencia

Tapas Valencia is a Spanish-style restaurant located near the Southside of Chicago. With its bright décor and items like on the menu from paella to grilled chicken breast, Tapas offers an interesting and unique dining experience. The average cost per person varies from 20-40 dollars per plate, but those prices include soup, an entrée and a dessert option.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop

Potbelly is a chain restaurant and perhaps the most inexpensive on this list. The menu is simple; it includes sandwiches, salads, oatmeal, smoothies and chili. If you’ve been to one before it’s not going to be much different, but if you’ve never experienced a Potbelly Sandwich it’s certainly worth checking out. You can find multiple locations throughout the city, including the downtown area.

Andy’s Jazz Club

Andy’s Jazz Club is easy to miss if you don’t know where to find it.  Located off State Street and Hubbard, Andy’s Jazz Club has a long and respected reputation. The prices at Andy’s are decent, but it’s important to note that there are time limits on seating during the weekends. They give you two hours to enjoy your meal, but after that, they ask that you move to the bar area to make room for additional guests. The menu, standard American fare, is simple, delicious and affordable.

Girl & The Goat

Girl & The Goat is a place to go if you want to celebrate. The stylish, romantic atmosphere makes a perfect setting for a wedding reception, graduation dinner or an anniversary night with your beloved. The menu is a melange of American, Asian and Latin American flavor. One of their famous dishes is the Oven Roasted Pig Face. The meat does not come on a skull, rest assured; it comes on a plate with an egg on top. Other featured items include roasted cauliflower, goat empanadas and braised beef tongue.

Reservations are highly recommended.

The Purple Pig

The Purple Pig is always packed, much like Girl & The Goat. They are one of the places on this list that don’t accept reservations, so if you get there be prepared to wait (if it’s busy). Their pork items are their specialties, of course, but the menu also includes turkey confit, lobster and stuffed olives. Their family-style menu is unique to this establishment and includes their dessert items. The Purple Pig comes highly recommended by most Chicago locals, not only for its flavor but its service as well.

Three Reasons Why You Should Visit the Shedd Aquarium

 

I made my first visit to the Shedd Aquarium this past summer. It is part of the Chicago City Pass bundle (which I highly recommend getting, by the way). I decided to hit the aquarium after seeing the Field Museum. I covered the entire aquarium in about two hours, including the free film that is included as part of the City Pass. If you think aquariums aren’t interesting, or you’re not sure what to do on your next vacation, here are three reasons why you should consider putting the Shedd Aquarium on your list:

The Sheer Size

It’s the largest indoor aquarium in the world. The Shedd Aquarium first opened in 1930, and remains the largest indoor aquarium in the world ever since. Like the Field Museum, the aquarium’s classic architecture makes it stand out in a city with an eclectic skyline. I skimmed my way through each exhibit, but I spent most of my time watching the whales and the penguins, which I’ll get more into later.

It’s close to other points of interest

It’s within walking distance of The Field Museum, the beach, and the Buckingham fountain. I walked from my hostel to Grant Park, the location of both the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. I don’t recommend doing that, but do try to do both on the same day if you can. If you can’t, just take a stroll through Grant Park and get a hotdog from one of the food stands. Grant Park is gorgeous, and it was worth the long walk and the bruised heels I had by day’s end. There’s plenty of great places to eat around Grant Park if you forgo the aquarium’s food options, but I recommend the Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

The animals that call the Shedd Aquarium home

Beluga whales and penguins. If you’re still not sold on the Shedd Aquarium, go for the beluga whales. I have never seen a beluga whale before, and now it ranks high on my list of coolest animals. Their domed heads make them look otherworldly, and they swim so fast sometimes it’s hard to get a good look at them. I wasn’t at the aquarium in time to see any of the live shows, but I did get to see the whales eating. They don’t jump like the dolphins at the Mirage, but watching them cut through the water is captivating. The penguins are equally entertaining; I watched the penguins play and swim for half an hour, amused by their boisterous and animated interactions.