Traveling dog

We have returned from our first road trip with King Lukas and I am happy to report he did great! In fact, since we’ve been home, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him humming this Johnny Cash tune.

Perhaps he hasn’t been everywhere, but the first trip out was such a success that we see no reason why he can’t join us on other adventures.

The drive from Phoenix to San Diego was six hours. Lukas slept about five of those, if not more. I was thankful we thought to put his doggie bed in the car with us before latching him into the seat with his seatbelt extender. He stayed there for most of the ride.

Mr. Lukas slept a good part of the way to San Diego.

Minutes after we got to our vacation rental, Lukas felt right at home. He was a little uncertain at first–very excited to race down the street to take care of business and to walk out some of the kinks in his elbows and knees from sitting for so long–but soon we were inside, relaxing together on the couch.

We made it!

Once we got settled in, we started a tradition that would carry us through the rest of the week–a walk down to the park that sits along the shore. We did this first thing in the morning and right after dinner every night. Not a bad way to start and end each day! Lukas, of course, loved it!

A walk by the beach at sunset after dinner.

A gorgeous sunset in La Jolla.

Lukas could care less about the sunset. He was excited by all the new smells!

I, on the other hand, kept falling behind in our walk because I kept taking pictures.

We did the same route in the mornings. And, yes, I got behind then too. It’s just too beautiful not to stop and enjoy!

One more for the road.

Although Lukas enjoyed our road trip together, he does seem a little more content to be at home. We’d like to think, though, that he enjoys being wherever we are. It’s sure hard to see that face and think otherwise.

Love bug.

Have dog, will travel: 10 items to pack when traveling with Rover

Our first road trip with the new furry family member is scheduled for next week! We’re headed back to San Diego, which is about six hours from Phoenix by car. This will be a way to see if Pup can handle longer trips next summer.

So far, he seems amenable to riding in the car.

Doggie is fastened and ready to go!

It’s been a while since we’ve traveled with a four-legged friend, and it took some time to compile a packing list. I figured I can’t be the only one trying to remember everything a dog needs when he travels, so I am sharing my list of 10 items to pack when traveling with your dog:

1. Seatbelt clip

One end of this seatbelt clicks into a regular seatbelt lock. The other end clips into the ring on Fido’s harness. It gives him some freedom of movement in the car, but not enough that he goes flying off the seat should you need to hit the brakes quickly.

Nylon car Safe-T-Belt clips into standard car seatbelt locks and onto your dog’s harness.

2. Microchip

This little rice-sized microchip carries your contact information should your pet become lost. Almost all vets, shelters, and pounds in the United States have a microchip scanner, so if a good samaritan takes your pet to one of these locations, or if the city pound picks her up, all they have to do is scan her back to find out how to contact you.

The microchip is injected in between your dog’s shoulder blades at a vet’s office. The cost varies per veterinarian, but it averages about $45 per pet. Home Again charges an annual fee of $18 to maintain membership, but having the peace of mind is worth it.

In the video below, Betty White provides some helpful information about microchipping your pet.

3. Leash and Harness

This is probably obvious, but it’s an important one for keeping Trixie safe whenever she is outside of the car, hotel, or vacation rental. Even well-trained dogs that normally walk off-leash can become overstimulated by new surroundings, so it’s a good idea to leash them up when traveling. Our particular dog is hard of hearing, so he can never go outside of a fenced yard without a leash.

A harness is a good option for most dogs because it doesn’t press against the trachea and cause them to choke.

4. Poopy bags

As a citizen of the world that lives with other citizens of the world, it only makes sense to carry poopy bags wherever you take your dog. No one likes looking at or potentially stepping in dog waste. Plus, because it is used by flies and other small creatures as a place to raise a family, as it breaks down and gets absorbed into puddles, ponds, and lakes, it can be a source of giardia, a nasty parasite that can take its toll on human and canine stomachs, should it be ingested during swim breaks or lapped up by a thirsty pup.

Our favorite doggie bags are the BioBags Dog Waste Bags. They decompose rapidly in the landfill. At the very least, we all have access to plastic bags from the grocery store. Those can also be used to clean up after your dog.

BioBags for Pet Waste.

5. Water bottle with built-in bowl

The Water Rover is a convenient way to carry water for your pooch when you’re out and about. The lid has a built-in bowl. When you pop the stopper and lean the bottle over, water pours into the bowl for your dog. When you’re ready to get back on the road, just tilt the bottle upright to let the water wash back into the bottle. Press the stopper back in place and you’re ready to go! It is also dishwasher safe!

Water Rover water bottle comes in a variety of sizes and colors.

6. Kibble + Treats

Pack up an airtight container of kibble to last the trip so you don’t have to race around to find a pet food store and your dog doesn’t have to get used to a new brand of kibble, should his brand be unavailable. It’s a good idea to throw in a measured scoop as well so, even if you’re overeating on vacation, Max can keep his sporty canine physique.

Favorite treats, especially those made by local barkeries, are helpful for those times when he needs extra motivation to get back in the car, or just as an additional treat while you enjoy your own lunch on the road.

Our favorite barkeries are Furbabies and Happy Tails. Furbabies Delectable Delights are available through their online store or in select Whole Foods. Happy Tails also has an online store, or if you’re local to Phoenix, they are at the Gilbert Farmers Market every Saturday morning.

7. Paper towels + beach towel or blanket

Paper towels come in handy to clean up muddy paws, drippy jaws, and anything else that needs mopping up.

According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a traveler should never leave home without a towel and that goes double for traveling with your dog. It can be used as a blanket. It can be folded and used as a bed or pillow. And, of course, it can be used to towel off a dog that has just come from romping in the lake, ocean, or pool.

8. Favorite toys

Having familiar things around, especially favorite toys, may cut down on a dog’s anxiety while traveling. It will also give him something to chew on, squeak, and destroy when he becomes restless from sitting in the car too long.

Playing with a familiar toy can ease anxiety for a dog.

9. Crate and/or Doggie bed

Whether your dog’s favorite spot is inside her crate or curled up in her special bed, don’t forget to bring it along on trips. It will help all of you rest easier during the trip and cut down on stress-related issues that might arise from your dog’s nervousness at being in a new place.

10. Scheduled stops along the way

Of course, you’ll need to include some stops along the way for potty breaks and to stretch the legs.

Look out world! Here we come!

Can you think of anything I’ve forgotten? How do you travel with your pooch?

New reason to get outside for Worldwide Recess Day

My husband and I have a new reason for getting outside on September 14th, which is Worldwide Recess Day. We just adopted a new dog!

Meet our newest traveling companion!

AZ R.E.S.C.U.E is an organization that rescues cats and dogs from the euthanasia list at the local pound. Our little guy came to them in very bad shape, in need of lots of medical attention, besides needing to be neutered. Three months later, he is shiny, happy, and hopefully ready for a life of love and adventure with his new bi-peds.

On the couch together, just a paw’s touch away.

Thank you to Vicky and Phil, his foster parents, for taking such good care of “The Big Guy”, giving him the love and attention he needed, to be ready to meet a new family. Your strength, compassion, and blessing on the world are beyond measure. Without the commitment of organizations like AZ R.E.S.C.U.E and foster parents, we would not know the pleasure of feeling his particular warm paw pads press against our elbow as he sleeps next to us, or the belly laugh that bubbles out when he races to the couch and bounds into our laps. May you all experience the rich blessing that you give to others.

5 ways to play in San Diego

A path along the beach on Coronado Island is one of the many places to play in San Diego.

For those who live in San Diego, there is always a reason to get out and play, but for those who are only allowed short visits, how do you pack all of paradise into a single weekend? Below are five ideas on how to get the most out of a weekend of play in San Diego.

1. Take a tour with Another Side of San Diego

If Another Side of San Diego doesn’t have a tour to fit your interest, time frame, and preferred mode of transportation, it doesn’t exist! Whether you’re in the mood for history, art, nature, food, or even beer, they’ve got a tour for it. Not only that, but you can pursue your interests by Segway, on foot, in a hot air balloon, on horseback, on a bike, or even in a boat! As long-time resident of La Jolla, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) said, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

To explore their tour options, visit their website. To book a tour, you can use their website or call them at 1-619-239-2111.

Another Side of San Diego tours has tours by land or sea. In La Jolla you can walk, Segway, or kayak to learn about this jewel of a town where seals and sea lions call home.

A tour of Balboa Park will introduce you to the natural wonders of Southern California, but you may also catch a concert at one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs!

2. San Diego Botanic Gardens

To get outside and get away from it all, head up to Encinitas and visit the peaceful San Diego Botanic Gardens. There you can walk to the music of nature: birds chirping, lizards rustling in the brush, lacy bamboo swooshing in the breeze. Find a bench alongside the waterfall in the Tropical Rainforest, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of water carry all your troubles away.

San Diego Botanic Gardens brim with life in all shapes and forms. Some shapes have more form than others, like this incredible statue made up of succulents.

On Saturdays at 10:30am, the gardens provide docent-led tours of the splendid variety of plants living in each section. Also, check their calendar for classes and other events, such as making your own succulent art work or cooking with an opera singing chef.

3. Take in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse

If you’re in San Diego to explore the beauty of their outdoor paradise, but you wouldn’t mind taking in a play while you’re there, you can combine the two by attending a Without Walls play through the award-winning La Jolla Playhouse. Over the last year, their Without Walls program has literally led audiences out of the theater and through garden paths or into the intimate surroundings of cars and martini bars.

“The Car Plays: San Diego” was a part of the Without Walls program and one of many brilliant plays hosted by the La Jolla Playhouse.

If there isn’t a Without Walls program running when you visit, it is still worthwhile to see one of their plays with traditional-style seating. It should be stated, however, that none of their plays can be considered “traditional”. Better words might be provocative, cutting-edge, soulful, and unforgettable.

4. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

With two locations to choose from and plenty of docent-led tours available, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego you can discover just how much you have in common with contemporary art. Take, for example, the current exhibit downtown by local artist Margaret Noble entitled “44th and Landis”. If you’re used to art being oil paintings hung on walls, you may wonder what you can get out of her paper dolls hanging from the ceiling and the wild noises crashing from her handmade speakers. But stop and look at the paper dolls. Listen to the sounds. Suddenly, you see familiar things, like the logo of a Peeps Marshmallow box or the chase of Ms. Pacman through a maze. You hear familiar sounds that take you back to 1982, when you lived for Space Invaders and chased the ice cream truck on your bike until it stopped.

If you didn’t grow up in the 80s, you may still connect with the artists that use light and space to evoke a feeling. Whole rooms are devoted to the sensations and emotions light can have on us. And, if that doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you will marvel at the wall that breathes or connect with the massive iron heart that looks like a prison.

This Light and Space piece by Doug Wheeler is one you participate in simply by showing up and experiencing what shifts within you as a result of this space and its lighting.

5. FOOD!

San Diego is not only charmed with sunny weather and stunning ocean views, it is home to more than its share of talented chefs, fresh produce, and inspired craft beer brewmasters.

If you only have time and budget for one special restaurant, go without delay to Georges at the Cove in La Jolla. Chef Trey Foshee has won tons of awards for his California Modern cuisine, including the San Diego Chefs Hall of Fame and the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”. There’s a reason for all these accolades. His food is consistently knock-your-flip-flops-off delicious; the kind of delicious that you remember and dream about weeks and months later. Even vegetarians can get in on the making of great food memories because they offer an entirely vegetarian menu and many of the dishes can be made vegan.

Reservations are recommended and can be made online or by calling 858-454-4244.

Georges on the Cove is definitely high-end food, but you gotta love a place that rolls up its sleeves with The People by serving donuts and coffee for desert.

If you go to Encinitas to visit the San Diego Botanic Gardens for an afternoon of peaceful retreat, spend your evening having dinner at Union Kitchen and Tap just down the road. They offer a variety of high-end tavern food (including vegetarian and vegan options) and they offer about 20 craft beers on tap, many of which are locally crafted.

Depending on what time you go, reservations may not be necessary, but if time is of the essence, it may be worthwhile to secure a table by giving them a call at 760.230.2337(BEER).

Where to stay

Hotel Parisi in La Jolla offers elegant and convenient accommodations for almost any sized group and any length of stay. The main sights, restaurants, and shopping opportunities are located just beyond the doorstep of this hotel.

Hotel Parisi also offers Parisi Apart, corporate apartments decked out with full-sized refrigerators, microwaves, silverware and dishes for travelers needing extended stays or those wishing to eat meals in the comfort of their own apartment.

The convenience of this hotel does come at a price, however. Prices start around $300 a night for a basic room and go up to over $400 a night for the extended stay apartments. Parking is an additional $15 per night and other fees may apply.

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These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are endless.

How do you like to spend time in San Diego? Comment below or email me at srdryja@jetplanesandcoffee.com with your ideas! With your help, we can put together a comprehensive list that will help others plan their weekend at play in San Diego!

Recess in La Jolla

KEEN’s Worldwide Recess Day isn’t for another week, but I thought I’d get a jumpstart by playing on the rocks in La Jolla, California.

One of the many stunning views in La Jolla. This one was had standing just beyond the wave’s reach atop the continental shelf at low tide.

Stay tuned for more photos from my weekend at play, along with tips and ideas for how you can enjoy “The Jewel” of California!

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Don’t forget to upload your photos to Twitter and Instagram on September 14th with the hashtag #TAKE10, for a chance to win a pair of shoes by KEEN footwear! And, although I can’t offer you a pair of shoes, I would still love to see what you’ve got planned for recess, so be sure to go to my Facebook page and post your photos there too!

Waiting for the recess bell

Worldwide Recess Day is just 10 days away!

Here are some inspiring ideas from readers on Twitter and Facebook:

Becky from Arizona will spend the whole day in recess that day. She’s taking the husband and kids to Disneyland!

What better place to spend a whole day of recess than Disneyland? (Photo by Wikipedia User: RAGB.)

Maryellen from New York plans to go old school playing hopscotch and jump rope.

Magpie hopscotch at Morecambe Pier, England. Taken by Wikipedia User:Lupin, 11/Apr/2004.

She also liked the idea of calling all the school chums together for a rousing game of kickball.

Girls playing kickball in Central Park in New York in 1973. (Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration.)

I like the idea of walking to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone.

Vintage neon Dairy Queen sign, Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Ian Muttoo.)

Or heading to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to spy lizards and hummingbirds.

A trek through the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is my idea of recess!

Or how about a hot air balloon ride?

How about a hot air balloon ride?

How will you get out and enjoy being a kid again on September 14th? Send in your ideas and I’ll post them here!

For more excitement, upload a picture to Twitter or Instagram on the 14th with the hashtag #TAKE10. You may win a pair of shoes from KEEN footwear! KEEN will announce one winner every hour.

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Jet Planes and Coffee is not affiliated with KEEN footwear and will, therefore, not be giving away shoes. We do love a great opportunity to get outside and play, though, so get out there, have some fun, and share your experiences!

Walking Stratford

While at first glance Stratford, Ontario may seem like any small, historic town in North America, it has a lot to offer the traveling walker. For those used to city life, Stratford moves at a slower pace, but it won’t disappoint in the way of world-class entertainment and restaurants. For the tourist who likes to walk and see the places they visit, Stratford is perfect as well, offering many walking tours, excellent paths to stroll along the river, a long street for shopping, and several gardens to explore.

Stratford, Ontario is about a two-hour drive from Toronto or a three-hour drive from Detroit. Although Detroit is an hour longer, crossing the border by car seems to be quicker than going through customs at the airport in Toronto. From Phoenix, prices for flights are cheaper to Detroit than they are to Toronto as well. Still, Toronto is a fabulous city with all its own reasons for visiting, so make sure to choose to visit Toronto, either on its own, or as a path to Stratford sometime.

To enter Canada by flying into Toronto, US citizens need to have their passports. To drive up from Detroit, you must have either a passport or the US Passport Card.

The U.S. Passport Card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry and is more convenient and less expensive than a passport book. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.

~ From the US Bureau of Consular Affairs website

Where we stayed and why

If you read my previous article, you know we stayed at one of my favorite places in the world, The Verandah, a vacation rental owned by Debbie and Denis Harrison who rent out one side of their duplex home and live in the other side. The Verandah is perfectly situated for anyone wanting to visit Stratford mostly on foot. We were able to walk to all the theaters and restaurants from our home away from home. In fact, the only place we didn’t walk to was the grocery store, which was just a tad too far for carrying loads of groceries.

The Verandah has two bedrooms, both with queen-sized beds, and one-and-a-half baths. It has a full-size kitchen filled with glasses, dishes, pots, pans, and utensils–pretty much anything one might need to cook at home. There is an office with a large desk for those who must work while in Stratford, and they have high-speed wireless internet. For those times when you need to wash a load of clothes, there is a washer and dryer on site. For more images of The Verandah, go to my previous article.

All distances and step calculations mentioned below are measured from the front door of The Verandah, which is located at 29 Church Street.

The Verandah.

Groceries and other necessities

If you’re staying in Stratford for any length of time and you have a kitchen available, you may wish to visit one of the many farmers markets or local food marts to take advantage of the fresh produce available in the summertime in Ontario. Thanks to groups like Slow Food Perth County, and others equally interested in eating locally and seasonally, there are several options available.

Sunday Slow Food Farmers Market: This market is open on Sundays from 10am to 2pm during the summer months. Be sure to check with them online for their schedule, as they close when temperatures start to cool down. While they are in operation during the summer, they sponsor special events, including a Food Truck Event and a Pork Party, celebrating Stratford’s history with all things pork.

The Slow Food Farmers Market is in the Market Square, just behind City Hall, between Downie and Wellington Streets. It is just over a quarter of a mile from The Verandah, making it about 600 steps one way.

The Slow Food Farmers Market is located behind City Hall. (Look closely and you can see a food truck.) Take the road left, and you’ll come upon the Co-op. Take the road right and you’ll find the LCBO.

Your Local Market Cooperative: This little grocery shop is owned and operated by the employees. Almost everything they sell is produced and/or processed in Ontario, the only exception being that their soymilk is from Quebec because they haven’t yet found a local producer. Breads are made onsite daily.

Regular hours are Monday through Saturday from 8am to 8pm, Sunday 9am to 5pm.

Located at 129 Downie Street, this store is .3 miles, or 600 steps, from The Verandah.

The Gentle Rain Natural Health Food Store: This store has been serving Stratford for 30 years. They provide all manner of organic groceries, natural household products, supplements, and other items you may need to eat and live healthily. Their selection and variety is a little bigger than the co-op downtown, but both stores have the same desire of providing local, seasonal, healthy choices.

Their hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 7pm, Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.

The Gentle Rain is located at 30 Rebecca Street, which is approximately .5 miles from The Verandah, or 1000 steps.

Zehr’s: If you can’t find what you need at the farmers market, the co-op, or The Gentle Rain, Zehr’s will have it. This is your typical grocery store with a produce department, a frozen foods section, and a meat department. They have a variety of fish available, much of it local to Ontario, and they have a lot of familiar brands, such as Pepsi, Kashi, and Kellogg’s.

They are open Sundays from 8am to 11pm, Mondays from 10am-4pm, and Tuesday through Saturday from 7am to 11pm.

Zehr’s is located at 865 Ontario Street, which is not quite 2 miles from The Verandah. We did not walk there, but if you did, it would give you not quite 4000 steps one way.

LCBO: Need a bottle of wine for a dinner party? How about some unique beer choices? The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, known as LCBO, is a store located just off of downtown Stratford. It has a very good selection of wines, beers, and other spirits. If you’re looking for something specific, go to their website before visiting the store. Select “Products” and do a search for the item, along with the store location, and they’ll provide an inventory of what is available.

LCBO is located at 91 Wellington Street and is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 9pm, and on Sundays from 12pm to 5pm.

To walk there from The Verandah will earn you about 400 steps one way. The store is .2 miles from your home away from home.

Shoppers Drug Mart: For all those odds and ends that come up in a trip, there’s Shoppers Drug Mart. Similar to a Walgreen’s or CVS in the States, this chain store carries headache medicine, a variety of snack foods (including some fresh fruit!), umbrellas, sunblock, and much more.

They are open from 8am to midnight everyday. The one in Stratford is located at 211 Ontario Street, which is about .4 miles from The Verandah, or 800 steps one way.

Coffee

It could be that Stratford is one of my favorite places in the world because it is host to some of the best coffee I have ever had. Starbucks does not exist in Stratford, at least not downtown or within walking distance. At first this may seem as a disappointment, but once you get a taste of Balzac’s or Revels, you’ll be glad you didn’t have access to Starbucks.

Balzac’s: This coffee house, which got its start in Stratford, has gone on to become a successful small chain throughout Ontario. Be sure and buy a pound or two of beans to stash in your suitcase so you can have a little taste of Stratford wherever you call home. I particularly enjoy the Atwood Blend.

“Alas, poor Yorick! We brew him well.”

Balzac’s is a place to go lounge with friends. There is plenty of seating indoors and a few tables outside as well. If you are walking with a puppy, there is often water available for them just outside the door and they are allowed to sit on the patio with you.

Sidle up to the counter for coffee drinks, beans, tea, and more.

Hours are not listed on their website, but you may call them at 519-273-7909 for more information. In Stratford, they are located at 149 Ontario Street, which is .3 miles from The Verandah, or approximately 600 steps one way.

Revel Caffe: Restaurants around Stratford agree, the coffee brewed at this coffee house devoted to fair trade is one worth experiencing. The rich roasts will make such an imprint in your culinary mind that, weeks later, you will think wistfully of the warm smell of the brew and the bold flavors.

The owner, Anne Campion, will surely be part of that memory as well because she is passionate about her coffee and will happily talk with you to answer any questions you may have. While in Stratford, do as Steve McElroy from the New York Times did, and visit Revel Caffe often. Then, if your love affair has not been satiated, buy some beans to take home. You’ll be glad you did.

Revel Caffe is open on Mondays from 8am to 5pm, Tuesday through Thursday from 8am to 6pm, Friday and Saturday from 8am to 7pm, and Sunday from 9:30am to 4pm.

You can start your love affair by going to 50 Wellington Street, which is a mere .3 miles from The Verandah, or about 600 steps.

Sputnik: This little coffee bar tucked inside the skinniest building in Stratford is also tucked beneath what is rumored to have been the apartment Thomas Edison lived in when he worked in Stratford for a short time. The coffee here is good, although Balzac’s and Revel are just a little bit better. Sputnik is just one of those places that immediately makes a person feel at home, like you’ve been going there for years, even if it’s your first time in. The baristas make Sputnik special, that and the mid-century atomic atmosphere.

This coffee house is so small they don’t even have a website. They also don’t take credit cards, so be sure to take cash. For hours and more information, call them at 519-273-6767. Sputnik is just a hop from The Verandah at 46 Ontario Street, which is .1 miles away, or about 200 steps.

Sputnik Espresso Bar

Saw this cartoon last year at Sputnik. It is applicable to me any day of the year. Thankfully, there are places like Sputnik all over Stratford to help make things better.

For more information about these and other coffee shops in Stratford, visit the food blog, Kitchen Dilettante.

Restaurants

It is important to note that many restaurants and shops are closed on Mondays in Stratford since the theaters are dark on that day. If they are open during the day on Monday, chances are good they will be closed on Monday evening. Be sure to check with the restaurant or shop for current hours.

The (OLD) Prune: Long ago, this restaurant was called The Old Prune, hence the parenthesis and the word “OLD” in the middle. Some still call it that. I did for a while because it was The Old Prune the first time I went there. Whether it is old or new, this has to be the best restaurant in Stratford. And that’s saying a lot because you can almost throw a stone from anywhere in town and hit a great restaurant. The Prune, though, is extra special. If there is one place in the world where I am bound to not only eat every crumb off my plate for every single course, but also to threaten to lick the plate itself, it is The Prune. Having left you with that pleasant image, if you only go to one high-end restaurant in Stratford, make it The Prune.

Calling all vegetarians: I know what you’re thinking. “If it’s that good, they probably make everything with duck fat and bacon.” Take heart, however. At The Prune, they offer an all vegetarian prix fixe menu. It’s true! And it’s all amazingly spectacular. Maybe that’s why this is my favorite restaurant.

Reservations are recommended, especially if you have a show to go to. They can be made by calling 519-271-5052, emailing reservations@theprune.com, or online at OpenTable.com.

The Prune is located at 151 Albert Street, which is a lovely half-mile walk from The Verandah. Walking there will give you approximately 1000 steps one way. Walking back will help you feel better after having embarrassed yourself by slurping up that last bit of malted chocolate ice cream. (Don’t worry. I did it too.)

Bijou:  The experience at Bijou is tres unique, at least in this part of North America. It is not unlike a comfy bistro in Paris and the food is just as good (if not–dare I say it–better). A new menu is born out of the changing seasons and availability of local produce. Because it changes so often, the only menu available can be seen on a chalkboard right outside the kitchen window. The menu is prix fixe. Choose two courses for $48 or three courses for $55.

Remember the vegetarian thing I mentioned earlier? Well, although Bijou does not always have vegetarian options on their menu, if you mention to the hostess while making reservations that someone in your party is vegetarian, they will go out of their way to prepare something wonderful for you. And it will knock your socks off.

Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner. They are not open on Mondays but for the rest of the week they have two seating times for dinner. The first seating is from 5pm to 6pm. The second seating is from 8pm to 9pm. Call 519-273-5000 to make reservations and to ask about lunch hours.

Bijou is located at 105 Erie Street, which is only .2 miles from The Verandah, or 400 steps one way.

Pazzo Ristorante, Pizzeria & Bar: This two-in-one restaurant/pizzeria can be a little confusing, but it’s worth checking out both options during a trip to Stratford. The restaurant, which is located at street level when you first walk in the door, is for those times you’re dressed up for the theater and want something a little more upscale than pizza. The pizzeria, downstairs, is where to go when you’re a little more casual and just want to satisfy that pizza craving we all get now and then. You can dress up at the pizzeria too. Lots of people go there before a show, but whether you go to the restaurant or the pizza place, make reservations by calling 519-273-6666 or 1-877-440-9666.

Pazzo is located in the heart of it all at 70 Ontario Street. This will earn you 400 steps, being that it is just .2 miles from The Verandah, so be sure and go to the restaurant one night and the pizza place another to get double the steps.

Chocolate Barr’s: This chocolate boutique may not be a restaurant, but it is definitely gourmet and deserves to be highlighted. It is a perfect place to buy handmade (and delicious) gifts, along with the best dark chocolate I have ever had. For those on Weight Watchers, this is good news because dark chocolate is not only good for you but, when broken in to bite-sized pieces, only costs a Point or two.

But there’s more good news! If you walk there from The Verandah, you can get around 600 steps one way! It’s located at 136 Ontario Street, which is about .3 miles away. Stop by for some chocolate, then walk across the street to Balzac’s for coffee. What more do you need?

Things to do

Stratford Shakespeare Festival 

With 14 shows playing at various times in four theaters, many of which are populated by names you are familiar with if you watch any movies at all, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival will steal your heart and create a longing to return year after year. It is high-quality theater, but not highfalutin and pretentious. Tickets can be had for a reasonable price, some starting around $30 per person. Even if you can only do it once, the experiences had, the stories told, the emotions felt are unforgettable and will last you a lifetime.

The Festival Theatre with its tent-like peaks.

There are four theaters and a theater annex which house the different plays in Stratford. The Festival Theatre, is the largest theater in town. It is is located at 55 Queen Street. It is what gave Stratford’s theater festival its start. What started as a tent in 1953 is now a lovely building with tent-like peaks around its roof. The start of each show and the end of each intermission at The Festival is punctuated with the sounding of horns urging you in. It makes the event feel like an event from the very beginning.

The trumpeters and drum call guests to the show from the balcony of the theatre.

To walk to the Festival Theatre from The Verandah will earn you not quite 2000 steps since it is almost a mile away. Imagine what that will be like when you return to your home away from home with a total of 4000 steps, and the breath of fresh air you can breathe not having to fight for parking!

The Avon Theatre is a bit closer to The Verandah. It is located at 99 Downie Street and, so, is right around .3 miles (or 600 steps) one way. The Avon used to be a vaudeville theatre and then a movie theater, but in 1963 was bought by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and made officially a part of the festivities.

The Avon Theatre lit up at night. This was the night we saw Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”.

The Studio Theatre and its Annex are not far from the Avon Theatre and, therefore, only add a few extra steps from The Verandah. It is located at 34 George Street East and is .4 miles, or about 800 steps from home. Both the Studio Theatre and the Studio Theatre Annex are more intimate spaces and are generally used for experimental plays and cabaret style shows.

Finally, the Thomas Patterson Theatre, which is named for the founder of the Stratford Festival, is another intimate theater which showcases both contemporary and classic shows. In the last two years, I have seen a vivid telling of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and an emotional Elektra by Sophocles, both of which could be argued as classic stories portrayed by the Stratford Creatives in very contemporary lights.

This theater is located a half a mile from The Verandah at 111 Lakeside Drive. You can earn 1000 steps walking along the lovely river to get there.

Walk along the river to the Thomas Patterson Theatre and you may catch site of beloved swans with their cygnets.

Stratford Summer Music Festival

If there is one thing I wish I had participated in more during my two-week stay in Stratford this year, it is the Stratford Summer Music Festival. All the locals I spoke to had been to at least one show and they all raved, especially about Jan Lisiecki, a young pianist who apparently put on an almost spiritual performance at St. Andrews Church.

Truly, music seemed to pour out of every crevice in town, but unless it was right there, I seemed to miss much of it. It was a pleasure to walk along the river and catch one of the shows happening at the barge, and soon after I left, the Play Me, I’m Yours street pianos arrived for anyone to enjoy.

Should you be a bit wiser than I am, go to Stratford during the the Summer Music Festival and soak it up, as well as the theater. Many shows and activities are free for the listening. You just have to be at the right place at the right time. I’m already planning for next year.

Walking Tours

One of the things that makes Stratford a walker’s paradise is the sheer number of walking tours offered through the Visitor Center. They have historical tours and architectural tours, garden tours and culinary tours. They even have a tour map for those interested in hitting all the favorited spots of local “It” boy, Justin Bieber, many of which are walkable around town.

The Visit Stratford website is a bit difficult to navigate. There’s just so much to do in Stratford that it seems they’re having a hard time knowing how to organize the information. My advice is to go to the Stratford Tourism Alliance when you get into town and ask them for information about walking tours. Some are free, others are between $6 and $8, depending on who is hosting them. The Tourism Alliance, though, will have all the information you need. Their main office is located at 47 Downie Street, or you can call them at 1-800-561-7926. There is also a small Visitor Centre located along the river, just beyond the Veterans Memorial plaza.

You can also do a small amount of searching with the free Visit Stratford app for your iPhone or Android phone. Although I couldn’t locate the free walking tours on the app, I did see information for all the places mentioned in this article, including The Verandah, restaurants, and other points of interest. It’s a good place to start.

The Avon River

The Avon River has some sort of magical, hypnotic powers. When walking along the meandering paths, a person can’t help but forget that time exists. All other pressures are massaged out of the shoulders and brain, thanks to the gentle roll of the water, the golden light of the sunset, or the fluttering leaves of the lazy trees. Add to that the bagpipes wafting from the Veterans Memorial plaza or the dixie music playing off the barge, and time definitely stands still.

The Avon River, the stone-arch bridge, and the courthouse are three icons of Stratford.

The Avon River

Cross under the stone-arch bridge to get from one side of it to the other and you’ll experience a picturesque view you only thought possible in England or France.

This is the oldest stone arch bridge still in use in Canada.

Walk under the bridge for a different way to The Shakespeare Gardens.

Once on the other side of the bridge, take in the Shakespeare Gardens. Be sure to walk all the way past Anne Hathaway’s house and the little gazebo. The trees grow tall and provide comforting shade on a hot summer’s day.

The Shakespeare Gardens sit right next to the Avon River.

Keep walking the path past the gazebo, into the trees and back around again.

This article only scratches the surface when it comes to what to see, do, and eat in Stratford. That’s why it’s a good idea to visit as often as possible, so you can see and do that much more the next time.

Have you been to Stratford? If so, where did you stay? What advice would you give someone going there? Do you have any questions about Stratford, The Verandah, or walking around town? Leave your questions and ideas in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you on one of my favorite subjects!

Stratford, Ontario: A love story

I have been putting off telling this story for weeks. The idea of uncovering for the world my love for Stratford, Ontario feels wrong in a way. Like a girl finally telling the boy she loves that she loves him, but doing it through a megaphone at a football game. It’s not that she worries the love will not be reciprocated, although maybe that’s part of it. It’s that by telling it, she reveals too much of herself and risks cheapening the love, bringing in too many outsiders into something that should be tenderly intimate. But I’ve got to take that risk, so here goes.

I love Stratford.

There, I said it. I love everything about it: the old shops along Ontario street, the Avon River, the trees surrounding the river, the Shakespeare Gardens, the tour guides who take you around the same routes telling you the same stories with the innocence of volunteers who love their town.

I love The Verandah, our home away from home when we visit Stratford.

I love the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. How could you not love the theater in this town? When I am there, I absorb the plays as if they are one layer deeper than my own skin, and I wear their memory for the whole year after, in some cases, even years to come.

The town of Stratford, alive with life.

This past year was my third time visiting Stratford. It was the longest visit–two weeks. We stayed, for the second time, in The Verandah, the place I dream about during the year when I have a hard day and need something soft and beautiful to remind me of joy and happiness.

Here it is just a storybook card, but I fell in love with the real Verandah.

Stratford is a town of 32,000 or so other people who love their town, at least that’s how it comes across. While I was there this year, we spoke with locals from different aspects of life and they all had the same thing to say: it is a great place to live. It is hopeful and lively. It is small-town life with the kind of world-class entertainment and cuisine that big cities dream of. It is thoughtful with things like recycling and seasonal food and supporting local businesses.

Of course, we cannot ever forget the theater. That’s part of the world-class entertainment and is what brings thousands of people to Stratford every year for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Still, with all the other things going on–music festivals, food festivals, daily visits to boutiques and antique shops, wiling a day away at a coffee house, luxuriating in the pleasures of a meal at The Prune or Bijou–whole days could potentially pass where no theater is experienced.

But it must be experienced.

The majesty of the Festival Theatre is celebrated with lush gardens and public art.

William Shakespeare in stainless steel (or aluminum?) in the gardens outside the Festival Theatre.

I saw a play there this year called Hirsch. Out of the five I saw, all of which were moving and powerful, Hirsch was the most powerful. It was about the Canadian director, John Hirsch, who was originally from Hungary and had been orphaned in World War II. He watched his mother carted off and never saw her again. He watched his uncle shot in front of him. They were Jews and treated the way Jews were treated by the Third Reich in World War II.

Terrifying things happened to this man before he was a teenager. Yet, as the story unfolded–and as I wept from the depths of my humanity that connects with such things–it demonstrated the courage it takes to live a real life. It showed how life grows on, in some ways because of what one has witnessed, and in other ways, in spite of it.

The actor, Alon Nashman, was also the creator of the play. He was brilliant. Brilliant. You know how I know? Because even now as I am writing this paragraph, I can call to mind the delightful laughter and the excruciating tears he pulled out of me with his story and his acting. He connected with me, a white, non-Jewish, 40-something American woman who has never experienced such discrimination, torture, and terror, and who has never been forced to find beauty and strength in that kind of loneliness.

His play and his acting are what stays with me today. The story inspires me to do the work that I do in the world, and it reminds me that nothing can be as scary as what that man experienced in his life. What fears I may have for any venture I take on cannot be half as terrifying as facing the world completely alone and ostracized as an orphaned Jewish boy after World War II. Yet, he found the strength and courage to not only keep going, but to become one of the greatest creative forces in Canada.

This is why I go to Stratford. It inspires me, it pushes me, it nourishes me in ways no other place can. I will carry the messages of the play and the story of John Hirsch for the rest of my life.

Then there’s Elektra. I read a comment someone made on the Stratford Festival Facebook page that it was not true to Sophocles. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t know, and I don’t really care. It was a story well told with a depth of emotion, and the emotions fleshed out in the characters (especially Elektra). What happened in that theater to actors and patrons alike far outweighs how it stands up to what Sophocles intended. The physicality of the play, the rhythm of it, the costuming, all the things those actors did, which seemed to me to be flawless and effortless, pulled together to become an enveloping tale about sorrow, loss, fear, and justice that rocked me to my very bones and left me feeling very much alive.

Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two was magnificent. It was an honor to see him perform live, especially given how intimate it was and how the one-man show was about his life. I can’t say it was the most powerful play–the two mentioned above get that nomination. But it was the one that takes my breath away when I think about it because it’s as if I got to see one of the Great Wonders of the World before it disappears. (And please, Mr. Plummer, if you ever read this, which I doubt you will, forgive me for comparing you to a large, ancient monument of some sort, but you must know I mean it with the greatest of humility and respect.)

The Avon Theatre, where we saw Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”.

The other plays, Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing were the two Shakespearean plays we saw out of the five. Of course, it is hard to go wrong with Shakespeare, but these two were not the ones that will stay with me all year. The acting was superb, of course. The costumes, amazing. The staging, incredible, especially the use of that massive door for Henry V, which they utilized in a million different ways to portray different scenes. Both plays were worth seeing. If I was in Stratford all season, I would go see them several times–but Hirsch and Elektra would be my picks if I had only time and budget for two.

When there are no plays to see–the theaters are dark on Mondays in Stratford–there is a wealth of things worth seeing and doing. It is important to point out, however, that part of the charm of Stratford is slowing down and not rushing from one thing to another. I do that all year in my regular life. I don’t need to do it in Stratford.

Summer there is lush with flowers and brimming with life. It is in Stratford that we might pause and enjoy this beauty. Starting at the Avon River, we watch as it lolls slowly under the stone-arch bridge.

What is left of an old wool mill and is now part of The Shakespeare Gardens which sits along the Avon River.

The stone-arch bridge is the oldest of its kind in Canada. It is still in use and is part of a major thoroughfare through the town. The steeple seen in the distance is the courthouse.

The beloved swans parade their regency of the waters and surrounding lands with their little cygnets. The trees dip their knobby elbows and fingers into the river, and their leaves provide a golden curtain to shield land lovers who sit on benches along the shore.

A male swan rests with the female (not shown) and their brood of cygnets by the river.

Chess anyone?

On one of the first days we were there I discovered the magic of sunsets in Stratford. I heard bagpipes coming up to the town from near the river and was drawn to see what sort of group was serenading the sun as it went down.

Two boys, one playing the bagpipes and one playing the snare drum, were in the plaza standing next to a war memorial. Beyond them was the Avon River, peaceful and permissive to their music. People gathered in the plaza, surrounded the boys, listening. Two little girls–about six and four–danced and hopped to the beat of the drum.

The pipes and drums serenade the sun as it sets.

When I arrived, there was a feeling of reverence toward the boys and their music. It seemed the perfect way to end a day. I scooted up on one of the half-walls that lines the plaza and listened. No one wanted to move while they were playing. If we did move, we were slow and respectful, as if we were in church and had just taken communion.

While the boys played, two little girls with bright orange hair came with their mother and sat across from me on the foot of the memorial. Were they put there to make the scene more authentic? Of course they weren’t, but the picture of Scottish music playing over a plaza with two wee girls of that heritage could not have been more complete. How adorably Scottish they were with their rolly cheeks and their shining braids. They sat sweetly in their little dresses, licking delicately at their ice cream cones, and they listened. While I was there, I imagined their souls being drawn to this music of their ancestors. I wondered if it was at all familiar to them. They surely were not out of place. Come to think of it, I have Scottish heritage. Perhaps that is what drew me as well, while my Polish-bred husband went on to the house, unmoved by the sounds.

Finally, I walked to the river. The music followed me there, to a leafy cocoon on the shore. The branches of the massive tree before me bent over and into the river. I imagined I was beneath the arm of a giant boy sticking his fingers out of a boat to feel the water on his fingertips. The stillness, the joy in my heart, the poetry of music and sunset, it all formed this love I carry with me.

A sanctuary built by nature.

When it was time to return home from the pipes and drum, I made my way across the familiar path I had come to know the year before–up the hill to town, across the busy street of Ontario, through a parking lot and down the graveled path of the pastoral Verandah.

Our half of The Verandah.

A warm welcome of hospitality awaits every visit.

Why it’s called The Verandah.

Debbie and Denis Harrison, the owners of The Verandah, clearly love their town and the home they open to others. The house is divided into two. On one side is where they live. On the other side is where we stayed for the second year in a row.

Debbie has decorated it with things she found all over Ontario, many of which had to be given new life with scrubbings, washings, sandings, new coats of paint–whatever it took to make it live again. She has breathed life into The Verandah, both in the structure of the 100-plus year-old home, and the things furnishing it.

Home Sweet Home.

Treasures and trinkets adorn every space.

There are nooks for every fancy. This one is in the master bedroom. That window is a door that opens onto a balcony.

The kitchen is well-furnished with pots, pans, dishes, and welcoming flowers.

The gardens surrounding it are cared for by her and her husband Denis. Even without the plays or the river, I would go to Stratford to stay in The Verandah. It is a retreat and a blessing to be there. If you knew how many pictures I took of their house so that I could look at them over the year when I cannot be there, you would think I was quite crazy. And I am–in the same way that someone is crazy when they fall in love.

Even the back door is a delightful sign of home.

More nooks–even for the birds.

A spot for dinner al fresco, complete with a large umbrella to shade the sun.

Beauty is everywhere at The Verandah.

I told myself I wouldn’t cry while writing this love letter, but it’s too late. And now I realize why it truly took me so long to compose it. I didn’t want the pain of missing it to scrape at my heart like it is doing now.

Times like these call for remembering what I have rather than what I don’t have and being grateful for it, so allow me a moment to be thankful.

Angels shall trumpet my love and gratitude.

I am thankful to my husband for making it possible for us to visit Stratford every year. I am thankful for such a place as Stratford, Ontario. I am grateful to Debbie and Denis for opening one side of their home so we may enjoy their hospitality and friendship. I am thankful for having such memories, for experiencing such joy. I am thankful for being in love and having something so worthy of my devotion that I can make a pilgrimage there every year to renew the wonder and joy it brings me.

That spark of joy you see in my husband’s eyes as he is being silly with one of my hats is another reason I love Stratford. It brings that out in both of us.

I am thankful for having the opportunity to be surrounded by beauty upon beauty.

And I thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me during this love letter. It makes me feel silly to gush, but I can’t help it. I hope you can see why. This is the only thing I will write in this way. Tomorrow we get back to business as I demonstrate how easy it is to walk Stratford from The Verandah, so stay tuned for “Walking Stratford”.

Thank you for allowing me to share my favorite place in the world with you.

Walking Chicago

In many ways, Chicago is like every other city. Generations of people and buildings overlap as reminders of the past, witnesses of the present, and springboards to the future. The city seems to breathe in and out as waves of people and cars navigate its sidewalks and streets. It sings the songs of diesel engines, street musicians, and car horns. Its colors blur in the mirrors of its glass buildings: taxicab yellow, brick red, asphalt black. It has an electricity that gets the pulse racing and can make a person feel charged with life. In this telling Chicago could be any city. Seeing it like this, though, is only a minute of its existence, and this particular city deserves a longer look.

Video by Chris Pritchard from his “Places in Time” series.

It is difficult to nail down just one thing that defines Chicago. Many have tried. They say it’s heart and soul is about architecture, finances, or politics. Chicago is about all of those things, but it is more than that. It is a complex grouping of everything that makes the human race tick, pushes it to thrive, and occasionally causes it to stumble and lose its way. No one thing encompasses this city and holds it still for very long. Therefore, no one visit is enough to completely understand it. Even one visit, though, can be enough to loosen one’s own stale understandings of the world and leave them to feel a little new and green again.

Chicago is a mosaic of history, people, experiences. This public work of art by Marc Chagall is available for all to see in the Chase Tower plaza.

Hubby and I have spent time in Chicago before, but it had been a while since our last visit. It won’t be our last. I went in to this trip thinking I knew what to expect, seeing it as “just another city I had been to before”. I quickly learned how wrong I was. I hadn’t taken into account the vibrancy and inventiveness of the place. Before our four-day visit was over, I was breathless, almost exhausted, by all I had taken in. We did more than just sightsee. We saturated our thoughts into the city, thanks to time spent with a well-informed local. Even then, though, we recognized that it was not enough.

Rolf Achilles

Allow me to introduce you to our well-informed local, Mr. Rolf Achilles. When I spoke with the concierge at the hotel where we stayed, I told her that we wanted to experience as much of the spirit of Chicago as we could in such a short amount of time. She recommended we hire Mr. Achilles as a private tour guide for the city. Her description of him was, “he is like a walking Encyclopedia Britannica on Chicago”. She wasn’t kidding. You can look on his website to see his long list of achievements, projects, and interests. There is also a History of Chicago Timeline on his website, which starts way back in 1673, before any keystone was laid for what is now known as Chicago. It is as impressive as anything else he has done.

When we finally met Mr. Achilles, we discovered that although the concierge’s description was spot-on, there was more to him than just bookly information. He loves his town. His love for it bubbled over in waves until, suddenly, we knew we were in love with his town too.

In the short amount of time we spent traveling around with him, Mr. Achilles quickly became a trusted friend. He is not just an expert on all things Chicago. He is an experiencer of life. He savors rich experiences as well as mundane ones and then he turns to you and offers you a bite.

We were given three bites of Chicago while we explored the city with Mr. Achilles: Public Art and Architecture, the Chicago History Museum and Old Town, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

For these tours, we took cabs to our destinations, with Mr. Achilles indicating to the driver special neighborhoods and spaces we needed to thread our way through so that we could take in the majority of the city along the way.

Public Art and Architecture

Public Art

Chicago is a city packed with public art. On nearly every block there seems to be a famous statue or structure by someone we have all heard of. Mr. Achilles showed us these works of art and spoke about them as if they were offerings of love from their artists and patrons.

The Chicago Picasso is an untitled sculpture, weighing in at 160 tons and standing up to 50 feet tall. It was was unveiled in 1967 and has since become a beloved icon of the city. It was designed by Picasso in France (he never visited Chicago), but it was built by the American Bridge division of U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana.

At the time, the statue was seen as a bit odd-looking, but then it was Picasso, so it was accepted. In fact, Mayor Daley, who did the unveiling, said in his speech, “We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” Not only has this sculpture become so familiar to the people of Chicago that children regularly slide down its base (see photo for evidence!), it is a point of reference for meeting friends, and is a place of celebration and holidays. The Chicago Picasso even gets decked out with hats for different occasions!

The Chicago Picasso is a massive steel sculpture that has, over the years, become both a landmark for the Daley Center and an irresistible jungle gym for kids in the plaza.

Agora is the name of the grouping of 106 cast iron figures wandering the southern side of Grant Park. They are 9-feet tall, headless and armless shells, grouped in clumps, just as crowds seem to group whether they mean to or not. The artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz, hates crowds and described them as “brainless organisms acting on command, worshipping on command and hating on command.” This particular crowd, with its height, texture, and color seems more like a forest of branchless trees, though, and just as harmless.

My take on the grouping was that they were contemplative, as if their arms were folded back behind them, their movement is forward toward better ways of being, and their body shells were waiting to be filled with great ideas. But then, I am an optimist.

“Agora” by Magdalena Abakanowicz is an impressive group of 9-feet tall, headless and armless statues at the south end of Grant Park.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall was unveiled in 1974, when the artist was 87 years old. Unlike Picasso, Chagall had visited Chicago many times and fallen in love with it. The Four Seasons is a mosaic, not only of glass, marble, stone, and brick (some of which was from Chicago herself!), it is a mosaic of the seasons, the people, the experiences which make up the life of the city. Like Chicago, The Four Seasons is complex and difficult to take in completely in just one visit. It is, after all, 70 feet long, 10 feet wide and 14 feet high. All four sides are covered in dreamy scenes of life from all the various walks of life which call Chicago home. It’s colors and happy images make this my favorite of all the public art we saw on our tour.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall is located in the Chase Tower Plaza. It is a massive rectangular box covered in a mosaic depicting the four seasons which can be found in Chicago.

UIC Skyspace: The University of Illinois Chicago houses a large work of art at the corners of Roosevelt Road and Halstead Street. UIC Skyspace is by James Turrell and was unveiled in 2006. It is a free-standing elliptical work of art meant to be experienced inside and out, taking note of the interplay of light. To go inside it is to walk into a quieter sanctuary of soft light; a place to sit and read, perhaps, or to experience one of my favorite activities, people watching.

James Turrell’s UIC Skyspace. Hubby and Mr. Achilles walked up to it and looked into its elliptical opening on the ceiling. Venturing further inside, it is meant to create a quiet world in the heart of a vibrant city.

Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I) was locked up tight in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building on the day we visited, but we could still see it by pressing our noses and cameras to the glass. Taut wires of various materials zig zag out from criss-crossing steel rods, giving it the presence of a star radiating out from the dark sky. It was installed in 1957 and was the first abstract work of art to be on permanent display in Chicago.

My photo here does not do justice to Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I).

We saw many other sculptures on this tour, but I did not get photos of all of them. Below is a list of addresses for everything we saw, including distances from the Four Seasons Chicago hotel, where we stayed, in case you are keeping track of step-counts like we do. More information about each piece can be found by clicking on the links provided.

For even more information about these and other public works of art in Chicago, check out the Public Art Guide put out by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

Architecture

Stand on almost any corner in Chicago, and you will probably be standing in the shadow of a famous architect. This city has developed a reputation for setting the world on fire with its forward thinking architectural designs and designers. Styles and methods born in Chicago eventually become things we take for granted in other parts of the world.

Chicago is known for its architecture of buildings, as well as the engineering of its drawbridges.

Besides the ground-breaking drawbridges, Chicago developed the modern skyscraper using a steel frame. Windows were made larger, thanks to these frames, so light could enter the whole floor of a building, instead of just the outer offices. These days, all around the world, the windows seen in older skyscrapers are called Chicago Windows because they were developed here. Next time you find yourself walking in a town with buildings dating back to the first of the last century, look for windows with a large, fixed center panel and two operable windows on each end. That is a Chicago Window.  A prime example of this style of window can be see in the Marquette Building at S. Dearborn St. and Adams.

The Marquette Building is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

Chicago style windows in the Marquette Building.

Just down the street from the Marquette Building is a whole complex of buildings designed by a man who ushered Chicago and the rest of the world into what is known as the Modernist style. That complex of buildings is the Federal Center Complex and the man is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For many years, “Mies”, as so many call him, was the head of the School of Architecture at Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Driving around Chicago, one can see many of his designs and many designs created in the likeness of Miesian design. These buildings are free from ornamentation, they are steel and glass structures with plate glass windows, and which reach toward the heavens with all the simplicity modern technology affords it.

This complex of buildings is located at 50 W. Adams Street, the same location as Alexander Calder’s Flamingo. This means that it is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

The Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Photo by Local Hero.)

Out of the Miesian school of architecture grew innovative students, such as Bertrand Goldberg, who designed the Marina Towers to be a city within a city. Completed in 1964, the corn-cob towers contained condos and all the amenities one might need to function in life, such as stores, restaurants, a gym, bowling alley, etc. Now the iconic towers house a hotel, a concert hall, and several restaurants.

Marina Towers are located at 300 N. State St., which is 1 mile from the hotel, or approximately 2000 steps.

Marina City located on the river in Chicago was one of the first mix-use buildings meant to lure people back to life in the city.

Chicago History Museum and Old Town

Chicago History Museum

The second tour we took with Mr. Achilles was to the Chicago History Museum. While there, we talked of the fire that destroyed Chicago, of ties to Abraham Lincoln, stained glass windows by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Magic!

Chicago History Museum. (Photo by AlanScottWalker from Wikipedia.com)

The Chicago History Museum has vivid dioramas which tell the history of the city. Mr. Achilles told us that the dioramas had been there for a long time–well before they went out of style at museums–and they stayed around long enough to come back into style again. They have since been cleaned up and restored, providing excellent visuals for Chicago’s history.

Chicago Fire Diorama. (I could not get a good photo, so I have borrowed from CaZaTo Ma (Tricia J.) from Flicker.com.)

Mr. Achilles is the curator for the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at the Navy Pier in Chicago. He has also helped to curate the windows shown in the Chicago Room at the History Museum, which is flanked on all sides by a gallery of historic windows from names such as Tiffany and Wright.

Tiffany stained glass window from the William Wrigley collection. (Photo by Corey Seeman.)

The Chicago History Museum houses information and artifacts from its complete history. A giant locomotive engine sits on the second floor of the museum next to one of the first rail cars used for city transit (which went on to be what is now called the “L”). Walk through all the halls of the museum to taste every generation’s contribution and inventions, including those from the furniture industry, the brewers, and the meat packers. Even the slaughterhouses contributed to fashion and furniture (leather goods), as well as food preservation methods, such as canning on a large scale.

Pioneer was Chicago’s first locomotive. (Photo by Jeremy A from Wikipedia.com.)

South Side Elevated Car 1 — the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago “L” line.

Chicago has been the site of helping to define human rights and civil liberties. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the struggles which have taken place in Chicago have been felt around the globe. This museum does an excellent job demonstrating with visuals and audio the contributions made and the battles fought.

Some of the quotes found at the Chicago History Museum, with displays providing information about such events as the Haymarket Massacre. (Photo by Aaron Ray.)

While at the History Museum, we were treated to a personal demonstration of magic by Jeanette Andrews, who has been doing magic tricks since the age of six! I thought for sure I would be able to tell how she chose the different cards she did or how she made the rubberbands move in and out from our fingers, but I never got it. I walked away happily mystified.

This video and more from Ms. Andrews can be seen at JeanetteAndrewsMagic.

The Chicago History Museum is located at 1601 N. Clark St., which is 1.1 miles from the hotel. That is approximately 2200 steps.

Old Town

When we had seen everything we had gone to see at the museum, we walked through the tree-lined streets of Old Town, a neighborhood which was settled first by the PotawatomiMiami and Illinois nations before it was settled by German Catholics. We stopped into a Bavarian-styled church in the neighborhood that survived the Great Chicago Fire, St. Michael Redemptorist Catholic Church.

The church has an altar made of silver, gold and onyx, featuring St. Michael the Archangel as, what looks like, a soldier of the Crusades. There are 16 stained glass windows in the church depicting the life of Jesus and Mary, which were designed and built by the Mayer Window Art Institute in Munich, Germany. It is a building quilted with colors and design and well worth a visit. My understanding is that the parish offers tours of the building. Call ahead for information first, though.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church is located at 1633 North Cleveland Avenue. It is 1.6 miles from the hotel (approximately, 3200 steps); or .6 miles from the Chicago History Museum (approximately, 1200 steps).

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the Old Town neighborhood was part of our tour. It is resplendent.


Old Town is also home to Second City, the world-famous comic improvisational theater which has become known for churning out the world’s greatest comedic actors. Some of their alum include Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, to name just a few.

Second City is located at 1616 N Wells St. which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Our last stop in Chicago was its world-famous Art Institute of Chicago. We had been there years ago, but not with Mr. Achilles, who opened our eyes to the art surrounding us. We ended up learning so much and getting so much out of our conversation in the Institute that, not only did I forget to take pictures, we ran out of time for Millenium Park! One more reason to return to the Windy City, I think!

The Art Institute is perhaps best known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork. The elite of Chicago were the first to collect these “fuzzy” paintings before they were thought of as anything of value.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat.

Wheatstacks by Claude Monet.

Beyond that, there are some other iconic offerings by Edward Hopper and Van Gogh, as well as one of the most identifiable paintings, American Gothic by Grant Wood.

Self Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, available to be seen at the AIC.

American Gothic by Grant Wood can be seen at the AIC.

Mixed in with the artwork is art of another kind — furniture and home furnishings, such as tea cups and silverware. They serve to illustrate how the designs of the home can define an era.

In doing research for this article, I discovered a program near and dear to my heart that the Art Institute has started: The Cultural Distance: Half-Mile Tour. The link takes you to a PDF of a tour which walks you a half mile through the AIC, enriching your body as well as your mind! They have other distance tours as well on their website under Mini Tours.

The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 South Michigan Avenue, which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.

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Below you can read where we stayed and how we otherwise fared in this very walkable city. As always in this series, the goal is to demonstrate how we were able to achieve at least 10,000 steps a day while exploring a different North American city. All step calculations were taken from the front door of the hotel to the front door of each destination.

Where we stayed and why

We chose the Four Seasons Chicago for several reasons. First of all, it’s the Four Seasons. It’s hard to bicker with a luxurious choice like that. The Four Seasons has a wide range of advantages, not the least of which is access to their concierge services. Karen, Michelle, and Adelina all worked with me at various times to set up our tours, plus, they gave us a long list of restaurant recommendations, and they made sure we got to and from the airport without problem. Besides that, we were able to request an extra, empty refrigerator so we could keep low-calorie options in the room for breakfast and lunch.

Waiting for us in the hotel room when we checked in were several personal notes from the concierge and front desk staff, along with a plate of gorgeous strawberries, a couple of beautiful plums, a succulent peach, and some bottled water. All healthy choices given to us as a thoughtful gift, after I had told them about Hubby’s weight loss and desire to keep it off. Of course, we couldn’t eat all of it right away, so we stored it in the empty fridge to munch on for the next few days.

Ever thoughtful, this is what the Four Seasons greeted us with in our hotel room!

If that wasn’t enough, the Four Seasons Chicago is located within walking distance to everything we needed access to, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and Walgreens.

The Four Seasons Chicago is located at 120 East Delaware Place.

Groceries and other necessities

Potash Market: This little store had everything we needed during our short stay in Chicago. It is located at 875 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.

Walgreen’s: Located just up the block from Potash Market was a quieter Walgreen’s. It is located at 933 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.

Coffee

Sadly, we did not drink coffee outside of the hotel. This is a big surprise for someone like me who loves her coffee, but I did think to ask Mr. Achilles where was the place for a cuppa Joe. His response was, without a doubt, Intelligentsia.

There are several locations around Chicago (and New York, Pasadena, LA, and Atlanta). To find them go to Intelligentsia’s website.

Restaurants

The order in which I have these restaurants is not the chronological order in which we ate at them, it is the order in which I rate them. I start with L2O for a reason. It was, without a doubt, our favorite. We met a friend there, which only served to enhance the experience, but we all agreed that between the level of food and the level of service, it was bar none. Two other restaurants mentioned below were fantastic and, if we had only eaten at them in Chicago, our experience would have been great. But L2O took everything to the next level and blew us away with flavor, innovation, and service.

L2O: L2O stands for “Lake to Ocean”, so it is a restaurant heavily influenced by seafood. My experience as a vegetarian, though, was no where near second class. In fact, on a couple of fronts, our friend or Hubby mentioned that, in some way, they wished they had my serving–until they tried their own and decided they were over-the-moon happy with what they had ordered.

Reservations are recommended and can be made on OpenTable.com.

L2O is located at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West. It is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we did not walk there, we did walk back!

Hubby’s dessert had gold sprinkles on it and they poured more gold sprinkles on it after it was served. (Thank you, Mike R., for the photo!)

Blackbird: Don’t let my gushing about L2O lead you to believe that Blackbird isn’t worth your time. Quite the opposite. Blackbird knocked our socks off too. They just didn’t pick them up, launder them, and put them back on our feet when we were done like L2O did.

But seriously, Blackbird was delicious. The waiter who took our orders was very knowledgeable about what was on their menu and what it tasted like. When I mentioned I was vegetarian, he recommended the salad of endives with crispy potatoes, basil, dijon, and poached egg, minus the pancetta. For my entree, he suggested crispy buckwheat crepes with feta, artichokes, maitake mushrooms and ginger broth. I think I embarrassed Hubby as I slurped everything off the salad plate. I am a sucker for poached eggs in salads and this one was better than most. The crepes were outstanding as well; very fresh, spring green sorts of flavors that were grounded in the earthiness of mushrooms.

For what it’s worth, everyone we spoke to in Chicago about Blackbird–and there were quite a few–said they had been to this restaurant several times and they had loved it.

Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Blackbird is located at 619 W Randolph in a skinny building that has a small number of tables. The walk is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we cabbed to the restaurant, we walked back to the hotel.

Naha: We met another friend at this fine restaurant–delicious as Blackbird and just as attentive, service-wise. In fact, the waiter was kind enough to realize we were catching up with friends, so he checked in when he sensed a quiet moment, even though we didn’t leave him with many opportunities. We had a lot of catching up to do! The wait staff had the perfect balance between being attentive and letting us enjoy one another’s company. We never felt rushed or interrupted, nor did we wonder where our waiter went, and the food was delightful.

This restaurant was recommended by others we spoke to as well. It got hopping soon after we got there, so it seems like a popular place. Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Naha is located at 500 north clark street, which is .9 miles from the hotel, or 1800 steps. We walked to and from this restaurant.

Panera Bread: When we first got to town and just before we left we needed something to eat. Hubby found us a Panera Bread located .6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 1200 steps. We got soup and/or sandwiches and were set for the rest of the afternoon.

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At the end of the day, Chicago has everything a person could want in a city–all of the conveniences and luxuries. Still, Chicago is a city set apart by its richness in culture, heritage, and talents. It has given the world gift upon gift but continues to be looked upon as “The Second City”. Maybe that’s what makes it so special, though. It’s the younger brother to The Big Apple. It’s the kid always having to prove himself. And, in doing so, it changes the world in ways no one ever expected.

As for me, I can honestly say my own world was shifted from four days spent learning this city. I can only imagine what it must do for those who live there.

Have you visited Chicago? If so, what did you see that I didn’t mention here? Share your tips and ideas in the Comments Section below to help others who might be planning a visit to Chicago.

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This article is dedicated to my friend Gabi who is getting ready to start a new phase of her life in The Windy City. Good luck, Gabi! The world is waiting for you!

Four tips for traveling with the FitBit tracker

My FitBit showing I have only 627 steps this morning. Only 9,373 to go!

The FitBit Ultra wireless tracker is one of the ways a walking traveler can keep up with their steps each day. Personally, I chose this tracker because it is the easiest for me to use. I am absent-minded when it comes to these things and with the FitBit I rarely have to think about it. Every time I take a walking tour, climb a set of stairs, or walk more quickly from one place to another, that information gets wirelessly uploaded onto my FitBit Ultra Dashboard, which is then available to me online. If I want to keep track of calories, blood pressure, or glucose, I can add that information onto my dashboard as well.

My Dashboard on FitBit.com. It shows how many steps I’ve taken daily and allows me to set goals to strive for each week.

Since having mentioned the FitBit in previous articles, I have received several questions about traveling with it. Below are four tips for traveling with this fitness tracker.

1. Remove the FitBit when going through Security at the airport.

While you can take your FitBit on an airplane, you must remove it, along with pretty much every other accessory, when you go through Security. I tend to clip it on my shirt the day of travel so I have more chance of remembering to take it off. The one time I forgot to remove it, it was visible to the Security official who reminded me to take it off before I got to the scanner. Because it was known to the officials, it wasn’t any trouble to remove it, stick it into the plastic bin with my shoes, and walk on through Security. Hubby uses the belt holster, so he takes off the whole kit and caboodle–belt, FitBit and holster–to put into a plastic bin before walking through the scanner.

2. Don’t forget to pack your base charging station.

Hubby and I take our computers with us when we travel, so we take one charger, plug it into a USB port, and take turns charging our FitBits whenever they start to get low on juice. I tend to be lazier about it than Hubby, so I charge mine about every two weeks, or when the website tells me the battery is low. This also uploads all the information to the FitBit website, in case I haven’t come near the base charging station in a while.

3. Don’t get FitBit wet!

FitBit is not waterproof and, according to friends of ours who have tested the theory, swimming with the FitBit will kill it. Another friend accidentally washed her FitBit and it died soon after. Just like with swimming, a dunk in the washer will destroy it.

According to the FitBit website, heavy sweat can also impact it, so when you know you’re taking a long walking tour on the hottest day of the year, be sure to wear your FitBit somewhere on the outside part of your clothes, not up against your skin. Hubby’s favorite place to keep his FitBit is on the belt holster that came in the box. My favorite place is on a pocket on my shorts or skirt. If I don’t have pockets, I attach it to the neck of my shirt.

4. Change the time zone when you travel–or not!

The FitBit tracker does not automatically change the time zone when you travel because it doesn’t have a geographic tracker built into it. If you want to make sure your FitBit is on the same zone as you are, be sure to log in to your FitBit Dashboard and tell it where you are. Hubby actually likes not changing the time zone when we travel within the United States or Canada because he says it gives him extra time each day to get in his steps when we travel to the East Coast from the West. For example, if his FitBit is set to Arizona time but he is in New York, that means that when it is midnight in New York, it is only 9pm in Arizona, so he has three “bonus” hours to get his steps in if it has been a low-step day.

Hopefully these little tidbits will help you travel with your FitBit tracker. Be sure to ask any other questions you may have about it in the Comments section below. If you have your own tips for traveling with a FitBit, add those too!