Friday, October 31, 2008

Images of Vancouver

Gargoyles at the Grace Condominiums

The Capilano Suspension Bridge

The Capilano Treetops Tour

The Celebration of Light

Stanley Park Aquarium Resident

The Market At Granville Island

Water Taxis from Granville Island

A Cruiseship View of Vancouver

Vancouver British Columbia

The Treasure of North America

Residing on the north side of the worlds longest unguarded border is the best neighbor anyone could ever have - Canada.

Having traveled and worked in much of Canada I have a special fondness for its people, culture, natural beauty, integrity, and its marvelous cities. 

Arguably Vancouver British Columbia is the most beautiful city in North America. It is the premier city in the province anchoring a metro area of 2,000,000.

Quite simply, Vancouver has everything. That is probably why it is now one of the most sought after locations for the motion picture and television industry.

Named after Captain George Vancouver who explored the region in 1792, Vancouver is cloaked by a cape of mountains that drape all the way down to kiss the sea.  The city itself simply rolls up and down over the many hills within its city limits. This results in seemingly everyone getting a mountain view. These are the mountains that hosted Winter dreams at the 2010 Olympics.

Vancouver has water everywhere. With its many bays and inlets you are never far from water. This strategic location results in international commerce, magnificent seafood, and lots of transportation challenges. It also means that everyone also gets a view of its many bays and inlets.

It is dense. Vancouver has some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in North America. In fact, for over thirty years it has stressed the concept of "compact housing". This philosophical approach to land use and city planning has produced a dazzling array of truly walkable neighborhoods. 

Vancouver has no freeways. Let me repeat that one. It has no freeways. Vancouver is living proof that when appropriate urban density is combined with safe, efficient, mass transit, freeways are not needed.

It is green. Vancouver pays a price for its greenery and sees more than its share of gray and rainy days.

Vancouver is diverse. But then, diversity is in Canada's DNA. While the US frequently boasts of being the worlds "Melting Pot". Canada is the nation where all of its residents came (and stayed) because they wanted to.

It plays well with others. It adopted the metric system decades ago and is comfortably bilingual. Canada has never felt the need to go around the world picking fights, but it never backs down from a fight when provoked. All of these qualities provides it's residents the superior ability to participate fully in global markets. This is why so many of Hong Kong's wealthiest citizens chose to relocate to Vancouver.

Vancouver has style. With terrain, cultural diversity, views, density, and access to a stunning array of natural resources, Vancouver's architects have much to work with. This has led to a distinct sense of style and the creation of some of North America's best buildings. This fact becomes evident from the moment you land at Canada's second busiest airport. 

Wonderful architecture abounds seemingly everywhere. From Townley and Matheson's marvelous art deco City Hall, to the timeless multi-block long provincial courts building, government buildings in Vancouver are exceptional. Vancouver sports everything from the knife sharp roof of the Hotel Vancouver, to the park structures in Stanley Park, to the playful Grace condominiums, and sleek office buildings.

So here are the things I love.

I love the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (the UBC). This is, in my opinion, Arthur Erickson's masterpiece. Although small, and clearly academic, this building demonstrates Erickson's gentle, masterful, use of concrete. Or as he put it "the noble stone of the 20th Century". It discloses itself in small, measured, steps leading its visitors from the region's first documented habitation in 500 BC all the way through its complex intertwined history of scientific and mythology.

I used to love Vancouver's annual fireworks competition: the Celebration of Light. My family went to it two years in a row and absolutely loved it. Now, I have been told it is no more. That is a terrible loss. For nearly two decades each summer in July or August, Vancouver invited two different countries to showcase their best fireworks. The countries changed each year, but the quality of the pyrotechnical displays just got better and better. The displays were choreographed with music and conducted over English Bay.  The culmination was a grand finale with special displays from all of the invited participants. 

I love Stanley Park. This is Vancouver's Central Park. The amazing thing about the park is that this urban oasis adjoins one of the highest density neighborhoods in North America. It has an aquarium (in serious need of refurbishment), seawall, totems, playfields, formal gardens, bicycle / running trails, and huge swimming pools. 

I love Granville Island. The former industrial island directly below the Granville Bridge. The island now houses a spectacular farmers market, wonderful shops, and numerous artist's studios. Plan to enjoy it for a picnic lunch. 

I love watching kids cross the capilano suspension bridge and run from treetop to treetop at its touristy "treetops adventure".

I love Queen Elizabeth Park. This is a typical perfect hilltop garden, the kind that Canadians do so well. As a kid I was nearly killed here. My mom and I had been sitting on a park bench enjoying the view then just as we stepped away from the bench, a car parked right behind us, jumped the curb and smashed through the bench and a guardrail before lurching over the cliff and landing well down the hill. I remember my dad literally leaping over the cliff to run down to the car. The driver had turned around in the running car in an attempt to put a seat belt on his kids in the back seat and inadvertently hit the gas instead of the brake. Everybody was pretty well shaken up. But amazingly no one was seriously hurt.

Vancouver takes its food seriously and restaurants continuously jockey for position as best in the city. I am out of the loop on the current best of the best.

My family frequently stays at the Hilton at Metrotown in Burnaby. It is not the newest hotel or the most chic. What it has is location. It is quietly located above a mall with dozens of wonderful asian restaurants and food stalls. It is across the street from the huge Metrotown shopping center. Metrotown is a major stop on Vancouver's wonderful Skytrain, so you can leave the car at the hotel and go pretty much anywhere downtown with ease. There is a skateboard park about a block away that my son found and thought was very cool.

While almost perfect, the city does have a blemish or two. Its formerly wonderful Chinatown has somehow slipped into a condition of despair, feels unsafe, and should be avoided.

Consider beginning or ending a cruise to Alaska here. Or better yet, start before embarking on a tour of the magnificent Canadian Rockies!

Roadboys Travels © 2008/2011

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Strip Mall America

New American Cities Have Lost Their Heart

OK. This blog entry is a rant. 

If you don't want to read a rant, I understand, and you have been warned. 

Otherwise, wade on in.

Anyone who travels throughout America as much as I do can't help but conclude that modern American city planning (the last three to four decades) has been a complete unmitigated failure. 

It has delivered ugly sprawl. The spaces it created will never become special. They will never be loved.

Our older cities had a town square and were served by a cartesian grid of streets with sidewalks. They were walkable and traffic moved well in them. Sometimes the grids were imposed so rigidly that it was kind of crazy (like the streets in San Francisco that go straight up and down its steepest hills).

Conversely, our new suburban cities have no heart and no core. Their defining planning features are simply wide, traffic choked, linear arterials. Super slabs that serve gated communities and strip malls. They don't work at all.

In older American cities the heart or core would include a town square or a courthouse square. It might have a compact walkable Main Street. Or even many blocks of retail shops and restaurants bound by a common theme such as the wonderful circa 1922 Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. 

All essential services for the community were located at the core. You knew where you were. You knew where to go for basic services such as the city hall, the courts, a post office, the library, and houses of worship.

Modern city planning now disperses all retail and major services for the convenience of the automobile. Even in small or medium sized communities, without a core everything is served from a six or eight lane arterial with a wide median running down the middle. There are no practical sidewalks. In fact, recently when in suburban Virginia, I attempted to cross a street to get to a restaurant. Thinking "its a nice day I'll just walk there", I soon realized there was no sidewalk or crosswalk. It had been inconceivable to the County planner that anyone might ever want to walk along or near that busy thoroughfare. 

In Texas many main arterials are now flanked with one-way frontage roads. As such, the distance from the driveway fronting on one frontage road to the driveway "across the street" may well be a quarter mile of pavement.

I'm convinced it isn't that we don't want to walk to get around. The very places we say we love are all walkable (and many - like Portland and San Francisco - feature great mass transit). Most of us simply opted for the developer's / planner's vision of utopia and now live in places we really can't safely walk anywhere. 

We totally miss the ball.  Instead of walking we just assuage our guilt by trading in our cars for evermore fuel efficient versions. The problem is we just drive our fuel efficient cars more and more and more.

I was amazed to learn that residents of smog choked New York City have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the nation. Oh, Yeah! They walk a lot.

In old neighborhoods kids walked next door and played in the street. In todays suburbs, kids are loaded into urban assault vehicles and driven to "play dates".

Modern city planning really poses the big question. When did we give up on our cities and decide we needed to hide behind the walls of gated communities? When I ask residents that question they cite the need for "safety". That answer is, of course, simply "code" for choosing to live in economically and racially homogenious neighborhoods.

Lets face it, the whole idea of gated communities polarizes society. They isolate age groups (think "Sun City"). They isolate racial groups. They isolate the "haves" from "have-nots". 

When working with the Police Department in a City filled with gated communities I was told they routinely blindfolded their rookie officers and dropped them in the middle of these communities. They then let them drive aimlessly around simply trying to find there way out without maps. 

The police also found that many of these communities had remarkably similar crime profiles as the non-gated communities in the same city. The crime in the gated communities is just committed by insiders; frequently the drug addled latch-key kids of its residents.

So go ahead and think of every city you have ever truly loved. Maybe it was London or Paris. Maybe it was Chicago, or New York.  Maybe it was Winter Park FL, Portland OR, or San Francisco. Maybe it was the old parts of Franklin TN, or Glen Ellyn IL, or Spokane WA, Santa Fe NM, or Prescott AZ. 

My bet is you will have identified a place that defies almost all modern precepts of city planning. Yet, you found it livable and a lot of fun. 

It had lovely sidewalks with canopy trees. You could walk or ride a bicycle safely. It had houses with front porches. It had a piazza, or town square, or a compact main street. I bet the part of town you loved did not feature a Super Target or a Macaroni Grille. 

As we move into the next phase of urbanization in America we have a chance to rethink city planning. We can indeed try to return to the idea espoused by Jane Jacobs; walkable, live/work 24 hour neighborhoods. 

While my generation looked for big ranch houses with a lawn. Our kids are drawn to lofts. We liked covered suburban shopping malls. Our kids like outdoor lifestyle malls. The trend is clearly swinging.

I guess we can breathe a sigh of relief as the current generation of city planners collapses into retirement. Their damage is done.  Lets hope the next generation of planners realizes they must ignore the unsustainable failures of the past thirty-five years. It is time to make a big leapfrog back in time to reclaim and rework many of the planning structures we so recently abandoned. The ones we now have come to realize we loved. 

The ones that worked.

Roadboys Travels © 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Scenes From Venice

The Worlds First "Secret Witness" 
Citizens Could Anonymously Report Criminal Behavior to the Doge

Carnivale Masks Range from Eerily Lifelike to Complete Whimsy

The Island Reserved for Funerals

The Hilton Molino Stucky

Lobby of the Hilton 

Piazza San Marco Waiting for a Storm

Piazza San Marco from the Canal

The Magnificent Campanile

Roadboys Travels © 2008

Fragile Venice

A Stop on The Grand Tour

With 2011 Updates

During the Victorian era the aristocratic classes of Europe and the new world made time at least once in their lives to make the "Grand Tour".  The stops on those tours typically hit all the major sites and cities of the world. They travelled up the Nile to see the pyramids, explored India and the Taj Mahal, celebrated Paris, London, Venice, and Rome.

All places that still beckon us today.

For this posting however, I want to focus on one of the most fragile of the worlds treasures, Venice. Venice is actually a city built on more than 100 islands in the Venetian Lagoon off the coast of Northern Italy. 

Once the watery capital of one of the largest economic empires in the world, it thumbed its nose at Rome. While Rome adopted Saint Paul, Venice purposefully adopted Saint Mark. While Rome ruled with an iron hand and gladitorial zeal, Venice derived its power by developing a global web of economic trade. Rome had Roman law and the Emperors, Venice had a completely different way of addressing laws and administering justice via the Doge.

Today, while scientists have successfully stabilized the leaning tower of Pisa, they puzzle over a solution for a sinking and crumbling Venice. Speeds of power boats have been reduced, but until some perfect solution becomes a reality, the future of Venice now seems to hang on the success of its new sea wall designed to temporarily raise levees to isolate the Venetian lagoon during extreme high tides.

As of this writing I have visited Venice twice, once as a poor student and once as a not-so-poor adult. Venice still welcomes millions of both each year.

My first bit of advice. Without planning Venice will prove to be clutch-your-heart expensive. With planning it can be very manageable. Secondly, carefully time your visit to avoid the heat and crowds of summer.

An "off season" visit (early fall or late spring) may require a coat and umbrella, but it will preserve your sanity and allow you absorb this most beautiful of cities comfortably using Venice's comprehensive system of public pedestrian ferryboats called vaporettos. 

You can arrive in Venice by train across the Ponte della Liberte (Bridge of Liberty) to Venice's Santa Lucia station from pretty much anywhere in Europe.  Alternatively, you can fly direct to Venice's Marco Polo airport (which is about 4 miles from the center of Venice). 

Transfers from the airport to Venice itself may be made by public water shuttle (the Alilaguna Waterbus). A bit pricey, but it gets you very close to your hotel. You can also opt for a fabulously expensive private water taxi which will take you direct to the private pier of your hotel. Or you can take a big, comfy, and cheap, ATVO shuttle bus from the airport across the causeway to Piazzale Roma where you catch a vaporetto to your hotel. One bit of advice, once you arrive at Piazzale Roma there are no remotely helpful signs to guide you to the vaporetto slips. So, just look for the stunning new "glass bridge" (that finally links Piazzale Roma with the Santa Lucia train station). Don't cross the bridge, as the vaporetto stops are just beneath it. With a little homework the vaporetto's will soon become your best friend in Venice.

In college I stayed in a convent in Venice that was convenient, cheerful, and clean. Returning for my most recent trip I opted for the uber luxury of the new Hilton Molino Stucky. This new hotel was fashioned from the crumbling ruins of the 100 year old Molino Stucky pasta factory. 

The Hilton was everything we hoped for. It is located on the Guidecca island across from the main part of Venice. This makes it wonderfully quiet and actually allows you to stay in a part of Venice that is pretty much otherwise only inhabited by Venetians. The hotel operates its own fleet of beautiful wooden motor launches that take you from the hotel directly to Piazza San Marco at no cost. Update 2011: the free shuttle still exists, but the beautiful wooden motor launch has been replaced by a kinda dirty boat operated by Alilaguna. The hotel is only one of two (the other being the Cipriani - also on the Guidecca) in Venice with a swimming pool. The pool is small and located on the rooftop. We stayed in a lovely canal facing room and the views were amazing. The chandelier in the room was Murano, the coverlet on the bed was pleated Fortuny, the drawers in the furniture all gently closed by themselves (I dig that stuff!), the plaster walls in the hallways were as smooth as a newborn baby's butt. So, if you can afford the nearly $700 / night price, go for it. Also, if you are an HHonors diamond member you gain access to the private concierge lounge where the breakfast and snacks were sublime and free. Update 2011: the quiet and lovely upstairs Executive Lounge is now a fenced off part of the main lobby restaurant. Selections are plenitful on food and drink, but the quality is much, much lower. While the food was great at the hotel, it is so far beyond wildly overpriced ($40 for a modest breakfast). Update 2011: Breakfast at $40 each was ridiculous in 2008. So seeing is closing in on $55 today was a little laughable. Instead, take a walk to one of the local cafe's on the Guidecca or, better yet, take the hotel motor launch and eat any non-concierge lounge meals in Venice itself.

Venice has a number of "Must See" attractions. I won't spend a lot of ink on the most famous of them, they are world renowned.  Sufficeth to say go see Piazza San Marco. This is the center of Venice and the only square large enough to carry the title "piazza". There are shops, galleries, gelato, and lots and lots of pidgeons to feed.

If your heart is strong climb the Campanile di San Marco at sunset. Wait in line for access to the Basilica di San Marco as its use of venetian tile is unmatched on the planet.

Whatever you do, while at Piazza San Marco, do not miss a tour of the Doges Palace. The huge globes of the world and the heavens, the golden staircase, and the ability to cross the Bridge of Sighs make this worth the time and the lines. It is remarkable that during the rein of the Doges the building never had to be surrounded by spiked fences or secured by heavy locks.

Then go explore. Cross the Rialto Bridge. Shop! Buy handmade eyeglass frames from Danilo Carraro boutique (a bargain). A wood sculpture from Loris Marazzi, glass beads, or a carnivale mask.

Explore the churches. Seemingly every plague to hit Venice resulted in Venetians pledging to build a new and more stupendous church. The Church of Santa Maria della Salute is one of those (it was being restored and was covered in an amazing lattice of scaffolding). Update 2011: See my 2011 Venice updates.


The restoration is complete and turned out wonderful!

We enjoyed watching the famous gondola's ply the canals. It was truly stunning to realize that today's fat multi-tasking gondoliers can simultaneously smoke a cigarette, talk on a cell phone, and oar their slender boats so deftly around the canals. One fact I had never noticed before was that these lovely boats have a slight curvature to one side or the other to counterbalance whether the gondolier is right or left handed. 

If you hire a gondola be wary, after 7 pm they run about $200 for the first 40 minutes. They do seat six, however, so a ride with five friends might actually be a bargain!

If you can, take in a tour of the recently restored Fenice Opera House or Peggy Gugenheim's estate with her modern art collection.

Another "must do" item for us was taking a vaporetto to the Lido (try to time it to arrive for lunch!).  Then return via the vaporetto that circles the entire circumference of Venice.  It passes the docks, hospitals, and the private island used exclusively for the funeral and burials of Venetians. 

Venice is expensive, fragile, and still remarkably beautiful. It is still a must stop on anyone's World Tour.

Roadboys Travels © 2008/2011

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Scenes from Bologna

The Interior of San Petronio

A Typical Bolognese Courtyard

The Freshest Foods are Everywhere

One of the Ancient Gates to the City

Bologna's Towers Have Leaned Precipitously for 800 Years 


The Place to Eat!

When I graduated from high school I took all the money I had made working on parking lots in Jack London Square and went to Europe with a student study tour.

It was a life changing event. 

Someone at the study tour company had the idea they could mix our blue collar high school group with a totally middle class group from Castro Valley, and the boys from an exclusive private school in Orinda.  

So we had my group mostly made up of kids of hourly workers and first or second generation American's mixed with a bunch of spoiled Orinda boys with nicknames like "Biff". Our group saw europe on the $5 a day plan. Their tour leader had pre-arranged dinners for "the boys" at places like La Tour d'Argent in Paris. So it all kind of turned into a cultural slam dance which added a new dynamic to the trip. I think this is time time when I developed my lifelong aversion to all things Ralph Lauren......

Anyway, during our month we toured nearly all of Europe's major cities aboard a wonderful bus. The trip was narrated by our tour guide Wolfgang (a college student from Austria) and was piloted by our superb driver Gus from Amsterdam.

One of the stops we made was Bologna. The stop was off the itinerary and completely unscripted, but highly recommended by Wolfgang and Gus. All they told us was Bologna was "where Europe goes to eat".  After we diverted the big bus we wolfed down a most amazing lunch of lasagne and pasta bolognese.

Over the years I have had the chance to venture back to Europe many times and have returned to many of the places I remember from that student tour. Earlier this year I returned to Bologna and found it still one of the "missed opportunities" of Italy.  

In short it is a wonderful city. It is home to Europe's first University and remains a hotbed of progressive politics. But more importantly it is not part of the standard Italian tourist itinerary. Frankly, it benefits from that. It is an intellectual city filled with youth that feels real. It is a city of art, beautiful cathedrals, fine little bed and breakfasts, and being the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, it is still a danged good place to eat.

For those that might not consider including it on their itinerary, consider this: it is easy to get to, a perfect place to stop on any tour that includes Venice and Florence, and did I mention it is a very good place to eat?

The architecture of the city has been a work in progress since 189 BC. What we see today is the city the Romans built. A city famous for its two ancient (and leaning) brick towers, the half finished Basillica of San Petronio (the Pope decided to divert its remaining budget to other projects in Rome - go in and look for where the sun denotes the time and the season on it expansive floor), Town Hall Palazzo Comunale on the Piazza Maggiore (with its huge Neptune fountain). 

A new attraction in Bologna is the MAMbo (museum of modern art).

Because of the intense summer heat, and to increase usable space, nine centuries ago the city came to require all buildings to extend over the sidewalks creating shady arcades. Many buildings feature lush courtyards that can typically be glimpsed through beautiful wrought iron gates along the sidewalks.

The food market stalls spread throughout the core of the city offer the worlds most amazing variety of cured pork products (the reason why those cuisine conscious English came to call lunchmeat "baloney"). Perhaps the best is the regions amazing mountain-air cured proscuitto. Eat it all here since you can't import it back to the US (a damned shame in my book). The pasta here is also the best in the world. Almost a lost art when the laws of the EU made the centuries old methods of pasta making illegal, the fine quality of the homemade sfoglia (sheet) pasta has now returned as wise Italians simply decided to ignore a stupid law.  

The gelato in Bologna is wonderful throughout the city (although our favorite is still found at GROM in Florence).

Our favorite place to stay here is the Il Convento dei Fiori di Seta. Out of the noisy city center it has just a few rooms and was stylishly created from an ancient convent that fell into disrepair (and was even used for car repairs for some time). It is an easy walk to everything. The knowledgeable owner speaks fluent english and will map out walking tours for you and her young staff literally ran to get our bags up to our room and make us comfortable.

If you can - go ahead and add Bologna to your Italian itinerary. Wolfgang and Gus were right.

Roadboys Travels © 2008

Saturday, October 4, 2008


The City of Big Shoulders

My mom hails from Chicago, so I heard lots of stories about it while I was growing up.  She talked about putting coins on the track for the sleek Burlington Northern Silverstreak to glide over as it passed behind her two story apartment.  She was dazzled by the 1933-34 Century of Progress Worlds Fair, and she loved the Brookfield Zoo.

Of course as a kid from California when I finally saw Chicago in the late 1960's from my Great Aunts mothball infused apartment on Diversey Street I was stunned. Stunned by how old everything was. Stunned by the sweltering heat of her stifling apartment. Stunned by the amount of poverty and grime I saw.

I was also disoriented when we ventured into its suburbs where there were so many trees and everything was so flat. In my world, their were always mountains to the east and water to the west. Here water was on the East! 

But she brought me back again and again and showed me a little more each time. And as each complex layer of this incredible city pealed away I came to see why she loved it so. It is truly an American treasure.

From an urban planning standpoint it is stunning. After it's great fire of 1871 it embraced the "Burnham Plan" that created  a framework for a rational and sustainable city. A mere 22 years after the fire Chicago hosted the World's Columbian Exposition welcoming 21 million people during its run and, from the standpoint of world population at the time, must be recognized as the most successful world's fair in history. 

Architecturally, Chicago is perhaps America's most inspirational City. From the beautiful 1869 Water Tower to the present, Chicago has taken the quote of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to "dream no small dream" seriously.  It was home to the world's first skyscraper; the 1883 Montauk Building by Burnham and Root. It then followed that only two years later with William LeBaron Jenney's Home Insurance Building which was the first skyscraper to use a structural steel frame. The architectural milestones go on and on. The commercially based "Chicago School" gave way to Frank Lloyd Wright's residentially focused "Prairie School".

I remember on one trip to Chicago my mom described in detail how during the depression a chauffer driven limo had pulled up to her elementary school class.  A fur draped matron emerged to come to her class to select a few little girls to come play with her grandaughter. Mom was one of them. This all came to light as I was driving her to see Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece the Avery Coonley House in Riverside. 

She said the women was named Kroehler and she was heir to the furniture empire. Mom said the house she had visited was very modern and a little gloomy (dark). It had brown floors and a separate playhouse for kids with sparkling stained glass. 

As I triangulated in on the Coonley house she stopped talking and was clearly speechless. In a twist of irony our stories had meshed as it turned out the Coonley's sold the house in 1917 to the Kreohler's. The "dark modern house" mom had played in as a kid was indeed the Avery Coonley house.  As we stood on the sidewalk, my 50 year old mother was able to describe the house to me in detail from memory. Four decades later she could remember her day there right down to the peeled grapes they had as a snack.  Heady stuff for a kid who lived above a bakery.

Chicago continues to reinvent itself with creative new downtown housing, new public buildings, museum's and parks. It never fails to inspire the best architects in the world to do their best. This is particularly evident in Frank Gehry's Millennium Park.

Children Play Beneath the 4 Story High Moving Faces in the
Fountain in Millennium Park

This is a City that has maintained its vibrant retail and financial core in "The Loop".  The "L" trains running above and the Metra trains running below keep people moving smoothly. This downtown is alive year round with theater, conventions, and sporting events. 

Besides being a feast for the eyes, it is kind to the tummy as well. With its roots in the meatpacking industry this is a city where you can always get a great steak. One of my favorite places for steaks is Gibson's on Rush Street. Housed in the space made famous as Mr. Kelley's, it has the proverbial "brag wall" of nearly every significant american icon of the last few decades. My family and I found it completely by accident (while my wife was looking for a bead shop). When we walked by we got an intoxicating whiff and dipped in around 4:00 pm.  Being early, we were seated quickly and proceeded to enjoy one of the best meals of our lives. When we left a couple of hours later the line was out the door and down the block.

This is not the City for vegan's. It is the City for Red Hots, deep dish pizza, Italian beef, and wonderful frozen custard.

While tourists flock to Pizzeria UNO where you stop in, order, and then take a stroll while it cooks. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the deep dish type of pizza, so I cross the street and go to the Weber Grill.

Like San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York, wherever you land in Chicago the food will probably be great.

Chicago's Museum's house stunning art (Chicago Art Institute), natural history (The Field Museum), and history (The Museum of Science and Industry). I love them all, but have a special place in my heart for the Museum of Science and Industry. What other museum has a full size german submarine, a full size Boeing 707 suspended from the ceiling, and a whole room filled with steam train engines. The scale of the place is just phenomenal.

This is not a City to spend "a day or two". It is a destination to absorb. While there also make sure to explore its close in "suburbs" and the legacy left by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park.

Beyond Chicago venture out to wander the Morton Arboretum, the Brookfield Zoo, its college towns, and the lovely cities up and down the beautiful Fox River Valley.

Robert AM Stern in PBS's remarkable "Pride of Place" series called Chicago's suburbs "Arcadia for Everyone". He got that one right. I marvel at their streets with canopy trees, wide parkways, alleys with garages in the back, and those big old houses with wide "wave-at-your-neighbor" front porches with screened sleeping porches above. As I hear architects wax rhapsodic about the "new" concept of neo-traditional neighborhoods popping up around the country, I think of Chicago's burbs and chuckle a bit.

When you visit Chicago somewhere in heaven my mom is smiling.

Roadboys Travels © 2008