Christmastime in NYC

24 12 2008

Although I’ve been to NYC many many times in my life, I had never gone during Christmas time.  It was wonderful to be able to wander around Manhattan taking it all in, in spite of the cold.  Since there is so much information on NYC out there, I thought I would just share some photos.

You can’t go to NYC in December without stopping by the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It was smaller than I had imagined, but looked just like it does in the movies.

Rockefeller Center

Just around the corner was the NBC studios at 30 Rock.

NBC Studios

With the tree at your back, you can see Saks on Fifth Avenue.

View of Saks & Co from Rockefeller Center

Fifth Avenue is arguably the most glamorous shopping street in the world.

View of Fifth Avenue

Because you really need a 5 story Louis Vuitton Store.

The Sephora on Fifth Avenue is much more beautiful than the one on the Champs Elysee.

Beautiful windows on Fifth Avenue

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

A view from Central Park of 59th Street:

Central Park

Wouldn’t it be nice to stay at the Plaza?

Plaza Hotel

A dose of culture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

The Met

Temple of Dendur

Statue of Horus

Cat Statue in the Egyptian Wing

Tiffany Moonstone Necklace

A taste of European splendor in NYC (European Decorative Arts)

Perseus holding Medusa’s Head, Greek & Roman Statues Hall

New York City at Night:

Times Square

Rockefeller Center


Bristol Renaissance Faire

1 08 2008

Hail and well met! On a fair July morn at week’s end, we partook in a visit to the wondrous Bristol Renaissance Faire in the fair state of Wisconsin on the border of Illinois. Amongst fair maidens and brave knights, we strolled through the village, wondered at pretty shiny trinkets, and witnessed such exciting events as her majesty’s court and an acrobatic show. We treated ourselves to ye giant turkey leg and drank refreshing lemon water and root beer.

Woooh, that paragraph took about 20 minutes to write. Well I tried anyway!

The modern day Renaissance Faire is a uniquely American creation that is part amusement park, part historical reenactment, and part commercial enterprise. After paying the $16 entrance fee, all shows and entertainment are free but visitors pay for any food and of course anything that catches their fancy in the many shoppes around the fair. While European historical fairs have long existed, they are more focused on historical accuracy and education. The focus of the American Renaissance Fair is entertainment and fun that is not always historically accurate.

The grand entrance to the faire did not disappoint, and even included a comely peasant wench.

The streets are lined with shoppes and places to eat, interspersed with entertaining characters and shows. You can try your hand at trying to climb Jacob’s ladder (an exercise in balance), try to hit a giant mallet as hard as you can, or practice archery, among other things.

As with most fairs of this type, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is set in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. In particular, this fair recreates the Queen’s visit to the city of Bristol in 1574.

Above we witness the happenings of her majesty’s court.

Actors in full period dress roam the fair interacting with visitors. They even had authentic looking beggars. Visitors can choose to come in costume, and many do. There is no pressure to dress up though (we did not).

Some visitors go all out and come dressed up with their friends, and wear scary looking weapons. We loved this guy’s fur cape and giant mallet.

Shops were abundant throughout the entire fair and you could purchase period clothing, staffs, wands, shiny costume jewelry and even chain mail.

Above is a skilled glass blower using a blowtorch shaped like a dragon.

Here is a shoppe selling walking staffs.

Free shows happened almost every hour and there were a large variety from which to choose. Besides the main jousting events, there were acrobat shows, comedy shows, a mud pit where beggars wrestled, and the queen’s court.

We really enjoyed the acrobatic show.

The Bristol Renaissance Faire runs for 9 weekends during the summer from July through the beginning of September. Although it is a summer activity, the structures and grounds are permanent and quite large.

Despite the heat and humidity, Charles and I really enjoyed our Saturday here at the Ren faire. It was our first time and and I’m sure we will be returning next summer!

Historic Frederick, Maryland

8 07 2008

There is no better way to spend America’s Independence Day than with family in a place like Frederick, Maryland. Frederick, founded in 1745, has a wonderfully interesting historic district. The historic district is a 50-block town within a large city and features 18th and 19th century architecture, dozens of historic sites, and a very walkable downtown area with lots of cute boutiques and cafes. The city is part of the Historic National Road, and was significant in the Civil War as well as the Revolutionary War. Frederick is approximately an hour west of Baltimore, Maryland, and about 30 minutes from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

My in-laws live in the historic district, and we had a lovely stroll in the area during July 4th weekend.

Below you can see former carriage houses and slave quarters viewed from Second Street.

Close-up of the carriage houses:

The carriage houses have been converted into apartments.

Here is the front of the “big house” that was served by the carriage hosues. It is in the same square as town hall.

A beautiful historic house at the corner on Second Street.

There are remnants of the last two centuries all over the historic district.

The Town Hall

Historic homes in the square surrounding town hall:

Everything is so clean and tidy!

Down another street, we see more historic buildings. They are everywhere.

Original windows that are at least 100 years old.

The sidewalks are lined with brick.

A converted old firehouse is given new life.

We also walked down Patrick Street, the main downtown area that is full of specialty shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Yum, I spy a candy/chocolate store!

Alas, even historic Frederick has a Starbucks.

I love all the eclectic shops here – they are perfect for browsing. The street looks so tidy it looks like a movie set.

This used to be Frederick’s Opera Hall before it was converted into a modern day brewery.

A very cool looking building.

This must be one of the cutest shoe repair shops I have ever seen.

Olde Towne Tavern

Does adding “e” to the end of words make it sound more olde tyme?

Here’s an interesting store

The General Store

Another beautiful historic home

Turning off Patrick Street, we stroll down a residential side street and find quaint stoops and houses.

You can see from bricks on the side of this building that an addition was built right over the old house.

What a handsome street of houses!

We passed by this old church built in a nouveau medieval style. Picture: United Methodist Church

The local rec center is shaped like a castle, but I’m not sure if this is historic.

Can you spot the new addition?

While I don’t know much about historical American architecture, it was still fun to walk around looking at all the historic buildings in the area. Fortunately, I had an architectural historican with me on the walk who could point out all the interesting buildings.

Chicago River by Boat, Part 2

27 05 2008

In this post, we continue our journey down the Chicago River by boat on a lovely Spring day.  To see Part 1, click here.  As the boat continued down the south fork of the Chicago river away from downtown, we were rewarded with this view from the South.  The Sears Tower is visible for several miles outside of Chicago.  Between the Sears Tower and the Lake (and the well organized streets), directions are easy to follow in Chicago.  The Lake, of course, is always East of you so directions are often given as North, South, East and West.

One of the interesting parts of the Chicago River are the iron bridges dotting the length of the river.

Imagine our surprise when we saw this steam locomotive pulled up beside the river.  Apparently, the Milwaukee Road 261 runs seasonal train excursions, usually between Milwaukee, Chicago, and other Midwest cities. 

For lunch, we went to Lawrence’s, a fish fry place in an industrial corridor near Chinatown.  They have a pier where you can just pull up with your boat.  I don’t have a photo of it for some reason.

We also stopped by Chinatown park so that we could grab some bubble teas from Joy Yee’s.  It was a perfect treat for a day on the river.

With our bubble teas in hand, we turned the boat around and headed back towards downtown.  At this time, the clouds moved into the area and the temperature dropped noticeably.

Here we are back at the fork of the river in the middle of downtown.  This time, we took the eastern fork of the river, which leads to Lake Michigan.  Below is the massive 4,000,000 square foot Merchandise Mart.

On the right we passed the RR Donnelly Building, one of many office buildings on Wacker Drive.

On the left, we see the iconic Marina City towers aka the corn cob towers, which are comprised of condominiums on top of a parking lot, on top of restaurants, a bowling alley, and a boat dock.  Located in the same complex are the House of Blues and the Sax Hotel.   

There are beautiful riverside promenades on Wacker Drive.

The soon to be gigantic Trump Tower.

The Wrigley Building needs no introduction.  The gothic structure to the right of the Wrigley Building is the Tribune Tower.

Michigan Avenue runs right in front of the Wrigley Building.  The glamorous Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s premier shopping street, is just north of this intersection.  The very posh Oak Street boutiques are at the northern end of the Mag Mile.

The Trump Tower already dwarfs the Wrigley Building.  Blech.

As we approach the locks, the gateway to Lake Michigan, we leave behind the skyscrapers.

Finally we are cruising free on Lake Michigan.

Chicago River by Boat, Part 1

23 05 2008

Last weekend, a friend of ours invited us onto his boat. He and his boat partner wanted to take their boat out of dry dock and put it into their space at Belmont Harbor for the summer. In order to do that, they had to navigate the boat down the Chicago River from the north side of Chicago south through downtown and out to Lake Michigan. We came along for the ride, and it was a perfect warm Spring day. Charles and I had a fantastic time, and we are grateful to J and P for letting us come along the ride!

Around the first bend, we got a nice view of the River North area where we saw this delightful park. River North is a nice area of downtown where strangely enough a lot of Chicago Bulls and Cubs players live.

A few minutes later we passed by the venerable East Bank Club, a gym where a bunch of celebrities and professional athletes have memberships. I’ve heard that the Chicago Bulls work out here, in addition to Oprah. Oprah’s studio and the United Center are just a little west of this area. Now that I think about it, this club is probably one of the reasons so many pro athletes live near here.

After passing the East Bank Club, we came upon the fork in the river and this wonderful skyline view. You can see the Sears Tower right in the middle of the photograph.

Right at the fork of the river is the magnificently curved 333 Wacker Drive. This photogenic office building has been featured in numerous movies and commercials. In “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Ferris’ dad worked in this building.

We decided to take the right fork of the river (southward) so we could pick up lunch. The bridge below is for cars on the lower level and has El tracks on top. The green and pink line trains use this bridge – I know because I take it every day.

Views along the southern branch of the river include many office buildings, which come right up to the water.

It is customary to wave at other boats you pass, like this police boat. Also you want to be nice to the Chicago Police in general.

After passing under the wooden Washington Boulevard bridge, you will see the Lyric Opera‘s building on the left.

Across from the Civic Opera Building is 2 North Riverside Plaza. This building is connected to the Ogilvie Metra station through a glass pedestrian bridge.

Back on the River, we see the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on the left.

All along the river are beautiful maroon painted bridges that are flanked by these small stone structures. All the bridges are able to raise themselves for large boats, and the stone structures contain the controls for these operations.

We see glimpses of the Sears Tower as we continue down the river.

Here we have an unencumbered view of the Sears Tower, the tallest building in North America.

After clearing the Sears Tower, we see the old Chicago Post Office building. No longer in use, this building was most recently used as the location for Gotham Bank and the Gotham Police Headquarters in the soon to be released new Batman movie.

Continuing down the Chicago River on the left is River City, which was designed by the same architect who was responsible for Marina City, the famous corn cob towers situated on the other branch of the river. This building complex was designed to be a self sustained city within a city.

To be continued…

Springtime in Chicago

21 05 2008

In Chicago, springtime is uncertain until the month of May.  You may get warm weather in April, but there is an equal likelihood of snow.  I went to a garden nursery in April afraid that I was too late to begin planting (this is my first year attempting to do a garden).  One of the salespeople there assured me that most people don’t even start planting flowers until after the last frost.  The safe date she quoted was May 15! 

Once warm weather arrives, however, Chicago literally blooms.  On one of the first beautiful days of May, my parents and I went for a walk around the Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a 385 acre garden and museum owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.  It is located in the northern Chicago suburb of Glencoe and managed by the Chicago Horticultural Society.  The Chicago Botanic Garden features a series of 23 display gardens set upon islands surrounded by a lake.  The Garden also hosts classes and other educational features.  There is a $12 per car parking fee, but is otherwise free to the public.

As evidenced below, early May is prime season for tulips in the Chicago area, as it is in the 5-6 plant hardiness zone.

The fruit and vegetable garden was very educational and unique.  As a first time gardener, I was interested to see what kinds of vegetables and plants do well in Chicago.

Below are some lettuce of all types in the early stages of growth (baby greens).

Broccoli anyone?

Now this was a novel idea – why don’t you plant your whole salad bowl in a hanging basket? This would be great for city dwellers like myself.

The CBG also had an amazing display of bonzai plants. There were so many exquisite examples that they filled two courtyards.

This one looks like a mini tree.

How about a miniature forest scene?

The walled English garden is a delight, although it’s even more beautiful in the summer.

Dr. Seuss called and wants his trees back.

My favorite display garden is the exquisite Japanese garden.

There was a lovely terraced tulip garden overlooking the lake that was surrounded by willow trees.

This group of flowers would look lovely in a window box by my window.

Here’s my attempt at bringing Spring into my condo. This is my first ever foray into gardening – I don’t even know if I have a green or black thumb.  Since we don’t have a lawn, I am setting up a container garden in my back deck. 


New York City: A Small Bite of the Big Apple

16 05 2008

Since NYC is so well known, no introduction is needed. I’ve been to the Big Apple several times but believe it’s still nice to visit (although I would never want to live here because of the astronomical real estate prices). I was only in town for 24 hours for work, but still managed to snap some quintessential NYC pictures. You can click on the photos for a larger view.

Our aircraft approached Manhattan from the south and we were rewarded with this view.

NYC Skyline

As we neared LaGuardia, this manhattan skyline pulled into view. I love that you can see the Empire State Building.

NYC Skyline

On my way to my meeting, we passed by Times Square. Here’s a view from my cab window.

Times Square

I took a short stroll around midtown before heading to the airport. Here’s Grand Central Terminal.

Grand Central

I did manage to squeeze in some food in Flushing (Taiwan/Koreatown in Queens) before leaving. I sampled Lu’s Seafood House (66) for some Taiwanese fare and Joe’s Shanghai for some Xiaolongbao. Both were delicious! Be aware that NYC’s Chinatowns only accept cash.

On my flight home, I managed to snap this photo of the beautiful shoreline of Chicago. It is a great contrast to NYC.

Chicago Skyline

Epcot: A World Fair

22 03 2008

Epcot’s other major area is the World Showcase, which is comprised of 11 country-specific pavilions surrounding a lagoon. Each pavilion contains representative stores and restaurants from that specific country and is staffed by citizens from that country. The countries in the World Showcase include Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

View of Japan Pavilion


There are just two rides in the World Showcase, the Three Caballeros ride through Mexico and the Viking ride in Norway. One other notable fact about Epcot is that, unlike the Magic Kingdom, Epcot serves representative alcohol from the different countries. Another coworker I know actually has a bar hopping night tradition with friends through Epcot every other year.

Epcot - Germany

The Germany pavilion has beer.

Food Stand at Epcot

Only at Epcot are the food stands so meticulously pretty.

There is also a crepe stand by the French pavilion area. Sorry I don’t have a picture.

What makes the World Showcase particularly interesting to me is its similarities to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (aka the World Columbian Exposition), one of Walt’s inspirations for Disney World. Walt’s father was a builder for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. While I’m no expert on the subject, I don’t think it’s a stretch to draw comparisons between Epcot and the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893.

As a Chicagoan and University of Chicago alumna, I have always had a fascination with the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893. This event had such a significant impact on Chicago and the United States that its effects can still be felt today. Not only did this fair introduce the world to the Ferris Wheel, but it also marked the beginning of several household names and ideas, including Aunt Jemina pancake mix, Cracker Jack, Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, Elongated Coins, Juicy Fruit gum, and Shredded Wheat. Today, the Museum of Science and Industry is the only physical reminder of the famous “White City” on the Midway.

The website for the World Columbian Exposition Project has a nice overview of the event with photos and context.

Chicago World's Fair

Chicago World's Fair

Note: All photographs of the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893 from Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, Chicago and Philadelphia, 1893, Glimpses of the World’s Fair Through a Camera, Chicago, 1893 and Google Images. Source: and Wikipedia Images.

Side by Side Comparisons of Epcot versus the Chicago World’s Fair:


Chicago World's Fair - Japan

Above: The Japanese pavilion at Jackson Park, Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Epcot - Japan

Above: Japan pavilion from Epcot theme park in 2008.


Chicago World's Fair - UK

Above: The Great Britain pavilion at Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Epcot - UK

Above: United Kingdom pavilion from Epcot theme park in 2008.

Epcot - Mary Poppins

Above: An English garden at Epcot. It’s not Disney without your favorite characters Poppin’ up!


Chicago World's Fair - Aztec

Above: Aztec Temple in the Ethnography section of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Epcot - Mexico

Above: The Aztec temple at the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. Photo by Benjamin D. Esham. Image is released under the Creative Commons cc-by-sa-3.0 license.


Chicago World's Fair - Midway Plaisance

Above: The Moorish Palace on the Midway Plaisance at Chicago World’s Fair 1893.

Epcot - Morocco

Above: The Morocco pavilion at Epcot in 2008.

Although there are obvious differences between Epcot and the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, I like to think that this is the closest you can get to experiencing the concept of the 1893 World’s Fair in today’s world.

A Visit to Walt’s Creation: Disney World

21 03 2008

While in Orlando, Florida for a work conference, my friend/coworker P and I took the opportunity to spend two fun days at Walt Disney World before the start of the conference. Disney World is known primarily as a family destination, but it is also a tourist destination in its own right. Yes, it’s artificial and at times cheesy, but it is also undeniably the most visited theme park in the world, and one of the U.S.’s most popular destinations.

Magic Kingdom

Although eschewed by many more worldly travelers, there is still much to be appreciated about Disney World. Yes, it is part of a huge global for-profit corporation but Disney World was also the creation of a visionary who pioneered animation and theme park design. When Walt Disney first came up with the idea for Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which predated Disney World, there was nothing else out there even close to Walt’s vision. The idea for a theme park rose out of numerous requests by fans to visit Disney’s studios and and meet some of their favorite characters. Inspired by by the 1893 Chicago World’ Fair, European pleasure gardens, and amusement parks around the world, Walt sought to create a destination for tourists and Disney fans to visit.

Cinderella's stepfamily

Although I have visited Disney World several times in my life, most were when I was a kid. Even today, nothing captures the imagination of little kids around the world more than Disney World. I last visited The Magic Kingdom in 2002, but have not seen Epcot since circa 1993. For me, this visit was one part fun and one part nostalgia.

It's a Small World

The it’s a small world ride has not changed one bit since I first climbed onto this boat ride when I was 4 years old. Well, there may have been an update here and there but the same familiar yet cloying music lives on.

Geppeto's Workshop

One of the best parts of Disney World is its attention to detail. While everything is fabricated, they truly are bringing stories to life. Walt’s insistence that Disney employees stay “in character” at all times when in contact with visitors is one of the many details that sets Disney World apart from other theme parks. The organization and cleanliness of the parks are also worth noting. My friend and I were amazed at the efficiency of the parking lot and the system of lines for the rides. Fastpass was a great timesaver.

Pirates of the Caribbean

These visitors got sick of waiting in line.

One of my favorite rides is Pirates of the Caribbean. Even though it’s old technology by now, I am still amazed by Disney’s use of animatronics. It’s not just the fact that they are robots, but also the imaginative way Disney has used them in conjunction with theatrical audio, music, and dramatic lighting and costumes.


Disney updated its Pirates ride with less debauchery and more Jack Sparrow.

Note: The photo of Jack Sparrow is a Disney publicity shot.  Image copyrighted by Disney.  The use of this image is for informational purposes only and qualifies as fair use.  The inclusion of this photo in this post adds significantly to the post because it demonstrates the deft use of animatronics technology.  Source: Google Images.

Cinderella's Castle at Night

Too bad we weren’t invited to the Pirates and Princess Party that night!

Next: Epcot Center

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