Big City Tales

A Colorful Time Out in Tucson

October 25, 2017
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Rubber Ducky, you’re the one. You make pool time so much fun. Rubber Ducky, I’m awfully fond of you…especially when you greet me in early spring on a much-needed time out in Tucson, Arizona!

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Aside from the promise of days on end of brilliant blue skies and sun-kissed golden pretty posies all in a row, mid-April turned out to be a magical time to visit the desert for other colorful reasons.

Shades of Pink

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Even from a distance, it was hard to miss the mass of pink that is the Pima County Courthouse. The surrounding gardens, full of vibrant shades of pink flowers and bushes, perfectly complemented and strikingly contrasted with the pale pink hue of the building’s Spanish Colonial exterior. Just like the soothing digestive effects of Pepto Bismol, the pinkness of the Pima County Courthouse washed over my being and definitely soothed my work-weary mind.

Purple Ribbons and Bows 

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The main entrance of Saint Augustine Cathedral beckoned me to its doors with regal — yet friendly — shimmery purple bows, presumably to coincide with the festive Easter season. The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson and the building’s stone facade features numerous varieties of local desert plants.

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In an effort to enhance the cathedral’s sacred space and worship experience, a major interior and exterior restoration project was completed in recent years. An outdoor stage featuring a charming and beautiful arched canopy decorated in flowers and butterflies immediately caught my eye. From top to bottom, inside and out, I was inspired by the entire cathedral complex that can’t help but appeal to parishioners and visitors both young and old.

Fiery Red-Orange Hues of Terra Cotta 

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Perhaps one of the most distinctive colors of the desert, terra cotta truly stands out. As soon as I walked past the El Charro Cafe with its quaint windows and arched doorway, trimmed in said desert color, I knew that I would be coming back to enjoy an evening meal. Offering authentic Mexican cuisine in a casual atmosphere, I was sure to leave room for some tasty sopapillas and churros for dessert.

Goodness of Green

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While I expected to see a lot of green in the form of cactus plants, I was pleasantly surprised by the other forms of greenery I came across in Tucson, most notably the plethora of trees and shrubbery around the campus of the University of Arizona. The soft green steel benches added to the oasis garden-feel of the grounds, and I thought the precisely cut-out ARIZONA lettering provided another layer of visual interest (and probably served the purpose of instilling a healthy dose of school and state pride!).

Colors of the Rainbow

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Finishing off my tour of Tucson back in the downtown core, this public art display captured the essence of this colorful southwest gem of a city. For me, Tucson in all its spring glory proved to be the perfect place for a quick time out!

“The ideas that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty and truth.” ~ Albert Einstein

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One Town That Won’t Let You Down

October 23, 2017
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With all the wind blowing through my hometown of Calgary this fall, it’s reminded me of another great city south of the border that also starts with a ‘C’ and also has its fair share of blustery days! The winds of Chicago, Illinois may knock you down, but the town itself won’t let you down…

Yes, if there’s one thing you can count on in Chicago, it’s the ever-present wind that is either welcomed or shunned depending on the weather conditions. In the heat of the summer, a gentle breeze off of Lake Michigan cools the masses; but in the dead of winter it freezes their toes! For tried and true Chicagoans, it’s just part and parcel of the charm that comes with living in the ‘Windy City’ and many wouldn’t want it any other way.

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As the sun begins to set, the Chicago skyline begins to glimmer, shimmer, and gloriously GLOW!

Architecture

One of the redeeming qualities in this fine mid-western city, and indeed adding to its charm, is the wide array of architectural styles in the downtown core that is best observed either on a walking tour or a river cruise. Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper and you’ll have to look up, WAY up to see the tops of the John Hancock Center and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, two structures that, in the past, have both held the distinction of being the world’s tallest buildings. Although not nearly as tall, the iconic Wrigley Building located on Michigan Avenue along the Chicago River is nonetheless just as eye-catching and holds its own as a beloved city landmark. From modern, innovative designs to classical and Art Deco treasures, there are plenty of spectacular marvels of construction to behold and admire.

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Gather with the throngs underneath the Cloud Gate Sculpture (a.k.a. ‘The Bean’) and enjoy an altered perspective of the city’s skyline.

 

Culture

When you’re done surveying the exterior of the city’s superstructures, you’ll be equally ‘blown away’ (pun intended!) with what Chicago has to offer by way of arts and culture. Public art includes The Bean, The Picasso, Flamingo, Buckingham Fountain and Agora to name but a mere few of Chicago’s popular installations that now number over 500 and are spread out across the city. Museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science and Industry are world-renowned for their collections. The Art Institute is the second largest museum in the United States and includes pieces by Monet, Chagall, Rembrandt and Dali among other treasured artists. Both the Art Institute and the Field Museum are part of ‘Museum Campus’ in beautiful and peaceful Grant Park that also features the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium.

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Baseball fans in Chicago rejoiced when the Cubs FINALLY won the World Series again in 2016.

Sports 

Not unlike other large American cities, Chicago sports fans have the luxury of many teams to throw their support behind, including two baseball franchises. While the city has had its fair share of champions, there have been some lean years, most notably the Cubs baseball team that, up until 2016, sadly held the distinction of the longest National League pennant and World Series droughts in the history of Major League Baseball. Other heralded teams include the Chicago White Sox (winners of the World Series in 1906 and 2005, representing the American League), the Chicago Bears (winners of the Super Bowl in 1985, representing the National Football Conference), the Chicago Blackhawks (winners of six Stanley Cups in 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013 and 2015, representing the Western Conference), and the Chicago Bulls (winners of six NBA Finals in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998, representing the Eastern Conference). More recently, Major League Soccer has been added to Chicago’s sports offerings and the Chicago Fire made the playoffs in 2017. Chicago also boasts a team in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the Chicago Sky appeared in the 2014 finals.

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Ahoy, it’s Navy Pier…the Midwest’s number one tourist attraction located on the shores of Lake Michigan and home of the Centennial Wheel.

Entertainment

If watching sports isn’t your idea of a good time, there are other ways to have fun and be thoroughly entertained in Chicago. With its prime lakefront location, Navy Pier is open year-round and includes more than 50 acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, family attractions and exhibition facilities. The area is currently undergoing a major upgrade with the Phase 1 “Centennial Vision” project completed in 2016 adding  amenities such as a new fountain and plaza at the pier’s main entryway; a greener and modernized promenade at the south dock; an authentic Chicago Food Experience featuring deep dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, rainbow ice cream, etc.; and the grand new Centennial Wheel, the only one of its kind in the United States.

Chicago also has great appeal for fans of live music, theater and comedy productions. Musical genres associated with the city include the blues, Dixieland jazz (Chicago style), gospel, and house (electronic dance). From large Broadway shows to small local productions, there is something for all theater goers to enjoy. For those just looking for a good laugh, Chicago is home to The Second City, the well-known comedy club that has brought fame to the likes of Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Bill Murray and others who honed their skills and tickled the funny bones of Chicagoans before launching their careers on the national and world stages.

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Be it by the slice or by the whole pie, Chicagoans really, REALLY love their deep dish pizza!

Food

Considered to be one of America’s best food cities, it’s not just Chicago-style pizza and the classic ballpark hot dog that have critics raving. From fine dining in Michelin star restaurants to grabbing a bite on the fly from trendy street food vendors, the Chicago food scene has something to satisfy every palate and food craving. Local celebrity chefs include Rick Bayless whose specialty is Mexican regional cooking, Stephanie Izard whose passion is casual international cuisine, Art Smith who puts his heart and soul into southern comfort food, and three star Michelin superstar, Grant Achatz, who has skyrocketed to the top of the modernist cooking movement. Not to be overlooked are other staples such as Chicago-style popcorn, the original rainbow ice cream cone, and Bertha’s famous brownie. Can’t decide what to eat? Try out one of Chicago’s food tours where you can sample the best bites at the best digs in no time at all.

My Kind of Town

In the words of songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen and as sung with such incredible vim and vigor by Frank Sinatra, Chicago IS my kind of town and I think you’ll like it too!