All posts by lillyemma

Highlight: Chicago

Chicago, Windy City, Chi-Town. Undoubtedly Chicago is one of the most landmark cities in America. Known for sports and hot dogs, you can’t possibly take a modern architecture class without learning about Chicago and its impact on architecture: the skyscraper. If you’ve taken an art class, you’ve probably also heard of the Art Institute of Chicago, which has notable artworks. That is basically all I knew about Chi-Town when I set off for my social distancing trip. I did a lot of research on things to do and areas to visit, but there was no real expectation when I went. The city when I arrived did all the talking.

Chicago

A little bit of history: This is what you’ve learned about in architecture class because it changed the world: The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The traditional story go that a Ms. O’Leary’s cow knocked over a kerosene lamp which ended up burning down the city. Modern scholars believe she was framed but history remains unchanged. A huge chunk of the city burned down, minus the water tower made of limestome. (You can still visit the water tower today – it’s an art gallery.)

So, they rebuilt but were no longer allowed to construct with wood because, obviously, they didn’t feel like doing the whole Great Fire thing again. This is when steel arrives as a more fire-resistant material. Then comes in the Home Insurance Building by William LeBaron Jenney, the world’s first skyscraper. It was developed from the genius idea that maybe building down will cause more support for building up, and it was actually a huge realisation. We take the tall towers of New York City and beyond for granted now but it must have been amazing to live during this time period and see the incredible changes taking place every day.

Chicago was actually not a very old city at all when it caught on fire. It had been a spot for nomadic Native American tribes to stop for millennia and in the late 1700s, early 1800s, it served as a very small town for fur trade. Like Native Americans before, white Americans used it as a place to stop through. It wasn’t until around the 1830s that a town and eventually a city developed. It had been around for only 40 years when it all burned to the ground.

After the fire and the Home Insurance Building, Chicago became a playground for architects to try out new building techniques and styles. You’ll notice that a lot of the buildings are of the International or “less is more” design, and quite a few are by famous architect Mies Van Der Rohe. You also can’t have taken a modern architecture class without learning of Sears (now Willis) Tower, the tallest skyscraper of its time. While architects were making history, Chicago also became a hub for immigrants. Both of these aspects of Chicago’s history are very prominent in the city of today.

Chicago

So what is Chicago actually like? Honestly, it reminded me so much of New York City in many ways. The downtown area, also referred to as The Loop, has a tonne of skyscrapers and it feels like it goes on and on and on. And it is a very big city! Walking without stopping from one side of the loop to the other can take around half an hour and that’s a very small part of the city. There’s also very clear immigrant influences throughout the city, particularly with all the amazing local places you can eat (blog post on vegan Chicago coming soon!). But it differed in many ways. Firstly, Chicago is on the beautiful Lake Michigan, which looks like an ocean. The colours of the lake are so beautiful and it it makes Chicago feel like an oceanside city. Also, many neighbourhoods outside of the central part of Chicago feel more like towns. It’s a drastic mix of large and small, possibly overwhelming and then completely calming.

I’ll return more to exploring Chicago but first, I want to talk about the things I did there as a tourist. One of the things you have to do is take an architecture tour to get a brief overview of the city. This can be done as a walking tour or self-guided tour, but I opted for a fun river cruise tour. A lot of Chicago’s main architecture can be seen from the river so it makes for a relaxing but educating tour. I’m old-fashioned so I personally liked the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, and the Carbide and Carbon Building. I also loved the Marina Towers, which look like corn cobs, and 150 North Riverside. The former looks like corn cobs and the latter is a huge building that had a foundation about 20% as wide as the building, so it looks kind of terrifying but awesome. To learn more about Chicago architecture, there is an architecture centre that has exhibits and different tours.

Carbide and Carbon Building Wrigley Building
Chicago Architecture Cruise Marina Towers

For some nice views, you can have a walk on Navy Pier. You can also head to one of the city’s several beaches, which have great skylines. Unfortunately the beaches were closed due to COVID when I visited but the waters of Lake Michigan were so beautiful, I was dying to go swimming in them! There’s also bike and pedestrian trails on Lake Shore Drive and Chicago Riverwalk. If you bike, you’re in luck – Chicago’s a very bike-friendly city!

Navy Pier, Chicago Navy Pier, Chicago
Fun Fact: the Ferris Wheel made its debut in Chicago

Of course I had to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, highly talked about by my art history professors. The collection is actually not as large as I had anticipated but they have a great range of different types of art. They also have famous artworks in their collection, such as American Gothic and The Bedroom but a lot of their collection is actually lesser-known works by well known artists. They have a lot of impressionism and modern works – a lot of Warhols. I also loved the miniature rooms they have that were created to show different types of interior design styles (mostly around the colonial age of the United States). It’s definitely worth a stop in for anyone who enjoys art. Allow yourself several hours to see the collection, maybe even the whole day.

Near the Art Institute are a bunch of parks that look like one big park. The most famous is Millennium Park which houses Cloud Gate, or “the bean” sculpture. It wasn’t a sculpture I was super excited about but seeing it in person, I gained a lot more appreciation for it. It’s all about seeing the way it moves with the skyline.

Cloud Gate, Chicago

Another excellent museum in Chicago is the Chicago History Museum, which highlights the contributions Chi-Town has made to the world (and there are a lot of them!). They have a tonne of artefacts and a nice holistic view of Chicago. There’s a lot to learn there. The coolest part, for me, was seeing objects that survived the Great Fire. It’s like a time capsule to 1871.

I also got to visit the American Writers Museum, a new museum that’s very much needed and overdue. Though they have some fun word games and original writing tools of different American writers, the museum was basically an overview of American writers and movements, starting with colonialism. I was a bit disappointed since this is a huge subject that could take up so much space and the museum was kind of small.

Target, Chicago Details, Chicago

Chicago

But I didn’t mind visiting the Writers Museum. My big fail of the Chicago trip was visiting the Museum of Science and Industry. I thought it would be cool to learn something new and branch out from my typical studies of art and history, but MSI is very much a children’s museum. It is not for adults at all, so it was kind of a huge waste. But, if you have kids, it is a great museum for kids.

Another place I absolutely did not like was 360 Chicago, an observation deck from the 94th floor. It sounds great but is severely overpriced at about $25-30. You can see everything during the day but there’s no references and a half-baked breakdown of neighbourhoods in the waiting area. It would’ve been so much better with some type of resource to tell visitors what they’re looking at. But more atrocious was the nighttime because you can’t see much beyond the skyscrapers. And they leave the lights on!! Fluorescent lights!! So you need to press against the glass to see anything other than your reflection. It’s a complete waste of money. Find a rooftop restaurant or bar when you’re visiting and you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

View from 360 Chicago

There’s a lot more to do that I didn’t get to, including the Chicago Cultural Centre, known for its beautiful interior, the Field Museum, the DuSable Museum of African-American History, and the Adler Planetarium. Chicago also houses a Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of Mexican Art and Oriental Institute. Being the large city Chicago is, there’s a lot more to do outside the realm of museum attractions, too.

Chicago Chicago

However, the heart of Chicago is made up of 77 neighbourhoods, even though there is some cultural identity that puts this number up to over 200! Staying in the loop when there are so many areas of Chicago to be explored is a travel sin. The metro and bus system is very easy to use to get around. I did not have nearly enough time to see all the areas I wanted but I was able to get out and get a taste of certain areas. Hyde Park is largely residential but super cute. It’s home to the University of Chicago which has some beautiful neo-gothic buildings, including its well-known cathedral. I also enjoyed visiting Logan Park and Bucktown/Wicker Park. They have a lot of local restaurants and bars, but it’s not so upscale that it seems unaccessible. I also got to stop in Old Town, which didn’t really feel that old but it did feel cozy. The buildings are very low, there’s lots of local shopping, and a few old buildings here and there.

Old Town Oak Park

Bucktown, Chicago

I also headed outside city limits to Oak Park to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio. An American visionary in architecture, you can see Wright’s restored home and studio, set in a neighbourhood where he designed several of the other houses. If you don’t want to trek out to Oak Park but want to see some prairie architecture, you can visit the Robie House in Hyde Park. Any architecture fan should at least see this midwestern style when in Chicago. It hits differently.

Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois

Andersonville, Bronzeville, Edgewater, Pilsen, and Uptown were also heavily recommended by locals. Click here to learn more about Chicago’s neighbourhoods.

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago’s a wonderful city and so big, I wish I had more time to explore what it has to offer. Though its museums are excellent, getting to know the city, its food, its culture, and its people is what makes a Chicago trip special.

Have you ever been to Chicago? What did you think?

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Highlight: Annapolis (As told by a local)

Annapolis is the capitol city of my home state, Maryland, and its old town location on the Chesapeake bay is incredibly charming. I got to spend a lot more time here after graduating from college and moving on from DC, so what as a local do I consider the highlights of “naptown”?

Annapolis, Maryland

A little bit of history: Annapolis and the Maryland region has been inhabited for thousands of years but was also one of the first places colonised by the Europeans. Settled as a colony for decades before, Annapolis became a proper city in 1708. It had been officially “designed” a few years earlier, in 1702 by Royal Governor, Sir Francis Nicholson. The street design is called baroque, which means that it has circles with streets radiating from the circles. (This would in later centuries be known as a nightmare for people who drive, but thankfully Annapolis doesn’t have too much traffic comparatively!)

Annapolis is also known as the home of the United States Naval Academy. I live in Maryland and used to work in Annapolis – it’s impossible to visit without seeing someone walking around in uniform. The Naval Academy was founded as the Naval School in 1845. Only five years later in 1850, it because the United States Naval Academy and required schooling for midshipmen. Today, it’s still a popular school, and they cover your tuition costs if you pledge 5 (I think) years to the Navy. Which, as I still pay off my student loans, sounds like a great deal.

Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis is an excellent destination for fans of historic architecture. Downtown Annapolis is very decently sized, with buildings dating back to the 1700s, completed with colourful paint. You know how those European cities you visit where everything is old but it doesn’t feel old? That’s Annapolis. Walk down the the harbour to get a full feel for Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. We’re very proud of our bay coastline. The city also prides itself on the Maryland flag, the unofficial symbol of Maryland – the crab – and the maritime history and feel of the city. Sails, crabs, and fishing nets are emblem of Annapolis. This small city has a strong identity. And to be frank, it makes great souvenirs! When you’re in Maryland, you have to try Old Bay. Even though it’s associated with crab, Old Bay itself is actually vegan and goes well on fries and some other things.

Maryland State House, Annapolis

Honestly, there isn’t too much to do in the way of sightseeing unless you’re a history nerd. You can visit the Maryland State House, which is extremely underrated. Not only is it quite lovely, but it hosted a few very important events. It was for less than a year the capital of the United States, in 1783-4. The Treaty of Paris was ratified by Congress here in January 1784. Also, George Washington’s resignation from the Continental Army was done here in 1783. Very notable stuff has gone on here in Annapolis. Today, the Maryland State House is the oldest state capitol by continual use.

St. Anne's Parish, Annapolis St. Anne's Parish Tiffany Stained Glass Window, Annapolis

I’ve also been in and enjoyed the Government House, the home of Maryland governors. I went on a school trip but it appears tours are available by appointment if you’re inclined to visit. Another significant building is St. Anne’s Parish, which dates back to 1704. It used to be open to the public but I’ve noticed it’s closed more often now. If you can, do go inside to see the stained glass windows. The one pictured above is a Tiffany!

William Paca House, Annapolis

Visiting the Naval Academy is an absolute must. You can visit the Naval Academy Museum or take a tour. You should also stop by St. John’s College on the other side of town as it’s the third oldest college in the United States. There are also several historic homes to visit including the Charles Carroll house, William Paca House & Garden, and the Hammond-Harwood house. All three are excellent choices.

Annapolis, Maryland

There’s also a very small Annapolis museum where you can learn a thing or two about the city’s history, but admittedly I haven’t been there. A small but free museum is the Banneker-Douglass Museum, which has a bit on African-American history in the Chesapeake region.

Annapolis Harbour

What Annapolis lacks in tourist sites, it makes up for in local businesses. One of the best things about Annapolis is the selection of local restaurants and art galleries. While painting and photography is very popular in Annapolis, there are some stores that have handmade decorative arts and pottery. Some other parts of Annapolis include Eastport, which is a charming residential area. If you like houses, a walk around Eastport is lovely. Also Parole is where the mall and a lot of other shopping centres are. This part is very busy but less exciting, and has more chain restaurants and stores than local.

Annapolis, Maryland

A fun thing to do for almost anyone is to hit the shores and go out on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay. There are rentals in the area, but they can be quite pricey. If you do have a car handy, I recommend going to Quiet Waters Park, which is a very large recreational park. There’s a place here called Paddle or Pedal, where you can rent kayaks and bikes. Rough prices are $5 entrance to the park per car and $15 per hour on a kayak, so that’s significantly cheaper. Kayaking on the river is not the same as going out on a boat on the bay, but it’s equally nice and more budget-friendly.

Sunset over Annapolis

I’d allot a day or half a day to visit Annapolis since it’s so small. However, if you’re in the area, it’s worth sticking around to check out all the restaurants and antique shops the city has to offer. Really, Annapolis is a great city to walk around, but you can do so in about an hour or two. Then make time for eating, stopping in stores, etc. If you have time, nearby Historic London Town is a fun outing where you can learn about the colonial era in Maryland. If you’re staying the night, Annapolis has a surprisingly large nightlife. A lot of the clubs surround the harbour area.

Where to Eat

The city has a great selection of food for a tonne of different price ranges, but sadly it’s not the most vegan-friendly city. I don’t like to recommend restaurants in cities because I haven’t tried them all, but that’s not really the case with Annapolis. I’ve tried a lot! So here are some recommendations.

Annapolis, Maryland

Historic Places:

  • Middleton Tavern – Since 1750. Virtually no veggie options.
  • Reynolds Tavern – Since 1747. Very limited veggie options but they do have afternoon tea. I’ve eaten there and though their food wasn’t good, their scones and tea were.

Lunch/Dinner:

  • Carroll’s Creek Cafe – This place always has only one veggie option, and it’s not vegan. But it’s located on the water and has been rated one of the restaurants with the best views in America.
  • Evelyn’s Cafe – This is a place where they pride themselves on locally sourced produce. They have a lot of veggie options but it doesn’t look like they have vegan options anymore, sadly.
  • Iron Rooster – Has veggie options but not vegan options. It’s a local favourite.
  • Lighthouse Bistro – I haven’t been because every time I go, the place has a long wait. It’s popular! But why I recommend this place is that it focuses on training and employing homeless people so that they can get back on their feet.
  • The Metropolitan – Kind of veggie friendly and not vegan friendly. However I recommend the Metropolitan because they have a really cute rooftop bar, they serve pineapple cider, and they have local bands play. It’s a great vibe.
  • Vegan friendly Potato Valley Cafe – This place serves potatoes! I’m not a huge fan but they do have a vegan potato, so here’s a rec for my vegans.
  • Vegan friendly Ram’s Head Tavern – Ram’s head has a decent selection of veggie and vegan food to choose from, plus they brew their own beer. It’s a fun place.
  • Vegan friendly Rutabaga – 100% VEGAN! This place has food as well as juice. I really like their avocado toast.

For dessert:

  • Vegan friendly Annapolis Ice Cream Company – They have a selection of vegan ice cream!
  • Bruster’s Ice Cream – If you do have a car, Bruster’s has delicious ice cream in a wide variety of flavours. I love going there because they also have free dog ice cream for my doggie! There are also dairy-free flavours.
  • Kilwin’s – Kilwin’s is not a local store but its locations are limited to only a few states. They have great fudge.
  • Sofi’s Crepes – Where they serve, you guessed it, crepes! This is a franchise but it’s limited to Maryland right now.
  • Salty Paws – Ice cream for doggies only. They also sell doggie ice cream mix for on the road!

I hope that more vegan options become available soon.

A fun thing that Annapolis does each summer is close off its streets so that people can dine outside, pictured above. Times and dates vary so check out Visit Annapolis to see what restaurants will have outdoor seating and when.

Annapolis, Maryland

I really love the laid-back, nautical and historic feel of Annapolis. It’s a great place to visit and should be on your radar if it’s not already.

Have you ever been to Annapolis? What did you think?

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Highlight: Seville

Barcelona is the most popular tourist destination in Spain, but for my first trip to the Iberian country, I opted to visit Seville. Photos got me excited about the wonderful art and history of Andalusia and its primary city. I have to say that I heard some negative things about Spain but they were all wrong. I had an amazing time in Seville!

Seville, Spain

A little bit of history: Like many Spanish cities, Seville (Italica) started out as a Roman one. The area has more ancient origins but a lot of Seville’s celebrated history comes from the Roman era onward. However Seville, like its region of Andalusia, is more notable for the Islamic influences in its architecture and history. The Arabs took control in the early 8th century. It even became the capital in 1147! However, this didn’t last long. The city was conquered by Ferdinand III in 1248 and converted to Christianity. Muslims still lived in the city under Christian leadership and had the blend of styles, called mudejar, also made its mark on the city. The layers of cultural leadership are incredibly prevalent in Seville.

More famously, it’s from a nearby town of Huelva that Christopher Columbus left to find the “New World.” As Seville was an important city for royalty and political figures at this time, the wealth from colonisation made Seville a very rich city. You may have also heard of Velazquez, one of Spain’s most famous painters. He was born in Seville. Even though many sites are much older, the 16th century is known as Seville’s Golden Age. After that, Spain fell into political conflicts. They did host the 1929 Latin-American Exposition (also referred to as Ibero-American) to help boost the economy, and I’ll explain its importance subsequently.

Seville, Spain Cathedral in Seville, Spain

There are so many gems in Seville. Exploring the city’s architecture alone can take up an entire day. The main place you’re probably looking to explore is Plaza de Espana, which was built for the 1929 Latin-American Expo. The building looks much older. The place is absolutely huge. Even after looking at photos, I was not prepared for the great scale of this place. It’s also incredibly detailed and absolutely beautiful. There are alcoves all along the crescent depicting Spanish cities in tile. The work and artistic craftsmanship that went into it is astonishing. You can spend so much time walking along each alcove, deciding which one is your favourite.

Plaza de Espana, Seville Plaza de Espana, Seville

Plaza de Espana, Seville Plaza de Espana, Seville

My experience is a lesson in vanity tourism. You’ll probably enter the plaza from the west because that’s where most of Seville city is. It’s packed. When you keep walking east towards the centre and the opposite side of the crescent, crowds diminish. I mean, it was me and a handful of others. People literally just snap a pic for the Gram and leave! But that’s good for us who want to explore the building as there aren’t many people. Also be sure to go up on the balconies to get some different views of the plaza.

Me in one of the alcoves, Plaza de Espana, Seville

Nearby you can see the Plaza America, which is equally beautiful but on a smaller scale. It’s here that you can visit the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions. You’ll pass through Maria Luisa Park to get there, which is a huge park. There are decorative structures located here and there so be sure to look out for those. I can’t stress enough how huge this place is, even though it looks so small on a map. I had to catch a bus so I rushed from one end of the park to the other, gave up and called a cab after 45 minutes. It’s a big area.

Plaza America, Seville
Plaza America

Of course you must also visit the Cathedral of Seville and the tower La Giralda. The cathedral’s incredibly ornate with its gothic architecture but the size and grandeur is what blew me away about the cathedral. Christopher Columbus’s Tomb is the most famous treasure in the cathedral. If you want views over the city, you can climb to the top of La Giralda. I’d recommend buying tickets online because the line for the cathedral is substantial.

Seville Cathedral, Seville Seville Cathedral, Seville

Seville Cathedral, Seville Seville Cathedral, Seville

Another must-see in the area is the Real Alcazar, which is the royal palace. Get your tickets online! I waited about 1-2 hours in the heat during the shoulder season to enter this place. It was worth it but could’ve been easier. The palace isn’t furnished but the architecture has magnificent detail and the gardens are expansive and well catered. There’s no route to get through the palace and gardens so make sure to get a map so you don’t miss an inch of this exquisite masterpiece.

Real Alcazar, Seville

Real Alcazar, Seville Real Alcazar, Seville

Real Alcazar, Seville

However, I have to admit that I enjoyed Casa de Pilatos just a little bit more. It was built circa the 15th century and was later fashioned by Don Fadrique in around 1520. It’s actually not a palace but a house. Imagine living there! The building is clearly mudejar in style but it was largely influenced by the Italian Renaissance, which makes for an exquisitely interesting outcome. The downstairs has a courtyard, several rooms and a small garden and they all have incredible decoration from the floor to the ceiling. There’s tiles everywhere and amazing carving. It’s also partially furnished and has classical sculptures.

If you use the audioguide, I don’t think a tour of the upstairs is necessary. It’s much more plain in style and doesn’t add much to the visit. But make sure you go up the stairs because the stairway is gorgeous.

Casa de Pilatos, Seville Casa de Pilatos, Seville

Casa de Pilatos, Seville Casa de Pilatos, Seville

Casa de Pilatos, Seville Casa de Pilatos, Seville

Another great house museum is the Palacio de Lebrija. It is much smaller but so beautifully decorated in carvings and mosaics. It’s also heavily furnished and houses the Lebrija Countess’s art collection so there’s a lot to see. However I highly recommend joining the upstairs tour for this palace because it’s no less decorated. The tour also contains fascinating details about the Countess’s life and her collections. Other house museums you can visit are Las Duenas and Casa de Salinas.

Palacio de Lebrija, Seville Palacio de Lebrija, Seville

Palacio de Lebrija, Seville Palacio de Lebrija, Seville

Some other monuments you need to stop by are the Torre del Oro, of which you can go to the top. You should also go to one of Seville’s most famous landmarks, Las Setas. You can go to the top to get some city views and underneath the structure for a glimpse of the city’s ruins.

View from Las Setas, Seville

Las Setas, Seville

There are many other great places to explore in Seville, as well. You should visit the Fine Arts Museum of Seville for, you guessed it, art. It’s a rather small museum but all of the art is local. You can also visit Hospital de los Venerables for the art of Seville-born Diego Velazquez. Seville also hosts a contemporary art museum called CAAC and a ceramic center. This is located in Triana, which is the area across the river from most of Seville’s attractions.

Triana, Seville

A cultural event I highly recommend in Seville is a Flamenco Show. I went to La Casa del Flamenco, which has a limited crowd with no food or drinks allowed. It makes for a more intimate experience. There are also lists of other places to visit online, and many of them serve dinner with the show. There’s also a museum on Flamenco but aside from one exhibit, I felt there wasn’t any real information on the dance.

Seville, Spain Real Alcazar, Seville, Spain

I spent two and a half days exploring Seville and I got to see a lot but it was rushed. I’d recommend giving yourself more time to explore the city if it’s an option. And if you do have an extra day, Italica is an easy day trip. I haven’t been but the site is the well preserved Roman remains of ancient Seville. There are many buses to Santiponce and back, which is where the archaeological site is located.

I also had amazing food in Seville. I was worried because I heard Spain isn’t veggie-friendly but I eating vegetarian was easy. Tapa culture makes for easier veggie dining. Plus, I found several vegan restaurants. I don’t normally recommend restaurants but I loved Fargo, which is almost all vegan. I’m recommending it because you probably won’t find this place on a list of vegan Seville restaurants and it was so good.

Seville, Spain Seville, Spain

If Seville isn’t on your Spain bucket list or isn’t high up there, perhaps it should be. It’s a magical city that’s rich with history and culture, and one of my favourite places in the world. I loved my time there and cannot recommend a visit to Seville and Andalusia highly enough.

Have you ever been to Seville? What did you think?

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