Archive for the ‘Illinois’ Category

South Padre Island: A good winter escape

Meet Allison, an Atlantic sea turtle at a sanctuary on South Padre Island. (Sea Turtle Inc photo)

Meet Allison, an Atlantic sea turtle at a sanctuary on South Padre Island. (Sea Turtle Inc photo)

You likely have heard that a hoard of college kids invade South Padre Island during their Spring Break. But the rest of the year this narrow strip of land at the far southern edge of Texas is a perfect vacation spot for girls’ getaways, couples, families and retirees looking for a new destination.

Picture blue-green water to sooth the soul, glistening sand for a sunrise walk, terrific Mai Tais, Martinis and Margaritas to sip at sunset and yummy seafood for lunch and dinner.

For a change of pace there are cruises to see bottlenose dolphins, kite boarding to move with the breeze and sand castle building lessons to find your inner architect.

All those experiences (except for the kite boarding which maybe I’ll try next time) made my really brief visit to South Padre Island (often referred to as SoPadre), a memorable vacation.

I had heard of the destination but what spurred me to visit this fall was United Airline’s decision to fly from Chicago nonstop to the Brownsville International Airport on Saturdays. The airport is a mere 30 minute drive or shuttle ride away.

Hilton Garden Inn pool (GI photo

Hilton Garden Inn pool (GI photo

 

After arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn which has an airport shuttle, the first thing I did was step out onto the patio to inhale the warm air and collapse on a chair to gaze at the pool, greenery and gulf. Time out really means something on South Padre.

Second, was to don a bathing suit (unpacking could wait), dip a toe into the pool, relax in a cabana then begin to think about dinner. Vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico is a chance to indulge in shrimp, crab, scallops, oysters and fresh fish.

But what surprised me after three days of trying different, preparations for lunch and dinner at different restaurants was how good the food is on the island and Port Isabel which is just across Laguna Madre Bay.

Pier 19 had a terrific shrimp basket. Pirates Landing had a wonderful shrimp and oyster po’boy. I learned not to judge by appearance. The elongated shacks that make up Pier 19 attract the locals and the commercial looking Pirates Landing has good shrimp and salads.

Pier 19 was also well placed to take an Osprey nature and dolphin cruise on Laguna Madre Bay. Watching dolphins slip in and out of view was fun but the crew also emptied a net into a tank so that passengers could see and touch what was swimming in the bay. While waiting to board it was fun to watch the kite boarding on the other side of the pier.

Fun to watch dolphin from the Osprey Nature Cruise. (Osprey photo)

Fun to watch dolphin from the Osprey Nature Cruise. (Osprey photo)

Kites, period, are popular in the South Padre area.. B&S Kites is worth stopping just to say OMG when seeing their huge, wonderful shapes hanging from the ceiling. It’s also fun to watch people try to control these large kites on the beach.

What looks deceptively easier is building a sand castle worth of Disneyland. Playing in the sand isn’t just for kids on South Padre. Sand castle lessons are actually advertised on the island’s tourism site.

A group of us staying at the Hilton booked a sand castle lesson with “Sandy Feet,” an expert sand sculptor who used common silverware tools. We learned you don’t have to be among the kindergarten set to enjoy creating a sand castle.

Building sand castles is not just for kids. (Sandy Feet photo)

Building sand castles is not just for kids. (Sandy Feet photo)

What fun and a good way to work up an appetite for dinner! I had already enjoyed red snapper at Sea Ranch so went for sophisticated dining at South Padre’s new, upscale  F&B SPI (Food and Beverage South Padre Island). Both restaurants have terrific seafood appetizers and fresh fish. But I also loved the desserts (which I never order when home) at F&B.

Before returning to Chicago, I had to visit the island’s famed Sea Turtle Inc. sanctuary. So the next day I heard an excellent talk and saw some rehabilitated turtles swimming in tanks. To see Allison and Gerry, two Atlantic sea turtles, visit the center’s web cam.

South Padre Island is a major turtle protection and rehabilitation area. Alerts go out when baby turtles that their moms buried in the sand for protection start hatching and are guided into the gulf by staff and volunteers.

Sunset from Sea Ranch Restaurant and marina on South Padre Island. (J Jacobs photo)

Sunset from Sea Ranch Restaurant and marina on South Padre Island. (J Jacobs photo)

The island also has a bird center and sanctuary which is interesting to walk during spring and fall migrations but has birds landing all year round.

Also nice all rear round are the island’s wonderful sunsets.

 

 

 

 

First in series that updates “downtown” Chicago hotels

 

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photos by J Jacobs)

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photo by J Jacobs)

As a Chicago-based  travel writer I’m constantly receiving notices of new hotels going up, remodeling taking place at older, established hotels and changes being made regarding check-in conveniences, a TV’s room information and hotel  restaurant options.

They range from comparatively inexpensive to high end, large, convention-sized lobbies and meeting rooms to boutique size with small lobbies and little meeting space. And from casual, pick up and go breakfast bars to open-kitchen designed trendy-food emporiums.

There are about 25 ot choose from just in the Loop, another 13 hotels on and near the Mag Mile (Northern Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street (Oak is also considered the Gold  Coast). Another 25 hotels are in the River North Area just west of Michigan Avenue.

All of that means Chicago visitors have an abundance of choices.  Some travelers may consider that good news. Others might find it overwhelming. Fortunately, Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism website the hotel category is broken down by area type and other options.

But travelers should be aware that even when supposedly speaking the same language, hotel and room descriptions translate differently to listeners and speakers.

Having unpacked in all sorts of accommodations in the US and abroad, I have found that words such as roomy, with a view and convenient to sights and shopping, may mean one thing to a traveler and something different to hotel managers and public relations or sales agents.

I found out that a view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Lake Michigan in Chicago meant if you walked out onto the balcony and craned the neck you probably could glimpse the famed structure or crammed into a corner of the room and stood on tiptoe you could get a glimpse of Lake Michigan.

The big question is – are new and remodeled hotels meeting the needs and wants of business and vacation visitors today? The first quarter of the 21st century saw big changes in electronic communications and food and exercise trends.

Please give input in the comment area or send an email to jjtravelsmart@gmail.comof what you look for in a hotel. Email addresses will not be shared. Comments will be helpful when looking at other Chicago hotels.

The hotel series will look at new and updated downtown Chicago hotels starting with Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and  Hotel Julian,  two boutique hotels that opened in October 2018.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian

If looking for a new boutique hotel that is near some of downtown Chicago’s sights you will find two excellent options in Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian.

I liked them both for different reasons but what surprised me when visiting them when they opened was room size. They both were what people in real estate use when describing small houses – cozy.

Compared to some hotel rooms I’ve stayed at in good European hotels, the rooms probably could be described as spacious but Americans might describe them as efficient. The room sizes and accompanying narrow desk and closet space are following a trend I’ve noticed in other recently redeveloped Chicago buildings turned into hotels such as the London House.

What the two hotels lack in room size, and size is merely a judgment call, they make up in good vibes and good location.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

The hotel sits where the Museum of contemporary Art resided before it moved a few blocks north. It does not overlook Michigan Avenue in spite of its title but it is a few blocks east so is within easy walking distance of the Water Tower Place (indoor shopping mall), the John Hancock Building’s 360 Observation Floor, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Navy Pier (Includes Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Lookingglass Theatre and the Dreihaus Museum.

Restaurants of all cuisines and price points are also nearby.

For” time-out” from running around, the hotel has a pool, an airy fitness center that has two Peloton Bikes, a lobby where board games are set out ready to use and a bar where people in the neighborhood stop by.

Meet Corgan, a robot "bowtler" at Aloft Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Meet Corgan, a robot “bowtler” at Aloft
Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Its restaurant, Re:Fuel, is basically a pick-up and go type, self-serve food bar available 24-7 and WI-FI is free throughout the hotel. A hotel guest looked comfortable working on his lap top in the food bar area.

The vibe here is fun. Corrigan, a robot “bowtler” instead of a butler, mingles with lobby guests, tells jokes and when programed at the desk, delivers items to rooms upon request. there is also music on Friday and Saturday.

Visitors who appreciate modern art and good design that incorporates light and bright colors in halls, nooks, rugs and in room and lobby spaces will find this hotel to be a comfortable home while in the city. Aloft Chicago Mag Mile is  at 243 E. Ontario St., Chicago, IL 600611

 

 

 

 

Hotel Julian

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

The hotel has moved into and risen in the historic Atlantic Bank Building on the west side Michigan Avenue just north of Millennium Park.

Designed by famed architect Benjamin Marshall and completed in 1916, it had just 12 of its originally planned 17 floors built.

Now, the Oxford Capital Group that recently redid the London House building as a hotel at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, has beautifully redone the terra cotta clad structure and added five floors with floor to ceiling windows.

Confined by the building original bones, public and private spaces are narrow but from the gourmet “About Last Knife” dining space to the contemporary-designed rooms the descriptive word could be “sleek.” High ceilings make the rooms look and feel larger than they are. The fitness room is small but has a Peloton Bike.

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

A side benefit of adapting needs to space is that instead of an ironing board rooms have steamers. In our family this means not having to hang clothes in the bathroom and turning the shower to hot.

Positioned in the market as a luxury hotel, it has Frette linen and robes and Panpuri bath products designed for the hotel.

Named for the patron saint of travelers, Hotel Julian is well situated for visitors who want to see the Art Institute of Chicago or Cloud Gate (The Bean) and activities in Millennium Park while in town.

It is also near the Theatre District’s shows at Goodman TheatreChicago Theatre and the Broadway in Chicago productions at the Ford Oriental Theatre, all a few  blocks  west of the hotel.

Hotel Julian is at 168 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60601

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diflucan side effects

A back road drive in Door County.

A back road drive in Door County.

The itch to getaway to a colorful scenic vista is upon us. The weather is showing signs of fall with warm days and cool nights and some trees in the neighborhood are beginning to show tinges of gold and orange. But before you throw a suitcase in the car and drive off there are a few tips that could up the fall color experience.

 

1.Don’t use your neighborhood color changes as the definitive guide. Colors in states or area of your state to the north and west may be in full fall color palette or just beginning to change south or east. In the US check fall foliage map or weather map for where the foliage is turning. Some states have color reports. Among the best in the Midwest is Wisconsin.

2.Make accommodation reservations ahead of time. You’re not alone when looking for a fall destination but to avoid bumper-to bumper traffic go during the week, not om the weekend.

3. Take advantage of local Visitors Bureaus to find the best place for what you want. . As an example, Door County in northeastern Wisconsin, and Traverse City in northern Michigan (below the Upper Peninsula) and Brown County (Bloomington and Nashville) in central Indiana keep tabs on what is available and know price points and type. The visitors centers’ websites also show where pets are welcome. Also stop at the Visitors Center for a map, brochures and suggestions because GPS will work some places but not all.

4. Because you are driving, not flying, throw those extra boots, hiking shoes, jackets, sun protector hats and sprays, water bottles, first-aid kits and backpacks into the car. Don’t be afraid to bring your own pillow for a good night’s sleep.

5. Don’t forget chargers for phones, ipads, cameras or whatever other electronics you take everywhere. Also check your accommodations before you leave, they already have enough chargers from previous visitors.

Enjoy!

Jodie Jacobs

 

An unexpectedly grand trip

 

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids reconnects the past. (Photos by Jodie Jacobs

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids reconnects the past. (Photos by Jodie Jacobs

 

Picture a Midwestern river town that celebrates a favorite son with a presidential museum, its furniture history with a public museum, its appreciation of sculpture with an amazing garden and appreciation of art with a mega fall fair that awards half a million dollars in prizes.

Grand Rapids, Mi., a former U.S. furniture hub on the Grand River and childhood home of Gerald R. Ford is fun to visit year round. But come in the fall when the colors paint the scenery and  ArtPrize paints the town. An art fair where the public gets to votes and thus, choose where some of the prize money goes, ArtPrize attracts artists from across the globe and visitors from across North America.

 

Sometimes ArtPrize works can be seen in the Grand River and on its bridges.

Sometimes ArtPrize works can be seen in the Grand River and on its bridges.

 

Unlike fine art exhibits that are confined indoors to one museum or outside to a single city plaza or street, ArtPrize blankets Grand Rapids from banks to bistros and breweries to bridges.

Because works are displayed throughout the city visitors walk through buildings and neighborhoods they may not normally get to on a brief vacation.

For ArtPrize 2018, the numbers as of mid-August were 1,417 artists working on 1,271 entries at 166 venues. The event runs from Sept. 19 through Oct. 7.

Among the places that have been venues in past years but are destinations anyway to put on the must visit list are the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the Public Museum across the road from it downtown on the river and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park on the eastern outskirts of town.

 

This opera house is on an old Grand Rapids street inside the PUblic Museum

This opera house is on an old Grand Rapids street inside the Public Museum.

 

At the Ford Presidential Museum learn more about Watergate and Ford’s time in Congress, in the White House and at the University of Michigan. The museum is at 303 Pearl St. NW. Gerald Ford and wife Betty are buried on the grounds.

Cross the road to the Public Museum, 272 Pearl St., NW  to browse through rooms of native American artifacts, treasured examples from when the town was the US furniture hub, stroll through some old Grand Rapids streets, sit at consoles as an astronaut and ride a 1928 Spillman Carousel.

Save time to visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

 

Sown a Sculpture Park path look for a Henry Moore.

Sown a Sculpture Park path look for a Henry Moore.

 

Amble through the Sculpture Park and inside the main building to discover more than 200 pieces by well-known artists. Around every curve in the path come across works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Richard Hunt Anish Kapoor, Claes Oldenburg, Jaume Plensa and other pieces to photograph and put on Facebook or Instagram.

There is also a terrific children’s garden that adults would love and a peaceful Japanese Garden.  The Meijer Gardens are at 1000 East Beltline Ave NE.

 

BTW Grand Rapids is a good stop on the way up to Traverse City or when doing a triangle that includes Holland and Grand Haven, MI.

 

 

 

 

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