The question is, what do you see? What one or two things are readily accessible and can be experienced in a short period of time (that is, no huge historic sites or ten-course tasting menus or all-day tours) but still offer something unique to that particular place?
Last weekend, I was in the Chicago area for my girlfriend's brother's wedding (congrats, Peter and Katie!). The day after the wedding, my girlfriend, Maren, and I took the train into the Chicago Loop and had about two hours to be tourists. There wasn't time to explore the neighborhoods. There wasn't time for a Cubs game.
For me, one of the must-sees in any city is the landmark park. They make for great people-watching, and there's something about the dichotomy of nature and surrounding urbanity that I find impossibly alluring. Central Park in New York, Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, Retiro in Madrid, and so on. (Come to think of it, one of my favorite things to do in any given city is to find a pastry shop and eat my gluteny goodness in that landmark park--and I've done so in each of the above parks.)
|If I can't think of any new topics for blog posts, I'm just gonna start |
posting the other 2,530 photos one at a time.
Next stop: the Chicago Cultural Center, at the suggestion of my friend Charlie. Formerly a library, the building is now, well, a cultural center, with various exhibits and a cafe, not to mention a whole hell of a lot of really cool interior details--like, for example, the world's largest Tiffany art-glass dome. For starters. And glass mosaics like you'd expect in some sort of Nero-worthy Roman villa. Except it's all free and open to the public, and conveniently located just across Michigan Avenue from Millenium Park. As Maren and I wandered around, we could hear what sounded like some sort of Enya-esque calliope music reverberating throughout the building. Eventually, we tracked down the source: a public concert, in one of those mosaic-covered rooms, of a Javanese gamelan group. There were some twenty or thirty musicians in all, some playing xylophone-like instruments, some chanting, some hitting gongs. (And, it must be said, they were all conspicuously, emphatically white--it was as though some Chicago book club read Eat, Pray, Love, then all went to Bali to soak up some Eastern Spiritual Wisdom Stuff and, having achieved enlightenment, came back to Chicago to resume life as investment bankers who got together on weekends for gamelan jam sessions, just to relive those heady, magical days in Bali. Just guessing.)
As Javanese gamelan groups go, they were the best I've ever heard. Also the only ones. We headed out after one song. Back to the train station--by way of a bakery, of course.
And, honestly, I think that was a perfect two-hour tourist itinerary--two big, unique landmarks, some good people-watching, some cultural education. Plus a doughnut.
So now I'm trying to think of what I'd recommend for a two-hour tourist in other cities I know well.
Minneapolis: Downtown riverfront. Walk along the Saint Anthony Falls History Trail, through Mill Ruins Park and across the Stone Arch Bridge. Read the various historic markers that explain how the city grew up right here, around Saint Anthony Falls. Get some coffee or a tea-infused cocktail on the patio at the Aster Cafe or some gelato at Wilde Roast. Go out on the endless bridge at the Guthrie Theatre.
(UPDATE) Or ... Eat Street and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Eat Street is a roughly mile-long section of Nicollet Avenue lined with restaurants of every variety; the main stretch is centered at 26th Avenue and extends a couple of blocks up and down Nicollet. It's an eclectic mix of eats, a veritable United Nations: Caribbean, Vietnamese, Malaysian, German, Chinese, Mexican ... you name it. And there's a pretty wide price range in terms of price range and ambiance--if you want Vietnamese food, for example, you can choose between the hole-in-the-wall Jasmine Deli or the swankily modern, bistro-y Jasmine 26 (which has has bubble tea cocktails, and they're every bit as fantastic they sound). So grab a bite to eat. And then walk three blocks to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I know your time is waning, especially if you lingered over your food, but the MIA is free, so don't feel too bad about spending a limited amount of time there. The museum covers a full range of important art eras--not so different from any other big-city museum, to be honest, but it's still an impressive collection--but make a beeline for section dedicated to Prairie School design (I think it's on the fourth floor) for proof positive that the sense of place here in the Midwest is every bit as inspiring as mountains or the sea.
Seattle: Pike Place Market. See the flying fish. Touristy as hell, it's true, but get over it. I, for one, will never get tired of watching those fishmongers toss massive salmons to each other like fish Frisbees, never dropping them, joking all the while. You'd probably have some extra time, though, and the surrounding areas of downtown Seattle aren't that interesting, although you could go walk around by the waterfront, even if it is rather covered up with piers and such in that part of town.
Okay. Question for the masses. I have two hours in your hometown. Maaaybe three. Where should I go?