Aqua Tower

As my loyal follower will be aware, there are some truly beautiful skyscrapers in Chicago. But, my favourite has to be the Aqua Tower, glimpsed here through the modernist Pritzker Pavilion structure in Millennium Park.

Millenium Park Pritzker Pavilion [4]

In our latest phase of righteous indignation at the inequality experienced by women in a so-called man’s world, it is refreshing to hear that this building is the tallest to-date to be designed by a female-led architecture firm, that of Jeanne Gang based in Chicago. It is credited with contours, vertical landscapes and undulating pools, projecting a striking outward appearance…

Aqua Tower [2]

The Aqua Tower is designed with green elements incorporated, such as roof gardens, and balcony patterns and glass tints to maximise solar shading and exposure.

Aqua Tower [3]

 

Within its finer details, the balconies are projections of the tower’s floors, as a means of creating outdoor terraces as communal spaces for residents.

 

Aqua Tower [1]

So, until we speak again, Juno and Bella would both have agreed… that if you want a thing of environmental beauty instead of a macho willy-waving pissing up the wall competition, the go-to person is quite probably a woman!

 

Scuze me while I…

… kiss the sky. One thing you must do when in Chicago is… ‘look up’! Many places may claim to be home to the skyscraper, but few can challenge Chicago for architectural variety and significance when it comes to ¬†construction in the vertical plane. And where better to appreciate the visual feast (and strain your neck), than messing about on the Chicago River?

River view by day

The ‘Jewelers Building’ to the right in the following picture dates back to 1926. The four corner crowns were an elaborate way of disguising water tanks. To protect the valuable commodities, this building originally accommodated basement drive-in elevators that would take vehicles up to the required floor.

River architecture [1]

Immediately opposite are the 1969 and 2009 stages of modernism. To the left is the IBM Building designed with energy consumption at the heart of its architecture. While to the right is an example of personal ego, emblazoned with the name of someone who has fragrantly ignored contemporary concerns for climate change and conservation (viewed from many angles the name can be avoided, but if you get the light and shade correctly aligned it may occasionally read ‘RUMP’).

River architecture inc Trump Tower

Then come the visually twin towers of Marina City aka the corn cobs. A futuristic vision emerging from the early 1960’s.

Riverboat trip [4]

Who says urban high rise living lacks a stunning aesthetic? Unfortunately, to live here might well require a stunning bank balance. This isn’t going to be the revolutionary vision for ‘The Projects”!

Riverboat trip [15]

Gently floating along the river parallel to Wacker Drive, it is quite easy to imagine you are in the midst of an urban re-enactment of a Grand Canyon stylised landscape. No? just me on some far out visionary trip then.

Riverboat trip [16]

Then comes an architectural mystery. How can you build up so high from such a narrow v-shaped base? Economics and advances in technology eventually combine to give rise to 150 North Riverside, limited at its base between a river and an active railroad. To counter the effects of wind on the whole structure, 12 rooftop tanks contain 1000 tons of water to counteract natural movement.

Riverboat trip [29]

Formerly the worlds tallest building, the Wills (nee Sears) Tower uses a bundled tube framework for its design, to enable stability at the increased height. The younger neighbour (with a neon crown) uses contrasting detailing in its shape and design, in order to create its own unique contribution next to the towering icon.

Riverboat trip [28]

Meanwhile, back at the confluence of the y-shaped rivers, one of many navigation-based reflective themes to be seen in the riverside designs presents in a striking fashion. In 1983, the 333 West Wacker Drive building adopted the curve of the river as its over-arching theme. the tinted glass is also a reflection that harmonies with the water below.

Riverboat trip [31]

As dusk sets in the skyline adopts a new magical presentation…

Riverboat trip [42]

Riverboat trip [46]

… and the illuminated Tribune Tower provides a beacon for the return to dry land for the intrepid architectural enthusiasts…

River architecture [3]

Until we speak again, a special thanks goes out to the Chicago Architecture Foundation for providing such a fabulously insightful historical excursion.

‘Titanic’ for dinner, anyone?

A trip to Belfast shouldn’t induce any kind of sinking feeling, even when you are greeted with a sign that could easily be directing you to some dismal place at the bottom of the Atlantic

Road sign

There is a distinct landmark offered by the twin cranes, Samson and Goliath, of Harland and Wolff providing a beacon to draw you towards the location where the Titanic was built (even when gazing out of the hotel window).

However, these are a relatively modern monument to past industrial glory (circa 1969). Back in the day, the Titanic was built in a backdrop of harsher times, and the following pictures contrast a vision of the early 20th century with the present day exact location of its construction (actually marked out in detail on the ground)…

In a world where everything that is rooted to the spot can now be classified as a museum, to something or another, the Titanic has been commemorated by a particularly spectacular building, where every dimension and use of materials symbolises something about the original short-lived icon…

Museum building [1]

Museum building [3]

But, what about that dinner? Well, you could try the Bistro in the museum itself. My time was limited so I sampled the wares of the sleekly designed Premier Inn hotel. After all, some of us are visiting Belfast for work purposes you know (with a wonderful welcome from the Belfast Home Treatment Team)!

Premier Inn

Here, a Sirloin Steak can be adequately complemented by a glass of a Malbec Reserva. Just remember, when your waitress asks if you would like water with it, the reply is ‘NO ICE’!

Premier Inn steak

Until we speak again, you surely didn’t expect a carnivorous cat to ask for a vegetarian steak, did you!? For the record, unlike on that horrendous day in April 1912, only one animal suffered in the making of this blog post.

Breakfast in America

What goes on in America stays in America… eh? It seems not. A couple of weeks touring the diners of Chicago and New Orleans will certainly give any returning traveller a few extra pounds they didn’t originally take with them; and I’m not talking sterling currency here.

Breakfast in America is not just an album by the old UK rock band Supertramp. It’s an institution not to be taken lightly (as if ‘lightly’ could ever apply to food in the US); it demands time and effort… and an expectation that you might be beaten by the challenge on more than one occasion.

Yolk is a great starting point on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. An unpresupposing exterior camouflages gastronomic morning mayhem. That’s why people are often queueing to get a table; but quintessential US counter culture (of the eating at the counter variety, not the return to flower power variety) gets me in immediately. The more than pleasant greeting of a young woman in a tee-shirt claiming to be ‘Handling your huevos since 2006’ provides a warm inner feeling long before the order arrives. It also leaves me lamenting… “who is going to handle my huevos when Duck One achieves his infantile wall building wish?” The ‘Works Omlet’ with a side of joyous noise eases me nicely into the lazy challenges of the day ahead. Marvellous!

Eggsperience, off the Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, keeps the theme of the hen going strong. Omelet or pancakes is the first decision of the day. Oh for such difficult decisions every day! A fleeting thought about a healthy orange juice and blueberry start to the day quickly succumbs to the need for sides of a pancake stack and bacon…

Eggsperience blueberry pancakes

But, a gaze over a shoulder also suggests another visit could be needed for that omelet option! Perhaps a vegetarian compromise could be made. Though perhaps all good vegetarians should be introduced to the necessity of a side of bacon!

Eggsperience vegetarian omlet

The famous Lou Mitchell’s, west of South Loop is an institution that should not be missed on any visit to Chicago. tired of blueberries? Why not add bananas to your pancake stack to bring some variety to the practice of indulgence? I think a side of raisin toast is also called for…

And, before leaving Chicago, get messy with a late morning Cubana sandwich at Xoco, a mere waddle from the aforementioned Eggsperience. A cucumber and lime drink might help balance the spicy fried pork and avocados wrap.

Not to be usurped in the breakfast challenge, New Orleans has its own crowds gathering to sample the delights of Ruby Slipper on Magazine Street. Again, the solo traveller gets to jump the queue with a stool at the counter. Time to try out the Louisianan Omlet of shrimp and grits, with a side of sourdough toast. A foundation fit to build any day upon.

Then there is the splendour of the Palace Cafe on Canal Street. A fine location to keep exploring the unique pleasures of a southern breakfast. This time the shrimp and grits are accompanied by a creole muniere ( don’t ask me, I’m just here to eat the stuff) for added spice to kickstart yet another day of challenging levels of relaxation!

Palace Cafe Canal Street [1]

Palace Cafe shrimp grits and creole muniere

Cafe Pontalba on Jackson Square is a place to trade the creole for a touch of the cajun in your culinary morning. A cajun omelet with side of cajun potatoes could just about provide sufficient ballast for a steamboat trip along the Mississippi…

Talking of Jackson Square; for those of us with an interest in cathedral architecture and the Louisiana State Museum, a corned beef hash at Stanley’s comes highly recommended while you gaze at the architectural heritage from the comfort of your diner counter stool.  If you like your eggs ‘sunny side’ let the yolks drain into the corned beef. Just don’t shout out ‘Stella’ in a Marlon Brando impersonation, lest you startle the staff and clientele alike.

Alas, it’s getting near the time to head for the airport. The hotel provides a last port of call, and quite possibly the last eggs I will want to see for, well at least a few days!

Hotel St Marie 2 eggs breakfast

Until we speak again, it is time to return to a good old UK diet. Next time you’re in America check out the title of an old Supertramp album for guidance, but drop any notion of three square meals a day being a good idea (unless square is the shape you are aspiring to achieve).

Zak Show dot Com

 

Kindness of strangers

Within all the horror of terrorist attacks, most recently Manchester and London in the UK, the abiding strongest message is the reporting of how strangers stop to help each other. But my recent travelling experiences to the USA have shown me that this is not only a response to terrorism.

Travelling solo to New Orleans and Chicago has left me with a great sense of how strangers are more than happy to meet, share thoughts and experiences, and are usually welcoming of people from different backgrounds.

So, to Victoria, Tom and Gayle in New Orleans, Laila in Biloxi, Steve in California, Bob in Massachusetts, Charlotte in Chicago, and Gayle and her sisters from Wisconsin… a special thanks for making a strangers travels a truly jazz funk of an experience…

Jazz Funk guys at RF's

And any blues were of the most welcoming kind (why, here is Buddy Guy in person!)…

Buddy Guy in person [2]

So until we speak again, to Jazz, Blues and all other musical cats everywhere, let the music do the communicating, as it spreads the love better than anything else! And celebrate the kindness of strangers.

Cognitive dissonance revisited

On a recent visit to the most worshipful emporium to the banana (aka Chicago Museum of Contemporart Art), I was struck by a particularly arresting message. No, not the one about anything is possible when you’ve watched a potato crawling across a wall. 

My main reflection was that religion really can mess with your head in a most dissonant way…

Until we speak again, remember it is not only in America that religious cats get to throw you a curved ball or two.

The Gas Man

Some people thrive on hot air and gas, but few promote it in bright lights. Everything below the name is multi-storey car parking!

Until we speak again, while you are in Chicago (or anywhere else) try to stay above the twit guano.