Free Trip To New York City (well almost)

By Richard White, September 14, 2013

This week I got a free trip to NYC (well, almost) via the September 8th edition of the New York Sunday Times.  I am not a regular reader, but one of the bonuses of dog and house sitting this week is the home delivery of the NYT Sunday edition.   There was an extra dividend this week as it was the Arts & Leisure’s “The New Season” edition with three full sections featuring all the arts activities happening this fall in the Big Apple.  For me, it was a reminder of the incredible depth of NYC’s cultural scene.

It was also a trip down memory lane and my three trips so far to NYC. Once in the ‘80s as an emerging visual artist (to study the graffiti and street art), once in the ‘90s as a contemporary art gallery curator (to study the gallery/museum scene) and once in the ‘00s as a downtown manager (to research urban vitality initiatives). Seems like I am due for another visit soon.


Swann Galleries' full page ad immediately captured my eye.   I am a sucker for lush passionate colours. Sorry the pics don't do justice to the actual ads. 

Bigger is better!

Perusing the pages of NYT’s “The New Season” was like flaneuring the streets of the city - new surprises with every turn of the page.  In the “Art, Pop Music, TV & Video Game” section, my memory cells were excited by the Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926 to 1938 exhibition at MoMA.  My mind recalled the images I had seen in numerous exhibition visits. Turn the page and there was Braque and Burtynsky causing more memory cells to fire. 

My imagination was captured on the next page with the word “The Power of Poison,” an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History.  This was followed by image of a Leger from an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a reminder me of another trip. 

The Swann Auction Galleries’ full-page colour ad for its fall auction scheduled featured as wonderful Alfred Maurer “Fauve Nude” image suitable for framing.  Flaneuring a few more pages, I came upon a wonderful full-page colourful Chagall image, for The Jewish Museum’s “Love, War, and Exile” exhibition. 

Who needs a gallery gift shop when you have the full-page colour ads in the NYT? The section was full of fun factoids too – who knew that Grand Rapids, Michigan was hosting ARTPRIZE this fall with $560,000 in total prize money? 

The Movie section featured “20 to Watch” which, as you would expect highlights 20 young filmmakers from around the world.  As I don’t even go to 20 movies a year, this could easily be a DIY Film Festival for someone like me.  There is at least a week’s worth of reading in this section alone.


This is the image from the full page ad for the Chagall exhibition at the Jewish Museum. With a bit of flattening this would make a great poster, the colours were as rich as those of his artwork. 



The “Theatre, Dance, Classical” section quickly sparked memories of an off off Broadway production of Samuel Beckett’s “No Exit” that will forever be etched in my memory as one of my top ten lifetime cultural experiences.  It is not surprising that my attention was quickly captured by the double bill - “No Man’s Land” (Harold Pinter) and Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot” - that you could see on the same day at the same theatre both produced in the historic Cort Theatre by Sean Mathias.

The existentialist in me was also intrigued by how Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” would be interpreted as a modern dance piece.  The old memory cells were working overtime now remembering my front row seat at Lincoln Centre watching Baryshnikov leaping in his prime (I have never gone to a ballet performance again, as that was truly the quintessential ballet experience for my lifetime). 


Image for The Metamorphosis ballet by the Royal Ballet reminded my of one of my yoga classes.  Seriously this capture my imagination immediately as I flaneured the paper. 

The city never sleeps…

I remember reading somewhere that there are 60,000 professional dancers living and working in Manhattan; for most cities this number would be their entire downtown working population.  No wonder NYC is “the city that never sleeps.” I expect 250,000 or more people who work every night in the entertainment industry have a work day which ends at 10 or 11 pm, meaning happy hour is at midnight, dinner is at 1 am and heading home happens in the early morning hours just as the bankers and brokers are heading into work.   Another factoid tells me there is a  “New Trumpet Music” festival. Who knew?

For me reading the NYT’s Sunday edition is like a free (well almost, it cost about $5/wk for the Sunday Times subscription) trip to NYC.


I have never been to the Armory Show.  Maybe I will have to plan my next trip to NYC around this exhibition.  But I know any time is a good time to visit NYC.  

Off The Beaten Path in Spokane

Every province and state in North America has a primary city as well as one or more secondary cities that live in the shadow of its big brother.  For example, in Washington State, Seattle is the primary city with 3.5 million people, while Spokane is the “second city” with just 500,000 people. We love visiting “second cities” as they often have fun, funky and quirky, off-the-beaten-path (OTBP) things to see and do.   That’s likely due to the fact “second cities” are often left to evolve naturally over time without massive urban renewal mega projects that often gentrify and make “big” cities all look the same.

Here are our top seven “OTBP” things to see and do in Spokane. You will note that in some cases the places are not OTBP, but the things to “see and do” there are.

Frank’s Diner

No trip to Spokane is complete without breakfast at Frank’s Diner.  Housed in a 1906 railway dining car, sit at the authentic diner-style counter or grab a booth and enjoy a hearty breakfast.  With Frank’s serving up over 30,000 eggs and 2.5 tones of fresh hash browns a year - no wonder its been voted “best breakfast” place in town 14 years in a row.  While Frank’s is well known by the locals, it is on the western edge of downtown beyond the scope of most tourist treks.

Located at 1516 West 2nd Ave.

Everyone loves a walk back in time at Frank's Diner located in an early 20th century dining car.

Parkade Tour

Tour the streets of Spokane’s downtown and you will encounter some of the most interesting mid-century modern parkade structures anywhere.  In fact, the city’s skyline is dominated by a large “Parkade” sign (175 feet from the ground) that proudly sits on top of a massive parkade.

Simply called the “Parkade,” this 10-level 1,000 stall, above-ground parkade was built in 1967 as part of a massive downtown urban renewal project.  In 1968, it won an award of excellence for its use of concrete.  Local architect Warren C. Heylman wanted to create a parking structure that was pedestrian-friendly, had skywalks circling the structure offering protection from the elements and separated pedestrian traffic from automobile traffic.  It is an excellent example of mid-century modern parkade architecture.

It is interesting that the term “parkade” is used mostly in Canada and South Africa.  In the US, a multi-story car park may be called a parking garage, parking deck, parking ramp, parking podium or parking building depending on the design of the structure and where you are in the country.  In Spokane you can find parking structures with several of these names. Some of the best views of the city are from the top of the parkade, or is that garage or ramp? 

More information:

In what other city does the parkade dominate the city's skyline. 

At street level the Parade has a wonderful sense of pattern and rhythm.  The yellow awnings create a patio like visual.  

Spokane has several vintage parkades with great neon signs at the entrance.  One has to wonder how this parking garage got the name "Evergreen." You would never associate a parkade today with the term evergreen. 

As you can see Spokane's parking structure terminology ranges from parkade to parking garage to ramp.  

The Parkade ramp and tower are very sculptural when viewed from this angle. Also not the skybridges that connect the Parkade to neighbouring buildings without having to go to street level.  

The parkade attached to River Front Square while newer, has none of the charm and character of The Parkade.   

Nordstrom’s Fitting Rooms

We don’t usually hang out at major downtown shopping malls (not OTBP enough), but one rainy day we decided to explore Spokane’s River Park Square.  Since we didn’t have a Nordstrom in Canada (though we will have soon), I thought I’d explore it.  To my surprise, I found a good deal on golf pants.  I was as surprised – and impressed – also to find amazing art on the wall of the men’s fitting room. I don’t know for sure, but I expect it is the same in women’s change area.  I love finding interesting art in strange places.  

One of the artworks in the men's change area at Nordstroms.  I loved the whimsical drawing, the Magritte like floating hat and the newspaper background.  

The briefcase was the companion piece to the hat.   

Browne’s Addition

Browne’s Addition is named after John J. Browne who came to Spokane from Portland in 1878 and bought 102 acres of land above Spokane Falls.  By the end of the 19th century, when Spokane’s rich and famous were discovering the charms of the area, Browne applied for and received a homestead grant for additional land in the area.  Browne’s Addition became home to numerous large mansions (most of them built by local architect Kirtland Cutter) that have a wonderful history.  In the mid 20th century, it became known as Browne’s “Addiction” as many of the homes became low-income lodging houses.  However, today most of the homes have been restored to their original glory and make for a wonderful morning or afternoon walking tour.

Grab a coffee at Cannon Coffee & Cone (corner of Cannon St. and 4th Avenue) or lunch at Café Marron (144 S Cannon St) and take a history-rich stroll on your own…or with the help of a the self-guided walking tour booklet available for $6 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture…or print off the Kirtland Cutter “Age of Elegance” information on the web
Browne’s Addition is west of downtown with Coeur D’Alene Park at its centre.

The W.JC. Wakefield House was probably the first Mission Revival house in the northwest. LIke most of the homes in Browne's Addition it was designed by local architect Kitland Cutter.  

John Finch House was built by Kitland Cutter in 1897.  The tall Ionic columns convey the aristocratic aspirations of many of Spokane's wealthy businessmen at the turn of the 20th century.  

Albert Held was the architect for the  Reid House built in 1900. It is one of the few houses that wasn't designed by Kirtland Cutter and one of the few Craftsman style homes on the block.  2315 West First Avenue.     

Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park, a 100-acre park just upstream from the famous Upper Spokane Falls, is not exactly OTBP given it was the home of Spokane’s Expo ’74 and now has many of the city’s popular tourist attractions.  The Park’s Skyride over the falls, as well as a ride on the 1909 Looff Carousel are on everyone’s list of things to see and do.  However, the “Garbage Goat” created by Sister Paula Turnbull, is a fun, interactive piece of public art tucked away in a grotto-like space.  With a vacuum digestive system that allows it to eat small items when you feed it, it has widespread appeal to young and old alike.

Also worth seeking out is the children’s playground, where a huge (12 feet high, 12 feet wide, 27 feet long) 26-ton Red Wagon with its handle that doubles as a slide. The wagon will hold as many as 300 people and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  You have to give it a try! It makes a great photo op!

Brenda feeding the "Garbage Goat" while young friend watches. 

The world's largest red wagon becomes a playground slide.  

Garland District

Just a few minutes from downtown lies the Garland District, developed in the early 20th century in conjunction with the building of the street railway line in 1910.  Today, it is home to three buildings on the National Registry – The Romanesque Revival Masonic Temple (1922); the mimetic architecture where buildings are designed to copy their function Milk Bottle (1935) and the Art Deco Garland Theatre (1945). 

This arts community is a great place to explore vintage clothing and thrift stores, check out improv theatre or see a movie.  It is also home to many fun diners and cafes, as well as Bon Bon Lounge at the Garland Theatre with its hand-muddled cocktails (made by pressing herbs and/or fruit against the side of a glass with a muddler which releases flavors and binds with the alcohol).  Who knew?

Garland District is 3.2 km north of downtown along N. Post St and Garland Avenue.

More information at:

The art deco Garland Theatre is the anchor for this charming arts district. 

The  1935 Benewah Milk Bottle is the other iconic building in the Garland District. 

Loo with a view!

The Red Lion Hotel at the Park is definitely not off the beaten path as it is has a prime location on the edge of Riverfront Park and the banks of the Spokane River.  However, the men’s washroom in the Skyline Ballroom has perhaps one of the best views of any washroom in the Pacific Northwest…maybe North America.  Men can enjoy the vista out the picture window above the urinals that looks out over the Gonzaga University district with Mt. Spokane in the background.  It is definitely a bathroom with a view!

The hotel’s pool is also a hidden gem with its 28-foot waterslide and 6-foot rainbow LED light waterfall cascading from a lush native Northwest landscape scene. The pool has a fun history.  When it was first opened in 1983, the hotel manager, losing a bet with the contractor that the pool wouldn’t be ready for the grand opening, he had to go down the waterslide in his business suit.  The manager, Don Barbieri, is now Chairman of the Board of Directors for Red Lions Hotels Corporation. 

In keeping with tradition, current General Manager Patrick Shimon also was the first to go down the waterslide – and in his business suit - after the 2012 renovations. 

When visiting Spokane, Red Lion at the Park is our recommendation. It is located at 303W North River Dr.   More information at

This is the view from the picture window above the urinals at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park. 

The pool at the Red Lion at the Park in Spokane.  

Love to hear your stories about "off-the-beaten-path" places you have visited in Spokane or elsewhere.   

Live like a local in Chicago's Hotel Lincoln next to the park....

After this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, August 3, 2013.  Melissa McCarville, Regional Public Relations Manager, emailed "this is a fantastic piece about Lincoln Park! Love you detail and the places you mention are just perfect. Great, great, great story.  You captured the essence of living there - and I can say that because I did for 4 years!"

By Richard White

How small could you go?

How small a space could you really live in and be happy?  And not just for a weekend getaway – but on an ongoing basis. The current craze in the condo development community seems to be who can create the smallest condo!  In Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, 400 square foot condos i.e. the size of two parking spots, is becoming quite common.  And Vancouver’s new development called Balance boasts the smallest condo in Canada - a 297 sq. ft. micro condo. 

I didn’t think I could live in anything under 1,500 sq. ft. – that’s, until I spent a week in a well-designed 475 sq. ft. suite at the Hotel Lincoln in Chicago.  Now I am really rethinking how much space I need after spending a week in their chic, contemporary junior suite.  It had two bathrooms at opposite ends of the suite, which works well for couples getting ready to go out at the at the same time.  The suite was open concept - a full king size bed at one end and a sitting area at the other (comfortable sofa, chair seating and coffee table) at the other.  Tucked along the wall was a desk, small coffee area and wall mounted swivel TV so it could be viewed from the bed or the sofa.  It all worked very well.  

In order to live small you need to have a coffee spot close by that you feel comfortable hanging out at.  It becomes an extension of your home.  Elaine"s  Coffee Call in the lobby of the Hotel Lincoln is just such a place. 

The Neighbourhood

Downstairs was Elaine’s Coffee Call, a great place for a morning coffee and toast (I think I could live on their PBJ toast, with its pecan butter) and people watching – it was a happening place.  Who needs a big kitchen when there are cafes, pubs and restaurants just outside your door?  The key to living small is to have lots of amenities nearby.

If we lived at the Hotel Lincoln, I think we would have soon considered Nookies as an extension of our home.  Located just a block from Hotel Lincoln (in funky Old Town) – we loved the home style cooking and ambience. In fact, you can bring your own wine and they don’t charge any corkage and if you don’t finish your bottle, you can just take it home.  How good it that? We learned that is not uncommon in Chicago.

Who needs a big screen TV and media room when it’s so easy to wander over to the local sports bar, cheer as loud as you want without your spouse shouting “don’t make me come down there.” Bonus there are no empties or mess to clean up either.

On our first night in Chicago we headed to The Old Town Pour for dinner and to watch the Chicago Blackhawks in a Stanley Cup playoff game. We have never been in a bar that was so loud and so full of energy – who would want to stay home when, instead,  you could be part of that! 

Who needs a media room when you have a sports bar just a block or two away. 

Downtown Fun

Not a sports fan?  More into comedy?  No problem. Second City is located just a few short blocks away, with performances nightly, with many nights offering multiple performances.  Forget reruns of Friends, Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld; enjoy live comedy instead with a room full of kindred spirits. Living small is about living in your community.

The Hotel Lincoln was perfectly located for living without a car.  Bus stops are just steps outside the door, as is the huge Lincoln Park with its free (yes free) zoo – yes free!  Imagine… walk out your door down the street and in five minutes you are wandering in a hundred year old (1868), 35-acre zoo… beats having a cat or a dog in my mind. 

Or, head to the beach in the summer. It too is only a few minutes walk away.  It is almost like having a pool in your own backyard.  The closest that you might get to this in Calgary would be those living in the condos near Hotel Arts! (Did you know that you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the Hotel Arts pool? I just found out!)

Imagine having Second City in your backyard, beats watching sitcom reruns....

Lincoln Park Zoo is a wonderful walk in the park with the bonus of being able to get up close and personal with the animals. 

Aerial view of Chicago's beaches from the Hancock Building with Lincoln Park at the top.  Beach, park, zoo, farm and farmer's market makes living small easy in Lincoln Park or Gold Coast communities in Chicago. 

Rooftop Patios

Who even needs their own little balcony or patio when you can hang out on you own roof top patio?  We were able to experience what this would be like at the Hotel Lincoln as they had one of the coolest and most popular rooftop restaurants in Chicago. It doesn’t get much better than to come home, sit back and have someone serve you your favourite adult beverage.

Calgary doesn’t make enough use of its  rooftops (office or condos) for restaurants. An exception will be Qualex-Landmark’s new condo Mark on 10th, which will have a rooftop patio that I suspect with become the residents’ second living room.  You don’t need a large space if you have the right amenties both on site and on the street.

What about laundry you say? Chicagoans have that figured out too; a local dry cleaners on every block.   Well maybe not every block but just about.  On our way to Nookies for example we passed a dry cleaners/tailors that would have made it easy to just drop off our cleaning at our convenience (or I expect they would pick up too).

And to top it off, every Wednesday and Saturday in the summer a Farmers’ Market in Lincoln Park is literally right across the street. No need for your own garden when you have all the fresh fruits and vegetables you can imagine, as well as breads, jams, honey and flowers across the street.  

Brenda looking over the options at the Lincoln Park Farmers' Market across the street from the Hotel Lincoln in Old Town. 

Last Word:

Living small in Chicago I think would be easy.  I’d recommend that if you are contemplating buying a small condo, that you rent a hotel room in the area for a month so you can see if there are sufficient amenities to make small living realistic. I am thinking condo developers would be wise to have a couple of furnished room that they rent out for a month to prospective buyers – consider it a test drive. 

Condos in Calgary are definitely getting smaller, many in on the 500 sq. ft. range.  A well-designed 500 sq. ft. space might just be the ticket for a single first time buyer, or someone who travels a lot, or a true urbanite who really lives and embraces their local community.

P.S. Don’t forget the big benefit of small living is that it takes no time to clean up, leaving you more time to play!


JT writes: "I would easily live in 500 sf in the middle of any city if it was just me.  It would be even better if it was central Chicago and with a healthy budget.  I'd add this wrinkle - add a person and you add 500 sf of space need.  A family of four gets you to 2000 sf.  Try living with that size of family in 1000 sf like we did as kids- it is not fun, especially when you have the option of living in bigger.

The small solution is a great one to populate urban spaces but the band of potential residents is narrowed to the singles with enough disposable income to live a lifestyle of spending in the public realm. 


Nookies is a family restaurant in Old Town that serves up home-cooking meals for locals. Bring your own wine is encourage and no corkage is charged. Just like being at home, except you don' t have to cook or clean up.  

Hotel Lincoln on Lincoln Park in Old Town is the perfect place if you want to live like a local when visiting Chicago. 

Who needs a backyard or a patio when you have a park next door - horse shoes anyone? 

Most backyards aren't big enough for a pick up game of baseball...Lincoln Park is perfect... 

Architecture River Cruise In Chicago

Normally, we are all about “taking the path least travelled” yet when it comes to the very popular Chicago architectural river cruises, we were all over getting in line to join the masses to take the 75-minute cruise up and down the Chicago River to see and learn more about the city’s amazing history and architecture.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation cruise is one of the most engaging, enlightening and entertaining experiences we have enjoyed in a long time.  Our guide, a retired architect, was a fascinating storyteller who made architecture both interesting and understandable, no small feat given the need to use architectural lingo like curtain wall, footprint, setbacks, art deco, post-modern, bundled tube and skeleton frame.   

A view down the Chicago River which provides a dramatic perspective to view the skyline and visual history of Chicago, which is so linked to its buildings.  

Examples of the early 20th century skyscrapers with their ornamental roof and strong vertical lines.  The early skyscrapers were church-like in their vertical thrust into the sky i.e. heaven. 

A modern skyscaper that mirrors some of the verticalness of the early skyscraper but with new materials that are much more reflective and much less ornamentation.  The age of architectural minimalism started in the mid-20th century and is still popular today. 

Did you know that “Chicago” is an Indian world for stinkweed, a plant prevalent in the swamp that is now the city?  We learned about how the “Great Chicago Fire” of October 8, 1871 that took the lives of 250 people, left 100,000 people homeless and destroyed over 17,000 homes and buildings, was the catalyst for the city to become the Skycraper City.  Chicago is home to the first skyscraper the Home Insurance Building built in 1885. It was the first building not made of bricks and mortar, but instead had a metal frame. This reduced the weight of the building and allowed taller buildings.  Subsequently, the Chicago School of Architecture was created with many high-rise buildings built form the mid 1880s to 1910.  The design of the buildings often consisted of a three parts: a wide base, a narrower tower on top of the base and a decorative top.

We also learned about the “reversal of the river.”  In the late 19th century, the Chicago River which runs through downtown, was used as an open sewer. However, since it flowed into Lake Michigan. it polluted Chicago’s drinking water. After thousands died from water-related diseases, it was determined the river needed to be reversed.  So, a 26-mile canal was dug 15 feet deeper than the river so when the sanitary and ship canal opened in 1900, the river began to flow backwards naturally as a result of gravity.  Today, the river is much cleaner and while it is still a working river, it is becoming more and more an urban playground with residential development and pathways for recreational uses along its banks.   

Th black Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower)  was  the tallest building in the world when built in 1973.  The neighbouring South Wacker Drive tower reflects many of the same massing (shape) elements but incorporates more decorative elements similar to the early 20th century towers and therefore is called post-modern architecture.  It is the tallest building in the world known only by its street name. Built in 1990, it has a larger circular crown at top that is illuminated at night to make it the most visible building in Chicago's impressive skyline. 

An example of the many parks that are being created along the Chicago river as it becomes more and more an urban playground than a working river.  

A view of the recreational pathway that meanders along the river, making downtown a more attractive place to live.  

For photographers, the river cruise simply “eye candy.”  It seems like every minute there is a new perspective, a different juxtaposition of architectural styles.  We were fortunate to take the cruise on a warm, blue-sky day – the light was spectacular.

Our tour guide was full of fun little factoids and memorable comments including:

“Architecture is the art in which you live in.”

“In Chicago, things are always changing. Nothing stays the same.”  A quote from Mark Twain

“Chicago is sometimes called Paris on the prairies as the river and its bridges are the heart of the city.”

“Tall, dark and handsome” is what some people call Chicago because its signature skyscrapers of the 20th century are tall, dark and handsome buildings – Sears Tower and John Hancock Tower. 

The contrast between the early and late 20th century architecture is very obvious in Chicago.  Note how the earlier skyscrapers were all about the vertical lines which give them an uplifting sense of place.  The late 20th century buildings often have more are horizontal lines that negate the visual verticalness of the structure making it less sky oriented.   

Another example of late 20th century minimalist office architecture.  The building's shape is dramatic with its razor-like edge and flat reflective glass facade.     It has immediate WOW factor, unfortunately there is not much to look at once the WOW is gone.  Some call this "look-at-me" architecture as it grabs your attention but doesn't hold it. 

Along the river you go under many bridges or all different styles.  This old bridge which is permanently elevate is very sculptural and provides a context for how cities have evolved.  There are 18 bridges along a 2 mile stretch of downtown. 

The lattice work as you pass under many of the bridges is incredibly beautiful and detailed. Urban beauty is often in the intricate details of the buildings, structures and public space.  It is often missing in modern urban design, which is often why people refer to the modern downtown as the concrete jungle.  

An example of the bridgehouse where the bridge operator would have a panoramic view of the river and be responsible for elevating the bridge as needed to allow shipping up and down the river. 

Our recommendations:

1.     Book the river cruise tour before you leave home so you aren’t disappointed

2.     Go on your first day as it will provide you with a perfect orientation to the city and its illustrious history

3.     Sit at or near the back of the boat. You’ll have no problem hearing well and this will prevent lots of “turning around” to see or take pictures after the tour guide finishes their banter about the buildings.  

An example of new residential/hotel architecture. Note it still has the basic elements of the Chicago School of Architecture i.e. wide base with a tower on top of the base and then a decorative element on top.  Today this is called podium point design and is very popular for condo developments  around the world. 

Marina City was completed in 1964.  Its corncob-like facade is a unique design that stands out immediately in the skyline.  At 65 floors the twin towers were the tallest residential buildings in the world when they were built. Note the bottom floors is actually a parking garage if you look closely you can see the cars.  

The CBD apartment building is another of Chicago's distinctive architectural gems.  In this case the pattern of different sized balconies creates a facade that is visually playful and exciting. 

 If you like this blog you might like:

The Curse of Minimalism  

Calgary: North America's newest design city!

 more information on Architecture River Cruises 

More information on Chicago Tourism at ChooseChicago



Tale of Two Donuts or should I say Doughnuts!

Being a native Hamiltonian, I consider myself to be somewhat of a donut, or should I say "doughnut" aficionado as Hamilton is home to Canada's iconic Tim Horton's coffee and donuts (3,453 franchises in Canada and 4,285 world-wide).  

Timmy's is to Hamilton what Starbucks is to Seattle. Yes there is one on almost every corner.  Did you know that Canada has more doughnut shops per capita than any other country?

However, like everything in this world, the donut, or should I say "doughnut" has gone upscale.  No longer is a plain glazed or maybe a Boston Cream enough for the foodies.  No! Today the donut, or should I say "doughnut" has to have some exotic combination of ingredients like bacon and peanut butter. Who thinks up these things?

Sex Shop

Probably one of the first upscale wacky donut, or should is say "doughnut" boutiques was in Portland. It has been ten years now since Voodoo Doughnut opened up in the Old Town district next to a sex shop.  Today, it has become a major tourist attraction and has the line-ups to show for it.  

People flock to get one of their signature Voodoo Doll donuts (or should I say "doughnut") which is a raspberry jelly filled primitive doll-shaped donut with chocolate frosting (see pics below).  

As a donut, or should I say "doughnut" loving, dessert diva/devil Brenda and I had Voodoo at the top of our "must see/must do" list. However, like all good flaneuring plans we found something even more interesting.   

While exploring Alberta Street, we came up a colourful clown-like building (see pics below) with two different entrances that looked interesting.  The sign said Tonnali's Donuts and Cream and it was time for a snack so we had to check it out.  

We were transported back to the '50s with a huge counter full of old fashion donuts like Maple Bar, Chocolate Twist, Old Fashion Glazed, Maple Buttermilk and Old Fashioned Cinnamon Crumb - none of the "what will they think of next" combo names!

Brenda had a simple glazed donut and I opted for the blueberry fritter - both were just the way we like them - fresh melt-in-your-mouth, with a sweetness that isn't over the top.  It was one of the best finds of our trip to Portland and worth the trip to Alberta Avenue, along with its indie art galleries and bohemian shops. 

We got to Voodoo Doughtnut in Old Town (there are two other locations) a few days later, but the line-up was too long for us to wait.  Next time we will get there earlier!    

Donut vs Doughnut?

Bet by now you are wonder, "How do you spell donut, or should I say doughnut?"  While a quick internet search, tells me that "doughnut" is the original spelling and dates back to 1800s.  This spelling makes sense as it is "deep fried dough."

The term "donut" came into use when the manufacturing of doughnuts became more commercial and probably originated in New York in the early 20th century - but the history is sketchy.  

If you want more detail information on donuts I'd suggest hub pages.   For example, who knew that there is a National Donut Day (first friday of June, rats just missed it) and that it was started in 1917 by Salvation Army giving away free donuts to veterans of WW1. Bet you didn't know that there are ten billion doughnuts made in the US every year!  

As an everyday tourist I may not be able to get to Voodoo or Tonnalli's again soon, but fortunately we have Modern Jelly Donuts here in Calgary that I can visit (not everyday) for that touristy doughnut/donut experience. 


This unassuming sign and building is home to one of Portland's biggest tourist attractions Voodoo Doughnut.  They say the magic is in the hole but from what we saw it wasn't the hole people were buying. 


We saw a lot of people buying the Voodoo dolls with their pretzel pins.  There are fun and each one is unique.  

Yes this is a popular place with long line ups most of the time.  We did not wait in line for a doughnut!  Things to see, places to go!

Saw this and thought this is our kind of place.  I am sucker for bright colours, especially yellow.  I also love all things bohemian and local.  This looked like something from the '50s - a good decade! 

Inside Tonalli's is exactly what you would expect a counter full of doughnut s- even in the middle of the afternoon.  What we loved is that there was none of the designer doughnuts here. 

Miss B went for the glassed cake doughnut in the traditional shape while I had the blueberry fritter (being a bit of fritter expert).  Note the classy glass of water; this is authenticity at its finest!  We both loved our selection. 

There wasn't much of a line up on the Saturday afternoon we were at Tonallis. Too bad! The Voodoo patrons could probably paid for the taxi to get to Tonallis with the money they would save and it would have taken less time than waiting in line.  

There are two entrances to Tonallis and just to cover their bases they have the "donut" spelling on one and "doughnut" on the other.  

Chicago's Gold Coast: Staircases

Perhaps the biggest and best surprise of our recent Chicago visit was discovering the Gold Coast neighbourhood just north of the "Magnificient Mile" and not far from our Hotel Lincoln suite. It is predominately a residential community with wonderful tree-lined streets and stately apartment blocks that date back to the late 19th century.  

The front gardens are meticulously manicured and the boulevards are like little gardens with their little wrought iron fences protecting the flowers and shrubs.  But what really caught our eye were the many elegant staircases that create inviting and grand entrances.  

When visiting a city we encourage you to wander some of the residential communities to see how the locals live, both the rich and famous and the young and restless.  

This twin staircase was the one that capture our attention and made us stop in our tracks.  Does it get more inviting than this?  The black wrought iron is prevalent throughout Chicago. Like brick it is a timeless urban design element that should be employed more in urban neighbourhoods as it creates an immediate sense of place. 

This twin staircase was the one that capture our attention and made us stop in our tracks.  Does it get more inviting than this?  The black wrought iron is prevalent throughout Chicago. Like brick it is a timeless urban design element that should be employed more in urban neighbourhoods as it creates an immediate sense of place. 

Another curved staircase that demonstrates the importance of ornamentation and decoration to create pleasant walking streets in urban setting.  The flowers magnify the sense of beauty and pride of ownership. 

Another curved staircase that demonstrates the importance of ornamentation and decoration to create pleasant walking streets in urban setting.  The flowers magnify the sense of beauty and pride of ownership. 

Not all of the staircases were wrought iron.  This stone staircase provides a nice contrast to the black iron railing.  

Not all of the staircases were wrought iron.  This stone staircase provides a nice contrast to the black iron railing.  

The contrast of the white house and black railings creates an elegance that is timeless. There are lots of textures and lines that make the street visually interesting for pedestrians.  It is the visual complexity that makes the streets of the Gold Coast great pedestrian streets even though there are no shops.  It would be interesting to see what these streets are like in the winter with no vegetation. 

The contrast of the white house and black railings creates an elegance that is timeless. There are lots of textures and lines that make the street visually interesting for pedestrians.  It is the visual complexity that makes the streets of the Gold Coast great pedestrian streets even though there are no shops.  It would be interesting to see what these streets are like in the winter with no vegetation. 

Another twin staircase to an upper door that is very rich in its ornamentation.  While the entrance is gated you don't feel shut out like you do with the six foot wood fences so prevalent in new subdivisions.  The lines are clean, concise and clear; making for a inviting sense of space. There is a wonderful interplay of the shadows and light from trees and decorative elements that soften the entire urban landscape. 

Another twin staircase to an upper door that is very rich in its ornamentation.  While the entrance is gated you don't feel shut out like you do with the six foot wood fences so prevalent in new subdivisions.  The lines are clean, concise and clear; making for a inviting sense of space. There is a wonderful interplay of the shadows and light from trees and decorative elements that soften the entire urban landscape. 

The Gold Coast should be on everyone's list of places to visit when in Chicago.  It should also be an inspiration and lesson for developers and planners on the importance of ornamentation and decoration for creating inviting pedestrian streetscapes. 

Putting the public back into public art!

Richard White, May 14, 2014

In mid May, I finally got visit to visit Millennium Park in Chicago and wasn't disappointed. Both Jaume Plensa and Anish Kapoor's public artworks were being enjoyed by thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Like architecture, public art should probably not be judged until they are at least 10-years old (which these two pieces are close to being) i.e. once the lust of the new has faded away. 

Both piece allow for significant public engagement which too often is missing from public art. The cameras were out in full force documenting the antics of the public. There must be a billion photos of these two artworks in the world today. 

While we have all seen the skyline photos reflected in Cloud Gate aka the Bean, I was surprised by the more complex and intriguing images generated inside The Cloud.  

Plensa's fountain was just as I expected, except that all of the faces take on a similar visual quality when computerized on the big screen or at least that was the case for the faces I saw on several different days and different times.

Both pieces had the public laughing, playing and smiling something we so rarely see with public art.

Public art isn't public unless it engages the public!  

n example of the wonderful images created when you walk underneath Cloud Gate.  You could spend hours manipulating and playing with the reflections.  

loud Gate has become the place to come to celebrate be that graduations or weddings.  There is a wonderful sense of humanity as people interact with the piece with family and friends both formally and informally.  The piece seems to speak to people of all ages and backgrounds. 

nother example of families experimenting with ways to enjoy the reflection and create their own performance art piece.  Everyone is smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves.  There is a sense of amazement, like a carnival or mid-way.  

Another image of the Crown Fountain at looks almost like a huge flame that lights up the wading pool.  It is just one big happy campfire in the middle of the city that you share with strangers.  

Just a few blocks away are three late 20th century pieces of public art by Picasso, Miro and Calder.  Each of them sit on a corporate plaza with little or no interest from the public.  While they may have captured the public's interest at first, they have become part of the urban landscape and are ignored by the public for the most part.

Last Word

Anyone who is interested in public art, parks and urban placemaking should visit Chicago to see first-hand not only Millennium Park, but also Lincoln Park with its Zoo, Farm and Conservatory.

Chicago is my kind of town!  

Anchorage West Coast's Northern Urban Playground

A few years back we heard through the grape vine that friends who had moved away and we had kinda kept in touch with but not very regularly had a son getting married in Calgary.  We thought maybe some of the kids or family would like to stay at our house as we had lots of room.  Eventually it lead to a home swap - we'd go and stay at their house in Anchorage and they would have use of our house. 

Anchorage wasn't on our list of cities to visit but as "flaneurs" we are always open to new adventures.  So we quickly did our research and made our plans.  On of the first things we learned was that we couldn't be the "transit/pedestrian" tourist that we usually are as Anchorage doesn't have much of a transit system.  We had been told that before e.g. Vegas and yet against all advice we managed to score a locals transit pass and we had a great time off the beaten path in Vegas - but that's another blog.  

But yes we did decided to rent a car in Anchorage and we are glad we did.  Bonus - Avis Rent A Car didn't have the compact car we orders so we got a Mini Copper - Woo Hoo!  

Anchorage: West Coast's Northern Playground 

(except from story for Avenue Magazine) 

From urban playground to outdoor adventure park, Anchorage offer up many unique adventures. One such experience is that it’s one of the best places in North America to experience the dancing, shimmering colours of the aurora borealis starting in late August through to late winter.  Most hotels offer a “Northern Lights wake up call” so you don’t miss the spectacular free night show. Anchorage is a place that doesn’t sleep, at least in the summer - from late spring to early summer, plan for 20+ hours of daylight activities.  For high adventure, visit Anchorage in the winter with its 20 hours of dusk/darkness per day, relishing in everything from dog sledding, skiing and beer festivals.

Regardless of when you go, the best place to start your Anchorage adventure is the Anchorage Museum, which is actually six museums in one. To know Anchorage is to know the history and life of its people. The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, located in the elegant glistening new wing designed of the museum (designed by London’s David Chipperfield Architects) is an architectural gem offering a comprehensive collection of native artefacts and a wonderful listening space to hear captivating stories told by elders.

While there check out the Imaginarium Discovery Centre, a hands-on science centre which includes an earthquake experience (one of Anchorage’s signature events was the 1964 Good Friday earthquake which, at 9.2 on the Richter scale, was the strongest earthquake in North America’s history). If time allows, the Chugach Gallery offers majestic views of the mountains, the Alaskan Gallery covers 10,000 years of local history, while the Northern Galleries features contemporary art exhibitions. (

Anchorage Museum is a must see and do.  The building itself and the lawn is lovely, but once inside it is a Science Centre, a history museum and a contemporary art gallery.  Every city should have one of these. There is also a wonderful cafe with great desserts.

Icebergs/Volcanoes Rails/Trails

Alaska Railroad’s ‘Glacier Discovery Train Rail and Float Tour’ is a “must do.” The first leg has you riding the rails along the scenic fjord of the Tunagain Arm, past the Petrified Forest near Portage Glacier to the town of Whitter to pick up cruise ship passengers. All aboard and it’s off to the middle of nowhere where a waiting school bus shuttles you an d the group along a bumpy bush road to Spencer Glacier. After a quick picnic lunch, you pile into 8-man rafts (the guide paddles) to float amongst the dozens of icebergs that have calved off the glacier. Because the icebergs are grounded in a shallow lake, you can float so close you can watch them melt. Reluctantly, you leave the bergs to float down the Placer River where the tranquility and silence is absolutely eerie – not a bird, not an insect – nothing. Existential! Truly a truly memorable day trip! Check out for this and other great rail adventures.

Anchorage boasts over 650 kilometres of trails within its city limits. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a very popular bike or hike for people of all ages and is easily accessible from downtown.  There are many interesting places to stop along the trail including the Beach (actually mudflats, so you have to be very careful) and Earthquake Park to see with your own eyes how the earthquake shelved off a huge swath of land. Also along the trail are views of two living volcanoes - Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Spurr. Coastal Trail Rentals ( downtown offers mountain, comfort and tandem bikes for $15 to $25/ four hours.

Kincaid Park, a 1400-acre forest in the middle of Anchorage is home to over 1,000 moose – an encounter with a moose is almost guaranteed. It is great place for a leisurely walk, run or cycle. Bring a Frisbee and try out the Frisbee golf course.  Kincaid is also home to The Lekisch Loop. Lit for night skiing, it’s the hilliest, competition-certified 10K cross country skiing track in North America.

For hikers, Flattop Mountain (3,510ft) on the edge of the city is a “must do.” After sharing the first few kilometres with dog walkers, you venture out on your own for an easy climb to the top of Flattop Mountain for an amazing view of the Anchorage Bowl, Mt. Denali and the Aleutian Islands.  For the more adventurous, plan a day hike to Williwaw Lakes or Wolverine Peak.

Girdwood (45 minutes by car or 2.4 hours by train) is a community worth visiting. Take the Alyeska Tram for a bird’s eye view of the seven surrounding glaciers, or walk up the mountain to the observation deck and take the tram down. Hike Winner Creek or Crow Creek Trail to lush temperate rainforest in the summer or enjoy the downhill skiing in the winter. Pamper yourself at the luxurious Hotel Alyeska ( 

Rafting amongst the ice bergs was one of my most memorable experiences. It was so silent, not birds, no bugs, the dripping of the ice - it was a surreal moment! 

Exploring by train is a wonderful way to get off the beaten path in Alaska. The train stops and picks up rafters and hikers along the way.  Too much fun!

Time to dine

Anchorage offers everything from contemporary to roadhouse dining, from bohemian cafes to decadent bakeries. It is also home to 10 microbreweries. For foodies, Anchorage doesn’t take a back seat to Portland, Seattle or Vancouver.   

Alaska born Guy Conley, nominated for the 2010 James Beard Award for best chef in the Northwest, offers his twist on contemporary Pacific Rim cuisine at downtown’s Ginger.  The grilled pork chop with raspberry chipotle glaze and pineapple fried rice is to die for and the ginger pear cheese cake with spiked caramel sauce will put a smile on your face.  (

The Glacier Brewhouse is the iconic Anchorage restaurant and fun for all ages. The clam chowder is one of their signature dishes.  Their Big Woody Barleywine won the gold medal at San Francisco’s 2010 Toronado Barleywine Festival (

Muse at the Anchorage Museum offers a wonderful view of the museum’s plaza, while enjoying a late afternoon coffee and dessert fix. (

The best breakfast spot is Snow City Café ( Popular with the backpack crowd it has a great vibe. Close to the several bike rental shops, it’s a good place for a hearty breakfast before hitting the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

Downtown Anchorage has many great streetscapes with the best hanging baskets I have ever scene.  

Patio fun Anchorage style...note the outdoor pool like a Rock Star...

Off The Beaten Path

The SNL District (Spenard Road and Northern Lights Boulevard), once the “red light district” of Anchorage, is now a funky bohemian area with its own farmers market (under the windmill), signature REI store (think MEC), as well as some quirky shops (e.g. Plato’s Closet) and great restaurants/cafes.   

Grab a brew at Kaladi Brothers Café, while browsing the Title Wave bookstore.  What started as an espresso cart on 4th Avenue downtown, Kaladi is now Alaska’s signature coffee house and even has a one location in Seattle, home of you know who! 

Absolutely don’t miss the Bear Tooth Theater Pub experience. It adds a whole new dimension to dinner and a movie.  This art-house cinema has a full-service kitchen featuring gourmet pizzas, as well as micro beers and wine.  Order your food, take your glow-in-the-dark numbered pylon and your food will find you! Every other row of theatre seats has been removed to allow for tables.  Book ahead and you can get your own booth. (

If you are into blues, jazz or folk music, the Taproot offers a different genre every night (e.g. Sunday is “Down & Dirty Blues” and Wednesday is “Hodown Throwdown”). Check to see who’s on tap.  

The Native Health Centre is out of the downtown and not on most travellers radar,  but certainly worth a visit as it is full of artwork and artifacts and the architecture is interesting also. 

Market to Mall Shopping

The Downtown Market & Festival, with its 300 vendors selling food, clothing and crafts takes over several downtown surface parking lots each weekend. Attracting 15,000 people a day, there is a definite festive buzz.  It is a great way to spend a few hours mixing with locals.

Wandering 4th Avenue, Anchorage’s mid-century modern Main Street, with its numerous boutiques, galleries and shops, as well as the most dazzling hanging baskets and urban flowers beds, makes for a pleasant afternoon.  Be sure to stop in at William’s Antique Gallery (1001W 4th Ave) with its floor to ceiling collection of everything from Hudson Bay trading beads to four foot whale vertebrae and from artworks to antique firearms. It is a mini museum. (

Mainstream shoppers will enjoy the Fifth Avenue Mall with JC Penny and Nordstrom as its anchors.  Don’t miss the Alaskan Walking Shoe’s outlet store in the basement for great deals. 

Where to stay: Copper Whale Inn, in the heart of Downtown is one of the few buildings to survive the 1964 earthquake.

  • Susitna Place Bed & Breakfast is perched on a bluff overlooking Cook Inlet yet only a short walk to downtown.
  • Historic Ank Hotel is an elegantly restored 1916 hotel that is on the National Registry of Historic Places. 

Anchorage has a wonderful downtown outdoor market that is not to be missed - food, crafts and entertainment 

The Anchorage Airport is like a contemporary art gallery with amazing works of art. This mask exhibition using found objects was outstanding. 

In Anchorage don't be surprised if you see a mother and daughter wandering the streets both in the residential neighborhoods and in the parks. 

This photo was taken from the train on the way to rafting.  There is a community in the city limits that has a backyard about fly-in fly-out!  

Travel Lesson Learned: Today, whenever we are going on holidays we tell our family and friends well in advance to see if they are interested in coming to Calgary and using our house for accommodations and vice versa.  Last summer my Mom was heading to Iceland for an adventure so went and visited her for a few days and then used her house in downtown Hamilton, Ontario as a base to explore Southern Ontario.  This is a good way to test if a "house sharing" experience might be for you.  

One of the many display areas at the Native Health Centre. This one is a collection of baskets from the various first nation communities in the area. Others have dolls and masks. Their is a sense of pride at the Centre for the artifacts as part of the people's history and it creates a wonderful sense of place.  Centre is a free museum.

I captured this image of someone walking past the Anchorage Museum. The facade of the museum is made of a reflective material that captures the people milling about the front lawn creating fun works of modern art. 

This is the front lawn or garden of the Anchorage Museum that creates an inviting entrance and is a clever link between the man-made museum and nature.