The first painting of The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh

Visiting van Gogh’s Bedrooms

Chicago, IL–Vincent van Gogh loved his yellow house in Arles though he lived there only a few months in 1888. He created three paintings of his tiny bedroom there, one while he lived in the house and two after he was institutionalized for mental health issues. Until May 10, 2016, all three versions are on exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago, in a compelling show that helps inform visitors of his complicated life and fascination with Arles.

The final painting of The Bedroom by Vincent Van Gogh

The final painting of The Bedroom by Vincent Van Gogh

Through letters to his brother Theo, side-by-side detailed video comparisons of the three paintings, a digitally enhanced replica of the bedroom and the entire layout of the small house, as well as many van Gogh masterpieces, the exhibit gives an in-depth study of these famous paintings as well as the troubled life of the painter who killed himself at age 37 in  July 1890.

The original bedroom painting belongs to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the second bedroom painting is on permanent display at The Art Institute of Chicago, and the smallest painting, which he created for his mother, is on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. While lines are inevitably long and time slots limited, the opportunity to see all the paintings in one place side by side, is worth the wait.

And if you’re so enamored with the bedrooms that you want to spend the night, check out Vincent’s bedroom on for just $10 a night. Yes, you can really stay there.

The second painting of The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh

The second painting of The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh


Land of Lincoln: Springfield, Illinois

Lincoln museum

Lincoln and his cabinet discuss timing of the Emancipation Proclamation at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library

Springfield, IL–Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US President, was born in 1809 in Kentucky and spent his childhood in Indiana, but his adult life centered around Springfield, Illinois. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, now in its tenth year, is still drawing big crowds to the small town that is also home to the Illinois legislature where Lincoln once served.

Through November 15, a special exhibit focuses on Lincoln and his relationship with Jews, including many original documents, artifacts, photographs, and Lincoln’s letters, on loan from various institutions.  Unusual for his era, Lincoln had close friends and associates who were Jewish, such as Springfield’s Abraham Jonas and Chicago’s Abraham Kohn.  For more on this fascinating history and review of many of the documents on display, see Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell (2015, St. Martin’s Press)

Permanent exhibits  take visitors through an hands-on, immersive experience of replicas and scenes from his early life living in a log cabin, to his job as a store owner, a lawyer, legislator, presidential candidate and president, ending with his assassination in Ford’s Theatre at the age of 56 in 1865, just six days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army to General Grant.

Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield

Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield

The National Park Service runs the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, with tours of the house, as well as other period homes around the block of 8th and Jackson. As was the custom of the time, Lincoln did not travel to campaign for the presidency, but remained at home while others “stumped” on his behalf. He received the news of his election while at his Springfield home. The Visitor’s Center offers an overview of his life, and the home itself features many original furnishings, including a small writing desk Lincoln used, and a hat rack for his signature stovepipe hat.Lincoln Desk

When Lincoln died, a funeral train brought his body from Washington, D.C. back home to Springfield to rest. The Lincoln Tomb and War Memorials Site, run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is in Oak Ridge Cemetery at 1500 Monument Ave. in Springfield. Lincoln, his 3-year-old son Edward, who died in Springfield, his son 12-year-old son William, who lived in Springfield and died in Washington, and his wife Mary Todd, are all interred in a burial chamber that the public can visit under the 117-foot-tall monument.tomb

Because Springfield is still a relatively small town, it’s easy to imagine Lincoln living and working here.  The old state capitol building with its red roof, and the new one dating from 1868 with a silvery zinc dome, are both open for tours as well.




Laurie’s Six Best Bakeries in Chicagoland

cannoliChicago, IL—It is pretty audacious for anyone to define the best six bakeries in a metro area this size. But after sampling so many bakeries, I’ve come back to a select few over and over. From south to north, each of these have specialties you won’t want to miss.

Apple croissant1. Medici, 1327 E. 57th, Hyde Park. A 50-year-old institution in the University of Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, Medici is known for its restaurant’s pizza and for its famous guests, the Obama family. But come to the bakery and order the buttery, flaky apple croissants that come loaded with thick slices of real apples, and are not too sweet or gooey. Just croissant, generous pieces of apples, and lightly sweet taste.

biscotti2. Scafuri Bakery, 1337 West Taylor, Little Italy. Taylor Street has loads of great Italian restaurants, and good bakeries, too. But Scafuri has the best biscotti of them all. The biscotti de notte, stuffed with hazelnuts and just the right crunch for dipping into your latte, is breakfast perfection. The plain almond biscotti are also top notch, made by baking just once, not twice.

3. Roeser’s Bakery, 3216 W. North, Humbolt Park. Originally a German neighborhood, Humbolt Park is now home to Puerto Rican families, but Rosiers stays true to its German roots. Great linzer tortes at Christmas, pączkis on Fat Thursday, and cakes of all sorts all year round. German chocolate cake, anyone?

4. Kaufman’s Bakery and Delicatessen, 4905 Dempster, Skokie. All sorts of rugulah cookies, cinnamon bobke, and other treats, including some amazing lox. Just don’t walk out without getting a walnut-raisin pumpernickle bread. No need for butter, it’s so sweet and tasty.

bagel and roll5. Once Upon A Bagel, 1888 First, Highland Park. The assortment of skinny bagels will astound you. Yes, get your everything bagel fix here at half the calories. And the challah rolls are perfect for a small Shabbat dinner for two. Once Upon A Bagel has other locations, and delicious meals, but that’s another story.


wedding cookies6. Tina’s Italian Cafe and Bake Shop, 1501 Washington, Gurnee. The crowds often flow out the door here, and for good reason. This is the genuine article. Italian wedding cookies, tiramisu, and delicious homemade breads compete with homemade Italian meals for space in your tummy. Save room for the cannoli, though.





Touring Burgundy’s Wine Country in a Day

Zooming into BurgundyDijon, France–Really, you’ve come all the way to France and you’re only going to spend 4 hours touring the wine route in Burgundy? Well, if that’s all you have, it’s possible to do it and do it well through Alter & Go. What turned out to be the highlight of our trip to France was a four-hour trip into the terrior and back roads outside Dijon to sample local cheese, wine, and to see vineyards and historical sites.

DSC00167Our guide, Damien, first stopped at a bakery and bread oven built in medieval days that is still used once a year. We drove a short way to a church in Fixin built in in the 10th and 12th centuries and still used today. “If you see a church with two roofs, you know it is Gothic,” he said.Fixey church




Ancient washing wellWe drove by a round washing well, unusual in that most were square shaped. It looked like a lovely fountain. The sky, dotted with clouds, is quite typical of the area, according to Damien. “We have a mystical atmosphere. The sun changes, the clouds change the colors of the vineyards,” he said. What a wonderful way to embrace a rolling cloud day!

After a short drive, we stop at the Gaugry cheese factory to sample various local cheeses. Sometimes cheese production is underway, but today there are just a few workers handling the cheeses. Apparently a slight patting by hand is necessary to make the cheese taste just so, as well as a bit of alcohol in some. The samples, along with a small glass of wine, create a perfect moment of pleasure. There is also time to buy local mustard and cheeses, and a bit of gingerbread, flavored with blackberry.

After the cheese factory, we drive up to view more vinewards. “If someone says they know of Burgundy, they would be lying. We say it would take two or three lifetimes (to sample all the wines)” he says.

Wine tasting at Phillipe LeClercSoon we are heading into a village where Phillipe LeClerc’s winery is located. We tour the cellars, see a bit of his extensive collection of wine and farming equipment, and then settle in for a wine tasting. We try several levels, from village to cru to grand cru burgundys. Each has a distinctive scent and flavor of course, and we rate our favorites. There is time to buy a bottle of wine for the trip home, and then back to Dijon.

Tours with Alter & go can be booked directly through the Dijon Tourism Office.



Mon Dieu! Gargoyles Galore in Dijon, France

Gargoyle on Phillipe Le Bon Tower DijonDijon, France–Maybe it was Paris’ hunchback of Notre Dame that got people thinking about the gargoyles. Whatever the reason, it’s not enough to just look at sights in France at street level anymore. This is especially true in Dijon, a medieval city that is the start of burgundy wine country. Look up at the Notre Dame Church for its rows of gargoyles. A couple of amazing fellows jut out of the top of the Palace of the Dukes, on Phillipe the Good’s Tower. And of course, in addition to the gargoyles, there are those magnificent burgundy roofs.

Roof in DijonGargoyle on Notre Dame, Dijon

Gargoyle on Notre Dame, Dijon

Gargoyle on Notre Dame, Dijon

Chicago Lakeshore Biking Southside Style


View north from the green roof of the parking structure at 31st Street Beach on Chicago’s south side


Chicago, IL–On a beautiful sunny Chicago weekend, lots of people bike parts of the 18.5 mile Chicago Lakefront Trail. If you want to avoid the crowds that jam the north end of the trail, head south from Museum Campus. The trail winds through trees and prairie to the South Shore Cultural Center at Jackson Park. You can extend your ride along a bike path almost to the squarelsouthpathIndiana border. At the Adler Planetarium, a gorgeous skyline view awaits–the spot that most of the TV stations broadcast the weather. Just south of the planetarium, the 12th Street Beach offers warm sand, gentle water, restrooms and an inexpensive taco stand where you can fuel up for the ride.

If the 12th Street Beach is crowded, a bigger and newer sandy beach awaits at 31st St. Beach and harbor. There, a green roof atop the parking garage offers picnic tables and sunscreens that look like sails, with an ample view to Navy Pier’s fireworks. Further south, the trail cuts through Burnham Centennial Prairie, a birding nature preserve shaded by trees and chirring red-winged blackbirds that will make you feel you’re off in a rural area.

Keep pedaling on to 57th Street Beach, and veer off to visit Hyde Park and the stately elegance of the University of Chicago’s buildings, or continue on to the historic South Shore Cultural Center, built in 1905 for the South Shore Country Club and designated a Chicago landmark in 2004.

If you’re really ambitious, the road continues on US41 South/Lake Shore Drive through the former grounds of  U.S. Steel’s South Works, 470 acres of property that has yet to be developed, though the old steel mill is gone. When the road ends at US 12/20, turn left and tiny Calumet Fisheries at 3259 E. 95th is on your right just at the bridge. Family owned and operated since 1948, Calumet Fisheries offers real oak-smoked salmon, trout, eel, sable, catfish, sturgeon, and whitefish, as well as fried shrimp, fish, crab cakes, and other goodies–enough to earn this simple stand with only a couple of outdoor picnic tables a James Beard Foundation “American Classic” award in 2010. Mmmm. Now that’s a perfect end to a beautiful ride



Having a Chicago Field (Museum) Day

The great hall of the Field Museum

The Stanley Field Hall of the Field Museum

Chicago, IL–The wealth of museums in Chicago make it difficult to decide which to explore first. One of the original city museums, the Field Museum of Natural History, founded right after the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in one of the fair buildings. It was later moved to its current site at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, making it a multi-day destination.

20140419_112411Most visitors are attracted in the main hall to Sue, at 42-feet-long and 13 feet high, the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. It’s only 67 million years old!

Be sure to check out Sue’s enormous actual fossil head upstairs in a glass case, which couldn’t be put on the model downstairs due to its 600-pound weight.

Dioramas in the Hall of Mammals feature taxidermied animals in their natural habitat. The Field’s first taxidermist, Carl Akeley, revolutionized the art of preserving animals in natural poses. The elephants in the main hall are his work, as well as the famed man-eating lions of Tsavo, a pride of lions that ate 35 people in Kenya, stopping construction in 1898 of a railroad project over the Tsavo River. Chicago’s WGN TV featured the dioramas and their continued effect on education this video.

Lovers of gems and minerals will want to check out the Grainger Hall of Gems, highlighted by a Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass window. The hall was renovated in 2009 and features 600 gems: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, opals and others from around the world, as well as 150 pieces of jewelry.

Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Field Museum’s basic admission is $18 for adults, $13 for children ages 3-11.

Of course, for Chicagoans, the Field is a source of pride, especially during playoff season. In late April and early May, a dinosaur displays his Blackhawks pride. 20140419_120238


Snowshoeing at Chicago’s Northerly Island

Sculpture at Northerly Island in the winter

Sculpture at Northerly Island in the winter

Chicago, IL–It’s a very snowy, cold winter, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay inside. Bundle up and head over to Chicago’s Northerly Island (yep, the former Miegs Field way over there by the Adler Planetarium) and rent snowshoes or cross-country skis for a little tromp along the lake. Rentals are available for $5 for two hours on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the fieldhouse, the former airport terminal. With the snow falling and traffic noise minimal, it’s very peaceful. Afterward, learn more about the park’s trail construction, which is due to be completed this year.

Don’t miss Polar Adventure Days–the next one is Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014–to participate in ice fishing, checking out live animals, and watch dog-sledding demonstrations. Snowshoe rental is free during the event, too.

All those folks who were mad at Mayor Richard M. Daley for bulldozing the old Meigs Field runway in the middle of the night in 2003 need to see how beautiful it is in the winter. Before it hosted Meigs Field, it was part of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago as a lakefront park, and hosted the World’s Century of Progress World’s Fair 1933-34. It’s good it’s come back to its roots.

Snowshoes and skis available for rental.

Snowshoes and skis available for rental.

Chicago’s Ferrara Bakery: Original Italian Pasticceria

Outside Ferrara

Chicago, IL–Back in the 60s and 70s, you wouldn’t want to come as far as 2210 W. Taylor St., where Ferrara Bakery  is located. But that was then and this is now. The ever-westward march of the University of Illinois at Chicago and medical campuses have made the west edges of Taylor Street a safer place again.

The downside to this delightful bakery, established in 1908, are those pesky “pay to park” meters in front. If you come on Sunday (hours 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) the parking is free, however, and you can stock up on biscotti, fresh cannoli, and Italian cookies– even frozen soups and lasagna. But lunch is not served on Sundays. You’ll just have to come back on another day for the inventive salads and sandwiches, including their own handmade pastrami.

I tried a mix of the Italian specialty cookies, including frosted cucidadi, a fig-filled confection that should never be used in the same breath as fig newtons. The vanilla almond raisin biscotti are divine, as is the lemon-custard-filled pasticiotto.pasticiottoFerrara is a familiar name to Chicagoans, as the bakery’s founder, Salvatore Ferrara and his brothers-in-law established the Ferrara Pan Candy Company in nearby Forest Park. They make Lemonheads, Atomic Fireballs, and other delicious treats, which are also for sale at the bakery. It’s a double unique Chicago experience!Candy at Ferrara

Counter at Ferrera Bakery