View from a pier


Lots of people having fun

vew up

Note the colorful chairs


Looking down to Lake Mendota from Union Terrace

Union Terrace

This summer we spent some time in Wisconsin, first in Madison for a conference (and some extra days) and then in Spring Green, mainly to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Talliesin.

It was my first visit to both cities and it was fun exploring and getting to know new places.

Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, has the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so it is a very dynamic city with a huge variety of eating places and things to do. It grew up on a spit of land between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona and then spread all around the lakes. The Capitol is on a slight rise in the center of the spit and dominates that part of the city (more later). The city is also well known for buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright. But, another dominant part of the city is the university campus.


We enjoyed a glass of wine


There are also a few big chairs, which people like to sit on for photos

Something that really impressed us is how accessible and welcoming to the general public some parts of campus are. Of particular note is the Memorial Union Terrace, next to the Alumni Park on the edge of campus close to State Street, which leads to the Capitol. It’s university property but open to the public, and the public sure does flock here.

The Terrace overlooks Lake Mendota and is a sprawling place on many levels. Signature circular metal tables and chairs, with sun-burst design in many bright colors, are dotted around and on a summer evening are really busy. So, it’s hard to find a table.

Old people, young students, families with children, people with dogs stroll around or sit and enjoy the lake view with a drink and snack. You can buy beer, wine, pizza, brats, icecream from different stalls outside on the terrace or from places inside the food court. Some kids feed the hopeful ducks on the lake, and many people hire some sort of water craft to take a spin out on the lake.



edgeAs the sun goes down, more people come and sit on the edge of the lake and a music group is likely to begin playing on the stage set up on the edge. If the weather is good, the sunset view is wonderful.

It’s bustling, lively and noisy but has a great vibe and each time we went there we were impressed again that the university permits such a place—because the U of I certainly doesn’t, and we suspect wouldn’t.




Les Bourgeois Vineyards—Tasting





Entrance in the center

Les Bourgeois Vineyards Tasting Room, Rocheport MO

We had lunch at the Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro (see previous post), which was very nice. After walking down to the Missouri River a bit and driving past more vines we headed back to the winery and tasting rooms. The winery is a large building to the left as you walk to the entrance. It’s possible to do a tour of the winemaking facilities but we didn’t do that. The tasting area is part tasting room and part boutique shop, with a small coffee shop at the back, so it’s a huge operation, much bigger than we were expecting.



Inside the tasting room


Us tasting

There were many people doing a tasting, either of beers, wines, or spirits, but we found 3 seats at the bar counter (our driver Rod opted not to do a tasting).

There are multiple tasting options, at various costs, but we decided on the free one, which gives each person a taste of 4 wines of their choice. We don’t know this winery and its wines so were not sure if it was worth paying to taste wines that we might not like. We got a tasting notes sheet and all of us choose from the dry wines. All not too bad actually, the reds better than the whites, I’d say. It was interesting to find out about the specific varietals they have here, some unknown to us before, such as Vidal (white), Chardonel, and Norton (red).


nortonAll in all, we were pleasantly surprised at the presentation and the quality, way better than we were expecting. Not like French, or Italian or Napa wines, of course, but pretty decent. Not sure we’d buy a bottle to take home, but we’d love to return to try again.

Les Bourgeois Vineyards, MO



Missouri River from Blufftop Bistro

Les Bourgeois Vineyards

About 15 miles west of Columbia MO on I-70 west is a small town, Rocheport (exit 115). It might be small but it has a lot going for it.

This could be done as a long day trip from St Louis but, if you’re going to try the wines at the Vineyards, it’s probably best to stay the night somewhere close, either in Rocheport or in Columbia. We were visiting our grandson at Mizzou in Columbia and did a day trip from there.

We like wine and have done many wine tastings in many countries (and even in Missouri long ago, close to St Louis) but, I have to be honest, we were a bit skeptical about somewhere in central Missouri producing decent wines. Anyway, it sounded like a fun new adventure that our grandson had planned so off we went.


View from Bistro patio. Down there, by the wine barrels, outdoor weddings are often held


Walking down to the Bistro

There were two parts to this trip: lunch at Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro and tasting wine at Les Bourgeois Vineyards Tasting Room, two separate places (and two separate posts).

Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro

Just to the right as you come off the highway is the winery and tasting room, but about a mile further down the road is the turnoff for the bistro. Our grandson had made a reservation for lunch (absolutely essential) so we headed for the bistro first. Drive in past some vineyards and park and then you have to walk on a looping path down the hill to the restaurant, the Missouri River ahead of you. On the way down, we passed a lovely sculpture of an eagle in flight. In the restaurant later, we found another sculpted eagle soaring near the ceiling rafters—eagles are probably seen along the river here in the colder months.


Lovely eagle sculpture


An eagle even soaring inside the Bistro


On the patio

roomThe bistro building is on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, so the setting is superb. We were there in October so it was too cool to sit outside, but in the warmer weather I can imagine that the outside patio would be wonderful. However, even inside you get a great view of the river, as the restaurant has huge picture windows.




Portabellas stuffed with sweet potato


Enormous servings for Bahn Mi


Enough left over for doggie bags!

Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro is both a restaurant and a venue for special events and that Saturday they were preparing for a wedding. The events room is downstairs and the restaurant is a large, open room on the entrance level. It’s obviously very popular as it was very full and very busy, and we can see why: the service was friendly and excellent, the setting and ambience great, and the food really good. There were four of us and we shared a cheese and charcuterie plate; then two had a Bahn Mi sandwich each (which was enormous, and had enough for a very large doggy bag); one had a stuffed grilled portabella; and one winehad the shrimp salad. We shared a bottle of their in-house dry rose wine, which was fine, if not great.

Next, we went to the Tasting Room (see next post).

Butterfly Mural, Chicago


Corner butterfly—mural story on either side

Public art and murals have been a big part of life in Chicago for many years. This was furthered even more in 2013 when Columbia College Chicago started the Wabash Arts Corridor (WAC) to help creative students use urban spaces and reclaimable resources to revitalize the South Loop’s business district. As we saw from the few murals that we found, they definitely succeeded.

Then, in 2017, the mayor of Chicago and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events designated 2017 as “The Year of Public Art”, which encouraged even more community art projects. I did mention the Year of Public Art earlier (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/chicago-creativity-on-the-streets/).


Butterflies behind a fence that is beginning to break open



Shaking off the chains

We were really impressed with a beautiful mural just opposite our hotel (the Best Western Grant Park, corner of Michigan and 11th), painted on two walls. Where the walls join was a very large butterflyand on either side a butterfly story. It started with chains behind which the butterflies appeared to be trapped. But, then the chains started to break and the butterflies were flying out free. It seems to be very symbolic and have a positive meaning, maybe related to the plight of the butterflies but also to that of humankind perhaps. A


Flying free

symbol of hope. What do you think?

Since I wrote the previous post about Chicago  and this one I have found a couple of good lists of other murals in Chicago. So hopefully next year, when the weather starts warming up, we can go on a mural quest to find some of these.



Chicago Murals



IMG_3006Around the slightly more south part of Michigan Avenue

Last time we were in Chicago (September) we stayed at the Best Western Grant Park Hotel, 1100 S. Michigan Ave. We’d not stayed that far south on Michigan before, so it was fun to explore the area around there at bit. It was perfect for walking in Grant Park, with its pretty gardens and outdoor sculptures, and to walk to the Museum Campus.


A moose and an abstract mural


Moose closer—what’s with the pink bubble?


The abstract looks almost like some other form of writing

peacockWhat we also discovered were a number of murals in the vicinity. As most of you know by now, we love outdoor art/public art and murals are a big part of that. Some of the murals are bright, some quirky, some symbolic, some have an obvious theme, some do not (not that we could discern anyway!). All are bold and interesting, and certainly help to give the walls a lot more character.

I don’t know who the artists are, sorry. Here is a selection.  They are in no particular order—we just took photos as we ambled around the area. Enjoy.




stories“If Statues Could Talk, What Stories Would They Tell?”

This summer, Chicago started a new venture to make the already-wonderful public art even more interesting. They are having some of the statues “tell stories”.

The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District worked together with Statues Stories Chicago and arts producers Sing London to animate 30 statues dotted across the city. Some of Chicago’s actors, writers, and theaters are giving voice to these statues, each statue telling an appropriate story or making comments.

How it works: the statues that are involved have a plaque nearby that people can swipe with a smart phone.  They then get a “call back” from the statue at no cost, except normal network charges.

The project will run until August 2020.

The idea began in Britain. Chicago is the first US city to get “Statue Stories”.  The press


Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, is one of the “talking statues”

has been impressed and has run many stories about the statue stories. See here: http://www.statuestorieschicago.com/press.php

We didn’t see many of the statues this time, as we only found out about the project towards the end of our weekend in the city. But, hopefully we will be back a couple of times before the project ends.  Here’s a list of the “talking” statues:


You can click on each one and get a photo of the statue, a map of where to find it, and information about the actor and writer.

Here are photos of seven of the statues in the Loop—we took these over a couple of visits.

Miro’s Chicago, Brunswick Plaza


Cloud Gate, Millennium Park

The Picasso, Richard J. Daley Plaza


Spirit of Music, Grant Park


Brachiosaurus, outside Field Museum


Lake Ontario, Spirit of the Great Lakes, Art Institute South Garden


Bronze Cow, Chicago Cultural Center



Ireland, a Welcoming Country


The famous Temple Bar area in Dublin


AJ and RM at Jameson Distillery


An information board about part of the glorious Book of Kells

We’ve traveled to many countries over the years, but never to Ireland, except in transit through a couple of airports there. So, we were very happy this summer to finally visit, partly for a conference and partly for vacation.

We had our young adult grandson with us for the first part of the trip in Dublin, which was fun and helped us see this vibrant city through young eyes, especially in the famous Temple Bar area, which is alive with people, music, and pubs. Dublin has become a big tourist destination and is a ‘happening place’ for young people, but is also popular with older tour groups. Because of this, it can be very crowded, especially in summer, and it’s best to pre-book the main sights (which we did for the wonderful illustrated Book of Kells at Trinity College, and for Jameson Distillery). The Book of Kells is a gorgeous example of how the Christian Irish monks tended the flame of literacy during the Dark Ages in Europe and then reintroduced it.


One courtyard at Trinity College, Dublin


AJ and I outside the actual Temple Bar int he Temple Bar area


Newgrange is an easy day trip north of Dublin

We found Dublin to be an international city now, with lots of immigrant workers, for example, people at our hotel, wait staff at restaurants and pubs. I guess this is mostly because Ireland is part of the EU and allows workers from EU countries in.

We did a day bus trip out of Dublin to Newgrange, a 5000-year-old stone passage tomb, which is well worth a visit if you want to learn about Ireland’s ancient history. We discovered that the country has a high concentration of ancient stone tombs, stone circles, beehive huts, dolmens and menhirs and were able to visit a few when we left Dublin. For example, the Kenmare stone circle in Kenmare, Drombeg stone circle, and many on the Dingle Peninsula, all in the southwest.


Drombeg stone circle


Killarney hosts its own July 4th festivities 


kill4thsignI will write about sights and places in Ireland in more detail, but for now, because this was our first trip, I’ll try to sum up our main first impressions. The short summary is: we loved it and would love to get back. It seems these feelings are shared by many Americans, as we met up with people from USA (or heard them talking) in various places, especially in the southwest part of the country, and especially in Killarney. Killarney even has a Fourth of July parade, fireworks etc! This must be partly because so many Americans had Irish ancestors and they love to come tracing their ancestry.




Barak Obama Plaza between Tipperary and Dublin

It’s said that about 50 million people claim Irish descent in the USA alone. A famous American family with Irish ancestors is, of course, the Kennedys. But there are many others. We discovered that 22 American Presidents had Irish ancestry, including Barack Obama, and in fact we found a whole Service Plaza on a motorway named after him. The plaza also has a special exhibition area upstairs, which focuses on Obama but also showcases other famous people with Irish ancestors. A lot of fun.

First of all, a draw to this country is the Irish people. We found them to be incredibly friendly, warm, welcoming, kind, and hospitable, so it was always great to interact with them. They rely on tourists, including Irish tourists, as a large part of their economy, but the friendliness seems to be inherently in their nature. We really enjoyed having long chats with bus drivers, servers in different restaurants, pubs, and at our hotels.

Next, one has to talk about the countryside.


Ireland is often known as the misty Emerald Isle and after driving around a bit we could see why: the countryside really is very green, much of it a bright emerald-like green. However, this summer it wasn’t misty at all, as Ireland was also having a heat wave, like much of Europe, and some parts of the country were so dry they were considering water rationing—apparently that’s not happened since 1975.

The country is surprisingly agrarian and intensely cultivated, as agriculture is still a large part of their economy. There are many trees, big rolling hills, round bales of hay and green barley fields (lots of barley ready for the whiskey production!). The fields and pastures seem mostly to be very organized, laid out and divided with hedges, tree rows, or stone walls, often making a patchwork pattern, even up quite steep hillsides.



It’s good cattle country as it’s not so hilly and rugged. Where it is more mountainous and barren, sheep do well. Most of the cattle are Friesland, as there is a big dairy industry and Irish butter is wonderful. Unfortunately the EU has surplus butter right now so Ireland probably has trouble exporting all their butter. In contrast to green fields are the scenic, often dramatic coastal cliffs that ring this small island.





One car had to pull over to allow passing

Roads tend to be very narrow and winding, especially on the peninsulas, and many have very high hedges so driving is slow. Plus, they are frequently crowded with too many cars/tourists for their size. There are many country towns, with the main road running through them, so it can be slow driving and often there’ll be a traffic build-up, especially if it’s a market day. We ran into this, for example, at Adare (on the A21 near Limerick), which has a Friday market.


But the highways are very good, with good Services stops.

The towns and villages are generally very pretty. First, you’ll notice multiple, beautiful flower baskets and pots—on shops, on pubs, on lamp posts, on bridge railings. Then, many of the buildings are brightly painted—as part of the Irish government’s “beautify” the country program. It’s in stark contrast to some of the drab row buildings that do still exist.



Flowers are everywhere

musicMusic, beer and whiskey are an integral fact of Irish life. Wherever you go you’ll find many bars, pubs and lounges (many with typical names like Matt McCoy, Murphy’s, O’Grady’s) as going out to these places is part of the way of life. Individuals, groups, families will sit and chat for hours, watching TV, listening to live traditional music. It seemed to us that it was like an extension of the living room or meeting hall.



musicsign2Ireland is also a land famous for writers, such as W.B.Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, and still today most Irish people can become quite poetic and philosophical.

One of the only downsides to our trip: We found Ireland quite expensive, probably more than Scotland or France.

But, another trip is definitely on the cards for us one day!



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