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!



Chicago: “Spirit of Music”


Note the commemorative wall behind the statue


View from the Spirit


Part of the Thomas wall

Chicago has a fantastic collection of public art, of all shapes, sizes and themes. Over the years we’ve tried to track down as many as we can, and I’ve written about many of them already. We spent last weekend in the city and had the chance to wander around Grant Park more than we have before, thus discovering more public art.

This lovely sculpture, the Spirit of Music, in Chicago’s Grant Park is also known as the Theodore Thomas Memorial.





Note the face on the lyre

Theodore Thomas(1835-1905) was the founder of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1891 and The Spirit of Music is a tribute to him. Under his directorship, Chicago gained a reputation for musical excellence, which continues today. The figure, and the monument behind it, were sculpted in 1923 by Czech-American artist and sculptor Albin Polasek(1879-1965). Polasek came to Chicago to head the sculpture department at the Art Institute School. Instead of creating a sculpture of Thomas, Polasek decided on a tall bronze muse holding a lyre. The artist said that the face on the lyre was modeled on his own face.




mooseThe half-ball base on which the muse stands is decorated with different animals, such as a moose, a bison, and a bear—also quite striking.

The monument is in the strip of park along Michigan Avenue, almost opposite the Blackstone.

There is a museum to Albin Polasek in Winter Park, Florida. I wrote about it here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/albin-polasek/and here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/masterpiece-of-the-week/april/



Ship Inn, Stonehaven (Scotland)


We walked down from those green cliffs to the small harbor—tide out then


The Ship Inn faces the harbor


Other side of the harbor

Ship Inn, Stonehaven

One afternoon while in Aberdeen we decided to catch the bus to visit Dunnottar Castle, as we really wanted to show our grandson this awesome place (see a future post for the castle).

Return tickets to Dunnottar Castle cost £8.50/adult (about US$12), £6.50/student (about US$9).

Catch bus X7 from Aberdeen bus station. The bus runs once an hour and goes through the town of Stonehaven, about 20 km (12 miles) south of Aberdeen. Get off at Dunnottar stop after Stonehaven and it’s a short walk to the castle. You can do the same for the return, or do the coast walk down to Stonehaven by the harbor, which is what we did. The path meanders along the cliff edge, following the loops of the various small bays. It’s quite a long walk (1.8 miles) but really lovely. We stopped for a drink and snack at Ship Inn, then walked into town and caught the bus at the Barclay Street stop, just off the Market Square.


Viv M and AJ



That’s an amazing fish slider!

The Ship Inn is always a bustling place. What really makes the Ship Inn is the friendliness of the staff, the congenial atmosphere at a local gathering place, and the location right on the picturesque little harbor. Lots of people come to the Ship Inn, to drink, chat and hang out—both inside and outside—so we see prams, kids, dogs etc. Parents can sit on the narrow seawall with a drink, while the kids play happily in the sand on the edge of the harbor when the tide is out.

There’s the formal Captain’s Table restaurant to one side, but you can also get food in the bar area, which is what we did this time. So, you order and pay up at the bar and the food comes to your table.

We had a meat and cheese platter and AJ had a fish charcuterieslider—looked like a huge burger. With a pint of Guinness, a pint of Real Ale and a glass of wine it was £42.05—not especially cheap but very nice.

Rod and I have stayed at the Ship Inn a couple of times before, and we have done the walk too. I wrote about the inn before


CASC in Aberdeen



Inside CASC our first night

What is CASC?

As I mentioned earlier, our taxi driver had told us about this pub, so we went looking for it our first evening after dinner. It’s a great place and we’re glad we found it, as we returned a number of times on different evenings with various other conference attendees.

It’s on Stirling Street, in what’s known as the Merchant area. Behind the Aberdeen Indoor Market is a warren of small streets and alleyways, some of which run under Union Street—a fact that got us very confused at first. But we found CASC, opposite a large restaurant called Carmelite Bar and Grill.

CASC has a small entrance and you go downstairs to find the action.


CASC is an acronym for Cigars,Ale, Scotch whisky, Coffee—quite a clever idea. They call themselves CASC Nation and they pride themselves on many craft beers, many whiskys, and fresh-made artisan coffees. Their fun symbol is a kind of devil with a goat head.


A long bar dominates the space with a long line of spigots for beers on tap. There’s an impressive beer list, a humidor, and a ploughman’s lunch (or dinner) menu. Fun and different.

Beers are color-coded by style, and a huge board is lit up with that information. But sadly, none of our cameras could pick up those different colors.


List of beers


groupThere are also many whiskys, which most of our party tried to sample on different nights. (Remember, in Scotland it’s whiskyand in Ireland it’s whiskey!).

The first night, 2 beers and a glass of wine cost us £15 (about US$ 21)—not too bad for the UK.

www.cascnation.com(you must be 21 to enter the site)


Brewdog Pub, Aberdeen, Scotland



AJbeerBrew Dog Pub

Castlegate branch, 1 Union Street, Aberdeen

This summer, we were visiting Aberdeen again, for a conference, and got a taxi from Aberdeen airport to our hotel. The taxi driver told us about 2 places, which she really liked, that were new to us: Brew Dog pub, and CASC (see next post). It turned out that Brew Dog was right below our Royal Athenaeum Suites, so it was a perfect location for us—just go downstairs and next door.

Brew Dog is a spacious ground-level pub, with high and low tables of all sizes, serving craft beer, handmade coffees and some food (plus other drinks, if you want). I’m not really a big beer drinker (although I like to try a little), so it was good to see that their wine list wasn’t too bad either.



It has a lovely atmosphere and really friendly servers and seems to be very popular, as it was always buzzing. It’s a place that welcomes dogs and there were many in there, each time we visited. They provide doggie water bowls and the first time I didn’t realize where the bowls were placed, and kicked one over!



There’s also a “BottleDog”, a huge fridge with hundreds of beer takeaway offerings. This ‘BottleDog’ off-license is a nice addition as you can buy beer to take away or, for a corkage fee, drink it onsite—a great idea if you want to try something that’s not on tap at the moment.


Part of the beer menu


deciding what we want

The large basement section is called the Underdog, which also has music until late many nights—a popular local night club.




RwindowThe pub is a success story. One Brew Dog pub already existed in Aberdeen and the company, started out by two local guys, wanted to expand, so they converted the ground floor of the Athenaeum building. Hence the slogan “Made in Aberdeen”. There are also branches of BrewDog in Dundee and Stirling, Scotland. They have now also gone international, with some BrewDogs in London, one in York, one in Columbus, USA, Florence, and in Berlin (I’m sure there may be more, but these are just examples). They would also like to open in other countries, such as Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Zurich. It’s a company that pays a living wage and the couple of servers we chatted to seem very happy to work there.



With our Japanese friends, Satoshi and Max

tasting map

Beer tasting map—what fun

We popped in a couple of times, and also came with our Japanese friends who were at the conference too—they loved it. The beer is pretty good, with very interesting/fanciful names, such as Jet Black Heart; Elvis Juice; Punk IPA. It also has other drinks, of course, and has a pretty decent wine list too. But it’s not a place where I’d personally choose to eat, as they offer just typical pub grub really, like big burgers, fries, chicken wings. Although our grandson had a snack here one evening (big burger) and it did look pretty good, I must say.




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