Showing posts from 2018

The Seattle Center, the Museum of Pop Culture

Last day in Seattle, last day of holidays! Today I took my sweet time getting out of the hotel and walked over to Pioneer Square, the original enclave around which the city of Seattle would grow. There’s not much to look at, outside of a Native American totem pole and a microscopic but pleasant waterfall garden around the corner. 
Since I wasn’t getting much traction there, I took a Link back up and went to the last big chunk of Seattle that I had left: the Seattle Center, an area with museums and galleries built originally for the 1962 World Fair. This is, of course, where the Space Needle is! I didn’t go up, but it was great to look at it up close after seeing it in TV shows and movies for so long.

I started by visiting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a small and free exhibition space for visitors. Microsoft is of course based here in Washington state, hence the foundation having its HQ in Seattle. I was very interested in the exhibits explaining the foundation’s goal…

The Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, the Waterfront

First day in Seattle! True to its reputation, it was raining as soon as I left the hotel. I’d read in both of my guides that Portland and Seattle people think umbrellas are a sign of weakness, even though it rains here all the time, and sure enough, I didn’t see many umbrellas out there (I always travel with my tiny ultra-light umbrella from the future I got in Japan). Some people wear beanies, or hoods, and some people... just get wet, which seems suboptimal to me, but I’m not gonna tell you how to live your life!

Because of the rain, I started by visiting the Seattle Art Museum, which occupies a large modern building downtown. It has four floors, but really the galleries occupy only two. I was rather underwhelmed by the collection here, I have to say; it feels like they do a little bit of everything but they don’t have a deep enough representation of any one theme, time or style.
They have a series of tiny rooms for Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, and Islamic art, some European paintings and …

Powell’s City of Books

Today the Pacific Northwest finally lived up to its reputation, as it rained all day. You won’t hear me complain -I’m happy as can be that I got two days to enjoy the city at my leisure and that I was able to stroll around both the Japanese and Chinese gardens in good weather. Besides, I had already planned for this eventuality, by leaving all of this morning to explore the last major Portland institution that I had left on my list: Powell’s City of Books.
Powell’s, as they merrily inform you and as you’ll readily believe, is the world’s biggest independent new/used bookstore. Next to the entrance there are unfoldable maps just so you won’t get lost!

It is hard to overstate just how enormous this place is. Pictures cannot do it justice because the bookshelves prevent you from capturing an entire room in one shot. To give you at least an approximation, each separate section at Powell’s is large enough that it would be a very complete bookstore on its own, and there are EIGHT such section…

The Portland Art Museum, the Lan Su Chinese Garden

Good morning, Portland! Even though the forecast said that it was going to rain forever, it’s been dry today, and I even saw the sun a little bit. It’s such a relief to be able to be outside, after the biting Chicago cold!

I began the day by walking south to the Portland Art Museum, which has a wing dedicated to ancient Asian art. Before researching this trip I wasn’t aware that there was so much Chinese and Japanese art in the Pacific Northwest, but if you think about it, this part of the US has always been directly accessible by sea from China and Japan across the ocean. Sure enough, in this museum they have plenty of statues, vases and funerary items that are almost two thousand years old, as well as more modern hanging scrolls and calligraphy. 

They also have multiple galleries focused on Native American art, with historical artefacts but also contemporary paintings and compositions. There’s a small section for European Impressionism too, where I was surprised to find a Van Gogh and…

Arrival in Portland: the Japanese Garden

It’s travelling time! Today I had to leave our Chicago apartment at an unspeakable hour, because I was due on the 10:00 plane, and I hadn’t accounted for the hour and a half the trip would take me (it’s around 45 min just from downtown Chicago to O’Hare, and you have to get there first).
It’s a long flight, four hours and change, although part of it is offset by Portland being two hours behind in terms of timezones. The first impression I got from the plane was that the city is surrounded by wilderness: from the sky I saw a very mountainous landscape, vast stretches of forested mointains and rivers that seemed mostly untouched by civilization. When I got off the plane at the airport, all the shops and cafés seemed Oregonian, as opposed to the multinationals you see in most airports; or at least, they all had “Oregonian” in the name! And the airport buildings had trees on the street and plants hanging from the parking floors. It’s probably confirmation bias, but I took them all as the f…

The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry

For our last day in Chicago, it was still too cold to linger outside, so we had to come up with some indoor plans. It wasn’t the easiest task, because we’ve already seen so much, but we settled for the museums on the southern end of the city.
First we took the L down to Museum Campus, a park near the shore that hosts a natural history museum, a planetarium and an aquarium. We visited the former, the Field Museum. It’s $24 a ticket, but it’s also an enormous place and has a very varied collection. The main hall reminded me a bit of its London counterpart, with classical architecture serving as backdrop for an impressive animal display (in this case, a model of two interlocked elephants and totem poles).
As you would expect, there were displays about animal life through the ages, including a room full of dinosaur skeletons, and also a whole exhibit explaining the concepts of evolution and natural selection. The museum was of course full of kids who seemed to have a great time. The big sta…

The Richard Driehaus Museum, Chinatown (briefly)

Today the temperature was a downright hostile -3°C, so it being Sunday and us having seen pretty much all of Chicago already, we took our sweet time in the morning and emerged only for brunch at the nearby Southport Grocery Café. Calling it brunch is a bit disingenuous because we’d previously had breakfast and we would later have lunch, but, you know, semantics! We had delicious, fluffy pancakes, to die for. Couldn’t very well leave the US without having had pancakes!
After brunch, I struck out on my own and returned to the River North neighbourhood, where the Magnificent Mile is, to visit the Richard Driehaus Museum, a fantastic mansion museum from the Gilded Age that is inexplicably missing from my Lonely Planet guide but which I was lucky enough to find online.
Somewhat confusingly, the Driehaus Museum showcases the Nickerson house, an incredibly lavish and luxurious mansion built in the late 19th century for an affluent family. It was grandiose back then, when it was built, and the …

Oak Park, Chicago Cultural Center

(Cold update: Less cold, I guess. But still cold!)
Day trip tiiiiime! After a couple of very intense days of urban exploration, today we took off to visit sleepy Oak Park, a small town on the outskirts of Chicago with two illustrious natives: Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway!
Oak Park can be easily accessed from downtown Chicago, as it’s on the very last stop of the Green line, and since the CTA operates a flat fee system, an L ride is always $2.50 regardless of where you go! No need to memorize different zones, or even to calculate prices based on number of stops like in Tokyo! The only downsides are that it does take a while, and that the Green line crosses Austin, which is allegedly a dodgy neighbourhood in Chicago, but on a Saturday morning there were few people around. Just, be prepared to see derelict houses and boarded up doors (remember The Wire?) from the train before the scenery gets suburban again.
Once we got off at Harlem & Lake, in downtown Oak Park, it was about…