Chicago’s Field Museum Unveils Brilliant Reconstruction Of Lascaux Prehistoric Cave

Field Museum, Lascaux
The Field Museum in Chicago is the first venue in North America to host an impressive 3D reconstruction of the famous prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux, France.

Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux” showcases the best-ever full-sized replica of the paintings, including many never before seen by the public. Visitors will feel like they’re in the cave itself as they enter into a tunnel that has the same paintings and relief as the original. The works are lit by simulated oil lamps and torches to replicate what they would have looked like to the Paleolithic artists who made them some 15,000-20,000 years ago.

Lascaux contains hundreds of images of animals, geometric shapes and an enigmatic human figure with a birdlike head. The artists used the natural contours of the stone to give the figures a 3D effect and the illusion of movement.

Also on display are period artifacts and a reconstruction of a Stone Age family, with descriptions of their surprisingly advanced culture.

The original cave was closed to the public in 1963 in order to preserve the fragile paintings, which were already beginning to show wear due to the changes in temperature, humidity and a rise in carbon dioxide due to more than a million visitors entering the cave. Now experts are trying to remove a growth of fungus, bacteria and algae that threaten the paintings.

“Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux” runs from March 20 to September 8.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Genghis Khan exhibit in Chicago the biggest ever

Genghis KhanA new exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago spotlights the world’s greatest conqueror.

Genghis Khan brings together the largest collection of 13th century Mongol artifacts ever. The exhibition traces the career of Genghis Khan from his birth in 1162, to a noble but obscure family, through his conquest of an empire that was larger than the Roman Empire. In fact, it was the largest ever, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the gates of Vienna, and he built it in just 25 years.

More than 200 objects are on display including a Mongolian house, silk robes, weapons, and even the mummy of a Mongolian noblewoman.

The exhibition shows that while Genghis Khan was a bloodthirsty warrior, he was a clever statesman too. He established a complex and efficient form of government, a postal system, paper currency, diplomatic immunity, even wilderness preserves and laws against littering. His conquests had a profound impact on the development of Asia and Europe.

Genghis Khan runs until September 3.

Photo courtesy the Field Museum.

One week in Chicago: Attractions

Chicago in the Summer is one of the most dynamic, energetic and entertaining places in the world. While I hate to over-plan any of my trips, I did have some must-sees that I had neglected on previous trips to the Windy City. I wanted to enjoy some of the museums and culture that the city has to offer, buy I also wanted to explore some of the outdoor views during the perfect Midwestern Spring weather. And, despite all of my previous trips to Chicago, I had somehow never been to Wrigley Field, one of the few remaining cathedrals of baseball.

So, fueled by a tremendous amount of local food, I set out to see some of the many treasures scattered around Chicago. By train, bus, foot and yes, Segway, I saw Chicago’s best spots and finally felt like I had taken advantage of a city that is not lacking in culture or activities.

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Architecture Boat TourI don’t know much about architecture. I wish I did. But several of my friends told to me check out Chicago’s myriad skyscrapers and other architectural marvels, many of which are consider iconic. To maximize my time and learn a little something along the way, I opted to take a boat tour down the Chicago River that focuses solely on architecture. There are a few companies that offer these educational boat tours, but I opted by Shoreline Sightseeing’s offering. The 90 minute tour winds down the river and an incredibly knowledgeable guide explained the history and style of Chicago’s many influential designs. While I still am pretty clueless when it comes to architecture, I feel like I saw Chicago from a perspective that I have never experienced before.

Field Museum of Natural HistoryCall me a geek, but the Museum of Natural History in New York is one of the favorite places in the world. Well, the Field Museum in Chicago more than holds its own and is an impressive space with an outstanding collection. It’s home to Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. Standing next to Sue, I couldn’t help but feel like a little boy again as I was beyond amazed by the sheer size and ferocity of this long-exctinct beast. The Field Museum is also currently hosting Real Pirates, a phenomenal exhibit on the “Golden Age of Piracy” that is incredibly well done and is a must-see if you are in town between now and October 25, 2009. I lingered in the Field Museum for close to three hours as I marveled at the vastness of its collection.

Art Institute ChicagoRemember when I mentioned that I don’t know much about architecture? Well, art isn’t my forte either. Call me uncouth, but somewhere art history and appreciation escaped me. Still, I enjoy strolling through art museums, particularly on rainy days. So, on one dreary day in Chicago, I wandered downtown to check out The Art Institute’s famed exhibits. While it houses many impressive pieces and would take you some time to truly appreciate everything that it has to offer, you can have a pretty fulfilling experience in just a few hours. I stared at American Gothic for 10 minutes and it alone was worth the price of admission. This iconic painting is oft-parodied, but to see it in person is to feel as if you are experiencing something that transcends art. Well, maybe I just like that viewing such an influential painting made me feel cultured. And with the recent opening to the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, the museum now offers an even more complete view of the many periods and styles throughout history.

Wrigley Field
Built in 1914 and home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916, Wrigley Field is an icon not just in sports but in American culture. The ivy covered brick walls, the red sign welcoming you to the ballpark and the hand-operated scoreboard make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a period in history when steroids weren’t the top story and the game seemed pure. I experienced Wrigley twice while I was in Chicago. I took in one game from a rooftop overlooking the stadium and one with a ticket that I scalped right outside the park. If you want a unique view and enjoy all-you-can-eat (and drink) packages, watch a Cubs game from one of the many rooftops across the street from Wrigley. But for the true Chicago experience, get yourself inside. I took the train to Wrigley and arrived an 45 minutes before the game. I scaled not just a ticket but a front row seat! I watched my first Cubs game a mere 18 inches from the field on a gorgeous Spring day. You don’t have to be a Cubs fan, or even a baseball fan, to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of Wrigley Field.

Segway TourSegways are much maligned. They’re a folly that never really had a chance to catch on with mainstream American. Honestly, who was going to commute on a Segway? But for tourism, Segways are brilliant. And, since I am a massive geek, I have always wanted to experience riding one. And what better way to check that off the list than while exploring Chicago? Several companies offer Segway tours in town, but none can match the price of Bike Chicago. For $50, you get more than two hours of “gliding” around town, including an orientation on how to use your Segway. After five minutes it all felt like second nature and I was enjoying every minute of it. We toured Grant Park, the lakeside, Millennium Park and several other sights along the way and the tour guide was patient, helpful and knowledgeable. There may be no better way to see Chicago up close and, well, it’s just plain fun.

There are plenty of other sights to visit in Chicago, and I’ll be covering two very special places tomorrow when I share my experiences with some of Chicago’s furry and scaley friends. What are your favorite Chicago sights? Share below in the comments.

Check out my gallery of these attractions here.

Read about my Chicago food adventures here.

Budget Travel: Chicago

Summary: Chicago could be a budget traveler’s dream come true. The city is conveniently located in the middle of the country, it is surrounded by several major airports, has decent rail and road links, and has tons of free and affordable things to do.

Getting in: Getting to Chicago is going to be one of the easier parts of your trip. The city is served by almost every airline in the country (except Virgin America), and flights arrive at O’Hare or Midway airports. Adventurous (and creative) fliers can also fly into Rockford or Milwaukee airports, but the ride to the city may add too much to the cost of your trip.

Chicago may not be the massive rail hub it used to be, but Amtrak still offers rail service from many US cities. A round trip from Denver to Chicago costs about $190 and takes 18 hours. A train ride from San Francisco to Chicago takes 53 hours and costs $290 round trip. These fares may be substantially lower than air travel, but you’ll lose a day (or two) just getting there.

Of course, if you are feeling like a challenge, you could go all Clark Griswald on us, and drive.


Getting around – Making your way around Chicago is pretty simple, the downtown area can be reached from O’Hare with the Blue Line CTA trains, and once you get downtown, you’ll be close to a subway or bus stop almost everywhere you go. A great place to start is the site of the Chicago Transit Authority. Fares are $2.25 each, but unlimited ride passes start at just $5.75 a day.

Where to stay : Expedia has 562 hotels listed for the greater Chicagoland area, but like many big US cities, the closer you stay to the “action”, the more you will pay.

For example; one of the cheapest hotels listed for “Chicago” is a $42/night Days Inn, located in Gurnee, IL. You’ll be quite disappointed when you arrive at this hotel and realize it’s a good 40 miles from downtown Chicago.

Downtown hotels will cost you around $90 a night, just don’t expect too much luxury at that price range.

The cheapest way to stay downtown in Chicago is usually through Priceline. Downtown hotels usually go for about $50 when you use the Priceline “name your price” feature.

A great place to check recent winning bids is betterbidding.com. If you don’t feel comfortable with making a bid for a cheap room, then I can only suggest checking the rates on your favorite hotel booking site, because cheap stays is not something Chicago is known for.

What to see: When it comes to things to do in Chicago, the question is not what to do, but how much time you actually have to see the things you are most interested in. A typical downtown Chicago tourist will usually spend their first day strolling up and down Michigan Avenue. Between all the stores are a couple of impressive landmarks.

The Chicago Water Tower was one of just a handful of buildings that survived the great Chicago fire of 1871. The Water Tower is also home to the Chicago visitors center, where you’ll be able to snag some discount coupons for local attractions. Other “must see” attractions on the budget traveler’s list are:

  • Navy Pier – the pier is the most popular tourist destination in the Midwest. This structure extends about 3,000 feet into Lake Michigan and offers everything from a (boring) food court to a massive outdoor Ferris wheel. Navy Pier is also home to an Imax theater, the Chicago Children’s Museum and a large indoor garden. Access to Navy Pier itself is free, and during the winter quite a nice place to hang out. During the summer months you’ll find plenty of outdoor seating as well as weekly outdoor events. The Children’s museum at Navy Pier offers free admission every Thursday evening from 5-8pm, and free kids (<15) admission every first Monday of the month.
  • Field Museum – The Field Museum of Natural History is a must see for anyone wanting to get up close and personal with Sue, the worlds largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex. She’s setup right in the middle of the main hall. Admission to the museum itself is sadly not very budget friendly and starts at $15 per person, up to $29 for their “platinum pass”. There are however 52 days a year when you can get free general admission.
  • Shedd Aquarium – This aquarium is one of the most impressive in the world, at one point it was the largest, and most visited aquarium in the country. A total of over 32,000 different animals are on display, from over 2,000 different species. The aquarium admission is a fairly steep $17.95 for adults, so keep an eye on their discount schedule for 2009.
  • Hancock Center / Sears Tower – Either one of these Chicago skyscrapers is a great place to relax for a bit. You’ll grab the elevator to 1,030 feet (Hancock Center) or 1,353 feet (Sears Tower). Once you are up there, there is no rush to leave, and you’ll be able to spend some time looking down at all the other fun things you can do. Admission is pretty high ($15 for the Hancock and $12.95 for the Sears Tower).
  • Millennium Park – If you are planning to visit the Windy City during the not-so-cold months, then a trip to Millennium Park is a great way to spend some time. The park has evolved into the heart of the downtown cultural area. During the summer, there is always something going on in one of the various pavilions. One of the best ways to get around the park (and the rest of the downtown area), is with a bike rental at the McDonalds cycle center. Rentals start at $8/hour. The cycle center is also where you’ll be able to participate in a guided bike tour of the lakefront.
  • Goose Island Brewery – Thirsty and in need of something to do? Check out the Goose Island Clybourn brew pub and tour. You can get a guided tour of the facility every Sunday at 3pm and 4:30pm. The $5 tour fee includes a tasting of their fantastic Chicago-born ales and lagers.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo – The Lincoln Park Zoo is located just off Lake Shore Drive, and is open 365 days a year. The best part about this zoo is that admission is free. You’ll find lions, polar bears and a fantastic kid-friendly zoo pavilion on the campus, as well as a large bird house. Because of the weather in Chicago, many of the exhibits are indoors.
  • Chicago Water Taxi – The water taxi runs from Michigan Avenue to Chinatown (and back), and rides are just $2 each. The first ride starts at 6:30am (9:45am on weekends) and the last ride is around 6pm. Their $4 “all day” pass is the best way to ride up and down the river and get some fantastic chances for some photos. Due to ice in the river, the service won’t start till March.

You’ll have noticed that most attractions in Chicago are not always very budget friendly. If you plan to visit as many things as you can, you’ll often be better off with a Chicago Citypass. $59 gets you free access to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Adler Planetarium and either the Hancock Center or Sears Tower observatory decks. The admissions usually include at least one premium exhibit and is valid for 9 days from the day of first use.

Places to eat: Chicago natives, look away. My recommendations for places to eat are mostly touristy places, but unlike some other major cities, the tourist eateries in Chicago are by no means a tourist trap.

  • Billy Goat Tavern – This legend of a restaurant has always been famous in Chicago, but it became famous worldwide thanks to a skit on SNL. Remember Cheezborger, no Pepsi, Coke! and no fries, Cheeps? Head to their original location at lower Michigan Avenue for the authentic experience.
  • The Vienna Beef factory store – No visit to Chicago is complete without at least 2 or 3 Chicago-style hot dogs…and where better to eat a dog, than the restaurant attached to the place where they are made? Vienna Beef dogs are the quintessential Chicago food. Order your dog the way it was meant to be – with neon relish, mustard, onions, slices of tomato, a pickle, sport peppers and a light sprinkle of celery salt. Make sure you pay attention to the warning on the wall – ketchup is “illegal” on hot dogs in Chicago for anyone over the age of 12.
  • The Wiener’s Circle – This eatery is a “must visit” in Chicago. Think “Soup Nazi”, but with hot dogs. Avoid going here during the day, it’s much more fun late at night on a weekend. The restaurant is currently closed due to some “minor” health code violations, but do not let that scare you away from going there once it opens again. Remember to order a chocolate milkshake!
  • Pizza – Make sure to grab a slice of authentic Chicago pizza. There are several decent restaurants serving the real thing, my personal favorites would be Lou Malnati’s (order your pizza with buttercrust) or Giordano’s. These restaurants will serve individual deep dish pizza for about $6. Make sure to put aside up to 45 minutes for your pizza to be baked.
  • Heaven on Seven – Authentic Louisiana food in downtown Chicago? You bet. Chef Jimmy Bannos makes a killer gumbo, even better jalapeno cheddar corn muffins and a Cajun ice tea that is so potent, they limit you to one. I’ll admit that the place is not the most budget friendly joint in town, but $12 will get you a cup of gumbo and a huge chicken Po’ Boy sandwich. Trust me on the gumbo though – don’t leave without ordering it. Real fans will be happy to know that will gladly sell you the stuff by the gallon.

The top 10 U.S. city summer destinations: Chicago

When I read in Steve Stephens’ column “Ticket to Write,” that Chicago made it to the the list of top 10 cities for U.S. summer travel in 2008, I thought, “I second that.” Of the several cities I visited on a cross-country tour, mostly by bus, Chicago was my favorite–except for San Francisco. And, of course, New York, which has been and will remain my number one forever.

If you do head to Chicago, here are my suggestions of what to do. These are not in any particular order. Each is from personal experience. If you have your own suggestions, do tell.

The museums we hit:

The Art Institute of Chicago–I absolutely love this art museum. Although the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off “is not one of my favorites, the scenes shot in this museum were wonderful. Don’t miss Marc Chagall’s stained glass piece, “America Windows.”

The Field Museum-In what must seem like uncanny timing given the latest in natural disasters, the exhibit, “Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters” opens May 23. The museum also has Sue, the largest, intact T-rex dinosaur skeleton. Whatever your natural wonder pleasure, you’ll find it here.

Museum of Science and Industry–Here you can tour a coal mine and the U-505, a German submarine that was used during WWII, You can also can learn about the history of glass and the various ways it’s used, as well as, get a refresher on that genetics unit in high school biology through the baby chicken hatchery exhibit.

The attractions:

Head to the Sears Tower Skydeck. At 1,353 feet, this is the best bird’s-eye view around.

For the best view of Chicago’s shoreline, hop on a tour boat that goes out on Lake Michigan. The best part of the tour was traveling through the locks to get to the lake from the Chicago River. The Wendella tour company’s lake and river tour is one you might want to try. There is one you can take at night, but we did ours during the day.

Walkabout note worthiness:

The architecture and the public art make Chicago one of the most visually stunning cities in the United States. In case you don’t want to miss anything that is a must see–like Alexander Calder’s “Flamingo” located outside the Federal Building, consider taking an architecture and art tour. We were staying with a relative who took us around, but going with an expert, would be well worth the time if you don’t have a person who is from Chicago to show you the highlights.

Nearby:

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. This is where Wright lived and worked from 1889 to 1909. From this place in Oak Park, 20 minutes from downtown, Wright designed 125 structures, including Unity Temple and the Robie House, also not far from downtown Chicago. Both are being considered for World Heritage status as part of a group of ten Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

What we ate: Pizza at Pizzeria Uno (now called Uno Chicago Grill) This may not seem like the most creative, adventurous food choice, but we made it here before this became the mega national restaurant chain that it is today.

What’s new in Chicago that I wish was there when I visited: Millennium Park. This 24.5 acre downtown mecca for arts and entertainment, encompasses historic Grant Park and more. Here’s a place for bike riding, listening to music, wandering among sculptures, and enjoying flower gardens.

At the park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater designed by architect Frank Gehry, the free Grant Park Music Festival takes place from June 11 to August 16.

What I wish we had: Chicago City Pass. With the city pass, you can visit five attractions for $59 which will save you 50%.