The road east took us through a flooded and soggy Minnesota and into Sioux Falls where the newspaper head lines read “Flood Area Declared a Disaster Area” by President Obama. We had driven through the rain, and witnessed flooded fields of crop, roads closures, cows standing in water and some homes that had been evacuated. We continue to have rain and more rain. We arrived in Sioux Falls tired; it had been a long hard day of driving. We camped near a railway, beneath an airport and next to a highway. Enough said; it was noisy and we would have stayed if it had been quiet and weather had been better as we needed to catch up on things and have a rest day. We crossed the wide and fast flowing Mississippi River overflowing its banks and arrived in Wisconsin with only one place we wanted to visit before Chicago, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright.
We arrived at Taliesin, the estate of Frank Lloyd Wright (1897-1951) and booked a 2 hour tour of his summer home. Frank was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American Architect of all time.”
The 37, 5000 square feet home and studio is located on the side of a hill commanding a beautiful view of the rolling hills of Wisconsin. As I wandered through his home, which was destroyed twice by fire and rebuilt, I was surprised at the state of disrepair that the house is in. It is in need of some serious maintenance. Unfortunately Frank never built the house too last, so despite $5million being spent on renovations over the past 2 years, its preservation is fraught with both bureaucratic and construction/renovation challenges. One wonders if they will succeed in restoring this magnificent home and studio.
But I imagined the home as it would have been when Frank lived in it, hugging the hillside, surrounded by magnificent gardens, statues and ponds. The chickens and pigs in the farm barn, the swallows making their nests in the trees and ledges he built for them. The home is beautiful, graced with art, furniture and antique carpets. He was a genius, designing over 1,000 projects, writing 20 books and many more articles and he was also a popular lecturer. Unfortunately he was not smart enough to build a house to last.
One visitor asked the guide if the carpets were genuine Chinese rugs or were bought at Wal-Mart
“Oh no” she replied “they were imported from China, they are genuine.”
The last time I was at Wal-Mart they seemed to have a lot of goods from imported from China even the rugs. There are a lots of “Made in China” goods in this part of the world.
The House on the Rock
Heading several miles south we visited The House on the Rock built by Alex Jordon Jr. whose father was refused entry into Wright’s architecture school and was told by Wright, “I wouldn’t hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop.” Alex Jr. was determined to teach Wright a lesson and choose a pinnacle rock just south of Taliesin to build his house on.
Driving up the pathway to the house are quaint oriental serpent planters (fake of course). Tom wasn’t that keen but I wanted to see what this eccentric man had created and collected. I was blown away, it was amazing, what I saw was truly a collectors dream or a non collector’s nightmare. Wright must be turning in his grave at this maze of passageways, with thousands of items on display with various tunes being played.
The House on the Rock houses the world’s largest carousel with 20,000 lights and 182 chandeliers, which has 269 handcrafted carousel animals rotating around to the beat of music. It is mind boggling. The Mill house has one of the world’s largest fireplaces, suits of armour, dolls and antique guns that defy imagination. I strolled down the streets of yesterday with it stunning recreation of a 19th century street, complete with a sheriff’s office, the fire hall, the apothecary with a cure for baldness and obesity, toy stores and puppet makers. It was window shopping at its best. I loved the over 200 model ships and a 200 foot tall sea creature. Planes and helicopters were suspended from the ceiling, antique cars parked below. Alex Jordon too must have been a genius.
Two men with dreams and creative abilities both who were astounding but oh so different. I love to it when a human is able to leave such a legacy.
Today we drove into Chicago, what a great big city. Tomorrow we begin to explore.
Our mission was to see and experience as much as Chicago as we could in 3 days. By getting up early, walking many miles, and getting to bed late we discovered a wonderful, dynamic city, beautifully located on the shores of Lake Michigan. We now rank Chicago as a must visit city, we loved it and the people of Chicago are some of the most friendly city folk we have ever encountered. Making it even more special, we were invited to celebrate our trip to Chicago at one of the top restaurants in the city; the One Sixtyblue, which is owned by a school friend of mine from South Africa. The food, service and décor are fantastic, oh yea Paris you are now 2nd on our list.
There were many decisions to be made as Chicago has so many wonderful places, museums, galleries, parks and shops to visit, as a result we were only able to get a taste of what this city offers.
At the Shedd Aquarium we had a walk down memory lane, watching some of the fish we have scuba dived with around the world, such as the cichlids in Lake Malawi, and fish from some of the rivers we have traveled across, such as the Nile and the Congo. Watching the otters, sea lions swim and play reminded us of our visit to beautiful Alaska, and the enigmatic penguins reminded us of our destination, Southern Argentina. We also felt the stir of excitement when visiting the Amazon River display knowing one day we will stand on the banks of that river as well.
The Field Museum evoked yet more memories through their wonderful Africa Exhibit, telling the story of that magnificent continent and its people. Tom said the genetics display was so good that he now finally understands some of the mysteries of our DNA.
At the Adler Planetarium we were whisked away into space, visiting stars, planets and the sun. We wondered if we would ever in our life time have the opportunity to travel and explore space just as we are exploring this planet. Nothing seems impossible these days and if we live too 100 perhaps I could be the oldest person to visit the moon. Who knows?
High up on the 150 foot high Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier we watched as a hot air balloon drifted in the sky even higher than us. Neither of us do sitting still well so it was hard to stop the car from shaking a bit despite me constantly telling Tom, “Stop moving!!!”
After getting down we headed off to see the Tiffany Stain Glass Window Museum, where we saw so much wonderful creativity and realized how little we know about the process of creating a stain glass master piece.
An architectural boat tour through the canals of Chicago was next on the agenda. We wanted to see close up the magnificent buildings all built in a variety of styles by many of American’s most influential and important architects. The Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 destroyed most of the original structures so the current buildings are noted for their originality rather than their antiquity as well giving America its first skyscrapers. Tom 2nd career choice was to be an architect but didn’t think he could draw well enough. I wonder if we would have met if he had become an architect.
Looking over Chicago from the top of the John Hancock 100 story skyscraper we got a 360 view of Chicago and across Lake Michigan to the state of Michigan, where we are heading next. Long shadows of the skyline protruded into Lake Michigan as we watched the sun set over the city.
Our highlight was the Cloud Gate, a sculpture by the Indian artist Anish Kapoor located in Millennium Park. It is nicknamed The Bean by the locals because of its bean like shape. Anish was inspired by liquid mercury, the stainless steel structure weighing in at over 100 tons reflects and distorts the city skyline. It is magnificent, we arrived early in the morning just as the sun was reflecting through the opening of the bean.
We splashed in the water of the Crown Fountain, designed by Jaume Plensa. They are a pair of transparent 50 foot high (15.2m) glass brick towers, with water cascading down and around the entire structures and which face each other across a reflecting pool of black granite. Lights behind the bricks display videos on the inward faces of the towers and intermittently a nozzle on each tower’s front face spouts water which appears to be flowing from the subject’s mouth. It is quite remarkable and we watched in awe at the brilliance of both the art and the man behind such creativity.
Trees shaded us as we walked and walked across the campus of the University of Chicago heading for the Science and Technology Museum. I had sore feet, was thirsty and I kept telling Tom again and again, “this is too far to walk, we should have taken a bus!” We arrived at what was the exit and were instructed to walk around the huge building to the entrance on the other side. I begged to be let in, “I cant walk anymore,” I wailed. So the friendly Chicago security guy took pity on me and we were allowed in. It was worth the walk but we still should have taken a bus.
The Art Institute of Chicago is a beautiful building housing some of the best works of art in America. We chose to see the American art displays only because of time and were not disappointed. Finally I got to see some of the original works of art we all have seen at some time or another. Anyone not see the American Gothic by Gary Wood?
Today we leave Chicago, tossing a coin a cent (that I actually found in my soup at the Art Institute) into the Chicago River hoping it will bring us back to visit this city again one day.
Now we head for Detroit.