Travel Diaries

Travel Diaries: Garfield Park Conservatory

June 2016

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Chicago is home to some outstanding, internationally acclaimed landmarks and destinations. But one that may have fallen off the must see list (even for the local set), is the Garfield Park Conservatory. As one of the largest greenhouse conservatories in the United States, it has quite a storied history.

The project was led by Danish-American landscape architect, Jens Jensen and commenced in 1905. He led the movement of prairie style landscape architecture and was an integral part of conserving natural areas within parks, estates and campuses in urban areas. Although Garfield Park Conservatory was heavily led by Jensen, it was a true collaboration of architects, engineers and artists.

Jensen designed the structure of the Conservatory to emulate haystacks of the Midwest and is made of glass. It is often described as “landscape art under glass”.

The Conservatory officially opened in 1908 and was considered quite revolutionary for its time.

However, as decades passed, the Conservatory began to deteriorate. In 1994, the Chicago Park District undertook a multi-million renovation to restore the facility. In 2011, the building suffered catastrophic damage after a hailstorm, where renovations took place in stages so as to keep the landmark open for the public to still enjoy.

We recently explored the many offerings of the Conservatory and took in the stillness and quiet of nature within a bustling city. Watching the elegant koi fish in the “Persian Pond” gracefully swimming around the sixteen giant yellow glass lily pads by iconic glass artist Chihuly was just the beginning of a restful, almost meditative afternoon. We weaved through from room to room and took in the variety of horticulture the Conservatory had to offer. The “Desert House” had a gorgeous array of cacti and succulents both miniature and large. The “Fern Room” almost transported you to a jungle like environment and we wouldn’t have been surprised if a big cat walked our path.

We highly recommend a visit to this wonderfully, in some ways hidden secret. It’s a secret definitely worth sharing.

TRAVEL DIARIES: BANGKOK

March 2016

Last spring, we journeyed to Bangkok; a metropolitan city that is brimming with tradition and history but still embraces the modern world. While our travel purposes were to visit tufting sites for some of SHIIR’s rug production, we made sure to take advantage of this opportunity to explore the offerings of such a wonderful city. Bangkok offers a feast for the eyes. At one moment, you may be walking through a crowded cluster of skyscrapers and then in another, you’re in a water taxi rolling by intricately detailed, ancient, romantic palaces. But perhaps it is the people that make this vibrant city most enchanting. From smiling young monks in orange robes waving hello to you, to the lively vendors at the market, Thai hospitality abounds, and is extended in a warm and inviting manner to guests visiting their country. One important detail worth mentioning – we traveled to Bangkok in April. April is the hottest month of the year and temperatures can soar into the high 90’s with maximum humidity. Needless to say, it was sweltering.

But the heat barely distracted us from the mesmerizing sights, sounds, smells and energy surrounding Bangkok.. There was much to see and experience.We can’t wait to go back.

We visited during Songkran, the Thai New Year, also know as the “Water Festival”.  As you might imagine, water is involved. And to celebrate, everyone in town was armed with water guns of every size and shape and buckets brimming with water. There was no chance of surviving the festivities without being drenched at least once. But we didn’t mind much – it was a welcome respite from the nonstop heat.

Since we were first time visitors to Bangkok, we made sure to do our due diligence in researching all the must-see sights, dining and shopping. However, what may have been the most important we received was the do’s and don’ts of Thai culture. Here are some helpful tips and cultural traditions to abide by:

  • Do NOT insult the King or Royal Family. We never planned on doing so, but good to know in case you have  political opinions on this. If you do, be prepared to be cast for Brokedown Palace 2, as you’ll find yourself in jail.
  • Do NOT touch anyone’s head.
  • If you are sitting on the floor with a group, do not sit cross legged as your feet will be pointing at someone. This is considered rude in Thailand. Instead, tuck your feet behind you so they are not facing anyone.
  • Smile. Otherwise, you will be mistaken for being angry. Up until now, the top three are easy, but this one may take some effort. Smile all the time or as our friend and colleague suggested and “talk with unbridled joy”.
  • Make sure to “Wai”? It is a Thai greeting where the palms are pressed together and you give a slight bow. While there are multiple rules to this tradition, a general rule of thumb, the higher the hands, the greater the respect.

Traveling to a new country can be daunting, but only because there is so much to see with never enough time. We’ve broken down our favorite destinations and hopefully this can serve as a starting point for your travels to a country we have to come to love dearly.

EAT:

  • At a whopping 61 stories above the city, you will feel as though you are on top of the world at the Vertigo and Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Hotel. We suggest you go at dusk to witness the city magically lighting up.
  • There are a bevy of dining choices at the Mandarin Oriental. Boasting eleven different options, you won’t be disappointed.
  • The phenomenal view overlooking the Chao Phraya River and Temple of Dawn will captivate you while you dine at sala rattanakosin
  • Although a bit touristy, good food is good food. Faces is a culinary destination that will leave your palette satisfied.
  • This will sound completely contrary to what “malls” are known for, but the Paragon Mall is a haven for delectable bites and you will not have a typical food court experience. Trust us.
  • Street food. Indulge, be adventurous and try everything. It may be the most intoxicating culinary experience of all the food you eat in Bangkok. Our best and most valuable insider scoop; travel along Silom Rd (near the Dusit Thani Bangkok Hotel which overlooks Lumphini park) to find our favorite street food cart. Our trusted colleague has been visiting this same cart for the past 15 years. Just note that the vendor is known to move from time to time. If you have a difficult time locating him, ask around for the best “Moo Ping” and people will know who you are referring to. Make sure to order this delight with sticky rice.

SEE:

  • MOCA Bangkok
  • Jim Thompson House
  • The Grand Palace
  • Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
  • Chatuchak is one of the largest weekend markets, boasting 15,000 booths over a sprawling 27 acres of land. While the market is interesting, your attention and tolerance may wear thin with the heat beating down on you in a packed sea of people.
  • If you treasure hunt antiques like we do, River City and OP Place Antiques is the go to destination. But buyer beware as you will have to differentiate between what is fake and what is authentic.
  • Book a private river boat tour and make sure to have your guide take you on the side canals. These canals, otherwise known as “Klongs”, are critical to Bangkok life. They have much been referred to as the lifeblood of the city. Along these canals, you will see homes on wooden stilts and capture a glimpse of what life is like on these essential waterways.
  • For reputable, local Thai designs, spend some time at Terminal 21.