state-parks-wisconsin-devils-lake-camping

Glorious Fall Colors at Devil’s Lake – Wisconsin State Park

It’s always a crap-shoot Googling something to do over the weekend. Sometimes we end up with suggestions on drunken street “festivals,” yet another improv troupe (we’re in Chicago) or a great deal on a hotel in Phoenix. Last weekend, our roll came up boxcars when we searched “fall colors in Wisconsin” and “devil’s lake state park.” A few clicks later and we were on our way through a rainbow maze of country roads lined with autumn trees toward a mesmerizing view of Wisconsin’s beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo. Read more

Roman Stadium - Plovdiv

A Bulgarian Escape Day 6 – Stepping Onto Plovdiv’s Past

Today was a simple travel day from Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv – Bulgaria’s big university town and cultural center. It involved a long bus ride and a few small moments of food, frolic and fun that in their greatest telling might at most bring a bit of faux interest from our parents. However, even through a bus window, badly broken English or Plovdiv’s cobblestone roads, there are three stories to be told.

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Touring Devon Avenue Chicago - Best Places to Eat 5

The Best Way to See Chicago’s Devon Avenue

Nice job! You’re looking beyond downtown to see the “real” Chicago: its wonderfully diverse neighborhoods.

My favorite local communities are uniquely ethnic. Yes, there are tasty ethnic restaurants around every corner. Many are worth a trip across town because the bánh mì  is so damn good. If you’re lucky, the gyro place across from your office has the best tzatziki. However, if you’re looking for a unique cultural experience beyond the lunch buffet’s chicken tikka masala, Chicago’s famous Devon Avenue is a highly recommended day trip.

What many consider the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago may look like a bazaar of urban capitalism, but behind each glass door is a story written by smiling moms and pops. On your own, choosing which door to open first can bring on Analysis Paralysis. Yelp can only tell you so much (and with little accuracy). Luckily, Devon Avenue was made accessible and incredibly entertaining by Spice of Life Tours. 

Touring Devon Avenue Chicago - Best Places to Eat 1

Company founder and tour guide Mohammad Ali gave a knockout performance <apologies> as a Devon Avenue youth turned public school AP History teacher turned civic promoter. It’s obvious he’s passionate about Chicago’s Little India. Where he gets the energy for a four hour tour after teaching kids European Absolutism all week is beyond this article, however, we tore up the town like only a bunch of 30-something white folks can do.

 

Eating Devon Avenue – The Restaurants

The Indian Book House is the start of the tour and its culinary journey. Begin with sweets and samosas from the local establishments. Meet your inevitably cool tour group. I find people who are culturally adventurous to be generally fun to talk to. <try the donuts and take the compliment> You’ll ease into the day with smiles and laughs.

Tiffin apparently has the best butter chicken in town and I’m not going to argue after scarfing a full plate of it. The buffet is huge and decor spotless and charming. It’s not expensive – and if you’re on the tour – included in the tour price is full lunch complete with unique Indian wine.

JK Kabob House looks like any other lunch-special corner joint. This shop makes the Spice of Life Tour because the meat kabobs are great. Sample lamb, chicken and beef from the local owners and wash it down with some fresh-off-the-boat Thumbs Up cola. The fizz of pre-Coke capitalism never tasted so good – and it’s only 40 calories a bottle.

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Wearing Devon Avenue

You don’t have to be drunk to want a henna tattoo at the Roopkala salon. A common element in Indian celebration, its intricate beauty can make the back of your hand a piece of art (if for only a few days). Get one in 5 minutes and show it off to your friends. They’ll want one too.

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I’ve never looked so good in bling. One would think the sequin and rhinestone covered hand-made clothing would be more for art than wearing, but once you straighten the collar, its elegance is addictive. Saahil is a special place where the incredibly friendly staff help visitors try on graceful saris and talk about the pomp and circumstance of Indian ceremonies. Hearing the stories and seeing in the brides’ dresses will make you want a very close Indian friend who is about to get engaged.

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A Devon Avenue Community

Our tour brought us to a Sikh temple where we donned a customary head-scarf, learned about this peaceful region and had post-service tea. It’s a simple place that reminded me of a family reunion where people had nowhere to be but in pleasant conversation. While Sikhism is by no means the populous religion that Hinduism is, their story is unique, and according to many reviewers, a memorable part of the tour.

 

Getting to Devon Avenue’s Little India:

Since it’s in a large residential neighborhood, there is plentiful street parking (free on Sunday for now) and a parking garage on the corner of Rockwell and Devon. The garage is useful for those people going on the four hour Spice of life tour. If you’re coming from the southern parts of Chicago in a car, consider taking I-94 north to Peterson. Go Western north through the city at your own risk.

 

More information on Devon Avenue’s best restaurants:

 

Devon Avenue is more than restaurants…

…and even India. It’s a multi-cultural experience that offers a view into Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan and other Southeast Asian countries as well.  If you want a personalized guide of this unique place from someone who does it for the community and not the money, I’d highly recommend contacting Mohammad to learn more.

Chicago Singer - Cabaret, Lessons and Weddings

The Music of Paris in Chicago: Edith Piaf and Others

Last weekend, Elise LaBarge, my much better half and grammar patrol for this website, brought her French cabaret set from St. Louis to a Chicago stage for the first time. I set up the video camera, got myself a Jameson <neat> and watched her walk onstage at Davenport’s Cabaret Club to perform 75 minutes of beautiful music connected to France’s involvement in World War II. Backed up by a trio of musicians: Andy Swindler on drums, Paul Foster on standup bass and Bobby Deitz on piano, Elise entertained a full house in Davenport’s intimate space with some classic songs (and some less known) of Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Cole Porter, Judy Garland, Josephine Baker and others.

The following is “Mon Legionnaire,” a song initially performed by Marie Dubas and made popular by Edith Piaf: Read more

#new2chicago

Uprooting 10 years of life, from a place where you worked, met friends and made a home, to move to the 3rd largest city in the country is a daunting task. Whether emotionally, physically, or financially, it’s not something one should want to do often. Between the worrying about the new “STL Night Society” renter having post-Washington Ave. parties in your loft to guessing how much to tip the movers, every decision seems like it could have been made much more successfully if you were just a bit smarter about all of it.

The Best of Washington Avenue

Sure, you can look up what to tip people on your phone, or you can threaten the new renter with potential lawsuits from your non-existent lawyer-on-retainer, but one should not have to live out of a backpack for almost four weeks – that is – unless those four weeks are a place where the mountains are filled with Buddhist monks. If the tiny Buddhist temple stuck between Chicago Lawn Mower repair and I-94 is any indication, I shouldn’t be worried about missing scenic vistas of enlightenment. The only mountains in Chicago seem to be the people climbing over each other to get tickets to Book of Mormon. Read more