Cutural tourism at home–great practice, no jet lag

One of the best ways to be a great traveler is to practice–like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get.  Yeah, I know, you don’t have a trust fund or infinite amounts of vacation time, so you can’t just fly over to Europe whenever you feel like it.  But you can still practice at home.

I live in Chicago so I am fortunate to be surrounded by world-class architecture and museums, a huge variety of theater, dance and opera, and one of the best orchestras in the world.  Even better, many of these cultural opportunities are free!  Last weekend HOB and I cleared our schedules for Open House Chicago.  Open House Chicago is a free, two-day festival through Chicago Architecture Foundation where 150 spaces in Chicago are open to the public, including docent-led tours and some on site performances.

Our weekend required many of our traveling skills: planning (we wanted to see as many places as possible in a big city without a car), picnics (we had four), intensive walking (good walking shoes, check), and engaging with “the locals”.  Most of the spaces we visited were staffed by volunteers who lived in the buildings, or attended religious services there.  We toured a commune and a model railroad club.  One of the most moving experiences was visiting the Agudas Achim synagogue in Uptown.   We used to live next door to this synagogue, but never saw it open.  It’s majestic inside, and though it was being presented as “in need of restoration” it is, sadly, more like abandoned.  We met the congregation’s rabbi and the artist who made their beautiful stained glass windows.  (The stained glass artist was quite the character: after talking with us about his windows, he said, in a heavy Russian accent , “My wife, she says I’m a dummy because I don’t have the sex with her no more”).

Traveling has transformed my way of seeing.  When I am at home, Chicago seems more interesting and I’m more aware of the influence of European arts and culture on my city.  When I’m in Europe, my experience is enhanced by the dynamic multiculturalism I live with at home.  I’ve learned that people everywhere are an inseparable part of culture and that the more I practice being curious about the world, the richer my daily life becomes.


Detail of the Agudas Achim Synagogue’s Ark.  The hands are making a blessing sign.


Detail of the synagogue’s stained glass.  Seriously, anyone out there from a cultural foundation with deep pockets that may be reading this cough Pritzer Foundation cough please consider preserving this most worthy building.


How we got to Open House Chicago: CTA.

Where we slept: at home.  Price: mortgage, assessments and utilities.  Recommended: highly.

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