Escape to Port Eliot

Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

All photographs used in this post are taken by Michael Bowles

Port Eliot Festival brings together some of the best creative talents around and plonks them in the midst of a magical sprawling garden party. Irresistible.

Enticingly, they say: “Our home is your playground for one magical weekend and nothing makes us happier than seeing you explore the Estate. Whether you’re swimming in the estuary, catching a literary star on the Bowling Green, rocking out at the Park Stage, canoeing on the river, catching an intimate gig in the church, watching a cooking demo on the Flower & Fodder Stage, a fashion show or dancing ‘till the wee hours in the Boogie Round – our home is yours for the weekend.”

It all kicks off on 25th July, running till 28th July, at St Germans, west Cornwall.

This year’s speakers, performers, mixologists and visionaries include Simon Armitage, Lily Allen, JoJo Mehta, Ben Okri, poet Iona Lee, Stephanie Theobald, Hafsah Aneela Bashir, Sir Tim Smit of the Eden Project, and so many others.

Don’t miss Frisbee Tree Golf, a new show by Ben Moor.Port Eliot woodland cr Michael BowlesFind full details of all the mysterious and mind-boggling goings-on.

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Hay Festival 23rd May to 2nd June 2019

Hay Festival cr Finn Beales

Hay Festival cr Finn Beales

I remember visiting Hay-on-Wye as a child and being entranced by this place built, it seemed, entirely on, around and with books. Yet I’ve never yet made it to any of the much lauded Hay Festivals (have you noticed how they’ve spread throughout the world? Good to know that the love of the written word is so contagious).

The festival runs from 23rd May until 2nd June 2019. The organisers say: “The line-up features over 600 writers and thinkers in events over 11 days, spanning award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry; science and tech; UK politics; global affairs; sustainability (Green Hay); a rich strand for children and families; a free programme for schools; and a vibrant line-up of late night music, comedy and performance.”

With the strapline: “Let’s talk. Let’s Listen”, speakers and inspirers include Arundhati Roy, Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson, Caroline Criado Perez, Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig, Jimmy Carr, Bill Bailey, Sara Pascoe, Nish Kumar, Judith Kerr, Jo Brand, Jacqueline Wilson, Maxine Peake, Max Porter, Germaine Greer, Joanna Lumley, Carole Cadwalladr, Fintan O’Toole, Emily Maitlis, Robert Macfarlane, Monty Don, and Moby.

If you can only make it to one event, don’t miss novelists Jayne Joso and Deborah Kay Davies in conversation with Dylan Moore on Wednesday 29th May.

Get your tickets from www.hayfestival.com. And if you’re lucky enough to attend any of the events, please let me know! I’d love to publish your festival review on SkyLightRain.com. Just email me at judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

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Guernsey Literary Festival 2019

Guernsey Literary FestivalFancy flitting over to the Channel islands for a long weekend? The Guernsey Literary Festival, which takes place from 1st-6th May 2019, offers the perfect excuse for a peaceful retreat. Over the four days there’ll be creative talks, workshops, film screenings and family story sessions.

GuernseyThe line-up includes an array of expert wordsmiths, including Terry Waite, journalist Lucy Siegle, poet Lemn Sissay, and author Patrick Gale. Libby Purves will talk about her writing and her long career in radio, and award-winning poet, writer and editor Joelle Taylor will shine a light on the art of the poetry slam along with Andrew Hislop and Lawrence Stubbings.

Dr Lucy Christopher, internationally acclaimed academic, teacher and writer of YA fiction, will lead a workshop on developing an authentic teenage voice and offer the chance  indulge in serious creative play.

Other highlights include Lionel Shriver reading from her first ever short story collection, Property.

The festival will mainly be based in Guernsey’s capital St. Peter Port. Venues include hotels, the inflatable Literary Festival Hub and, especially intriguing, Hauteville House, where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. Event tickets are bookable at www.guernseyliteraryfestival.com where you can also find the growing diary of events.

Closed for maintenance…

Closed for Maintenance_The Faroe IslandsOne of the destinations on my wishlist, the Nordic Faroe Islands, has made a somewhat unusual announcement.

The entire 18-island archipelago in the North Atlantic ocean is to close to holidaymakers for an entire weekend this spring.

Far from being a weekend ‘off’, it’s being tagged as an opportunity for voluntourism, and the only outsiders allowed in for the time-span are those who commit to aiding in the islands’ maintenance.

Something about the idea tickles me – not only is this a way to take care of this beautiful rural destination, but it offers the chance to really get to know the locals as you work with them to tend to the volcanic isles located midway between Iceland and Norway.

Faroe Islands location map

“The Faroe Islands welcome around 100,000 visitors each year, attracted by the country’s dramatic scenery, including rugged cliffs, sea caves, spectacular waterfalls and an abundance of birdlife, not forgetting a population of just 50,000 Faroese people and their 80,000 sheep,” says Guðrið Højgaard, director of Visit Faroe Islands. “Happily – the Faroe Islands currently have no over-tourism problems. However, the fragile natural environment in a few popular tourist locations has felt the effects of an increase in visitors. These areas need a helping hand to ensure they remain pristine; sustainability is the goal.”

The idea is, quite simply, to close for maintenance and open for voluntourism over the weekend of Friday 26th to Sunday 28th April 2019. If all goes well, this could become an annual event.

There will be an array of projects led by local people, aimed at delivering a touch of TLC to the Faroese countryside and to ready it for the influx of visitors expected later in the year.

Just 100 visitors will be able to sign up to join the Faroese Maintenance Crew. In return for their services to the country, they will be gifted both accommodation and food over the three-night maintenance period. Maintenance projects will take place on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th April. On the Saturday night, there will be a celebratory meal for all those who have joined forces to help.

TNF_VisitFaroeProjects will include creating walking paths in well-trodden areas, constructing viewpoints that help preserve nature and protect birdlife sanctuaries and erecting signs that help with wayfinding. Projects will be of various difficulty levels, meaning volunteers do not need to be highly skilled. A willingness to assist is the only criterion.

“We are delighted that more and more people are discovering how special our islands are – our scenery, our unique way of life, our food and our people,” says Guðrið. “For us, tourism is not all about numbers. We welcome visitors to the islands each year, but we also have a responsibility to our community and to our beautiful environment, and our aim is to preserve and protect the islands, ensuring sustainable and responsible growth.”

For more information, or to sign up to be part of the Maintenance Crew, please visitwww.preservefaroeislands.com.

To watch the campaign film, visit https://vimeo.com/317464068/de987a1d75.

To learn more about the Faroe Islands, visit www.visitfaroeislands.com. All images supplied by Visit Faroe Islands.

Reading the walls of Kaunas, Lithuania

Kaunas Lithuania. pic by James HainsworthOur first full day in Kaunas, Lithuania, was flooded with bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies, so we took the chance to follow one of their excellent tourist maps, Wallographer’s Notes.

Street art began to emerge in the city as a form of protest during the years of Soviet Occupation from 1944 to 1990. Today, the City Municipality regular invites applications of ideas for new artworks, and so every month new creations appear. Here are ten of my favourites.

Insects of Ladislas Starevich. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley1. Insects of Ladislas Starevich
Rotušės Aikštė, 15, Kaunas
If you begin at the town hall, you will soon happen across this trio of gigantic insects: an ant, grasshopper complete with violin and stag-beetle created in honour of pioneering puppet animator Ladislas Starevich.

Dogs Fountain, Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley2. The Dogs’ Fountain
Rotušės Aikštė, 19, Kaunas
Created by sculptor Vytautas Narutis in memory of the canine guardians said to protect the sleep of emperor Napoleon when he stayed in Kaunas Old Town, Fontanas Šunys (Dogs’ Fountain) was installed in the Kaunas Town Hall square in 1987. The dogs have lovely friendly faces rubbed shiny in places, presumably from people patting their noses for luck.

The Freedom Warrior. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley3. The Freedom Warrior
Pilies G. 17, Kaunas
Located between the 14th century Kaunas castle and the Neris River, this exuberant statue is named the Freedom Warrior. The figure of the armour-clad knight on horseback mirrors the one of the city’s heraldic shield, known as Vytis. It stands an imposing seven metres high. I love its celebratory air, but feel its triumphant air is rivalled by the tot scooting around the monument’s base in my shot.

The Wise Old Man, Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley4. The Wise Old Man
Jonavos G. 3, Kaunas
Turn to the right with your back to the castle, and you’ll spy The Wise Old Man, or The Master, a gigantic portrait smoking a pipe apparently in his pyjamas. We visited on a Saturday when the square below was laid out with stalls selling freshly unearthed root vegetables, cheese, honey, cured fish and the eponymous tree cakes. The 440 m2 creation by artists Tadas Šimkus and Žygimantas Amelynas overlooks it all with a benevolent air. Ironically, he’s painted on the side of a former footwear factory, and though you can’t see his feet in this photo, he has no shoes. He’s said to be an homage to George Maciunas, one of the pioneers of the Fluxus art movement.

Monument to Abraham Mapu. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by James Hainsworth5. Monument to Abraham Mapu
Mapu G., Kaunas
This jaunty chap stands on a chair inthe courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery. He is the sculpture of a beloved Kaunas-born author,Abraham Mapu, who is credited with writing and self-publishing one of the first Hebrew novels in 1853. I love the cheeky character sculptor Martynas Gaubas has achieved. With his hand held just so, he looks about to doff his cap in greeting.

Owl on Owl Hill, Kaunas Lithuania1. pic by Judy Darley6. A whole flock of owls
Pelėdų Kalnas, Kaunas
These concrete and sand owls mark the perimeter of Pelėdų Kalnas, or Owl Hill, and were created by sculptor Vincas Grybas in 1922. The owls are the symbols of Kaunas Art School, the hill and the city below.

Owl House on Owl Hill. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley

We followed tourist map to visit the owls, but spotted the above en-route to Owl Hill. What is that? An owl-shaped building?! So fabulous. Wonder if it’s on AirBnB,

The Cabin. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley7. The Cabin
Putvinskio G. 36, Kaunas
This gorgeous rainbow building springs out of its surroundings as a reminder that art rests on every corner of Kaunas. Once an abandoned and weather-beaten house, it’s now a vivid slice of life set almost midway between the Devil’s Museum and the Žaliakalnis Funicular (which was closed when we visited, with no explanation as to why). There are two chairs on the cabin’s roof, perhaps in case the devil or his wife fancy a rest.

Levitator. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley8. The Levitator
Nepriklausomybes Aikštė, Kaunas
Situated close to St. Michael the Archangel’s Church, this sculpture resembles a miracle caught in mid-moment, as a figure rises, harnessed to its long-locked plinth only by a swathe of cloak.
I’ve since seen photos of children pressing themselves beneath the hovering body, but when we saw it rain poured down and all that caught there was the suggestion of clouds. By the way, apparently the Lithuanian word of Levitator is levitatacija. Beautiful.

Yard Gallery Kaunas1 Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley9. Yard Gallery
Ožeškienės G. 21A, Kaunas
Begun in artist Vytenis Jakas more than a decade ago, the Yard Gallery is a constantly evolving creation, with new artworks being added by a range of artists, neighbours and passersby all the time. It aims to bring life and a sense of community to this space surrounded by residential homes. An astonishing space crammed with evidence of narrative and imagination.

Pink Elephant Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley10. The Pink Elephant
Ožeškienės G. 18A, Kaunas
Just up the hill from the Yard Gallery, you’ll find a vast, resting elephant depicted in power pink. That large ear seems ripe for secrets, better than any church confessional. It’s by artist Vytenis Jakas(yep, him of the Yard Gallery, and to me seems to represent all things joyful and accepting in this quirky creative city. It was actually inspired by a graffiti slogan that translates as Love Conquers All.

Find out more about Kaunas, Lithuania, at visit.kaunas.lt/en/ 

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Chicago 10 Top Experiences

Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. Photo by Judy DarleyThe first sighting of Chicago – long before the towers come into view – is of the lake. Big M, a landlocked ocean licking the shore of three states, sans salt, sans sharks, sans tides. Lake Michigan.

Our Airbnb is just a stroll from its edge, in the Gold Coast district where ornate mansions speak of an almost grotesque excess of money, while more time-worn streets have been turned over to a more Bohemian clientele.

We’re close enough to stride along the water’s edge into the city, using the John Hancock Center or Navy Pier’s big wheel to guide us. Nature battles against the rampant urbanity here. Cormorant spread their wings in the harbour and fish dart, while tourist paddle kayaks, ride tour boats or pause on bridges to admire the soaring architecture. All human life jostles here – wealthy residents sidestepping broken-down beggars to enter designer shops, while holidaymakers hurry to the next museum, the next work of art, the next tower to ogle and ascend.

Here are my top ten recommendations of what to see, eat and experience in and around Chicago.

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, Chicago_Photo by Judy Darley

1 Encounter the Cloud Gate

Known by locals as the Bean, the Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoorresembles a gigantic silvery globular mirror. It rests in the AT&T Plaza at Chicago’s Millennium Park like a capsized UFO, enticing tourists and passersby to pause and photograph their own reflection.

A vehicle to our own selfie-obsessed vanity, it’s a perfect tool for people-watching, as well as capturing majestic views of the Chicago cityscape. The one thing it doesn’t seem to me to meditate on is sky – but perhaps it’s in the Illinois winter, when sub-zero temperatures halt human hive activity, that it truly comes into its own.

Architecture river cruise. Photo by Judy Darley

2 Embark on an architecture tour

In a city riddled with extraordinary towers, there’s plenty of scope for admiring the architecture. With the river attracting many of the most ambitious designs, the most leisurely way to take in the their grandeur is with a Chicago Architecture River Cruise by Shoreline Sightseeing. From just over £30, you’ll get a 75-minute guided voyage through the urban masterpieces, learn about the fire that destroyed 3.3 square miles of Chicago in 1871, and discover that in Chicago, the word Willis is pronounced Seeears. As an added bonus, our excellent tour guide Jalen seemed to be warming up for a set at legendary comedy hotspots Second City.

View of the John Hancock Building from the Willis Tower. Photo by Judy Darley

View of the John Hancock Building from the Willis Tower

3 Ascend the towers

In a city of skyscrapers, there are several that stand out more than others, and you can pay to visit two of the more notable of these.

The Skyjack of the Willis Tower (previously the Sears Tower), offers exceptional views over Chicago and some unexpected treats. We glimpse a kestrel swooping on the thermals and a few vertigo-defying spiders too. Don’t miss the chance to step onto the Ledge, a glass balcony that juts out from the 103rd floor of the tower (1,353 feet up!) – the perfect opportunity to snap your next profile pick/author photo/ album cover. Buy your tickets.

Above Michigan Avenue, 360 Chicago is accessible from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Centre, overlooking the city and Lake Michigan. You also have the chance to test your nerves with thrill ride Tilt, try Sky Yoga, get into photography, challenge your artistic side, or simply enjoy happy hour at the bar up in the clouds. Get your ticket here.

Pancakes for breakfast. Photo by Judy Darley4 Eat

The people of Chicago are ravenous. Hungry for better views (how else do you explain all the skyscrapers?), bigger lives, and most of all for food. There are several dishes you have to try here: deep pan pizza, best served against a backdrop of TV screens each showing a different sport; burgers and fries; pasta; cheesecake; ice cream…

There are tricks to getting the most out of these dining experiences without losing your mind and gaining a ton of weight. 1) be ready to answer questions about the types of bread, side orders, salad dressings and cooking methods you want (fried eggs just won’t do, you need to know whether you want them over easy, sunny side up or whatever). 2) Request a box and save half of your breakfast/lunch/dinner to eat the next day. 3) Share your dessert with your beloved. It will be ever so romantic and ensure you can get amble afterwards without waddling too badly.

And if you decide to opt for something a bit classier, you could do a lot worse than Café Robey. Read my review of Café Robey.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

5 Mingle with art stars

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV, I found myself floating on an excess of wonder. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu. Read my full write up of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Kalamazoo Public Library.Photo by Judy Darley

6 Hop on a train!

Have an adventure and take an Amtrak train journey to one of the quirky towns that sit outside the major cities. Kalamazoo is just over a couple of hours from downtown Chicago, yet lies in a different state (Michigan) and timezone. Trains run here infrequently, so we got up early, and saw dawn break over the Chicago towers during our stroll to the elegant Union Station.

Our train passed through industrial areas and by sparsely populated woodlands before reaching this small township of cute shops, breweries and one of the most attractively housed public libraries I’ve seen. Intriguingly, the town was once renowned for its celery crops, but don’t let that put you off. We pass the time in coffee shops, admired unexpected sculptures, and visit the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Sadly, there is no longer a zoo in Kalamazoo – it closed its doors in ’74. Hmm, that sounds like the start of a Dr Seuss story…

Lincoln Park Zoo Harbour Seal. Photo by Judy Darley

7 Explore Lincoln Park Zoo

A good zoo done well with plenty of imagination and an emphasis on conservation is a wonderful thing, and Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the world’s finest. Even better, it’s free to visitors, providing families and passerbys with the opportunity to glimpse wonderful animals and learn about the natural world both within and beyond America’s shores.

We watched grey seals cavort with harbour seals, spotted a pygmy hippo being groomed by fish, saw black and white colobus monkeys playing, met an aardvark and glimpsed a slow loris, among so many other species I couldn’t possibly list them all. Plus, beyond the confined areas a chipmunk darts by, turtles sunbathe with ducks, and a hummingbird dances in mid-air for its supper. There are some exquisite sculptures too.

Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk. Photo by Judy Darley

Outside the confines of the zoo, but in this case considered part of its realm, you’ll find the Nature Boardwalk, which teems with wildlife and offers a tranquil spot within sight of the city. Find out more.

8 Sample the neighbourhoods

Old Town. Photo by Judy DarleyChicago is made up of an assortment of different districts, or neighbourhoods, each with boasting its own distinct personality. While Downtown is where you’ll find the major highlights such as Millennium Park, even this area boasts an assortment of areas, including Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile and the Loop.

Check out Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) at transitchicago.com to discover the treasures awaiting you in the other areas, from Andersonville to Old Town.

Picasso Baboon Daley Plaza. Photo by Judy Darley

9 Search for public art

As treasure hunts go, this is one with endless riches. Sculptures pose on Chicago’s street corners, in plazas and outside edifices. The Chicago Picasso is one of the more notable – untitled it stands 50 feet tall in the Daley Plaza, a monumental artwork that doubles up as a kids’ slide.

Gentlemen by Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming. Photo by James Hainsworth

On the AMA Plaza beside the river, look out for Gentlemen, a series of statues by Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming resembling quirky businessmen complete with umbrellas.

The Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa. Photo by Judy Darley

In Millennium Park, the Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa comprises two 50-foot blocks that stand adjacent to one another, each made up of screens that present a vast visage of a Chicago citizen. The faces blink, smile and occasionally purse their lips so that spouts of water emerge. It’s especially appealing on hot summer days.

ake Michigan beach.Photo by Judy Darley

10 Be amazed by Lake Michigan

This shining pool is so vast that the far side is beyond the horizon’s edge. One of the five Great Lakes of North America, it’s unique in being set entirely within the United States. I’ve heard that in winter, it freezes over. In summer it attracts swimmers, kayakers and sand castle builders. Cyclists and runners pelt up and down the shore, while fish dart in the depths. A short train-ride away, more rural areas appeal to day-trippers, but within the city, the beauty of the water framed by gleaming skyscrapers is undeniable.

Discover more about Chicago at www.choosechicago.com.

Save money on some of Chicago’s top attractions with the Chicago CityPASS.

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Starstruck by art

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV (below), I found myself floating on an excess of wonder.

Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O'Keefe

Stairways and soaring corridors led us to the Contemporary Wing, housing an impressive assortment of notable works. Frankly, it was like attending a party attended by an eccentric assortment of heroes. Meeting creations by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Charles Ray, and Damien Hirst made me feel a little starstruck: wide eyed and at a loss for words! I also had a the pleasure of encountering some artists for the first time, including Katharina Frisch, whose ‘Woman With Dog’ brought to mind happy hours scouring coastal rock pools as a child.

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Downstairs I found myself drawn to the implied magic of the miniature rooms conceived by Mrs James Ward Thorne and created, under her guidance, by master craftsmen between 1932 and 1940.

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Each represents a home from a particular time and location, with details down to the carpets and knick-knacks summoning up an impression of the lives that might have been lived there. It’s entrancing for any lover of art, architecture, history or humanity.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elsewhere, the halls of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic art instilled us with a sense of tranquillity, while the Architecture and Design exhibits inspired is with its grace and practicality.

We were also fortunate to visit when the John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age exhibition was on, and to walk among excellent work not only by the artist himself, but by his contemporaries, including Claude Monet.

The scale of these galleries makes it unlikely you’ll be able to see every exhibit in a single visit. My advice is to select a few galleries and do them justice. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu.

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Got an inspiring venue, event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Beautifully balanced Chicago flavours

Cafe Robey Gnocchi

Set on the corner where North, Damen and Milwaukee Avenues meet in Chicago’s Wicker Park Bucktown neighborhood, Café Robey is just one ingredient of the immense art deco tower that also houses the hotel of the same name.

The wait staff are as attentive as America has taught us to expect, with a soupçon of elegance layered on top. Our water glasses never fall more than a half inch below brimful, and Mr J is called Sir so often he has trouble holding onto his composure.

Cafe Robey Ford Model cocktail

I start with the Ford’s Model cocktail, a reference to the Chicago Assembly, Ford Motor Company’s longest running manufacturing plant. It may not sound like the most mouthwatering premise, but the cocktail itself, with Hibiscus Ford’s Gin, Chareau, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, cucumber and 11th Orchard Pine Bitters, is as refreshing as stepping into an air-conditioned store after a stroll down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, aka North Michigan Avenue.

Mr J opts for a beer, taking advantage of America’s flourishing microbreweries. We find ourselves discussing the beauty of the glassware between sips and feeling just a touch Great Gatsby.

The menu is pleasingly simple, with each dish sporting a single word description to whet your appetite: Gnocchi, Scallop, Pork, Duck…

Mr J starts with the Pork Belly, a treasury of braised pork belly, almond mole, charred pineapple gel (gel proves to be a key a feature on this menu), corn fritters, spiced cabbage and pickled radishes. He describes it as “tenderly glazed”, and “perfectly balanced.”

Cafe Robey Prawn

I opt for the head-on prawn with fried green tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, Acqua Pazza, Three Sisters’ Grits and fresh basil. The grits are crisp, the prawns deliciously meaty and the Acqua Pazza (yes, I had to Google that) delightfully light, but unexpectedly, it’s the heirloom tomatoes that steal the show, with a delicate juicy flavour that sweetly asserts their fruit status.

Mr J chooses the gnocchi as his main, and raves about their crunchy exteriors and soft, moist centres.

Cafe Robey Duck

I can’t resist ordering the lavender-cured duck breast, accompanied by duck consommé, faro (a whole grain) fava bean succotash and kumquat marmalade. The whole dish taste wonderfully nutritious, the antithesis to the burgers and deep pan pizzas more commonly associated with Chicago cuisine. The duck is utterly luscious, while the succotash and faro add just the right amount of bite.

Cafe Robey Honeycake

For dessert I’m all about the toasted cardamom honey cake, served in glistening wedges with moreishly rich pistachio custard, raspberry gel, zingy raspberries and thyme and lavender salt. It’s a texture and taste bonanza; my mouth has rarely been happier.

At the end of our meal, we’re each brought a shot of milk and a cookie. Glancing around, I spot diners across the restaurant cosying up with their own cookies and milk. It’s an unlikely touch of comfort at such a chic establishment, but one received with as much appreciation as the finest gastronomic mouthfuls on this indulgent and imaginative menu.

Find Café Robey at 1616 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL, USA,
872 315 3084 https://www.caferobey.com.

Got an inspiring venue, event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Blenheim Festival of Literature, Film and Music

Blenheim PalaceTaking place mainly in the grand surroundings of Blenheim Palace and nearby Woodstock, Oxfordshire, from  11th-14th October 2018, Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film and Music offers up an eclectic mix of notable talents.

Authors and speakers to look forward to include novelist Esi Edugyan, entrepreneur Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, biographer Judith Mackrell, and noted jumper-wearer Giles Brandreth.

The exquisite setting is as much a part of the attraction as the famous names. Enter The Orangery to see actors Caroline Langrishe and Adrian Lukis perform some of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters, while vocalists and musicians, including harpist Camilla Pay and soprano Rosie Lomas, bring the era to life.

Step into The Indian Room at Blenheim Palace with curator Nino Strachey for an insight into the Bloomsbury Group homes of Virginia Woolf, of her lover Vita Sackville-West, and of Vita’s cousin Eddy Sackville-West, and how their design choices “reflected changing social and moral attitudes towards sexuality and gender in the 1920s and 30s.”

And encounter weird and scandalous flora-behaviour with Author, artist and botanist Dr Chris Thorogood in The Malborough Room.

Those are just a few of the options on offer. It may only be four days, but they’re set to be jam-packed with inspiration, opinions, intrigue and entertainment.

Visit blenheimpalaceliteraryfestival.com for full details.

Find out more about Oxfordshire, including places to stay, at www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com.

Ride the art in Vilnius

Painting Routers art initiativeHave you ever taken a journey on a piece of art? Now you can take an epic ride on one of Vilnius’ trolleybuses covered in contemporary art. Running for the second consecutive year, the Painting Routers art initiative has transformed five trolleybuses into Vilnius, Lithuania, into canvases painted on by five teams of well-known young artists from Lithuania and Estonia.

“The novelty of using public transport as art lies in the subjectivity of painting and its corporeal and incorporeal duality rather than  in the trolley’s medium as something new and unexpected,” explains the project’s coordinator Darius Jarusevicius. “The aim of Painting Routers is to question the stable  identity of painting and the sustainability of its corporeal actualisation, and to highlight the nomadic nature of art.”

The idea of Painting Routers sprang from art duo Polyrabbit.Duplicate (Inna Shilina and Darius Jaruševičius). “Our painterly practice is based on duplication and the repetition of our own paintings on different mediums: animation, digital  appearance, corporeal surfaces with very different densities and situations of exposition,” says Darius. “It was a dream of the Polyrabbit.Duplicate duo to find means of creating visual art in non-static public spaces. When we hit on the trolleybuses was the answer, it became clear that it would be good not only for our own painterly practice, but for contemporary painting in general, so we invited more artists to join in.”

Painting Routers art initiative

Artists involved in the project for 2018 include Goda Lukaitė, Donata Minderytė, Monika Plentauskaitė, Alexei Gordin, Kazimieras Brazdžiūnas, Vita Opolskytė, Kristina Ališauskaitė, Rosanda Sorakaitė, Kristi Kongi, and Rosanda Sorakaitė.

This year’s Painting Routers initiative aims to encourage dialogue on the #metoo movement, femininity, sensations, and sexuality. “A real-life social media wall will revert back to digital when people share their experiences of the Painting Router works, creating a cycle,” says Darius. “Taken out of the galleries, the art becomes accessible to everyone.”

The trolleybuses will be riding  the streets of Vilnius until October 2018, offering plenty of time to spot all five works and ride each one as the mood takes you!

More information about the project and about tourism in Vilnius visit www.vilnius-tourism.lt/en.

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