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Hotel Review: 24 Hours at The Robey Chicago

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Hotel Review: 24 Hours at The Robey Chicago

After two days staying and exploring the downtown Loop area of Chicago, we were ready to switch gears to a more neighborhood vibe. We came across The Robey on a whim, just during a quick search online, and were immediately drawn into its modern, minimal design with a touch of art deco details. We loved its location in the Wicker Park neighborhood and the fact that it was a part of the Design Hotels group of properties cinched the deal - we knew it would be the perfect way to spent our last 24 hours in the Windy City. 

Set in a gorgeous Art Deco building from 1929 and converted into a cozy boutique hotel that doesn't feel like it has 89 rooms, every detail from the moment you step through the doors contributed to the feeling that every detail was thoughtfully executed. 

I always love the feeling of an actual key on a keychain vs. a key card.

I always love the feeling of an actual key on a keychain vs. a key card.

The hotel is named after Robey Street – now  Damen Avenue.

The hotel is named after Robey Street – now  Damen Avenue.

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Due to budget, we ended up in one of the smaller room layouts, a little corner nook on the 3rd floor. And yet, we were impressed with the use of space, the carefully selected amenities, and the amount of window light flooding in. Everything in place was exactly what was needed - not too much, not too little...from the carefully constructed nightstand, to the frosted glass separating the bedroom and the bathroom.

We were traveling with our 1 year old son and they even had a crib they wheeled into the space - not an ugly yet functional crib that would have served its purpose just fine- but a beautiful white mini-crib that looked like it had its rightful place in the minimally designed room. I knew then that we'd definitely come back the next time we found ourselves in Chicago - that mix of child-friendly yet visually appealing details is so rare in most accommodations! 

We enjoyed taking our time settling in the room, reading the carefully curated publications displayed on the marble coffee table, and simply luxuriating in the afternoon light pouring through the window after a drive across town earlier that morning.  

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In search of a midday drink and nibble, we moseyed downstairs to check out the bar/cafe on the 2nd floor, which also happens to double as a popular workspace for locals in the know during the day. 

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The next morning before checkout, we headed downstairs and had breakfast at Cafe Robey, conveniently located in the lobby. Its always a nice bonus having a good breakfast option in the hotel that doesn't make you feel like you're missing out on a favorite neighborhood spot. By the time we settled into our food, the place was a nice, slightly buzzy mix of locals and visitors, giving it a feeling of it being a warm neighborhood favorite instead of just a place that locals avoid.

For how design-centric the hotel is, we loved that it was also family-friendly, basically satisfying our travel criteria all in one. It felt casual yet intentional, stylish yet not uptight. If you happen to be there without children, the rooftop bar and pool is highly recommended. The pool was still under construction during our visit (which happened during a wet spring anyway), but I can imagine many glorious summer days spent on the rooftop surrounded by panoramic views of the city along with the bar's handmade cocktails. 

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if you have the time for more Chicago adventures, read on for more design-centric sights in this iconic city.

The Robey Chicago | 2018 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 | (872) 315-3050

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A Visual Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Architecture Studio in Oak Park, Chicago

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A Visual Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Architecture Studio in Oak Park, Chicago

Frank Lloyd Wright is synonymous with iconic American architecture, and thus its impossible for any design aficionado to visit Chicago without a pilgrimage to his home and studio in Oak Park, just outside the city limits.  Although my husband, an architect himself, had been here many times, we went once more so I could see this historic landmark where FLW spent about two decades designing multiple homes in the neighborhood and exploring design elements that lead to the famed Prairie Movement. 

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Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

On our last morning in Chicago, we hopped into our rental car after a hearty breakfast at The Robey Cafe and drove away from the skyscrapers into Oak Park, a quintessential American upscale suburbia with lush green lawns and stately Craftsmans. Just down the block is another Chicago landmark-  Ernest Hemingway's childhood home, another significant sight worth visiting if you have ample time in the area. 

I highly recommend arriving early before the tour and doing a leisurely stroll of the neighborhood, where 25 homes and buildings in this small area were designed by Wright, making it the largest collection of Wright's buildings in the world. Oak Park retains its quiet splendor and its quite enjoyable to wander around, imagining it at the time when two great American icons spent time here. Curbed Chicago has a pretty comprehensive description for the walking tour with brief descriptions of the various homes designed/remodeled by Wright.

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The studio and home is only accessible by guided tour so purchasing timed tickets online before arriving is highly recommended. We milled around the gift shop while waiting for the tour to start and had the luxury of roaming the house with a relatively small group and a very knowledgable guide.

It was pretty incredible walking through the drafting room, seeing where the drawings for so many buildings began as sketches and formed into full fledged buildings still standing today. Wandering inside the home structure and taking in the details and intentional way he continued to expand his vision while committing to using particular architectural elements felt pretty inspiring. All the restored details and prized artifacts blew me away by how timeless they remain. 

Hopefully you'll get a chance to stop by and admire the home as well! 

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FLW was a fan of Japanese prints, many of which were displayed in the studio area.

FLW was a fan of Japanese prints, many of which were displayed in the studio area.

Timeless exterior.

Timeless exterior.

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Picturing all of the life and creativity happening in this beautifully lit space.

Picturing all of the life and creativity happening in this beautifully lit space.

Manicured gardens outside.

Manicured gardens outside.

Memorabilia in the bedroom.

Memorabilia in the bedroom.

Below are a few of my favorite homes in Oak Park with the FLW stamp, all pretty distinctive and yet belong perfectly on the block. 

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Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio | 951 Chicago Ave, Oak Park, IL 60302 | 312.994.4000

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Cruising Along The Irrawaddy River

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Cruising Along The Irrawaddy River

Bagan is a destination that can be experienced through many different modes of transport: from bicycling to horse buggy, ox cart to boats. Each experience provides unique glimpse into the different pieces of this historical haven. While it is an option to take a longer cruise along the Irrawaddy River starting from Yangon or Mandalay on a large vessel that lasts a few days, it is also possible to get a sense of river life from an inexpensive sunset excursion from the jetty near Old Bagan. 

There are two ways of arranging a ride. One is the old-fashioned way: hang out by the Bupaya Pagoda and inevitably you'll be approached one of many boat owners. Conversely, almost any hotel can make arrangements for you as well. (We went that route). Approaching the riverbank, there is a downhill descent to the anchored boats, most of them simple wooden skiffs.

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Besides our skipper, we had the boat to ourselves for about US$20 and hung out at the front as we set sail into the river. The beauty and expanse of the horizon and the faint landscape of mountain peaks in the background are exceedingly stunning. After a while, the roar of the boat's engine became background instrumental music during this visual meditation.

Floating leisurely past the temples on the shore and watching other boats drift by as the sky gradated from blue to orange was a refreshing reminder to take it slow and enjoy experiences for what they are in the present. Once the engine got going, we were pleasantly surprised to look back and see our skipper perched on the roof of the boat, enjoying the sky showing off as much as we were. 

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When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.
— G. Martin

After the sun had sunk below the horizon, it was time to head back. We docked along the riverbank and climbed up to the Bupaya, which dates back to the year 300, according to the sign at the entrance. We lingered among monks and visitors at the top, as the river descended into the night. 

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River cruise down the Irrawaddy

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Reliving The Golden Age Of Myanmar: A 24-Hour Guide to downtown Yangon

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Reliving The Golden Age Of Myanmar: A 24-Hour Guide to downtown Yangon

(Literally and figuratively). The golden light that pours over the temple rooftops of Myanmar is ridiculously cinematic, as well as the gold leaf detailing that adorns so many of the city's historic temples and pagodas. Hues of yellow and gold seem to be a recurring theme as you make your way through Yangon's highlights. 

Whether staying awhile or stopping through on the way to smaller towns, here are a few "pieces of gold" from Yangon that can fit into a day's itinerary. 

First things first. Set your alarm early for a dawn visit to Shwedagon, the country's crown jewel. This illustrious pagoda dominates the city's skyline with a height of 326 feet. Early birds will not only beat the hordes of other visitors but be a part of the transition as the lights that illuminate the temple at night give way to the sun peeking over the pagoda's detailed stupas. 


5:30AM: Shwedagon pagoda

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Built over 2,600 years ago, Shwedagon is the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. While there are certainly many visitors there to visit the magnificent structure, there are just as many locals, schoolchildren, and monks partaking in their daily Buddhist rituals. At every turn, there are stalls selling flowers, incense and other items for offerings if you happen to want to say a little prayer or send some good vibes back home. Upon exiting, it is important to note which of the four entrances you arrived through so that you can retrieve your shoes for the next adventure... 


9AM: Walking tour of Yangon's colonial heritage

Yangon has the highest density of surviving colonial-era structures in Southeast Asia and in order to keep it that way, the Burmese government has created the Yangon City Heritage List which contains many schools, government buildings and temples from the British colonial era that cannot be demolished without approval.

Walking along Strand Road and the lower block of Pansodan Street is almost like stepping back to it's colonial roots is a great way to get up close and personal with Yangon's history. A few buildings of note within blocks of each other: 

  • The Secretariat
  • Yangon City Hall
  • Bogyoke Aung San Museum
  • Yangon Central Railway Station
  • Myanmar Port Authority 

Along the way, stop for some fruit or local treats from a street vendor, or simply observe the pace of life in this historic capital. Pictured directly below- the Immanuel Church.  

Pictured above, the facade of Yangon City Hall, just across from the Sule Pagoda. If all that strolling worked up an appetite, refuel with a tasty lunch.


12PM: Lunch at Monsoon Restaurant

A short distance from the riverfront, just around the corner from recently restored Strand Hotel, is Monsoon Restaurant, one of the first shophouses to be converted for commercial use. While the menu includes dishes from all around Southeast Asia, I opted for mohinga, a hot and sour fish based broth widely considered the national dish of Myanmar. To balance out the flavors, we added a cucumber noodle salad with shrimp on the side. 

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Linger awhile under the wooden ceiling fans, sip your Myanmar beer slowly, (share a snap through wifi if desired) before heading back out for the next stop. 


2pm: Sule Pagoda

Sule Pagoda, which blends right into the heart of the city, can often be unnoticed. It is adjacent to City Hall and Maha Bandoola Park. On this visit, it was nice having a guide who shared details about the pagoda’s history and a few Buddhist beliefs and rituals that were taking place at the Pagoda. 

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Afterwards, head back towards the riverfront to catch the sunset.


4:30PM: Botataung Pagoda & Yangon River

The Botataung Pagoda sits on the bank of the Yangon River. Enter through the ornate golden arch, and if you're "templed-out" for the day, walk straight towards the waterfront, where the Botataung Jetty is still in action. 

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As the day winds down, head down Strand Road for a handmade cocktail at the historic Strand Bar, a beloved stomping ground since the hotel's British heyday.

If preparing for a trip to Myanmar, I recommend applying for visa approval online here first before making any nonrefundable reservations or deposits. 

Feast:

Monsoon Restaurant 85-87 Theinbyu Road, Yangon 

Strand Bar 92 Strand Road, Yangon

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