Illinois Holocaust Museum draws you into history

Update: This article just won an award for Midwest Destinations Travel Writing by the Midwest Travel Journalists Association. 

If a building can have a personality, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is pensive.


Housed in a curious industrial building off the highway in Skokie, the 6-year-old museum stands in contrast to the surrounding area. It is the third-largest Holocaust museum in the world, and is owned by a nonprofit started by Skokie-resident Jewish Holocaust survivors.

There’s a quiet heaviness as you walk through the entrance, and the busyness of life outside the doors seems somehow paltry.

“The mystery of this place is in the details,” said Jerry Lidsky, museum docent. “If you tune into this place, it begins to speak to you.”

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5 sights in Phnom Penh

The most beautiful time of day in the hot, chaotic capital of Cambodia is just after 7 a.m. Phnom Penh rewards the early riser with the last smoky remnants of incense, placed in spirit altars by mothers just before sunrise. It wafts along side streets in half-stride, as restaurant owners sweep away the night’s dust and trash and tuk-tuk drivers lounge in their vehicles.

The best way to see it is by bicycle, weaving in and out of the tumultuous traffic. It’s a head rush.


By 9 a.m., the city is in full motion: See orange-robed monks sitting side-saddle on motos, tuk-tuks swerving around women pushing rattling coffee carts, children pedaling bikes in school uniforms and mothers supporting toddlers between their knees as they moto to the markets.


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5 reasons to rethink Detroit


It’s a city that has been a little off the nation’s radar for years — except for possibly negative headlines. It’d certainly be off the average vacationer’s radar.


But Detroit has a lot more to offer than just Motown and a car museum (although those are must-sees as well!).

It’s obvious from the second you reach the city that change and positive energy are at work. Its city neighborhoods of Greektown and Midtown are bursting with fun bookstores, unique brewery-meets-dairy-meets-restaurants, throwback record stores and a late-night bakery.

An easy five-hour drive away, it’s time to rethink Detroit as your next travel destination for its arts, history, vibrancy and spirit.

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Yoga boarding and the Bard

It was a hot, breezy afternoon that I found myself right on Lake Michigan at a Standup Paddleboard Yoga (SUPYoga) class. SUPYoga is sweeping the country as one of the newest fitness crazes, which involves practicing yoga on a 10- to 12-foot-long board on the water: the ocean, a lake or even a slow-moving river.

For those not familiar with paddleboarding, it’s a water sport that started in 1940s Hawaii, although navigating through water standing with a paddle can be traced back as long as man.


It was a warm, windy day when I arrived at Montrose Beach for the class. It’s a popular beach fenced by skyscrapers. The class started with a short tutorial on the sand with instructor Mary Lou Cerami. Only one in our class (not me) had ever paddleboarded before, so she demonstrated the correct way to paddle, turn, get on our boards and stand.

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Discover the tastes of traveling

Growing up in the South American capital of Quito, Ecuador, some of my favorite foods were discovered in the little restaurants next to my high school, along city parks or next to the beach.

Inexpensive, hot, delicious — South American food is a reflection of the culture that makes it. And that’s one of the best parts about traveling to new locations with unfamiliar cuisines. You can discover so much about the people of a place by their use of pepper, paprika or paneer masala.


Ecuadorian food is cooked slow, with love, and best eaten with family or friends. (Which is why these recipes make a lot — expect leftovers.) It may take all day, but the end result is well worth it.

Influenced by the large indigenous population of the country, Ecuadorian food is a lot of rice, beans, potatoes and yucca (a root similar to a potato) — plus fresh fruit and vegetables. Tomatoes and onions are incorporated into almost every meal, and it’s not dinner unless there’s a soup course first.

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Cambodia is calling

Facebook reminded me today that six years ago I took my first international trip by myself. I was 17, my family was living in Ecuador and I was coming to visit a college in the Chicago suburb of Bourbonnais.

It was a mild winter, but the snow on the ground was the first I had seen in five years. I think I slept in the winter coat I borrowed for the trip. Somehow, even with that experience, I still decided this was a good place to go to school and eventually stay.

After five years of living in “Chi-beria,” I’ve adapted to negative wind chills, multiple feet of snow and the sun setting at 4:30 p.m. from November to February.

And just about the time I’ve adapted (this winter I only used my winter coat a few days), I’m embarking on another solo international adventure: This time, I’m flying across the Pacific Ocean to the small Southeast Asian country of Cambodia.

Come Saturday about 1 a.m., I’ll be crossing the International Date Line. That’s 5 p.m., the day before, for us Chicago-landers. It’s a 22-hour total trip; the first flight is 14 hours long and the eighth-longest flight you can get out of O’Hare, according to

Which has me reflecting on how important it is to intentionally explore new places, cultures and ways of thinking.

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Crepes, cookbooks and a movie

A recent trek through the streets of Lincoln Park yielded the discovery of La Creperie — a French hole-in-the-wall staple in that neighborhood.

It’s located in an area bursting with eclectic bars and restaurants. Still, there’s a certain magic to La Creperie. There’s a deep sense of nostalgia and culture permeating from the very walls, covered in French posters from baseboard to ceiling. The floor of the long, narrow space is original wood from when the building was a farmhouse.


And it’s crowded, but in the best, homey way. The co-owner and founder, Germain Roignant, is originally from France — and the place has all the romanticism of the country. In a low-lit corner, a couple has their first date. Around a family-style circle table, parents and their children converse in French. Waiters weave in and out of the cafe tables, greeting the regulars.

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Born with the wanderlust gene, she’ll show you Chicago

I took my first international flight at 10 years old. My family flew from St. Louis to Newark to Miami to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, two small tropical islands but one nation, off the coast of Venezuela.

Twelve hours, an inspection by drug dogs in Miami, a semi-militant immigration line and 80 degrees warmer later, we arrived at our destination. I still remember standing outside the airport, sitting on my suitcase while we waited for our ride.

I couldn’t take my eyes off anything.


Now, more than 20,000 miles and six countries — all before the age of 23 — that awe at discovering something new has turned into an insatiable desire to go.

I’ve bussed through South America, and repelled off cliffs and scuba dived off the coast of the Pacific Ocean. I’ve criss-crossed the U.S. on road trips, from Massachusetts to Texas to Georgia to Colorado, the highlight of Kansas being a prairie dog museum. In 2012, I was on one of the first mission teams into Cuba after Raul Castro began allowing Americans back in the country.

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