Free is a Great Price, from Chicago to Cape Town

I added a site to my facebook page  weeks ago, and it pops up a few times a day sticking to its mission: Free Things to Do in Chicago.

I’m not sure that I’m going to mark my calendar to get free Cinnabon cupcakes on Tax Day, but the peeps at chicagofree keep it low key and fresh — Lego stores around town were giving away free mini-duckies over the Easter weekend, there were free beer tastings, a free Wilco flick and who knew that Red Roof Inn is offering a night’s stay in April for a penny?

I’ve been an armchair traveler since kiddyhood. In the days before I could go clickety to see the world, I was the girl who clipped out that tiny form from the corner of travel ads in National Geographic, Gourmet or the New Yorker. I’d fill in my name and address, stick  them in their envelope, slap on a five-cent stamp and wait for those thick, fabulous four-color brochures to hit the mailbox. “Spring Theatre Tours in Swinging London!” “Beautiful Bermuda.” “Paris in the Fall.” “Springtime in Seattle.” Carnevale in Rio, Carnival in Quebec City, Mardi Gras in New Orleans! This was heady stuff for a nine year old, so glamorous, so grown-up, so cool. Along the way I picked up some basic geography and a lifelong lust for travel.

When I was twenty I spent three months wandering Europe on yes, Five Dollars a Day. It’s time to go back. But I’m not grumbling — in the last few years I’ve been to Fort Collins, Ottawa, Quebec CityLos Angeles

Collinsville, IL and the eerie Cahokia Mounds:

Toronto, Atlanta, Rochester NY, New Orleans, Galena…

Not shabby, but I want more, and now I’m prepared. I can find cool free stuff everywhere! Thank you, National Geographic Traveler!

I never knew that in my beloved Montreal I can get free tango lessons and attend a free milonga darn near any day of the year. When I get to Sydney I’m not gonna miss the flying foxes:

“Take in the 74-acre Royal Botanical Gardens—the oldest scientific institution in the country—with a free guided tour (reservations recommended). The gardens feature native and exotic plants, with an emphasis on Aboriginal heritage. Don’t forget to look up once in a while to see the gardens’ most curious residents, the 200,000 giant fruit bats that make the grounds their home. Also known as flying foxes because of their size (they can have a three-foot wingspan), the bats are a fascinating example of Sydney’s mix of wild and urban. Wait until sunset to watch them take off over the harbor.”

Prague? OMG, I can visit the grave of a personal hero and cool guy:

With free admission to the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, tourists can pay a visit to astronomer Tycho Brahe (or his grave, rather). Famed for pioneering a scientific approach to astronomy and for losing part of his nose in a sword fight, the Scandinavian moved to Prague in 1599 and became Imperial Mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II.

And when I — at last — get to Vancouver, can you possibly think I’ll pass this up?

Learn about the Pacific Northwest’s most famous finned residents at theCapilano Salmon Hatchery in Capilano River Regional Park. Visitors can take a free 30-minute self-guided tour of the hatchery, which explains the life cycle of salmon.

I’ll hit every free wine tasting in the vineyards outside Cape Town. First Sundays of the month in Paris will require serious shoe leather: it’s free day at the Louvre, the Orsay, the Centre Pompidou and the Musee Rodin. I’ll buy a new pair before I venture to the free fashion show at the Galleries Lafayette. In Buenos Aires a Sunday will find me here, picking up some tango togs:

“On Sundays, be sure to stop by the colonial-era neighborhood of San Telmo for the antique and handicraft fair of Feria de Plaza Dorrego. The fair attracts 10,000 visitors and features 270 vendor stalls selling books, tango paraphernalia, and much more. Enjoy the festival-like atmosphere provided by mimes, buskers, and tango performers.”

These are plans for the future. Right now I’m checking out FreeChicago’s Red Roof Inn night for a penny deal. Heck, maybe I’ll spend a night in Chicago!



Filed under Born in Chicago, Free, Site of the Day, The Great Outdoors, Travel

4 responses to “Free is a Great Price, from Chicago to Cape Town

  1. The Wanderlust is a-callin’ me, m’Dear!

    I DO love just walking in a strange city, and a goal of the FREE unknown would only add to the charm. I love your travels, and love your recall of them in such evocative prose.

    Of you ever wanna spend some time in Indy, there’s free lodging, food, good times here at casa rrrrrrrrrr.

  2. Kim Shook

    Another armchair traveler here! When I was a little girl, I would send requests to all different embassies for information about their country. I would say that I was doing a school report (I thought I needed an excuse) and what riches I would receive in a couple of weeks. Maps, brochures, invitations to visit the embassy. I could ‘travel’ for weeks with those magical packets!

  3. Kim — you were a much smarter little girl than I was. That is one heckuvan idea. Hmmm, I wonder if I posed as a schoolgirl…

  4. Patty

    No need to pose as a school girl, I still do it today…Chambers of commerce in every city will send brochures galore in hopes of your visiting their fair city. I still can’t bring myself to download information, I write the letter, and await that “personal correspondance” reply. I spend hours pouring over my mail planning that next getaway, be it real or an armchair dream trip.

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