There's time for a tour during a Chicago layover

Travel Q&A


At the end of this month on a trip via United Airlines, we have a four-hour layover -- actually, 3 hours 40 minutes -- in Chicago. Is it possible either to go to downtown Chicago to view its architecture or to see a nearby Frank Lloyd Wright structure? We are scheduled to land at 10: 20 a.m. on a weekday, with our next flight departing at 2.

If you are interested in Wright, it makes sense to head for Oak Park, which is nine miles west of downtown, between O'Hare and the center of Chicago. The architect lived there from 1889 to 1909 and completed a quarter of his life's work there, according to Angela Fitzsimmons, a spokeswoman for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park.

As for the timing, according to Richard Martin, a United spokesman, you need to check in an hour before your second flight. That puts your check-in time at 1 p.m.

If traffic is light, you can make it by taxi to Oak Park in about 25 minutes. (Rush-hour delays can double that.) The fare is $15 to $20. Train service takes longer.

There are guided interior tours of the Wright Home and Studio, 951 Chicago Ave.; (708) 848-1976. Tours last about 45 minutes and begin at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily; admission is $6.

After the house tour, if time allows, you can pick up a map ($2.50) of some 30 Wright designs in Oak Park and nearby River Forest from the book shop at the site. Within the immediate area of about four square blocks, you can see 10 houses Wright designed (the exteriors only, because they are all privately owned). An audiocassette tour, also available from the book shop, lasts 90 minutes, probably more time than you will have, but if you miss the house tour this could be a substitute.

You may also be able to see Wright's concrete Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., Oak Park, (708) 383-8873, which is ordinarily open only from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily; $3 admission on weekdays, $5 on weekends, when there is a guided tour. If you call first you might be able to get in earlier. It is three blocks south of Wright's home.

Be sure the taxi driver understands you want to go to Oak Park, not Oak Brook; the fare should be straight time on the meter, and the driver should take River Road.

If you prefer a look at skyscrapers, you should be able to make it by taxi downtown and back in about 35 minutes each way; the fare is about $25. Rush hour can add 15 minutes or more each way. There is also an elevated train connecting the airport with downtown in about 40 minutes.

The tours of the city offered by the Chicago Architectural Foundation are offered most frequently on weekends and are generally longer than you have time for. You might consider a boat tour; most are 90 minutes, but Shoreline Sightseeing, (312) 222-9328, has 30-minute tours on Lake Michigan, with taped narration, that offer a panorama of the skyline. Through the end ++ of this month, they leave Navy Pier, at the foot of Grand Avenue, hourly from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The cost is $7. The company also plans to operate on weekends in October.

As a regular traveler to Europe, I am wondering when the customs limit of $400 will be increased. I had heard that it would be raised; any truth to the rumor?

Alas, customs officials say there is no proposal in Congress currently to raise the $400-a-person limit on goods that can be brought into the United States duty free from most foreign countries. (The limit is $600 if you are returning from some two dozen countries in the Caribbean basin, and $1,200 if you are coming from American Samoa, Guam or the United States Virgin Islands.)

According to Janice Mosher, a spokeswoman for the Customs (( Service, in addition to the personal exemption you can mail gifts from abroad duty free if the value is $100 or less; the package must be marked "unsolicited gift, value less than $100." You can send any number of gifts, but a recipient cannot get more than one a day.

You can also mail yourself a package if the value does not exceed $200. You need to attach a mail declaration form, available at shops abroad that send purchases overseas or at post offices.

To receive the brochure "Know Before You Go," write United States Customs Service, Box 7407, Washington, D.C. 20044; you can also get the information on the service's Web site, http: //

We would like to rent a home in Sausalito, Calif., from May 15 to Sept. 15 next year. Could you help with a referral?

Sausalito is in Marin County, north of San Francisco, one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the country, so such a house will not come cheap. Figure on $1,500 to $2,000 a month for a small one- or two-bedroom condominium, and up to $5,000 a month for a large four- or five-bedroom house. Here are two brokers who may be able to help:

Lynne Shore, Prudential California Realty, 3 Harbor Drive, Suite 100, Sausalito, Calif. 94965; (415) 331-0300.

Sheila Levine, Pacific Union Residential Brokerage, 60 Belvedere Drive, Mill Valley, Calif. 94941; (415) 383-1900.

If you are willing to consider a houseboat, an agency called San Francisco as You Like It rents furnished one-, two- and three-bedroom "floating homes" (they are stationary) on a short- or long-term basis. Contact the company at Box 735, Sausalito, Calif. 94966; (415) 389-1250; fax (415) 389-9712.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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