click to enlarge Short trips for mid-summer
Photo by Brent Bohlen
South African artist Daniel Popper's "UMI" concrete and steel sculpture is set among the trees at Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

If your social media feed makes it seems as if everyone but you is on an exotic vacation, don't despair. Nearby destinations can bring you a touch of other countries without the cost and hassle.

How about marveling at Michelangelo's artwork just 40 miles from Springfield? Checking out a magnificent basilica that puts some in Europe to shame down the road in St. Louis? Or heading to the southwestern Chicago suburbs to walk among colorful sculptures straight out of Mexico? Pack up your friends and family and hit the road for these adventures and more.

Decatur

Decatur may seem an unlikely spot to view life-size replicas of the Sistine Chapel, but the Decatur Civic Center is hosting "Michelangelo – A Different View" from July 8 to Aug. 7. The traveling exhibit features four sections with Genesis and its nine pictures as the exhibit's heart, according to the center's marketing director, Sarah Butts.

"This exhibit has been traveling in larger cities and we decided we wanted to do something different this summer, when our arena isn't used much," she says. "It is breathtaking and when you are walking through, you feel like you are at the Vatican," which has given the exhibit its stamp of approval.

In addition to the Genesis part, visitors can view sections of heroic tales, prophets and the Last Judgment, and listen to narration through their smartphones (bring your own ear buds). The center also will provide a written guide.

Butts says the center expects thousands of visitors. The exhibit will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Admission is $16 for adults for all days except Saturday and Sunday when it is $17. Children 6-14 are $10 any day.

While you are in Decatur, you also can visit Scovill Zoo and the Children's Museum of Illinois. Scovill has an ice cream safari scheduled for July 17 and offers free admission on Thursdays during July and August. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The children's museum is closed Monday but open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4:30 Sunday.

For a pleasant evening on a hillside overlooking Lake Decatur, head to the Devon Amphitheatre in Nelson Park and enjoy concerts with a variety of music, free movie nights or free moonlight yoga at the 3,200-seat open air venue.

click to enlarge Short trips for mid-summer
Photo by Gordon Radford courtesy of Explore STL
Thousands of mosaics cover the walls and ceiling of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, rivaling the grandeur of many European cathedrals.

St. Louis

The Cathedral Basilica of St Louis, west of downtown, rivals any your Europe-traveling friends may see, with one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world. The grand, three-domed building features mosaics covering almost every inch of walls and ceiling, some 83,000 square feet.

The Byzantine glass mosaics in dazzling colors and the Italian marble mosaics with intricate designs offer scenes from the Bible and St. Louis Catholic history. In the small basement museum you can learn how the building was constructed and how the cathedral became a basilica after Pope John Paul II visited.

The basilica is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. with mass at 7 a.m., 8 a.m. and 12:05 p.m. Visitors are asked not to walk around during masses and should remember to give their necks a break from gazing up at the awe-inspiring scenes. Entrance is free but the museum asks for a $2 donation.

If you visit on a Wednesday through early August, stick around for the Whitaker Jazz Festival at 8 p.m. at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Catherine Neville of Explore St. Louis says the festival is a free family event with many attendees bringing blankets and picnics. The main MOBOT entrance is closed for renovation but signs will direct you to alternate entrances.

The Tennessee Williams Festival of St. Louis is on tap for Aug. 18-28 at Grand Center and the St. Louis Hill with the theme of "Tennessee Williams and Italy." It will include plays, films, tributes, panels, bocce and a walking tour of the historically Italian Hill.

A stop reminiscent of open-air European markets is Soulard, south of downtown in a historically French neighborhood. Begun in 1779, Soulard is one of the oldest farmers markets in the United States and offers produce, meat, baked goods, spices, flowers and concessions. Soulard operates Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Neville notes that "every weekend it is buzzing with people."

Families also might want to take in the St. Louis Aquarium and giant Ferris wheel at Union Station. "If you are coming to St. Louis, those are two fantastic places," Neville says.

click to enlarge Short trips for mid-summer
Photo by George Denniston courtesy of Explore STL
Soulard Market, just south of downtown St. Louis, is one of the oldest farmers markets in the United States.

Southwestern Chicago suburbs

The Mexican Cultural Center of DuPage is partnering with other local entities to bring "Alebrijes: Creatures of a Dream World" to Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Created by six artists from Mexico, the exhibit features 48 brightly colored sculptures scattered throughout the park's plantings and fountains.

Such sculptures as "Avellano," of a two-headed dog, and "Malucan," with its toucan-like beak, will delight both adults and children. The exhibit of 18 monumental alebrijes and 30 smaller ones runs through October. Parking is $5 but otherwise, admission is free.

Cantigny Park also houses the Army's First Division Museum and several tanks sit among tall trees. The Robert R. McCormick House, home to the park's founder and longtime Chicago Tribune publisher, is closed for renovations.

Eight miles away in Lisle, you can view more larger-than-life sculptures at the Morton Arboretum. "Human+Nature" by South African artist Daniel Popper includes eight of his largest installations to date.

Scattered among the arboretum's signature mature trees, the sculptures stand 15 to 26 feet tall; consist of concrete, wood, fiberglass and steel; and weigh several metric tons. "Hallow," a woman's head and chest, greets visitors near the park's entrance while "Heartwood" is a bisected face aiming to connect humans and trees.

The sculptures are accessible from walking trails or nearby parking lots. The arboretum opens at 7 a.m. and closes at sunset every day. Reserved entry tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $11 for children 2-17. Wednesdays offer discounts for all age groups.

Once your globe-trotting friends check out your photos, they may copy you in exploring these nearby gems.

For more information, go to decaturciviccenter.org, decaturcvb.com, devonamphitheatre.com, cathedralstl.org, explorestlouis.com, cantignypark.org and mortonarb.org.

Mary Bohlen, a Springfield travel writer, has visited four continents but during the pandemic has found delights close to home.

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  • Glow Yoga

    @ Grant Conservatory of Music and Dance

    Tue., Aug. 9, 5:30-6:30 p.m.