The Wind Blew Us Into Chicago

June 8th, 2010

Two silly kids

The wonderful thing about my husband’s job, is that our family is blessed with tagging along on a few of his business trips throughout the year. In 2009, we went to NYC (I went 2x), and Boston. This year, it is Chicago and San Francisco.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Chicago. Sure it is big and populated, but what about the feel of the place? Will it have the charm that NYC has? Will I see street venders? Will I hear countless languages spoken on the street? Will the museums blow my socks off? Will the food be worthy of mention?

Our family started our week off with a 6am flight (*groan*) on Tuesday. My husband had to be at the Chicago office by noon. The flight was uneventful, thankfully. I’m not a fan of flying. Yes, yes, yes. I KNOW it is the safest way to travel, yadda yadda yadda. All that scientific data doesn’t convince my irrational fears. If I only had the ability to nod my head like Samantha from Bewitched….*sigh*

Our ride from the airport was around 45 min. on the “L” train. I just want to interject that the NYC subway system is MUCH SMOOTHER than the Chicago “L”. I felt that my fillings were rattling out of my head on the Chicago train. Do they purposely make the train car rattle so you can’t sleep through your stop? Sounds like a Transportation Dept. conspiracy to me. Next, they will have electrified seats to keep us awake!

We were staying at the Hilton near the Chicago “Loop”. The hotel is magnificent for temporary lodging standards. It had a grand entrance, revolving doors, FedEx, Starbucks, ballroom, and an amazing gym/pool. Their Diamond Status (those that spend way too much time using guest towels and complimentary soaps) dining area was a bit drab. You get really tired of bagels after eating them daily for a week. Of course, I’m comparing it to the Tokyo Hilton. Sorry Hilton, Tokyo rules. Might I suggest that you offer that same service to ALL of your locations? Thank you for your cooperation.

The Loop is the area of Chicago that you see on the brochures and commercials. HUGE skyscrapers. Businessmen/women with their laptop bags. Hustle and bustle and the “L” train, oh my! It is also speckled with museums. Our son and I had 3.5 days to peruse the various museums, take lots of photos, learn lots of facts, and make my feet ache beyond words.

Just a FYI for those going to big cities & doing LOTS of sightseeing: GET THE CITY PASS. Period. You will save a TON of money, and be able to cut right to the front of the museum/attraction lines. The Chicago City Pass was $69/person. That may sound like a lot to fork out all at once, but think about this: Most museums/attractions start around $25 for admission. The City Pass usually lasts 7-9 days. If you want to see just 3 attractions, your pass is paid for and then some. Trust me. Get the pass.

Where's the Butter?

As Tuesday was already half over, our son & I decided to walk around the Loop and sightsee. This area of town is what you would expect in a typical business/touristy area. Streets are lined with: Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, copy shops, trinket shops, upscale clothing stores, and bustling restaurants. The highlight for me was walking into Dick Blick. If you aren’t an artist, you probably have never heard of them. They are an artists Toys ‘R’ Us. The Chicago store is two stories of creative bliss. The lower level has blank canvases, and paper craft supplies. Have you ever walked into a store and thought: “Oh Yeah! I could get into some serious financial trouble in here!”? That was EXACTLY how I felt. I shuffled along the lower level while our son went up the escalator to the 2nd floor. He quickly texted me saying: “Get up here, NOW!” I have a confession to make. When I got to the 2nd floor, I had tears in my eyes. THIS was my store. I was surrounded by my friends: Prismacolor, Staedtler, Koh-i-Noor, Faber-Castell, Caran D’Ache, Winsor & Newton, Holbein, Canson, Strathmore, Arches, Liquitex, Daler-Rowney, and Da Vinci. Hello, old friends. I would love to take you all home, but my husband would kill me. I can’t believe that I got out of there for under $30. Michaels & Hobby Lobby stores can’t hold a candle to Dick Blick. Thank goodness for mail order catalogs.

That first night, my husband treated us to traditional Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s. The difference between NYC pizza vs. Chicago is the SAUCE PLACEMENT. Your typical pizza chain usually offers NYC style with the sauce UNDER the toppings. Chicago pizza has the sauce OVER the toppings. Chicago pizzas are called pies for a reason. They take about 45 minutes to cook because they are literally dough/cheese/meat pies. The thick crust is crunchy, and the inside is ooey-gooey, burn the hell out of your tongue goodness. Once you cut off a slice, the rest of the pie does a landslide in that direction. Although NYC wins my heart over, Chicago pies are a close runner up.

The following day was the beginning of our whirlwind museum tour. Our first stop was the Shedd Aquarium. Did I mention that Chicago schools are approaching the end of their school year? Did I mention that EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL IN CHICAGO was going to local museums this week? I didn’t? Let me just say, I like kids. I really do, for the most part. I had a daycare with 8 boys for 3 years. I am a mother, and an aunt. With that said, WHY do some children have to act like orangutans and scream in public places? Manners, children. Use them! Other than the rambuctious school kids, and the shark exhibit being closed, the Shedd Aquarium was a joy. I could name about 90% of the tropical fish (20yrs. of fish tank experience here). They had a large interactive area for small children. They had penguins, otters, seals, crustaceans, amphibians, deep ocean creatures (did you know that there is an animal in the ocean that looks like a giant Rollie Pollie?), and TONS of fish. We stayed until lunch, and then went to our next destination: Adler Planetarium

Nice View!

Many people are space dreamers. They secretly wish that NASA would call them for a job interview. They know a ton a trivia about space, stars, planets, black holes, and the Big Bang. I look at our galaxy and beyond and think: “God sure knows how to make some dazzling stuff”. My little brain can’t grasp the expanse of space. I’d like to think that our Creator made other populated planets. Maybe my son or grandchildren will meet them one day. All I know is that each time I see a new photo from space, I marvel at the greatness of it all. Our son and I feel the same way about space. We went into the Adler Planetarium optimistic and hoping to learn something new. We were sadly disappointed. This museum is quite small. It felt like we were walking through a 3-D encyclopedia. There were facts plastered on walls, but very little “hands-on” for visitors. Our admission allowed us to see Journey to the Stars in their theater. I must confess, I fell asleep. Truly. Maybe it was Whoopi Goldberg’s voice. Maybe it was the boring atmosphere. I wasn’t impressed. The highlight to our Adler visit was the ball-vortex demonstration, and the front door guard asking us about our visit. You know it is bad when the size of the gift shop makes more of an impact than the displays.

That night, my husband’s company allowed our son and I to accompany them to a Spanish Tapas meal. For those that have never had this type of meal, I can describe it as a spanish dim sum on steroids. We had: octopus, veal, salmon, chorizo, potato/egg casserole, bruschetta, different cheese, and tiramisu. It was a wonderful, stomach-bursting meal. The waitress filled my glass with sangria THREE times. Let’s just say that I was glad to be able to walk off some of the meal/alcohol on the way back to our hotel.

Our third day in Chicago started off at the Museum of Science and Industry. We hopped on a local bus and arrived just before opening. My husband’s co-worker mentioned that it wasn’t an impressive museum. The reviews online suggested differently. I am happy to report that it was a WONDERFUL experience. FYI: Plan ALL DAY here, and bring a sack lunch. A meager lunch for the two of us was close to $20. There is a little something for everyone at this museum. Highlights for us were the retired: train, U-boat, airliner, and several war planes. Their two-story weather exhibit is fascinating and quite impressive. The miniature Chicago downtown with model trains running through it was a delight. The Human Body area was a fountain of information. The IMAX movie “Hubble” was stellar (no pun intended). The only disappointments were the Chemistry area, and simulated Coal Mine exhibit (the line never moved, so we left without seeing it). This museum was very “hands-on” and family friendly. There was something for everyone. We really enjoyed it.

Walking on Air. Sort of.

After my husband got out of class, we headed to the Willis (I still think of it as the Sears) Tower. Our City Pass allowed us to get to the 103 floor. I wasn’t planning to go up with the guys for two reasons: (1) I’d been to the Empire State Building & they hadn’t, and (2) I’m afraid of heights. My husband firmly encouraged (which is a nice way of saying he made me do it) me to go up with them. Our timing was perfect as there were very few tourists around. You get a 360 degree view of Chicago. It is quite beautiful, and a great place to take photos for your scrapbook. The highlight for most people are the glass viewing platforms that allow visitors to look through the floor to the street 1,353¬†feet below. I did say most people. Remember that whole heights thing? Ummm…yeah. My guys loved going out on the boxes (there are 4 of them) to look below. I did put on a brave face and backed up just enough to have my picture taken in one of them. No. I did not look down. Yes, I am proud of myself for doing it.

For our last day in Chicago, my son and I went to the Field Museum of Natural History. This museum is HUGE. The only downside to the museum being so large, is that many of the exhibits are spread out. It may look big, but there aren’t that many exhibits in it. We were fascinated with the: rocks & minerals, the fully-intact T-Rex skeleton named Sue, Earth Sciences, animals from around the world, and the Underground Adventure (you walk through an exhibit where you are smaller than ground creatures). The Egyptian exhibit was nice, but we had seen the King Tut travelling show in 2009 and this just felt wanting. We got through the museum in 3 hours. We didn’t see everything, but quite a bit of it felt familiar so we didn’t go through those exhibits.

We met up with my husband just after lunch. We had seven hours to kill before heading back to Texas. As the Federal Reserve of Chicago was just down the way, we headed that way. It is pretty cool that you can visit a government facility like this. Their visitor area isn’t large, but it is fascinating. They have quite a display of American currency from the past. They have an area where you guess which bills are real, and which are counterfeit. There is a small theater, several displays showing you what $1,000,000 looks like (in $1 bills and $100). I learned that this one facility destroys $23.2 MILLION a day in old bills. Wowwie!! Where does that money go? They let you take a free souvenir baggie full of shredded bills totally $364 with you. Pretty cool souvenir. Thanks, Uncle Sam.

Our last hours were spent visiting the famous “Jelly Bean” Cloud Gate. We also saw the Crown Fountains, and Navy Pier.

SUMMARY OF CHICAGO: I know we only got to see the Loop in Chicago, but it did make an impression on me.

  1. I was happy to see that such a large city had quite a few parks. The ones that we walked through were well-maintained, and lush.
  2. There were quite a few individuals asking for spare change. It seemed to me that there were many more than in NYC. However, I did not see any cardboard houses like you see in NYC.
  3. There were quite a few overweight people in Chicago. Maybe this is the trend of the U.S. People are getting larger. I just happened to notice quite a few obese folks here.
  4. There isn’t as much of a melting pot in Chicago as in NYC. I expected to see more than I did.

I’m glad that we visited Chicago. I can now mark this city off of my list. Thanks Chicago for the pizza, museums, and views. Loved your jelly bean and spitting fountains. Wasn’t thrilled with your planetarium. Adore your art store.