For this vacation we had an actual agenda, and we followed it quite well. Most of our days in Wisconsin were left open so that we could reunite with family members or head off on spontaneous day trips. Chicago, on the other hand, was a well-planned and, I might add, a well-executed adventure in timing. My husband should be a travel agent.
The plan was to visit five major Chicago attractions in just three days. We managed to get through only four. Part of the trick of timing is to shell out ridiculous amounts of money for meals from museum cafes. A Cuban sandwich is never worth $12, but sometimes convenience is.
Museum of Science & Industry
We left Little Cedar Lake at 8am and headed straight to the Museum of Science & Industry. This really was our first stop, before we’d even checked in at the hotel. It’s a great museum to take kids since it encourages hands-on interaction. This, by the way, is also one of its drawbacks. Chaos aside, all of us managed to find something we enjoyed. Elle almost signed herself up for a dissection class (she’s into forensics and anatomy) but backed out when she learned they would be dissecting a cow’s eyeball (the one body part that makes her squeamish). Matt was excited to tour the U-505, a German u-boat captured by the US Navy in 1944. It has quite the storied history. However, while our CityPASS museum tickets allowed us a free guided tour aboard the U-505, the tours were all completely full by mid-morning. There was never any indication given to us that this could happen, or that we even had to sign up for the tour. Shame on you, museum staff. You disappointed us here, and I’m sure many other folks were disappointed, too. For this reason, we gave the Museum of Science & Industry two fat thumbs down.
After checking into our hotel we had dinner at an Italian restaurant where a strange man, apparently a regular, proceeded to engage us in conversation with a set of plastic eyeballs he used to puppetize his right hand. He was originally from Tulsa, and a retired librarian. And odd. He was very, very odd, but he gave us some great recommendations.
Oh, Field Museum, how fantastic are you!?!?! I could have spent all day, nay ALL WEEK!, in this place. There are dinosaurs (hello, Sue!), minerals and gems, birds from around the world, Egyptian tombs and child mummies, and a Maori hut! Can you believe I actually agreed to pass on the Plants of the World exhibit because we were running out of time? Now I have to go back.
That Maori hut blew my mind. I’d spent so many months last year writing my thesis on the American narrative and our culture of national and personal memory. Part of my thesis compared other cultures’ earliest personal memories based on what parts of the world the children were raised. Yes, I know this rant is a bit off-topic, but it explains why I was so enamored of this structure. Americans and other westerners are from very individual-based cultures and recall first memories from around the age of four. Asian-based cultures, many of which reflect nationalism, avoid individualism which reflects in a person’s first personal memory much later in childhood, usually around the age of six. The Maori tribe of New Zealand maintains a culture that prizes personal family history above all else, and they often recall memories from the age of two. TWO! And here I was standing in a still-used meeting house? Whoa.
Finally, my thesis research can be used to inform someone other than my thesis advisory board! And now back to our regularly scheduled touristing…
The Shedd Aquarium is another favorite of ours! There was a dolphin and beluga show (which a staff member graciously let us see for free), penguins, playful sea lions and river otters, etc. Really, it’s the same thing you see at any aquarium around the country, but this one was near perfection. Again we had lunch in the cafe, with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan. A beluga whale talked to us, and a sea lion was also quite the conversationalist. One of the coolest things was the shark fetus!
Dinner? A Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Gino’s East, delivered to our hotel room because I’m lazy.
Most people know this as the Sears Tower (and some refuse to call it by its new name). Willis Tower’s Skydeck was going to be my biggest challenge, or so I thought. I’d already had to back out of climbing to the top of Oklahoma City’s Skytrail and that’s only 8 stories. The Skydeck is 103 stories. The only way to get there is to be crammed into an elevator with about 30 other people for a 60-second ride to the top. It’s not a quick trip down either, so I knew if I was going to panic that I’d have to do it in a very controlled way. BUT I HAD TO MAKE IT TO THE TOP. PERSONAL CHALLENGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Let’s back up an hour or so to my first ride on Chicago’s L train. I’m a fairly seasoned DC Metro veteran, yet it dawned on me that the Metro is a much smoother ride than the L train. The fastest way from our hotel to Willis Tower was via the subway. That little nagging voice in the back of my head that kept saying Willis Tower Willis Tower Willis Tower clearly had no idea what riding the L train was like. I rode the train out of necessity, but I don’t ever want to do it again.
Willis Tower? No problem. Except I have to touch a wall, or a human being, on the elevator, and it doesn’t matter to me if I know who you are. It might matter to you, but I was lucky enough to ride up and down with a bunch of strangers who didn’t care. Another hint – bring gum, to pop your ears. I felt like I was yelling the whole time because I couldn’t hear anything.
The view is absolutely incredible, though.
By the time we made it down to solid ground again, we were all exhausted. Matt’s plan was for us to hit up the Goose Island Brewery, accessible via another line on the L train. All above-ground, this ride was easier for me to deal with. But after walking block after block from the train station, deeper into an obviously industrial side of town, it was learned that the brewery is simply that – a brewery. No restaurant, no tasting room, nothing.
Remember the crap my family gave me about Ella’s Deli in Madison, Wisconsin? This is where Matt and I called it Even Stevens, pretty much while we were standing in front of a property filled with shipping and storage containers. Notice THERE IS NO RESTAURANT. But there was plenty of whine…we were hangry, and tired, and hot, and hangry (again).
In lieu of the Adler Planetarium, attraction #5, we decided that shopping at Ulta for makeup would put us girls in a better mental state. And it worked. A few hours earlier I had snapped while eating a French dip in the Eleven City Diner, which we’d found after a train ride back into downtown from Goose Island Brewery. There were tears. There were apologies. There were new plans, most of which involved retail therapy and heading back to the hotel to binge on cable television.
I don’t want to rehash the hellish experience that was my $28 pasta takeout from the hotel restaurant that evening, so instead I’ll leave you with more photographs from Chicago. It’s a city I’m happy to have visited, but I’m happier to be home in Oklahoma City.