MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How to See Chicago in a Few Days

Chicago - Navy Pier, Hancock Building
Just how much of the Second City do you think you can stuff into a 3 1/2 days, and where 2 1/2 of them are filled with work... well, I really tried as see as much as possible.  While I did not see all that I wanted, I made sure to hit some of the main sights, get off the beaten path, see some "must see"s and enjoy a truly wonderful architectural city.

I had a lot on my "to do" list.  I thought I was going to have more time than I did.  And I did not anticipate several features (Art Institute and Shedd Aquarium) to be sooooo big that they, in and of themselves, would require a full day's attention.  It was hard to leave - Chicago deserves more time.  Of course I said that the other time I went, but in all honesty that was just for 2 days (and I do not count airport time as trips).  Really, Chicago seems like a place that I need a week, at least to fully explore.  I already have stuff in my mind about my next trip... but before I get ahead of myself, I want to talk about this one.

So, what did I pack into my few days in the Second City - well, a city walking tour that included Miracle Mile (sadly, or gratefully, with no shopping stops), a trip up Willis (aka Sears) Tower and into the Skybox, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, a waterfront tour, a ghost tour, Millinium Park, the Art Institute, deep dish Pizza, a dinner in Little Italy, and listening to a local musician at the Hard Rock... I can say with a straight face that my feet still hurt.  Maybe walking almost 5 miles in strappy sandals was a bad idea!  Who knew?

Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower)
My meetings were in Willis Tower.  Not too high - only 8th floor.  Still, any entry means that you have to go through security.  I think that the tower might have a tighter lock-down then some federal buildings I have been in.  Impressive.  They were quick and efficient, but definitely thorough.  Since we were all pre-registered, the process seemed easier.  Inside the Tower on the main floors were a few eateries; they came in handy since it rained (poured) the 1st day I was there.  Around the tower, there were plenty of options, but with the elevators and security, your hour gets eaten up fast!  To go up the Tower, there is a completely separate entrance and an informational museum.  Upstairs, all the way up, it was tourist mayhem.  I have been up the Empire State Building more than a few times, as well as a few other giant structures, and this scene took the cake.  The areas around the skyboxes were sheer madness - people pushing to get in, people laying down, planking (or whatever new twitter picture fad is in now), people just generally hogging the few boxes.  I will say it here, and I will say it again throughout my summary of my recent trips - people say that Americans are rude over seas- well they should see the way some of them behave here... I was shocked at the pushing, line cutting and sneaking that went on here - For What?  A picture of you in a clear box.  Yes, I did it... I waited my turn and then some... I took a few pictures and gave my space to the next in line.

Flower Hat Jelly - isn't it pretty?
With the Sears Tower off my list (sorry, Willis Tower does not sound right), I had my heart set on a few musts for myself. Everywhere I go, I love to see the aquarium, and I had heard such amazing things about Shedd.  So my only day off, I packed up and headed for a walk - a long walk to Shedd.  It was literally over the river, and through the park (not woods) and then along the lake to Shedd... I got there about an hour after it opened, and already it was flooding with people.  It was easy to understand why when you get in - there is so much to do.  Again, I love Aquariums!  I love what they can teach, I love that they allow you to touch, to smell, to see, to hear... the water can be so mysterious to so many.  Growing up by the water, I have always retained some of that child-like wonder towards its diversity.  Shedd was spectacular playing to that wonder.  It had so many elements of some of my favorite aquariums - it had an Oceanarium that overlooked the lake, and here they showcased trainings for the Pacific White Sided Dolphins.  Also in the Oceanarium, they had Belugas - some of my favorites of the sea - so pretty and playful - one put on a show playing with a bucket and using it as a hat.  It kept flipping the large black bucket over its head and swimming around with it, until it rode down its back or fell off.  I watched him for 1/2 hour pick it up and wear it like a fedora - it was adorable.  And none of the others tried to take it from him - it was obviously his!  The facility also had Sea Otters and Penguins; again, fan favorites.  I love me some Sea Otter, and these guys were playing for just as much... everyone was looking for attention... even the penguins that were swimming and pruning to the delight of all the children.  Outside of the Oceanarium, Shedd had a special exhibit on Jellies; here you could see the usual suspects - Moon, Nettle, Egg Yoke, Lions Mane; I found a new favorite, with neon accents to its tentacles, the Flower Hat Jelly - just gorgeous!  Another side section of the aquarium held "Wild Reef" which housed the sharks, rays and a teaching area about the importance of coral.  I learned here that Shedd is part of an effort to regrow coral (think species recovery plans that you see in zoos).  It was there for you to see and learn about.... and it was here, in this section, that I had to laugh - all around you, you hear the little boys get all excited because "sharks are their favorite" and "coral is boring, can't we look at the sharks again."  Honestly, coral can be striking and quite amazing, but to a kid, a saw fish or a hammerhead is much cooler!  Finally, the original structure of the aquarium housed the common features you see at most facilities - rows of tanks housing fish, frogs and creepy crawlies.  Like all good aquariums, Shedd had a local water's section; in addition, they had a local invasive section.  Everyone should know about the Carp making their way towards the lake, and here, they educated everyone willing to stop on why that was bad...and they also included displays on Fleas, Zebra Mussels (my, how that invasive has expanded outside the northeast), and sea lampreys - and they still give me the willies (think sea vampires).

What is all that by the light?
With all of that, it should not surprise you that I spent 6+hours in the aquarium.  Awesome and ouch... that definitely meant that I had to reevaluate my wish list.  With tired feet, a hungry stomach and time running short, I hopped a water taxi to Navy Pier... it reminded me of a small boardwalk (without the boards).  No Games, no zeppollies, no actual boards, but it did have rides, a few stores, boat rides and food.  I stopped in the infamous Billy Goat for "cheezburger, no chips" (not really,but it works) and headed off to meet my ghost tour by the Rock and Roll McDonalds.  Thankfully this tour used a bus to get us around; by this point my feet were mad at me (I really liked those shoes and I swear they were flat).  Around we went on the tour, to a mausoleum in a park, the sight of the Valentines Day Massacre, the sight of the boat sinking in the river, and to UC campus... and it was here that I think I captured my best ghost picture yet!  Our guide told us about the hauntings and the vortex and the angry spirits... well, those pink orbs liked me, because I was the only one the tour that was photographed with them... but I was the only one that captured crazy energy... so I will take it!

After that tour, I headed to Hard Rock for food, music, a table to write postcards and some more rest for my feet.... there a young woman, still in high school, strummed her guitar, singing top 40 hits and some of her own stuff she wrote for English class... she was quite good and I had to give her props for not going to American Idol, Voice, America's Got Talent route and really trying to work on her craft - all the luck to her... if I could just remember her name.

The next day I awoke to a mission, I had less than a full day to see Millennium Park and the Art Institute before I left. (I also wanted to do an Arcitecture boat tour, but had to cancel that since there was not enough time).  I headed back out, through downtown and made it to the Park.  Smaller than other city parks that I love, it still has spunk and personality.  I have personally renamed Cloud-gate to the Bean... I know Boston is Bean-town, but really the cloud looks like a bean.  That is not to detract from its awesomeness.  It was a must see, and I encourage everyone to do so.  People congregate there, staring at their forms and the reflection of the city.  There is more to the park then the Bean... there is the stage, the fountains the gardens and the walkway to the Art Institute.  The Institute is so large you can easily get lost in it (and this from someone who navigates the Smithsonian).  I knew I had to go to see "American Gothic" - that iconic farmer picture that is so often spoofed (and I even learned that it was not a husband/wife, but a father/daughter depicted - MY BAD).  I had heard that they had an amazing collection... my your did not do it justice, I focused on what I really wanted to see - contemporary sections, that included Pollacks (a drip and non drip), Hopper's light display in "Nighthawks" and a follower (Mosley) and his club scenes, the Impressionists - rooms of Monet, the infamous Seurat's "Sunday on La Grande Gatte"... I walked through section after section, letting things catch my eye and blowing past other sections that I needed more time for.  It made me sad...

But I had a plane to catch because I couldn't miss the hurricane in DC, I had already missed the earthquake!  I know I will go back...

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