The Windy City

By now, you all know I grew up in the Chicago suburbs.  Thus, the city of Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart.  During past Illinois family visits, we always managed to squeeze in at least one trip into this iconic city.Chicago, IllinoisWhen I was in my twenties, I thought nothing of driving into the city.  With the exception of a school bus, public transportation was foreign to me.  Plus, I always preferred the freedom of driving my own car.  Now a days, I wouldn’t fathom driving in Picasso Chicagodowntown Chicago traffic, opting instead to take the train and walk to all the amazing sights this city has to offer.  Plus the Metra Transit System is just so very convenient.

With Lollapalooza scheduled during our targeted downtown venture, we chose to forgo a Chicago sojourn during this Illinois trip.  The addition of hundreds of thousands of concert goers invading the city acted as a deterrent to us like Raid to a bug.  Ah, next time I’ll do a better job checking event dates.

It you’ve never visited Chicago, I highly recommend you do.  Obviously it’s one of my favorite cities.  Here’s a sampling of things to see and do……

1.   Millennium Park is a wonderful place to stroll around.  This 24 acre park was constructed in the late 1990’s.  Sculptures, water features, a music venue, and gardens are a pleasure to explore during a warm summer day.  The “Cloud Gate” elliptical sculpture other wise known as “The Bean” is a photographers delight.  The Chicago skyline is uniquely reflected in this seamless stainless steel structure resembling a drop of mercury.

Millenium Park Chicago
Me back in 2009 in front of “Cloud Gate” aka “The Bean”.

2. – Next door to Millennium Park is the Chicago Art Institute Museum.  I was in elementary school the first time I visited this beautiful art museum.

Art museum lions
I’m standing behind one of the famous copper lions in front of the Chicago Art Museum.

Although at the time I found the visit rather boring, today I’m extremely grateful to have been exposed to this level of art at such a young age.   I remember one painting in particular making an indelible impression upon me (I was a mere eight years old) – Seurat’s –  A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte.

French Impressionist art
My daughter stands in front of my favorite painting. Georges-Pierre Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte

Until this day, this Seurat is one of my favorites.  So much so, that I had a large print hanging in my home office that I purchased at the museum.  Did you know there’s not one brush stroke, only dots?  The entire canvas is composed of dots. Amazing!

French Impressionist art
We had a reproduction of this Monet hanging in our living room.

I’m such a huge fan of French Impressionism that our sticks and bricks home was decorated almost exclusively with art purchased from the Museum Shop.  And they remain waiting for me in a storage locker 🙂

My 2009 visit with my daughter, is most memorable.   Ashton had just completed a college prerequisite “Art” course of some sort and was sharing all kinds of fascinating tidbits on various artists including Seurat and Monet.  Until this art class, she hadn’t realized she grew up surrounded by famous works of art.  Cultured, indeed 😉

3. – A nice walk down Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile) is a shoppers delight but head south and it’ll take you to the Field Museum.  Everyone loves the Field Museum; young and old alike.  The new dinosaur room even impressed me and I’m not necessarily into dinosaurs.  I can most likely be found in the Gem Room salivating over the largest pink diamond or blue sapphire.

Chicago's Field Museum
My son and I visit the Field Museum in 2007

My son, Logan, has always had an interest in dinosaurs…. what boy doesn’t?  He was in elementary school when the original Jurassic Park movie was released and visiting this display had his imagination running wild.  However, the Field Museum offers so much more than dinosaurs and gems.  Free admittance day is usually on a Monday and thus a perfect time to take a quick stroll through the museum without feeling a need to dedicate an entire day.  Two hours in a museum is usually long enough for me.

4.  Skyline;  I’ve had the privilege of traveling to most of America’s major cities as well as those in Germany.  That said, in my opinion Chicago has the most photogenic skyline I’ve ever seen.

photogenic city
Me and daughter in 2009 with the Chicago skyline in the background

With the exception of being in a boat on Lake Michigan, the next best place for a Chicago skyline photograph is near the Adler Planetarium.  One of these days, I’d like to be here at sunrise to photograph the skyline.

5.  Architecture;  you just have to love the amazing architecture Chicago has to offer.  Willis TowerFrom the Sear’s Tower (aka Willis Tower) to the John Hancock building to the old water tower to the original Marshall Field’s on State Street (now Macy’s), the mix between new and old is not to be ignored.

You could spend an entire day just walking around Chicago looking at buildings.  I know, I’ve done it.

Not to be missed is a visit to a sky deck/observatory.  I’ve been to both the Willis Tower and John Hancock and although I prefer the view out of the Hancock building, others prefer the Willis view.  Regardless, a visit to one is a must.

6.  We all know what a taxi is, but did you know Chicago offers a water taxi?  This is a fun way to get from the Field Museum to Navy Pier or from Navy Pier to the train station.  In an effort to give our legs a break, we’ve taken both.  It’s a great way to see the city from another angle.

Trump Tower Chicago
The Chicago River. Trump Tower (tall bldg. in background)was still under construction in 2007.

7.  Entertainment; Chicago is known as the Second City….. second to New York Chicago, IllinoisCity. Therefore, there’s always wonderful theater and live entertainment to be found.  My favorite; Second City.  Here’s a list of comedians who got their start at Chicago’s Second City – list.   Many ended up later joining Saturday Night Live.

And then there’s Wrigley Field and Navy Pier with their own entertainment venue.

Seriously, there is so much to see and do in Chicago that I feel guilty ending my list here, and don’t even get me started on the shopping.  So many fantastic shops.  Moving on….

Grant Park
Ashton in front of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

Lodging in Chicago is also part of the adventure with endless options.  We stayed at the historic Knickerbocker Hotel several years ago and enjoyed it.  We flew from Denver to Chicago partly to spend Christmas with family but to also expose our children to the city around the holidays.  If I had to visit Chicago in the winter, December is the perfect month to do so.  The holiday decorations are incredibly pretty.

Chicago’s a huge city offering an abundance of things to see, do, and experience, but a little street smarts will serve you well.   Safety first and always be aware of your surroundings.

Chicago, Illinois
Me and Logan near the Field Museum – 2007

Chicago has long been associated with gun violence; from the Al Capone days to today’s gang violence.  Much of the gang activity is within their neighborhoods and not much of a concern for any of the areas I’ve mentioned in this blog post.

What about RVing in Chicago?  I’ve recently read a couple of blog posts on people boondocking (dry camping) at McCormick Place, Illinois’ premiere conference and convention center.  In both instances (at separate times) the couples found themselves parked in the parking lot alone.   The only RV on site…..  Hmm, I wonder why?  Fortunately, they both had an uneventful and safe experience.  However, it’s not a place I would stay.

Staying in the country at the Paul Wolff Campground surrounded by forest preserve and cornfields sounds like the perfect place to camp for anyone wanting to visit Chicago with an RV.  From there, a one-hour train ride into the windy city will allow you to enjoy all this marvelous place has to offer. the windy citySo why is Chicago nicknamed “The Windy City”.  Since the city sits at the shores of Lake Michigan it does experience a fair amount of wind from weather, but no more than a bunch of other places.  The power of the name lies in the metaphorical use “windy” for “talkative” or “boastful.”  Early on, Chicago politicians became famous for long-windedness.  Chicagoans were also considered braggarts.

But in another way, Chicago is actually earning the title of “windy city”.  Architects and engineers did not foresee the effects of tall buildings and air current.  In some areas, the wind is literally sucked down into the streets.  It may be perfectly calm in one area and extremely breezy in another.  Ladies hang on to your dresses, and men your hats!

There you have it….. Chicago, my kind of town

Patagonia Atom Sling, Black
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Chicago – continued

After our return home to Colorado, a neighbor asked me for recommendations and information on a visit to Chicago.  Her husband had an upcoming business conference in downtown Chicago and she was planning on accompanying him.

I was able to quickly compile a list for her to consider.  However, keep in mind a city as large and diverse as Chicago has immense entertainment possibilities.  Here’s a “short” list of things to consider…….

  • English: John Hancock Tower as seen from Willi...
    English: John Hancock Tower as seen from Willis Tower in Chicago, IL, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    John Hancock Building Observatory and/or the Willis Tower……  For a bird’s-eye view of the city, a visit to one of these is a must.  My favorite is the John Hancock Bldg and my dad’s is the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower).  The Willis Tower boasts 110 stories and is located in Chicago’s financial/business district, just across the Chicago River from Union Station.  The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor, 1353 feet high.  The John Hancock Building Observatory offers a 360 degree view from its 94th floor.  It is located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile near the shores of Lake Michigan.  The John Hancock Observatory elevators are the fastest elevators in North America; 1,000 feet in 40 seconds. Yes it’s fast and you can expect your ears to pop.  Don’t forget to catch lunch/dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, located lower level of the John Hancock Building….yum.

    English: Buckingham Fountain in the foreground...
    English: Buckingham Fountain in the foreground with one of the Prudential Buildings at the far left and the AON Center (the tallest building) in the background. The top of the John Hancock Center is also visible (the one with two antennae at the top). I took this photo 11 Jul 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • A visit to at least one museum…….  Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum of Natural History, Shedd Aquarium.  These are all within walking distance or a short cab ride near the heart of the city.  The Museum of Science and Industry is also popular with tourists, but I haven’t been there in years.
  • The Theater………Chicago’s theater district has grown and improved over the years and now rivals New York City’s Broadway.  Personally, I’m more drawn to comedy and the improv-based sketch comedy of Second City.  Many of NBC’s Saturday Night Live stars began at Second City.  Some alums include; Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray, John and Jim Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd, just to name a few.  So you never know what rising star’s performance you’ll witness.

    Daughter at Buckingham Fountain
  • Buckingham Fountain, Millenium Park, an abundance of Gardens, Oak Street Beach, Lake Shore Drive……..On numerous occasions we’ve been known to visit the city and just hang out, especially on a nice summer day.  Walking, biking, picnicking, sunbathing, there’s a place for all.
  • Retail Therapy…..Water Tower Place is a prominent shopping destination.  It boasts seven stories of indoor shopping.  The Magnificent Mile is Chicago’s largest shopping district.  It is home to retail stores, restaurants, museums, motels, and several of the tallest buildings in the United States.
  • Architecture and History…….endless possiblities.  One of my favorite buildings is the Marshall Field’s Building (Macy’s) on State Street.  Beautiful architecture and shopping all in one place, works for me!

I’ve just barely touched on all the things to do in this amazing city.  I know as soon as I post, I’ll remember something else I should have added.  Guess that’ll just give me an idea for a future post.  I’ll add one last photo from Zemanta.  When I came across this photo, I was super excited.  I took a similar photo many, many years ago and with as many moves as we have done, misplaced my copy.  Besides, I would’ve had to scan mine since it was shot with good old-fashioned film.  I’m sure this one is better anyway 🙂

Chicago north from John Hancock 2004-11 img 2618
Chicago north from John Hancock 2004-11 img 2618 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chicago – day two

English: A Lake Shore Limited train backing in...
English: A Lake Shore Limited train backing into Chicago Union Station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re heading back into the city this morning.  Dad drops us off at the train station since we’re running a bit behind.  We don’t want to miss the express train which will only stop 2 more times between our station and Union Station.  If we miss this train and catch the next, we’ll be stopping at EVERY stop along the route, adding almost 25 extra minutes to the commute.

We’re on a mission today.  We’re off to spend the majority of the day at the Field Museum of Natural History.  This is a great place for people of any age…..young, old, or in between.

As an elementary school child growing up in a Chicago suburb, field trips into the city were always exciting and the Field Museum was a favorite.  The Field Museum has so much to offer and see, I’ll just highlight some of our favorites.  When you first enter the Field Museum, you’re graced with the presence of Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Sue was discovered in 1990 in South Dakota and later purchased by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History in 1997 for 8.36 million dollars.  Sue is just one of many amazing dinosaurs at the Field Museum.

Son in front of ‘Sue’
Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

I’m not sure when the museum upgraded their “Evolving Planet” area, but I’m sure glad they did.  Do any of you remember the show “Friends“, when Ross and Rachel first “hooked up”?  Ross was a paleontologist and their ‘first time’ was in the museum among a caveman display.  They ended up falling asleep and awoke to a group of school children observing them.  Oh how I laughed watching this episode.  Even as a child I thought these caveman displays were lame.  Well folks, no more cavemen.  The cavemen have been replaced with the grandest dinosaur room.  My son and I spent over an hour checking out these bones, and I’m not all that interested in dinosaurs and still found it extremely engaging.  A definite must see.

Our second favorite room is the Hall of Gems.  The gorgeous, huge, and amazing gems on display make the Kardashian’s diamond rings look like trinkets.  Depending on your interests, the Field Museum will have something for you to explore.; Plants of the World, DNA Discovery, Inside Ancient Egypt, Science Labs, all kinds of birds, mammals and reptiles, just to name a few departments.  Their website has the very latest exhibits, as well as a downloadable map of this three-story Museum…click here for more info.

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illi...
Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chicago – day one

Willis Tower – aka Sears Tower

No trip back to Illinois would be complete without a trip into the “city”.  Fortunately my dad lives within walking distance to the train station.  We catch a morning train and join the thousands of commuters heading to work in downtown Chicago.

Once we arrive at Union Station we need to decide; do we walk, take a cab, or take the water taxi to Navy Pier?  It’s a lovely sunny morning with light breezes and in the 70’s.  Walk we shall.  After 2 days of rain, I’m loving this nice weather.  Our destination is Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue.  Instead of heading straight there, we’ll take a short detour past the Civic Center for a photo-op at the Picasso.

daughter in front of The Picasso

There are more folks running around the Picasso than I anticipated. After some patient waiting, hoping the people would somehow miraculously disappear, I relent and quickly snap some shots.  Not the kind of shots I was hoping for.  I guess this is reason enough for a return visit to photograph the Picasso, hopefully on it’s own without a crowd crawling around.  We head to Millennium Park and after meandering around, we’re off to the Art Institute.  The Art Institute of Chicago is one of my favorite places to visit.  It brings back childhood memories of school field trips.  Since daughter took a course at College; Intro to Visual Arts, she has a new-found interest in the art community.  We spend most of our time viewing Monet.  Daughter is well versed in his works and proceeds to brief me on some background and history of Monet’s Water Lilies painting.  Um, perhaps she did learn more at college than the latest brew at New Belgium 🙂  Although I love Monet’s works, I am partial to Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.  As a child, I was fascinated by a painting composed of dots.   No brush strokes here.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After almost three hours of admiring these works of art, we need to catch the train back to the burbs.  We enjoy a brisk walk back to the train station with plans to return to the city tomorrow.  The Field Museum is on tomorrows list….top priority.

Millennium Park

Education Questioned…

As I admire my handy work, I also question my writing abilities.  You see, I just spent the last five days working on a scrapbook.  A scrapbook about our six-week journey.  A scrapbook on this blog.  By printing out or retyping my posts, it required me to reread all postings.  Eek!

I’ve never felt I had exceptional writing skills, and after reading these posts, not only have my feelings been confirmed, I now question my education.  I am appalled, embarrassed, mortified…..shall I continue…..  I detect typos, misspellings, improper sentence structure, overuse of punctuation, etc. etc.  I always read and reread prior to publishing.  Perhaps I should sleep on a posting before publishing.  Perhaps, the next day I’ll catch the error of my way.

I wonder…. should I go back,correct all mistakes, and update each posting?  I ask Al.  His response, “Why did you start a blog to begin with?”  Hum, why did I start this blog?  I started this blog as a form of journal, documenting our travels for our children.  My mom journaled, but her handwriting was almost illegible and in another language.  Therefore, we (her children) are unable to read them.  Oh, how I wish they were more legible.  Al and I visited several areas my folks stayed at during their RVing days. I would love to know more details of their travels.  I would love to visit the very spots they visited. And their photos?  Well most are in boxes.  I wish the photos were with a corresponding journal entry.  Thus, my blog was born!

So since my motivation is for personal reasons and not for monetary or notoriety reasons, I’ll leave the mistakes.  Yes, a flawed individual capable of butchering the English language.  We won’t mention my Chicago accent  …..da bears!

The embarrassment has passed.  I’ll continue to blog.  I’ll write as I speak, as improper as that may be.  It is what it is….flaws and all!