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
City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago

 

 

Advertisements

From prairie to suburbia

After exploring waterfalls, cornfields, and indulging in root beer floats, it was time to leave the Illinois prairie and head into Chicago’s suburbs to visit family.IllinoisWe’re quickly reminded about the Illinois tollway.  With the two additional axles on the Fifth Wheel (toll fee based on number of axels), our first toll was $7.50 and we only  used this stretch of road for about 10 miles.  (Thank you Hildi.  Once again hubby listens to the GPS instead of the wife.  Wife would’ve saved the money by rerouting)  Oh well 🙂  Before leaving Colorado, I considered purchasing the Illinois I-Pass but didn’t think we’d use the tollway enough to make it cost effective, plus I had concerns there would be a mail delay and the darn thing would arrive at our daughters home after we hit the road.  Illinois I-Pass

Sycamore IllinoisHaving the I-Pass makes it very convenient since there’s no stopping involved.  You get to pass the toll plaza without slowing down as the little contraption is scanned through the windshield.  Also the cost of the toll in most cases is half price with the I-Pass.  And trust me, those tolls add up real quick.

Hildi has us exit Interstate 88 shortly after the toll plaza and takes us through some small towns.  It’s a fun drive.  Al nor I have driven through this part of Illinois in nearly twenty-five years.  With the exception of a little growth, much has remained the same.

We pulled into the Paul Wolff Campground with low expectations considering we were rather disappointed with the Starved Rock State Park Campground.  Wow, what a pleasant surprise.  There’s 89 paved sites with 50 amp electric and 10 primitive walk-in tent sites.  Water spigots are scattered precariously throughout the grounds.  We snagged a large pull-thru site with a water spigot nearby to hook up to.

Elgin Illinois

Paul Wolff Campground, Elgin, Illinois

The more popular RV loop offers shaded sites amongst a grove of large trees.  We chose the open meadow loop to optimize TV and internet reception.  This is a Kane County run Forest Preserve and is maintained impeccably.  It’s located on the far west side of the city of Elgin in northern Illinois.

Paul Wolff Campground

9 miles of trails meander through the Burnidge Forest Preserve/Paul Wolff Campground. This is one of the mowed meadow trails. I loved all the wildflowers.

I grew up east of Elgin, Illinois, and my dad still lives in the house where I was raised.  Thus, the Paul Wolff Campground was a great find and the quick 15 mile drive to dad’s house made for lots of enjoyable visits.

gardening in Illinois

picking cucumbers and tomatoes with my dad in his garden

My dad’s house is within walking distance to the train station and usually we never pass up at least one sojourn into Chicago anytime we’re back in the area.   The Metra train even has a stop near the campground; Big Timber Road.  After serious consideration, we took a pass on the day in the city opting to focus on family visits, especially since our son, Logan, surprised everyone with a visit.

Illinois farm stand

Logan and I visit the local farm stand to pick up dinner

Logan had flown to Chicago from Phoenix earlier in the week for a business trip and ended up extending his stay so he could spent some time with his Illinois relatives.  My dad was thrilled to see him, as were his aunts.

When it was time for Al and I to drop Logan off at O’Hare Airport, I did the driving.  I was a little nervous driving the big truck through congested traffic, especially at Chicago’s O’Hare.  When I lived in the area years ago, I always had little cars. I managed the big truck just fine, but was relieved to get that drive out of the way.  We encountered stop and go traffic, insane road construction, heavy congestion, and mean pointing police officers at the airport, and of course tolls.

Al and I decided it was best I drive since this was my old stomping grounds and I know the roads better than he does.  Hubby doesn’t like it when I give him directions (aka – tell him how to drive).  Hildi (the GPS mistress) can tell him how to drive, Ingrid (the wife) cannot.  Must be that marital thing!

Next up, we move over to Al’s sister’s place……

Gardening

88 year old Dad says, “Oh no. What happened to my flowers?” In the foreground, you’ll notice the weight of the blooms toppled the limbs. With a little attention, they’ll be upright in no time.

Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles

Re-calculating mid stream

canadian geese It’s an early Saturday morning as we wind our way through Denver. We’re perplexed by the amount of traffic on the roads at seven in the morning on a weekend. Don’t you people ever sleep in? Ah, with so much beauty and recreation out their front door, it’s obvious, it’s time to play….. that’s what we do!

A mere thirty minutes east of Denver, we practically have the road to ourselves. With the RV pointing east, there’s no longer a view of any mountains, just a long stretch of openness in front of us. As we pass sprawling ranch land and cattle feed lots, our emotions about this excursion are mixed. That’s kind of the norm for us as we rarely relish trips back east even though we do look forward to reconnecting with family.

As we enter Nebraska, the land gets flatter – about as flat as a Monopoly board and the agricultural land is divided off into similar parcels. America’s Great Plains can be harsh and unforgiving land. There’s nothing to stop the winds from blowing snow in a sideways direction or a spring storm turning into a deadly twister, not to mention the extreme temperatures.Interstate 80

While we meander down the road, we take in our surroundings. We appreciate our comfy cushioned leather seats versus a hard saddle. We appreciate the climate
covered wagoncontrolled truck cab versus the open air exposed seating of a covered wagon.

The air is thick with 90% humidity and an equally hot temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius). Yep, we appreciate the modern-day comforts of air conditioning along with our version of horse and wagon.  I can’t imagine the perils encountered while crossing this land a hundred years ago.

The route from Colorado to Illinois is a drive Al and I have made more times than we can count.  However, this is the first time we’re making the trip with the RV in tow.  Past trips were always done with just the vehicle and most times the 1,100 mile (1771 km) journey was driven in one very long day.  We’d hit the road around 5:00 a.m. in the morning and arrive at our destination at about 10:00 or 11:00 at night. We always dreaded these days.corn fields

Today was different.  We didn’t dread the drive or the day.  I found myself snapping photos out of the truck (the majority of photos turned out blurry, of course… love that delete button).  The plan all along was to make it to Omaha for the night, with a backup of stopping sooner if we weren’t up to driving 550 miles (885 km).  There’s comfort in knowing we can stop anytime we want and take a nap in our own bed.  Comfort in knowing we have a well stocked fridge and freezer for healthy meals.  Comfort in knowing we don’t have a schedule to maintain.  And comfort in knowing we are foot loose and fancy free.  Ah, the freedom of the open road.field of corn

We find ourselves engulfed with a sense of calm and adventure and enjoying the scenery unfolding in front of us.  This isn’t the in your face jaw dropping beauty we see in the Rocky Mountains.  Discovering this beauty requires a little digging…. figuratively and literally.  This is America’s heartland.  This land feeds people around the world.  Images of backyard barbeques, apple pie, and little kids running around are conjured.  It evokes a sense of home.

The nearly nine-hour, 550 mile drive to Omaha was pleasant and uneventful.  The two new audio books purchased for the drive remain sealed.  Al and I found ourselves talking about our plans for the next seven weeks instead of listening to books or music.  In so doing, we changed our mind about our journey about as many times as a teenage girl changes her outfit.  To say we were re-calculating is an understatement.

Cabela's

Our horse and covered wagon. We spend the night at the Cabela’s in Omaha, Nebraska

Before pulling into our parking spot in Omaha for the night we finally decided once we’re in Illinois, we’ll visit a state park for a couple of nights not far from where Al grew up.  As a matter of fact, the last time Al visited Starved Rock State Park  was during an elementary school field trip.

Next up we’ll share whether or not Starved Rock State Park lives up to all the hype; voted number one attraction in the state of Illinois.corn fieldsInfo on our overnight stop in Omaha, Nebraska.  When Al and I are hightailing it from point A to point B, we usually look for a quick, safe place to overnight.  For such a short stay, we usually won’t bother with a campground or RV Park.  We’re self-contained and comfortable dry camping / boondocking.  Wal-Mart of course is a popular option that we’ve taken advantage of many a time especially when we need to stock up on supplies anyway.  Another option, one we prefer is a Cabela’s  store parking lot.  Although few and far between, we’ll check anywhere along our route and make notes as to any possible stores.  Many of the newer stores not only have a designated RV and truck parking area, they also offer a dump station and fresh water.

32 BridgeAl was once a preferred Cabela’s shopper receiving this sporting goods stores’ hard cover catalog.  So it may be free overnighting for most people, but for us???  😆  Even our daughter wore her Cabela’s hat to the Luke Bryan Concert, which I initially thought was inappropriate until I realized Luke Bryan is not only a Cabela’s spokesperson, he has his own brand of product line sold at Cabela’s; 32 Bridge.

As we pull into the Cabela’s in Omaha, we quickly look for the sign pointing us in the direction of “RV Parking”.  It doesn’t take long and we realize this is a popular spot with semi-truckers.  We find a spot off to the side, away from the rumbling truck engines, and are quickly joined by two more RV’s.  Of course, an in store purchase was made before calling it a night.  The Omaha Cabela’s does not have a dump station but does have fresh water and has super easy access on and off Interstate 80.

Cabela’s in Colorado – along Interstate 25 (easy on, easy off), there is a new Cabela’s north of Denver and another to the south.  Both have dump stations, fresh water, and designated RV parking, all free of charge ….. unless wife buys a new pair of shoes!
Teva Women’s Kayenta Strappy Sandal, Vega Purple, 9 M US
Browning Men’s Buckmark Gold And T-Shirt Black X-Large