22-Jun, Chicago

Being our first full day in Chicago, we set out to try to do some sightseeing by boat, more by foot, and dinner with relatives. Fortunately, we had contingency plans in case of inclement weather.

Breakfast is always adventure in figuring out what would be available and how things flow in the kitchen. When we got down there, a lot of people were noshing away, but we went ahead and served ourselves, including grabbing some of our cherries. As we went to sit down, most of the room cleared out, so that worked out well. As we were eating, the room filled back up; good timing.

We double-checked the weather, and it looked like there wouldn't be much rain until later on, so our plan was to do a boat tour in the morning, have lunch, do a walking tour of the Loop, then possibly by going up the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower to look at the view. If we had extra time, we would join our cousins at the zoo, then go to dinner.

Architecture River Cruise

First on our list was to go on the Chicago Architecture Foundation's River Cruise, which we thought would give us a good overview, as well as helping us get oriented with the layout of the downtown area. We started walking towards the bus but realized we might need to load new three day passes on our transit cards, and weren't sure if there would be a kiosk at the stop. We knew they sold passes where we were staying, but weren't sure they could put them onto the card. So after a block or so, back the other direction towards the train station. Ends up the day passes are for 24 hours, not midnight-to-midnight, so they were still good. We loaded up anyway, figuring if the new pass wouldn't start after our day pass ended, that would work out fine since we would then be covered for the rest of our time in Chicago. Even if the new pass canceled our day pass, we would still be OK, since we hadn't registered our transit cards online yet; registering would yield us a $5 credit, enough to cover the one trip we would need on our last day.

Having transit payment squared away, we got off on the north side of the Loop, then walked under the “L” tracks (just as noisy, if not more so, than you see on TV and in the movies) towards the river. We then dropped down to the River Walk, and worked our way to the boat docks to get our tickets. There was no one in line for the boat, so we walked around for a bit, hopping onto the Du Sable Bridge to take in the view of the river. By the time we got back down to the River Walk, people had started to line up; it went from no one to about 50 people in line by the time we got back to the boat. We figured there were still plenty of seats (which there were) so we shrugged and joined everyone else.

As we boarded, we decided to stay on the upper deck (as opposed to the bow) but stayed far enough back that the bridge and smokestack (which was fake and held life jackets) wouldn't obstruct our view. The weather was a nice overcast, which actually evened out the light for photos.

The boat cast off and the docent started to tell us stories about the history of several of the buildings, and gave us some of the engineering details. We went a bit up both the North and South Branch, as well as out towards the canal which leads to Lake Michigan. We got a great view of most everything, and the weather held out for almost the whole tour; it started to sprinkle towards the end, but fortunately we had brought rain gear. The woman in front of me popped open an umbrella, but fortunately she kept it pretty low.

One thing I noticed as we were going around is there were several tour boats on the river, but unlike ours (which was mostly full) they were all nearly empty. We were on the most popular tour, it seems.

Finding lunch, changing plans

As we got off the boat, the rain started to pick up. We were still hoping it would let up for the afternoon, so we tentatively kept with our plan, and sought out lunch.

We knew we wanted to try a Rick Bayless place, even if it happened to be one of his fast food outlets. We also wanted to swing by Macy's (originally Marshall Field's; we did see the sign on the outside of the building commemorating the name) and as it ends up, there was a Frontera Fresco in the Macy's food court, Seven on State. We wound our way up the escalators to the seventh floor, then wandered around a bit until we found where the restaurants were, placed our orders, then sat down to eat. The food (chorizo tacos and a chicken tamale) was very enjoyable, and quite fresh. We double-checked the weather forecast, and the rain was supposed to continue for at least another hour. It also looked spotty for the afternoon. We decided to change things around; instead of doing a walking tour of the Loop, we decided on going down to the Field Museum, since that way we would be inside for the afternoon. I let my cousin know we wouldn't be able to make it to the zoo, and we set out to find some dessert.

Frango is a big brand (originated by Frederick & Nelson in Seattle, but made popular by Marshall Field's), and there's not only a huge Frango display, there's also a Frango Cafe which looked like it had good desserts. However, the place looked deserted; ends up they're closed on Monday, so we had to do without a mini banana split. We wandered around a bit more, looking at the views from various escalators, then set off to the CTA station. It was raining quite a bit on the way, so we felt good about or decision to change up the afternoon.

Field Museum

As we exited the train station, the rain had mostly let up. We walked east towards the Field Museum, and by the time we got there, the rain had gone.

We got inside the Field Museum and upon buying our tickets, we were provided with choice of a few exhibits or an IMAX movie, one of which was included with the ticket. We could have added all seven for a few dollars more, but we knew we wouldn't have the time. We opted for Mammoths and Mastodons.

The first thing you see when you enter the museum are Sue, a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, and a couple elephants. After we were done with those, we sat down to make a plan for how to navigate the museum, knowing we wouldn't be up for seeing everything.

Our first stop was Mammoths and Mastodons. They had a great assortment of skeletons, dioramas, replicas, and other items. After that, we went through the North American Indians gallery (where we saw many things familiar to us from museums near home) to the Pawnee Earth Lodge, where a docent was explaining to some people the roles of the husband and wife. We then worked our way through the Northwest Coast, then the Ancient Americas, and with that we were ready to go upstairs.

The Hall of Jades and Hall of Gems were near each other, and we spent quite a bit of time in those rooms. After making a quick pass through Traveling the Pacific, we headed to the Evolving Planet which included Dinosaur Hall, a large collection of skeletons and impressions.

We were getting pretty tired by this time, so we headed back to the room to rest for a bit.

Pizza with the Tashimas

Since we were in Chicago, we knew we needed to have deep dish pizza while we were here. We met up with Dave, Molly, and their kids, and shared a couple pies and some salad. Not surprisingly, all of us had eyes which were larger than our stomachs, and we ended up with a lot of extra food, but not because it wasn't delicious!

It was great to catch up with the Tashimas. I hadn't seen them for several years, and even then it was with a large crowd of people. We got to hear about what they and the kids were doing, and exchange family stories.

After we said our goodbyes, Melody and I walked the short distance back to the room, where we did but a few things before falling asleep.