Friday, August 31, 2012

Weekend In Chicago-Day 3-Part 1

 Seeing Stars @             Alder Planetarium

We did so much in the first 2 days in Chicago that even if that was all the time we had it would have been a great trip. But Monday, day 3, was the one that I'd been waiting for. It was the day of the event that was the reason for the trip to begin with.

(Note to the "grammar police": Yes, I know I just ended, not just one  but two, sentences with a preposition. I'm claiming "poetic license") 

On our itinerary for the day included: virtually exploring the universe, seeing a famous fountain, viewing our distorted reflection off of a "giant bean", and going to see the New York Yankees play.

We left the hotel about 10AM. Since we were now "experienced travelers", we had almost no trouble getting to our first destination of the day. We even took a bit of a detour to look at a landmark I was really excited about. More on that later. 

I hadn't been to a planetarium since I was in 4th grade and I've wanted to go to one, again, for a long time. Paula felt the same way; so we decided to go to the first one ever built in the western hemisphere. Adler Planetarium just so happened to be located right near the Field Museum. 

For a change we parked in an open lot and not in a parking garage. It was paid only $15 for the privilege. The spot we found was only about 100 yards from the front door of the planetarium. 

We were greeted by this poster telling us what we would be seeing in the actual planetarium show later in the day. 

Once the guard at the entrance saw our tickets she directed us to the lower level of the building. Just like the Field Museum the day before we had to go to a different counter to get our ticket for a special 3D movie. We chose to see a feature about the sun.

Just like the day before we had time before the movie. We went back to the top floor. 

The first exhibit we saw was right up my alley. It was entitled "Shoot For The Moon." It told the story of the United States' successful effort of landing a man on the moon. 

Displayed was a series of model rockets showing the progression of the spacecraft from the Mercury Redstone to Gemini Titian and finally the Apollo Saturn V. 

There was a Saturn V model just like the one I have on my shelf at home. This one is in much better shape and has a professional paint job. But it's about the 3rd place I've seen "my" Saturn V rocket model this year. 

Also on display was pair of coveralls, a helmet, a watch, and a glove worn in space by astronaut Jim Lovell. He was a crew member of Apollo 8 the first to orbit the moon. But he is probably best known for being the commander of the ill-faded Apollo 13 mission. 

There were videos of the first moon landing by Neil Armstrong and other exhibits about the Apollo astronauts and other moon landings. 

The exhibit not only displayed the history of moon exploration of the past but predicted NASA's return to earth's only natural satellite for possible colonization as soon as the year 2018.  

There was a video game that gave you the opportunity to try and land a lunar module on the moon's surface. 

I had tried a game almost exactly like this before. I wasn't any good at it then nor was I any better now. I crashed my ship in a cloud of lunar dust. 

We exited the "Shoot For The Moon" area entering into a large room dedicated to the solar system. This room is like the largest school science fair project ever created. 

There is a large sun to the right side of the room and models of each of the of the planets, except for earth, hanging from the ceiling. 

Underneath each were displays that gave facts and figures about the planet above it. 

The earth model in this exhibit was a bit bigger than the rest of the other planets as it hovered and rotated within a display of it's own. It was a bit out of proportion; but it gave me the opportunity for a great picture.

Does This Earth Make My Head Look Big?

When it came time to head to the 3D theater on the ground floor we got turned around and weren't very sure where we should go. 

A young female planetarium employee with a clipboard was walking by us in the opposite direction. I stopped her and asked directions. It was obvious that she was on her way somewhere else in the building but she did something that really impressed me. She led us to where we needed to go. 

She not only escorted us to the entrance of the theater ; but she got us there by way of a private elevator. Once in the very small elevator, on the way down to the bottom floor, we joked that she really wasn't a museum employee and that she was kidnapping us. She laughed and played along but in a good way. 

When we arrived at the theater we thanked her and she left us. I don't remember if she gave us her name. I can tell you one thing though with an attitude of service like that she'll go far in whatever she does. 

The movie was about a pair of sophisticated satellite explorers sent to orbit opposite sides of the sun. This allows the photographs and video they take to be 3D.

The film's 3D effects were good but a bit too exaggerated. At times the sun came off the screen a bit too much. It looked more like a solar egg than a big round sphere. 

It was interesting but a bit too nerdy and repetitive to be entertaining. The best thing about it that it allowed us time to sit and relax just a bit.

After the movie we ready to get something to drink and a bite to eat. We returned to the upper floor to Cafe' Galileo. It was the planetarium's lunch counter. Very similar to the cafeteria where we had lunch the day before at the Field Museum. 

The menu and prices were similar to Corner Bakery as well. I got a calzone with Italian sausage, green peppers, onions, mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce. Paula got the same thing.We also got a Vitamin Water Zero to drink. 

The sausage was so hot it burned my mouth. I could hardly eat it. Paula used her salad as a "buffer" against the spice of the sausage. We both left most of the sausage on our plates. 

There was one cool thing about lunch though. The walls in this part of the building were all windows that looked out on both Lake Michigan with the downtown skyline in the distance. The view from our table looked like this.  

After we finished eating we decided to go out onto the viewing platform and take some pictures of the panoramic view. Chicago is a picturesque city.

As you have seen in this series of posts already, we took a lot of "scenic view" pictures of downtown's skyscrapers. Here's a view of the city from a most unique perspective. 

Reflections of Chicago

While we were outside enjoying the view and beautiful late August weather (it was sunny, breezy and in the mid 70's) with the Windy City skyline behind us Paula captured this picture of us on her I-Phone.  

After we made our way back into the museum, a survey of the guide map told us that there wasn't much more we wanted to see. But we still had yet to see the one objective of our visit: the classic planetarium show. 

The Grainger Sky Theater is literally the centerpiece of the Adler Planetarium. It is in the center of the upper floor of the museum. 

We easily found the lobby of the theater that was an interactive queue to entertain those who were waiting for the next program. 

A ticket taker told us that the next show started in about 30 minutes. Initially, we thought the show was included in our admission ticket so we just walked around, including a quick walk through the gift shop, until it was nearly show time. 

Upon our return, we tried to enter the theater but another usher told us we needed to purchase a special ticket. 

At first I wasn't going to spend the extra $10 a piece just out of principal. But I really had my heart set on discovering the universe from the comfort of a theater seat. 

We hurried to the counter, bought our tickets and soon were lounging back in our comfortable chairs looking up at the domed theater waiting to for the show to start. 

It was an amazing show as our theater guide not only transported us around our solar system and the Milky Way galaxy but to the very edge of the universe. It was the highlight of our day at the planetarium. 

After a return trip to the gift shop to browse and pick up an Adler refrigerator magnet we decided that our visit was over. 

With just a couple of hours before we had to leave for the baseball game we still had some important places to see on our last day in the city. 

We walked out of Alder and headed to our next destination. 
It would turn out to be one of the most memorable and romantic moments of our entire vacation. 

More that and the rest of day 3 in Chicago in my next post. 


Monday, August 27, 2012

Weekend In Chicago-Day 2

The Field Museum
Museum and A Movie
Since it was Sunday and we had a long and exhausting day on Saturday, we slept in a little later. We left the hotel around noon.    

After a stop at the gas station close to the hotel for a fill up,  and some coffee for my wife we headed toward the downtown area. By the way, I paid more for a gallon of gas at that fill up than ever before in my life: $4.30. 

Once again, our drive on I-90/I-94, the Eisenhower Expressway was slow because of traffic volume. Soon we exited onto West Adams Street and headed east.  

With information I had found online I had programmed the GPS with the address of the parking garage where we wanted to park. At least I thought it was the right address. 

Our destination was the Museum Campus area where the Field Museum, Alder Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium are located. 

As it turned out I had entered the address for the Millennium Park public parking area. This put us several blocks northwest of the Museum Campus. But luckily this was one times when two wrongs made a right.  

I knew where Millennium Park was in relationship to the museums. We had passed the park going south when we circled around the Field Museum on our detour to Navy Pier the night before. So even though we arrived at the wrong place initially, I knew how to get where we wanted to be.  

Once again we left the car in a parking garage, right next to Soldier Field. This would cost $22 but it was the only time we'd pay for parking this day. 

When we exited the garage we saw a really cool wall just outside Soldier Field. The wall had a series of the military seals on it; one for each branch of the US armed forces. There was also a thin stream of water running down the entire wall. If you look at the bottom of the wall in this picture you can see the water. 

At the end of the wall to the right was an engraved dedication of Soldier Field. 

...To the Men and Woman of The Armed Services

It was just a short walk to the entrance of the Field Museum of Natural History. 

I was excited about visiting this museum because of two things. First there was a unique prehistoric exhibit which I'll write more about later. Also there was an exhibit of Egyptian artifacts. 

At the front admissions desk we found out that our advanced purchased City Pass ticket entitled us to go to our choice of two 3D movies. 

Upon entering the main floor of the museum we came face to face with these two large pachyderms. 

We went took the elevator to the upper level to the theater and got our tickets for the 1:30 presentation of a movie about recovery of Egyptian artifacts. 

With some time before the movie started we went into the hall of dinosaurs. In that room was a variety of fossilized skeletons. The most interesting and scariest one to me was the velociraptor. 

This display of both the skeleton and recreation of this prehistoric "swift predator" was probably my 2nd favorite dinosaur display in the entire museum. 

Notice the spiky teeth on the skeleton and the 3 inch claws on both. These physical features made the velociraptor a brutally dangerous creature. 

Also in this room was a Tyrannosaurus...

and a triceratops. 

The museum is a center for paleontology; specializing in the restoration of dinosaur fossils. Just outside the dinosaur hall was an actual working fossil preparation lab. It has large windows so you can see the scientists at work restoring actual fossils.   

Soon it was time for us to go into the theater for our 3D movie. It was a film explaining the history of Egyptian mummification, the theology behind it, and the subsequent discovery and excavation of the thousands of sarcophagi (yes, that is the plural of the word "sarcophagus").  

The movie was entertaining and the chance to sit and relax for about 20 minutes was welcome as well. 

Excited as we were about seeing the Egyptian artifacts on the ground floor, we decided to explore some of the upper floor exhibits before heading down the exhibit. 

We went to the northeast corner of the building to visit the Brooker Gallery. I expected to see paintings or some kind of abstract sculpture that had to do with animals or nature. What we discovered was the most interesting aspect of Egyptian history in the entire museum. A display that seemed to transcend time. 

Scientists using the combination of modern medical technology, archaeology, and anthropology gave us a glimpse of the people who were actually part of Egypt's ancient past.  

Using CAT scan technology, Field Museum scientists were able to create a replica of the skull of the mummy inside artifact 111517 without even opening the sarcophagus. 

Then using average calculations, compiled by Egyptian anthropologists, in regard to average thickness of skin, size of nose, mouth and ears from people of the same time period as the mummy, those same scientists created a 3D model of his head and face. 

Here is the reconstruction of the this teenage Egyptian who, according to the hieroglyphs on his coffin, was named Minirdis.

 As amazing as this picture looks staring at this recreation "face to face" is like looking through a portal back into time. 

Here's another mummy, a female, that the scientists brought into modern times, using the same reconstruction method. 

I don't recall seeing her name but as you can see she was a true Egyptian beauty. 

Once we left the Brooker Gallery we took the stairs with the intention of heading down to the ground floor. After descending the first flight to the main floor we decided that we needed to get something to drink. 

We stopped at the Corner Bakery to wet our whistle. What we discovered was that this was a cafeteria with a "Penera Bread" type menu of salads, sandwiches, baked goods and desserts. 

Since it was almost mid afternoon we decided to eat lunch there. The only other restaurant in the building was a McDonald's on the ground floor. 

Now I knew, like any other tourist attraction anywhere, the cost of the food here was going to be high. I didn't mind paying $8 for a medium sized salad for Paula or $10 for a sandwich for me. They were both rather good. The thing that really got under my skin was the cost of a 12oz bottle of water: $2.50. Five bucks for 2 bottles of water. What a rip off!

Refueled and somewhat energized after eating, we headed for the "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibit one floor down.There were a lot of sarcophagi, mummies, sculptures, and other artifacts on display. 

However there were also a lot of display cases that were empty because their contents were on loan to other museums. 

The mummies and their coffins were all very interesting. They could also be considered ancient works of art. You could tell when a sarcophagus contained the mummy of a rich man or a member of royalty by how brightly painted and decorative it was. 

I was surprised at the number of children who were mummified and entombed in their own private body shaped coffins. Here's a picture of a recreation of the tomb of a pair of siblings just as they were originally found. 

But without a doubt the most memorable artifact we saw, and the one Paula and I will be talking about for years to come, was a limestone sculpture of a woman wearing a wig. 

It was labeled as being from the "New Kingdom Period". This was the time between the 16th and 11th century BC and considered the civilization's most prosperous time. 

However what was unique about this sculpture, at least to Paula and me, was how much it looked like Michael Jackson. That's right THE Michael Jackson. Ironically the sculpture was missing part of it's nose. 

Could the "King of Pop" have lived a past life? Or did he see this sculpture at sometime during his life and made it his life's mission make himself look like it? The world will never know.

The picture doesn't convey the close resemblance to MJ as much as seeing in person did but see if you agree with us. 

The next ground floor exhibit we went through was called "Underground Adventure." It can be best explained as an educational version of the "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" Movie Adventure Playground in Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida. 

It's a walking tour through tunnels in the soil just below the ground's surface in any typical backyard. The visitor is "reduced" to 1/100 their normal size as they enter the exhibit. A series of dioramas and interactive exhibits teach the guest about the plants, animals, and microbes that make up the ecosystem that is the earth's soil. 

I thought this exhibit was very clever and imaginative but it didn't really interest me. This is evident by the fact that I have no pictures of it. 

However, this exhibit is a very good place for kids ages 4-11 to learn about the miniature world that exists right under their feet by immersing them in it. Elementary school science teachers would love this exhibit. 

At this point we had seen all we were interested in on the ground floor. We made one more elevator trip to the upper level to see the rooms that featured exhibits of gemstones and jade. 

Our experience with the extensive displays of gemstones in the Smithsonian Natural History museum, two years ago,  pretty much satiated my appetite for seeing gemstones for the rest of my life. However Paula is always interested in gems. 

These rooms with gemstones weren't anywhere near as big or numerous as those at the Smithsonian; so we went through them very quickly. 

Back on the Main floor, We went through a few more exhibits about culture and history of specific groups of people and areas of the world. But I don't remember much about them except that , for a time, we couldn't find our way out of one of them. 

As we were going toward the stairs we saw yet another  Egyptian exhibit. It was a reproduction of the tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess. The path through the rooms was designed to recreate the experience of entering the sepulcher for the first time just as the discovering archaeologists did. 

The first couple of rooms of the tomb were empty because, as a placard on the wall explained, the grave robbers got there before you. 

After going through the rooms we walked up some stairs and walked along a walkway where we could look down on one of the rooms we just went through. 

At the end of the walkway was a set of metal stairs that spiraled around a pole. At this point I was just expecting it take us back down the level from which we had ascended. 

But after about 2 dozen or so steps it was apparent we were not going to come out at the same level. Our continuing  descent reminded me of the stairs inside the Statue of Liberty. 

Finally, when the stairs ended we had gone all the way down to the ground floor and were in the "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibit again. 

I realized that the purpose of the stairs was to illustrate that archaeologists had to descend far into the tombs of Egypt to find their treasures because of grave robbers and looters.

At this point in the day, I was tired but also anxious to go see the exhibit that was the real reason I wanted to come to the Field Museum in the first place. It was the center piece of the Main Floor and one of Chicago's oldest residence: a 67 million year old lady named Sue. 

This skeleton is the largest, best preserved and most  complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered. She is named after Sue Hendrickson, the paleontologist who discovered her in 1990. She was found on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, near Faith, South Dakota. 

Because there was a great dispute in regard to the ownership rights to this historic discovery it took 7 years before it could be sold.

The Field Museum bought it at auction for $8.6 million. The purchase was made possible because of the Field Museum's partnership with several other organizations including the Walt Disney Company's Parks and Resort division. 

I'll have more on the partnership between the museum and Disney in regard to the purchase and restoration of Sue in a future post on my other blog:Goofy Guy's Off World Disney Blog. 

Here's a preview of that post. A picture of a complete replica of Sue that's on display at Dinoland in Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. 

Doesn't She Look Like The Happiest Dino On Earth?
 After several years of restoration, evaluation, and finally displayable mounting, Sue made her public debut on the main floor of the Field Museum in the year 2000.

I loved this T-Rex. She was so amazing and is so special. Look at her from a couple other angles. 

That last angle was really intimidating. She brought to mind a poem about a Tyrannosaurus Rex that I read as a kid. In describing the dinosaur the poem stated: 

His head held high. He looked afar
And if he chance to meet you
He'd say politely, "Hello, friend. "
How are you? Please to eat you."

Between the Smithsonian and the Field Museum I have seen a lot of dinosaur skeletons. Sue is my all time favorite. 

After the effects of the adrenaline rush from standing in front of Sue subsided I ran out of gas. I had had enough. I just wanted to leave, get in the car and rest. 

Paula wanted to look through the museum store before we left. I looked for my traditional refrigerator magnet to remember my visit. I found one but when there was no cashier around and I didn't have the energy to look for one. I put the magnet back. 

With that our day at Chicago's Field Museum came to a conclusion. We left about 4:30.  

Our evening plans included going to dinner and a movie. Paula wanted to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Night Rises, at an IMAX theater. 

We could have stayed in the downtown area and gone to the IMAX theater at the Navy Pier. But we didn't want to have to pay for parking at the pier again and we wanted to get out of the city a bit. 

Before we left our hotel that morning I found the location of an IMAX theater about 30 minutes from our hotel at the Woodridge Mall in Woodridge, IL. I promised my wife a nice evening including dinner at the Cheesecake Factory that was located at the same mall; or so I thought. 

I programmed the mall's address in the GPS. We ran into some traffic backed up because of construction on an off ramp. But by 5:45 we were at our destination. The only problem was that there was no Cheesecake Factory. 

As it turned out I had gotten two different malls confused. The Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg,IL northwest of Chicago was where the Cheesecake Factory was. It would have been a great place to do some shopping in some well known stores. But it closed at 6PM which was about the time we arrived at the other mall.

The mall in Woodridge was southwest of the city. The bad news was that there was no Cheesecake Factory. The good news was there was an IMAX theater. The better news was that over the course of the rest of the night we would park in 3 different places for FREE!

I bought our tickets for the 7PM IMAX showing of "Dark Night Rises." We had an hour, plenty of time, to get some dinner and be in our seats in time for the start of the movie. Our only restaurant choice was Buffalo Wild Wings. Not exactly the type of restaurant we were looking for but it would do. 

We sat down about 6:05pm and placed our orders about 5 minutes later. That was plenty of time to get our food, eat and make it back to the theater. Or that's what we thought. 

It took more than 40 minutes for our food to arrive and I didn't even order pizza. I was really upset. We had to eat much too quickly and had to rush to the movie.

The theater that was only about half full. We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the 2 1/2 hour finale of the Dark Knight trilogy. It was the type of rest that we needed. We re-hydrated with bottled water and a large soda. 

As we left the theater we felt slightly recharged. We were tired but not exhausted. 

Before we headed back to our hotel we went to a frozen yogurt shop called "Nuff". We each got about 6oz of a variety of different flavors. 

We sat at a round table outside the store in the cool night air and ate our dessert. The frozen dessert wasn't very good. Not anywhere close to the flavor or quality of what we get a Stakz, the best frozen yogurt place near our house. 

We left the Woodridge mall and followed NoVa's directions back to the hotel. Instead of taking us back by way of the major freeways like we had traveled on up until that time it took us on local county roads. 

This route brought us through several towns that weren't exactly the best places to drive through at night. It was nothing dangerous but it helped us realize that our hotel was just barely in the "good side" of town. 

We got back to our hotel about 11PM which was relatively early considering our return time the 2 previous nights. 

Our 2nd day in Chicago was history. Our plans for day 3 included a return to the Museum Campus and spending an  evening on the south side of the city. 

I went to sleep knowing that the next day we would be doing some major sight seeing and I would be taking Paula to her first American League baseball game. 

Weekend In Chicago-Day 1 Part 3

When last we left Paula & Ron on their "Weekend In Chicago" they were tired, hungry, and on their way to pick their car from a valet parking garage. Let's check back in with them as they head for...

Navy Pier
After waiting nervously in the front of the parking garage for about 10 minutes, our car was finally brought to us by a valet. First thing I did was check the mileage. (I've seen Ferris Bueller too many times) It hadn't changed.

We programmed the GPS to head southeast toward our next destination. Navy Pier is a combination of a seashore boardwalk, marina, and a performing arts center. It's located on the east side of the city on the shore of Lake Michigan. 

Once again while driving I got a bit confused with the directions our GPS gave us. I ended up driving past Navy Pier and into the museum campus area a bit further south. This is where 3 of the city's most popular museums and Soldier Field, home field of it's NFL franchise "Da Bears."

Visiting this area was in our plans for the next day so getting a navigational perspective of on it's location actually proved beneficial. 

We doubled back and finally arrived at Navy Pier. Because it was Saturday night and a fireworks show was scheduled there was quite a bit of traffic. 

We followed the signs to the parking garage and found a space, on ground level, not too far away from the pier.  

As I mentioned in yesterday's post we were both very hungry by this time in the day.  So before venturing out onto the pier we had our own little private dinning experience in the car. 

Now there were plenty of places to eat there. I'll mention a few of them a bit later. But with all we had paid in parking during the day we needed to look for a way to save some money. The carryout box from Giordano's that was in the backseat provided the answer. 

Using paper towels as both plates and napkins, we ate another slice of our deep dish pizza for our dinner. 

While it might not seem like it; this was the most romantic meal we had on the entire trip. Sitting there in the car rather isolated in such a busy area gave us a bit of a feeling like we were the only two people in the world at that time. 

In the future when Paula and I talk about our trip to Chicago we will more than likely mention our pizza dinner in the parking garage at Navy Pier as one of the best memories.   

The pier was divided up into several sections. There was: the marina where dinner cruises and sight seeing tour boats departed; the Pepsi theater where a Cirque Du Soleil type show was currently showing, the Shakespeare Theater where Disney's Beauty and the Beast was being presented, an IMAX movie theater, an amusement park, and an indoor shopping area. 

The shopping area had your typical tourist type shops and kiosks as well as a food court and several restaurants. Three of them, Harry Carey's, (named after the infamous Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer), the Billy Goat Tavern (the inspiration for the "cheezborger cheezborger" sketches on Saturday Night Live in the late 70's) and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (inspired by the movie "Forrest Gump") were the most popular places to eat. 

Homemade soaps, refrigerator magnets, sunglasses, handmade confections, flavored popcorn and the ubiquitous "homemade" fudge were just some of the items available in the specialty shops. We walked through a lot of the shopping area before walking out onto the pier by way of the doors in the food court. 

It was a beautiful night and the place was very crowded with locals having a night out and tourists waiting for the fire works. 

The view of Downtown Chicago at night from the pier was beautiful. I attempted to take a couple of pictures but my camera's flash didn't provide enough light to get a good one. However here's a shot I found on Google.

Downtown @ Night From Navy Pier
The amusement area had 3 rides: a carousel, a set of swings, and a very large Ferris Wheel. These pictures of them were very dark when they were taken. To brighten them up I had to add some higher contrast. 

Navy Pier Carousel

Swings and Ferris Wheel
I wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel but the wait was at least an hour. With our limited time to enjoy the area I decided not to waste time waiting in line. 

As more and more people began to crowd onto the pier we realized that we needed to find a place to watch the fireworks. 

We staked out our spot on a 2 foot high wall along a walk way near the carousel.  We shared a small cup of Ben and Jerry's ice cream as we waited for the show to start.

The fireworks started at 10:15 PM and lasted about 15 minutes. The most unique aspect of the show was a round shaped burst that started out white and then condensed, turning red. The result was a stunning 3D visual effect making the burst look like a sphere moving toward us. It was something I'd never seen in a fireworks display before and thought it was really cool.

After the finale of the show in the sky we walked back to the indoor shopping area. We were both thirsty so we stopped in the food court to sit down and have a beverage. Paula got a Starbucks iced coffee and I had a soda from McDonald's. 

It had been a long day to say the least. (It took 3 blog posts to write about it) So we decided to call it a night and head for the car. 

On our way back past the shops, we bought some salt water taffy for my sister-in-law. Paula  stopped at one of the jewelry kiosks and bought a butterfly ring and a silver band to wear until she gets her wedding ring sized again.  
One last thing we had to do was pay for our parking. There were no attendants at the exits so we had to find a payment kiosk to pay our fee. 

To get to the kiosk we had to walk past the doors we needed to use to get back to our car and walk into part of the shopping area we hadn't been to. 

I paid the $25 for parking. This brought our parking fees total for the day to nearly $75. It was a very expensive lesson but we never paid more than $30 in a single day the rest of the trip.  

Our walk to the parking payment kiosk took us past the Billy Goat Tavern and a Fun House. While Paula used the rest room I walked inside the Billy Goat Tavern just to look around. I had wanted to eat there but that didn't work out. 

Also I posed in the old fashioned concave mirrors that were outside the fun house attraction. Not very flattering is it? 

Once our parking fees were paid it was time to the car and back to our hotel. We had done all we could do in one day. 

We parked in front of the hotel about 1AM. Our first day in Chicago was over. We had a good time and were exhausted.      

Our plans for the next day included going to the museum campus and exploring the Field Museum. But it was time to take some Tylenol PM and get some rest. We fell asleep about 2AM. 


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weekend In Chicago: Day 1-Part 2

Author's Note: This post is rather lengthy. But it encompasses the middle portion of the first day of our recent trip to Chicago. I'll do my best to keep subsequent posts in this series a bit shorter. But as you know I am a man of many words, so no promises.  

The Magnificent Mile and Hancock Observatory

After visiting the Sky Deck and having deep dish pizza for lunch Paula and I were back in our car and heading up toward the 900 block Michigan Avenue. 

So far Chicago seemed a lot like any other big city; lots of traffic and plenty of people. But, as I told Paula, the part of downtown we'd seen seemed a lot cleaner and slightly slower paced than downtown Manhattan in New York City. 

But then we crossed over the river and entered the Magnificent Mile. It is a "high end" shopping district and the main artery of the heart of the Chicago. It is a bustling area that's a combination of office buildings, four star hotels and vertical malls with anchor stores like: Sachs, Macy's, Bloomingdales, and Norstroms. 

The "Mag Mile" was extremely congested with traffic and pedestrians. The combination of taxi's rushing to pick up passengers and CTA buses making their frequent stops made for a very difficult drive especially when trying following a GPS. All the tall buildings looked alike and we weren't sure which one we were looking for. 

The sidewalks on both sides of the street were crowded with people.Most of them were people sight seeing or out shopping. They were collectively flowing up and down the street like streams of humanity. It reminded me very much of the Times Square or Broadway areas of New York City. 

Although I have experience driving in this type of big city traffic I hadn't done it for several years. It was somewhat overwhelming. 

At the end of the 800 block of Michigan Avenue Nova, our GPS, told us, "you have reached your destination." But we didn't see anything that said John Hancock Observatory. 

I wasn't sure where to go so I kept on driving. Michigan Avenue turned into Lake Shore Drive. Soon we were out of the "Mag Mile" area and driving along the Lake Michigan shore line through the neighborhoods north of downtown. 

We drove around for about 20 minutes trying to find our way back down to Michigan Avenue. We couldn't find our way through the maze of street, highways, and exit ramps. But the silver lining to this navigation cloud was that we had the chance to see parts of the city we had not planned on visiting. 

We passed community fairs, Lincoln Park and the entrance to the zoo. It was one of those nice neighborhood areas that I read about in my travel guides. Despite the navigation frustration seeing this part of the city was rather interesting. 

Once we got back onto the "Mag Mile" area we were faced with another problem. We couldn't find a place to park. Unlike the area of downtown further south, there didn't seem to be any parking garages at all. 

Finally we drove down Walton Avenue where we found the elusive "parking" signs. This is where I learned my lesson to make sure you use "self park." 

I pulled into a valet parking garage like the one Matthew Brodrick used in Ferris Bueller's Day off? That was a big mistake. Paula and I only spent about 2 or 3 hours on Michigan Avenue but it cost me $26. Needless to say I was not happy about that. But lesson learned.

We walked a block down to the John Hancock building. We found the entrance to the observatory elevator. We gave the attendants at the desk our "fast pass" tickets and road to the 94th floor. 

The observatory windows were large panes of glass giving you a much better view of the city than the Sky Deck. Here are some of my favorite pictures, one from each direction. 


Once we were back on the ground floor it was time to start our own shopping excursion down Michigan Avenue. 

We headed south, stopping at the Water Tower Place mall. This is one of those vertical malls I mentioned. It had 7 floors.  

It got it's name because it's across Michigan Avenue from the historic Chicago water tower; one of the handful of buildings to survive the great Chicago fire. 

The water tower was probably my favorite building in a town full of amazing architecture.  In this picture you can see that in the contrast with it's surroundings it really stands out. To me it looks like a castle. 

Historic Water Tower
The first store we went into at Water Tower Place was The American Girl Place. I was told about this store by a friend. He advised me that although it's target customers are a very specific demographic, the store had to be seen to be believed. Is that ever the truth. 

The store is 2 floors of rooms and rooms filled with dolls, doll clothes, books, services, all of which fall under the "American Girl" brand. 

I had never heard of "American Girl" before I walked into the store. Talk about your high end toys and collectibles. You really do have to see it for yourself. 

I didn't take any pictures of the store but if you are curious here's a link to it's website.

Although I wasn't interested the American Girls store. To tell you the truth I was awed at it's excess and jealous that it wasn't for something I liked. But that was coming. 

We walked out of the doll store and into the 2nd floor of the mall. There we came face to face with this. 

Lego Woody and Me
This was Toy Story figure was sitting outside a Lego store. Other than in Walt Disney World, I had never seen a store devoted to Lego before. 

The store was full of all kinds of Lego sets. Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars and NASA sets. The back wall was full of bins of Lego pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors. You could fill create your own custom set. What a great idea. 

There were several cool looking large object made from Lego throughout the store. This included a dragon, a cowboy, and  models of both the Willis Tower and John Hancock building. 


There was also a Lego water tower (upper right picture) that was part of a fountain system that cascaded down from floor to floor of the mall in between the escalators. It was cool. 

We only explored a few floors of Water Tower Place. One of the last stores we went into was called "Chiaroscuro." It was an art store filled with the most unusual and unique home decor items I've ever seen. I could try and give you some details about it but I wouldn't do it justice. If you are ever in the Water Tower Place mall I highly recommend going to visit Chiaroscuro. 

Before we left Michigan Avenue and headed toward Navy Pier we had one more stop. We walked 3 blocks south to the Chicago Disney Store.  

It had been a while since I'd been in a Disney Store and their merchandise has changed. It was mostly all stuff for kids. I managed to find a t-shirt with "Chicago" and the Disney Fab 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto) printed on it in my size. We also bought a pair of small Mickey and Minnie Mouse plush dolls, for our grand daughter, Aria. 

As we were paying for our purchases the store's closing time passed. The woman who was the store manager came around the store singing "Now it's time to say good-bye to all our company" and the rest of the old Mickey Mouse Club song. As she sang she was turning off the store's lights; politely but firmly informing customers that it was now time to leave the store. 

We finished our purchase and headed for the door. As we walked through it the manager said smiling, "Have a magical night" and swiftly closed and locked the door. Extremely passive aggressive in strange and funny way. She truly was someone who enjoys drinking the Disney Kool Aid. 

By this time Paula and I were both hungry but mostly we were thirsty. We got a couple of bottles of water at the one of the shops at the John Hancock building. We walked back to the car and head to Navy Pier. 

This is where I am going to end this 2nd installment about our first day in the Windy City. One more post will finish our very busy Saturday. I promise it will be a good one because there's fireworks. 

...To Be Continued