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Trip Report Chicago weekend: a reunion, a get-together, and a city revisited

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Last weekend I went to Chicago for my fortieth college reunion. It had been ten years since my last trip to Chicago, when I attended my thirtieth reunion, and ten more years since the visit before that one.

Coincidentally, some people from Fodor's were planning a get-together in Chicago last weekend, arriving from points near and far. And as a further coincidence, a friend of mine from home in Massachusetts was attending a conference in Chicago that began on Sunday. So I arrive at O'Hare around 11:00 AM on Thursday, June 6 in a cold rain with a very full agenda.

I take a shared shuttle to my hotel from the airport using GO Airport Express. http://www.airportexpress.com/
I have not booked in advance but I go to the desk in the terminal, pay $32, and am showed to a van that is leaving shortly. As we head down the highway, I see a somewhat puzzling sign giving travel times. It says that the express lanes are a forty minute drive in to Chicago and the local lanes are thirty minutes. The driver chooses the express lane anyway. Big mistake. Near the end of the ride, he comments that the express lane wasn't very express today, and I tell him about the sign I had seen. He says he had seen it too but that in his mind he had reversed the times, as they didn't make sense to him. Oh well.

I am staying at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel with a group rate for my reunion. This is located in a section of downtown Chicago which simply did not exist when I lived there. Signs say it is Chicago's new east side. I can not even picture what it used to look like, but I believe it was mostly railroad yards and waste land. It is near the very attractive Millennium Park, also built on railroad land, which also did not exist.

The hotel is so advanced in its design and its technology that I ride up and down the elevator a few times before I figure out (with the help of two amused men who eventually get on the elevator or I'd still be going up and down) how to swipe my room key so that the elevator will stop at my floor. It takes me a while to figure out how to turn the lights on and off in my room, and I never do quite get the knack of getting them to come on or go off on the first try.

When I walk into the bathroom the first time, I don't see the toilet, so I go out to see if it is in its own room somewhere. Turns out it is hiding behind a sliding glass door that opens to the shower and to the toilet, but not simultaneously. And I never do figure out how to use the hand held shower attachment hanging on the wall next to the rainfall shower head. At least that's what I think it is.

After a quick lunch in the hotel bar, I head off to the Field Museum. I am to meet some people from the Fodor's get-together there, but first I go through some of the exhibits on my own. I haven't been in the Field Museum in over forty years. One of my college friends remembers going there and seeing cockroaches in the basement with the mummies. It has been spruced up considerably since then. I walk through the wonderful exhibit on the Ancient Americas, what a collection!

When it is time to meet the others, I walk out to the totem pole that stands outside the North entrance to the museum. Nobody else is standing there, so I text Hershey, with whom I have exchanged a few e-mails about the gathering, and ask if everyone has already gone inside. A minute or two later, a smiling woman I have never seen walks out of the museum as I am coming up the stairs and gives me a big hug. It is Hershey, who has been confused about the meeting place, which had been described as a "big beaver totem pole". It was not obvious that this totem pole represented a beaver, and she had wondered if there was another one somewhere and whether she was in the right place, as nobody else was there. So we are happy to have found each other.

We are eventually joined by PhillyFan and elberko, each of whom seems to have had something of an adventure getting to the museum. Elberko and I tour the special exhibit of the Lascaux cave paintings. I have been fascinated by these ever since I was a child and read about the boys who discovered the paintings in a cave in France by accident. This exhibit has replicas of some of the paintings on a recreated cavelike surface. I sit and contemplate them for some time. I have visited some of the French caves with prehistoric art. Lascaux is closed to visitors however, and I have not visited the replica that has been opened near the original cave in the Dordogne.

After this we split up and I head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner. I am meeting some college friends, including a dear friend with whom I have lost contact for decades. He lives in Chicago and is driving us all to the restaurant. When he arrives at the hotel we just keep hugging each other. It is beyond wonderful to see everyone.

We have dinner at Kiki's Bistro. http://www.kikisbistro.com/ This is a nice French restaurant in the River North area. I enjoy my meal quite a bit. When we are leaving, my friend says he sees a rabbit. "Are you sure it's not a rat?" I ask. Then I see it too, it's hopping, it's definitely a rabbit. Time for bed.

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