Chicago August 08 family vacation

Old Sep 6th, 2008, 02:19 PM
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Chicago August 08 family vacation

Chicago is one of the great U.S. cities, and there was plenty to see
and do there on our family vacation. Our family of 4 -- DH, myself, and two grown boys, stayed in a rental apartment in the "River North" neighborhood right in the
middle of everything, just one block from the Magnificent Mile. We rented through Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), and it was a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, August 20 -- We got up early, at 5:30, to be out of the house by 6:30 for our 9:30 flight to Chicago out of Washington National Airport. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so our Younger Son watched DVDs on his portable player while Older Son browsed at the book shop until it was time to board. The United flight was short, uncrowded, and pleasant. We upgraded to Economy Plus and had plenty of leg room (everyone in the family is 6 feet or taller). We arrived at 10:20 CDT, and walked through the airport to the Blue Line CTA terminal station to ride the train into the city. We bought 3-day visitor passes for $12 each -- a real bargain, since we used CTA trains and buses at least 4 times a day,
and each single-ride fare is $2. The ride in from the airport was long, and we transferred to the Red Line subway in the Loop to ride two more stations north to Chicago and State Streets, just 2 blocks from the apartment.

Our VRBO rental apartment was located at 30 E Huron St. in the River North neighborhood. Check-in at the 56-floor, all-condo building was simple and short, and in minutes we were 37 floors up in our beautiful 2-bedroom apartment
overlooking Michigan Avenue, the John Hancock Building, and Lake Michigan itself. Every room had floor to ceiling windows, and the view was spectacular! I
immediately ran downstairs to the Italian sandwich shop in the building, L'Appettito, and got lunch for everyone. We were very hungry -- it was just noon, but our stomachs were still on EDT. After lunch, we unpacked and rested, and while OS napped and YS watched
cable TV, DH and I went to Whole Foods, just a few blocks away, for
groceries.

So we didn't really start sightseeing until 3:00 or so, when we took the #151 bus north on Michigan Avenue to Lincoln Park, and spent a couple of hours at the
lovely, and manageably small, Lincoln Park Zoo. We were able to get SO close to the animals -- actually touching the glass, on the other side of which paced a huge tiger! We especially enjoyed all the big cats and the primates. At 5:00, the zoo closed, and we bussed back to the apartment. I made a tasty dinner of beef stir fry and rice. Then, at 7:30, we took the #66 bus eastward to the base
of Navy Pier, which was beautifully lit up and definitely hopping. We picked up our reserved tickets for Shoreline Sightseeing's 9:15 fireworks cruise. This was a wonderful 1-hour outing on the lake, looking back at Chicago's stunning skyline. Then, at about 9:45, the amazing fireworks show began -- the city has fireworks on the lake every Wednesday and Saturday night in the summer. It was just fantastic! We oohed, we ahhed, we applauded.

We bussed back to the apartment and immediately fell into bed, though OS stayed up for awhile and went down to the building's pool before
turning in. The building has a large deck and swimming pool on top of the 9-story parking structure on one side of the tower, and it was a wonderful place to swim, hang out, catch some rays, grill some burgers, work out in the gym, and
do laundry.

Thursday, August 21 -- We had breakfast in the apartment, featuring yummy croissants from Whole Foods. OS agreed to watch YS for a couple of hours and DH and I went to the Chicago History Museum at the base of Lincoln Park.
We got there in a roundabout way, taking the Red Line train north and walking east from the North/Clybourn station, almost 3/4 of a mile -- it would have been
much more direct to take a bus (either the #151, 22, or 36). The museum was wonderful -- a thorough exploration of Chicago's rich history, from early frontier days,
the city's incorporation in 1837, the Civil War (including Abraham Lincoln's death bed), the Chicago Fire, a beautifully preserved "L" car, treasures from the 1933 World's Fair, displays featuring the city's contributions to
architecture and industry, the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention, an interactive Chicago sports quiz, and many other great exhibits. The special exhibition wing was dedicated to Chicago's huge and multicultural Catholic population. DH and I spent a happy two hours at the museum, then took
the bus back to the apartment for lunch -- PBJs, chips and fruit.

After a brief rest, all four of us went back to the train station and took the Red Line south to the Loop, getting off at Adams and Wabash. Our first stop was
the beautiful Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) building, where OS bought tickets for an architecture river cruise at noon on Saturday. DH and I had taken this tour back in 2004 while we were visiting Chicago (I was attending a transit conference, and DH came along). It is an incredibly knowledgeable and fun 90-minute cruise along the
Chicago River, seeing and discussing the city's magnificent and unique architecture, especially skyscrapers of every vintage and style.

Then it was on to the Art Institute of Chicago, a sprawling and comprehensive collection of some of the world's best classic and modern paintings. We spent a heavenly 20
minutes parked in front of the pointillist masterpiece "Sunday Afternoon in the Park at La Grande Jatte" by Seurat, the painting that inspired Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George". A print of this work hangs over our mantel at home, and it was thrilling to see it in person. We sat at the closer bench first, then moved back to the farthest bench and watched the figures in the painting sharpen into focus. Cool effect! I also greatly enjoyed the Thorne Miniature Rooms, a gallery of 68 perfectly recreated replicas of European and American decorative arts and architectural interiors, ranging from 17th century France to
1970s California. It's like the biggest, coolest, most diverse doll house in the world. I was entranced and could have stayed for days, marveling at every tiny detail.

OS had split off from us by this time, so the three of us crossed over to Millennium Park, in particular to see the giant silver sculpture that looks like
a kidney bean, but is actually called "Clouds". (Wouldn't it be great if it were called "Kidney Bean"?) It is an amazing piece that reflects the city skyline, the people in front and underneath of it, and the clouds above .... which
clouds, in fact, were darkening quickly, and a spotty rain had started, so we retreated to the L. Instead of heading straight back to the apartment, we rode the train once around the Loop, which YS adored. The elevated trains come within inches of the buildings,
and we could look in the office windows and watch as people toiled away. We got back to the apartment at around 4:00 and collapsed. I took advantage again of our wonderful, fully-equipped kitchen and cooked dinner in -- a big cost savings! After we ate, DH stayed home with YS while OS and I took a taxi up to Old Town, to The Second City, Chicago's famous comedy improv troupe. The show "No Country for Old White Men" was hilarious, and covered topics from tyrannical
office Evites and YouTube video sharing, to the Kabuki dance at Jiffy Lube where every woman customer invariably has some mysterious and expensive problem with her car ("You've got a tear in your strut girdle"), while the male customer gets a $20 oil change, no discussion. Sound familiar? OS and I loved the show, which was capped by a 30-minute total improv session, with audience members suggesting topics for the comics to riff on. The Second City is a
training ground for many great comics like Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Fred Willard, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Dan Castellaneta, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, and Tina Fey. WOW.
After the show, we took the 36 bus back to the apartment, and fell into bed. It had been a fun and full day.

Friday, August 22 -- After breakfast at the apartment, OS took off for a day of independent wandering. DH, YS and I took our dirty clothes down to the building's laundry, and while they washed and dried, we hung out at the pool, which we had to ourselves. It was great lying back in the water, watching the
reflections of clouds race across the windows the surrounding skyscrapers. After showering and eating a light lunch, we were ready to head out for the afternoon.

We caught the #146 "Outer Loop" bus southbound on Michigan Avenue to the Museum Campus at the south end of Grant Park. The campus includes Soldier Field (home of Da Bears), Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum of Natural History. We were heading to the Field Museum, which has a reputation as one of the very best natural history museums in the world. Museum admission is pretty steep -- $14 apiece -- but it is far superior to any other natural history museum I have every visited. Sorry, Smithsonian. Eat your heart out, American Museum of Natural History, New York! The Field Museum is the best, hands down! Some highlights of the permanent exhibit included:
- The world's largest, most omplete T-Rex, winningly named "Sue".
- A fantastic evolution of life exhibit called Evolving Planet; I learned so much!
- Inside Ancient Egypt, a 3-level exhibit mounted inside a real pyramid.
- More stuffed mammals and birds than you can shake a stick at, all arranged in environmentally accurate settings.
After a couple of hours taking it all in, we had a restorative bowl of soup and some coffee at Corner Bakery on the main level of the museum, and then walked out into the sparking sunshine, looking out over the Burnham Park Yacht Club and across the dramatic city skyline. Nice.

Then it was back on the bus, back up Michigan Avenue, and out at the iconic John Hancock Center, otherwise known as "Big John". At 1,200 feet high (at the rooftop -- there are also antennae that add another 315 feet), the Hancock Tower is not the tallest skyscraper in town (that's the Sears Tower), but it is a well-known symbol of Chicago, with a sturdy look, dramatic black coloring, and
X-shaped reinforcements running the height of each side, the building's very visible exoskeleton. YS loved the views from the observatory, and peacefully gazed out from each vantage point. Afterwards, it was a short walk back to the apartment, just 5 blocks, and then it was time to rest and recover before dinner. We left early for dinner, around 5:15, because Giordano's Famous Pizza doesn't take reservations.
After a 45-minute wait at the bar, OS and I split a famous stuffed crust deep dish pizza, and DH and YS had an "Almost Famous" thin crust pizza (which was still pretty hefty). Lots of leftovers to take home!

DH and OS took the train down to the Loop to attend a free outdoor concert at Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. The Chicago Sinfonietta performed Holst's "The Planets", with accompanying video from the Adler Planetarium.
Pretty cool, huh? DH said the orchestra wasn't great -- they're not the Berlin Philharmonic (or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for that matter), but it was a fine evening. The only drawback was that the Red Line subway was closed for
track repairs for the weekend, and everyone was diverted to the Brown Line, which took them many blocks to the west, with a long walk back to the apartment. CTA needs to do a better job of communicating service changes to their passengers!
Meanwhile, YS and I chilled at the apartment watching movies. All together, it was a wonderful day!

Saturday, August 23 -- After breakfast at the apartment, we all took the bus down Michigan Avenue, getting off on the south side of the bridge at the northeast corner of the Loop. We found the Chicago Architecture Foundation's
boarding area for OS's 12:00 cruise, then we split up. DH, YS and I did a walking tour of the Loop, using printouts from our guidebook. The Chicago Cultural Center was particularly nice -- a huge, late 19th century building that fills the entire block at Washington Street. It used to be the public library, but is now a community and visitors center, and is decorated by ornate mosaics,
a grand central staircase, and the largest stained glass dome ever produced by Tiffany Glass & Decorating. We walked all the way to the southern end of the Loop and explored Printer's Row, a compact area of low-rise brownstones with a
quiet, neighborhood feel. We ate a second breakfast at around 11:00 at a little Italian joint that DH nosed out -- great corned beef hash
, eggs, pancakes, and fried potatoes, and bottomless cups of coffee. Our energy had been flagging a bit before then because the sun was hot and the humidity was high, but with a solid, delicious meal in our stomachs, we were ready to go again. So we caught the train out on the Green Line through a pretty dicey
neighborhood that houses the Garfield Park Conservatory. It was very nice! About 7 different, co-joined greenhouses covered many different environments, with a
profusion of flowers, palms, cacti, trees, bushes, vines, and water features. After visiting the gardens, we got back on the train and returned to the apartment.

Meanwhile, OS had just finished his fantastic 90-minute architecture cruise. The boat went up and down the Chicago River with a running commentary by a well-informed CAF docent, who described each building along the route -- it's
architectural style, designer, and history. We all met back at the apartment and rested. I finished the book At 6:00, DH and I went out for dinner while the boys stayed home and ate leftover pizza. We went to Kiki's Bistro, about 12 blocks away on North Franklin
Street, in a rapidly-developing area that is close to the infamous Cabrini Green projects, which were torn down in 2003. The restaurant was packed -- it is clear that this area is ready for more upscale dining -- and dinner was very good,
though not as wonderful as Bistro Bis or Montmartre in Washington, D.C. When we got back from dinner, DH and OS took off for the nearby blues club Blue Chicago and stayed for a set. OS said the band was hot. YS and I went down to the swimming pool for one last swim. It was another wonderful day in a
terrific city.

Sunday, August 24 -- The last day of vacation is never any fun to write about. Basically, we ate the rest of the food in the apartment,
packed, and got out of Dodge. Our flight back to D.C. wasn't until noon, but we were taking the train and wanted to give ourselves lots of time because of the track work on the Red Line. Thinking we were so smart, we took a cab to the
Clark Station in the Loop, where we got on the Blue Line. Which was terrific, except that there was track work on the Blue Line, too, between Irving Park and Jefferson Park, which meant we were offloaded to a "bus bridge" between the two
stations, then put back on the train. Even with all of that, we were checked in and through security by 10:15, and had plenty of time to get a snack and relax
before boarding our flight.

It was a wonderful vacation -- Chicago is one of those places that has something for everyone, and is especially fun for families, even with older children.
DrBlueCrab is offline  
Old Sep 6th, 2008, 04:52 PM
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Excellent information on your review for future visitors. We did a similar trip with our (then) 16 y.o. and 13 y.o. children and it was fabulous.
We had a full week in Chicago, so we were able to visit more of the museums than you did. We found it was a good deal for us to buy the City Pass. It gives you admission to the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science and Industry, Field Museum and the John Hancock Building PLUS you get to bypass the often long lines to enter these places. (When we went a few years ago, admission to the Art Institute was included, but I see that has been dropped now.) Anyway, if you plan to go to all of these places, you will save about 50% in admission fees.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 07:39 PM
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Great report!
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 10:08 PM
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Very nice report! Thank you for making me aware once again of what a great city Chicago is!
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Old Sep 7th, 2008, 10:15 AM
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You did a lot. What a great tag team you had going. Sounds like the apartment worked out great for your family. That's a good location for sightseeing--but Chicago is so easy to get around, no matter where you stay(esp. when they aren't working on the El). We stay in Lincoln Park when we visit.

We were just visiting our daughter in August. She and my husband ran the Chicago Half Maraton. We also got stuck in the Blue Line track closure. We were glad we left extra time to get to the airport. It always does take us longer to get to the airport though, than to fly from Chicago to Cleveland.

I found the Cultural Center by accident. Isn't that building beautiful? I was walking last summer on a horribly hot day and just stopped in there to cool off.

I have only visited 2 of the museums. The Field-great. The docents do a very good highlights Tour in the morning. The Art Museum--I really enjoyed using the headsets with the guided tours.

Since our daughter chose to move out of town, it's nice that she chose to move to such a fun place to visit.

Thanks for sharing your visit.
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Old Sep 8th, 2008, 09:56 AM
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Nice report.
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Old Oct 29th, 2008, 06:52 PM
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Dear LindainOhio --

I agree that Chicago is one of the great cities. But I'd definitely rather visit in July or August and not the winter!

I could have hung out in the Chicago Culture Center for quite awhile -- beautiful building, and some very nice exhibits. The morning we checked it out, they were getting set up for a big party in the Tiffany dome room upstairs. I wished that we were invited!

The one thing we didn't do during this visit that my husband and I really enjoyed on our last visit was to go to a blues club. What a lot of great places Chicago has to hear live music! Oh well, it gives us a reason to go back.

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Old Mar 18th, 2009, 05:40 AM
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Very, very good trip report with details. Next time you go, or anyone goes to Chicago, esp. May through Oct., check out listings of events from chicago Park district at Millennium Park (Where the "Bean"/ Cloudgate) is located. My daughter and I went last summer for a 2-day getaway and had a wealth of free experiences there...from a fantastic australian dance/acrobatic trip, to a free concert at Pritzker (the amphitheater is designed by Frank Gehry) and Pinchas Zukerman (accompanied by a lovely slice of chocolate/raspberry tart that we picked up at a nearby deli)and the choreographed lightshow at the Buckingham Fountain next door. Also, you can trek down the lakefront to Oak St.or North Avenue beaches (by Lincoln Park, if you're there). Look for the big former ferry boat that is docked on the beach and now houses a restaurant on the second floor (called Castaways), overlooking the expansive beach and the curving shoreline, skyscrapers and ferris wheel--just an unbelievable view and fun people-watching. On sat. and sunday afternoons until Sept.15, there is live music, no cover. Simply outstanding.
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