Hello, Chicago (Part II)

Ours is a household of picky eaters…or, perhaps I should say, particular eaters. Every single one of us has things we cannot stand, and these inedibles rarely overlap–a situation which drastically reduces the potential menu on any given day.

But traveling brings out the adventurers in us (somehow). We ate a meal prepared by Mayans in the middle of the jungle near Tulum, Mexico. We went on a food tour through Trastevere in Rome, Italy. And all 5 of us loved every moment of both experiences.

As such, when it came to planning our trip to Chicago, we immediately started Googling food tours. I read up on the “Best in Chow” tour through Chicago Food Planet and signed us up.

It was a slam dunk.

First stop, Lou Malnati’s. (Very important preface:  when one is about to embark upon a 3 hour food tour, one should probably not take one’s children to a huge breakfast. Live and learn.)

Lou’s was our first Chicago deep dish pizza ever (well, for 4 out of 5 of us). What’s not to like about buttery crust, stringy mozzarella and loads of chunky tomato sauce? Jack gave this a huge thumb’s up (even with a belly-full of breakfast…).

One good carbo-load deserves another, so our fantastic guide, Terry, walked us over to FireCakes for an old-fashioned buttermilk doughnut.

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I’m not the biggest sweet fan on the planet, but these were so terrific that I walked back to FireCakes on our last morning to pick up doughnuts and coffee for our last breakfast in Chicago.

Next stop: Al’s for tastes of an Italian beef sandwich–again, the first tastes for all but one of us.

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Clearly, Too. Much. Food. So much so that at our next stop, Theo asked for the leftovers to take with us and to hand out to folks we passed on the street who needed them.

Portillo’s is completely a Chicago legend, yet this is the one place where we did not eat a bite–but we did make some less fortunate Chicagoans very happy later on.

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Jack pretending to take a bite in order to save face with our group and our guide. A noble effort on his part, to say the least.

We walked a bit and then paused for some popcorn at Garrett Popcorn. Not sure how anyone was able to eat anything else at this point.

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The very last stop was the Cambria Hotel for a taste of the Palmer House Brownie–a dessert that made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. [Insert gratuitous plug for Erik Larsen’s outstanding book, Devil in the White City.]

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We would recommend the Chicago Food Planet’s “Best in Chow” tour in a Minnesota minute. Every single aspect of it was awesome. We rolled out of the Cambria Hotel a little after 2 pm absolutely stuffed to the gills and headed to The Field Museum.

My boys have always loved science museums. We’ve spent countless hours at the Fernbank here in Atlanta, and anywhere we go, we try to track one down (London’s Science Museum may be our all-time fave…). The Field Museum was pretty spectacular as well.

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We were stuffed and tired and sliding in to The Field with only a few hours left to explore, so we went on speed-mode.

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Inside Ancient Egypt. Tucker pretending to be a mummy.

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Underground Adventure. Going through the Shrinkerator, which shrinks you to 1/100th of your normal size and then plops you out in an underground world chock full of creepy crawlies.

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With Sue, the T.Rex.

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We wandered into the Hall of Birds somehow. (We are generally not birders…). Here, Tucker takes a photo with what Russ calls “the noblest of all birds”, the turkey.

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[Insert Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks joke here.]

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We took a nice little break to see the 3-D movie entitled Waking the T.Rex. Then we entered Jurassic World, a special exhibition for which we’d paid extra.

While Jurassic World was indeed quite nifty, it was also very hot and geared for younger folks. Had we visited it 5 years ago, say, we might have been roaming the exhibit for hours. Instead, we sort of sped through it, ready to leave the heat and sit down again.

Because we’d certainly not eaten enough that day, Russ took us to dinner at Coco Pazzo. We took a much needed mid-length walk back to our hotel and settled in for the night.

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Check out Theo’s outfit. The dinosaur tube socks really pull it all together.

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We were up and at ’em on Monday morning, heading to the Sears Tower (which is actually now called the Willis Tower) in an attempt to beat the crowd.

We were not successful. The line length gave the boys ample opportunity to play the most annoying game ever invented in the history of the entire galaxy: Girl Power.

In Girl Power, my sons take turns covertly trying to touch me, and it absolutely makes me lose my mind. It doesn’t take long for the game to reach Chernobyl-levels of annoyance. Girl Power is something I’m sure we’ll laugh about at their weddings one day, but that’s a long, long time from now. About 5 minutes into it, I threatened to make the next person who touched me cry. That made the family in front of us in the line turn around, stare, and then shimmy themselves up as close to the people in front of them as possible.

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The top was shrouded by clouds while we were in line…

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This is just as creepy as it looks. Trust me.

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You could also feel the building swaying lightly. We had to wait in line for over half an hour to take the elevator back down, and by the time we stepped out of the building, I was officially motion sick.

From the Sears Tower, we walked over to the Money Museum, which was a surprise find online and also quite interesting.

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Tucker and a cube of 1,000,000 dollar bills.

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Theo atop $50,000 in coins.

The Money Museum is very interactive and has many educational–and fascinating–exhibits. We give it a big thumbs up.

We split up for a quick lunch and then cabbed it over to the Shedd Aquarium. The line to get in was absurd. Russ walked over to the Adler Planetarium to see if admission was any quicker there (which it was), so we ditched the long line and headed to outer space.

I love me some space.

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Quick true story:  When I was in 5th grade, our class was assigned a group project on the solar system. We were split into 9 groups, and each group sent one member up to front of the room to draw that group’s planet from a fishbowl. Our representative, Matt Davis, was specifically told “DON’T DRAW PLUTO.” Guess which one he drew?

Yep.

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(You have no idea how excited I am about August 21st.)

Both the planetarium and the aquarium are situated on a little jetty poking out into Lake Michigan. The view back in towards the city is pretty fabulous.

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After dinner, we walked around downtown Chicago a bit. This is one beautiful city.

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Next up, we close out Chicago by celebrating Tucker’s half-birthday (oh, and also the Fourth of July…).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Chicago!

“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.”–Nelson Algren

“Place has always been important to me, and one thing today’s Chicago exudes, as it did in 1893, is a sense of place. I fell in love with the city, the people I encountered, and above all the lake and its moods, which shift so readily from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour.”
Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

There’s a slight chance this little blog thing of mine (which, I’ll admit, has been painfully neglected for the past year) could perhaps morph into a travel-ish situation…even though I’ve also neglected to post about our amazing Costa Rican adventure.

[How’s that for a teaser?]

So, Chicago.

When I was young, I won every single grade-wide spelling bee our school system had. From 4th through 8th grade, I was the Spelling Bee Queen. The grade-wide winners would then face off, Hunger Games style, to see who would advance to the State Bee with a [very, very, very slim] chance of moving on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

We’ll ignore the fact that I misspelled the word “apparel” at the city-wide spell off.

Two years in a row.

I used to spend afternoons and evenings having my dear old mom call out spelling bee words to me from our silver-chevroned couch as I lay in thought on our deep shag carpeting, the pale yellow book of “suggested words” expertly wielded in her hands. Mackerel. Sphygmomanometer. Fugue. Ennui. This same couch, clearly carrying with it a load of maternal ennui, eventually wound up in my college apartment (and later, at the KA house in Athens).

Being an only child is a blast.

My Dad would come home from work nightly during “Bee Season” and announce: “Chicken in your car and your car won’t go? That’s how you spell CHICAGO!”

Which, obviously, isn’t correct. And which, obviously, makes little to no sense.

No wonder I never made it past the City-Wide Bee.

But I digress.

Our little family just did Chicago over the 4th of July in a grand way.

We flew up to Chicago from Atlanta via Midway and Uber-ed our way to our hotel, the Westin River North. Russ checked us in while the boys and I watched the first of many, many weddings stroll through the lobby.

It was also the weekend of the LCI Con 2017.

Y’all.

That’s the Lions International Conference–which brings us back full circle to the above-mentioned chevron couch that saw its last (most definitely not ennui-ridden) days on a fraternity house front porch at the University of Georgia. Had it not been for my Godfather (and hometown next-door-neighbor and father of the said KA who, um, inherited, the couch), I would not have known what the Lions Club was. But I did and I do and, holy moly, thems some traveling folk.

Chicago was flooded with world travelers this past weekend. Absolutely flooded. We saw tourists from Japan, China, Singapore, Ireland, Australia, Jefferson City, Missori (well, their honor band, at least…)

These world travelers inspired us, so we did our best to be as touristy as possible, which means cramming in an exorbitant amount of touristy ‘must-sees’ in a minimal amount of time (all while joyously not having to wear Lions Club vests or engage in pin swapping.)

I think we succeeded.

We threw our luggage down (All 5 of us managed carry-on only!! Victory is ours!) and walked down the street to Harry Caray’s for dinner. From there, we used the first of our 5 CityPass tickets to see/endure TILT360 on top of the John Hancock Building.

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When faced with the CityPass or ChicagoGo Pass, the CityPass wins hands-down. Trust me on this one. After about 4 hours of research (which, let the record state, involved entirely way too much math), I decided the CityPass hit the big 5 and had Fast-Pass line options and was a better bargain.

We woke up Saturday morning and headed off to the Art Institute of Chicago. Tucker adores art museums; Russ adores Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so this was set to be a win-win situation. But first up, we must see our friends The Lions again:

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The International March of Lions in Traditional Cultural Parade Attire began lining up outside our hotel window at 7:30am. All kinds of cultural attire were represented. It was quite colorful. It was also quite entertaining.

We walked along the southern edge of Millennium Park and somehow managed to keep all children dry.

Even though it wins the dubious award of having The Most Confusing Museum Map Ever, the Art Institute of Chicago is unbelievable. It’s enormous. It’s spotless. Once we made peace with the fact that we were barely going to be able to put a dent in it, we settled down and had a blast (which included re-creations of critical scenes from Ferris Bueller.)

 

And winning the award for Weirdest Piece of Artwork We Saw is this fine gem:

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That, my friends, is a video of a person. Bathing a live duck in a bathtub. Played simultaneously on four ancient Panasonic television sets. With over 100 bricks stacked in piles in front of it.

Ok, then.

We played the Tacky Tourists at lunch, sitting on the top deck of the crusty beach bar/restaurant Castaways on the North Shore Beach.

Later that afternoon, we braved the masses and headed to Navy Pier. There is an “interactive [art] installation” by Roger Hiorns in Polk Park, the greenspace you cross to get to the pier.

His description of this piece of art says:

“The sculpture will produce giant foam clusters, which will be shaped by the wind and spread across the landscape. In this way, the artist engages with the surroundings, and blurs the lines between where the city begins and the art ends. The public is welcome to engage with the interactive installation, with the foam becoming the connective tissue between the individual and the artwork.”

In reality, it’s a giant bubble machine atop several corrugated tin cylinders sitting in a mud bog in the middle of a park overlooking a lake.

The boys loved it.

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In the interest of full disclosure, we will say it smells. Big time.

After a quick rinse-off-attempt in the fountain, we were off to find the Tall Ship Windy for an afternoon sail on Lake Michigan.

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The Tall Ship Windy is a working sailboat that cruises out on Lake Michigan for a little over an hour. One of the tours described on their website claims to be an architecture tour. I think that’s exaggerating a bit; if we were to do it again, we’d have chosen the actual architecture tour on the river. I was trying to kill two birds with one anchor: we wanted an architecture river tour, but we also wanted a boat that served drinks. After seeing boat after boat zipping down the River in front of our hotel in rapid, methodical, cramped fashion, I’d thought I’d gotten the hipper, cooler deal. It was indeed hip and cool but more attuned to the art of sailing than to the art of building. Lesson learned (but it was still a great ride!).

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Once off the boat, we headed back into town on a mission (see what I did there? shout out to The Blues Brothers) to track down a pop culture icon…

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…The Billy Goat Tavern!

All you SNL fans out there will surely remember the “cheezborger…cheezborger” skit with John Belushi and Bill Murray. (Interesting fact: the SNL skit restaurant was called The Olympia Cafe but was inspired by the Billy Goat Tavern.) The Billy Goat Tavern is underground, gritty, greasy, and filled with surly locals…just like a good dive should be.

From the dark belly of a subterranean Chicago hole-in-the-wall, we then headed to the most colorful place on the planet: Dylan’s Candy Bar. You’ll want to steer clear of this place if you have sensory issues; it’s a cacophonic, rainbow-colored, child-filled, bizarre 3- leveled situation, but it also brilliantly includes a bar for the adults.

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Russ ordered an Old Fashioned, and it was a total production. Never seen a cocktail with dry ice in it before. It looked more like a potion out of Hogwarts than a drink.

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On the walk home, Tucker tried to stump a street magician.

He was not successful.

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And finally, does anyone remember these awesome candy cigarettes? They have some type of powdered sugar in them which, when puffed on just so, lets little clouds of “smoke” waft out. Obviously, these were one of the more offensive (or, at least, questionable) types of candy ever made, so the powers that be removed them from the shelves of America.

Or so we were led to believe.

Guess what we unearthed at Dylan’s Candy Bar?

The boys found them–the Lucky Strikes from my days of yore–and begged to get them. Hopefully this is the first, last, and only shot of them ever doing this (and I’m grateful no one thought to take a photo of me puffing along and laughing just as hard beside them…)

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Our first 1.5 days in the Windy City were enough to have us hooked and fired up for the hard-core touristy stuff I’d planned for the remained of the trip. Next up? Food Tour!