Sunday, October 15, 2006

Travel journal: Chicago

When we were in New York back in April, Brian wondered out loud what it would take for us to have a relaxing vacation. He had a point: most of the time when we go places, we are constantly on the move, trying to fit as much in as possible, because we are usually only in a given city for a couple of days. But last weekend we figured out a solution: I am much less likely to crack the "we are going to have fun and see everything or else" whip when I'm knocked up.

We arrived in Chicago a little later than planned, as our flight was delayed for nearly three hours. We studied the farecard machine at the Midway El station for just a few seconds before a young woman offered us instructions. She assured us that we could share a farecard, which made no sense to me, given that everyone needs his or her own on Metro and BART, but we took her at her word, and found that she was right. I guess she hasn't figured out yet that it's fun to lie to tourists. (Not that I actually tell tourists lies. I at least try to be nice and helpful.)

Since we were late getting in, we checked into our hotel and decided to walk around in Millenium Park, which was nearby. I was fascinated by the "bean" and the Frank Gehry-designed amphitheatre and bridge.

We stopped in Grant Park to rest for a short while, and then headed back toward the El to go to Giordano's, for what a friend had assured me was some of the best pizza in Chicago. We wandered around feeling a little lost until we figured out that the El is actually a subway on the red line, and looking in the air for tracks wasn't going to help. The pizza was indeed excellent, especially because we had to wait 90 minutes for a table. Watching the guys behind the counter assemble pizzas for that long helped build up our appetites. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, having given up any hope of keeping me awake enough to enjoy going out and listening to jazz.

The next morning we checked out the Art Institute. I have been somewhat afraid of art museums ever since Brian and I spent a day in Madrid trying to take in the entire Prado. Now I know I need to have an agenda, so we did a self-guided tour outlined in a tour book someone at work had given me, which made the museum much more manageable. The tour gave us the highlights, taking us first through the impressionists, and then into the surrealists. I've always thought Dali was pretty creepy, but I discovered that Tanguay is even more so. My favorite of his was "The Rapidity of Sleep"--not because I liked the work itself, but because the card beside the painting's only description beyond the artist, title, and date read, "The relationship to the title of the painting is unknown." I liked the work of Joseph Cornell, and an exhibit that used a lot of text, by a modern artist whose name I've forgotten. The tour book led us to a dead end, which turned out to be a good thing. If it had led us directly to Georgia O'Keeffe, as it was supposed to, we would have missed the Picasso rooms and the Jose Guadalupe Posada exhibit. There was definitely more that I wanted to see, but museum fatigue was setting in.

The Art Institute was supposed to be followed up by lunch and then a self-guided historic architecture tour. Instead, it was followed by lunch and a nap back at the hotel. After I'd recovered some of my energy, we walked around the Magnificent Mile area and then headed up to the Hancock Center for drinks in the lounge at sunset. The views from the 96th floor were amazing. We watched the sky and lake fade through colors more lovely than anything we'd seen at the museum that morning, as lights began to twinkle below us and night took over the city. Finally we headed out, venturing up to Devon Avenue for curry, which involved taking a bus that we didn't have a schedule for--just the tour book's word that it would get us to the right place. It actually worked out quite well (better than their suggestion for finding the O'Keeffe paintings), with the bus arriving after only a short wait, and a large group of Indians or Pakistanis who we followed when they all got off at the same stop. We picked Udupi Palace, because it was all vegetarian and had the same name as a restaurant we like in Takoma Park. It turned out that the two are actually owned by the same people. At least that meant we knew we would like the food. (It was very spicy and good, and totally and completely worth the heartburn it gave me.) Brian took pity on his poor, pregnant wife, and we took a cab back downtown to the hotel.

We spent the next day in more museums. The plan for our trip had been to do one museum per day, but since the delayed flight on Saturday had messed with that, we decided to go to two on Monday, since Monday was supposed to be cool and gloomy. It actually turned out to be cool and sunny, but plans can only be changed so many times, and I was not going to go all the way to Chicago and not see Sue, and Brian wasn't going to miss out on the museum of the Chicago Historical Society.

It actually turned out to be good to go to the Field Museum on a Monday. I knew it was a discount day, but I didn't know that "discount" meant "free." After four years in Washington, I find myself rather appalled to have to spend actual money to get into a museum, so the discount was a nice surprise. We checked out Sue, and then wandered through case after case of birds. Because it was free, I didn't feel bad about giving up after those two exhibits, but we did spend a little bit of time checking out the mammals.

For lunch we went to Gino's East, which was another friend's favorite pizza place when she lived in Chicago. I actually liked their pizza a little bit better than Giordano's--I think the crust was a little crisper, which was nice. And every available surface was covered in graffiti. That was fun to look at for a little while, but I really thought people should have been more creative than just writing their names. I was relieved that the bus ride up to Gino's from the museum was so long and that it took 40 minutes to make the pizza. I was exhausted.

The tour book failed us one more time on the trip. It assured us that on Mondays the Chicago Historical Society museum was free and open until eight. Well, it was free, but it apparently closes at 4:30. We learned that at about 4:25, when the staff started clearing us out. I wish we'd had more time to see other exhibits, but just the sections we saw about the Chicago Board of Trade, the fire, the Haymarket Riots, the race riots, and the Democratic National Convention were interesting.

Leaving earlier than we planned meant we had time to stop and sit down for a bit before a brisk walk back to the train, so we could get our bags from the hotel and head back to the airport. Where our plane was, fortunately, on time.

Pictures from the trip are online here.


Genevieve said...

Go to Clare & Don's in Clarendon - the tables and benches are covered with graffiti, much more than people's names.

The Sister said...

Were you able to sense any of the football excitement. The bears are having their greatest season in more than a decade.